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A Week in Mexico City

We returned last week from an adventure in Mexico City. The largest city in North America is a considerable experience and a week hardly does it justice.
We flew non-stop from Seattle to Mexico City on AeroMexico (round trip). Our 10:00 pm Saturday departure promised an arrival at Benito Juarez airport in CDMX at 5:20 am. We arrived a little early.
Passport control was a snap - efficient, smooth, pleasant. Unable to sleep on our flight, we loaded up on coffee and taxied to our hotel in Alameda Centro long before they could officially welcome us as the sun rose on a Sunday morning. Our hotel (Kali Centro) accepted our luggage and we proceeded to walk toward Parque Alameda (1 kilometer north). After a few moments of orientation, we walked east past the Palacio de Bellas Artes toward Casa de las Azulejos - a beautiful building covered in tile - which is now a Sandborns department store (with two restaurants). Much to our surprise - they were already open - and breakfast was served. Re-energized, we walked around the Historical Center long before any of the attractions (mostly free on Sunday) were open. Particularly interested in the murals inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we made our way back to their doors at the ten o'clock hour struck. Magnifico. The Rivera, Orozco and Sigueiros murals were amazing. Not very knowledgeable about the historical context, we eagerly awaited our pre-arranged Tuesday mural tour. (It did not disappoint.)

The remainder of our Sunday was dedicated to familiarizing ourselves to our neighborhood - with a stop at the Museo de Artes Popular, the Mercado de San Juan and the Mercado de Artesanias de la Ciudidela - all of which deserved a second visit.

As in so many locations, Monday is not a museum day, but we had arranged a tour (with our friend and local tour guide Oskar Maldonado) to visit the world's largest wholesale mercado - la Centro de Abasto. An amazing place (and not a tourist attraction), this 810-acre giant is the major distribution center for all of Mexico. Anything and everything is distributed, here - with 50,000 truck deliveries and pick-ups, daily. Keep your eyes open - this is a fast paced and very hectic place. We were exhausted just watching the workers fill their orders - all at energic speed and at the Mexican minimum wage of the equivalent of $7 USD/day!. Plenty of good lunch time opportunities - these workers have to eat. We had splendid tacos pastor - with salsa picante , frijoles con arroz. Fifty Pesos ($2.50 USD). Magnifico! Exhausted from watching all this energy and walking quite a bit of the 810 acre complex, we rode the Metro back to our hotel and took a siesta. I like this afternoon nap deal - maybe I'll incorporate that into my daily plan.

Tuesday was Mural Tour Day - and what a day it was! Our pal Oskar Maldonado met us at the Alameda Centro Park and we went west to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. The museum was built in 1986 as a space to exhibit Diego Rivera's 1946–47 mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central). It had previously been housed at the Hotel del Prado, which was severely damaged in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.
Next stop - a revisit to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for an explanation and embellishment of what we saw on Sunday morning on our own. Oskar was completely up to the challenge as he detailed the content and context of the murals by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Final stop - Secertaria de Educacion Publica. Covering all of the walls of the two courtyards on three levels are murals. 235 panels were done by Diego Rivera between 1923 and 1928..This was Rivera’s first major large-scale mural project. The themes center around workers, and the glorification of all things Mexican, especially the Mexican Revolution.

Wednesday was Coyoacon and Xochimilco exploring - specifically the floating gardens and Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum).

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Metro provided our travels south although we opted for an Uber ride back to our hotel ($3.15 USD) for the 35-minute ride. The floating gardens are well documented, elsewhere - and delightfully so. A relaxing experience with floating food venders (yummy) and Mariachi Bands. Wonderful blue corn tacos with exceptional frijoles.

The Frida Kahlo Museum provides more of an insight into the artist's life than an exhibition of her best work. Unfortunately, the Dolores Olmedo Museum - which has the largest collection of Kahlo paintings - is currently closed and the Museum of Modern Art in Chapultepec Park lent their Kahlo works to a traveling exhibition.

Thursday was Teotihaucan Pyramid day. A half-hour journey north-east of Mexico City. Another well documented destination. Quite recently, climbing the pyramids has been banned - although my recently installed hip replacement would not have been up for the task, anyway.

Friday was saved for the monolithic Museum of Anthropology. An unbelievable collection of pre-Columbian artifacts housed in twenty-two galleries. This is another well documented destination, so I won't offer the details my memory so eagerly wants to share.

We flew home Saturday afternoon. High praise for our flights with AeroMexico - comfortable seating, tasty food, very polite attendants, etc. and equally high praise for Benito Juarez Airport - as smooth an operation as I've experienced. Yes, it's enormous, but it runs like clockwork, in our experiences. Our hotel was perfect in every dimension and the staff were an absolute delight!

Mexico City - a delightful and inspiring destination. We Loved It!

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727 posts

We spent a week there, with a two-night trip to Puebla, in 2019, and thought it was amazing. Your report brings back memories. Wish we had made it to the Secretaria de Education Publica. There is currently a major Diego Rivera exhibit at the San Francisco MOMA that highlights some of the murals there.

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6619 posts

Great account of a high-energy visit to a great high-energy city. And nice to know about the good flights and well-run airport, since I'll be flying there from Seattle (on the way to Oaxaca) in a few months. I've flown Aeromexico only a few times but they've always been good flights.

On your next visit I hope you'll get to the Cathedral, Templo Major, and National Palace with its Rivera murals and Benito Juarez exhibit. And I found the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacan very interesting. Also the view from the top of the Torre Latinoamericana. The Metro and buses provide good transportation, and taxis are cheap and plentiful (get them at official stands, called sitios).

How was the air quality? I think this is the season with the cleanest air but I'm not sure. I never experienced the worst of it, but Mexico City has had a reputation as one of the smoggiest cities in the world. Maybe that problem has lessened, I'd be interested in your experience.

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4231 posts

I've been trying to convince my wife that Mexico City would be a good idea, but she's resisting mainly for preconceived concerns of safety. Did you have any concerns while you were there?

*Please add more to your Report about Teotihaucan. What did you think? Was it worth the time and distance? How did you get there?

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4289 posts

Sigh. I am beginning to think I may need to add Mexico City to my long list of destinations….. :)

Sounds like a wonderful trip!

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727 posts

I'm not the OP, but we were in Mexico City the last week of March in 2019 and I can give my responses to a few of the questions:
1) The air quality was fine when we were there.
2) We were in our late 60s. We walked all over, used the metro and Uber, and took the public bus to Teotihuacan. We were never worried about our safety. We took the same precautions we would in any major US city with the addition of hidden money belts. We stayed in the Condesa neighborhood. Before going we talked extensively to friends who had been there and to a friend who had lived there for a time.
3) Teotihuacan is very worth a full day visit. As noted above, we took the public bus, as several of our friends and our daughter had done so with no problems. However, there are tour buses that leave from major hotels if that would concern you.

Edited to add: If you do go, look into whether you need to buy Frida Kahlo museum tickets a day or two in advance. We were unable to get in without reservations at the end of March.

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9106 posts

Great report!
It's a shame one can no longer climb to the top of the Pyramid:( It was an amazing experience when I visited.

Too bad you couldn't fit in the Basilica Guadalupe complex. It's one of the planet's major spiritual centers. After the Vatican no other Catholic site receives as many pilgrims.

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2529 posts

Thanks for sharing your report!

As Barbara mentions, the current Diego River exhibit at the SFMOMA can fill in and add color to your understanding of his murals:

https://www.sfmoma.org/read/8-questions-on-the-life-work-of-diego-rivera/

So many of the guidebooks for Mexico City warn against unofficial taxis and wandering away from the main squares so I want to put in my contrarian opinion -- the unofficial taxis are often much better than the official taxis, especially when a hotel or restaurant has people they work with or have arrangements with, and wandering away from the zocalo and the main shopping centers is the best way to get a feel for the real everyday life of the city. You see this in the report about getting out early/late - excellent!

I've stayed in both the Polanco and the Zona Rosa and my tastes were better matched by a business hotel in the latter than the luxury properties in the former, although it's worth stopping in to look at the art and architecture and have an overpriced margarita near Chapultapec. I would say to set aside a full day for the anthropology museum and another day for exploring out to the university by metro. One of my favorite mornings was an accident -- I took the metro line for the zocalo but in the wrong direction and ended up wandering through a crowded mercado and enjoying custom-made breakfast and snacks that couldn't have been more fresh. Be sure to learn about the heroic youth and their brave resistance to US imperial barbarism before visiting the museums in the park and include the key spots for the St. Patrick battalion that switched sides in the war:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/mexican-american-war-irish-immigrants-deserted-us-army-fight-against-america-180971713/

Like other cosmopolitan cities there are enclaves from every corner of the globe waiting to share their culture -- late one night I wandered into a cultural center run by Cubans that had a delicious and cheap cafeteria
maybe it was this famous one here, but I'm not certain:

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Café+La+Habana/@19.4324664,-99.1533563,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x85d1f8d354f6ccf5:0xe361252229fed4db!8m2!3d19.4325375!4d-99.1512324

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884 posts

I've received quite a few private message questions regarding our Mexico City trip. I will attempt to answer those most frequently asked.
1. Air Quality and Altitude concerns?
We were unaware of either issue. The air seemed fine and although Mexico City is nearly 7,000 feet higher than our residential address, we felt no ill effects.
2. Safety Concerns?
Yes, we were made aware of the reputation this city has regarding crime and violence. We saw no examples of this anywhere in our Mexico City travels. We felt safe at all times. Related to "safety" - drinking water remains a topic of concern. Our hotel claimed their water was safe to drink, but we took no chances - bottled water became part of our daily routine. No health related issues - thank goodness. Masks were required in every museum we visited except Anthropology.
3. Why did we select this hotel location?
Chances are, travelers will either stay in the greater Historical Center (which includes Alameda Centro) or those communities near Chapultepec Park (Roma Norte/Sur, Polanco, La Condesa, Escandon, etc.) Both areas have their virtues. Those in and around the Historical Center have convenience as their proximity to many attractions is easily walkable. From our hotel to Templo Mayor was 20 minutes by foot and most everything in that area is even closer. The trade-off is noise (nearer the Centro Historical) and less than beautiful walking paths. Also, this is an almost exclusively Spanish speaking region.
The regions near Chapultepec Park are much more bilingual - some restaurants have English language speaking servers. The sidewalks are wider, cleaner, the neighborhoods are "nicer" - all this comes with a price, of course. Everything here costs more - although not expensive by U.S. terms.
Our Kali Centro hotel in Alameda Centro was less than $60 USD per night including breakfast (we booked it months prior to our arrival). Kali Centro currently holds a 9.1 "wonderful" rating with Booking.com.. That same hotel chain has another location in Escandon for nearly twice that price. I don't know if the hotels are similar - the photos suggest the Escandon location is larger and somewhat older - but it appears to be in a nice neighborhood.
4. Travel to Teotihaucan?
We took a bus. Our hotel arranged a pick-up for us at the Hilton - located just up the street. Cost was 160 pesos/person (roughly $8 USD round-trip) which included admission to the grounds.
5. Which is better Metro or Uber?
I like public transportation. My wife does not. I have never lived in a community with public transportation other than London (1969-70). I loved the Underground - and back then, it was very inexpensive. The Metro in Mexico City is amazing - and tickets are 5 pesos! But, when your travel partner prefers Uber, we (mostly) used Uber. It does offer the opportunity to see the streets and the costs are very low. Our longest Uber ride - both in terms of time and distance - was less than $4 USD. If I was traveling alone, it would be Metro for me. .
6. Cash v Card?
I arrived with 8000 pesos ($400 USD) in my possession. Foolish, I guess - there are banks most everywhere we went. I do have a RS neck wallet - I showed it to our pal Oskar (he had never seen one). During our stay, I only used cash other than Uber rides. Our big expenses (hotel, flights) were pre-booked. I came home with 73 pesos - I guess that adds up to an inexpensive adventure although we were certainly not limited by our budget.
7. Traffic congestion?
Yes - rush hour is madness - both above and below ground.
24 million people. More than Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Montana and Wyoming combined!
8. Is English widely spoken In Mexico City?
From our experience, no. However, learning a little "travelers Spanish" will greatly improve your stay. Even the most feeble attempts in communication with locals in their native language seemed to be greatly appreciated.

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3289 posts

Gwynn, I can get that food here too as we have 3 mexican restaurants in our town. Of course those are just examples of some of the delicious food in Mexico, but there is more to life than food? Yes?

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3289 posts

Blue439-not sure if food is important to you when you travel, but since it is to me, how was the food? Any notable restaurants you had a great meal at?

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There are so many food opportunities in Mexico City - I avoided listing any in as much as a week of eating does not a gourmet make. We had street food all over town - all of it wonderful and very inexpensive.
If I am pressed to recommend one particular restaurant, it would be El Taquito. We would never have found it on our own, but our pal Oskar Maldonado, a Mexico City native told us he had always wanted to dine there, and we found ourselves in the neighborhood at the conclusion of our "Tuesday Mural Day". Wonderful food - great atmosphere - a Mexico City hang-out a little bit similar to Musso & Frank in Hollywood. A once proud neighborhood has become a little overrun with street venders and the area immediately north (Tepito) is high on the list of "don't go there" regions. (There is a funny YouTube video hosted by a British traveler who dares to go to Tepito with his camera - asking local police officers enroute if it is a "safe neighborhood". All of them tell him the same thing - "NO! It is Not Safe" - but he goes, anyway,)
Here's a Wiki entry for El Taquito, which will give a good overview of history.
https://www.wikicity.com/El_Taquito

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124 posts

I loved reading this trip report! It’s been quite a few years since my trip to Mexico City and your descriptions brought back wonderful vivid memories of all the places I visited there. A wonderful city. Thank you!

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104 posts

I was supposed to be leaving for Mexico City this upcoming Saturday but bailed out as I'm just not quite ready for international travel yet. CDMX, Oaxaca and Puebla are super high on my list of travel destinations and I'm so glad I came across this review. Thank you so much for sharing your insights!

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961 posts

We were just talking about Mexico today and how we haven’t explored it yet. Mexico City is on our list, along with San Miguel de Allende. And I just saw in Travel & Leisure that Oxaca was named the #1 destination in the world for 2022!

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51 posts

Thanks for all the info/updates. We went there the week of Thanksgiving in 2022 and had a fabulous time as well.

Everything you describe is accurate. Safe (if you're not afraid to visit Chicago, NYC, or LA, then you're fine going the CDMX in my opinion), easy to get around (traffic is nuts), people are very nice, and everything is cheap, relative to US standards. Super high-end fine dining to street tacos filled with 'tripas' and everything in between. We took my 9 year old daughter and my 83 year old mother and it was a great family trip. It can easily be a great young/couples only trip too, but with some revisions to your itinerary. Lots of nightlife options! There is something for everybody.

I speak Spanish fluently, which was a huge plus for sure, but we still hired a guide to take us through the markets because there are many different dishes offered that, growing up in the southwest US, I'd never had or heard of. I wouldn't have known what to try without are very informed and adventurous guide.

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We spent a week in Mexico City and four days in San Miguel de Allende last September. Here are a few tips to add to all those already give:
1) We stayed for four nights in the historic center of Mexico City in the reasonably priced Hotel Zocalo which, unbelievably, had a 24-hour cafe where almost all the food and even beer was free to hotel guests. We then moved to Condesa, which, after the center, was too leafy and filled with stylish coffee shops. Was I in Williamsburg or Mexico? But I'm glad I experienced both.
2) We had a grand time doing the hot air balloon trip over the pyramids. It was the only one of four planned balloon trips around the world that actually went up. NO WIND!
3) We used a company called Journeys Beyond the Surface Mexico City for a guide for 3 of our 7 days in Mexico City. One day we did the history in the Centro including the Diego Rivera murals at the education building and 2.5 hours at the anthropology museum. Another day we did Coyocan and Xochimilco, and the third day was the pyramids. This made me less anxious about planning adventures in a city of 21 million, we didn't have to drive or figure out transportation, and the guides were fantastic and well worth the money.
4) For those going to SMA, there is a wonderful bus line in Mexico City called ETN that will take you in great comfort the four scenic hours to SMA. Book the first two seats in the upper deck and you will have the best views ever.

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961 posts

Such great information. We have The Red Tree House in La Condesa booked for a week in December!

Can someone please tell me more about Xochimilco? I have heard mixed reviews.

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1 posts

@calimom

Visiting Xochimilco Mexico City is one of the best things you can do while in the latter megacity. Xochimilco is Mexico's Venice, and whether you want to party with the locals or escape the crowds to learn about the history of this ancient network of canals, it's all there. Also you might find this article helpful when visiting Mexico City https://gowithguide.com/blog/mexico-tourism-statistics-2023-5248.

Hope that helps!

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961 posts

Thanks Bucketleighs! I think all of the 20-something kids would love it!

Just waiting for Christmas airfares to come down a touch! Thank goodness I have The Red Tree House reserved!

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455 posts

Your trip description brought back many distant memories from my Mexico City trip in 1987. I was doing my foreign study program at the University of Guadalajara while attending the University of Washington. This was long before Mexico City had the gastronomic and eclectic reputation it has today (at least in the media). I have a very vivid memory of being in the subway tunnel and being fascinated by the Aztec ruins (sections of wall) that were on display there that had been uncovered during the construction of the transportation system. I loved the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Back then people were allowed to climb the pyramids though I can totally understand why this practice has been halted now. Really enjoyed Chapultepec Park, Zocolo, and Palacio de Bellas Artes. The Mexican friends I was with from Guadalajara were very concerned with safety, and I remember a lot of being led quickly through some areas to get to other more "secure" areas of the city.

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79 posts

This is a Rick Steves EUROPE forum. Were you misdirected on a flight? Mexico may be fine for some (not me, as I am a europhile), but I can't see the need for these book report length posts on a EUROPE site. Go south--that leaves more Europe room for me.