In Mexico, all schools take a two week vacation on Holy Week and the week following. Those with jobs—apart from the tourism industry—have vacation the Thursday and Friday before Easter. All over Mexico, everyone who can heads to the beach. Or the mountains, or the ranches—anywhere to get away.
Like everyone else, my family wanted a vacation. However, we hate
fighting crowds. Where is the best place to go
when everyone flocks to the beach? The cities. Over the course of these few days, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey suddenly become uncongested, smog-free, cultural wonderlands.
While planning our Monterrey getaway, we had to keep in mind four different vacation styles. My husband hates crowds. I love to wander, preferably around a museum. My six-year-old daughter hates wandering. In her ideal vacation, she would never leave the hotel´s pool. My three-year-old is usually up for anything, but (even though he doesn´t think so) he often needs a nap.
Given these realities, our choice of hotel was crucial. We chose the Holiday Inn at Parque Fundidora. It is within the gates of the park, which is an attraction in itself. So if the rest of my family wanted to be pool lizards, I could be free to wander. For a city that gets plenty of sun, Monterrey´s hotels have shockingly few outdoor pools. According to the internet, this hotel´s outdoor pool was the prettiest, and that sealed the deal for us.
Now, once there, what to do?
Monterrey is fiercely proud of its industry, and this park showcases that industrial pride well. Parque Fundidora (Foundry Park, in English) is built on the site of a former steel foundry. Part of the original foundry has been converted into a museum. It´s a sight when lit up at night. Take advantage of their nighttime tours!
This park comes alive when the sun goes down. Each of the three evenings we were there, we spent about an hour wandering the park. Watch out for bicyclists—just $30 pesos rents a bike for an hour, and hundreds of people prefer to tour the park by bike. There are playgrounds for the kids spread throughout the park, bounce houses aplenty, a giant ferris wheel, and a small lake that rents paddle boats. As if Parque Fundidora didn´t have enough attractions of its own, the entrance to Plaza Sesamo, a Sesame Street-themed amusement park, borders Parque Fundidora. Plaza Sesamo would have taken the better part of a day itself, and was unfortunately not on our agenda this time around.
Paseo Santa Lucía
The Paseo Santa Lucía connects Monterrey´s downtown with Fundidora Park, thanks to a blue canal, wide sidewalks, and grassy embankments. From one end to the other, it stretches for about 2km, with fountains and playgrounds interspersed. Closer to downtown, restaurants have tables right on the canal.
The best way to get downtown from Parque Fundidora (or vice versa) is to hop a ride on one of the boats that leave frequently from one end or the other. The ride each way takes about a half hour—so much easier than the hours it would take my kids´ legs to walk the same distance! At Parque Fundidora, the boats dock just behind the Holiday Inn. At the Macroplaza, take a flight of stairs underneath the Northeast Mexican history museum, and you can´t miss the dock—and the line that goes with it! Don´t worry, it moves fairly quickly.
The boat ride ends at the Macroplaza. All Mexican cities have one main plaza, typically spanning one square city block. Monterrey´s Macroplaza is aptly named. While it is the standard one block wide, the Macroplaza is 5 blocks long. It boasts the Northeastern Mexican History Museum, the entrance to the Paseo Santa Lucía, the Government Palace (and connected museum), the City Theater, various courthouses, Monterrey´s cathedral, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
We took about an hour to walk from one end of the Macroplaza to the other. While my husband and I thought this was a great way to pass an afternoon, the kids were not so amused. A little more than halfway to the cathedral, we stopped for popsicles, sat in the grass under a tree, and watched the traffic. This maneuver bought us a bit more patience on the kids´ part, so we could enjoy the cathedral and the Museum of Contemporary Art, relatively whine-free.
On the far side of the Macroplaza from the Paseo Santa Lucía is Monterrey´s cathedral. People from Monterrey have a tradition of visiting seven different churches during Holy Week. Despite our aversion to crowds, we joined the throngs pouring into the cathedral. The wooden latticework around the side doors give a nod to Monterrey´s Lebanese population, and the murals around the altar manage to incorporate both Monterrey´s industrial pride and biblical Holy Week scenes—it´s odd, yet distinctive. To me, that mural seemed to sum up the city´s essence.
Right next to the cathedral is Monterrey´s Museum of Contemporary Art (MARCO). With
only three galleries, the MARCO was a great size for our kids to enjoy the museum without getting overwhelmed. With changing exhibits, there is something for everyone. The guys spent at least an hour in the Stanley Kubrick exhibit, while my daughter and I enjoyed Kati Horne´s photography, checked out the permanent display upstairs, and, of course, the gift shop while waiting for the guys.
Almost opposite the cathedral, we spied a small franchise of our favorite restaurant in Monterrey—the Sierra Madre Brewing Company. They brew an extensive selection of quality beer. Microbrews are far and few in between in Mexico. Now that we´ve found one, we frequent it as often as possible. Despite labeling themselves a pub, they are family-friendly and offer a children´s menu.
Day Two was dedicated entirely to swimming in the hotel´s pool. This was essential to our trip, because
1) Mexicans believe that it is absolutely necessary to get wet at some point on the day before Easter.
2) after walking their legs off the day before, my kids would have gone on strike if we didn´t spend a full day at the pool.
Once we had our fill of the pool (and the other children and their poorly-aimed squirt guns), we explored Parque Fundidora some more, in search of bounce houses and nachos.
The Alfa Planetarium is Monterrey´s Children´s Museum. They boast four floors of exhibits for all age levels, plus a prehispanic sculpture garden (unusual this far north), and an IMAX screen, playing two different movies a day. While the kids were initially excited about the idea of a children´s museum, it took them awhile to warm up to the activities. The second floor had a Tinker-Toy exhibit, and they did have fun playing with the Tinker-Toys, although the exhibit wasn´t as hands-on as I would have hoped. Upstairs, they had a room dedicated to Clifford the Big Red Dog. I was afraid this would be too babyish for my six-year-old, but they jumped right in, and worked the store, drove a boat, fed Clifford enormous bones, and sat down a read a few books. They would have been content to spend all afternoon there.
My husband got a little overwhelmed with the Easter crowds, so we met up with him again in the prehispanic sculpture garden. The Planetarium does have a cafeteria, but we brought a picnic lunch and ate outside on the picnic tables (which get hot in the sun!). After lunch, we braved a few more rooms, but they were geared for older kids, so we breezed through those. After paying one last visit to Clifford, we headed home.
Did we exhaust our options? Not even close. We´ll certainly be back, and on other visits, we may see:
- Bioparque Estrella—a safari-style zoo about an hour outside of Monterrey. They also offer camping, either in tents or cabins!
- KidZania—A kid-sized city. Children work various jobs, open a bank account, and spend the money they “earned” at those jobs. I´ve been told that it´s a lot of fun, but it´s on the pricy side, so be prepared!
- Grutas de García—a system of glittering caves just northwest of Monterrey.
- Cumbres National Park—full of hiking opportunities, plus some intense outdoor activities for families with older children.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Monterrey? Feel free to comment below!
Furthermore, if anyone else in or near the Saltillo area would like to share their favorite places in or near Saltillo, send your reflections/thoughts/summary, along with pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing others´ perspectives!