The Balneario Elba is a small but highly popular aquatic park in the very east of Mexico City. It’s partly famous simply because it’s so plainly visible on the Avenida Zaragoza.
But in fact, the park is also plainly historical. The Peñón Víejo mountain, a small extinct volcano, towers right above it. And it’s been something of a luxury resort since well into ancient times when it was on the far eastern edge of Lake Texcoco. It was sometimes even surrounded by the lake and the Emperor Moctezuma had an island home here.
A stone’s throw from the Peñón de los Baños, the island was equally important for cults related to the Mesoamerican gods of rain and prosperity. The mountain and some of its base remained an island through most of the colonial period. When the vast area was finally farmed by the people of Santa Marta Acatitla, directly to the south, it was recognized as an important water source in its own right.
Starting in the 19th century, the cruelty of history caught up with the little resort. From roughly the 30 years prior to a 1997 re-opening it lay entirely abandoned. But by the late 1990s, the need for swimming pools and recreation was simply too strong, and again it reopened. This time it bore some of the trappings of the other balnearios stretching southward from Mexico City and into Cuernavaca, another ancient weekend retreat.
But today the Elba competes directly with the Utopia Parks in Iztapalapa. And still entirely private, it doesn’t have to offer the only swimming pool in the east side of the City. Many of the Utopias offer swimming too. And so the park can concentrate on improving service to visitors and keeping the place tidy. It will still get crowded, but today it offers an affordable break from the heat and sun.
Hours: Daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.