Navigating your way through Mexico City

In the summer of 2017, I finally made my forever-planned Mexico trip. Navigating your way through the entire country is tricky – there is just so much to see, and each city and town offers something unique. I started the trip with a relaxing break in Cancun by the beaches and trips to Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza and the water holes near it, a day trip to Xcaret (a secret paradise definitely recommended for swimming in the underground caves, viewing the traditional dances and outdoor activities like scuba diving), and clubbing at Cocobongo. From Cancun, I made my way to León, impressed by the variety of leather shoes in this city, to San Luis Potosi in Central Mexico, where one of my closest friend lives. Having a local guide definitely helps in getting the most out of the travel destination.

This post is focused on attractions in Mexico City, and what you can expect to cover over 3-4 days in the city. Mexico City is such a vibrant city with warm people, good food and weather, and lots and lots of activities. If you are new to Mexico, or if Mexico City is your first stop in Mexico, the crowd and the traffic could get overwhelming on the first sight. Nevertheless, it takes a day to settle in the busy life of Mexico City, and explore the wonderful things it has to offer.

What to do?

Walk in Zocalo (downtown)
No better way to start exploring the city than from the heart of the city itself. Zocalo is the main square in the centre of Mexico city surrounded by historically important buildings. There are several points of interest nearby like the National Palace (Palacio Nacional) and the Cathedral of the Assumption bordering Zocalo. To get a good feel of the city, I recommend starting your exploration from Zocalo and moving on to other neighbourhoods.

Walk around Coyocan
This buzzing neighbourhood in the south of Mexico city is perfect for strolling around and checking out the markets, restaurants, cafes, museums and historical sites. There are several food stalls selling street food in Coyocan (a stop-over for some Chapulines/toasted grasshoppers), as well as souvenir shops to do some light shopping.

Visit the Frida Kahlo museum
Even if you don’t have time to spend around Coyocan, a trip to Mexico City is incomplete without visiting the Frida Kahlo museum in Coyocan. Frida Kahlo was a very popular Mexican artist who significantly contributed to the Mexican mural movement along with her husband Diego Rivera. Even if you don’t know much about the artist, you can draw some inspiration or get some context from the movie Frida where Selma Hayek does a fantastic job portraying Frida Kahlo’s biography (available on Netflix). Personally, I am not into museums and neither do I understand paintings much, but I draw inspiration from the life of Frida Kahlo – her spirit, her passion even after being crippled, her confidence in herself, and her perspective on life and living in general.

Check out the Chapultapec park
Chapultapec is a large city park in the west, with attractions like a lake, a zoo, a castle enclosing the National History Museum, and a museum of modern art. There are also other entertainment attractions like carousels and boat rides. You can easily spend an afternoon in the park checking out the different attractions that you are interested in, or maybe for a break from the busy streets and traffic. The admission to the park is free, but Sundays get pretty crowded. I would recommend the visit to Chapultapec on a weekday, especially for the city views from the top of the castle.

Take a stroll down Reforma Street
The Paseo de la Reforma avenue runs diagonally across central Mexico city lined with trees, fountains, and statues perfect for a night-time stroll. If you have time during the day, you can also stroll down the street from the El Angel de la Independencia (Independence Angel) to the Chapultapec Park, less than an hour by foot.

Visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes
A beautiful white marble palace featuring murals by Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists, this art museum has 4 floors dedicated to the architectural history, and acting as a venue for exhibitions, opera, dance, music, and art. The designs are ornate and intricate, and the palace is quite popular among both tourists and locals. Block atleast 2 hours to visit this palace.

Watch the Lucha Libre (the wrestler fights)
Lucha Libre or Professional Wrestling is a fun way to spend an evening. I went to see the fights at the Arena Coliseo D.F in Mexico City. More than the fights, the dramatic sporting and flamboyant presentation of the show is more interesting. The wrestlers wear colorful masks and really put on a good show with aerial moves (right into the audience), decent bit of swearing, breaking of chairs, and a lot of showoff. Recommended for the entertaining experience.

Take day trips to see the pyramids
There are several pyramids surrounding Mexico city, so if you have time, I would suggest doing a day trip to the Teotihuacan Pyramids. There are 2 big pyramids there – Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon). Several tour operators offer guided trips and packages for the pyramid visits from Mexico City.

Visit the UNAM
If you are into academia, research, innovation or simply like visiting university campuses in different parts of the world like me, check out the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a leading public research university in Mexico City – open spaces to walk, different architectural buildings and designs, graffiti, and parks.

Where to eat?

Enchiladas, Tamales, Chilaquiles, Tacos, Quesadillas, Burritos, Guacamole and Salsa to name a few – Mexico City is the best place to truly indulge in flavorful Mexican cusine. You can try Mexican street food in several markets across the city. I would like to highlight two restaurants that my Mexican friends took me to indulge in traditional local Mexican cuisine –

El cardinal

Recommended to see what Mexican traditional cuisine looks like (you will be surprised by the extensive menu), variety of choices in different meat and dressings, cosy ambience, and moderate prices. They also have an English menu, and offer great service, guiding you through the whole process of ordering be it breakfast or lunch.

Casa de los abuelos

I was told that this restaurant is comparable to eating at your grandmother’s house, and it lived up to it. Very traditional, both in terms of food and decoration, I did not see so many tourists in this restaurant. It is quite spacious on the inside, and has its own bakery.

There are unlimited variety of drinks in Mexico City –  Mezcal (a Mexican alcoholic drink made from agave), Michelada (think of beer, lime and spices), Pulque (an alcoholic drink from Magque plant), and Tequila brands like Herra dura and Don julio. If you would like to stick to the classic, there are ample choices for Margueritas, or if you prefer something non-alcoholic try the Horchata, a rice-flavored beverage. I liked it so much that I ended  up buying several syrup packets and bottles of Horchata on my last day in Mexico City.\

Mexico will always have a special place in my heart – there are several similarities I discovered between Mexican and Indian culture in aspects of people, families, lifestyle and food, although geographically they are quite far apart. Many times I was mistaken for being Mexican in the city when I hung out with my Mexican friends, so blending in was easy, even though I don’t speak Spanish. I simply loved the warmth of the locals, the hustle of daily life, the variety of things to do and explore, and of course eat 🙂