Municipality: Mexico City
Time Zone: CST
Population: 21.2 million
Did you know that Mexico City is one of the 10 largest in the world, with a population of just over 21 million? Neither did we, until we started researching how to spend our two weeks there. Spoiler alert: there’s no way to get through it all.
We absolutely LOVED our visit, and made sure to take advantage of everything we could – food, history, art, food, friends, music, sports, and food. We’d been told by many friends that Mexico City was incredible, but really didn’t have a concept until we arrived.
Whether you’re looking to dive into the area’s history, or itching to explore a modern metropolis, this place has it all.
The Subway system in Mexico City is easily-accessible, clean, and inexpensive (5 pesos p/ride = $.26 USD). The cost remains the same, whether you’re traveling 1 stop or 10, and trains come every 2-3 minutes on average. It does get busy during rush hour, so we’d try to avoid it during those times of day, but it’s by far the best way to get around the city.
Tickets can either be purchased at the Taquilla window inside the station, or at kiosks next to the Metrobús stops (see below).
The Metrobús is the newest addition to Mexico City’s mass-transit system. These buses run up and down Avenida Insurgentes, and have their own designated lane, so they don’t get stuck in normal commuter traffic (except for when they do). They are big and new, but during rush hour, it can get incredibly intense, with commuters pushing and shoving their way in. Our first ride was at around 6pm and it was honestly pretty nerve-wracking, even coming from years using the New York City subway. If you’re not accustomed to public transit systems like this, I’d test it out at off times. One nice thing for women, children, and the elderly is that they have designated cars, where one can avoid the scrum.
To buy tickets, you’ll use the kiosks which sit at many (if not all) of the stops. 15 pesos buys you a plastic smartcard, which you then recharge for 5 pesos per ride. This can also be used in the subway stations, so we’d just load it up and walk to the closest Metrobús station when we needed to recharge.
We were a bit nervous about the taxi system, just since it always feels like the first place tourists are taken advantage of, but we had no issues during our trip. Most official taxis run on a meter, but it’s worth asking if it works (you can say something like ‘¿Funciona el taximetro?‘). If not, try to negotiate a price ahead of time.
Our rule of thumb is to, ahead of time, ask someone who knows the area – hostel worker, restaurant server, police officer – around how much it should cost. That gives us a barometer when we start negotiating with the driver.
There are local buses, but we didn’t use them. We did however take a bus from Mexico City to Teotihuacan to visit the ruins. We departed from the Autobuses del Norte station, which was pretty straight forward. One thing. Our seats were assigned, but the bus will continue to pick people up along the way who will stand in the aisle. I ended up giving up my seat to an old man, and sat on the floor in between the seats. They will also pick up vendors, who will use the time in between stops to try to sell stuff. Just go with it.
What we did
Yup, more friends. This time Liz’s college roommate, Denise, and her husband Carlos came into town for a long weekend with some of their friends, so we got the chance to get the locals’ tour of the city (Carlos was born and raised in Mexico City). They clued us in on all kinds of cultural highlights that we never would have known about, many of which ended up being our favorite parts of our visit (Plaza Garibaldi, Xochimilco, and futbol).
The ruins of Teotihuacan
Mind majorly blown by this place. Massive ruins located just an hour and change outside of the city. At its peak, it was home to around 125,000 people – the largest and most populated center in the new world. While it does tie into Mayan history of the time, it seems that the people who lived here belonged to many different faiths and cultures. Crazy to be able to jump on a bus from one of the largest and most modern cities in the world, and step off into ancient history just a few hours later.
The city was established around 100 BC and fell somewhere between the 7th ad 8th centuries AD. When Aztec civilization rose, the leaders, coming across the ruins of Teotihuacan, folded it into their own origin story, claiming that it was their ancestors that once lived there. This gave them a level of street cred as they worked to conquer the area.
There are two major pyramids in Teotihuacan – the Pyramid of the Moon – which is pictured above, and the larger Pyramid of the Sun, which began construction around 100 BC and is the third largest pyramid in the world at 233.5 feet in height.
No trip to Mexico is complete without a night spent watching lucha libre, Mexico’s professional wrestling league. They wouldn’t allow us to bring in our camera, so unfortunately no good photos. We did get this one though.
Super Porky is one of the most popular wrestlers in the league. He’s been active for almost 40 years…for better or worse. This was so fun though, and definitely a must-see if you’re in town.
Mariachi in Plaza Garibaldi
We had no idea that this existed, so were pretty psyched to check it out. The plaza itself is lined with restaurants and bars, and each night mariachi bands come out to play and solicit gigs from the visitors. We sat on the patio of Salón Tenampa, which became the home of mariachi music in Mexico City in the 1920’s. We also went to the bar next door to drink pulque, a traditional beverage fermented from the agave plant. It’s low alcohol content and slightly snot-textured. If that doesn’t sell you on it, I don’t know what will. Actually, I really liked it – my favorite flavor: peanut.
As a heads up, I was told that the area outside of Plaza Garibaldi is not safe, so I wouldn’t recommend venturing out too far at night. The plaza itself though is tourist central, so other than keeping an eye on your wallet/pockets (normal travel safety) and trying not to get ripped off, I wouldn’t be too worried.
Xochimilco – Moreiachi!! Sorry…
This was a treat. Here’s how it works, you rent a rafty floating boat thing for around 4 hours. As you can see from the picture, it has a long chair-lined table, underneath a canopy. So beforehand, we went to the store, loaded up on snacks and beers, filled up the cooler, and prepared for a day in the sun. The best thing is that you can rent the services of a mariachi, or in our case norteño, band to play however much time you want. Prior to their arrival, Carlos and our other friends wrote down their list of requests so that once the band started playing, we could solicit song after song. Eliminating the time between songs, we effectively reduced our per song fee. That’s some effective rafting.
Futbol at Estadio Azteca
Another cultural mainstay. I’m definitely not a soccer fan (I’m not really a sports fan in general), but it’s hard not to get drawn into the energy that these games generate. I can’t think of anything similar that gets people going in the way that these games do – mostly for better, sometimes for worse.
The Museo Nacional de Antropologia
This was one of the greatest museums we’ve ever visited. We were there for probably five hours and only managed to cover around a quarter of the place. We focused most of our attention on the pre-Colombian (before 1492) history of the region – the Maya, Inca, Aztec and Toltec civilizations. So incredibly interesting.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes sits in the historical center of Mexico City and is one of it’s most prominent cultural destinations, hosting artwork from Mexico and abroad, as well as a collection of murals by famed artist, Diego Rivera. It’s actually not that big, so we spent a few hours walking around and were able to cover the entire place.
What we Ate
Holy crap. The food in Mexico City is amazing. Street vendors are everywhere, selling anything from tacos, to tortas, to chilaquiles (my favorite, as you know), to elote, to burgers, to… Liz and I gravitate to street food, so to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge, we have just a few basic rules. Obviously, these aren’t guaranteed, but they’ve served us well so far.
- If potable water is not easily accessible, avoid juices, iced beverages, and raw vegetables (washing water could make you sick)
- Avoid raw seafood, like ceviche. If you eat it at a restaurant, earlier in the day is your best bet. Better safe than sorry.
- Look for stalls with the most people. Chances are they’re selling through their product, and if it’s busy, it means people eat there regularly.
- In some cases, we’ll ask other people what’s most popular or what they’re eating. Reduces the risk of ordering that thing that has been sitting all day.
All photos from The Wander Year Eats
We also made a trip to La Merced Market, the largest traditional food market in the city. Obviously, this kind of thing is our jam, so we weren’t going to miss it. Honestly, a bit overwhelming, but really cool and a super interesting way to plug into the areas culinary offerings.
Because we’re on a tight budget, we generally stuck to inexpensive eats. I did have one trick up my sleeve however. A lunch reservation at Pujol, which was named the best restaurant in Mexico City by The Wall Street Journal and the 17th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine in 2013. The chef, Enrique Olvera, specializes in working with local, traditional ingredients and elevating them to haute cuisine. The new season of Chef’s Table on Netflix features an episode about him.
Here’s how it went down:
I. Street Snacks: (left to right)
Asparagus chileatole, mulato chile chicharron
Bocol Huasteco (corn dough with cheese)
– Baby corn, powdered ant, coffee, costeño chile mayonnaise
II. Chilacayote Aguachile
Tongue with broth
III. Suckling pig taco, smoked tortilla, green sauce, mint, chickpea puree, coriander, red jalapeño
Octopus, ink tostada, habanero, oregano
IV. Egg infladita, chapulin sauce, bean with avocado leaves
Confit catch of the day, riñon tomato, pasilla mixe, avocado mayonnaise, mojo de ajo, cilantro
V. Mole madre, mole nuevo (953 days)
VI. Happy Ending – Lychee coconut rice nigiri
Churro con chocolate
So if you haven’t picked up on it, we absolutely loved our time in Mexico City, and in Mexico in general. Contrary to what some have suggested, we didn’t cross paths with any criminals or rapists, just friendly folks who appreciated the opportunity to watch a gringo possibly choke on a habanero. If I were in their shoes, I’d do the same thing.
As we continue on our trip, we’ve talked a lot about Mexico, and would put it at the top of the list for a future longer visit.