5 Things You Should Know About Mexico City

I promised to post about my recent travels, so here’s the first of many — starting off with Mexico City!

I have a special place deep in my heart for Mexico. Why? Several reasons.

During college, I created memories I will never forget while studying in Guanajuato, which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. Yes, I know “memories I will never forget” is such a cliche thing to say, but it’s true (cue Beyonce – #iaintsorry). The year after I graduated from The University of Alabama, I traveled to Guadalajara with my now husband (then boyfriend) Richard, and it has gone down in our books as one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. We then returned to Mexico for our honeymoon on Isla Mujeres in 2013.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we couldn’t help but go back again, this time to visit Mexico City. Just as with the other trips we’ve taken to Mexico, it was thrilling and did not disappoint.

The two of us in front of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's Blue House

The two of us in front of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Blue House

Named to The New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2016 and Conde Nast’s 50 Most Beautiful Cities in the World, Mexico City is an exquisite city, full of historic treasures.

“Fly in at night, when the land below glitters like a vast black-and-gold carpet and the scale of the city is mesmerizing, if not entirely overwhelming. This is, by most counts, the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere (they don’t call it El Monstruo for nothing). Yet in the morning, at street level, when sunlight glints off those colonial mansions, Mexico City can reveal a startling intimacy beneath the grandeur and sprawl.”

Julia Cooke, The Top Things to Do in Mexico City (Conde Nast Traveler, 2015)

Our trip lasted three days, and I’d go back for more in a heartbeat. But for now, here are 5 things you should know about Mexico City:

A serene moment inside el Castillo de Chapultepec

A serene moment inside el Castillo de Chapultepec

Do not believe the stories that paint Mexico City as a dangerous place that you shouldn’t visit. When we told people we were planning to visit Mexico City, we were instantly met with questions about drug violence, security and crime. We reassured our friends that we would be fine, that we would be careful and that we would take all safety precautions — and in my head, I ended those reassurances with, “…as always…” The truth is that, sure, there are areas of the city where you wouldn’t want to wander off to. Sure, you need to be aware of your surroundings as you trek around the metropolis. And sure, you should keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times. But no more than you already should be doing while traveling in a new city, or in your own city for that matter! At no point in time did I feel unsafe in Mexico City, and many other travelers will tell you the same about their experience. So don’t let those stories scare you away. Just take the precautions you always do. (For more on this, read: Mexico City Myths Debunked from Paste Magazine.)


El Palacio de Bellas Artes

Mexico City is breathtaking — in more than one way. I’ll start with the good stuff first. Mexico City’s buildings and architecture are utterly beautiful, and we found ourselves in awe quite often. For me, the most beautiful sites we visited were el Palacio de Bellas Artes, el Castillo de Chapultepec and la Catedral Metropolitana. We also scarfed down delicious Mexican food everywhere we went, with my favorite restaurants being Azul and Café de Tacuba. The downside of Mexico City is literally breathtaking…the high altitude paired with the smog can be tough, leaving you short of breath at times as you’re seeing the sights.

Riding down the canals at Xochimilco

Riding down the canals at Xochimilco

There is an endless list of things to do, so prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!  Richard did all the research for this trip, and he tried to fit as much in as he could. Even so, we didn’t see everything on our list. Walking through el Centro Histórico to see el Zócalo is a must. I also recommend taking a walk through el Centro Histórico (photo below) on a weekend evening, when you’re bound to end up roaming with thousands of other people — this will leave you with a smile on your face and eyes wide. Be sure to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum at the ever popular Blue House in Coyoacán (there’s a nice, central plaza in Coyoacán with restaurants, too, where we stopped for lunch) and see Diego Rivera’s murals (specifically The History of Mexico) at the National Palace. If you’re willing to venture as far out as Xochimilco, you’ll be in for a treat, riding down the canals in boats called trajineras and buying food cooked fresh from the vendors floating alongside you. I mean, the quesadillas and elote we had…talk about delicious! Don’t forget to bring pesos for Xochimilco though — they don’t take any cards. We didn’t have time this trip to visit the pyramids at Teotihuacán, but I highly recommend that day trip if you have time — it was one of my favorite excursions when I studied abroad.

Walking through the Historic Center on our last night

Walking through el Centro Histórico on our last night

Come up with a plan for each day because the city stretches for miles — you don’t want the city’s massive size to cause frustration if you’re unprepared The things we wanted to do/see were scattered throughout all the neighborhoods (or colonias) of the city. So we needed to determine the route that would allow us to see everything most efficiently (after all, we only had three days). Most of the time, we took the metro — officially called el Sistema de Transporte Collective (STC) — and walked to our destinations from the stations with Google Maps as a guide. The STC was the cheapest and quickest way to get around, and we thought it was easy to navigate, especially when we used the app. And a few times, only when we weren’t far away from our awesome Airbnb studio, we called an Uber instead, which was just as fantastic as always.

Azul, my favorite restaurant in the historic center

Azul, my favorite restaurant in el Centro Histórico

The people are friendly, but knowing how to speak even a little bit of Spanish will go a long way. I studied Spanish in college as my second major, so I never really get nervous about the idea of residents in a Spanish-speaking city not being able to understand me. Though if I weren’t able to speak Spanish (even just a little bit), I’m not sure our trip to Mexico City (and especially Guadalajara in 2012) would have gone as smoothly. You can absolutely get around the city if you don’t know Spanish, and it helps that the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. But, you’ll be much more comfortable if you know even a little bit of the language — especially if you go to Xochimilco, where you’ll need to work out a price with the trajinera operators.

La Catedral Metropolitana at El Zócalo

La Catedral Metropolitana at El Zócalo

And that, friends, is where I leave it! Have you traveled to Mexico City or anywhere else in Mexico before? If you haven’t traveled to Mexico yet, where would you want to begin? Tell me about it by leaving a comment!


2 thoughts on “5 Things You Should Know About Mexico City

  1. Becky S says:

    Probably my favorite city in the world! Spent 4 months plus some and still havent seen or done it all. Next time you go, check out Polanco’s bookstore, El Pendulo, you’ll love it!

    • Desiree' Fulton says:

      Oh wow, I had no idea you’ve spent 4+ months there! That is awesome. If I’d known, I would have asked you for some suggestions — looks like I’ll definitely have to message you for more next time!

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