Every city has its contrasting areas. Some more than others of course, but it's about time we all just learned to live with the fact that poor areas usually exist in parallel to rich areas. For me, these things make any destination a more exciting, dynamic, and ultimately much more interesting place to go.
Mexico City is home to a fiercely proud people, who love their city and want you to love it too. And to be perfectly honest, it’s hard not to love somewhere this vibrant, a city that is as daunting as it is familiar – somewhere which continues to throw off the shackles of an unfavourable reputation and turn itself into a powerhouse of culture, fantastic food and a beacon of cosmopolitan city living.
Flying from Manchester Airport to Ciudad de México (CDMX) is not a direct affair and so you’ve got two choices to make. You can either get a connecting flight via London or via somewhere in the US (typically Atlanta). Personally, I’d recommend flying through London Heathrow so as to avoid any potential missed transfers in the US. You’ll also avoid any ETSA nonsense too.
Arriving at Mexico City Juarez International Airport you may be surprised to discover that it is exceptionally modern and wouldn’t look out of place in a remake of Buck Rogers. Add to this the fact that it’s only around 10km out of the centre of the city and you’re laughing. A taxi from the airport shouldn’t cost more than MX$350 (around £13) or you can take the Metro system for only MX$5 (20p!).
It’s at this point that I should point out something that is glaringly obvious for anyone who has ever heard of Mexico City (which is everyone). CDMX is absolutely bloody huge. Like proper big. Like something out of Judge Dredd, with the city just stretching off into the distance, barrios clinging to the sides of mountains. Hills, houses, huts and highways snake away through the landscape as far as the eye can see. But don’t be dismayed, travelling around the city is safe, easy and best of all – very cheap.
Many times throughout our stay we used Uber, which is both cheap and as safe as you would expect, and the roads of CDMX, although looking like something out of a destruction derby, are actually very well serviced and efficient. If you’re looking to save yourself a bit more cash, the aforementioned Metro is only 20p a ride anywhere on the network (although it does go up to around 25p on weekends). It’s very simple to use, fast, and unless you get caught in rush hour – very comfortable.
Lonely Planet try to squeeze restaurants and bars into around 300 pages, complete with glossy photos, insider tips and reams of maps and they still struggle to get all of the good places in. Due to its size, Mexico City is packing so many great restaurants and bars that it’s pretty difficult to list them all, or indeed even scratch the surface. Therefore, I’ll tell you about the places I went, and if there’s somewhere you’ve been that’s good – you can add it to the comments. Easy.
Located just on the outskirts of the financial district, Calle Rio Lerma is a great place to get some food or have some drinks or both. Heading parallel to Paseo de la Reforma, most of the length of the street is adorned with quality restaurants, from Hooters to Hot Pot and so there’s plenty for everyone.
Of note we visited the excellent seafood haunt La Pescaderia Lerma, as well as the authentic bustling Mexican place La Chinampa Reforma. La Chinampa specialises in the kind of Mexican grub you’d expect; tacos, quesadillas and tortas are all here and the prices are excellent. They also serve up something called a Costra – which is probably the greatest thing to ever happen on Earth. The best way to describe it is that it’s like a taco, but the ‘tortilla’ is made of cheese. So, there’s a choice of fillings, which are then wrapped in a stringy, crispy cocoon of cheese and its pretty much heaven in every bite. Get involved.
If you’re looking for something quick, tasty and cheap, I’d also recommend La Casa de Toño, which are dotted all around the city and feature some excellent dishes for dirt-cheap. You can get a plate of chicken enchiladas for around £2, Sopes for £1.50 and the excellent milky wonder-drink Horchata for a quid. Many of them are open 24 hours too so they’re perfect for a bit of late-night snacking between bars.
Talking of having drinks, you could do much worse than heading on over to Taberna Luciferina on the way towards the Historic centre of the city. This multi-level bar features a packed cocktail list, and although it’s a bit more expensive than most places you’ll find in Mexico City, the brilliant surroundings and top tunes make this perfectly acceptable. Especially considering the amount of alcohol that’s in each cocktail too.
Frida Kahlo Museum
Before arriving at the Frida Kahlo Museum I must admit to not knowing bugger all about her or her art and so I went there with a pretty wide-open mind. The museum itself is located in the Del Carmen district, down in the south of the city and it must be said, a lovely residential area. It’s comes as a stark contrast with many of the other areas of the city, with a distinct lack of high-rise buildings or meandering barrios. Frida herself has become a cultural phenomenon since her death in the 50’s, as well as a veritable feminist icon amongst her many fans. The museum itself is located within her old home, La Casa Azul and features many of her artistic works and photographic endeavours. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Mexico City itself so it’s a good idea to pre-book your tickets to ensure you’re not queuing with all the other ignorant savages for hours.
Just a short walk from the Frida Kahlo museum in Del Carmen, Hidalgo Plaza Garden is the perfect place for a bite to eat, some drinks in the sun and a lovely bit of shopping in the adjoining Makers Market. It’s a big favourite amongst locals, with plenty of brilliant restaurants knocking about, mostly all featuring packed terraces perfect for a bite and a few tequilas. I’d highly recommend Entrevero, a Uruguayan restaurant with a stunning terrace, hearty food and great prices.
Entrevero, Parque Centenario 14, Coyoacán, 04000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
No visit to Mexico City would be complete without a visit to Lucha Libre – watching a bunch of fully grown men (and sometimes midgets) throwing themselves over massive distances and kicking each other in the face. It’s so popular in Mexico that you can hardly go 100 metres without seeing someone selling a Lucha Libre mask and to be fair – once you get to see it, it’s clear to see why. Compared to American wrestling, or indeed the rather shite British wresting on ITV in the 80’s – Lucha Libre is off the chain. There’s two main options for you in Mexico City, the Arena Mexico which is on every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday and the older Arena Coliseo on the rest of the days of the week. Get involved.
La Lagunilla Flea Market
Nothing beats walking around a Flea Market on a Sunday morning, slightly pissed up from the night before, marvelling at the vast array of tat and antiques that are unique to a particular destination. In this respect, Mexico City does not disappoint. La Lagunilla has been going for fucking ages and today features thousands of people walking around its 3 main areas, all in search of a bargain. It takes hours to look around, but luckily there’s plenty of food stalls and shops to keep you going. There’s one Tortas shop which is especially spectacular but I can’t remember its name or location – only the sandwich. Sorry.
Floating Gardens of Xochimilco
This was genuinely one of the craziest, most unique experiences of my life, and certainly a must-do for any visitor to Mexico City. Xochimilco is pretty far out of the centre, so get an Uber, but once you’re there you get to experience the floating gardens, packed with boats, booze, Mariachi bands and everything else you can think of. The waterways are massively popular, so you’ll be surrounded by boats packed with families, couples and parties, all drinking and eating and enjoying the atmosphere. I especially recommend throwing a couple of Pesos at the guy with the xylophone, as well as buying as many huge Michelada’s as possible – they’re belting.
Pyramid of the Sun
A visit to Central America would not be complete without a visit to a pyramid and luckily for us, Mexico City has a couple right on the doorstep. You can forget Chichen Itza and Tikal, because the Pyramid of the Sun is mightily impressive and makes for an excellent half day excursion from the city. Believed to be constructed around 200BC, the site also features the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Corner Shop of Jupiter. There are way too many little fellas selling annoying jaguar whistles, but if you manage to ignore them you should have yourself a good time. It’s also worth noting that you should be careful going up and down the stairs, and if you’re scared of heights – perhaps enjoy the view from the floor.
Of course there are thousands of things to do around Mexico City, so you should probably get Google searching. Always worth a visit are the Historical Centre of Mexico, Zócalo (the square from the beginning of Spectre) and loads more that I can’t just list here.
Accommodation wise, as you’d expect, there’s all manner of options available to you. We were attending a wedding while in the city and so the congregation consisted of a wide range of sleeping choices. There were Airbnb’s, boutique hotels, hostels and business hotels, and judging by a few of the people at the back – a couple of rough sleepers.
Personally, we decided on the excellent Plaza Galeria Reforma on the cusp of the Juarez and Cuauthemoc neighbourhoods. I must say that the rooms were immaculate, the service excellent and the addition of a rooftop pool in which to lounge around was a life-saver. It provided a fantastic escape from the rigours of walking around the city.
I would also recommend Hotel Carlota, one of the city’s best and most stylish boutique hotels. Set amongst a brutalist, stark courtyard, the hotel manages to combine concrete, geometry and colour to create a lovely space perfect for relaxing in the sun or drinking margaritas until you barf. The rooms are cosy and stylish and the location is excellent, just around the corner from the copious restaurants and bars on Calle Rio Lerma.