Ever since I can remember, Mexico City was always known a big, bad, scary place. There were drugs, shootings, burglaries and god knows what else. When I mentioned I wanted to visit, people would shoot me down with horror stories and warnings that I shouldn’t visit.
Despite the warnings and the stories, I booked my flights to Mexico City anyway. In my previous experience, the places that have the worst stereotypes are often the polar opposite of what people say and let me just say this; I’m so damn glad I didn’t listen to those ‘warnings’ because Mexico City was absolutely delightful!
We arrived Mexico City at the god-awful hour of 5am and staggered through immigration and into an Uber to our Airbnb. Without too much research we had picked a place in Polanco, which happened to be the most affluent neighbourhood in the city. However having been in transit for more than 40 hours all we wanted to see was the inside of our eyelids.
Later that day, once we had showered, napped and come back to life we finally began to explore our surroundings. The first thing we noticed – it was COLD! Being the typical blondes, we hadn’t even considered that Mexico would have cold weather but being approximately 2,200 metres above sea level made Mexico City much chillier than we anticipated! After a quick stop to Zara (okay, long stop – Mexican Zara is amazing!) we were more appropriately clothed to face the Mexican capital.
Jetlag kind of kicked us in the butt so we spent the first two days wandering around the beautifully manicured streets of Polanco, browsing through shops we couldn’t afford and eating in restaurants too swanky for us poorly backpackers. We kept saying ‘this doesn’t feel like Mexico’ because honestly, it didn’t. I could have been walking through the streets of Melbourne with the only difference being that I can understand the language in Melbourne!
After a couple of days living in a daze, we finally got the energy to properly sightsee beyond the shops and cafes. Mexico City is made up of 16 boroughs that are then divided up into over 1,700 neighbourhoods. Seeing all of this city was impossible but tried to see as much as we could in the time we had! First up was Chapultepec, one of the world’s biggest urban parks.
This extensive mass of green that covers around 6km² in the middle of the city is home to many different attractions. The city zoo, Modern Art Museum, Museum of Anthropology, the Technology Museum, Natural History Museum and Children’s Museum are just to name a few. We wandered through the Museum of Anthropology and through the markets that lined the park pathways. It was a constant flurry of activity. People rollerbladed and cycled, families led their dogs as children raced around enjoying the sunshine and each other. It was such a heart-warming and peaceful scene that it’s hard to believe that such horrible stories could come from this place.
We explored the Reforma neighbourhood, navigated our way around on the Metro system and got lost in the chaos of Mercado de Senora. This market was finally the culture shock we’d been looking for. It was loud, crazy and full of colour. You could buy almost anything here!
We finally ventured into the historical centre of the city and the old colonial buildings had us feeling like we’d stepped into Europe! This historical centre – Centro Historico – was the original foundation of Mexico City and was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec empire capital. The centre still has many buildings that date back to the 16th century and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.
We walked through to the Zócalo and the Plaza de la Constitución, which is the third largest city square in the world, after Moscow’s Red Square and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Despite the bygone buildings, the modern Western world had seeped through with chain restaurants and shops dotting the ancient streets. We made our way to the grand Palacio de Bellas Artes and past the Old City Hall. We even stumbled upon an outdoor Salvador Dalí exhibition! Mexico City just kept on continuing to impress us!
After a few days, we had to make the choice to either continue our trip or stay a couple more days in Mexico City. Much to our surprise, we unanimously decided to stay for a bit longer! This time, we moved to Coyocan, the old colonial town that was simply swallowed up by the sprawling growth of Mexico City.
But Coyocan deserves a whole blog post of its own so you’ll have to stay tuned for what happens next!
– For breakfast, you can’t go past Ojo de Agua in Polanco. Freshly made fare complete with a grocer, this is a hotspot in the Polanco area so go early!
– Coffee at Cafelito is a must – this tiny café is just across the road from the Polanco Metro stop and serves brilliant coffee and pastries!
– Don’t be afraid of street stalls; the food is freshly made and cheap. Guaranteed your best tacos will come from street stalls!
– Cafebreria El Pendulo – this bookstore/café combo is like entering a garden. Waste time enjoying the quiet atmosphere, surrounded by book and greenery.