Once Was Enough for Mexico City

Last year, I made a pretty big claim: Mexico was the best country I visited the entire year.  It has adventure, nature, history, and food (omg…the food.)  But this time, my sister and I headed to the capital city.

After four brief days in Mexico City, I’m neither astounded nor underwhelmed.

If you’ve ever met someone and had one great conversation but not enough to pass on your phone number and arrange a date, you’ll understand how I feel about Mexico City.  I had a good time but now I’m moving on.

Just like those fleeting moments, I’m left with positive memories and highlights from the trip.

Floating Through the Canals of Xochimilco

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Colorful trainjeras at Xochimilco, Mexico City

South of the city, colorful boats ply the waters of Xochimilco, leading past homes, gardens, and a few ecological areas.  The reason for hiring a boat, though, is for what’s on the water rather than what’s on the banks.

Other boats float by, carrying mariachi bands, marimba players, cooks preparing street food, or vendors with made-in-China trinkets for sale.  It’s addicting to watch the world go by, so that’s exactly what we did for two hours on a Sunday afternoon.

If you go, be sure to check out official prices ahead of time so you don’t get swindled on hiring a boat!  Despite the fact that rates are formally set, anyone who looks like a tourist will likely be asked for double (or more).

Climbing Teotihuacan

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From the top of the Sun Pyramid, Teotihuacan

The ancient city of Teotihuacan was the best part of our trip and we lucked out with a clear day and gorgeous views!  Even though I’ve seen Mexican ruins before, they’ve always been Mayan…and the Aztec pyramids are even more impressive.

If there’s one thing in Mexico City you make sure to do, this should be it.

Related Post (opens in new window): How to Visit Teotihuacan Without a Tour

Being Amazed by Dia de los Muertos Displays

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One of many Day of the Dead altars we saw

The whole reason for timing our trip when we did was to arrive for the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday honoring loved ones who have passed on.  Before the trip, we weren’t really sure what we’d be able to see or participate in, but we ended up getting lucky.

Throughout the trip, we saw offerings and altars in gorgeous decoration.  We also stumbled upon special arts and crafts fairs with dia de los muertos themed objects, a huge festival in Coyoacan neighborhood complete with rides and festival food, a nighttime bike ride, decorated cemeteries, and other events.

Turning the Metro into a Fun Ride

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The Science Hall at La Raza metro station

Mexico City just might have the best metro system in the world.  It took us everywhere we wanted to go for just 5 pesos per ride and we never waited more than three minutes for the next train to come along.  Everything is so well-signed it puts New York City to shame.

Practicality aside, the Mexico City metro fascinated me.  From the music piped in at line 12 stations to a speed chess tournament in the station to a crazy science tunnel, I found myself strangely enjoying each and every metro ride.

Cringing at Lucha Libre

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One of many lucha libre rounds

What’s part comic book, part wrestling, and part acrobatics?  Lucha libre wrestling!  I am not a sports fan but after having so much fun at Muay Thai boxing in Thailand, I decided to give spectator sports another go!

Sure enough, the ridiculous costumes, absurd fighting style, and passionate crowd makes for a great night out!  I cringed every time someone hit the ground — ouch! — but also laughed at some of the crazy jumps, spins, and tumbles they did.

Hint: If you go, leave your cameras at home (otherwise you’ll have to check them with security).  Cell phones were permitted.

There’s clearly a lot of great things about Mexico City, but I kind-of feel like now I’ve seen them.  Mexico City is so cheap to get to that it’s likely I’ll return in the future — like all big cities, I bet it will be entirely different in ten years.  But for the meantime, once was enough.

If you go…

Mexico City is a huge, sprawling metro area, so deciding which part of town to stay in is important.  My favorite neighborhoods were in the Condesa/Roma area.  It’s safe, there are great restaurants, and it feels like a local hangout.

Looking for a hotel?  My guide to Mexico City neighborhoods will help you choose which side of town fits your personality best so you can settle on the perfect hotel.

Mexico City is (mostly) safe, but it’s crowded on the metros, in public market, and lots of other places.  Find out why stashing your valuables in your underwear is a great solution against pickpocketing and keep valuables locked up at your hotel whenever possible.

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35 thoughts on “Once Was Enough for Mexico City”

  1. I felt that way about Venice. Beautiful, but couldn’t get past feeling like a “mark” given most of the people we encountered were there to make money off of tourists but not interested in making tourists feel welcome. So many of the people we encountered were not Italian so it was hard to get a feel for the culture.

    1. @Sarah, I got that impression in Venice, too. Not sure I’d head back. Did you go anywhere else in Italy and receive a different vibe?

      1. No, we were only in Venice for a day before moving on to Paris for 4 days, Belgium for 2 days, and Cologne Germany for a day before flying home from Dusseldorf. Trains sure make it easy to cover lots of ground quickly! We will be heading back to Italy and France next summer. Starting in Rome, maybe Sienna, Florence for a couple of days and ultimately fly home from Paris. Trying to decide if we should spend a day in Provence or along the Riviera before making our way back North. Mother daughter graduation trip and we move pretty quickly. Equally interested in History and beauty of the landscape so all tips are welcome!

      2. @Sarah, I haven’t been to a lot of those places, but if you are interested in landscapes, I would imagine any of those stops along the way would be beautiful!

  2. Ditto to what Sarah said about Venice. I haven’t been to Mexico City but I would dig a night out to watch Lucha Libre- it looks like fun!

  3. I used to feel that way about cities in general. I much preferred travel in smaller towns and the countryside. However after living in Mumbai for almost a decade, I have really come to appreciate the vibrancy and the clash between old and new that is often found in large cities.

    I haven’t been to Mexico City yet, but from everything I have heard I would love it. But what I tend to love is just walking around, soaking up the culture and day to day life activities!

    1. @Karilyn, Wow, Mumbai! I think that would be overwhelming for me (in a good way). If you like to walk around and soak things up, I think you’d like Mexico City.

  4. Mexico City is really doing a big push to encourage tourism lately – bringing attention to all the architecture, cuisine, culture etc. I saw lucha libra for the first time last week at a Day of the Dead festival here in London – my kids thought it was hilarious. The costumes, the grandstanding, the silly acrobatics. But boy those wrestlers are in good shape! would love to see it in Mexico proper.

  5. I can relate – I was pretty underwhelmed by Paris even though I still enjoyed my visit. Seeing day of the dead displays is something I’d love to do one day.

    1. @Carly, You’re one of the first people who’s said that about Paris. I’m pretty neutral on that city, partly because I whizzed through without much time.

  6. I’ve never had the desire to visit Mexico City because I’ve always felt it would be too crowded and busy for my preference. You certainly seem to have found some wonderful things to do during your visit. The trip to Teotihuacan, the Sunday boating, and the metro sound particularly good. In fact, the metro sounds amazing compared to what we put up with in DC. Thanks for the tips!

    1. @Julie, I’m a big believer that there’s something great about every place in the world… but yes, it is definitely crowded and busy! (Not as much as I expected)

  7. Once upon a time I dated a fellow who lived outside of Mexico City. It was a beautiful house and with him I had access to all DF had to offer. The problem was I didn’t love it either. In my case, I know why. I don’t love big cities and DF is huge. I’m glad I had my own personal tour guide and I was able to go a lot of places, but my love affair was with a boy, not with the city.

  8. I want to thank you for providing info about the “leave you camera at home” info when entering the Arena. That kind of info plus the 6am departure from the bus to the pyramids was priceless. Thank you! I have been trying to call, searching online and until I accidentally bumped into your site I didn’t know. You’re awesome!

  9. Do you have an updated link to official boat prices for XOCHIMILCO? The link seems to be broken

  10. great Becky, I wish you shared more about your experience though! do you think 5 full days in Mexico city is too long?
    What other things you enjoyed there? How much was the Wrestling and Can we book online? is there a specific day for it?

    1. @Hatem, It’s a big city (like New York or Los Angeles), so you could definitely stay 5 days or longer without running out of things to do. My favorite parts were Teotihuacan & Xochimilco, as listed above.

      You can book wrestling online at this link, but it’s much cheaper in person. Plan on spending about $5 each way for a taxi (depends on where you’re staying) and $5-15 for a ticket depending on where you sit.

  11. Thanks Becky.
    Have you been to the Anthropology museum and Frida Kahlo? Any good?

    Do you have a FB page to follow so it came more handy :)?
    Thank you so much for the info about the wrestling.

  12. I got you 🙂 just followed you there.

    Did you buy the ticket online for the museum? Is that even possible. Heard the lines are long.

  13. Hi Becky, quick question from Mexico city. How fat is Xchimilco from Roma/ Condessa area and how to go? Some ppl say 2 hours and some say 40 minutes. Kinfly advice thanks

    1. @Hatem, If you drive and there’s no traffic (that never happens!), I think it could be 40 minutes because it’s only about 30 kilometers. On public transportation, it’s pretty far…1:15-1:45 depending on where you start from and how close you time the connections.

  14. HI BECKY! I AM SORRY YOU DID NOT ENJOY MEXICO CITY THE WAY I DID. I JUST GOT HOME LAST NIGHT, AFTER A WEEK’S STAY. I WAS EXPECTING A DIRTY, HODGEPODGE OF A METROPOLIS, WITH AN INDIFFERENT POPULATION. I COULDN’T HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG! THE RESIDENTS WE ENCOUNTERED COULDN’T HAVE BEEN MORE GRACIOUS AND ACCOMMODATING. FOR SUCH A LARGE CITY, THE VIBE WAS RELAXED. THE CITY IS QUITE SPREAD OUT, AND IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE EVERYTHING I WANTED TO SEE. THE CITY HAS EVERYTHING EUROPE HAS, AT A FRACTION OF THE PRICE. THE FOOD WAS AMAZING! THE ART AND ARCHITECTURE WAS EVEN BETTER! THEY HAVE EVERY STYLE, RANGING FROM AZTEC RUINS TO COLONIAL TO ART DECO/NOUVEAU TO MID CENTURY MODERN TO THE CONTEMPORARY INSANITY OF THE CARLOS SLIM MUSEUM. THE MURALS IN THE PALACE AND BELLAS ARTAS RIVALED ANYTHING IN RENAISSANCE ITALY. TRULY BREATHTAKING! I MISSED SEEING XOCHIMILCO, TEOTIHUACAN, ANTHROPOLOGY MUSEUM, LUCHA LIBRE. I WILL DEFINITELY GO BACK! YOU SHOULD GIVE IT ANOTHER SHOT!

    1. @Carol, I’m so glad you loved the trip and hope you get the chance to go back! I had an okay time, but with so many great places in this world, I’ll probably try somewhere different next time.

  15. If I may say, I don’t think that in four days you’d be able to appreciate all that Mexico City has to offer. Even if you’re not into museums, the suburb where the Frida Kahlo museum is located (Coyoacán) is a must visit, as well as El Bazar Sabado in San Angel. And if you go, do not miss the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico in the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes.

    These are just drops in a bucket of things to do in Mexico City. I really think you could come again and again and still find something new and interesting every time.

    1. @Gurpal, Thanks for stopping by! I did indeed go to Coyoacan and I tried to get tickets to the Ballet Folklorico but they were not performing the week I was there. I’m glad you love Mexico City, it just wasn’t for me. Generally speaking, I prefer smaller cities and/or the outdoors so it wasn’t a good fit for me. There’s somewhere for everyone and I’m thrilled that you love the area!

  16. Hi Becky
    Thank you for such an informative post. I am going to Mexico in December and am torn between doing Calakmul or Mexico city and Teotihuacan. Odd comparison I know, but here is my thinking: I will be going to many mayan ruins in the Yucatan including Chichen itza, Tulum, Muyil and Coba. So would it be worth it to do Calakmul also or try the Aztecs in Mexico city (apart from the modern city allure of course :)) From your post it looks like you have done Mayan sites, so if you had to choose which would you? Calakmul or Teotihuacan? Thanks!

    1. @Sujatha, I haven’t been to Calakmul, but the other Mayan sites I have visited have been wonderful (and Calakmul looks like it has the jungle setting that I love!). Since Teotihuacan is nowhere near the Mayan ruins, it will depend on if you have time to add in a totally different region/city to your plans. If you do, though, it’s VERY different!

      That said, I personally suffer from “ruins fatigue” and unless you are a history buff, I wouldn’t plan more than 2-3 ruins of any type in a week. After awhile it is hard to appreciate their individual nuances…especially when there are so many other aspects of Mexico to enjoy (adventure, cuisine, ecotourism, music, etc.).

  17. Amongst your own comments, you mention that you didn’t like the museum very much because you don’t like history. That pretty much explains why you didn’t love Mexico City, being that it is full of culture and history. You didn’t explain why you were unimpressed with the city, being that you seem to have participated in many of its activities.

    1. @Iggy, On the contrary, I’ve loved the history in many other places ranging from South America to Europe. But, I very much like hands-on tours and didn’t find very many in Mexico City.

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