I was nervous heading to Mexico City at the beginning of May. I wasn’t afraid for my safety; Mexico City demands one be a well-informed, conscious traveler just like any other place. I wasn’t anxious I’d be lonely, either. In fact, I was looking forward to some solitary time on a new adventure. I was nervous about the perception that Mexican people would have of me, an American, during this era of Trump. His inflammatory remarks about Mexicans, Latin Americans, and South Americans in general made me feel embarrassed and ashamed.
Instantly, however, I was greeted by the warmth and vibrancy of this massive city and my fears were allayed. I vowed, as I always did when I traveled, to observe the practices of the culture I found myself in with the utmost respect. I did expect more people to speak English, quite honestly, but was refreshed to learn that I couldn’t rely on an English version of a menu at a restaurant or the fact that every waiter or person I encountered would be able to speak with me. I had to roll with the punches and try my best to accommodate others and not the other way around.
As for what to do if you ever find yourself in Mexico City, the options are truly endless. There is so much to see and explore and I’ve been lucky enough to have a month to do it all in. Below is an extensive list of my favorite aspects of this city, from food and drink to museums and even wrestling matches. But first things first…
Where To Stay
When it comes to Mexico City, there are incredible neighborhoods to get to know and explore and others to steer clear from- as with a lot of cities around the world. As for CDMX, the best areas to stay in are Roma Norte and Condesa. Both boast tons of bars, restaurants, vintage shops, and quaint little square parks for sitting and relaxing. I myself stayed in Roma and have enjoyed its peace, quiet, and safety regardless of the time of day or night. Condesa has been my favorite to explore, however, with it’s shady, jungle-like streets and parks and plethora of amazing restaurants. Airbnbs abound in these areas and come at a great price.
What To Eat
The first thing you will notice about Mexico City is the street life. There is no shortage of juice stands, torta and taco carts peppering every street corner in the city. Sure, we have food carts in New York City, but here the food carts are like mini restaurants with chairs for strangers to pull up and share toppings and salsas. Some seem more professional while others more relaxed (think card tables and Tupperware). There are plenty of places to enjoy ‘tacos del barrio’ all throughout the city, so just follow the smell of fresh tortillas. Yum.
As for restaurants, Contramar came with the most recommendations. It’s a beautiful, lively seafood brunch restaurant that I actually never had the pleasure of eating at- reservations must be made here and well in advance. My favorite spot is Volver in Roma. It’s here that I discovered chilaquiles, a very popular brunch item in Mexico, and made the mistake of assuming that just because they look like nachos it meant that I could eat them with my hands. Not so! I’ve been back several times for the chilaquiles soaked in salsa verde topped with an egg, and ate it all with a fork.
A final favorite of mine is the vegan spot La Pitahaya. They have deliciously filling curries and a varied selection of tacos that come in beautiful pink tortillas.
What To Do
What isn’t there to do in Mexico City? I was lucky enough to have a great work life balance during my stay and felt like I got to experience a lot of cultural activity in the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. Naturally, that starts with visiting the largest park in the Western Hemisphere, Chalpultepec. This park boasts a zoo, a Natural History Museum, and one of the coolest features I ever experienced: an audiorama. I stumbled upon this by accident and discovered a circular clearing amidst a thick jungle setting dotted with lounge-like benches. Above the scene played the most relaxing music one has ever heard. There was even a sweater clad older man in the corner manning a book-for-borrow station. I quickly slid in among a zenned out woman and some tourists and closed my eyes and let the music wash over me.
Though they may not be as immersive as the audiorama, Mexico City has a TON of museums and most are either free or cost around $50 pesos (around $2 USD). I never made it to the Frida Khalo Museum (tickets sell out quickly!) but I thoroughly enjoyed the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Jeff Koons and Marcel Duchamp exhibit at Museo Jumex. It’s actually right next to the gorgeous Museo Soumaya in Polanco so it’s easy to kill two birds with one stone.
If reading is your jam, then Mexico City is your city. It seems like every street has a libereria, whether the books are shiny new or second-hand. El Pendulo is a gorgeous bookshop with several locations in each of CDMX’s prominent neighborhoods. Make an afternoon of it and spend some time its cafe. My favorite shop is the Under the Volcano Book in Condesa. They have an amazing selection of second-hand books in English, all in excellent condition.
Looking for some beautiful gifts to bring home? Mercado de San Juan E. Pugibet contains dozens of stalls where you can pick up woven baskets, mugs, trinkets, copper goods, colorful blankets and of course, sombreros. Bring your pesos!
If you’ve got half a day to spare, you must visit the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan which lies an hour North of Mexico City. This civilization that predates the Maya once covered over 8 square miles. What remains today are the ruins along the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest pyramid in the world. To get to this UNESCO world heritage site, head to Terminal Central del Norte and walk all the way down to Gate 8. Buses run every 2o minutes and round trip tickets cost around $100 pesos (around $5 USD…are you noticing a theme here? Mexico City is extremely affordable). There is a further charge of around $70 pesos per person to actually enter the ruins.
Fortunately, I was able to make the trip with my boyfriend who visited last weekend so I didn’t have to travel alone, though I imagine it would be relatively safe to do so as there are hundreds of tourists around. We chose not to take a tour because we wanted the freedom to explore the ruins at our own leisure. We hiked to the tops of each pyramid and boy, were those steps steep! My heart was pounding as I made the ascent. Fortunately, there are ropes to assist you in going up and down. We spent a little over two hours exploring which was pretty tiring. There is a small town right outside of the site and it’s easy to stop here afterwards for some Micheladas and tacos.
Have you ever been to a lucha libre match? I can’t say I had either until Airbnb emailed me suggesting I give it a try. I have to say it was one of my favorite experiences in Mexico yet. For just $400 pesos (around $20 USD) both my boyfriend and I were able to enjoy 2.5 hours of pure entertainment. The lucha matches are pretty epic: beautiful masks and costumes, incredible stunts, comedic moves and over-the-top personalities, and not to mention a laughing, lively bunch of fans screaming in Spanish. Book yourself some tickets through Ticketmaster or head to the Historic District and buy tickets on the spot.
I highly recommend brushing up on your Spanish before you come to Mexico City. As I said before, nearly every restaurant has one menu and it’s in Spanish. Try downloading Duolingo and make sure you know how to ask for or avoid certain dishes if you have any aversions or allergies, say thank you, and ask for the check!
I have taken Uber everywhere here. My Airbnb host told me that the metro was an adventure that I must experience but that I should watch my back lest someone push me and try to steal my purse…so I avoided that scene. Ubers will suffice, trust me, and they are cheap. Rides will cost you anywhere form $2 to $15 USD for nearly anywhere you want to go. The city is also very walkable so taking a strong is also a great option.
There appears to be no law against going up to diners in restaurants and trying to sell them candy, flowers, or goods off of the street. At first I was buying from everyone, but then I had to stop. It was hard to turn away little children forced to beg, but the stream is pretty constant and it’s difficult to buy goods from every single person.
If you hear people hollering or loudspeakers playing in the streets, do not distress. Some people are selling tamales, others their handy and junk-lugging services. They can be heard at all times of day and I find it rather humorous and lively. Unless it’s right outside my window at 8 am on a Saturday morning that is…
Finally, while it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to tap water, I have been fine drinking glasses of water from restaurants and filling up my reusable water bottle from the Brita pot in my Airbnb. I really don’t recommend drinking straight from the tap, but as long as the water is filtered in some way, it’s completely ridiculous to buy dozens of plastic water bottles.
There is even more to see and experience in Mexico City than I have listed above. The city is packed with opportunities to immerse yourself in the vibrancy of Mexican culture. Have you ever been to Mexico City before? What did you like best? Let me know in the comments!