Jim and I just returned from a week in Mexico City and it was a such a great trip I wanted to share some thoughts about where we went, what we did and how we got around. This was our second trip to Mexico so we are still novices when it comes to how things work – Mexico continues to be hectic, chaotic, intense at the same time that it is interesting, welcoming and with a fascinating history and culture to share.
Mexico City is a hugely cosmopolitan city full of bustling people as well as quiet corners and chill neighborhoods. We stayed in a comfy Airbnb right between the neighborhoods of Roma Norte and La Condessa – very hipster, very cool and very chill. High end restaurants, delicious drinks, swanky nightlife, fabulous street food all within mere blocks of our apartment. And those blocks were beautiful- wide tree heavy avenues with central pedestrian areas, dogs on walks, people hanging out. If anyplace can be like anyplace else it reminded me a bit of the Garden District in New Orleans…but with better street food. There are parks in every neighborhood – great big squares and circles to take refuge in and people watch. The nearby huge park of Chapultepec is great for walks and bike rides. Ah, and a huge swath of the city is closed to cars on Sundays for bike riding and pedestrians. This was a very friendly part of town to call home for a week. We felt completely safe walking around here and riding bikes. It rained while we were there but it was great because we haven’t had rain like that here in forever. It was so nice to be someplace that was lush, green and beautiful but that wasn’t humid and swamp like. We also wandered around the historic district/center and tried not to be completely overwhelmed at the crowed streets, the frenetic pace and noise. Who are we kidding- we sought solace in quieter courtyards or um…churros. If anyplace in Mexico City was dirty this was it…and it wasn’t really…it was just very. very busy. With people shopping, going, exploring and just being OUT. Perhaps the energy really is so deeply rooted- the area is built directly on the original Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and there has been commerce and community here since the 1300’s. You can feel that it is that much busier in this part of town. I wouldn’t stay here and I was glad we could retreat to the quieter neighborhoods slightly southwest. So about the food in Mexico City! Sure, we ate lots of Mexican food – street versions, cafe versions and higher end places. Everything else was also on offer, just like in any big city. It seems obvious to state but maybe not. Yes, there was lots of varieties of Mexican Food- from all the regions and specialities of Mexico but you could pretty much eat your way around the world as well. The only thing I struggled with was the timing of the meals a bit. This is a culture that loves lunch, and by lunch I mean a meal that starts at 2/3pm and ends at 5/6pm. Followed by not much else. Many, many restaurants that you would go to dinner for are only open for lunch. I’m used to a late lunch meal in Europe but often that can be followed by places that are open late for dinner or even museums/shops that are open late. Nope, in Mexico city many things seem to shut at 6pm and that’s that. If you want to be out in the day at a museum or cultural site you kinda want to get up and go early then get in on that late lunch instead of more museuming like I might be inclined 🙂 We went for walks at night or back to our apartment to chill out. In addition to street food and casual nice places we also went out for an amazing meal at Pujol – well thought to be the best restaurant in Mexico as well as on many best restaurants in the world. Our meal was interesting and delicious! I’ve eaten a lot of food from a lot of different places but this was the first fine dining meal I’ve had that included grasshoppers and ant larva and it was totally worth it!
The history and the museums in Mexico City are phenomenal. We explored the National Museum of Anthropology for HOURS one day and learned an immense amount of information about the Mesoamerican/ PreColumbian cultures and civilizations. I feel like I could go back to that museum a dozen times and still see things I missed. It is HUGE. We also went to the birth place and home of Frida Khalo, La Casa Azul as well as the studio/home of Diego Rivera. Both very different and fascinating sites in a beautiful neighborhood of Coyocan that I want to go back and explore more. We went to one of the modern art museums The Jimex as well as saw a really interesting contemporary art collection at the National Palace with works that have been collected from artists paying their income tax with their works of art as part of a national program! We went to their Museum of Folk Art – The Museo de Arte Popular which was filled with beautiful examples of regional arts and crafts. It was fascinating to see what is currently being made where in the various parts of Mexico. Craft is such a huge part of culture, trade and tourism in all of Mexico. We saw a number of large murals by Diego Rivera around town – both restored or currently undergoing restoration. It was amazing to see the scale of the murals as well as often see the initial sketches and ideas.
We also went to Teotihuacan. Which was simply AMAZING. To be honest, we weren’t sure we would be up for the day trip. There is a lot to see in the DF that it seems almost unnecessary to make the hour drive out of the city… and that would be CRAZY thinking. Because they don’t call it The Valley of the Gods for nothing. It is a HUGE immense ancient Mesoamerican city from 100BC-550AD that I can’t recommend enough making the effort to go and explore. We got there pretty early on a Thursday morning and promptly climbed a 20 story pyramid. Looking out on the rest of the scale of the site did nothing to prepare us for the huge amount of walking, scaling, hiking and gaping that we would do for the next 7 hours. We had pre-loaded with a lot of info from the Anthropology Museum so putting the information to the site was hugely rewarding. Jim and I have previously been to the Coba and Tulum sites in the Yucatan but this was a whole different scale. Both in terms of sheer size but also in terms of cultural mystery and information. The city itself was thought to have had a population of 150,000 people and maintained tightly controlled trade routes from our southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico as far south as Guatemala as well as both the coasts of Mexico. HUGE. If you are anywhere nearby just go. You don’t need to take a tour or have a guide. Just go wander around and explore. You won’t regret it. Oh yeah and take sunscreen, a hat, water and snacks. But that seems pretty obvious, right?
One final note that I think made our trip easier and far more manageable. Neither of us speaks Spanish which we keep meaning to fix…but until we can commit to actually learning the language instead of relying on smiling and google translate in museums, we get by. The thing that prolly made it a whole lot easier? Uber. Yup, we ubered the hell out of Mexico City. In 8 days we WALKED A TON and rode city bikes but we also took 13 uber rides. 2 from and back to the airport and a 2 out to Tenochtitlan and 9 rides simply around town to see things. Grand total for all of that? $110 american dollars. Yup. That’s right. Just over a hundred bucks to get picked up exactly where we were and taken exactly where we wanted to go without communication problems or bartering or getting taken advantage. It was awesome. It must also be said that the exchange rate in Mexico treats Americans very, very well. Things are very, very affordable. You feel almost guilty…then you just gobble down another tostada for $2 and call it a day.
So there you have it. A whole lot of info on what we did, where we ate (I can give you even more info on this if you really want it) and how much we enjoyed our week in Mexico City. I would and plan to go back to explore so much that we didn’t get to. Its an easy city to just be and enjoy life in.