We planned a last minute trip to Mexico City from November 20-24, 2016, and were fortunate to have access to lots of excellent suggestions from colleagues and students who have lived there and a great exchange rate (~20 peso/USD). One of the best decisions was to stay in Condesa/Hippodromo area, a very walkable area with tons of great restaurants, cafes, and shops. We are still dreaming about tacos and tamales, and we will definitely be back.... hopefully sooner rather than later!
Enjoy reading, and I hope this either convinces you to plan a visit or prepares you well for your own upcoming travels to Mexico City! There are some highlights at the very bottom of this page, and lots of recommended spots available via my Mexico City Google Map.
Day 1: Sunday, November 20
Next stop: the National Museum of Anthropology, the largest and most visited museum in Mexico filled with pre-Hispanic artifacts. It's free to Mexican citizens (not foreigners) on Sundays so it was pretty packed when we were there but definitely worth a visit.
We did know that our dates coincided with the Revolution holiday, but we did not realize it was also when Monday Night Football was taking place at Mexico City's Aztec stadium. Lots of locals left town for the holiday weekend so Polanco was pretty empty on Monday and in their place were many foreign visitors adorned in Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans jerseys.
We rounded out Sunday night with dinner at MIT Steak, another Airbnb host recommendation. Many restaurants close by 6pm on Sunday, so this was a great option within a few minutes walk of our apartment.
Day 2: Monday, November 21
We developed a hypothesis that the best way to explore a new city is to find its best coffee shops. This proved to be true in Mexico City where we explored top coffee spots throughout the city over the course of our stay. First stop, Chiquitito in Condesa, which was open on the Monday Revolution holiday and only a short walk from our accommodations! Thanks Culture Trip for creating this list of awesome CDMX coffee shops.
One of our favorite things to do when traveling is food tours to learn about the culinary traditions. I figured it was a good day to go on the Polanco Food Tour (found on Trip Advisor) since all the museums are closed on Mondays. We weren't alone - there were two sets of Texan fans along for the tour plus a group coincidentally from Oakland but not football fans.
Stuffed from the food tour, we took a nice leisurely walk through Bosque de Chapultepec where tons of locals were enjoying the holiday paddle boating along the lake and frequenting lines of food stalls. Too bad Castillo de Chapultepec also closes on Mondays, I guess we'll have to return one day so we can see its inner splendor! We then grabbed an Uber and headed to Roma Norte to grab... yes an afternoon coldbrew at Buna 42. This jumpstarted an exploratory walk to some cool local boutiques.
Exhausted from all the walking and eating we relaxed for a few hours and eventually made room for tapas and live music at Pata Negra followed by some delicious cocktails at Baltra, a local bar just around the corner from our place.
The Zócalo and Centro Histórico
From the Frida Kahlo museum, we took an Uber to the historic downtown area to eat at El Cardenal, a restaurant serving traditional Mexican food and highly recommended by our friend who lived in Mexico City and still comes here every time he's in town visiting family. There are two locations, one inside the Hilton, and another just a couple of blocks from Zocalo. You can spot its green awning from down the street. We went to the latter location, which has an open kitchen appearance and limited seating when you first enter. Don't be fooled, there's a large dining area upstairs, including private rooms.
We got there right before breakfast was officially over, and we were served gratis bread/pastries and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was liquid decandence - I couldn't stop drinking it. I also got a chocolate croissant, and I definitely spoiled my lunch. Good thing the mole and chilequiles were so good, I ate until I was too full to move. Note: if you arrive between breakfast and lunch, you may need to ask them specifically to see the lunch menu.
Clearly, it was time to walk off our lunch. Luckily, we were steps away from Zocalo, the main square in the historic district and adjacent to the Cathedral. Since we were there in late November, the Christmas decorations were being prepped but were not quite up. I bet these are pretty impressive if you're in town during December.
Templo Mayor and the National Palace were also steps away.
It's free and well worth it to enter the National Palace to see Diego Rivera's large and impressive murals. However, you'll need to show and leave an official ID with security as well as check all bags while you're inside. Once inside, follow the signs leading towards the back/right and you'll end up in the plaza. You can't miss the massive History of Mexico mural (constructed from 1929 - 1935) lining the main stairwell and chronicling the country's history from ancient to present times.
On the second level, you can see the corridor murals that Rivera painted in the 1940s. They were intended to wrap around the whole second floor, but it was never completed. These depict Mexico's pre-Hispanic culture and practices, ending with the last mural (completed in 1951) showing the arrival of the Spanish.
One of our students is from Mexico City, so he recommended lots of food and drink spots including Cocina Conchita for some fancier tacos and seafood.
View from Quetzalcoatl pyramid with the Moon and Sun pyramids (left, right) in the distance.
There are 3 main sections at Teotihuacan. We decided to do all 3, so we started at one end at the Quetzalcoatl temple. From here, you can go on a long walk to the Teotihuacan museum.
The museum is quite extensive though it has limited descriptions in English. Even so, there's plenty of information in this museum in lieu of a guide.
Spoiler alert: there are excavated burial grounds showing the pre-Hispanic practice of human sacrifice to the gods.
Next up: the Sun pyramid, the largest of the three. You'll want to take a few breaks and hydrate as you make your way up the steep and narrow pyramid steps.
If you're itching for some souvenirs, there are a number of shops right by the exit near the Moon pyramid. Also, just outside this exit is the bus stop where you can catch the bus back to Central Mexico City for about 40 pesos per person. Or like us, you might just get handed a sample menu and asked if you'd like a free ride to a nearby restaurant for some local fare.
I'm 50/50 on whether to do this. The restaurant was actually in the neighboring town, which was a 5-minute drive down and past the main restaurant road adjacent to the pyramids (where many more restaurants were and potentially better than where we ended up). We were hungry, but the food - even the non-insect variety - was relatively expensive and the place was empty at 1:00pm. At least they were very friendly, despite them not speak English and us knowing limited Spanish.
We wanted to try Mexican delicacies like escamole (ant larvae) and chapulines (grasshoppers), but they were sold out, apparently due to all the crowds that had come through for the long holiday weekend. Instead, we tried chinicuiles (worms) of which I was not a fan - they tasted like fuel. More for Clay, who really enjoyed them. After we finished eating, we got a free ride - after paying the requested tip - back to the bus station. However, there was a bit of a delay because the original old van (that we had to climb into from the driver's seat and into the backseat) wouldn't start so the driver to borrow someone else's truck.
Although we had access to cellular data while in Mexico, we had little to no cell service while at the pyramids. This made it pretty easy to decide to take public transit instead of an Uber (I'm also not sure how many available Ubers are really hanging out in this area).
Be sure to have cash if you do take the bus (~42 pesos/person). The bus does make quite a few stops at some of the nearby towns before heading to the city, but it probably only added 15-20 minutes to the ride. We arrived at the central bus terminal in Central Mexico City, on the north side of town, at about 4pm and peak rush-hour traffic.
Clay was craving an afternoon gourmet coffee on the other side of town and at least 45 minutes away by Uber or train. We decided to save some pesos and try the Metro for the first time. We'd heard mixed reviews from friends who'd lived in Mexico City, including some saying it's really crowded and not worth taking. However, having lived in New York City, it was a piece of cake and - at least for this one trip - was way less crowded than in New York City. It was also very cheap: it cost less than 25 pesos for 2 people to travel 11 miles to Colonia Del Valle/Narvarte Poniente area of CDMX.
Cafe Passmar solidified our theory that you can find some cool local neighborhoods if you follow the coffee. Cafe Passmar itself is an award-winning coffee shop located smack dab in the middle of an indoor Mexican market, complete with a butcher and produce stalls.
Lucky for me, we decided to walk back to La Condesa because along the way we spotted a super colorful shop facade and decided to check it out. This is my top shopping tip for ladies traveling to Mexico City: check out the unique fashion pieces at Sindashi. There are only a few locations in all of Mexico and even fewer (coming soon) outside of Mexico. All of their pieces are one-of-a-kind and hand-painted originals.
The one downside is that they will only have limited designs in any given size (or purse shape). To be honest, while a lot of the styles and designs looked really cool, there were only a few that fit my personal style. Luckily, this black and gold number was in my size! Each piece is also signed by the artist.
This detour and the walk home meant limited time at our apartment before grabbing dinner at El Califa - fast and super delicious tacos recommended by our student - and then an Uber to the Palacio de Belles Artes for the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico 8:00pm performance. Unfortunately, Google Maps and Uber were way off on the travel time. We should have arrived 15-20 minutes early, but the traffic was effectively at a standstill for the last couple of miles. At just under a mile away, we decided to hop out of the Uber and run the rest of the way. We made it a couple minutes after 8:00pm, just as the opening overture began.
The show is highly recommended for tourists, and I would also recommend it to those, like myself, who enjoy the performing arts. As I mentioned before, any seat in the house is probably pretty decent. The theater is beautiful and not too big. Even the view from the top balcony has pretty good visibility of the stage and definitely of the impressive stain-glass ceiling.
Day 5: Thursday, November 24
We spent our last morning in CDMX, before heading to the airport, walking and eating around La Condesa. First stop: coffee, of course. We had yet to try cafe de olla (traditional Mexican coffee with cinnamon and sugar cane) or Cielito Querido Cafe. I loved the decor and typographic style here. I also loved the chili hot chocolate, more so than the olla.
Next, we did a reprise of Tamalli's green tamale, this time at the La Condesa location. It was as fluffy and tasty as I remembered! The additional chocolate tamale also hit the spot. From here, we tried to go to a few more shops, but few of them were open before noon. We did find a cool little pet shop, Perro de Mondo that make upcylced toys for your furry friends.
We ran out of space in our tummies to visit El Califa one last time before heading to the airport where shockingly there were limited food options - at least in the area immediately beyond the security checkpoint. We were upgraded to first class on the flight home, granting us access to the airport lounge. This is always welcome news, though there was still a pretty limited food selection in the lounge: mostly cheese and meats and other finger snack foods.
If you get to the airport early enough, there are supposedly some pretty good places to eat just outside the airport. Or try and head way down towards the newer section of the airport where there are tons more shops and restaurants. We had no idea until we had to run to our gate, which felt like it was a mile away from the lounge.
All in all, we would highly recommend visiting Mexico City! We hope to return soon to enjoy the friendly people, scenic walks, and delicious food and drinks. And hopefully see more local art!
CDMX Attraction Highlights
- Tenochtitlan - pyramids about an hour from central CDMX
- Museo National de Antropologie Museum
- Frida Kahlo Museum
- Diego Rivera mural at National Palace
- Ballet Folklorico de Mexico performance (Wed and Sun only)
CDMX Shopping Highlights
- Sindashi - original hand painted wearable art, including dresses, tops, and purses. Dresses start at about 1800 pesos.
- Housepitality Shop - cute boutique with some reasonably priced women's fashion and home goods, including fabulous shawls from PPAAYYSS, a Mexico designer brand.
- NUMO - novelty shop with cool card and notebook designs as well as fabulous luchador felt coasters
- La Hamaca y El Rebozo - cute baby and women's textile shop
- Perro de Mundo - pet shop that makes upcycled toys
- Roku Design - interior design (La Condesa)