The metropolis to the south isn't just a fun vacation spot—it's also a health-minded traveler's dream, with fresh food, wellness-focused lodging, and tons of ways to move.

By By Andrea Bartz
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Photo: MartinM303 / Getty Images

When you think of Mexico, you probably picture white-sand beaches and tequila-drinking coeds. But the country's capital city is an increasingly popular destination for Americans. After all, it has all the modernity and cultural cachet of a European city, with lower prices and an easier flight. And it isn't all fancy cocktail bars and stunning architecture (although there's plenty of that too): Mexico City has become a bona fide wellness mecca, with restaurants, hotels, boutique fitness studios, and even the government getting in on the healthy action.

Here, just a few reasons a health-minded visitor should put La Ciudad de México at the top of her travel list.

Mexico City makes it easy to be active.

Mexico City is nestled in the mountains at about 7,400 feet above sea level-so even in the summer, it's never too hot to explore by foot. Beautiful, bohemian neighborhoods like Roma and Coyoacán are perfect for wandering, and Chapultepec Park, a 1,700-acre oasis (larger than NYC's Central Park!), is home to woodlands, an ecological site, a zoo, three museums, and tons of pretty paths and fields. The mountains surrounding Mexico City make for amazing day hikes, as well; consider visiting Desierto de los Leones National Park (technically part of the city) for easy and moderate hikes and a visit to the 400-year-old monastery there, or Nevado de Toluca National Park for a two-hour trek to one of Mexico's highest peaks. (P.S. These benefits of hiking will make you want to hit the trails.)

If you prefer to explore on two wheels, you can snag a bike via Mexico City's popular Ecobici public bike sharing. Not a super-confident pedaler? Save your cruising for a Sunday, when Muévete en Bici ("Move by Bike") takes place-major thoroughfares are closed to car traffic, so bikers rule the roads.

If you're more of a fitness-studio person, the city's got you covered. Casa Síclo is wildly popular-it's sort of the local answer to SoulCycle. Chic Sersana has both group classes and personal training, as well as one-on-one nutrition consultations all in their gorgeous studios, while Body Barre has the beautiful, sun-splashed studios and pro instructors you expect at home. While the boutique-fitness scene is a little less robust than, say, New York's or LA's (we didn't unearth anything super unique to Mexico City that you couldn't find stateside), this is a country with a popping dance culture. There are a number of indigenous traditions, plus classic dances from the Caribbean and Latin America. Consider working on your salsa, merengue, and more at dance schools like Escuela de Baile Balderas and Salón Los Angeles. (Did you know dance can make you a better athlete?)

Fresh food is everywhere.

Warm, sunny Mexico is fertile ground for agriculture, and you won't need to look hard to see the literal fruits of local labor. The historic Mercado de San Juan leans gourmet and serves as a sort of massive Whole Foods-the best of the best fish, meat, cheese, and produce make it onto the stands here, with jewel-toned fruits and shiny just-caught fish piled in front of stalls. Chefs and restaurateurs prowl the aisles, seeking out gourmet products and exotic ingredients-like escamoles (savory ant larvae) and roasted grasshoppers.

If you prefer to go to the vegetables instead of having the vegetables come to you, carve out time to visit Xochimilco. It's a system of chinampas, "floating islands" terraformed by pre-Colombian civilizations who carved up the lake system to transform the land for agriculture. (Impressive, no?) Xochimilco is a hotspot for tourists (and, locals warned me, teenagers armed with cheap beer) because you can hire a boat to tour you around the canals and islands. One cool way to do it is to book a spot at a pop-up dinner with Yolcan, a nonprofit aimed at preserving the chinampa system of Xochimilco by showing farmers, chefs, academics, and regular old eaters the magic of organic, sustainable chinampa-grown food. (Contact them for upcoming dates.)

Mexico City is also a foodie's dream, with world-renowned restaurants sprinkled across the massive city, and many of them pride themselves on serving only the freshest, most wholesome ingredients. Try Quintonil, a top restaurant from chef Jorge Vallejo, which sources ingredients from its own urban garden and serves creative, elevated Mexican food like local squash in homemade mole sauce and charred avocado tartare with herb chips. Another delicious option: Pujol, in the city's chichi Polanco district, which whips up clever plant-based dishes like baby corn served in smoking gourds.

Traditional Mexican food is pretty healthy.

We tend to think of Mexican food as laden with guac, cheese, and sour cream, but what you'll find in Mexico City is a far cry from America's Chipotle-fied fare. True corn tortillas, for example, are healthier than you think: They contain nothing but whole-grain cornmeal and limestone, a process called (ready for this?) nixtamalization, which adds calcium and makes the corn's amino acids and B-vitamins more absorbable. And plenty of traditional food is prepared on a hot stone, sans oil or fat-look for blue corn tlacoyos, thick, grilled corn patties stuffed with chickpeas or beans and topped with veggies. All that reliance on maize makes Mexico City an easy place to be gluten-free, as well. (Related: Healthy Recipes for Taco Tuesday)

And if you pass a pulqueria, you should definitely stop in for a glass of pulque, a thick alcoholic drink made from fermented agave sap. It tastes a bit like a cross between kombucha and drinkable yogurt, only funkier, and because it's so probiotic, it's given in small amounts to babies as they wean from breastfeeding to keep their systems happy. Yeah, those chilaquiles aren't going to win any health food awards, but there are plenty of delicious options on the lighter side.

Hotels have gotten in on the action too.

I stayed at the luxe Four Seasons Mexico City, which had a beautiful gym and outdoor pool, as well as the Barceló México Reforma, which impressed me with its gorgeous gym space (multiple Pilates Reformers available for use!!) and its healthy menu options in the restaurant and executive club. At breakfast, lighter (but still tasty) fare sits on a different leg of the buffet, so you aren't left wandering with an empty plate while others load theirs with potatoes and bacon. And up in the club lounge, where buffet snacks sit out during the day, I spotted fresh crudités and customizable mini salads. "We're trying to make it easy to be healthy," executive chef Guillermina Sánchez told me through a translator.

And other hotels around the city are making sure their guests can stay fit and feel amazing, too. At the InterContinental Presidente Mexico City, the gym stays open 24 hours-and there's a full TRX room. The Westin Santa Fe Mexico City has a sunny fitness studio with sweeping views of the city, plus Westin's signature gear-lending program: For $5, you can borrow sneakers or athletic gear, so you can stay fit without weighing down your carry-on. Which means more room for all the Mexican souvenirs you'll be bringing home.

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