Monterrey, Mexico’s third largest city and the so-called “Sultan of the North” is, in fact, a truly surprising city. A powerhouse of business and industry, this city is one of the most important production and trade centers in the country. But there is much more to Monterrey than just business and industry.
A modern, well-planned city that is easy to navigate and full of cultural offerings, Monterrey is populated by friendly and helpful people, who are eager to present their city as the most advanced city in Mexico. Monterrey’s population of over one million (three million in the urban area) is the most educated in México and the city on a per capita basis has more colleges, universities and institutes of technology, than any other Mexican city. Another example of this city’s progressive stature is the fact that over twenty per cent of México’s computers are said to be located in Monterrey.
There are a number of nearby attractions to attract tourists, especially those interested in a vacation complimented by all of the amenities that are associated with the convenience that a large city offers. Quality restaurants, modern shopping malls, numerous museums and cultural attractions abound here.
The mountains, canyons and desert that surround the city offer pleasant diversion and a wide variety of tourist activities, many of which are not readily available anywhere else in Mexico. Some of the México’s best hiking, mountain biking, cave exploring and nature areas are located within fairly close proximity to the city.
A visit to Monterrey is sure to surprise even the most accomplished traveler. Tourists often overlook this charming city, opting for the beach resorts and the promotional popularity of other Mexican cities. As word of Monterrey spreads, this should change. Tourism has become more prevalent in recent years, as traveling businessmen spread the word about Monterrey and even return to vacation with their families.
Macro Plaza – The City’s Center
See: Our printable Area Maps
Macro Plaza, or Gran Plaza, is definitely the centerpiece attraction in Monterrey. The Faro de Comercio, or Tower of Commerce, dominates the landscape of the Macro Plaza, and is the highest monument in México. Most nights a beam of red laser light circles the city from atop the tower, making for some interesting effects when it scans the nearby mountains. The tower is a great starting point for a leisurely stroll through the heart of Monterrey.
The plaza is long (6 blocks) and narrow (1block) and is almost as big in total area as the Zocalo in México City. The plaza is really a series of smaller plazas joined together to form a pedestrian plaza with fountains, parks, benches, shade trees, the city theatre and bandstands.
In close proximity to the plaza are, numerous museums, the city’s beautiful cathedral, Paseo Santa Lucia and Barrio Antiguo. You could easily spend a couple of full days enjoying the contents of the city’s museums. Paseo Santa Lucia, adjacent to the Museum of Mexican History, is a pleasant diversion from the bustling city, with a walkway along a canal; sidewalk cafes and you may be lucky enough catch some entertainment, be it planned or impromptu. The Paseo is an especially pleasant spot to visit in the evenings when the quiet atmosphere and unique lighting make for a very pleasant experience.
The state tourism office is located nearby at at 5 de Mayo 525 Ote., in the Elizando Páez Building, they have a good variety of maps and brochures, describing the city’s many attractions. All booklets and maps are dispensed free of charge by a friendly bilingual staff.
A unique way to see the Macro Plaza, Barrio Antiguo and the downtown area, which is also known as Zona Rosa, is to hire a horse drawn carriage. These unique carriages and can be hired in several locations downtown, ask about these tours at your hotel. Trolley tours are also an easy way to get acquainted with the heart of Monterrey.
The replicas of old fashion trolleys operate every half hour or so and you can catch the trolley in front of the Howard Johnson Hotel or in front of the MARCO museum. Allow at least a few hours for exploring Macro Plaza, Barrio Antiguo and the city center.
Things to See and Do Around the City Center
- Macro Plaza Cathedral
- Tower of Commerce MARCO Museum
- Barrio Antiguo City Theatre
- Museum of Mexican History Paseo Santa Lucia
- Fountain of Life Metropolitan Museum
A must on any visitors list of things to do in Monterrey should include at least a couple of visits to Barrio Antiguo, or old town. If possible, visit during daylight hours to admire the colonial architecture that was prevalent in Monterrey around the turn of the century Here you can get a real feeling of what is was like to live in the times of old Monterrey. You can also get a taste of Monterrey’s numerous culinary delights, as some of the towns finer eateries, quaint cafes and night spots are located in Barrio Antiguo.
Visit again at night, as this area is also “The Place” when it comes Monterrey’s nightlife and can even become downright crowded on weekends, when the local police put much of the Barrio off limits to vehicular traffic. This arrangement makes it easy to enjoy the area at your own pace and also gives you the added comfort of knowing that this area is a fairly safe place to be.
San Pedro Garza Garcia
Garza Garcia is a separate city, but indeed a very important part of Monterrey. This affluent suburb is home to the offices of many of the areas most important businesses. It is also the location of some of México’s finest and most well kept residential neighborhoods. Wide streets with landscaped center medians add to the overall attractiveness of Garcia Garza.
The city can boast of being México’s safest city, with a modern, high tech, police force and city government, which are deeply committed to keeping the city’s reputation in place. Modern malls and shopping centers along with some of the areas finer hotels and eating establishments choose to call Garza Garcia home.
Also located in Garza Garcia is Planetario Alfa, a high tech complex featuring an observatory, a science garden, prehispanic garden, open aviary and an IMAX dome theatre. Interactive displays challenge the young an old alike, along with temporary exhibitions that offer insights to art, science and technology.
All of this is presented in an ultra peaceful setting, with some pretty amazing architecture that should make visiting Planetario Alfa a must on any visit to Monterrey. A cafe and souvenir store are located on the premises and free transportation to downtown is available. Open Tuesday through Sunday.
Garza Garcia is also the gateway to Chipinque National Park.
Monterrey has enough attractions to keep it’s visitors on a busy schedule. There is a really Parque La Pastora, with a zoo, a lake and a wooded area. Connected to the zoo is a separate children’s amusement park, Bosque Mágico, with over thirty-five rides and other attractions just for kids and teens, including amusement park rides, water rides and special shows. Plaza Sésamo, a water based amusement park that includes many dry rides, mainly for the younger set, and also the site of a great water park for all ages.
There are bullfights and rodeos at various locations and times throughout the year. Soccer is big in Monterrey and the city has several large stadiums, catch a professional soccer match if your timing allows. An abundance of modern multi-cinemas, show current movies, all over the city and in all of the malls.
Scattered around the countryside which surrounds Monterrey are various rivers, some with spectacular waterfalls and several natural hot springs. The surrounding mountains offer attractions, too numerous to list.
There are cultural activities of different types in different venues being presented almost every day, all year long. Live concerts, from classical to rock, featuring big name performers are a regular occurrence in Monterrey. A good place to get information and up to date schedules, for all local activities, is the state tourism office (see Area Maps) near the north end of the Gran Plaza (Tel. 8340-1080). Try to find a copy of “What’s on Monterrey” in a hotel lobby or local restaurant for an up to date listing of current attractions.
Two parks stand out as excellent places to spend some of your leisure time. Parque Fundidora, is a giant park adjacent to the city’s modern Expo and Convention Center. Located close to the physical center of the city, this is a great place to relax, get some exercise or to just get away from it all. There are even speakers located along the paths within the park which emit soothing music, adding to the relaxation factor that is available here.
There are large green areas along with historical remnants of the areas first industry, a museum and various other entertainment venues. This park is also the location of the Monterrey Grand Prix, which is the opening event on the CART racing schedule for Indy cars. This race, usually held in March, is a very popular local attraction and draws large crowds to Monterrey.
Bicycles are available for rent within the park and there are miles of trails, some of which include portions of the race track. While you are in the park take time to visit the ultra modern Expo Center, which is open to the public, if there are no expositions taking place.
Chipinque National Park, which borders Garcia Garza, offers a very pleasant location for many outdoor activities, is a great side trip from the city and is very close (15 minutes) to the city center. This park is an excellent place to relax or get some active exercise. Jogging, hiking, mountain biking and just plain walking along the roadway or the well-kept trails within the park are very popular with the locals.
There is a nice hotel, high in the mountains, with a great restaurant that offers some pretty fantastic views. A log cabin style complex, near the entrance of the park, features a restaurant and a convenience store, which sells picnic supplies and souvenirs.
Golf and Tennis
Although the populace is very receptive to recreational activities and the city has some high quality private clubs for both golf and tennis, public facilities are surprisingly sparse. The offerings, as limited as they are, seem to be very reasonably priced.
Monterrey is becoming a shopping powerhouse. Many factories build all kinds of furniture, which is then sold locally at reasonable prices. Arts and crafts, from all over Mexico, are sold at numerous locations. Local leather products are prominent and this city offers probably one of México’s largest inventories of cowboy boots, which are sold all over the city.
The Zona Rosa, adjacent to the Gran Plaza, is the center of shopping in the downtown area. A large pedestrian mall has been created and is very popular, especially with locals.
Modern shopping malls are also very popular in Monterrey and they tend to get very crowed especially on weekends. The malls offer everything you would expect, from upscale department stores to elegant specialty shops and food courts with some incredible menus
. Most malls also have multi-cinemas, featuring first run movies in English, with sub-titles in Spanish. Many unique items for home decoration are another popular item in Monterrey.
Monterrey is blessed with some great, high quality restaurants. You may have to do a little investigative work (ask the locals) as many of these restaurants are not widely known outside of Monterrey. Prices here have are surprisingly reasonable, probably due to the intense competition created by the large number of restaurants to choose from. Everything from gourmet international cuisine to sidewalk taco stands await you in Monterrey and all is sure to please.
The regional specialty is Cabrito, which is baby goat, slow cooked over mesquite coals. There are many restaurants that specialize in Cabrito and we highly recommend that you try this delicious local dish while you are in Monterrey. “Steak Arrachera”, which is a tender flank steak that has been specially marinated, is another popular local favorite and is a pleasant alternative to your standard steak order.
Beef, of any kind, is also a favorite with locals and the majority is raised locally, although U.S. prime beef is served in many of the finer restaurants.
Fast food fanatics will also feel right at home as Carl’s Jr., McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Domino’s are all well represented here. Many restaurants and fast food establishments will deliver to your hotel.
The nightlife scene in Monterrey is somewhat different than visitors might expect in a town of this size. The nightlife is certainly plentiful and varied enough, although the closing hours seem to be somewhat subdued compared to many Mexican cities. Opera, ballet and theater seem to be as common as the high energy disco and drinking establishments. Piano bars, jazz and blues seem to be every bit as available as rock and disco. In Barrio Antiguo there are numerous small clubs, intimate cafes and upscale discos.
Live concerts, featuring famous name international, as well as Mexican entertainers, are very popular in Monterrey. Rodeo style “theme nightclubs” are very popular here, featuring live entertainment or “Norteno” disco style music. A large number of the local restaurants, bars and hotel lobby’s offer live entertainment every night.
The all night disco and dance establishments thrive in Monterrey, as in other Mexican cities. In Monterrey you seem to have more options than in most tourist centers. I am sure that you will not be disappointed by the choices this city offers in the way of nightlife.