In November, I went to Mexico. I’d been hearing about the magic of Mexico City for a while now, and finally planned a trip with a friend and her boyfriend. We tacked on a few days in Playa del Carmen to the end of our adventure, but we spent the bulk of our time in Mexico City, eating, drinking, wandering and, in my case, excitedly pointing out all the dogs walking the streets with their people.
I’d been to Cozumel before, and Tulum, very briefly almost a decade ago while on a cruise. Mexico City is not that sort of Mexico. I have, on several occasions, explained that going to Mexico City was like going to real Mexico, while going to the beach was just like being in America, only sometimes you have to pay in pesos. In Mexico City, you always pay in pesos, you’ll hear next to no English and when you do, you’ll be surprised. It is quite obvious that you’re in another country when in Mexico City, a fact that’s occasionally easy to forget at the beach.
We picked Mexico City for a few reasons. We all wanted to get out of the country, to get another stamp in our passport. We wanted to go somewhere relatively inexpensive, which Mexico City absolutely is. We wanted someplace with a lot of culture and good food and we didn’t want to spend forever and a day traveling to our destination. All that, plus a Spanish-speaking travel companion made Mexico City an easy choice, especially since we all had friends who recently traveled there and returned raving about it.
HOW TO SPEND 5 DAYS IN MEXICO CITY
DAY 1: ARRIVE IN MEXICO CITY & EXPLORE YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
We took an early flight out of Richmond and made it our Airbnb around 1:30 p.m., allowing us time to rest for a bit, wash the travel off, and then scamper around our neighborhood. We stayed in the leafy and trendy Condesa, which is centrally located, beautiful and filled with good food. We didn’t plan much for this first day, other than exploring Condesa and neighboring Roma, eating tacos and drinking Mexico beers, which was the perfect way to ease ourselves into our Mexican adventure.
DAY 2: EXPLORE CENTRO HISTÓRICO.
Some of the most iconic Mexico City sites are in Centro Histórico, including the Palacio de Bellas Artes, pictured above. The city center is also home to the Zócalo, the city’s main plaza, which is the largest plaza in Latin America, with room for around 100,000 people. There’s a ton of museums to visit here too, with topics ranging from art to military history, cartoons to economics, plus a few gorgeous cathedrals and Templo Mayor, a series of Aztec ruins dating back to the 1300s and an active archeological site.
PRO TIP: There’s a Sears right across the street from the Palacio de Bellas Artes that offers an absolutely incredible view from its 8th floor coffee shop. Better yet, the coffee is actually good.
DAY 3: EXPLORE TEOTIHUACAN.
Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city. Established around 100 B.C., the city reached its peak around 450 A.D., with a population somewhere over 150,000. The central pyramid here, the Pyramid of the Sun, is the third largest pyramid in the world and, amazingly, visitors are still able to climb all the way to its top for an astounding view of the entire site and the surrounding countryside, although I think the view from the middle of the other big pyramid, Pyramid of the Moon, offers the best view of the site.
If you have more than two days to spend in Mexico City, I’d recommend a trip to Teotihuacan. The site is huge – around 4 kilometers in length – and walking through a well-preserved 2,000 year old city is one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I promise you won’t regret.
Plus, there are dogs and, if you’re willing to walk an extra ten minutes, you can have a lunch in cave.
PRO TIPS: Entry to the site is 70 pesos, or about $3.70 USD. We took a bus there and back, which was mostly trauma-free, super affordable and easy to do by following these directions. Every site that mentions Teotihuacan mentions how you can have lunch in a cave at La Grunta and we went, not expecting much, but the restaurant was beautiful and the food was great. To get there, follow the trail behind the Pyramid of the Sun to the parking lot and then look for the black La Grunta signs. It’s a 5-10 minute walk from Teotihuacan. Be sure to take water, sunscreen and a hat with you as there’s very little shade at Teotihuacan.
DAY 4: VISIT FRIDA’S HOUSE & EXPLORE COYOACÁN.
We went to Coyoacán to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum and opted to spend the rest of the day exploring in one of Mexico City’s most historic neighborhoods. Not only was it a refuge for the counterculture, with artists and exiled political figures calling it home in the earlier 1900s, but it’s also where Hernán Cortés based himself as the Spanish dismantled the Aztec Empire in the 16th century. Coyoacán still feels like a colonial village, with cobbled streets, beautiful churches and a lively square surrounded by restaurants, street vendors and shops.
There’s also a handful of really outstanding markets in Coyoacán, including one that’s packed with delicious snacks. Some of the best tacos I had in Mexico City, I had at the market in Coyoacán.
PRO TIP: The Frida Kahlo Museum is a bit of splurge compared to other Mexico City museums, with admission costing $200 pesos, or about $10.50 USD. If you want to take any pictures inside, including iPhone photos, spend an extra $30 pesos ($1.60 USD) for a photo pass.
DAY 5: EXPLORE CHAPULTEPEC PARK & THE CITY’S MUSEUMS.
Chapultepec Park is huge – almost 1,700 acres – and is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere. It’s home to Chapultepec Castle, the only castle in the Americas to serve as the residence of a sovereign; the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, the largest and most-visted museum in the city; squirrels that will climb you and reach into your purse in an attempt to steal your snacks; and a whole assortment of additional museums.
We spent almost half a day in the anthropology museum and a good bit of a morning wandering around the castle, and I’d recommend both. The views from the castle are worth the climb and the collection at the anthropology museum is vast and assorted, which means it kept even me, a self-professed museum-hater, entertained.
Then there’s the Museo Soumaya, which is not in the park, but is worth a visit for art or architecture fans. The $70 million building allegedly holds something like $700 million worth of art, including the largest collection of Rodin outside of France, and is covered in 16,000 aluminum hexagons.
FINALLY, FLY AWAY.
After five days, we woke up on the morning of our sixth day in Mexico City, packed our bags, frowned at our massive pile of used plastic water bottles, called an Uber and headed out, on to our next adventure in Playa del Carmen.