Destination: Mexico City, Mexico
Local attractions: culture, street food, ruins, shopping, fine dining, everything
Accommodation: private, Polanco
Transport: UBER + car + walking
Dates: February 22-24, 2019
MUST SEE & DO: Centro Historico + eat street food
Last month, I went to Mexico City and absolutely loved it. I had 2 business trips over two weeks (Orlando and Houston) so in between, I figured, why not go to Mexico City? #yolo. Warm weather, sun and tacos vs snowy cold Montreal? Yes please. Anytime.
I liked Mexico City so much that its the first city I’ve been to in Latin America that I could actually see myself living in (if I had to). Ok, I haven’t been to THAT many Latin American cities (Belize City, Quito and a few other smaller cities), but of the ones I’ve been to so far, its a big no thank you. Mexico City just had something about it that I fell in love with; the culture, the history and the food. I love that Mexico City has its own culture and history, from the Aztecs and other civilizations that once populated it, but it also has Spanish influences in its architecture, street food is dirt cheap and delicious and its both modern and historical. It also has some very nice areas where you feel like you’re walking around in Spain, rather than in Mexico. Oh, and it doesn’t look super poor everywhere you go (ok yes, it has its poorer neighborhoods too, but it has some very nice ones too).
The only bad part about this trip, was that I didn’t have a lot of time! Mexico City definitely requires at least a few days, if you want to hit up and see everything; I’d say 5-6 days if you really want to experience it all and 3 full days if you run a tight schedule (which, we did not).
During my stay, I stayed with my friend Galo, that I met in Europe 8 years ago! We’ve since seen each other a few times since, as he lived in Montreal and Toronto for about 2 years. Because of that, I was very fortunate in having a private tour guide and translator with me at all times and I got to experience the real, local life of a Mexican citizen (muchas gracias <3). That also meant partying till 4am and going to bed late, which resulted in late starts to our days haha.
And now, on to some more interesting information if you’re planning (and you should be), on going to Mexico City! I’ve decided to separate it into 4 parts : the “do’s” , the “don’ts” , the “next time’s” and the bulk of my photos, which will hopefully provide insight to some 🙂
Mexico City – The “DO’s”
Centro Historico (Historic Center)
If you didn’t know, now you do: Mexico City has a large Historic Center, which is kind of the equivalent of Montreal’s Old Montreal; full of churches, street food, “markets” oh and leftover ruins of an old temple. In my opinion, this is the number one thing you need to do/see if you’re coming to Mexico City (eating street food is a close second ;). Everything is centered around Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Plaza), which is the main plaza. You’ll find the huge, imposing and beautiful Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City), government buildings, a “market” in the center of the plaza and museums. Speaking of museums, the temple ruins are called Templo Mayor and you can very easily get to them by an UBER (there’s also a metro stop right next to it but I didn’t use any public transit there during my stay so I can’t advise). Templo Mayor is also a museum, right next to the site of the ruins, which can be visited. Plan to spend at least a couple hours here, just walking around, soaking in the culture, eating some street food and doing some shopping (add more time if you plan on visiting museums).
A very close second TO DO in Mexico City is definitely the street food. No trip to Mexico City would be complete without it!! You’ll find people selling street food all across the city; from the touristy and busy Centro Historico to the posh Polanco neighborhood (that’s where I was staying). Obviously, tacos are a must, but there are other things to be eaten as well. I was not disappointed with any of my street food experiences and each was different and unique in its own way, as typically, one “street food cook” will specialize in one or two different dishes and will only offer a few different protein choices. Sometimes, some will add cheese, others will add nopales (cactus) or fried onions, fresh avocado or raw onions. Besides having some of the best tacos of my life, I also had some quesadilla, gordita (very similar to a quesadilla) and tlayuda (like a crispier taco, wasn’t a huge fan).
Chapultepec is a beautiful castle that sits atop Chapultepec hill, within the limits of the Chapultepec park (very original names over here) overlooking Mexico City. For more on the castle’s history, I suggest reading it on Wikipedia. Galo and I walked over from Roma, past the Altar a la Patria (monument dedicated to soldiers during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848) and all the way up to the Castle. The castle is quite large and holds rotating exhibitions (the one on exhibition while we were there was about the Mexica people), beautifully decorated and preserved rooms from the days of Maximilian I, a stunning corridor of stained glass windows, a roof-top garden and more. The castle also offers various views over the city, but mainly of the park that sits beneath it.
This one stands apart from street food, as its not really street food in my opinion. Okay, we did see some ladies selling bags of churros, for probably 25 cents or something, but the cooking of churros requires deep frying them in oil, so the street is probably not the best place to be doing that (but hey, what do I know?). I asked my friend Galo and according to him, churros are Mexican and not Spanish. We then proceeded to visiting the oldest churreria (churro shop) in the city – El Moro – and they were divine. You can either get a table inside and eat them on-site, or you can pick up a fresh and hot bag of churros at the front counter. While you’re there, you can watch them make the churros, which is quite cool.
This ones kind of funny. I don’t mean to say “hey, go to Mexico City just so you can take an UBER ride” its more like, I highly recommend using UBER to get around. Its super easy, just like it is back home and its soo cheap. Plus, you’re sure to not get ripped off by a taxi driver just cause you’re a gringo, as the UBER driver can’t just play around with the price; everything goes through the app. As mentioned, we were staying in Polanco during my stay and an UBER to the Centro Historico from Polanco is about $9 CAD, which is nothing for like a 25 minute UBER ride. Likewise for the airport. My UBER from the airport to the “Roma” part of town cost about $9 CAD as well. Obviously, public transport will be much cheaper, but is it really worth it? If you’re pressed for time like I was, I would say its worth spending on the UBERs.
This one’s not really a “to do”, nor is it a “must do” but it didn’t seem to fit in any other category and deserves a place up there for some. Let me explain myself. Polanco is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Mexico City and obviously, there are perks attached to that; safety, cleanliness and availability and diversity of shops and restaurants. I for one did not get to see or experience that much of Polanco, but I do know that it offers many great restaurants; some of Mexico City’s best are in Polanco (see the “Very fancy Mexican restaurant” section below). We went to one restaurant in Polanco – Pubbelly – which was a beautiful sushi restaurant, with lots of outdoor seating, trees and fairy lights. Its really something we could only dream of having here in Montreal, because of our winters. Polanco also has a great shopping mall – Antara – which, again, is partially outdoors, which it can do because of its mostly fair weather year-round. This shopping mall also has a nightclub, who knew? Polanco is also home to the Soumaya Museum, inside a very interesting looking building. So, if you are coming to Mexico City and looking for somewhere nice to stay, I would vote for Polanco. It has many hotels, some of which even have rooftop pools (see the “Rooftop pool” section below).
Mexico City – The “DON’Ts”
Alright, now that we’ve been over the “do’s” of Mexico City, here are the don’ts, based on my experiences:
Fancy Mexican restaurant for tourists
So, before I get into it, let me just specify that I say this with a grain of salt. My friend Benji took me out to a restaurant called Azul Historico. From my understanding, there are a few Azul restaurants across the city/country, but this particular one was in the Historical Center of Mexico City aka tourist central. Although we had a great time – the food was very good and the decor of the restaurant was absolutely stunning (definitely one of the nicest I’ve ever seen) – the overall experience wasn’t really worth it. Ok, maybe I should have chosen to eat something else, but I ordered the cochinita pibil which is basically pulled pork tacos. Like I said, the tacos were very good, but at about $20, was it really worth it? No, because you can get even better and more delicious tacos outside on the streets for about $2. However, if you are looking to have a nice, Mexican, sit-down meal, Azul Historico is a great and beautiful option. Just be ready to pay the tourist prices as you are in the touristy area.
Hop-on-hop-off bus tour
This one is another “miss” for me, as it was a pretty big waste of time. Like I mentioned earlier, you can grab a cab from where we were staying (Polanco) all the way to the Historical Center for only $9 and get there in about 25 minutes (that’s what we ended up doing the next day). We wasted time waiting for the bus, then it took us on a huge detour to places I had no interest in seeing (sorry not sorry hippodrome), got stuck in traffic, switched buses and finally made it to the Historic Center, I kid you not, about 3 hours later. However, if you do have lots of time to spare, the hop-on-hop-off bus can be a nice option at $13/person. You also need to start early, if you want to have time to get off and do and see different things (we only got on at around 1pm and had to be back in Polanco for 6pm).
Mexico City – The “NEXT TIME’s”
This is probably my biggest regret of my trip to Mexico City; not having the time to visit Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan is a large multi-temple complex, located about 1-1h30 from Mexico City. There are many ways to get there – public transport, driving, UBER, tours – but none would have also given me enough time to explore Mexico City itself. As well, I have already been to Chichen Itza in the Riviera Maya, so at least I had seen other temples in Mexico before. With that said, if you do have time, Teotihuacan is obviously considered a must, for all its cultural and historical richness. This one is definitely at the top of my list the next time I visit Mexico City!
I actually found out about this place on Netflix’s Made In Mexico reality tv show, which I loved watching (sorry not sorry). Its kind of like a mini Venice, or like the floating markets in South-East Asia, but Mexican style of course. Basically, there’s a river and a bunch of colorful boats for hire that will take you down stream. According to my friend Galo, its really more of a party place, where you go with friends, hire some mariachi to play you some music, have some drinks and have an overall good time. This is something I would love to experience in the future!
I’m not a huge museum fan, but I do find history and anthropology museums very fascinating. Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum is one of the biggest and most important ones and so I would love to visit it on a future visit.
Very fancy Mexican restaurant
Although Mexico City may have excellent street food, it also has some very fancy and highly rated restaurants – Pujol, Quintonil, Fonda Fina – to name a few. Originally, I thought I was going to spend 1 evening all alone, so I figured, why not try one of these super fancy restaurants? Well, turns out some of these restaurants are quite expensive, especially if you are considering their tasting menus and wine pairings. If my memory serves me well, Pujol’s tasting menu came out to about $265 CAD, with no booze. So, this is definitely something to plan for for a future visit 🙂
I don’t know why, but I kind of have this thing for rooftop pools. Had I had the time, I would have spent an entire day, just sunbathing by a pool, on top of a hotel. A few of them were recommend to me and I did actually see one (above Azul Historico), but being based in Polanco, I most likely would have chosen one there. There was no fee to “get in”, except that you had a minimum amount of money to spend during your stay, which was about $20/person, so no big deal.
La Condesa & Roma (neighborhoods)
I got to see a good amount of Roma on foot and some of la Condesa by double-decker bus, but these are 2 other very nice areas of the city I’d love to see more of next time. Both are known for their restaurants, cafes and nightlife scene, so it would be great to further explore.
And there you have it; a brief run-through of my 53 hours in Mexico City! Here are some more photos for those who are interested:
UP NEXT: My blog post on Salada Street Food Market (Montreal’s new weekend hangout spot – check it out before its gone!)