We are guessing that when you imagine Mexico the city of Monterrey doesn’t come to mind. Instead it is probably Cabo, Cancun, or maybe even the Baja. But that would be a mistake (not that those places aren’t great) because Monterrey is actually an awesome place and one that is still (somehow) not on the tourist circuit.
Very much a metropolis, the population was just under 4.3 million in 2015 (according to Wikipedia), Monterrey definitely has all the things a city needs: huge malls, a cool hipster neighborhood and lots of restaurants. But it also has more than just that (a lot more) - including the Macroplaza, the seventh largest plaza in the world, a beautiful river walk that leads to a very large and very fun park and lots of awesome natural areas (many of which are within 20 minutes of the central plaza).
We admit that in the beginning, we only came to Monterrey for the climbing. The city was a place we drove through, not stayed in. But thanks to a nice turn of events we happened to get an Airbnb five minutes from the Macroplaza and Santa Lucia River Walk. And we are so glad we did because by the end of our five day adventure we were completely taken with “The City of the Mountains.”
Here are some of our favorite things in Monterrey, starting with things within the city:
Calle de Morelos, the hipster street
With bright colorful murals, funky coffee shops and upscale restaurants and bars lining the side, this street is the place to go to get a feel for the younger “millennial” crowd of Monterrey. We walked around right before dark on a Saturday and the place was hopping with locals. But similarly, even on a quiet Wednesday morning, the area still felt very much alive (though with a bit less loud music).
Some of our favorite places were Libros Cafe Y Detailes, a bookstore with a small but tasty coffee selection, Mercado Barrio Antiguo, a large communal area with lots of different types of cuisines to choose from (including sushi and ramen, chilaquiles and sweets) and Almacen 42, a bar that has tons (probably 42) beers on tap and a cool industrial interior.
A couple other great places near Calle de Morelos were La Churma, a delicious Colombian restaurant and Thai Thai, a super chill restaurant that serves, you guessed it, Thai food.
Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo Leon
This massive dark brown stone edifice sits right on the northern end of the Macroplaza. The exterior is very beautiful, if a little imposing, but the interior is truly something special. With lots of sunlight and neoclassical architecture, the building itself is worth a visit. But it also has lots of really good information, especially for tourists (some of it even in English).
We stopped in and ended up having a very nice conversation with the receptionist who gave us lots of good insight on things to do in and around the city. The palace also has a nice
history museum in the back that you could spend a nice afternoon exploring.
Santa Lucia River Walk and Parque Fundidora
These two can be combined into a nice relaxing day. Start the river walk on the far northeastern side of the Macroplaza near the Candy Museum and Northern Mexico History Museum. From there follow the sidewalk on either the left or the right side of the river all the way down. You will pass restaurants (some even with live music), sculptures, fountains and lots of ducks.
Near the end of the walk you will come to a very large red brick building. After doing some guessing, and eventually using Google Translate, we realized it was the Baseball Hall of Fame. While we didn’t go in (neither of us love baseball) it looked like a pretty sweet museum.
The park has lots to see - exhibits on the different industries of the city (Monterrey is the second most productive city in Mexico, and the one with the highest GDP per capita), multiple playgrounds and even a Sesame Street-theme amusement park.
Spend a nice warm afternoon walking along the river feeding the ducks, check out the history of the area and even take a boat ride back down the river to the Macroplaza.
While Monterrey obviously has plenty to do within its urban zone, what makes it stand out from other areas is the truly amazing amount of natural areas it has right next door.
Some of our favorites, and ones we definitely want to come back and explore more of, were:
Potrero Chico, a climbing paradise
We came to Monterrey to climb. And more specifically to climb in Potrero Chico.
One of the best places to test your stamina and mental strength on some long multi-pitch climbs, Potrero Chico is truly a gem. We spent two days there - climbing but also just admiring the scenery (the rocks are just WOW). And while we did not climb as much as we originally hoped (thanks to Luke seriously injuring his ankle on a bad fall on the first day) we still enjoyed the park.
There are a couple things to note if you are thinking of climbing in Potrero Chico. For starters, even in the winter it gets hooooot. On the second day it got up to 98 degrees in the canyon, and that was even in the shade. While there are still plenty of climbs to do that aren’t directly in the sun, be prepared for the heat - no matter the time of year.
Also, on weekends the place is busy, with both climbers and locals. On Sunday nights the park turns into a massive party. But even by 11 am there will likely be a couple cars blasting Spanish music. And because the area is really just one big canyon, the music echoes like crazy. We personally liked the loud music. But we can imagine if you are seriously trying to focus up on pitch 8 you might not be the biggest fan.
Parque La Huasteca, awe-inspiring geologic formations (and caves!)
Another premier climbing area, but honestly just an amazing place - and one that should definitely not be missed.
We had planned on climbing here on our third day in Monterrey but after realizing Madalyne had somehow lost here climbing shoes (whoops) we ended up going for a nice long hike up to a massive cave instead. We had scouted out the hike before going to Mexico (thanks Youtube) but it wasn’t until we got there that we saw just how ginormous the cave actually was - and how fun the hike up to it looked.
After 40 minutes of hiking up steep washes and over a couple Class 4 scrambles we made it to the cave entrance. To say the view was breathtaking would be an understatement, not just because of the beauty, but because the hike up was not easy (and the park is also at a pretty high altitude). We enjoyed our homemade breakfast burritos and got to talking to the other group of people in the cave: 5 locals who offered us alcohol and chocolate covered almonds (Madalyne’s favorite).
They mentioned they were going to rappel down the other side of the cave (it has two openings). We mentioned we were big canyoneerers in the States and then because they were just amazingly nice people, they invited us along. Of course we couldn’t say no, so instead of making the somewhat scary hike back down, we followed them down a rocky wash and three amazing rappels. Afterwards we grabbed a couple beers and exchanged Facebook friend invites, and promises that if we ever made it back down to Monterrey they would take us on more canyoneering adventures.
In the end, Huasteca was our favorite spot in Monterrey and one of the prettiest areas we had seen in a while. You don’t have to be a crazy adventurous person to enjoy the scenery - just take a drive through it to the abandoned dam at the end (which you can climb all over) and admire the massive, sharp, sawtooth rocks that line the canyon walls. Either way, Huasteca is a nice change from the busy city center and a great way to see another side of Monterrey.
Parque Chipinque, go for a stunning view
If you want to get a true birds eye view of Monterrey, head to Chipinque. With tons of hiking trails, you can feel entirely removed from the hustle and bustle of Monterrey, work up a nice healthy sweat and maybe even get to see a wild animal or two (there are even black bears roaming around).
Chipinque is a stone's throw away from the city center, for better or for worse. So while it is super easy to get to, taking only about 15 minutes (sans traffic) it can also get buuuusy, especially on the weekend. So if you are thinking of hitting up the park, and want to get a nice photo from the top without tons of people, we recommend setting out early in the day (plus it won’t be as hot) to avoid the crowds.
Okay have we sold you on Monterrey yet? I hope so! We spent five days there and already want to go back. There truly is something for everyone, no matter your level of adventurous spirit.
If you are looking to climb some awesome rocks - and even hopefully get over your fear of a multi-pitch route (like Madalyne was) then head to either Potrero Chico or Huasteca. If you want to walk around an enormous plaza and look at funky, slightly industrial sculptures then the Macroplaza or Fundidora Park is the spot for you.
We do feel like we do need to say two things before ending this piece. Do not get us wrong we loved our time in Monterrey and seriously do want to go back. But there are a couple negatives we think we need to mention.
The first is the smog. Monterrey is a massive industrial city, something you realize right away. So it makes sense there would be some pollution. But on our fourth day it was baaad. Like make you cough and your eyes water bad. We talked to some locals and they said there were good days and bad days (all the other days were really good). So you might get lucky, or you might not. It is just something to be prepared for.
The second was the food. For some reason we just did not get lucky with the food. The only place that was nice and tasty was Thai Thai restaurant (and we spent five months studying abroad in Thailand so we have a pretty good idea of what authentic Thai food is like). But the restaurants we went to that served traditional food were not our favorite. Maybe we were just unlucky or are bad at choosing restaurants, we don’t know. So while we are sure there are some awesome authentic restaurants in the city, we unfortunately did not find any.
Okay now that we have said that, we just want to reiterate that all together, we LOVED Monterrey. Plus because the city is not so well-known, especially compared to places like Cabo or Cancun, you can walk around the city (even in the Macroplaza) and pretty much be the only tourist there. Which for us, and maybe for you too, is just so refreshing.
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