Many people associate Mexico with its stunning beaches in the Cancun region, and it is difficult to pull away from the sun and leisure activities that attract so many each year. The travel from Europe or North America can be quite a cumbersome chore, but once landed, the country has a lot more to offer than expected.
Many are fearful about the bustling, polluted and often dangerous capital city, but Mexico City is a fantastic place to explore for a couple of days, with plenty of culture, history and flavours to explore.
A flight from the Cancun resorts can take just a couple of hours, but it’s only when you come into land into Mexico City that the vastness of the 5th largest city in the world strikes you. Housing a population of 17,400,000 inhabitants, you may think that it is difficult to find a quiet place, or easy to get lost in the immensity of the city (actually, it is!), but scratch the surface and you will certainly find many of the gems that the city beholds.
Cradled within a range of mountains, the locals have spread themselves within the basin and travel from one end of the city to the other could take quite a while, but after arrival you are suddenly thrust into a world living at a different pace and seemingly living under different rules. The taxi ride from the airport to hotel is your first culture shock – ensure you get a licensed taxi, as they have higher standards and you may just be able to buckle up. But get rid of those stereotypical images that you may have in your head…the city is brimming with modern vehicles and shopping areas, and you’ll do well to spot a Volkswagon Beetle taxi, of which the city was once famed.
From the UK, Mexico is 6 hours behind, so some body clock adjustment may be needed.
This is not a destination to spend your whole vacation, but certainly worth spending at least 48 hours exploring.
A few places certainly worth exploring:
- National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropologia) – This is a real treat, and the Mexicans take their heritage very seriously. A small payment is required to access the museum, but this is what makes it so special, as you will find yourselves touring around the fascinating exhibits virtually by yourself. The museum explores the different stages of how their civilisation has developed with artefacts and exhibits easily accessible. Having some knowledge of the Spanish language is helpful, as most of the explanations are in the native language, but don’t let this put you off. As you can see, cameras and smartphone photography is allowed, but plenty of signs ask you to avoid using the flash.
- Bosque de Chapultepec – Across the (busy) road from the Museum, the Parque offers a vast green space that appears to be a favourite with the locals, with stall holders selling their wares and a great place to escape the noise and pollution that can plague the city. With another museum, boating lake, and zoo within the space
- San Angel – If you’re within this district on a Saturday then the Bazar Sábado and the adjacent plaza is a must, especially if you want to see Mexican art and artists trying to showcase and sell their paintings, with striking colours and quite unique in their style. The Bazar itself is a charming two-storey colonial mansion whose rooms harbour pottery, jewellery, and a majestic cafe in the main central court-yard where you are treated to traditional Mexican music.
- Churches and Cathedrals – The Catholic religion has a strong-hold within Mexico, and the city boasts a plethora of impressive monuments to religion. To celebrate the Sabbath, the usually hectic Paseo de la Reforma is pedestrianised on a Sunday (until 2pm), allowing a choke-free opportunity for cyclists, joggers and walkers – quite refreshing.
We are all becoming familiar with Mexican food, and most advice suggests not buying from the many street vendors selling food, no matter how delicious the smells attract you. One local suggested that it takes time for your stomach to acclimatise, so keep it safe. Most hotels will serve good food, but having the option to eat refried beans, enchiladas or fajitas for breakfast was (for this Brit) truly bizarre. The locals seemed to love their refried beans, and also clearly loved their eggs in the form on freshly cooked omelettes. Yes, I am still talking about breakfast here.
This has been a whistle-stop guide to Mexico City, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what is available. If you do plan to explore then do your homework, plan ahead, and try to get your bearings as soon as possible. The city is vast, and even the taxi drivers will need specific instructions as to where you want to go. As with many big cities, you need to exercise caution and apply common sense. The cost of goods is generally cheaper, although if you visit some of the many shopping malls spread across the city, then you will find pricing not too dissimilar to back at home.
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