World Cup 2014: In Mexico City, a long history of ballgames

Soccer has a rich history in Mexico and an ardent fan base in Mexico City. As far back as 1400 BC, Mesoamericans were playing ballgames. Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs and others held team competitions in stone ball courts. The goal was to hit a heavy ball through a hoop using feet, hips, elbows or heads but no hands. (Sound familiar?) The loser may have been sacrificed — or maybe it was the winner. No one knows for sure. It was apparently an honor to be a human sacrifice. Luckily, the rules have changed.

Must see: The Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology), on nearly 20 acres in Chapultepec Park, contains one of the world's largest collections of pre-Hispanic antiquities. Thirty miles northeast of the museum, the pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds the massive Pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. The Zócalo or Plaza de la Constitución, Mexico City's 10-acre main square, includes the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

The soccer scene: The city has three primary teams: Club América plays at Azteca Stadium, Cruz Azul at Estadio Azul and Pumas at Estadio Olímpico Universitario. Bars showing matches include Papa Bill's (various locations in the city, www.papabills.com.mx) and Yuppie's, which also has a DJ and dancing (6 Diagonal Patriotismo, Colonia Condesa; 011-52-55-6262-7720, www.yuppiescondesa.com.mx).

Beware: Air pollution and smog. They plague the city, especially in winter. Bad air quality combined with high altitude (around 7,500 feet) can make breathing difficult for those with lung problems.

Best time to go: Soccer tournaments are held in the spring and fall. Temperatures are pleasant most of the year. During Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week before Easter), many locals travel out of Mexico City on vacation, leaving the city less congested for visitors.

Info: http://www.visitmexico.com/en/mexico-city

Airfare: $528.

travel@latimes.com