Mexico gets a bad rep. The first assumption is of the "Oh! You're going to Cancun to drink your weight in frozen, well vodka and not venture more than 10 feet from your all-inclusive resort!" variety. Or, once you squash that and say you're headed inland, the assumption is that as soon as you step foot off the plane you will get kidnapped by a drug cartel. Yes there are beautiful beach towns and yes there are dangerous areas, just like anywhere...but as I found out, (shocker) Mexico City bucks any and all stereotypes and is AMAZING!
Locations: Mexico City (DF)
Length: 3.5 days
Transportation: Taxi, Uber, Metro
Companions: 1 friend
Getting around: Easy
Get by on English: Moderate
Food Variety: High
I first learned about the history, influential artists and cultural traditions of Latin America and Spain during my years of Spanish class pre-college. Let's be honest no-one aged 13-18 really has a clue. But, when the chance was presented to go to Spain for spring break my senior year I jumped on it. I realized...shit, I can actually communicate with people in another language! I got to see all these masters...Dalí, Picasso, Miró, Goya, El Greco, Gaudí, etc., in person, and experience this rich history and culture. It was a life changing experience for me; One that jump started my thirst for travel. However, it was not until this weekend, 15 years later that I finally got to check off an experience I've been pining over off my list...Mexico City!
Why Mexico City? Well I'm fascinated with Día de los Muertos, have a major girl crush on Frida Kahlo that has been marinating for decades and have always wanted to see the massive Diego murals in person. Southwest now flies to Mexico City and Chicago happens to be a hub. My travel partner in crime of course was down so we used some miles and hopped a flight to Mexico City for Day of the Dead! The trip turned out to be so much more than what I was expecting. For example, how could I forget there is a massively amazing ancient, sprawling collection of temples named Teotihuacan a short jaunt outside of the city? We barely scratched the surface of all the marvelous things to do, see and eat in Mexico City. Let's talk about what we were able to fit in.
DAY .5 (Oct. 30): En route
Our flight was delayed so we were stuck in the shit airport with nothing but a BW3 to comfort us, basically ruining the chance of seeing anything in Mexico City our first night. The whole flying time from Chicago is ~4 hours but with the layover and delay we got in at 1am. Luckily our Airbnb host was very accommodating. We passed a street of what looked to be super hot hookers a few minutes from our place and couldn't help but let a little bit of doubt creep in about our decision on lodging. Drained as we were we passed out and hoped for the best.
DAY 1 (Oct. 31): Food, Drinks, Diego
Rise and shine! We're tired but we get up ready to conquer the day. Anything we may have thought the night before is completely shattered because our neighborhood is the cutest and our apartment is right in the heart of it. We stayed in Condesa, about a block away from Parque Mexico. We were surrounded by cute restaurants, coffee shops, greenery and tons of people. People running, people walking dogs, people making out...p.s. there are always people making out everywhere in Mexico City so hopefully you're not a prude! It was a fantastic neighborhood and I'd recommend it to anyone. Condesa and also Roma if you're wanting to stay somewhere with a "hipster" feel and don't mind not being in a hotel.
We set up walking food tour for this day. I was excited for Frida and skulls, my friend was excited to eat! Who doesn't want to stuff their face with the freshest most delicious Mexican food around. The tour started at 11 so on the way we hit one of the Diego murals I've been itching to see prior to meeting our guide.
The famous mural, Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central, is held at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, along with other rotating expositions. It's a relatively small building with the central focus being a huge room containing the mural. We asked a cab to take us there and they didn't know it by name so make sure you have the address. It's on the west side of the Alameda Central park, opposite of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes (which is where our food tour was starting). The cost was 20 pesos plus 5 if you want to take pictures...basically dirt cheap and totally worth it.
So after my mind was sufficiently blown by this mural that a picture can't even do justice, we wandered through the park to Bellas Artes and, stomachs empty, met with our guide. We chose Club Tengo Hambre for the tour. There are definitely other options out there depending on what you're looking for...but we were looking for the best food and a younger, hip option that wouldn't be lame. After checking out their Instagram we pulled the trigger. Our host was cool, the food was delicious, we went places we would've never ventured on our own, drank pulque (a fermented maguay drink) and ate ants. 'skrrreeeet' (record scratch) yup ants. Let me tell you the food is fantastic. AND CHEAP! We could not get over how inexpensive everything was. There are street food stands everywhere really and from what I learned tend to have a specialty like al pastor, rotisserie chicken, quesadillas with the freshest, lightest corn tortilla I've ever tasted, green chorizo! It puts the stuff most places in the states sell to shame...except Taco Bell of course. Psych! Yeah right.
After making a new friend and being thoroughly stuffed, we walked through the Zócalo, which is the main town square and headed to the National Palace for.......more Diego murals!!! I'm not going to lie we were pretty exhausted after the 4ish hour walking tour including some adult beverages but with only 3 days to spend in Mexico City we had to fit in as much as possible. The National Palace on the inside is beautiful and spread out but at this point it was raining a bit so we headed straight for the murals. There is one massive mural on the staircase leading to the second floor and then additional murals lining the second floor terrace depicting the history of Mexico. Again, it's hard to capture in pictures but it was intricate and breathtaking. It's crazy to see how much he fit into these murals by way of symbolism and well-known people, places and events.
We headed back out into the square once we were finished. We really had no idea what to expect for Día de los Muertos weekend so we were taking it all in. The Zócalo had a big stage and some structures set up but for some reason every time we tried to go it was barricaded off at the perimeter, even on the 1st. It was still cool to walk through. Even this day on the 31st there were people with costumes and faces painted everywhere. The weekend seemed to gain in intensity as it went on but let me tell you, they do Halloween/Día de los Muertos up in Mexico! We didn't realize that kids were going to just walk up to you, pumpkin pail in hand, and ask for candy so we never had anything to give them and kept forgetting to buy some. We disappointed at least a score of cute Mexican kids....so maybe be more prepared than us!
As I mentioned we became friends with our tour guide so we made plans to meet up for a drink later that evening. There is a metro stop right in the main square so after we wandered a bit we took the metro back to our neighborhood. We stopped at a super cute wine bar on the way back to our place (again, seriously so inexpensive....~$23 for 3 apps, a dessert, 2 glasses of wine and 2 beers), rested for a bit and then headed back out.
We met our friend at a mezcalería called Bósforo. There was no sign on the door and it was next to a restaurant that had no name, so let's call it a hidden gem. The atmosphere was cool, music good for the first half of the night until it got a little sacrifice-y for our taste and service great. The only drawback was the bar stools which are crazy high. For a shorty like me it was really uncomfortable to have my legs dangling but my friend MacGyvered a solution involving a half full box of beer, so it was all good. They basically source small batch Mezcal, all different types, from local family producers. You can't get this stuff outside of the DF. They give you orange slices with salt on them to suck on in between sips...my technique involved taking it down in one swig though haha. I can't sip Mezcal I've discovered, although the smokey taste is my favorite, especially in a cocktail. My friend took it easier because we scheduled an early morning tour to Teotihuacan the next day which required us to be up at 5:30. I tried to take it slow as well but let me tell you, the Mezcal was delicious. So, out later than we intended and now hungry we found a late night spot to eat close to our place then walked the few blocks to the apartment...we never, not once, felt unsafe or threatened. I'm telling you Mexico City is the bomb.
Day 2 (Nov 1): Teotihuacan, Frida, Día de los Muertos
kikirikí! (spanish rooster). We booked an early morning tour of Teotihuacan through Viator which meant pick up at 6:15. I gave the tour company a hotel near our Airbnb to be picked up at because we didn't want to be trekking around at 5:30 trying to find the right location. My smart plan was still almost ruined. I think because of the early time and my clouded, mezcal brain we had a temporary bout of idiocy. We went to the address that google gave us and didn't realize it was a restaurant bearing the same name as the hotel (I know, idiots) and when we finally realized it we had to run down the street and caught the bus as it was driving away. Thank goodness because we would have been pissed to miss such an awesome day.
One of the first items we witnessed, which you don't expect, were the favelas. You forget the magnitude of people living in Mexico City and the fact that the majority are outside the city center. The buildings have been painted which makes them look more lively but it still is not the ideal living situation I can imagine with the lack of public services and access to things most people take for granted. But that doesn't stop anyone from living their lives and taking pride in what they have.
Now back to the tour. It was ran by Amigo Tours and our tour guide was awesome. He explained the history using the assistance of a notebook and pen, jokes and a lot of shit talking about other archaeologists that make things up about the ruins in Mexico. All I can say is go. It's a massive, overwhelmingly magnificent site. The tour was great because let me tell you it's huge. We were dropped off at one end and picked up at the other. The sun was out and it is fierce. It wasn't even summer there so I can imagine how sweltering it could get and we definitely would have benefited from some sunscreen. Regardless, it was fabulous. Go!
After the pyramids the tour company took us to a restaurant/souvenir shop nearby to eat and be cajoled into buying stuff. This is common on any tour as they all try to support each other. We don't hate. In fact I bought a sweet green obsidian mask that's half skull have face symbolizing life and death...basically how I feel after too much Mezcal, half dead. After we ate my friend and I immediately passed out on the ride back and woke up halfway through the drop offs. Now, I love Frida Kahlo and always have. So I was not leaving the DF without seeing her house and paying my respects to her remains. The bus driver dropped us off near a metro stop so we could make our way to the blue house. Because the house is far south, taking a cab can take forever so we took the metro to Coyoacán, got off and then cabbed it to the house. You can also do the same taking the blue line to General Anaya. This is pretty common I'm assuming because the cab driver charged us a flat rate and didn't turn on his meter.
Quick side bar on getting around in Mexico City. I'm not sure why we assumed there was no Uber but once our food tour guide opened our eyes, it was our preferred method of transportation. Uber is the best, especially if you don't speak Spanish because you add your destination before getting into the car. The Uber cars were immaculately clean, we were always offered bottled water and it was so cheap! I'm not shitting you when I say we didn't pay more than $4 for an Uber ride and sometimes we were in the car for over 25 minutes. Also we didn't wait more than 3 minutes for an Uber to arrive. Even when we had to leave at 3:30 for our flight...3 minute wait. Our second choice was the metro. Apparently the unions are so strong that there are no automatic ticket machines. You have to go a window but the line was never long. The tickets are the equivalent of ~$0.50. You can buy a stack, or a card but we bought them as we went and it was just fine. The maps were easy to use and I loved how they represented the lines and where they intersect. Last choice was a traditional cab. Make sure you step into a cab willing to turn their meter on, especially late at night or you'll get f'd.
OK back to my girl, Frida. We arrived, the line was really long but it moved quickly and about 40 minutes later we walked into the house. Man was Frida cool. This was my first time seeing any of her work in person and I was in heaven. I could literally blow up this page with pictures but I'll try to keep it down. The house is super cool and getting to see Frida's belonging, paints, bedroom, kitchen, etc. was just amazing for me. Just go...Look Frida up, get with the program and go. I spent my last pesos in the gift shop which were supposed to go to a cab but luckily there is a coffee shop with wifi on the premises so guess what...UBER!
Although this day started super early, we decided to power through. We had the Uber drop us off close to our place near some cute restaurants and found out that on Sundays...places close as early as 16:30! It was only 18:00 but we were getting worried we were going to get stuck eating some crap from a 7-11 after we struck out at a couple places (which by the way are everywhere in Mexico City as well as Little Caeser's, Dominos and Sears...apparently this is where shitty brands go to thrive; It has me seriously considering opening a legit pizza joint down there and raking it in), so as soon as we found a place still serving food we jumped on it. We were very pleased...it was delicious! Of course we were ravenous so all I have pictures of were the drinks...but they were phenomenal. I will tell you now that the delicious, spicy red salt you are seeing on the mezcal drinks is called sal de gusano, or for those non Spanish speakers, worm salt. Yep it has ground up worms in it. Once we found that out, ON THE LAST DAY OF THE TRIP, we were much less inclined to lick it off our glasses than we were this night. I'm talking finger deep in some worm salt. After dinner we bought some beers at a 7-11 of course and then headed back to the apartment.
This day was November 1st. When I said earlier that the DF celebrates all weekend and through the 2nd I wasn't lying. We got mixed messages if the 1st or 2nd was bigger. I'd always heard the 2nd, but we were also told the 1st is huge, especially celebrating at the cemeteries. We figured we would try to witness some of the alters and celebrating at a cemetery but we were nervous about finding a way back. You have to head south about 45-60 minutes away and being on our own, and not sure of the logistics, we didn't want to get stranded or stuck with a ridiculous cab fare (no wifi = no Uber) so we decided to head downtown instead, back to the Zócalo, to check out the scene. Even though we didn't get a chance to hit up a cemetery it was cool because there are alters everywhere in the city this weekend. My favorite of course was the Frida alter. Since we weren't going to a cemetery we decided to paint our faces (if we were going to where families were actually remembering their loved ones, we felt it would be disrespectful to show up with skull faces!). We got ready and took an Uber downtown.
The Zócalo was still barricaded. Also because it was a Sunday, everything was closed but the crowd was still ridiculous! We were not prepared. Needless to say, it wasn't our favorite event of the weekend, but it was cool to witness. People were just strolling everywhere, scaring each other, dressed to the nines. The best part to me was seeing all the kids dressed up. They definitely don't shy away from gore. There would be girls dresses as princesses but with blood streaming from their eyes or a scary mask. It was awesome! Even pets got into the game. After we decided we couldn't take the crowd any longer we found a bar that was actually open, grabbed a drink and then hightailed it home. This is when we learned about the nighttime cabs. This dude tried to charge us 200 pesos for what should have been a 50 peso ride. Make sure you get into a cab willing to turn his meter on. The best part of the night, was taking my face paint off haha! It was not an easy process if you can't tell by the pictures...sorry about the towels Airbnb host!
Day 3 (Nov 2): Relax, wander
This was our first day that wasn't jam packed so we took our time to sleep in a bit and relax, especially given that our flight the next day required us to leave the apartment by 3:30. November 2nd is the actual Día de los Muertos so we were assuming everything would be closed. Wrong. Most restaurants and bars were open and there were people out everywhere. There were still people dressed up or with painted faces today but not as many. First thing on our minds was food. I speak Spanish, albeit rusty especially when it comes to food items. We ate a cool breakfast spot that also had boards games for people to play. All the food walking in looked amazing...but not being an expert in food terms we were scared of making the wrong choice! I think we could've done better but even our choices were delicious.
After breakfast we took an Uber to the Angel of Independence, formally Monumento a la Independencia. We strolled down the main road, Paseo de la Reforma, until we got to the park surrounding the Chapultepec castle. It was closed but looked fabulous and we really wished we could walk around. Add it to the list of the tons of things remaining to do the next time I visit Mexico City. We took the metro back to our neighborhood at Chapultepec and from that point on pretty much just hopped from cute bar/restaurant to cute bar/restaurant through Parque Mexico and on our way to the Roma neighborhood. I just can't stress enough how nice everyone was and how cool this city is. Finally, as it started to get dark we caught up with our tour guide friend for one last drink at a cool bar named Licorera Limantour. After a great last day in Mexico City we Ubered back to our apartment.
It's hard to not let stereotypes affect how one acts or thinks. But, having fallen in love with Mexico City, I feel the obligation to tell everyone to go! It really is a great metropolis that could give any big city a run for it's money. Mexico City hits all four of my key categories for enjoyment, people, food, fun and culture with the added bonus of being extremely inexpensive. We never felt unsafe, we only felt bummed we didn't have more time.
I mean...look how excited my friend is! Thank you Mexico City, I will be back very soon.