Mexico City urban tour: Tequila, mescal, wrestling and mariachi music

It's not hard to spot our guide, Julio Escalante. Waiting for us at 5pm at the meeting point on a bustling pedestrian street in the heart of Mexico City, he's the only person wearing a full-face wrestling mask. It's a colourful sign of what lies ahead on this guided night out that will cover three of the most Mexican of Mexican obsessions: lucha libre free-style wrestling, tequila and mariachi bands.

I've joined the Urban Adventures small-group tour on my first evening in Mexico City. Travelling alone, dizzy with jetlag and unfamiliar with the destination, I'm happy to be a follower for a few hours. Together with a Chinese couple and an American guy, our party of five sets out on foot for Plaza Garibaldi.

Known as Mexico City's home of mariachi music, the square is abuzz with dozens of all-male mariachi bands wandering around offering their songs for a couple of hundred pesos apiece. Dressed in the distinctive charro outfits that are the unofficial Mexican national costume, they are handsome and flirtatious, kissing hands and playing a few notes for free.

"I don't know if I should say this, but they're sort of like musical hookers," Escalante says. "They say, 'hey where are we going tonight, where's the party?', and then you can take them to a nearby restaurant or to a fiesta to play their music for about 1200 pesos per hour."

Mexican boyfriends and husbands in the doghouse know the way to redeem themselves is by bringing their beloved to Plaza Garibaldi for a romantic serenade. We see one young couple surrounded by half a dozen crooners; by the loved-up look on her face, all has been forgiven.

Next stop is the Museum of Tequila and Mezcal, for an informative tour and tasting. Forget the "lick, sip, suck" nonsense of salt and lime unless you're drinking shots of the cheapest tequila, we are told. The good stuff needs no enhancement.

Escalante explains that while mass-produced tequila is more often in the spotlight, it's mezcal that has more depth and variety for the sophisticated palate.

"You don't do shots with mezcal as you would with tequila," he says. "You kiss it slowly and savour the taste."

We sit at an open-air table in the museum's bar, overlooking Plaza Garibaldi, to taste for ourselves. Knocking back shots and kissing mezcal with new-found amigos to the strains of live mariachi music, I'm livin' la vida loca.

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And what do wild and crazy people do on Tuesday nights? They go to Arena Mexico to scream insults at half-naked wrestlers, obviously.

The massive arena is the holy cathedral of lucha libre, Mexico's version of entertainment wrestling. Since 1933 it's been the nation's favourite spectator sport, a great night out for the whole family to the soundtrack of '80s rock. Translated as "free fight", in truth it's more acrobatic and choreographed than a knuckle-bruising bust-up. Wrestlers wear colourful masks to hide their identities as they jump and bounce around the ring, revving up the crowd to pick a side. Kids, grannies and everyone in between are cheering on the good guys and boo-hissing the baddies by the time we take our seats.

"It's the ultimate good versus evil show," Escalante says. "The bad guys will do anything to win: I've even seen them throw the refs out of the ring. They're playing a character and what they want is for the crowd to insult them."

I join in the fun, drinking beer from a plastic cup and heckling the wrestlers in Satan masks, almost as loudly as the four-year-old next to me.

TRIP NOTES

Kristie Kellahan travelled to Mexico as a guest of Los Cabos Tourism and experienced the tour as a guest of Urban Adventures.

MORE

urbanadventures.com, visitmexico.com

FLY

Virgin Australia flies direct from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles. From there, take a direct flight to Mexico City (about three-and-a-half  hours) on Aeromexico. See virginaustralia.com, aeromexico.com.

STAY

Zocalo Central hotel is a modern design hotel in an unbeatable location, opposite the spectacular Metropolitan Cathedral. Don't miss sunset drinks on the rooftop terrace, with one of the best views in the city. See centralhoteles.com.

TOUR

Urban Adventures' Mexican Night Out: Cantinas, Mariachi & Lucha Libre in Mexico City goes for five hours and costs from $83.22 per person. Highlights include visiting the Tequila and Mezcal Museum and watching a lucha libre free-style wrestling match. The tour includes a local guide, public transportation, tequila tasting, a souvenir wrestler mask and entrance fees to the lucha libre. See urbanadventures.com.

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