Mexico is my 20th country, and I'm in LOVE! I feel like I've said this many times when I travel, if not on this blog, then to whomever I'm discussing my latest excursion. But, I really mean it this time!
People were often surprised when I told them I had never been to Mexico (spring breaks were a dud)! Tulum, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen are all tourist hot spots for their beaches/resorts, but Mexico City (henceforth CDMX for Ciudad de Mexico) is a beautiful, bustling, historic, and delicious city that deserves a visit, especially for lovers of architecture, art, music, and of course, Mexican cuisine!
I stayed for three days before moving onto San Miguel de Allende (more on that in a separate post soon!), and I do admit, that is a VERY short time for a city as huge and dynamic as CDMX, but that didn't stop me from enjoying my time! For those that want to travel more, but feel like you never have enough time, I'll write up a special post for you on all the reasons you should/CAN travel anyway! ;-)
In my three days, I rode in a hot air balloon, admired several neighborhoods - each with their own distinct characteristics, and consumed nothing less than deliciousness to my heart's content!
Tips When Planning:
I flew Viva Aerobus. It is a low-cost Mexican carrier, so manage expectations - the seats didn't recline, the engine was roaring, and I had to pay for water. I hear AeroMexico is nice (it's the flagship carrier of Mexico)!
I stayed in a 5-star hotel in Reforma neighborhood (business district) at a cost of $143 / night as an Expedia member. The room was a little cramped, but Marquis Reforma had excellent service! I would stay in Reforma or Historic Center for proximity to major sites!
Check, in advance, the operating hours for the sites you want to visit! Many places are closed Mondays. Additionally, Sundays are free for Mexican citizens at some places, so expect larger crowds or plan around it.
Use Uber - safest way around and pretty darn cheap (25 min ride cost me $8 USD)
Bring some pesos! Although card is widely accepted, don't expect everywhere to take it, especially small businesses/stands. I budgeted roughly $1000 MXN/day (~$50/day)
Book Frida Kahlo Museum in advance! And anything else you really care about doing for that matter.
Tip in restaurants (10-15%) and hotels (bellhop 20-50 pesos is good)
Day 1: Teotihuacan
A highlight of a CDMX visit is actually an hour OUTSIDE of the city, in the ancient city of Teotihuacan. This city was discovered (not built) by the Aztecs, meaning it dates back to even before their time! Here, one can spend the day exploring the archeological site on foot, OR if you want a unique perspective, from a hot air balloon above! I, of course, opted for the balloon!
I booked a balloon ride with Volare through Viator for $144 (after using code APPFIRST10 for 10% off your first 3 bookings through the Viator app!). I chose the option with 2 extra hours to explore the ruins on foot.
Shuttle picks you up from your hotel around 5-5:30AM (YES, it's early, and NO, there is no later time for balloon flights)
For those who choose not to explore the ruins after, you will still enjoy a champagne toast and breakfast before the shuttle leaves Teotihuacan at 11AM. For those opting to stay, we left around 1PM.
For those who would rather skip the balloon and explore independently, the ruins open at 9AM. There are buses that go to Teotihuacan frequently.
Sundays are free for Mexican citizens, so maybe skip Sunday for a smaller crowd.
For balloon rides, mornings are chilly, so layer up! Carry a tote or backpack to store your layers because later, it gets HOT. Bring a hat, sunglasses, sun screen, water, anything to protect yourself from the sun!
The experience was awesome from start to finish and super organized! Upon arrival, we checked in and received our wristbands (for the ruins); grabbed coffee, tea, cookies, and fruit; and took pictures with the inflating balloons! I also met a couple of cool folks in the process!
While outside, listen out for your name, join your group, and watch the balloon inflate! Then, climb on in (TIP: For best photos, GET IN LAST, so that you're on the outer edge of the basket!).
The views were breath-taking: the misty valley below, and of course, the pyramids!
The ride lasts about 45 mins, with another 30 mins for the champagne toast and to head back to the starting point for an amazing Mexican breakfast, accompanied by mariachis and tequila shots! (Never too early for tequila, I guess)! At 11AM, it's time to either head back to CDMX or head to the archaeological site!
Upon reaching the site, the group I befriended at breakfast and I decided to take an optional guided tour of the ruins for $30 USD each. I usually opt for guided tours whenever I can, as it's a great way to add context to what you are seeing. We first stopped in town to learn about the indigenous culture and tasted four types of spirits that all come from the very culturally-significant agave plant.
We, then, headed to the ruins where we learned more about the history, took photos with the pyramids*, bought souvenirs, and explored a cave!
*Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon - you can no longer climb these :( But you can still get great pictures from below. In all honesty, climbing them, especially the larger Pyramid of the Sun, looked like a pretty big feat given the heat of the day (In June, the temperature rose to 80F by noon).
I got back to my hotel around 3PM, and man was I DRAINED! Walking all day in the hot sun will do that to you! Since most tourist attractions close around 5-6PM, I used that time to rest before going out for the night!
Terraza Cha Cha Cha
This is a lovely rooftop restaurant! If you're feeling adventurous, have the guac and chips, covered in "chapulines" aka fried grasshoppers! D: And of course, have some tequila or mezcal - the liquor in Mexico goes down SO smoothly! I'm STILL drinking mezcal ever since I returned home to NYC!
I only ate 3. TBH, they don't taste bad at all! Still, there's something about eating bugs that I just can't get behind....
Live music nightclub in Roma Norte neighborhood. Check out other bars nearby, too!
Day 2: Coyoacan / Chimalistac
When I book trips, especially solo, I've made it a tradition to book a local photoshoot to capture these memories in the best way possible! See more on Getting Pics When Traveling Solo.
Coyoacan is about a 30-min drive south of Historic Center. In an Uber, that cost only ~$8 USD! As much as I wanted to try out the metro, I was warned to steer clear of it. At 8:30AM, I met my wonderful photographer, Gill Figueroa, in Chimalistac, a very picturesque and affluent neighborhood bordering Coyoacan.
In Parque de la Bombilla is a huge Mexican flag, fountain, and a cute CDMX sculpture waiting for you to take photos! We made our way from there and through the neighborhood, stopping wherever looked nice (which were a LOT of stops)! Let's say, if I moved to CDMX, THIS is where I'd want to live! It'll cost a pretty penny, but still better than NYC!
Following the shoot, I attempted to go to the Frida Kahlo Museum, but of course, tickets were sold out. So do yourself a favor if it's big on your to-do list, and buy in advance online! Instead, I went to the nearby Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo (free on Sundays)! The content was interesting, but a lot of it centered around another artist entirely - at least you can still get a picture with a blue wall!
Another note: the installations were in Spanish. There is a way to view the English version on your phone, but it wasn't very intuitive. So brush up on your Spanish, or just smile and nod as you check out the art (because art is a language, itself, no?)
Day 3: Historic Center
Again, I began my day with a photoshoot; this time in Historic Center with the great Olga.K! We met at the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes and posed/shot our way to Zocalo, a plaza where you'll find the Metropolitan Cathedral and another huge Mexican flag!
You could spend all day in Historic Center admiring the beautiful sites! This is also a great area for shopping and food [had some great mole ("MO-lay")], and there's even a Chinatown. I originally planned to book my accommodations here, as well.
Post-lunch, I headed to Northern Bus Station to catch a 3.5 hour bus ride to San Miguel de Allende. More on that coming soon! Subscribe below to be notified when I publish that post!
Things I Missed / Reasons To Return!
Chapultepec (Park and Castle) - I like pretty things, and if there is cultural/historical significance, it's a plus! This castle features stained glass and classic black and white tiled floors. I couldn't make it to Chapultepec Castle since it closed early Sunday and remained close Monday. :(
Frida Kahlo Museum - A significant figure/artist in Mexican culture (although she's not actually Mexican)! A must if you're a Frida fan, plus her Casa Azul is a lovely sight!
Xochimilco - A town with fun colorful boats an hour south of CDMX. Book a tour for transport and to have a party group on the boat!
La Gruta restaurant in Teotihuacan - A beautiful cave restaurant ~10 min walk from the ruins. Because I took the guided tour, I didn't have time to stop here.
Pulqueria - Pulque is the OG Mexican liquor that you can't really get outside of Mexico. I tried pulque in Teotihuacan, but pulquerias are found throughout CDMX!
Stay at Viajero CDMX Centro Hostel and take advantage of their Spanish classes and other cool community activities! Plus meet other travelers!
Three days IS short, but I would not let that keep you from exploring CDMX if given the chance! I believe 5 days would have covered everything mentioned above, including the things I missed. Of course, there is nothing like living in a city long-term to REALLY experience it! But alas, we must always eventually return home (for now....)
Check out my photo album, My Heart's in Mexico City, to see all the glory for yourself! What else do you want to know about CDMX? What else should I do WHEN I go back? Comment below!
And don't forget to subscribe for updates on my next post! The second half of my trip, San Miguel de Allende, is coming soon! ;)