This grass wall (outside of a downtown restaurant Padrino’s) is one of several similar walls in Mexico City. The city that had a reputation as a dirty and dangerous place is fast changing. Many new improvements have been made to attract tourists.
For instance, there are temporary exhibits in subways stops (like a planetarium one I had a chance to encounter). There are more museums in Mexico City than anywhere else in the world (150 at last count). Police are omnipresent, especially in the tourist districts and the streets are kept clean with a virtual army of street sweepers.
Here is an example of the true cultural paradise you will encounter in this city: I haven’t seen this many bookstores, booksellers and book readers since cell phones became prevalent. If you are a woman traveling along its very convenient to discover there are special “women and children only” train cars that up your safety factor on the metro.
The city is still rough around the edges but it’s populated by some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. This great wall is one of many such walls situated through the city helping clean up both its air and its reputation. Still, Mexico City remains an undiscovered gem for many foreign tourists and this makes exploring it that much more fun.
Some important tips to remember when visiting Mexico City:
- Few people here speak English. Don’t expect people to understand you or respond back to you in English. For American tourists, Mexico City is still a somewhat exotic location which makes you feel like an explorer when you are here. People are very nice and try to be helpful, but you’ll need to communicate with sign language unless you speak Spanish.
- Everything is cheap cheap cheap! A full 4-course dinner will run you about $25 and a metro ride is just .50c. Definitely, have cash with you, but most restaurants and shops that cater to tourists will accept credit cards. Depending on your travel style you won’t need more than $100 in converted cash with you for a long weekend if you normally pay for meals and larger purchases with credit cards.
- Although Mexico City has been cleaned up a lot in recent years some neighborhoods remain dangerous. Before you venture into an unknown neighborhood be sure to ask your hotel if it’s safe. I would suggest sticking to tourist districts for now.
- Taxis can be iffy and not always safe. When you are leaving the airport you can pay for the taxi inside the terminal, this way you get an authorized (safe) taxi. After that, I suggest you stick with Uber or the metro, as that’s considered the safer option.
Here are my 3 great days in Mexico City. Feel free to add your own suggestions:
Day 1: Central Historical District:
Wake up early, and see the city come to life. No matter where you go in the world, one of the best ways to experience a city is to watch it waking up. In Beijing I saw ambitious young pioneers walking at dawn, their red ties proudly wrapped around their neck. In Pokhara, cattle and school children negotiated narrow roads on their way about their daily business. In Paris, chick women with scarves fashionably thrown over their shoulders, rushed away with the daily purchase of fresh french bread.
And in Mexico City, my first morning, I saw vendors getting ready for the day’s business. They hurried about, the goods balanced precariously on their carts.
One running with ice and another walking slowly with his shoe shine equipment. Wander the almost empty streets of the historic district and when you are ready enjoy a cup of coffee with churoz in one of the many coffee shops.
Make your way over to the Palacio De Bella Artes. You may not know it yet, but you are in the museum capital of the world. Mexico City has more museums than any other city, over 150 at last count. Palacio De Bella Artes is one of the most beautiful ones.
If you have the time go in and wander the galleries, and if you don’t, just wander around the museum. Locals hang out right outside the museum and it’s a great place to people watch.
Right next to the museum is the Central Alameda Park, one of the breathing lungs of this city. If you are lucky to visit in spring, as was I enjoy the blooms and check out the beautiful fountains. Now walk back to one of the streets closed to traffic – Avenue Francisco I Madero and grab some lunch in one of the many restaurants down the street.
Once you are done with your meal go into The Palace of Iturbide, a palatial residence, and a free museum. Here you can wander free galleries and enjoy rotating exhibits of artwork (courtesy of Citibank).
Not far from the gallery is The Casa de Los Azulejos or “House of Tiles” and the old post office, Palacio Postal, both feats of architectural achievement and both free to visit. I love sending postcards from whatever location I am in back home to my family, and this is a great place to do so.
For dinner, you can enjoy one of the many restaurants surrounding you in the tourist district or make your way over to Café De Tacuba, a hundred-year-old restaurant in the middle of the historic district.
If you dine here I suggest you try the guac (some of the best I have eaten anywhere in the world) and the Mause de Lemon, an absolutely delicious mouse concoction.
This restaurant is notable for its beautiful architecture and its history. It also has the distinction of being one of few restaurants in Mexico city where the staff speaks English, which makes it very convenient.
Day 2: Tiotihuacan
Day 2 is the perfect day for a trip outside of the city. The public transportation in Mexico City is very safe and easy to navigate if you are used to using public transport.
If you really don’t want to bother with public transport, there are bus tours you can arrange on Madero Avenue (one vendor is very close to the The Palace of Iturbide).
However, if you are the more adventurous type taking public transport can be both more authentic and far less expensive than going via a tourist bus.
First thing you need to do is take the metro to Indios Vertes, a last stop off the 3 line and a bus hub.
The metro is easy enough to navigate but you can pick up a map from your hotel and ask for directions from other passengers.
Once you get off at the bus stop, there are dozens of buses going to different places. The best way to find the correct bus if you don’t speak any Spanish is to ask bus drivers (not police officers or other employees) for “pyramidos” or just show a picture of Tiotihuacan on your cell phone.
Once you locate the right bus, you pay for your ride (about 50 dineros, 2.5 dollars) and you will be at your location within just about 1.5 hours.
At the pyramids, you can hire a guide where the bus drops you off or you can wander about on your own. Be sure to wear comfortable footwear for this trip (closed toe) because you’ll be doing a lot of walking and climbing.
You can buy a big bottle of water here, and you will need it. There are several good, inexpensive restaurants on premises, so make sure to take a long break and enjoy a meal and beer with a view of the pyramids.
If you are looking for souvenirs this is a great place to pick some up as there are a ton of vendors walking around the complex.
The last bus back to Mexico City leaves around 6 to 6:30 so don’t miss it.
Day 3: Coyocan
On Day 3 get away from the hassle and bustle by visiting the tony district of Coyocan. One of Mexico City’s wealthiest districts, this neighborhood is lined with large, colorful homes and old shady trees. It’s also the location of both Frida Kahlo house and the Trotsky house.
If you are looking to visit the Frida Kahlo house be sure to have your tickets purchased in advance (you can do so online). The lines to see the house are very long and you may not have a time slot available on a day you wish to visit unless you book in advance.
Get off at Coyocan station and slowly make your way to Trotsky house via one of the avenues named after great cities – Paris, Landes, Berlin or Vienna. Admire the colorful mansions and the blooming trees along the way, this is a great place to take some beautiful pictures.
The Trotsky house only takes about 30 minutes to walk through so you can definitely do the Frida Kahlo house as well in one morning.
Afterwards make your way back along one of the beautiful avenues to the Coyocan Market, full of endless stalls of foods and wares.
If you are looking for an adventurous eat, pick up food here and eat inside the market. If you are looking for a more touristy or an upscale dining experience walk over to the Jardin Centario, where a whole row of beautiful restaurants with outdoor seating line the park.
I walked over to the Jardin Centario and enjoyed an extended lunch here with the view of the park.
Afterwards, you can wander around the park and slowly make your way back to your hotel. I hope you enjoy your stay in Mexico City, and please leave any additional tips in comments. Thank you and happy traveling!