Ay, La Ciudad De Mexico! Mexico City! Where to begin? This was the start to our abroad travel in our long-term journey, and with it came a lot of uncertainty and novelty, seeing the Mexican culture in this country unfold in front of us initially. Prior to our arrival, most people we know had little to say to us about Mexico unless they’d visited on vacation and stayed on a resort primarily, if not for their entire trip, or worriedly shared their fears about us staying safe, presuming what most Americans think, that all of Mexico is unsafe and full of drug crime and violence (which by the way, is not true). We did encounter a few who had traveled outside of resorts share with us their experiences and recommendations, which was very helpful. Overall, it felt like we were treading into new territory here, which was exciting and a bit unnerving for me at the same time. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, was open to the experience, and hoped for the best!
Initially, we took an Uber from the airport to our 12th-story studio apartment, where we stayed for a week, which was spacious and comfortable with an amazing view of Alameda Central, the oldest municipal park in Mexico City, located in the midst and at the edge of Centro Historico, the historic, central neighborhood of Mexico City. We could see the street that led to the Zocalo, or main square, the Benito Juarez monument, Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the street and pedestrian traffic below; it was so cool to see this area lit up at night! On our Uber ride to our place, it was a bit of a culture shock to see the traffic and chaotic driving, vendors walking in-between cars on the streets when cars were stopped at lights to sell gum, beverages, and wipe windshields, and take in all of the written signage and spoken Spanish language surrounding us. It was a challenge to try to quickly comprehend and bring ourselves to sheepishly, uncertainly utter out the words we could recollect from our Spanish classes many years ago in school to transact getting past the doorman at our building to gain access to our apartment and ordering our food for dinner; I selected a couple of nearby taco places I pointed out in a tourist booklet left in our apartment by our host within a few blocks of our place out of convenience. We walked a couple of square blocks around our place to locate them and pick one. I felt so uncomfortable walking around at first because of all of the caution I’ve always been bombarded with about Mexico as a whole and traveling in bigger cities, wherever they are in the world. Many of the buildings, streets, and signage would all indicate in the U.S. that the neighborhood is run-down and thus likely unsafe, but here, it took time to convince myself otherwise, that it is just not developed to the same standard as the U.S. in this regard. I focused on my observations that there were women and children walking around and that there were a lot of people out and about. This area is apparently the more touristy area of Mexico City, although we can’t recall engaging in or overhearing any conversations in English, so we concluded most tourists must have been from other parts of Mexico, International, or if from the US, they must have spoken fluent Spanish.
I remember walking around, seeing the neighborhood shops south of our apartment building for the first time, feeling uncomfortable like we really stood out and people were taking notice. I’m not sure how much of that is actually true and how much of it was my paranoid perception, as I didn’t bother to look around much and kept my head down and eyes to the ground for most of the time we walked, rarely making eye contact with anyone. (Aaron’s perception was that no one seemed to care about us at all, for the most part). We passed through a district with mechanical, bathroom, and lighting supplies first (it seems most of the businesses in Mexico City are laid out in this fashion, in an area based on similarity to what is being sold). After eating our first meal, we ventured out to the grocery store, which required us to walk about 20 minutes there. Aaron scoped it out and navigated while I followed, reluctantly, wanting to quickly be done with it and back to our place securely for the night. I wouldn’t say I ever felt 100% comfortable in Mexico City, but as I got more familiar with the surrounding area and we explored throughout the week we were there, I opened myself up to experiencing it more and even ventured out many blocks to a couple of fitness classes, a cafe, and an eatery on my own! I also gradually began making small talk with the 24/7 doormen at the front desk, offering a statement about what I had just done or was about to do in addition to greeting them with, “Buenos dias/tardes/noches” depending on the time of day, which is, “Good morning/afternoon/evening”. I’m not sure if they appreciated it, thought I was silly, or a little of both. 🙂
We discovered that most people work, recreate, and/or participate in civic life in the area we stayed in and that few people also live there. There have been recent projects to revitalize the area as living space also, of which our apartment building was a prime example.
According to Lonely Planet, 20 million people live in Mexico City, and there are 16 delegaciones, or boroughs, which are subdivided into 1,800 colonias, or neighborhoods. The Mexico Tourism Board states that Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world (over 140), though I am not much of a museum person (Aaron is, so we try to find a balance in our travels, visiting some). Needless to say, these stats are overwhelming when thinking about where to go and what to do within Mexico City, and absolutely impossible to cover in a week-and-a-half of time, and we didn’t try to. We fully recognized this at the onset and instead of “checking the boxes”, or quickly visiting the most well-known sites just to say we did and take our photos to prove it (which this is not our travel style anyhow), we decided to do some research to figure out what our top wish list items were, and then discuss. We read about the most popular neighborhoods for travelers to visit and what they have to offer and decided to check out a handful of them, mostly the ones surrounding where our accommodations were, and thus the most accessible to us. As typically is the case for us in most places we visit, our top priority is to walk around and see what we see, and also scope out some desirable dining options in advance. Rather than giving you the sequential day-by-day of our experiences in Mexico City, I’ll categorize by themes, or types of experiences.
First and foremost, FOOD. While we had some good dining experiences and especially enjoyed some dishes we ate, we wouldn’t say we were “WOW-ed” by more than a few dishes. There certainly was novelty in some of what we tried for the first time though. We had heard that Mexico City is a culinary capital for not just Mexican, but International, cuisine, and that may be the case at some higher-end restaurants (a couple of which we experienced and enjoyed). Most of the tacos we ate were good, but not great, nothing to write home about (although I suppose in writing this post, I am writing home about it after all)! We ventured out to eat some street tacos and corn, and especially in these cases, it’s unfortunate they weren’t the best food we’ve ever eaten, because we’re pretty sure that’s where our consistent, week-and-a-half-long, explosive, uncontrollable traveller’s diarrhea came from that followed within a few days! Yes, more on that later. Real life on the road in a country where our bodies aren’t used to the bacteria in the food (and not necessarily bad bacteria, it could be just different, or of course it could be bad bacteria from food sitting out too long or not being handled properly). This is also known as “Montezuma’s revenge” in Mexico and Central America. For our first couple of weeks in Mexico, actually, until we talked to our friends who live in Queretero, Jamie and Fabian, we mostly avoided raw produce that wasn’t peeled or cooked (because the concern is not knowing if it was washed, or if it was cleaned properly with bottled water or tap water that has been treated with a special solution to make the water safe for consumption), and we still got it! Jamie’s theory is that it’s something in the meat that’s different rather than the water or produce. In any case, there was a short time where we thought we might not have gotten it, but alas, despite our attempts to avoid it, it happened anyway. We’ve chalked it up to being part of the long-term, abroad travel experience, LOL!
And on that note, here are photos of some of our culinary experiences!
La Casa Azul (former home of famous Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, and her husband, famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera)
This museum in the Colonia Del Carmen neighborhood was an educational, artistic highlight for me, as I had never heard of either artist prior to this place being recommended to me to visit, and they are both renowned and revered in Mexico (they are even printed on the 500-peso bill). In the various states and cities we’ve visited in Mexico since, we’ve seen purses, shirts, earrings, and more for sale featuring Frida’s face on them. For someone who isn’t typically interested in museums, I was truly engaged and fascinated in this one!
We stood outside in a long line in the rain for about half an hour to enter (Tip: Purchase tickets online in advance, get there soon after they open, or bring an umbrella if rain is a possibility in the forecast). I bought the extra ticket to have the ability to take photos throughout the museum, and I’m so glad I did so I can look back through them in the years to come and also share some of them with you here!
We watched the movie, Frida, after visiting the museum. It was neat to see her story unfold after visiting her former home; we recognized some of the footage from La Casa Azul.
The Ballet Folklorico De Mexico performance at the Palacio De Bellas Artes was absolutely a highlight for us! I danced in Ballet Folklorico for about a year back in high school, and Mexican music has always been something I’ve enjoyed, so this was on the top of my list of things to do in Mexico City. Being on a budget as long-term backpackers, tickets were a bit of a splurge for us, but worth it! The photos do not do it justice!
Our first wander walk was to check out the Zocalo and Alameda Central, the park in front of our apartment building.
We ventured out further throughout the city on our first Sunday in Mexico City after being awoken in the morning by lively music and an MC on the streets below. Apparently there was an official run/walk going on, but a main street also is blocked off to vehicle traffic on Sunday mornings and there are many bikers who come out! Below is much of what we stumbled upon during our long exploration starting down Avenue Juarez, which turns into Paseo De La Reforma street, a main drag of the city.
My first solo experience in Mexico City was on an early evening. I nervously ventured out on my own down Luis Moya street within a mile from our apartment to a cafe I had scoped out ahead of time online. I had been cautioned by well-intentioned friends and family to not go out alone as a woman (that in a large city of a foreign country where we stand out as tourists it is not a good idea, especially where it may not be perceived as safe). I openly admit that these pre-conceived notions caused my guard to be up high, and I was actually scared to do it, but I did it, being the brave long-term traveler I’ve set out to be, and nothing bad happened.
Still new in my recollection of Spanish, and timidly embarrassed to utter what I could to try to get transactions completed, I asked for, “Cafe con leche”, which is literally, “Coffee with milk”. However, I intended to describe a latte, and I happily received a latte (though as our travels have continued, I’ve noticed it’s a hit or miss when asking for cafe con leche, as sometimes, I’ll get coffee with some milk in it). In this case, I felt too shy to try to ask for a menu and just asked for what I had come for, and it worked out. I sat down at a table to enjoy my latte with a small chocolate cookie I had picked out at a restaurant with a bakery case display up front within a couple of blocks from our place.
Still in my at-home practice, I texted and mindlessly checked my phone apps, though I was mindful at some point to knock that off and take in my surroundings (this is a habit I have been determined to break in our travels and have been overall successful with). As I mentioned at the onset of this post, something about Mexico City, and I’ve realized in other parts of Mexico we’ve visited so far, is that notions about what makes you feel safe by U.S. standards can be much different here. For example, check out my view from sitting in this cafe. Grafitti and run-down streets are usually an indication of somewhere you don’t want to be. Uncomfortable as I was here because I had ventured out on my own for the first time, I reminded myself of that and intentionally took this photo to be able to share it and make this point.
During my walk, I noticed a fitness studio, Axkan Centro Fitness, and wandered upstairs to inquire about their schedule of classes. It was here I initially got the most practice immersing myself into the Spanish language in a more lengthy transactional discussion. I was excited to learn about the offerings and returned for 2 classes, Yoga and Zumba®, in our remaining time at our nearby apartment. I looked forward to seeing the front desk lady’s familiar face and conversing with her upon my return, confirming more information about the class schedule and pricing, and both the instructors and students were all kind towards me and we conversed briefly. Both classes were great immersion experiences for me to listen to and comprehend instructions in Spanish. Sadly, the Twerk class, which I was encouraged to take by multiple friends on Facebook when I posted a photo of the flyers on the wall below, started the following week, so I didn’t have an opportunity to take it (anyone who subsequently visits Mexico City, please do and tell me all about your experience)! 😉
I returned from my solo adventure feeling pumped up, excited about my fitness studio discovery, and proud of myself for going out on my own and gathering various information in Spanish!
We spotted most of these during our initial Sunday stroll, but others were seen while exploring the city throughout our visit. We stumbled upon many of these authentically in our walking excursions; in other words, with the exception of a couple we sought out, we did not go monument hunting, although it may appear as such because we did see quite a few of the main ones.
We encountered a couple of protests while in Mexico City, both of which were non-violent (although it’s a bit unnerving to walk the streets and see groups of police officers equipped with riot gear, preparing for the 2nd protest we saw). There are photos above from the Donald Trump protest. The other was one we found out was scheduled one afternoon when we went out for lunch and walking around. When we returned to our place, there was a wall barricade up in front of our apartment building and other businesses nearby, separating them from foot traffic, and the march towards the Zocalo was in process. (The barriers are, from what we could gather, to prevent vandalism from happening on the properties of local businesses and other buildings). We quickly entered our building and watched from the 12th floor. This protest was aimed at the Mexican government on the 2nd anniversary of the 43 teachers who went missing on a bus in Guerrero. Many protestors called for the President to step down from his position in office due to his presumed involvement, among other government officials. Spray-painted on the barricades and throughout the walls and sidewalks of the city was, “+43 Faltan”, or, “+43 Missing”. This protest served as a reminder to us that while much of Mexico is relatively safe and violence-free, corruption and injustice is still a reality of daily life for many Mexican citizens. This protest demonstrated to us that the Mexican people are trying to hold their government accountable by demanding an explanation and not letting this incident get swept under the rug or allowing the 43 victims be forgotten.
After staying in Alameda Central for a week, we extended our time in Mexico City by a couple of days to stay in this nearby neighborhood, which we’ve already shared many photos of throughout this post. As mentioned, we had walked through it during one of our city explorations; we loved the quieter, charming, more laid-back feel it had. There are also many restaurants and cafes within it that we wanted to experience but hadn’t yet. Our AirBnB host is a local who had many fine dining recommendations for us (which are affordable by U.S. pricing standards) and we enjoyed talking to him about his experiences living in Mexico City. We were reassured of how safe the neighborhood is but cautioned about taking the subways, as apparently they are notorious for men “bumping” into women (and thus women and children have a separate train car designated for them within it). It was enough for me to not want to bother taking the subway, which we had been considering, so we didn’t (although we didn’t need to anyway with there being plenty of taxis, Uber, a functional bus system, and walkability).
During this time, we were really in need of a place where we could retreat to easily to deal with any intestinal issues that needed to immediately be addressed, which happened more or less at times for each of us, sometimes simultaneously. In other words, we were still in the midst of experiencing Montezuma’s revenge, and our systems were touch-and-go as far as how we felt and how often we needed access to a toilet. We had been drinking Pepto Bismol and taking Immodium to provide some relief for our uneasy tummies and help “back things up” long enough for us to be able to spend some time outside of our room exploring. However, the nights had us up a few times and our mornings usually had some slow starts as we waited things out a bit, if that makes sense. 😀 Unfortunately, our digestion issues affected our enjoyment of food at times, even suppressing our appetites. But, we still got to experience quite a bit of food specialties, as you likely saw in our Culinary Experiences section earlier in this post!
While staying in La Condesa, we ventured back out to Chapultepec Park to check out some of the wings within the National Museum of Anthropology. This place is huge and has so much historical information and artifacts from various time periods that it’s impossible to fully comprehend and see in one day. This museum was of interest to Aaron primarily, so he selected which areas he wanted to see within a couple of hours of time. We were particularly interested in walking through and viewing the exhibit featuring the indiginous cultures of modern day Oaxaca since we would soon visit the state for a few weeks of time.
Overall, Mexico City was a great place to start our long-term travel journey in Mexico, and so was where we choose to stay within it; we got both the non-stop, something is going on 24/7 experience in Alameda Central, and the more neighborhood-y feel of La Condesa. Everything was walkable or an Uber ride away, making getting around convenient for us without our own vehicle (which based on the high amount of traffic, we wouldn’t want to drive ourselves in the city anyway). Price-wise, we were generally able to stay within our budget, as the exchange rate from U.S. dollars to Mexican pesos was close to $1 USD to $20 MX.
Hasta luego, Ciudad de Mexico! Viva Mexico! 😀
See you later, Mexico City! Long live Mexico! 😀
Until next time,