Mexico City: debunked. (a.k.a CDMX - Ciudad de Mexico; a.k.a Mexico City DF - Distrito Federal). Unfairly burdened by the stereotypes of Western media as a crime-filled megalopolis, one truly will find those tropes to be laughable after a first-hand experience in the heart of Mexico. What you will find is that the most populous city in North America (second-largest in the Western Hemisphere) is actually a world-class city that actually nurtures some of the most creative minds in the world. You can go on a true food and art bender here as the city is blessed with architectural, artistic, and culinary geniuses influenced by the cultural traditions and tapestries of Latin America, Europe, and, of course, all of its rich history from its pre-Columbian era. While tourism to the city is increasing, it is still relatively "under-the-radar"; it was what Iceland was 10 years ago. Yes the city has a few unsafe areas and some heavy traffic, but it is no different than New York City or Atlanta in that regard. We found the neighborhoods we explored to be safe and used Uber liberally. Given the false narrative that follows Mexico City, it is often eschewed by travelers for other locales in Mexico. But as much as the swanky resorts and crystal blue waters of Cancun, Tulum, and Los Cabos beckon your wanderlust, a walk through the wide avenues and green spaces of Mexico City will not only give you an unforgettable metropolitan experience in a world class city at an affordable price (compared to its contemporaries), it will shatter your preconceived notions of the city and the country itself. As a bonus, if you are an American traveler, it would be a short flight from much of the continental US without a significant time change.
We would recommend at least 3 full days in Mexico City on your maiden voyage (let’s be real, once you come here you probably will want to come back in the future). For reference, we spent 3.5 days as a family trip with our parents. While the city can be explored in any particular order based on your interests, we will start the series with 36 Hours in Polanco, one of the swankiest and upscale neighborhoods in all of Latin America. While there are high-end boutiques, luxury hotels, and a multitude of embassies here that blend with other major world cities, it also hosts some unique items for your travel checklist: some of the world's best restaurants and museums as well as its location along the doorstep of Bosque de Chapultepec (one of the largest urban parks in the world). If you are headed to CDMX, come explore Polanco with us.
WHEN TO GO:
While you could go to Mexico City year round, the spring (March-May) is considered ideal. We chose to go in April and had great weather throughout and got to enjoy the beautiful flowers of the jacaranda trees. As you can see in the below link, the weather is pleasant much of the year given its high elevation (>7000 feet above sea level). https://travel.usnews.com/Mexico_City_Mexico/When_To_Visit/
WHERE TO STAY:
We chose to stay at an AirBnB in Mexico City as they are extremely well-priced and place you right in the middle of the action.
For the first-timer to Mexico City, we recommend staying in Condesa, Polanco, or Roma Norte/Roma Sur. There are many more great areas you can chose to stay in, but the neighborhood-y feel of Condesa and Roma as well as the innumerable hotel options and proximity to attractions of Polanco made them our top 3 choices. In the end we chose an AirBnB in Condesa.
FIRST 12 HOURS (HALF-DAY) -
After landing in Mexico City by late morning, we finally settled into our place and were ready to explore by mid-afternoon.
AFTERNOON SNACK/LUNCH - EL TURIX
Of course, you have to start your Mexico City trip with an authentic taqueria. A hole-in-the wall joint in the middle of the “Beverly Hills” part of the city (Polanco) seems out of place. But there is a reason why this spot brings food snobs from all over to try its specialty - cochinita pibil (pork). They serve only pork. Simple, cheap, and great. There isn’t much space to eat inside so savor your tacos standing outside with the other patrons. This held us over until dinner (see below). https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-turix-m%C3%A9xico
AVENIDA PRESIDENTE MASARYK
Now time to burn off those calories and go for a leisurely stroll along Avenida Presidente Masaryk (right next to El Turix). There is a plethora of high-end shopping/boutiques as well as restaurants dotting the entirety of this street. For those who don’t eat pork, you will find some grub on this street between the window-shopping. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150800-d781045-Reviews-or10-Avenida_Presidente_Masaryk-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html
Although you can walk from Avenida Presidente Masaryk to Museo Soumaya (approximately 20-40 minutes depending on where you are on the avenue), we chose simply to hail an Uber to go to Museo Soumaya to save time. Mexico City is blessed with some spectacular museums and Museo Soumaya is no exception. From its stunning architectural design to its precious contents, it is a must-see. Best of all, it is free. The museum houses billionaire Carlos Slim’s personal art collection. Our two favorite pieces in this museum when we visited were sculptures from famed Frenchman Auguste Rodin - “The Thinker” and “The Gates of Hell”. https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/mexico/articles/why-museo-soumaya-is-a-mexico-city-must-see/ and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150800-d184126-Reviews-Museo_Soumaya-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html
EL BAJIO POLANCO
El Bajio is part of a group of 18 (and counting) restaurants in Mexico City which focuses on traditional cuisine from Central Mexico (such as Oaxaca and Veracruz). While it is more of a traditional style, neighborhoody restaurant than haute cuisine, the restaurant has received plenty of high-level praise (including from famed Spanish chef Ferran Adria of elBulli). While this may not be Quintonil or Pujol, if you are looking for a solid, relaxed casual dinner for your first night in Mexico City this is a good option (we would give it 4 stars out of 5). https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-baj%C3%ADo-m%C3%A9xico-4
While our initial plan was to get a nightcap drink here, it didn’t quite materialize. After an early morning flight from the US and a day settling in and exploring, we wanted to get some rest as we had another full day ahead of us the following day. Since this establishment is highly rated, we wanted to share it with our readership for those looking to grab a drink in Polanco. It remains bookmarked for us to check out on a future trip. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150800-d3161995-Reviews-Jules_Basement-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html
NEXT 24 HOURS (FULL DAY) -
Yes, this is in Condesa. So this is a slight cheat. But remember our AirBnB was in that neighborhood. So we figured to explore a spot here on our way to Bosque de Chapultepec. Since our plan was to explore one of the largest city parks in the world for awhile, we wanted to get a nice brunch in to fuel that. And, what better food than an innumerable variety of Chilaquiles - the perfect mexican brunch! This place definitely went above and beyond. The restaurant is colorfully decorated taking inspirations from Frida Kahlo, has cheap, delicious and interesting array of chilaquiles and fresh juices, and is a great spot for people-watching. The lines on weekends can be long so account for that. Once you get seated, you won’t be disappointed, especially at these prices. https://www.yelp.com/biz/chilakillers-m%C3%A9xico and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g150800-d2666164-Reviews-Chilakillers-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html
BOSQUE DE CHAPULTEPEC
After a hearty carb-load from Chilakillers, we were off to Bosque de Chapultepec: one of the largest city parks in the world. At almost 1700 acres, it is about twice the size of New York City’s Central Park. With about 15 million visitors per year, it is one of the most visited city parks in the world along with the aforementioned NYC Central Park as well as Tokyo’s Imperial Gardens. It has always served an important historical and ecological role for Mexico City. In its Pre-Columbian days, it was a retreat for Aztec rulers. Subsequently, it became the site of official residences for Mexican heads of state. Currently, it serves an important ecological role as one of Mexico City’s “lungs” replenishing oxygen for the Valley of Mexico and serving as an important urban respite for a multitude of native and migratory animals. The park has a ton of things to entertain all types of visitors. We chose to rent paddleboats within Lago Menor (which overlooks some of Polanco), walked through various parts of the park to take in the tranquility within the city, and took a self-tour of Chapultepec Castle (a hilltop castle within the park with a built in history museum; the castle possesses sweeping views of the park and city). Overall, we spent about 4 hours in the park. And the crazy thing is there is so much more to do in this park. One of the best museums (National Museum of Anthropology) in the country is housed in this park; it contains significant artifacts from Mexico’s Pre-Columbian era. There is also a Zoo within the park which may be ideal for those with kids. After the time we had already spent in the park, we felt we couldn’t do the National Museum of Anthropology enough justice, especially after having already seen two other museums (Museo Soumaya and Chapultepec Castle) in the last 24 hours. The National Museum of Anthropology will definitely be at the top of our list on a return trip to CDMX. If you can fit it into your itinerary, we are sure you won’t be disappointed. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150800-d152193-Reviews-Chapultepec_Park-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html & https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150800-d183986-Reviews-Chapultepec_Castle-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html & https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150800-d153711-Reviews-National_Museum_of_Anthropology-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html
EL MORO CHURRERIA
After hours walking the park, we felt we had earned a snack before the main event at dinner. So we grabbed an Uber to head to El Moro Churreria for some delicious, freshly made rich churros as well as some coffee. We went to the location at Calle Rio Lerma 167, Mexico City 06500. This particular location has been recently redesigned and would satisfy not only your cravings but would be a welcome addition to your instagram feed. After grabbing a quick snack here, we headed home to rest for awhile to get ready for dinner at famed Quintonil. https://www.yatzer.com/churreria-el-moro and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g150800-d10723558-Reviews-El_Moro-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html
Perennially ranked as one of the world’s best restaurants, we were ecstatic when we were able to garner a reservation at Quintonil well before our trip. Mexico City (and particularly the Polanco neighborhood) is blessed to have 2 of the top 15 restaurants in the entire world in Quintonil and Pujol. If you know you are coming to CDMX, make sure to try get a reservation at one of these restaurants months in advance. The head chef at Qunitonil (Jorge Vallejo) is a protegee of Pujol’s Enrique Olvera; clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He mixes an ultramodern gastronomic take on farm-to-table vegetables and greens with a traditional ode to Mexican favorites such as tamales, cactus, mole, and escamoles (ant larvae). We chose to order and share starters and mains off of the menu rather than do the full tasting menu as that way we could pick exactly what we wanted. Please note that the portions are not big and that for those with a highly carnivorous palate this may leave you found wanting. The carbon footprint is low as many ingredients are sourced hyperlocally. To dine in a place of this caliber at this price point is quite the treat for many travelers. And while the restaurant is elegant, it carries an unpretentious, understated vibe which makes it welcoming. With the caveats from above, we strongly recommend this experience as the chef truly channels creativity and takes risks. http://www.quintonil.com/en/ & https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g150800-d2649632-Reviews-Quintonil-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html & https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-best-restaurants-2018/index.html
OTHER MEXICO CITY TRAVEL GUIDES:
Teotihuacan Pyramids and Condesa - http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2018/12/11/mexico-city-itinerary-teotihuacan-pyramids-amp-condesa
Centro Historico and Roma - http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2019/2/9/mexico-city-itinerary-a-perfect-day-at-centro-historico-historic-downtown-amp-in-roma