Imagine I told you about a country bordering ours where innocents are killed regularly, guns are everywhere, and life is cheap. Imagine everything you read in the press supported those notions. Now imagine that you are a Mexican national and the place I was telling you about was LA or Chicago or Miami. There’s no way you’d vacation there.
Kind of ridiculous when you think that someone could have such a distorted view of our country, right? I mean sure, there are dangerous areas, but there are also beautiful parks and amazing historical sites and heavenly beaches; you just have to know where to go and what areas to avoid.
Exactly. We just returned from our 4th trip to Mexico City in 3 years. It’s become our Paris.
We go to visit world class museums.
We go to experience a rich culture and learn of a history that spans thousands of years.
We go to eat incredible cuisine and taste flavors we never thought possible.
We go to experience natural wonders that take our breath away.
We go to acquaint ourselves with fascinating indigenous practices.
We go to let our kids play in safe parks bordered by stylish cafes.
We go to see art that is by turns whimsical, political, and astonishing.
We go because Mexico, like the US, is full of beauty and culture and friendly people thrilled at the chance to share their heritage with a foreigner who takes an interest.
We also go because Mexico City is an absurdly affordable metropolis. We live a fat FIRE urban lifestyle for the cost of a lean FIRE rural budget.
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If you can see past the hype, allow me to share a few tips for the do it yourself traveler who is looking to experience Mexico City.
1) Avoid the big hotel. With airbnb you can get luxurious, contemporary accommodations at a fraction of the price of a chain hotel in a superior location. (I have an affiliate relationship.)
If you want a gentler introduction, an intimate place to stay for a first visit where you can ask your hosts for advice on exploring the city is The Red Treehouse. This is a boutique B&B run by an American expat and his partner with a nightly happy hour, in a walkable and safe part of town. Kids are not allowed, and the crowd is mixed with young British honeymooners, Aussie backpackers, and older Canadian retirees visiting when we were there. The terrific staff can help arrange day trips, and they speak excellent English. (My sole relationship with The Red Treehouse is being a very happy former client who earns nothing from referring them business.)
2) Use Uber. It’s cheap, easy, and better than taxi service. You can’t tip via the app, so keep small amounts of cash on hand to tip drivers.
3) Places to visit:
a) Take a day trip to La Casa Azul, Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s art-filled home in the charming nearby suburb of Coyoacan.
b) Walk up the hill to the Castillo de Chapultepec, a castle built during Mexico’s occupation by the French located in the heart of Mexico City’s equivalent of Central Park.
c) Spend a half day at the National Archaeological Museum, one of the finest in the world and a repository for most of Mexico’s ancient treasures. Across from the museum entrance you can experience the Voladores De Papantla, who continue a local indigenous practice of carefully coiling a rope around their ankles and flinging themselves off a tall pole, multiple men spiraling to earth as the cord unspools until they alight gracefully and in unison.
d) Arrange a day trip to the pyramids at Teotihuacan, about an hour’s drive outside of Mexico City. Climb the pyramid of the sun. Buy some carved obsidian figurines in the small markets near the entrance. Remember to bargain!
e) Visit the Palace of Fine Arts and see the stunning murals on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Afterwards, cross the street and visit the jaw-dropping interior of the Postal Palace. Stop for lunch in the flagship Sanborn’s restaurant located inside the building with beautiful blue tiles all over the exterior, and request to dine in the interior courtyard. After lunch, climb upstairs and check out the balcony, whose floor is uneven because the heavy colonial building is slowly sinking into the soft silt of the ancient lake bed where Mexico City was founded.
f) Visit the Cathedral on the Zocalo (main plaza), then walk next door to visit the museum exhibiting the ruins and excavations of the Aztec pyramid that this cathedral was built atop!
g) Check out Paseo De La Reforma (the wide avenue modeled on the Champs Elysee, which connects Chapultepec Park with Do) on Sundays, when it is closed and becomes a biking/pedestrian friendly walking zone. Rent a bike or rollerblade.
h) Enjoy an ice cream at Neveria Roxy in the Polanco neighborhood (careful, as there are several locations), and then walk the neighborhood. If you are traveling with children, take them to the beautiful swingsets and jungle gyms in the park across the street. This is the Beverly Hills of Mexico City.
i) You knew you’d have the best Mexican food of your life on this trip, but didn’t expect you might enjoy the best Israeli meal of your life at Merkava, or a phenomenal Lebanese meal at Adonis. Mexico’s culinary heritage encompasses several waves of international immigration. All of them are going to benefit of your taste buds.
j) Check out the free Museo Soumaya, a repository for the art collection of Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim.
k) Throw on your gym clothes and get a workout with the free outdoor exercise equipment at either Parque Mexico or Parque España. Kids are not an obstacle – the workout area is conveniently located immediately across from the gated children’s play zone, so you can keep an eye on the little ones while both you and they get some exercise. Follow it up with a coffee or meal at any of the terrific cafes surrounding the park.
Pitfalls: Do not go to Xochimilco – it’s far, the traffic was rough, and it’s just not worth the significant travel time sitting in a car to then sit on a boat.
4) Stay in the Roma Norte or Condesa neighborhoods. They are safe and walkable, with wonderful cafes, bakeries and restaurants.
Now you know where to go and what to do when you get there. Enjoy!