On paper, Coyoacán is just another borough of Mexico city. In reality, it's a gem of a place, located to the south of the city away from the hustle and bustle of the centre, and a great place to visit. Coyoacán means "place of coyotes" and these creatures are represented in various ways, some more abstract than others, throughout the borough. Coyoacán was traditionally a home to artists and cultural types, and in recent years has morphed into a bohemian place with a hippy vibe. After a few hours here, it's easy for me to forget I live just up the Metro line from here, on one of the busiest streets in one of the busiest cities in the world.
Coyoacán is served by various Metro stations and paseros (mini-busses) and the Metro Bus (which I, less than affectionately, call the Grope Bus) is maybe 30 minutes walk away over towards San Angel. By far the easiest way for most tourists to get there is still the Metro though, and the Viveros stop (on the green line, direction Universidad if you're coming from the city centre) is well located for most sights. Metro trips cost 2 pesos (~10p) regardless of distance, and they're much more reassuring than trying to get on the right bus on the right route.
If you are based on or near Insurgentes (one of the busiest streets in the city) the Metro Bus might be a better option. Get off at La Bombilla and head to your left into the Jardin de la Bombilla, a medium sized park with a massive monolith in the middle. This monument is in honour of Álvaro Obregón, a former president of Mexico. The General lost an arm at the battle of Celaya, and my guide book kindly tells me that this obelisk no longer contains this arm, without telling me where it can now be found. We climbed to the top to have a peek in (nice one-armed statue, very realistic) and sit at the top of the slopes to enjoy the sunshine. Then we, erm, slid down said slopes since they are like adult-sized slides, and we are adult-sized kids.
From the park you need to head up to Arenal and keep going onto Avenida Francisco Sosa "the prettiest street in Latin America". This might be a slight exaggeration, but it's not bad, and a pleasant 2 mile walk along here takes you to the centre of Coyoacán. On the way you will pass the chapel of Sam Antonio Panzacola (sounds like Panda Cola...) and a little later a stunning yellow church, the Iglesia de Santa Catarina.
Coyoacán was the home to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and as two of Mexico's most famous names, a lot of the places here are related to them. Perhaps your first stop could be the Frida Kahlo museum, also called the Casa Azul (Blue House...because that's exactly what it is). As the house where Kahlo was born, and where she lived for much of her life, this is a true shrine to her life and work, and makes for an interesting visit. Here you can see some of her artworks, visit the rooms she lived in (many still preserved as they were during her life) and find out more about her tortured love life and the many men and women she had affairs with. One of the people on this list was the Russian revolutionist Leon Trotsky, so perhaps you might like to go and see his house next, since it's only a few blocks away.
Another Casa/Museo, this has two parts, an art gallery with various photos and memorabilia from Trotsky's life, and some visiting exhibitions, and various preserved rooms (sheesh, they still have bullet holes in the walls) complete with the furniture and belongings that were there at the time of his assassination. There's also an interesting family tree which seem to have various unmarried couples having twins, among other things.
After a bit of culture, how about a literal walk in the park? Viveros is massive and full to the brim with friendly squirrels and serious joggers most days. There are plenty of fountains to enjoy, and benches to enjoy them from. If you prefer plazas to parks, why not explore the Plaza Hidalgo, located in the very heart of Coyoacán? This is a spacious plaza which is nice and quiet during weekdays, but fills up in evenings and weekends as it's a popular meeting spot. It's also where you can find various market stalls selling everything from ponchos to tamale. Though there are some bargains to be had (I got a hand-embroidered keyring for 50p) keep a look out and ask before you buy since some of the stall holders are less than reasonable, especially when they see a nice gringo face coming their way. Coyoacán has no real shopping opportunities in the centre apart from the markets, but there are plenty of bookshops and shoe shops if you head away from the core, and if you're after a snack, 7elevens dot the streets.
On Plaza Hidalgo you can find the massive Iglesia de San Juan Bautista which dates from the 16th century and has some interesting sculptures. Also worth a peek, just a few minutes walk away, is the Iglesia de la Conchita, an absolutely tiny church housed in the Plaza de la Conchita square. This has a facade that looks like handmade lace, and is really intricate in its design. Just to one side of the square you can also find the Casa de la Malinche, where Cortés' mistress may or may not have lived. This is quite a common thing here - one of Diego's mistresses has a massive house set in National Trust-style grounds just a little to the south of Coyoacán, which we affectionately call the Whore House.
Hungry yet? Coyoacán has any number of places to eat and drink. It is known for its ice cream and there are dozens of Heladerias and Neverias dotted around the main square and surrounding streets. Try one of the Palletes, a pre-frozen ice cream on a stick (available in more than 20 flavours) that they will dip in hot chocolate sauce for you, and then roll in the topping of your choosing, usually sprinkles, nuts, coco pops etc... These are huge and filling, taste great, and usually cost about 20 pesos / £1. If the idea of all that sugar makes your teeth hurt, how about some fruit from one of the stands around the square - chopped slices of papaya, mamay or pineapple, or a fruit salad topped with cream, yogurt or cottage cheese? My favourite proper restaurant here is down Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a street to the side of San Juan Bautista. We call it "De todo un poco" though I think it has a proper name too in addition to this motto scrawled over the entrance. At any rate, it is two blocks down on the right hand side, and is painted blue. I like it because it does what it says, offering a little of everything on the menu, and also has an extensive vegetarian selection. Plus it's dirt cheap, at about 70 pesos (£3.50) per head. If you are a caffeine addict, my Spanish teacher swears by the coffee at Jarocho which is just north of Plaza Hidalgo.
NOTE ON ADDRESSES
Many maps and guide books to Mexico are strangely inaccurate, and when you add to this the crazy inconsistencies in house number labelling in this part of town especially, you have a recipe for disaster or at least quite a few wrong turns. Having the proper addresses does help though, so below I've included the ones for the key places I've mentioned.
Museo Frida Kahlo = Londres 247
Casa Museo Leon Trotsky = Avenida Rio Churubusco 410
Coyoacán is a stunningly pretty part of Mexico City, and I am rather jealous of the friends of mine who live there even though it is a short trek away. It has a proper community feel to it, and seems miles apart from the rest of the Federal District. I'm sure it's coincidence, but in 5 months I've only ever had sunny days there, so in my mind it's also a place to go to escape the smog. You can pass a whole day here spending very little money, since food prices are reasonable, and the museums are only a couple of pounds each. It's a nice place to go and just soak up the atmosphere, and is easy to get to by public transport.