In case you didn’t know, Mexico City is hot right now. My sister lived there for nearly five years about five years ago so I used to visit all of the time. However, lately, I have just used Mexico City as a hopping point to then fly or bus it to other parts of the country. On our most recent trip to Mexico, we finally got to stay here for a few days in the heart of what is happening in the city, the neighbourhood called Condesa. Mexico City has always been known as DF or Distrito Federal, recently that name has changed so officially it is now Ciudad de Mexico or CDMX, for typing purposes. Mexico City is basically the population of Canada wrapped up into a city so it can be a bit overwhelming. But, it is a beautiful city that is rich with so much art, culture and life that you could spend weeks here without getting bored. Alternatively, you could also easily spend a long weekend here, as we did on this trip, and jam-pack it with some pretty awesome things.
Where to Stay
CDMX has no shortage of Airbnbs and hostels. There are accommodations to fit every budget. I highly recommend choosing to stay in La Roma Norte or La Condesa if you want to maximize your time here. These neighbourhoods are in the heart of where you want to be and they provide easy access to the other parts of the city that you may want to explore. Plus they are safe and walkable. The cobblestoned tree-lined roads will make you forget just what city you are in. When we were here, the Jacaranda trees were in full-bloom. April seems to be the time of year that I most often visit Mexico and during this time, as you fly into the city, it looks to be a sea of purple thanks to their beautiful blooms.
On this trip we stayed at Hotel Condesa DF. I cannot recommend this hotel enough. It is a Mexican version of the Drake Hotel or the Ace Hotels. Everything about this place made me want to move in permanently. Upon arrival, they offer you some tequila (the answer is, “si”) and they will then promptly offer you another (the answer then depends on how you want your day/night to go!). Our room had balcony-type windows that opened up onto the street and it was one of the coolest rooms that I have stayed in. No space is wasted here. The main floor has a bar and restaurant and this is where breakfast is served. Breakfast is one of my most favourite things in the world and if you want specifics, Mexican breakfast tops the list. The buffet breakfast here was ridiculously good. The coffee was made to order and there is even a room lined with photography and art books for your browsing. If our trip hadn’t been so short, I would have wanted to lounge here for hours every morning. Hotel Condesa DF is what dream hotels are made of. Seriously.
What to Do
Museums & Galleries
What to do in Mexico City really depends on what you are into. You could literally spend weeks just visiting museums and art galleries. Most of the major galleries and musuems are located along Paseo de La Reforma, which is a big boulevard that is a major artery to the city. Chapultepec Park is here as well. Museo Nacional de Antropología in particular is one to visit. If you go, you need to dedicate at least a half day, if not a full one so that you can explore every nook of this place. If you have been to Mexico before, you have likely seen “jade” masks at every souvenir shop. The original jade mask that belonged to King K’inich Janaab Pakal is here and it’s beautiful. More about Pakal in a later post because we visited his tomb in Palenque later on this trip. My favourite gallery to visit Museo de Arte Moderno. If you want to see Frida Kahlo paintings, this is where you must go. The iconic Two Fridas painting is here, along with many others.
I know that they are sometimes cheesy but I am a big fan of tour buses when visiting new cities. They are often a great way to see the city, especially if you are on a time limit for your trip or if you want to get glimpses of neighbourhoods that you likely won’t visit. The Turibus in CDMX is great. They have four different tours that run from 9am until 9pm. Their buses are hop-on-hop-off and it’s inexpensive. On this trip, we bought two-day passes. On the first day, we stayed on the bus and did the Downtown Tour. This was Josh’s first time in Mexico City and we knew that we didn’t have time to actually walk around the true Centre of CDMX, so this was an easy way to get a glimpse.
We then did the South Tour that takes you into Coyoacán. Coyoacán is one of my favourite places in CDMX. When my sister lived in the city, we would often come here and browse the market, drinking cappucinos and eating churros. There is always so much happening here. Men with wind-up musical boxes, children running around with balloons. There is so much energy and life here and I find it so inspiring. It’s also where Frida grew up. On this day we hopped off the bus and had lunch on one of the terraces in the main square and to me, it was a little slice of heaven. We later wandered down a side street where we discovered a place selling marquesitas – a treat that I have only ever seen in the capital of the state Quintana Roo, Chetumal. Coyoacán is changing, it’s becoming more modern but I believe that the great energy will never disappear.
If you haven’t guessed already, I really do love that woman. She was such a strong woman – constantly in pain and yet she never let that stop her from accomplishing all that she could. The best place to really get a feel for Frida is to visit Casa Azul – the blue house – Museo de Frida Kahlo. This is where Frida was born and grew up. Where her and Diego lived. And where she died. I have visited Casa Azul a number of times before but on this trip, something about it was more powerful for me. I cannot say what it was but something stirred inside of me. I am not sure if it was the realisation that her ashes were sitting in an urn in front of me or if was seeing the display of her corsets, cast and artificial leg. I took slow steps and soaked in everything that I saw and left Casa Azul feeling a little different. Lighter even. The popularity of Frida has grown a lot in the past few years so expect long lineups to get in. We arrived about a half hour after they opened and stood in line for about the same amount of time. If you want to take photos inside, you need to pay a few extra pesos with your entry to do so.
Xochimilco is one hard word to pronounce. So-chi-mil-co. Now say that ten times fast! Xochimilco is an area located in the South of CDMX. There you can hire a brightly coloured boat or trajineras, and a driver to lazily tour you down the canals for a couple of hours. You can bring your own drinks and food if you want but… part of the fun is the other boats that come your way as you travel around. You will see mariachi boats come by and for a few pesos, they will play you a song. Then there will be the quesadilla boat or the michelada one. You order what you want and they will make it for you right then and there. It’s a pretty cool experience. You will go by the Island of Dolls which you will have to Google to find out about. It’s both creepy and intriguing. Also intriguing is knowing that there are creatures living in the waters o Xochimilco that live nowhere else in the world.
Yes, Teotihuacan is not located in Mexico City. However, if you time it right, you can drive there in about an hour. Any first time to Mexico City requires a visit here. You just have to go. Teotihuacan. The home of the Sun and Moon pyramids. Teotihuacan. What was once the largest civilization in the world. At this time, you are allowed to climb both the sun and moon pyramids and when you get to the top and see the view, you can imagine how it would have been thousands of years ago. There is lots of mystery around this ancient city and they are still discovering new things about it to this day. I am sure that the photos here of it are a little boring. Because to really experience it’s greatness, you have to see Teotihuacan in real life. In the parking lot, you will see a tall post where men in traditional dress do a performance called danza de los voladores – dance of the flyers. This is a traditional dance from the state of Veracruz. Give these men some pesos because they are working to preserve an art form that is disappearing. UNESCO has named it an “intangible cultural heritage”. Also, bring sunscreen, water and arrive early. It’s hot here and that sun is deadly.
Where to Drink
I lots to say about this but rather than typing it all out, I direct you to my other website, Bartender Atlas, where we have mapped out a good Mexico City Bar Hop for you. It takes you to some of the best cocktail bars in La Condesa and La Roma Norte.
Tips for CDMX
• UBER! Uber is now in Mexico and that, my friends is an incredible thing! It’s a cheap, easy and safe way to get around the city. No more hailing potentially sketchy cabs again.
• Eat all the food. Even if it scares you. If you see a woman on the street with a basket of something, ask her what it is and give it a try. She likely made it in her own kitchen from a recipe that was passed down to her from her Mother. When my sister and her husband lived in CDMX, we used to go for drives into the outskirts of the city in search of quesadillas. We would slow down when we would see a stand – often times just a tarp with a couple plastic stools and an woman cooking on a comal over an open fire. My brother-in-law would often say, “Nah. She is not old enough” and would then continue up the road looking for an older woman cooking quesadillas. Why? Because the older she is, the more experience she would have and therefore, her quesadillas would be the best.
• As with all cities, there are neighbourhoods that you should avoid while in CDMX for safety reasons. Just be aware of your surroundings and know where you are going. Don’t flaunt any sort of wealth or money. Overall, be kind, be friendly and be respectful and you will not have any issues.
• This isn’t really a tip but, if you have not been to Mexico in a few years, you will notice that the classic green beetle taxis no longer exist. Now there are newer cars running as taxis and they are painted either pink & white or gold & maroon. Our friend Liz calls them Hello Kitty and Iron Man – ha!