Benito Juarez Airport
You will need a visa to get into Mexico City but this can be obtained upon arrival. The guy I was sitting next to on the plane suggested I use the taxi stand at the domestic arrival section of the airport to save some money compared to using that by the international terminal. Once you get your luggage, turn left then head straight for about 5 minutes, following the sign that says “Airtren, Terminal 2”. The escalator on your left side will take you up where you walk across the bridge and into the domestic arrival area of the airport. The Airtren is on your right side but don’t take it, keep going until you see (on your left side) stairs that will take you down to the taxi stand. This way you will save almost 50% on your fare.
Be sure to take traffic into consideration when making plans and use the bathroom at the airport before getting into a taxi because you do not want to be sitting in the humidity with a full bladder. The supposedly 20 minute trip to my hotel lasted an hour in the horrific traffic. My fare: approximately $5 dollars.
Grand Plaza Reforma Hotel
The hotel, booked courtesy of my air mileage points, was located in the Reforma area of downtown Mexico City. It was nice, clean and check-in was easy. The staff was friendly and there was a separate area for concierge services. I used their gym and pool facilities during my stay, although the water in the pool was freezing cold despite the hot weather.
Angel de la Independencia
My friend, who lives in Mexico City, picked me up that evening to show me around the area. Angel de la Independencia, a popular landmark built in 1910, was conveniently located just behind my hotel. The park and the trees in it were illuminated, which made walking at night more pleasurable. I noticed that there were a lot of sculptures by different artists. People were leisurely strolling while some were roller blading. Nearby, were tall buildings and high-end hotels.
We then decided to have our dinner at El Bahio Restaurant inside a mall. I had some traditional chips with various dips. The chips were cooked differently from what I’m used to in California, although it was still crunchy, it was a little tougher to bite and chew. Then I also had some tortilla soup with chicharron. It was my first time to have that dish and it was delicious. The consistency of the broth was just right. Next, came the tortilla with chicken and chicharron which reminded me of a tostada. It was really good but by this time, I was getting full and I still had a chicken salad coming up. Though the salad was light, my stomach couldn’t handle it anymore. After all the carbs that I had just consumed, we then went to a bar close by and had some drinks to finish off the evening. Tomorrow will be my first full day of discovering the city.
Palace of Fine Arts
The following morning I enjoyed the included breakfast in the hotel. They have a wide selection of food but make sure to come in either early or late morning because there were a lot of business people otherwise. The hotel probably hosts a lot of conferences. After breakfast, I waited for another friend to pick me up and to start my adventure. We took a taxi to our first destination, (make sure the meter is on) the Palace of fine arts. It’s a museum with various large murals, artwork and paintings. We paid 60 mexican pesos to get in, however, a special permit was needed to take pictures.
The Ballet Folklorico, a cultural show in the museum that featured dances from different parts of Mexico, was something that I wanted to watch. Unfortunately, they only had 2 shows a week and there wasn’t one on that day. Oh well, good thing I am an optimist.. I now have a reason to re-visit Mexico City.
We started our historical tour in the Zocalo area. The Plaza de la Constitucion had barricades at this time, seemingly closed to the public. In the middle of the plaza was a huge Mexican flag. I can only imagine how busy this place can be were it open.
The Catedral Metropolitana is the oldest and largest church in Latin America. The construction began in 1567 and finished in 1788. It is located just across the Plaza de la Constitución (Central Square). Even if you are not religious type, you can still appreciate the intricate architecture and artwork inside. The church also houses the tombs of the Archbishops of Mexico City.
Afterwards, we had a quick snack in one of the “hole in the wall” restaurants near the plaza. The Tacos Canastas (Basket Tacos) have different choices of meat for only 5 pesos each. The tacos were inside a big basket, hence the name. The place was small but it was packed with locals. I saw people smiling, catching up and telling stories with animated expressions; overall a great ambiance. I wanted to eat more but I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for lunch. After our delightful snack, we continued our venture to see some ruins.
Plaza Mayor and National Palace
The Plaza Mayor had a taste of Aztec Empire. For 65 mexican pesos, you can see the underground ruins and at the end of the tour was the Plaza Mayor Museum where you can read more about the history and culture.
The National palace is the official seat of the mexican government ever since the Aztec Empire. The Palace houses the Federal Treasury, the national archives and the presidential offices. Part of the palace was open to the public and was turned into a museum.
Finally ready for lunch, we headed out and went, on a friend’s recommendation, to Ristorante Zefiro, a restaurant with a view of the Plaza. However, when we arrived, all the tables with a view were taken, so we decided to find another restaurant. Lucky’s Terraza was the last restaurant found on the very top of the same building. They had a menu for both traditional and western food. For starters, we ordered a beer called “michelada’s lucky”. It was served in a big glass with a mixture of some sort of spice, salt and tamarind paste on the rim of the glass. It was very good but I didn’t really taste the beer because it was overshadowed by the tamarind aftertaste. I ordered tacos with Al Pastor for my main lunch.
The Chapultepec Castle
The Chapultepec Castle was a taxi ride from the Plaza. This time (probably because of the tamarind-tasting beer), I forgot to make sure that the meter was on. To cut the story short, I paid about 80 mexican pesos more than usual. It was an uphill walk to get to the entrance of the Castle. And, I forgot (again) that I was on a higher altitude place. I became short of breath just walking a few meters..(well, actually this is nothing new). Thankfully, I managed to arrive (alive) at the main entrance. When I was ready to pay 65 mexican pesos..not that it took me that long.. the nice lady just gave us a couple of tickets for free because the Castle was about to close in 15 minutes. I was happy it was free but, at the same time, I was bummed that I would not have enough time to see the entirety of the castle. I did get to appreciate the beautiful garden and the view overlooking the city, but I wished I had more time.
We went back to my hotel from the castle on foot. My Mexican friend asked for directions to get back to my hotel. He advised me to always ask at least 2 people because, according to him, Mexicans have a hard time saying “no” or “I don’t know” so they sometimes make up answers just to say something.
I like to explore at my own pace and personally, I prefer not to go on scheduled tours so my friend helped me find a taxi driver to take us to the pyramids in the City of Teotihuacan. It was about an hour’s drive north of Mexico City plus traffic. Luckily enough, we didn’t hit any and we arrived at the expected time, so it was perfect. 170 mexican pesos paid for parking and 2 tickets for the archaeological site.
It was surprising how remarkably different this place was being only an hour away from the city. The site was vast with a view of small pyramids and 2 big ones called the Sun and Moon. This time, I brought my selfie stick for my GoPro to get better shots. Our first hike was to the Pyramid of the Sun. Comfortable clothing and shoes were advantageous here. The steps were not the ordinary kind with the height each more like 2 combined with half the depth. Then add to that the altitude and you a have a formula for either a good lower body workout and cardio exercise or a broken body part.
The pyramid of the Sun has “layers” where you can rest and catch your breath while majestic view will help you relax and calm down. It was spectacular at the top. We were joined by other people who were huffing and puffing but with huge smiles on their faces. We took a lot of pictures in different spots and angles, because I had no plans of climbing it again in the near future. The descent was a lot easier but I still had to be careful on the steep steps.
The Pyramid of the Moon is not as high but has the same quality of steps and an equally beautiful panorama. The view of the Pyramid of the Sun was pretty dramatic. The sun was out but it was a little breezy so a light jacket is recommended. We stayed on top for a good half an hour just taking random pictures. It was so peaceful and I really wished I could stay longer to just enjoy it but our my stomach had a different idea.
So, after spending 2.5 hours total in the ruins, it was time to head back down for a good lunch. We decided to eat inside the complex. The restaurants were numbered so we randomly picked number 9. It was big but there were just 2 groups of people eating at that time. My friend mentioned that it gets crowded during peak season like March-April. I ordered another Michelada drink with Victoria Beer and lemon juice (They combine the beer and the lemon juice, which makes the dink cloudy and darker in appearance). Then we ordered this meat sampler which I forgot (not the first time..or the second) the name. It was served with some tortilla and various sauces. The food was good for 3 people, and it was a good thing we had invited our driver to join us. After lunch, it was around 3 pm, so we head back to the city and, as expected, this time it took more than an hour to get back to my hotel due to the traffic.
Coyoacan is located south of Mexico City and it cost about 150 mexican pesos via taxi to take me to “Centro de Coyoacan” (careful here because there is also a Centro Coyoacan which is different). I was dropped off in a central plaza where there were lots of places to sit, shady nooks under the trees and a big fountain.
It’s a nice historic neighborhood and had the feel of a quaint small town. On this beautiful Saturday afternoon, everybody was out and enjoying the sun in the park. Also located in the centenary square, is a church called the Parish of San Juan Bautista.
After looking around and having a quick snack at the Tacos Canasta, I met up with my friend who lives in the area, and we went to Mercado Coyoacan. At first, it looked like a typical market until I saw the giant pork skin on display.
We continued our walk towards the Frida Kahlo Museum or the Blue House. I guess the museum is pretty famous..I know there was a movie where Salma Hayek played Frida. At the Blue House, there were already 2 large tour buses parked and a long line of people waiting to get inside. It took us about 45 mins to an hour to get to the ticket booth. Its 140 mexican pesos plus 20 pesos if you want to take pictures.
The house turned museum was where famous Mexican artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, once lived. Frida’s history, her paintings and life were evident here . There were the corsets, varied leg braces and items of clothing she used to wear. In the middle of the estate was a beautiful garden. I might want to watch the movie after this visit.
Overall, my trip to Mexico City was a fascinating learning experience. I now know a lot about its history, culture and people. I felt safe during my stay, but that being said, you still need to be on top of your game regarding your safety. Reading and researching more about the places you want to visit is the best way to go. Also, talk to the locals, they are the best source of information.