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Mexico City Trip Notes (5 Days)

Mexico City Trip Notes (5 Days)

Old Feb 15, 15, 11:05 pm
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Mexico City Trip Notes (5 Days)

Here are some notes on a 5 day trip we took to Mexico City over New Year's 2015.

Overall, I'd highly recommend a visit to Mexico City. There is a really good mix of interesting things to see and do -- pyramids, Aztec history, cute colonial neighborhoods, modern art and architecture, green parks, river cruises, bullfighting, wrestling, tequila, street food, etc. Nice people. Good food. Hassle free. Cheap. Easy public transportation. It makes for a great "long weekend" from the US.

The basic itinerary, which worked out very well given the number of days we had (we covered a lot of ground but it didn't feel rushed):

- Day 0: Mid-afternoon arrival; walked around Historico Centro and the Zócalo; Lucha Libre at night

- Day 1: More sites and walking around Centro Histórico (Temple Mayor, etc.); walked to Plaza Garibaldi; walked to and around the Belles Artes and Alameda Central

- Day 2: Teotihuacan day trip

- Day 3: Walked around Bosque de Chapultepec; visited the Anthropological Museum; walked up to the Castillo; walked a bit on the Paseo de la Reforma and saw the Independence Monument; walked around Zona Rosa, Condesa and Roma in the evening

- Day 4: Coyoacan (Frida Kahlo Museum, Trotsky Museum, walked around the town); walked from Coyocan to San Angel; El Carmen Museum in San Angel (for the mummies in the crypt); taxi to Xochimilco, and a boat ride there

- Day 5: Tied up some loose ends and things that were closed because of New Year's; bull fight in the late afternoon

Some notes on a few of the activities and sites:

- Lucha Libre: Very fun, and a unique "Mexico" experience. No need to buy tickets in advance; just show up. It wasn't very clear what seats you'd get for the different prices of tickets, but we ended up going with the middle of the range, and the seats were very good. Security was VERY strict about not letting anyone bring cameras inside (both DSLR and point-and-shoot), and the storage room didn't give me the greatest of confidence in the safety of my camera. Had I known, I would have left the camera in the hotel. Tons of people were taking photos and videos with smartphones, and the authorities didn't seem to care about that.

- Bullfighting: Definitely something to experience if you've never seen a bullfight before. It felt very barbaric and depressing. But at other times, it felt like an artistic display of tradition and culture. It's definitely a vestige of the past -- in both a good and a bad way. No need to buy tickets in advance; the arena holds about 50,000 people, and couldn't have been more than 10% full. Got the cheapest seats, and snuck down to the very front; nobody seemed to care.

- Teotihuacan: Great to see in person, and a very nice day trip. Very easily accessible using public transportation (tram/subway to the bus station, and a 45-60 minute bus ride to the site).

- Xochimilco: A fun experience, especially to see the locals having fun on their booze cruises. The private boats are very expensive (minimum of 2 hours, costing about $40-50 USD). The public boat was dirt cheap -- maybe $1 or 2 US for a 2 hour ride. It's perfectly fine if you're on any sort of budget.

- Zócalo: The National Palace (which is apparently famous for the Diego Rivera murals) was closed the entire time we were there. Perhaps it's essentially closed indefinitely; our hotel owner said that the new president uses it as his residence (the previous one resided elsewhere), and it's not open to the public when he's around. I didn't read about the palace being closed prior to our visit, and I'm not sure what's true versus rumor, but take note of this.

Some logistical notes:

- Hotel: We stayed at the Chillout Flat, in the Centro Historico area. Great hotel if you're looking for a mid-range B&B. Really high quality for the price (~$60/night). David, the owner (who lives in the hotel with his family), speaks great English, is very responsive to emails, and is very helpful with helping you plan your day. The room was very clean (by US standards), comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing; it feels like you're staying somewhere in which the owner takes pride. There is also 24-hour security in the building, and it felt very safe. Also, the water purifier in the kitchen is free to use, so you don't have to spend much money on bottled water. Don't let the "chillout" name fool you; it sounds like a grungy backpacker hostel, but it's not at all. Also, the location is great; 3 minutes walk from the subway, and an easy walk to many of the common tourist sites. Our only complaint is that there is no central heating/AC, so our room was very cold at night; Dave should spring for small heaters for the rooms. http://www.chilloutflat.com.mx/

- Choosing a neighborhood: Staying in Centro Historico definitely was the right decision for a first-time visit. It was very convenient to be in close to a lot of the tourist sites. The tradeoff is that there isn't so much to do at night. One of the more "trendy" neighborhoods like Zona Rosa, Condesa or Roma seem like it would be good for a second visit, but Centro is a good choice if you're concentrating on sightseeing.

- Going around New Year's: We went to Teotihuacan on New Year's Day; it was open, but very crowded (mostly with domestic tourists). A few sites within the city were randomly closed on the 30th and/or 31st, so be prepared and be flexible. Also, most of the fancy restaurants seemed to be closed from before Christmas time until several days after New Year's.

- Safety: We had no actual issues. There are many police around, especially near the main tourist sites and on the subways. It feels perfectly safe in the daytime. However, there were times when we were walking at night on streets where there were very few people around. In those situations, it didn't particularly "feel" 100% safe. But it's difficult to know what is perception and what is reality.

- Food: The food was great, both at restaurants and on the street. Though, as a LA resident who has had a wide variety of authentic Mexican food, the food didn't seem particularly exotic or "wowing" to me.

- The People: The locals were, by and large, very relaxed, pleasant and friendly. People on the street are happy to help you with directions. Restaurant staff were very accommodating and patient with menu translation issues. There are very few of the typical touts and tourist hassles; it's a big city, and people very much leave you alone. (Exception: there are lots of vendors selling junk at Teotihuacan who are really annoying.)

- Money: Exchange rates at MEX airport were very good. Banamex ATMs are everywhere, and work very well with Citi cards.

- Transportation: The pre-paid taxi service at MEX airport was hassle-free and cheap. The subway is very convenient and will get you almost everywhere you need (unless you stay out past midnight). Though, it's one of the most counterintuitive subway systems I've seen in the world, and it's often tricky to figure out which direction is on which side of the platform.

Last edited by JDiver; Feb 16, 15 at 12:21 pm Reason: spelling for readers using this information
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Old Feb 16, 15, 12:17 pm
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Thanks for the report!

Some suggestions:

Bullfights: If one is going to the bullfights, always buy a cheaper seat (if you don't want to splurge) in the "sombrachinesca" (shade) section of the ring; buying cheaper "sol" (sun) seats can expose you to drunk, rowdy behavior including risk of physical harm. I can not emphasize this enough.

IMO, don't bother with bullfights in summer; those fights are the "novillero" (newbie, basically) fights and you might get some truly horrible fights - I attended one where the poor matadór tried for the sword kill over twenty times before they sent the guy in with the puntilla short knife, who then made a mess of the descabellado (they try to stab just behind the skull to sever the spinal cord. When the drag team harnessed the bull to drag him to the butcher out of the ring, he was still not entirely dead.

[Petty crime[/b]: Do be aware, as anywhere popular with tourists, of pickpockets and scam artists. The Zócalo (central plaza, only in México we use the word for pedestal or base because people began saying "I'll meet you at the zócalo" and by use it came to mean the entire central plaza square instead of the base of a monument), historic buildings etc. do have this opportunistic riffraff hanging around.

Chapultepéc park:is especially great on Sundays, with lots of families, balloon and cotton candy salespeople and even the occasional organ grinder. Great people watching!

The zoo at Chapultepéc is not brilliant, but it is old - the precolumbian Aztecs had a zoo / menagerie here.

The Castillo / castle housed the Emperor Maximilian and his mentally ill wife, Carlota. There is some fabulous art to see, including huge pieces made of malachite.

Nearby is the fabulous Museum of History and Anthropology, with amazing collections and anthropological displays. They brought in village groups to build reproductions of a typical small village, and once the construction was over furnished the villages with items of everyday life, including statues of people and animals at their daily life activities.

Restaurants: there are some Mexican and international regional restaurants worth noting and trying. Too numerous to list here, but check the listings here at TripAdvisor.com. When I go home, or at least the D. F. and Cuernavaca used to be home, my "Chilangos" family and friends do things like breakfast or lunch at El Cardenal (regional authentic Mexican food, several locations - the hot hand-beaten chocolate made table side makes your breakfast orgiastic), or maybe to Puerto Getaria for delicious Basque seafood and wine.

Last edited by JDiver; Feb 16, 15 at 12:31 pm
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Old Jul 28, 15, 9:57 am
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A few more pointers to what is already a good list:

Uber: if you don't use Uber already, it is outstanding in Mexico City.

Sunday biking on Reforma: Every Sunday morning to mid-afternoon, Paseo de la Reforma downtown is reserved for bicycles and other non-motorized transport. It is very popular with local cyclists and skaters, and a lot of fun. Bicycling in Mexico City has come a long way in the past ten years. Today there are reserved bike lanes on many arterial roads, as well as the Ecobici rideshare program. (Unfortunately, Ecobici is inconvenient for visitors, as you need a Mexican credit card and local address to sign up for the program.)

Airbnb in Mexico City: I've had very good experiences with Airbnb here. There are outstanding deals particularly in Condesa (great Art Deco architecture) and Roma.
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Old Jul 28, 15, 2:22 pm
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Just a couple of points on transportation:

The Metro is quite convenient, but it's a good idea to avoid it during rush hour. Getting on and off the trains can be a contact sport.

And I'm not sure what the OP means when s/he says it's counterintuitive - you just need to know the endpoint of your line and then follow the signs to make sure you're on the platform going that direction. It's no different from the DC Metro in that regard. And, at any rate, the signage in stations and on the trains is generally quite good, plus you can get a free little system map from any ticket window.
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Old Jul 28, 15, 7:22 pm
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Originally Posted by M60_to_LGA View Post
The Metro is quite convenient, but it's a good idea to avoid it during rush hour. Getting on and off the trains can be a contact sport.
It didn't seem horribly bad to me even during rush hour, but perhaps that's because it was Christmas break when we were there. It was certainly no worse than taking the NYC subway to a Yankees/Mets game.

And I'm not sure what the OP means when s/he says it's counterintuitive - you just need to know the endpoint of your line and then follow the signs to make sure you're on the platform going that direction. It's no different from the DC Metro in that regard.
What I meant was that the direction/endpont was often *not* clearly indicated -- when you're approaching the two platforms going in opposite directions, and/or when you're already standing on the platform.

Obviously I didn't do a complete survey of every stop in 5 days, but I found that maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of the time, it wasn't easy to figure out. And I'm saying this as someone who would call himself a pretty experienced "subway navigator" (lived in NYC for a number of years, and navigated the subways without problem in many cities in Europe, East/SE Asia and the former Soviet Union, etc.).
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