Tell anyone that you're headed to Mexico City and the reaction is inevitable: "Are you going to Frida's house? It's a must."
And for many travelers, that is true. Nothing will keep them away from La Casa Azul (the Blue House), the home shared by artists Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera.
They yearn to inhabit the intimate spaces where she spent hours spinning the details of her anguished life into art that has captivated millions. They imagine visiting the sunlit studio where her wheelchair still sits next to her easel and seeing the mirror she hung from the canopy of her bed so she could paint even while bedridden.
These details animate the painter's daily life in a way no museum exhibition ever could.
So, no true Frida fan is likely to skip a visit to Casa Azul entirely. But I’m here to tell you to ratchet down your expectations. The museum tries to keep the experience as intimate as possible, but lines are long, and the weekend crowds can be a nightmare for anyone with a hint of agoraphobia.
To make the most of your visit, plan to go midweek (except Mondays, when the museum is closed), and you are warned to buy timed-entry tickets online in advance to cut down on waiting.
Information: museofridakahlo.org.mx. (Note that the currency symbol for the Mexican peso and the U.S. dollar are the same. Adult tickets cost 230 pesos — about $11.50.)
Trotsky House. For an even fuller experience, pair your elbow-to-elbow tour of Casa Azul with a less-congested visit to the easy-to-miss Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky (Leon Trotsky House Museum), just blocks away. Behind its thick walls unfolds a dramatic tale of espionage, murder, and intrigue involving Frida Kahlo’s friend and lover.
Kahlo and Rivera pulled strings to get the Mexican government to grant asylum to the exiled communist revolutionary and his wife, Natalia, in 1937. For two years, the couple lived at Casa Azul, during which time Trotsky (nearing 60) and Kahlo (not yet 30) had a brief affair.
By 1939, the Trotskys had worn out their welcome, and they moved into a nearby compound in April, which was guarded day and night against gunmen sent by Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, who considered Trotsky his rival in the Communist Party. One of these would-be assassins was celebrated artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, a devoted Stalinist in May 1940; the house still has the bullet holes.
Today, visitors can see photos of the gulag where Trotsky’s family was imprisoned, as well as the desk where he finally met his end, his skull bashed in with an ice ax wielded by Stalinist spy Ramón Mercader in August 1940. The bunkerlike house is just as Trotsky left it, offering a similar experience to that of Casa Azul, but without the crowds and at a fraction of the price. Call ahead to make sure an English-speaking guide will be available when you visit.