Ok, I fully admit I had the same perceptions that everyone else does when they hear the name Mexico City; things like corruption, kidnappings, pollution, crowded, unsafe, muggings, etc. Not really any heartwarming adjectives to describe the city let alone make you want to actually go visit the place!
With full disclosure, Mexico City was never really high on my must-see destinations list. What changed that was when my dear friends Neelam and Manuel moved from Atlanta to Mexico City last year. “What, I have local friends there now? Sure, I’ll come visit!!” So with that, Mexico City shot up quickly on the travel list and before you knew it, I was booking my flight and packing my bags.
I definitely got some weird looks when I would tell people I was going to Mexico City for one week over Thanksgiving. I also got a lot of “don’t get shot or kidnapped” smartass comments too (as if I have any control over those two things anyway)!
I’m here today to help change your mind about Mexico City. I can’t reiterate enough that it is probably not at all what you think it is. Clearly I made it out alive (ha ha) and I absolutely loved it there!! A very clean, modern city with so much culture, amazing food and a huge focus on the arts, how could you not love a place like that? And just to address it; the crime is not something to take lightly…that stuff does happen frequently in Mexico City but I think you have to be a cautious traveler and constantly aware of your surroundings. (I will also put this out there that I definitely think my experience staying with locals was very different from the experience I would have had if I had to plan everything on my own and stay at a hotel).
Because I feel like I could write a novel on my adventures in Mexico City, I’m just going to give you 5 of my favorite things I explored/ate/experienced. Trust me, this list was hard to narrow down:
1. Xochimilco– As a world traveler, I have been fortunate enough to take some really cool gondola rides at various destinations around the world. A few examples include: 1) the beautiful waterways in Venice, Italy 2) through the jungle canals in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam 3) on a calm strip of the Yamuna River near Mathura, India 4) and of course the ride “It’s a Small World” at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida…ha ha. But, I will say that one of the coolest experiences has been the gondola ride through just a tiny portion of the vast canal network that Mexico City still has remaining from back in the day. This place is better known as Xochimilco. You can rent your own private gondola for as long as you like and these huge gondolas can pack in more than 20 people for one big fiesta. What’s most fun though are the various smaller gondolas that serve food such as tamales, quesadillas, tacos, etc; they cook the food nice and hot on their boat, link up to yours and serve you. How’s that for service? In addition, there were mariachi band gondolas going by that will also link up to your boat and come sing for you if you want. What a cool, fun, totally unique experience. Do not miss this one if you go to Mexico City.
2. The Spicy Salsas– Ok, as a vegetarian, I was pretty sure that everything Mexico City had to offer was going to be carne (meat) based. I can’t even tell you how shocked I was to go to random (read: not touristy) restaurants and see the little “v” marked next to many items on a menu to denote a vegetarian dish. What, they know what vegetarian even is? What an awesome surprise for me and more so, that the food was so tasty and spicy. I was basically in culinary heaven seeing and tasting all the different varieties of salsas and sauces that were served up in many restaurants to accompany traditional dishes. I kind of wish I could have brought back a vat of some of those salsas…seriously the best I’ve ever had (especially at the restaurant El Charco de las Ranas). What I’m trying to say is that overall, the food in Mexico City was amazing, even for a vegetarian.
3. The Arts Scene– Did you know there is a large and thriving art scene as well as many art museums in Mexico City? I surely didn’t! I do love art but tend to get tapped out after a museum or two. Luckily my friend Neelam was on the same page so we spent only two half days at museums; Museo Nacional de Antropologia (The National Museum of Anthropology) and Museo Frida Kahlo (the artist Frida Kahlo’s former home that has been turned into a museum). The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is world renown and has a very unique and beautiful architectural design. Overall the museum was great with lots of amazing artifacts, and you could spend a lot of time there, but we zipped through this one pretty quickly. The Frida Kahlo museum was interesting and a great way to get to know more about the famous artist and her story. I wish we had more time to check out some of the real, local underground art scene. Guess that will be on my next visit…
4. Lucha Libre Wrestling Match– So, is it embarrassing that my minimal knowledge of Lucha Libre wrestling is from the movie ‘Nacho Libre’? Yes, I know it is sad..that’s ok. With that, I felt like I couldn’t go to Mexico City and not see one of the city’s most famous past times. Luckily Neelam was up for it too so we ventured to the arena and went to a match. It was absolutely entertaining and I’m not sure if we were more entertained from the masked wrestlers and their choreographed stunts or from the wild and hilarious people in the crowd and what they were yelling out. Either way, it was a fun evening seeing and doing something totally out of the ordinary. Oh, and I loved that vendors walked up and down the aisles throughout the match selling tequila shots, beers and tacos!
5. Market Shopping– No trip abroad is complete for me without visiting the local markets. I love seeing not only the locally handmade handicrafts but also all the touristy “junk” that gets sold (ok, I admit “sometimes” I purchase these things too). As expected, we went to a few different markets and the vivid color textiles and lovely hand painted dishware were hard to pass up. But, as I have learned from many trips of the past, what you buy, you must lug home. Luckily on this trip I bought some gifts for friends and items for myself that were easy to pack and not too bulky. I mean, how am I supposed to go shopping in the market and buy nothing? I have to help support the local economy, right?
So, what do you think? Did this help paint a very different picture of Mexico City for you? See, it’s not this rundown, crazy place that so many of us think it is. There is so much more to tell but hopefully this helped wipe away the horrible stereotype that Mexico City still unfortunately has for itself. Go visit! Trust me, it’s definitely worth the trip.