Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX) is a city with an electric current running through it. CDMX has art, culture, and an overall vibrancy that is unmatched by other global capitals There is so much going on in CDMX and the crush of people is a wonder, but you can traverse the enormous city via massive parks, green boulevards, and via speedy Ubers. What makes the city so special? It is hard to say, but the locals seem to move with purpose while being at ease, there is a comfort and confidence in the massive population that makes tourist travel feel welcome and secure. A Thursday red-eye from Portland, OR with a Monday evening departure was the perfect starter trip to Mexico City.
I arrived at 8AM, hours before my friend and decided to be bold and take the Metro to our Airbnb in Condesa. This was the only major mistake of the whole trip and for 10 pesos (approximately 50 cents) it was not a costly one. Taking the Metro during rush hour and transferring at one of the busiest stations was hot, uncomfortable and overwhelming. However, it was quite amazing to be in a train car with only women, all dressed for work and school, some miraculously touching up their makeup while sandwiched between 50 bodies.
Our Airbnb was on Benjamin Hill Street, a quiet boulevard with an Argentine Cafe and corner store meters away. First stop was coffee, Chiquitito Cafe came highly recommended and was a 5-minute walk around the corner. The tiny coffee shop was nestled in a garage with four indoor tables and far too many baristas behind the counter. Here, I discovered the Chiquitito Cafe signature drink, which would become my go-to beverage. The coffee was the closest I found to a cafe con leche made with two shots of espresso and steamed condensed and whole milk in a cappuccino cup. The coffee was rich, aromatic and delicious.
I wandered around Roma and Roma Norte on the hunt for breakfast. I found myself at Lailo where I ordered chilaquiles which tasted overwhelmingly of fresh limes–zesty and fresh. The sandwiches looked mouthwatering and I questioned my ordering but contently finished my fresh made rosa smoothie with grapefruit juice. I found myself in Parque Espana which was vegetative and overrun by dogs. We are talking at least 100 dogs that were being led by humane society volunteers. I have never seen so many dogs in one place, it was heaven.
After a siesta back at Benjamin Hill, Justine arrived and we walked the streets of Condesa and Roma again, strolling through Parque Mexico, which is adjacent to Parque Espana. We had our first taste of mezcal and bite to eat at Xampia, a cozy lounge that specialized in champagne infused beverages and tapas-style plates. We got our first taste of street food at El Greco Tacos, a joint that actually specialized in shawarma-style beef. We washed our tacos down with Coronas and called it an evening.
Day Two: We woke up well rested and headed to Cafe Chiquilito to grab a coffee before our stroll to breakfast. In CDMX there are primarily two meals that are taken seriously: breakfast and the la comida which is the main meal of the day enjoyed between 2PM and 4PM. It is really important to remember the meal schedule so you do not miss out on food trucks and markets. We chose to have breakfast at Lardo in Roma. This was a classic spot that attracted tourists and locals alike. Their selection of fresh pastries was an excellent primer before getting into the main meal.
Lardo served as a good choice because today was our Chapultepec Park and Castillo de Chapultepec exploration day. This is the Central Park of Mexico City that is flanked by museums just like its NYC cousin. Most museums have a $7 USD entry fee and are immaculately preserved for the low cost. The Castillo de Chapultepec castle and museum might slide into the position of my favorite historic museum. The castle was clean and airy, sitting atop of a hill that provided a fantastic view of the city below. The whole castle had been opened with modern glass and metal window installations that allowed you to walk the outside marbles corridor whilst looking into the royal chambers–a very unique view that was almost like walking through a life-sized, no larger-than-life-sized dollhouse.
We strolled through the restof the park and were tempted to paddle boat in the pond but the queue was outrageous on a pristine day. We crossed the highway to the other half of the park and
headed to the Anthropologie Museo. This museum came highly recommended by several friends and we agreed that it must have been due to the architecture of the museum. The building was designed by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jorge Campuzano, and Rafael Mijares Alcérreca, who deserve a mention for their phenomenal work. The modern, concrete building continued the thread of open lightness that seemed to be common in the cultural district. In all honesty, the contents of the museum wereof the standard natural history variety but I do love some good dioramas, that were very reminiscent of the Field Museum Chicago.
We exited the park, stopping to grab a giant styrofoam Horchata that would full or walk down the Paleo de la Reforma. We made it to the El La Angel Independence before our feet hurt too much and we were extremely hungry. We turned towards home, grabbing some amazing quesadillas on the way back. We nibbled on more street food and had great tamales at Los Tamales de la Roma, cheesy name but delicious packets of goodness.
We rested and mapped out dinner at Temporal which had unique cocktails and a fantastic octopus dish. A glass of wine at Patagonia Parrilla de Campo capped the evening. This blissfully lit restaurant featured in wines from South America and we were regaled by a wonderful cello and drummer duo.
Justine had the brilliant idea to take a half day trip to the Teotihuacan Ruins. Normally, I would not be too keen on something like this but I have always wanted to walk up pyramid steps. Teotihuacan was incredibly accessible and after a light breakfast and another Cafe Chiquilito we took an Uber to Norte Station and hopped on the 9 AM bus. The bust ride further revealed the lightning bolt running through CDMX. We passed colorful houses stacked on the suburban hillsides, traveled under a tram and saw some great graffiti. The ruins were beautiful and awesome, the construction was an engineering marvel. We observed that so many of the visitors were Mexican, traveling from different regions to see the treasure in their own country, this realization made the place almost a little more special because again, the pride of the Mexican people was echoed in the tourist population.
Back in the city we grabbed churros outside the bus station and called an Uber to Mercado Medellín in La Roma. Unfortunately, most of the market stalls were closed but we got we came for–a sample of the famous chicharrones.
A siesta was mandatory after the adventure to the ruins before evening activities. We took a car to Parque Alameda downtown and found a craft and food market. We sampled mole, beeswax lotion, and another local fare while eyeing the food stalls. We grabbed some elotes and huaraches. After the snack, we went to Mundana, a bar inside Barrio Alameda, described best by Conde Nast as “a hip three-story mall on the western edge of the Alameda with fashion boutiques, a vinyl records store, a lucha libre tienda, and more.” I enjoyed a horchata-style mezcal drink that was essentially liquid, boozy dessert.
Next, we walked downtown to Bósforo Mezcaleria. This is a tiny, loud mezcalreia that is written up everywhere and where you go for true glasses of straight mezcal served with traditional slices of orange. You really have to fight and not hesitate to find space but it is definitely worth a stop just for the traditional experience. We hopped to our next bar, Hosteria La Bota, which was a friend’s favorite and felt like a fun, punk park with no fuss, haphazard decor. We grabbed Modellos and a split a torta for our late night dinner.
History-check, anthropology-check, now it was time for the art day! We began at La Casa del Pan Papalotl where they have a set breakfast complete with coffee, juice, entre, and bread. This corner was the cycling meet up point and we watched kitted up locals enjoying coffee and pastries. The first attempt to visit Casa de Frida Kahlo was unsuccessful as we realized quickly that tickets were necessary. We did a quick pivot to the Estudio De Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo which was free because almost all museums in CDMX are free on Sundays. The art studio and home of the two painters was a colorful pueblo that seemed to accurately represent the identity of both painters. The studio is hard to describe so pictures will suffice as a descriptor.
We strolled through the gorgeous Tlacopac district that was a mini cobbled lane of enormous houses. It stuck out as a village enclave where the wealthy resided pretending to live in an isolated small Spanish town. The villas were in full bloom, covered in a tangle of crawling plants and flowers. We exited Tlacopac and drove to Zocolo and Palacio de Bellas Arte. We saw a few famed Diego Rivera murals in the concert hall and an excellent Chucho Reyes exhibit. In the historic district, we were bit overwhelmed by the crowds, we had finally found them, and found (literal) sanctuary in the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. The cathedral was built in the exquisite baroque-style and housed several alters and a giant organ.
We returned to Xoco and enjoyed the anticipated tour of Casa de Frida Kahlo. The home was kept exactly as the artist left it and her presence was enshrined in the structure and small details of the house. The garden was lush and looked good but not great in the grey light of the looming downpour.
We dried off and rested before planning our last evening. We walked around our now familiar neighborhood and landed on copious amounts of tacos at Tacos Al Pastor.
With the culture sightings behinds us, we decided my last day would be spent on a shopping excursion. We had a last breakfast a patisserie and headed to the Roma boutiques that were on our list. Our favorite thrift store was Goodbye Folk, and our “if we had all the money in the world” boutique was Fabrica Social Boutique..
We took a long walk through the administrative district to Barrio Alameda where we completed our shopping mission at Chelovak, a Mexican streetwear brand that had bold, modern collections of unique endogenous garments. I scooped up a sweatshirt with a Mayan geometric print around the collar and a t-shirt dress with delicate rose applique.
I took my last Cafe Chiquilito to go and called the ($10 USD) Uber to the airport.
Mexico City is a wonderful, treasure chest that has gems spewing out in all directions. We only scratched the surface on this go round and I am already planning to make it an annual destination.