Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City is a cosmopolitan city which incorporates a diverse mix of both modern and historic elements in terms of its architecture, heritage and rich culture. On a casual walk through the city, you might get the feeling that you're traveling through different countries and time periods. One moment you could be in the modern financial district dominated by skyscrapers, and another, an impoverished squatter settlement; one moment in colonial Spain, and another, in some Mesoamerican civilisation!
I've avoided all unauthentic and pretentious Mexican food chains in London ever since my visit to Mexico. How can I look back after trying amazing local cuisine founded on homemade recipes passed down from generation to generation?! Oh, and the nightlife was great too. The first Spanish phrase I picked up was 'Un Tequlia Por Favor!'... BAD MISTAKE... This is city is cooler than you think - with innovative restaurants, cafes and bars popping up in every nook and cranny. Mexico City has so much to offer for anyone and everyone, so here's some recommendations on some of the key things that I enjoyed whilst I was there in 2015!
Getting around Mexico City
I got around via Uber and taxi cabs most of the time. Taxi fares are extremely cheap compared to that in developed countries. It is from my understanding that the public transport network does not cover the entire city area, making it difficult to access certain parts of the city...
I also avoided pink ‘CDMX’ cabs as they charge unreasonable fares.
Getting around Mexico:
Domestic Buses - http://www.ado.com.mx/ado/index.jsp
Domestic Flights - https://www.vivaaerobus.com/en
Español (Spanish) is the main spoken language. English is not very widely spoken, with the exception of most university students and younger people under 35. Basic Spanish skills are required in order to get around Mexico City comfortably. Otherwise, you should travel with someone who can speak Spanish.
Relatively conservative. Girls advised against wearing short shorts and skirts – just to be safe!
Contrary to the common belief that Mexico is a very dangerous country, my experience in Mexico City was extremely pleasant. In fact, most of the locals I met were honest, friendly and helpful. Of course, take all necessary precautions: keep to brightly-lit areas, try not to flaunt your £££$$$, and always try to walk in a pair. Avoid walking in rural or non-populated areas by yourself!
Top 10 things to see and do in Mexico City
1) Historic Downtown
2) Anthropology Museum
3) Chapultepec Park
4) Chapultepec Castle
5) Market Sonora Witchcraft market
6) San Angel Arts Market
8) Museo Soumaya
9) La Roma and La Condeza
1) El Cardenal
2) Nudo Negro
Left to right:
Angel of Independence
The Angel of Independence monument stands in the middle of a busy traffic roundabout along Paseo de la Reforma. It is one of the most important historical landmarks in Mexico to commemorate the 100th year of the beginning of Mexico's War of Independence against the Spaniards.
Estela de Luz
Estela de Luz is another significant landmark in Mexico, commemorating 200 years of independence from Spanish Rule. This construction project was extremely controversial due to the (lack of) design and overruns in time and cost. It stands right outside the entrance of Chapultepec park.
Plaza de la Constitucion (Zocalo)
Plaza de la Constitucion is one of the largest city squares in the world. It is located in the heart of the high street, with the Metropolitan Cathedral and National Palace surrounding it. This square has been a historic meeting point for protests and political rallies, as well as a cultural venue for national Mexican celebrations like Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) etc.
Bellas Artes Palace
Mexico City's performing arts centre. Click here for events and happenings.
2) NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY
The National Museum of Anthropology is a MUST-visit. Learn about Mexico's earlier civilisations and historical events via its collections of ancient artefacts and artwork. This museum gives a really good insight into the traditions and beliefs of the Mayan, Aztec, Zapotec civilisations, as well as a good explanation of human anthropology. You would need at least one full day to cover all the exhibitions thoroughly.
3 & 4) CHAPULTEPEC PARK and CHAPULTEPEC CASTLE
Chapultepec Park is the largest city park in Latin America. It is a great place to get a glimpse into local life since it is a popular location for family outings. Chapultepec means 'grasshopper' in Nahuatl (Aztec Language), and it was given this name due to the abundance of grasshoppers found in this area. The park was first inhabited by Aztec rulers in the pre-Columbian period, and later, the Spanish after The Conquest. The Spanish built the Chapultepec Castle, and it remains as the official residence of the Mexican Head of States after Mexico's independence. Today, it is a Museum of History and it is open to the public. Chapultepec Castle is located on top of Chapultepec Hill.
The top of Chapultepec Hill is also great for panoramic views of the city. The view of Paseo de la Reforma from the top of the hill. It is a 7.5-mile boulevard in the center of Mexico City, with the Angel of Independence monument in the centre of it.
5) MERCADO DE SONORA (WITCHCRAFT MARKET)
Eerie, mysterious and eye-opening... Mercado de Sonora is a must-visit for those who seek a more unique experience in Mexico City. Most Mexicans today are still superstitious, relying on traditional methods of spiritual healing as opposed to Western medicine and treatment.
Here you will find all things associated with witchcraft, sorcery and black magic: Mexican Voodoo dolls, animal carcasses used for rituals, skulls (chills went down my spine when I caught sight of the human skulls for sale), traditional herbs and medicine, spiritual candles etc.
Ask for permission before taking photographs. Most stall vendors are strongly opposed to photography due to the belief that photographing steals the 'soul' from their items.
Left to right: traditional herbs, entrance to market sonora, stall selling voodoo dolls and more herbs
6) SAN ANGEL BAZAAR AND ART FAIR
San Angel Bazaar and Art Fair (El Bazaar Sábado) is a Saturday-only market open from 9am-6pm located in Plaza San Jacinto and Plaza Tenanitla. It is situated in the beautiful San Angel neighbourhood: multi-coloured low-rise buildings painted in matte paints, tree-lined cobbled streets and charming plazas with water features. Every Saturday, vendors set up stalls selling fine traditional Mexican artwork, jewellery and handicrafts. Mexican art is colourful, intricate and highly imaginative, usually working around the themes of the Day of the Dead festival, alebrijes (a traditional mystical creature), Aztec/ Mayan culture, etc.
My visit to Xochomilco was one of the highlights of my Mexico City trip. It is a small historic village located in the Southern part of Mexico City, about an hour's drive away from the main downtown area.
Xochomilco Floating Gardens
You can take a colourful traditional river boat (i.e. 'trajineras') through the canals of Xochomilco. Trajineras were first used as a vehicle to transport agricultural goods, and later, to wealthy visitors. These vibrant hand-painted boats usually come with an arched roof decorated with flower garlands. Boating through the Xochomilco canal is a popular activity for both tourists and locals; families on a day trip or students on their version of a "Mexican Booze Cruise".
Xochimilco Market is located about a 5 minute walk away from the floating gardens. The market is made of two parts - a sheltered market complex, and and outdoor bazaar. At the market, you can enjoy local cuisine like fresh pork tacos (with all the spicy and herby side sauces) or a plate of pig guts. The market also sells a wide range of piñatas for celebrations like kids' birthdays.
8) MUSEO SOUMAYA
The towering metallic honeycomb-like structure located in the middle of a roundabout of the Polanco district is known as Museo Soumaya. It is a private art museum opened by the (current) richest man in the world. Best of all, it is free to public!
Quick fun fact: the richest man in the world (2015) is Mexican Telecoms Tycoon, Carlos Slim (USD $73 billion dollar net worth).
This museum houses valuable artwork from the 15th Century, but it is most famously known for the collection of Dali sculptures and paintings, located on the top floor of the museum - not to be missed!
9) LA ROMA AND LA CONDESA
La Roma and La Condesa are known to be Mexico city's hippest (most hipster) neighbourhoods - filled with bars, clubs and eateries.
Great place to walk around in the day to admire the beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, and the place to be on a Friday/ Saturday night - this is where the cool kids go for nightlife in Mexico City!
Teotihuacan, aka 'The City of Gods', is an archaeological site and home to one of the largest and most important ancient civilisations of Mesoamerica. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many ongoing archaeological works and excavations. Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon and The Avenue of the Dead are the most prominent sites.
It is recommended that you get a guided tour while at Teotihuacan. It is located about a 1.5 hour drive away from the Mexico City city centre. It is also easy and straightforward to get to Teotihuacan via bus from Terminal Autobuses del Norte. Click here for more information on how to get there.
Left: Avenue of the Dead leading towards Pyramid of the Moon.
Right: My brother (Shao) and I at the top of Pyramid of the Sun; Pyramid of the Moon in the background.
FOOD/ DRINK RECOMMENDATIONS
1) EL CARDENAL
El Cardenal is a very popular restaurant in the downtown area serving fine, authentic Mexican dishes from various regions of Mexico. Expect a clean and relaxed atmosphere, great service, and exceptional quality of food. Note that the food is slightly more expensive that what you would usually pay in Mexico, but I still thought my meal was good value for money (mains are between 10-20USD).
The restaurant gets really busy during lunch and dinner times, so it's best to make a booking before going.
I also had the freshest, and tastiest Magarita at this restaurant - give it a go!
2) NUDO NEGRO
Nudo Negro is a modern, smart-casual fusion restaurant in the neighbourhood of La Roma.
I was introduced to this restaurant by Franz (a friend from Mexico City) when I asked him to suggest a cool place to dine and have drinks. The food mixes Mexican, European and Asian cuisine in a very creative and unconventional way. Most importantly, the food is absolutely DELICIOUS. We tried about 4-6 dishes on the menu, and everything tasted really good. This was one of my most incredible meals in Mexico city - I highly recommend it!
The fun part about dining at this restaurant is that you can request to be suspended via their in-house pulley system while you grab a random bottle from a two-storey liquor shelf!
Alekzander is an ultra-hip, cosy 3-storey restaurant and bar in La Roma. The rustic interior design and furniture really appealed to me. A cool place to hang out and have wine and cocktails.
I wish I had more to put down in my recommendations! While wandering aimlessly around the city, I came across many random street food stalls and pop-up markets that served really delicious Mexican cuisine. Unfortunately, I'm unable to provide an exact address or location for these places. Great food is in abundance here, so I'm sure you'll be able to find some really cool places yourself!
Click here to access my Mexico City Google My Map.