Last week, we got to spend a beautiful few days in Mexico City. Three of the last four years, Ryan and I have gone out of town for New Year’s. We like to jet-set away from the cold, miserable Kentucky weather and go somewhere warmer that we haven’t been to before. I had been wanting to visit Mexico City because it came highly recommended by friends, and I wanted to see a part of Mexico outside of the resorts.
For this trip I was excited to do some shopping (I love the Mexican folk art style), eat authentic Mexican food, and see my fill of beautiful architecture. And while I did get to do all those things, this trip went a little wonky…and I’ll explain why later.
***Let me first start with a disclaimer to all those worried about us traveling to Mexico City. We found Mexico City to be very safe! Almost every sidewalk and rode was patrolled by friendly officers, and the only problem I saw them assisting was jumping a car battery. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t take caution, it’s still a big city. I’d say the nighttime is when you should be extra cautious, but we felt fine the whole time***
Cruising through downtown, darkness dimming our first view of the city, my first thoughts were that Mexico City drivers are skilled at weaving through heavy traffic. Our Uber driver dropped us off in Roma Norte, a charmingly historic neighborhood that our Airbnb was in. Through the wrought-iron doors and up three flights of old marble steps was our rooftop apartment. We had our own private outdoor area to take in the lighted skyscrapers and twinkle lights on nearby terraces. Our studio apartment was little but stylish, decorated with whimsically patterned wallpaper. Our Airbnb hosts had a book of suggestions for restaurants in the neighborhood, so we dropped off our bags and headed back out. Across the street was a trendy little pizza place, Los Cancinos, buzzing with patrons. The restaurant was all open to the outside, so we enjoyed our wood-fired pizzas at a table surrounded by overhanging plants.
(I forgot to take photos here, so this lovely night shot is from Google)
After a lie-in the next morning, we made our way over to Panadería Rosetta for some breakfast pastries to-go. I stuck with a classic, freshly baked croissant, while Ryan’s choice ended up being a bit bizarre. What we thought was a cinnamon roll ended up having a much spicier taste that we never truly identified. However, that is life sometimes when you have a language barrier and you think you are ordering something else. I was nice and split my croissant 😉
We walked over to the mall to purchase an inexpensive SIM card, since the free WiFi around the city can be unreliable when trying to navigate and use Uber. Ready to start our adventure for the day, we ubered over to the “museum district,” as I’ve dubbed it.
***Though there is a subway and bus system that is adequate, Uber is so cheap here in Mexico City. You are better off using it or just walking***
Winding our way through the swarms of people, we came upon our first tourist site, the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. It’s massive stone facade was sooty with age and intricately carved. Upon entering you are overwhelmed by the high ceilings, elaborate alcoves, and gilded alters. My favorite part was the organ, suspended in the air and adorned with wooden carvings framing the organ pipes like pieces of art.
After exiting the cathedral, we joined the crowd surrounding the square, enjoying the spectacle before us. It seemed to be a ritual or blessing of some sort…buzzing with ancient Aztec music, dancers in leopard loin cloths with their bodies painted in swirls of color, headdresses of feathers adorning their heads. There was a line of people waiting to be blessed with a haze of smoking incense in a bowl and a branch of leaves being gently passed over their bodies. It was a beautiful sight.
From there we wandered the streets nearby, taking in the architecture and remnants of Christmas decor. Many streets were filled with vendors selling modern items you’d see at American flea markets. Not my kind of shopping, but we took enjoyment in discovering that each street had its own theme of shopping…one sold clothes and toys, another books, and one whole street was dedicated to camera storefronts. The streets where crowded but they flowed easily.
For lunch we stopped at a nearby restaurant for tacos, our first of the trip. We knew we both liked the el pastor tacos (seasoned, shredded pork), and they did not disappoint. Their simplicity and freshness are what make them so good in my opinion.
***With most meals we had bottled or sparkling water. Our Airbnb hosts said the water in Mexico City is safe, but it’s better for non-locals to stick with filtered or bottled water just in case.***
After lunch we went to the Ciudadela Market for some shopping. Every stall was filled to the brim with brightly colored Mexican decor and clothing…hand-tooled leather bags and belts, embroidered dresses and blouses, intricately painted Día de los Muertos skulls and animals, metal vases and bowls etched with flowers…it was a feast for the eyes and I could have spent forever there. However, Ryan was motivated to move me through there quicker, in order to not spend ALL our money. I ended up purchasing an embroidered dress, top, leather purse, some pillow cases and a hand-beaded ornament (all for only $100!)
The rest of the day was filled with a long siesta, dinner at a burger joint and grocery shopping. Food was extraordinarily cheap, so we came back with some snacks, pina colada mix, water and rum for only $12.
The next day, we started our morning with an exploration of the Roma Norte neighborhood, mostly along Alvaro Obregon Avenue. It’s filled with beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and trendy restaurants. It also had a great tree-lined promenade running down the middle of the street, which made it easer to enjoy a viewing of both sides of the pretty architecture.
From there we Ubered across town to visit the botanical garden at the university. After a confusing conversation with a parking attendant and our Uber driver (they only spoke Spanish, we spoke almost no Spanish. We finally got our translation app out and understood), we discovered the garden was closed for winter break. Trying to drive to plan B, a food market, our driver informed us our next stop had burned down. Okay, plan C then. Well, that park ended up being closed. It seemed we had no luck.
***Most places in Mexico City are closed on Mondays, so research ahead on what will be open and plan accordingly. We had known this, but didn’t realize winter break and the holidays would also affect our plans so much***
What was a frustrating morning turned into a nice afternoon. The area we were dropped off at, Paseo de la Reforma, was lined with vendors and beautiful Christmas decor. I ended up finding some pretty silver beaded earrings, while we perused the stalls. Our mouths watering from all the street food vendors lining the avenue, we stopped for lunch at one of the stalls. We stumbled through ordering the quesadillas, but the vendors were patient, friendly, let us taste-test to decide what to order. We watched as they took tortillas from a huge stack and sprayed them with water, rehydrating them as they were slapped on the grill. They slathered on black bean sauce and piled on spicy pork, cheese and cabbage. Drinks and quesadillas in hand, we found a bench to enjoy our lunch and the beautiful weather. After, we couldn’t resist a stop at the ice cream stall, for some pina colada and mango treats.
That evening, we enjoyed another siesta and some tacos from down the street. We prefer to not jamb-pack our days and relax, since our time back home is so busy.
On our last day, we were trying to make the most of it, but even more places were closed than we realized. It turns out New Year’s Eve is another day where many places are shut down, so we struggled to find things to do. The museum I was most looking forward to, Museo de Arte Popular, we discovered was closed once we got there. The Frida Kahlo museum had been booked solid all week, and some other places we were hoping to explore were closed to the public. Though frustrating, we did find a few exciting things to do.
We explored the Church of Santo Domingo, along with the opulent Palacio Postal. Every square inch is gilded or decked in marble, the most lavish of buildings for such an ordinary task. I’d be shipping packages and mail everyday if I had a local post office like that!
Our other stop was the Templo Mayor Museum, which was thankfully open. It displays the once grand temple of the Aztecs, before the devastating Spanish invasion in the early 1500s. We discovered the revered animals, like the snake, great symbols for the Aztec people…large, slithering stone creatures once painted in vivid colors. We learned about the gruesome animal and human sacrifices of the time, the rituals done on large stone pedestals. Inside the museum were floors upon floors of archeological finds, hundreds of skulls, stone carved into intricate beading, tools and dishware hundreds of years old.
After the museum, we cut through Chinatown toward another taco restaurant for lunch. I couldn’t resist stopping for a photo of the brightly colored parasols and lanterns strung above. We had more el pastor tacos and refreshing drinks purely made of blended mango. We stopped in another outdoor market on the way back to the Airbnb. I was intrigued by the artist painting colorful flora and fauna scenes on hand-made paper. Together we picked a small bird print for our travel wall back home.
I only had one bar in mind during the trip, the Waikiki Tiki Room, and I was sorely disappointed when they said they were booked and we couldn’t stop for a drink. That was the theme of the last couple days, booked or closed. Even the restaurants were closing early for NYE and we couldn’t find a place to eat. We ended up rushing to the grocery before it closed to grab supplies for dinner. I was bummed at first, but to be honest we are homebodies usually. It was nice to relax with a simple meal, watch a movie, pack and ring in the new year with just each other. Less fuss.
***When in doubt, book anything you are interested in, as far in advance as possible. It saves you some frustration and disappointment. And when plans don’t work out, exploring the area can be interesting and fun too***
While the time of year we chose was not ideal, it was a beautiful city that we really enjoyed exploring. It is full of life, color and rich history. The people are patient and kind, it felt safe walking around in most areas, and the weather was fantastic! I highly recommend you go and see another side of beautiful Mexico.