Last week I was celebrating my birthday. Last year I celebrated my birthday with a week in Mexico City. Mexico City, or CDMX, had been on my radar for quite awhile. I had continually heard high praise. Depending on who you talk to, CDMX is unforgettable, fascinating, overwhelming, wonderful. I say, it was all of that and SO much more. Here are some of the reasons it has my vote as as a must-visit city:
A Culinary Delight
My list is in no particular order. But all the same, food is first. The gastronomic scene is flourishing in CDMX. From unsurpassable street tacos to sensational Michelin-starred restaurants, and everything in between, you are not leaving the vicinity hungry! In 2018, two of Mexico City's restaurants were recognized as the top 50 of the world. Some book their restaurant reservations before their plan tickets, no joke.
So you know...Pujol was ranked the number 13 restaurant in the world in 2018, and has been on the top 50 list for the past five years. Michelin starred for just over a $100, just do it. If you're a seafood lover, Contramar has my vote. I drool just thinking about my tuna tostadas and rose birthday lunch.
Range of Accommodation Choices
Neighbourhoods in CDMX are quite distinct. There are a number of such which are typically frequented by tourists - Centro Historico, Polanco, Roma, Condesa - each with their own flavour. And within these you have your choice from luxe to boutique to airbnb. Design hotels have been on the rise. And for anyone on a tight budget, there are some pretty darn cool hostels. I first stayed in a hotel in a beautiful historic building with a first-rate view of the Zocalo...from rooms to the rooftop cafe. Absolutely no compaints, but buyer beware as should there be major events, noise will be a factor. From there I moved to a charming b&b boutique hotel adjacent to Alameda Park.
Tip: know the neighbourhoods as this is vital information in deciding where to stay.
Thriving Art Scene
The art scene has been steadily on the rise in CDMX for some time now.. Some of the best contemporary galleries can be hunted down in the Roma and (to a lesser extent) Condesa districts.But if you venture further, you will be rewarded with some great finds in places like San Rafael or Kahlo's former haunt of Coyoacan. Plus there are many murals by Diego Rivera and his contemporaries that can be discovered for free in government buildings and even markets. And you can't forget about the street art either. It's all over the place.
So you know...the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum is one of the most preferred museums of art lovers. 70 pesos, free for students, professors and 60+ and free on Sundays.
From the charm of the Cantinas (legendary Mexican bars which you should definitely experience), to the many gay bars that line the streets of the Zona Rosa, to swankier bottle-service nightclubs of upscale Polanco, to cheap and cheerful dive bars littered all around; there is something for everyone. From craft beers to traditional mezcal, be ready to whet your whistle! And to prepare your body for the onslaught of alcoholic beverages, evening taco tour is an excellent way to start things out.
Tip: you must try pulque. Pulque is a fermented Mesoamerican drink that's nutritious (think kombucha) but with a texture that many find off-putting (think gloopy). Pulqueria los Insurgentes is an outstanding place to see for yourself if you like it.
Museums For Days
CDMX is beyond stellar when it comes down to this; second only to Paris as far as quantity of museums...150+. These museums from the super-famous, such as the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (which if you only see one, it's this one), to those far more obscure such as the Museo de El Carmen, which house REAL-LIFE mummies! And of course for any of you other Frida Kahlo admirers out there a visit to Casa Azul is mandatory - book online for an allotted time slot or you may be in an extremely long line.
So you know...Most museums are closed on Monday. Teotihuacan is open on Mondays, so plan accordingly.
If you're a history lover, you will not be disappointed here. The city centre houses the ruins of the Temple Mayor. Or if you want to venture further, the city is surrounded by some of the country's most important Aztec, Toltec and Mesoamerican ruins. Plus you have the towering sculptures of Tula and Hidalgo. These are all world class and easily accessible.
Tip: if you're going to take only one day trip, it must be the outstanding Teotihuacan pyramids.
Ease of Getting Around
Uber is cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap. And this is a real pro in navigating CMDX easy breezy. Get your Telcel SIM card at Terminal One in the airport and you're set. Prefer other forms of transportation? When I was there new double-decker buses had been debuted and were a pleasant ride. The subway, as per usual is an efficient form of transportation. Just keep your items secured at night. Exercise caution when taking a taxi - make sure they are authorized, especially from the airport.
Tip: make sure your Uber app is all set up and ready to go prior to leaving home.
Unesco World Heritage Sites
The Historic Centre of Mexico City - built in the 16th century by the Spanish on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the old Aztec capital, Mexico City has five Aztec temples of which the ruins have been identified, the largest cathedral on the continent, and some special 19th- and 20th-century public buildings such as the Palacio de las Bellas Artes. Then we have Xochimilco (the place where the flowers grow), which lies 28km south of Mexico City. A testament to the efforts of the Aztec people, this network of canals and artificial islands has been well-preserved. It is also a blast to cruise the canals on the gondola-like boats while food vendors, artisans and mariachi bands float past.
So you know...you can take a trajinera down the Xochimilco canals any day from 9-6 but it will be more chill on a weekday (if that's your preference) as it becomes party central on the weekends. Bring cash for some refreshing beverages aboard.
You might have the impression that CDMX is your standard concrete-jungle. Wrong! There are many green spaces, gardens and parks to enjoy. In fact, one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, Chapultepec (some call it the city's lungs), is a haven for chilangos and visitors both. No doubt you will find yourself here at least once during a visit to Mexico City. Other lovely spots are Parque Mexico (one of the best spots for Art Deco style), Parque Lincoln (many of Polanco's best restaurants, bars and shops nearby), and Alameda Central (the oldest public park in the Americas, adjacent to the Palacio de Bellas Artes).
So you know...Bosque de Chapultepec has three sections - the first one culture-oriented (five museums and the zoo), the second recreational (restaurants, four more museums and an amusement park, and the third is mostly lawns and trees. Did I mention the Castle?! So again, plan well your visit to the area.
These may be the lifeblood of Mexico City. A feast for the eyes (and in some cases the stomach!), the markets come in all shapes and sizes and are filled with everything from produce to spell-casting materials. I did a markets tour and it was one of the best things I did. I'll be frank - some of the markets are not the safest for tourists and it's best to be with someone in the know (occult market for one) and of course with a guide you will get to sample some street food and eat the locals way. There are other markets only open on certain days, so know before you go.
Tip: Make a day out of a visit to Mercado Coyoacan by sitting down for a Mexican breakfast, visiting the Frida Khalo Museum and strolling the nearby parks. Pick up some handmade handicrafts, sweets and chocolate to share with your people back home.
The city's fascinating history and incredible culture make it a sublime vacation spot. I'll end by saying that if for you Mexico is synonomous with all-inclusive resorts, then Mexico City will surprise and delight you.
I'm a personal travel advisor who creates epic journeys for those too busy to plan for themselves. If you are interested in Mexico City or another dream destination, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to start the planning process with a free 30-minute consultation.Anywhere