I am an adopted Chilango. That is what Mexico City natives call themselves, and if you move beyond the confines of your snug cacoon like resort, you can have an authentic experience, and enjoy the city just like a native. Don’t be a tourist. Be a Chilango! I traveled to Mexico City for a about a year, and it NEVER GOT OLD!
People who go to Mexico City are the same type of travelers who go to New York City, Paris, London, and Tokyo. They are people like me, who love to get a feel for a location, and all its uniqueness, and are tired of the cookie cutter mall strewn landscape that is so common in everywhere USA. Instead, we go for the food, the people, the neighborhoods, language, culture, museums, music, unique events, bars, and history. We go for the fun of mixing in, and experiencing an authentic moment, to gain greater perspective from our sheltered suburbanite lives.
A lot of us American tourists have found the beautiful beaches, authentic hospitality, and relaxing atmosphere of Mexico’s resort areas, such as Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cabos, and Cozumel, but haven’t experienced one of the beautiful colonial towns or cities of Mexico. The cost to travel there from the East Coast is about $450 Round Trip, a good 3-4* hotel through priceline is about $90/Night. Entrance fees to different attractions are greatly helped by the exchange rate, often just being $4 – $5 to get into museums, movies, art museums, and national monuments.
What is Not To Like?
I know some may hesitate, due to language. If found just almost non-existent Spanish can get you by. I faked it. My Spanish was almost non-existent, often just mastering three word sentences starting with “Where is” (Donde es), “How Much” (Cuanto Es), Thank You (“Gracias”) along with some key nouns such as Bathroom (Banjo), Restaurant (Restaurante), Taxi (Taxi), Metro (Metro), Hotel (Hotel). I found my co-workers there, young professionals, spoke flawless and fluent english, spoiling me, but on my own I did fine.
Everyone I met was gracious, warm and exceptionally polite, a contrast to my trips to Paris (most were polite, but not all), and Germany (where we occasionally found less than patient). I was able to get by just fine. One of the first visits I had attended a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood, where we met our Mexican co-workers. I remember reaching across a very long table, and initially taken aback, as my handshake wasn’t returned. Instead, I watched as my co-worker walked around the long table, to give a kiss (on the cheek) and embrace, instead. This was the way we were always greeted
Some may hesitate due to safety concerns. But, just as safety in the lower east side of Chicago, Bronx in New York, or South East in DC, do not define those cities, neither do the crime statistics of Juarez, or Matamoros define beautiful San Miguel Allende (Leisure + Travel voted this #3 of Best World Cities 2016), or Mexico City (New York Times listed it as the #1 place to go), and for very good reasons. So, let me try to entice you to take the path less traveled, and enjoy some of the many things Mexico City has to offer.
Getting Around Mexico City
I would recommend using Uber, where you’ll get pricing similar to the street Taxis ($3 – $4), instead of the very expensive hotel taxi’s ($25 – $35). They also have an exceptionally large, and clean subway system, with 141 miles of track, and tickets for $0.25, but realize this isn’t for the feint of heart. Here is a complete guide, but Uber can simplify a lot for you.
Day 1 – The Zocola
Just a 15 minutes cab ride from the Sheraton I stayed, is the Zocola, the historic center of Mexico City, and ground zero where the Spaniards met and overthrew the Aztec leader, Montezuma. The Aztec Empire literally lies just a few feet below the Zocola, where the Spanish government erected its state buildings right over the remains of the Aztec capital.
One of your first stops should be the beautiful Art Deco Museo del Palacio de Belles Artes, the center for performing arts, and the arguably the best collection of murals on Planet Earth from Rivera Diego, Tomayo, and Orazco. A mere fee of $60.00 Pesos ($3.25 USD) will get you in. One of the things my friends suggested to do is to go across the street to the Sears Roebuck, and grab a granita or coffee at the cafe on the second floor, and enjoy the view of the Art Deco building and the great people watching below.
Just a short walk away, visit the Metropolitan Cathedral, was built right on top of their Templo Meyor, which was the Aztec’s most important religious site. Enter the Cathedral to both escape the heat, bright sun, into the cool cavernous stone interior. It is a fine examples of Spanish – Catholic influenced architecture, but the fun thing to do is to take the tour of the Bell Tower, where you can walk the roof and see the bells that ring periodically during the day for just a few dollars.
A few blocks away, visit Garabaldi Plaza, arguably the Mariachi Mecca of the world. It isn’t necessarily a place to go to admire architecture, or fine food, but instead to be a voyeur of an element of Mexican culture, that we American tourists may not quite appreciate. One of my first weeks on my own, my friends took me on a car tour of Mexico City, and as we were nearing the street in front of the Plaza, there was a bit of a giggle, and dare to drive near the square.
I didn’t understand, until we drove close. There are always 5 to 10 mariachi ensembles, ready to go, awaiting for the next party, wedding, or what ever, and will be more than happy to cram into your car, instruments and all! It is not uncommon for any special event, to have someone go pick up a Mariachi band at Garabaldi. My friend explained that on several occasions, when her parents had an argument, where we may bring flowers to our lovely wife, instead, a romantic Mariachi band was delivered to sooth the situation. Stop for a beer (Modelo is brewed right in Mexico City) and Chiliquiles, and take in the scene, and impromptu songs.
You need to take the standard precautions you would in most big cities:
- Watch you belongings, so you do not get pick pocketed.
- Be Aware of your surroundings, to avoid situations and places where you don’t feel safe.
- Be Aware of where you are, so you don’t feel lost.
- Panhandlers – I saw a homeless or pan handler a lot more rarely than in DC, New York, or Paris.
I spend a whole year in Mexico City, and I didn’t have any altercation of any sort. I walked to many places, took subways, and taxis.