Creator Spotlight: Karla Ceceña, Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Literary Gems

Karla transforms the Mexico's streets into unique narrative journeys. Discover how she turns each corner into a page of her story.

In Mexico City, a passionate book lover called Karla Ceceña is emerging as a pivotal figure in merging the world of literature with the art of travel. As the founder of Ciudad Literaria, Karla transforms the city’s streets into unique narrative journeys, guiding both locals and tourists through Mexico City’s rich literary heritage. Her efforts have established her as a beloved local literary hero, celebrating her city’s culture but also revitalizing the appreciation for books in the digital age. 1000 Libraries sat down with her to uncover her inspiring story and contagious literary passion.

A Proud Member of the Global 1000 Libraries Community

Karla discovered 1000 Libraries in 2021 via a recommendation from a friend in her reading club. Enthralled by the beautiful, inspiring content, Karla quickly became a fan and an active community member, going to even supporting our crowdfunding campaign to publish best-selling book “The Most Beautiful Book Places in the World”. 

"I love to have a place to find bookspots from all over the world," she shares. “It makes me really happy to follow an account that shares my passions; the photos are so beautiful, and they inspire me to travel the world,“ she adds, highlighting her passion for literary exploration that 1000 Libraries nurtures. 

An Inspiring Story of Hometown Rediscovery

Karla's love story with books began in college, sparked by a friend’s contagious enthusiasm for literature. This newfound interest led her to frequent bookshops and gradually build her own collection, diving into the worlds created by authors like Christopher Morley and Cristina Morató. Her favorites often depict vivid cityscapes or tales of remarkable women, weaving narratives that transcend the pages they're written on.

A side-by-side photo of the Biblioteca tour card.

But it was her return from studying abroad that truly ignited her passion. She describes this moment of clarity: "When I returned to Mexico City, I realized I had explored foreign streets more than my own. This sparked a desire to rediscover my city through its literary heart—its bookshops and libraries." This reacquaintance with her hometown through literature inspired her to share these discoveries, leading to the birth of her literary tours.

The Birth of Ciudad Literaria

Ciudad Literaria emerged from Ceceña's newfound appreciation for her city's literary dimension. Starting with informal tours for friends in neighborhoods rich with literary history, her venture quickly grew into a sought-after experience. Reflecting on this unexpected career path, she shares, "It was never a planned dream, but a response to a profound personal transformation. I wanted to translate my love for books and travel into something that could inspire and connect others."

A photo of Ciudad Literaria book club members with the founder, Karla Cecena.

In 2020, just before the pandemic, she conducted her first professional tour in Santa María la Ribera, one of Mexico City’s oldest neighborhoods. The tour was a beautiful blend of history, literature, and discovery, featuring hidden bookshops and the literary figures associated with the area. When the pandemic halted physical gatherings, Ceceña adapted by offering virtual tours, connecting over 100 people at a time to literary Dublin and the real-life haunts of Harry Potter. This virtual format proved so successful that it complemented the resumed in-person tours, enriching the overall experience with accessible, detailed explorations of literary locales.

As restrictions lifted, Ceceña resumed her tours, now richer and more engaging, often showcasing rare books and hidden literary spots that even locals were unaware of. Her tours are much more than just walks, they are immersive experiences where literature and the city’s architecture intertwine to tell stories overlooked by traditional narratives. “I felt a need to share what I was learning because it was life-changing,” Karla explains. 

Her tours, filled with hidden gems and storied locales, offer a unique perspective on the city’s cultural and literary richness. These tours have grown rapidly in popularity – often sold out - with the rise of literary travel as a trendy alternative to regular tourism – delighting book lovers looking to experience more from their travel. She recalls a particularly successful tour with enthusiasm “More recently, I designed a new literary experience, to see the sunrise in Xochimilco and discover books about that astonishing place. My community has loved it, the groups are sold out in less than one day and I think it is because that place reminds us that once Mexico City had water streets and a wonderful landscape surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. And there we can reconnect with nature, when we are there, it seems like we’re not in the noisy and chaotic city for a few hours.“

Literary Tourism: A Novel Approach to Exploration

"Books and travel are two of life’s greatest joys," Karla asserts. Ceceña passionately believes that literary tourism offers a unique lens through which to experience a city. By integrating books into travels, one can uncover layers of culture and history that typical tours might overlook. This approach not only enriches the traveler's experience but also breathes life into the local literary scene, supporting small bookshops and historical sites. 

A collage photo of Ciudad Literaria book club activities.

Karla sees independent bookstores as essential to the cultural fabric of not only Mexico City but any city in the world. She emphasizes their importance beyond mere commerce, as places rich with literary history and personal passion. "Taking people to hidden literary gems is a must in my tours," Karla says, explaining her commitment to introducing readers to lesser-known spots where booksellers display unique enthusiasm in their crafts. This effort is not just about discovery, but also about sustaining these cultural havens which, as she notes, often struggle to survive in today's market.

The Written Word in a Digital Age

Despite the digital revolution, Ceceña sees a bright future for printed books. The enduring value of printed books in our increasingly digital world is very close to Karla’s heart. Despite common predictions about the demise of physical books, she believes they hold an irreplaceable quality. "I can’t imagine a world without printed books, for me they are the most beautiful objects in the world," Karla asserts. 

Her dual embrace of technology and tradition showcases how digital platforms can augment the reach and impact of literary pursuits rather than diminish them – against the conventional view that technology is often seen as the destroyer of literary lifestyle. Social media movements led by 1000 Libraries, Bookstagram and BookTok have revived the general public’s interest in books leading a resurgence in book culture. “In my country, it is really common to hear that people don’t read, but I’ve seen that it is not true, there’s a lot of interest in books” she adds, “and thanks to social media I’ve been able to reach out to more people or access digital books that are not in my country, I don’t see it as a threat because I use technology to share my passion for books.”

Invitation to Literary Discovery

Through her social media presence, Karla encourages the world to explore the world through the pages of a book, believing that literary elements can deeply enrich travel experiences. "Reading a city is a way to love it, and through books, we can be amazed again," she reflects. With Ciudad Literaria, Karla helps locals and tourists alike discover Mexico City in a new, profound way, making the familiar streets and stories come alive through literary exploration.

A collage photo of beautiful libraries and tourist spots in Mexico.

This approach not only offers a fresh perspective on travel but also fosters a deeper connection with the places we visit or inhabit. By intertwining literature with the physical exploration of a city, Karla invites people to reconnect with their home towns and new ones – “For me, reading is a way to travel; you can find books which are set in many parts of the world and then plan a literary trip with anticipation. Every city must have a literary side with bookshops, libraries, literary activities, and bookish stories, so if you have the chance to explore your own city, I’m sure you’ll become a local traveler. And of course, following 1000 Libraries is a must.”

A Local Community Hero

Karla Ceceña’s Ciudad Literaria is much more than just a tour company; it is a movement that redefines the cultural and communal landscape of Mexico City through the power of books. Karla has created a space where enthusiasts can connect, not only with the city’s history and culture but also with each other. Her tours and events serve as social platforms where individuals from diverse backgrounds meet to exchange ideas and stories, enriching their experience of the city. "Each tour is an opportunity for people to share their own narratives, making each route uniquely personal," Karla explains. This communal learning environment nurtures a deeper understanding and appreciation of literary works while also fostering friendships and networks among book lovers. Karla's vision extends beyond the tours; she aims to build lasting bonds among participants, encouraging them to explore new books and ideas together, thereby strengthening the fabric of the local literary community.

An exquisite photo of Karla Cecena, founder of the Ciudad Literaria book club, together with her members.

Her work reminds us that to read is to travel, and through these literary journeys, we come to know and love our surroundings anew. As Ceceña continues to inspire literary exploration, her influence on the city's cultural narrative grows, making her a true hero in the world of literature with a contagious passion that is hard to ignore. “In general, my most memorable moment of each tour is to see the happy faces of my travelers; they really look surprised, and it makes me proud, and I feel that I’m doing something that matters to many people.” 

To delve deeper into Karla Ceceña's literary world and join her on a journey through Mexico City, visit Ciudad Literaria’s website or follow her on Instagram and TikTok at @ciudadliterariacdmx.

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