Why You Should Visit Central Mexico

The Mexican Flag from the Zocalo

I set off to central Mexico following exams in late April. Instead of visiting some beach resort in Quintana Roo, I decided I wanted a bit of the real Mexican culture. I considered the Yucatan peninsula at first as well as Oaxaca, and Jalisco. I settled for the capital city also known as Ciudad de México often abbreviated as CDMX. I arrived in Mexico City in the afternoon and was immediately met by the lack of english speakers, so I mustered up my broken spanish and asked a local named Javier who kindly guided me to the nearest subway station which I could follow from there. He was patient enough to listen to my concerns in my subpar spanish and welcomed me to Mexico. This was my first impression of Mexico and to see how friendly and welcoming this man was, gave me an immediate appreciation for this country. After checking in to my hotel for $14 a night, I explored the city. It is a mix of Spanish architecture and modern influence with the hustle and bustle of a country like Vietnam. The streets are busy and chaotic but it all seems to work and flow very nicely. The insane number of police officers also help move flow and watch over the city, keeping an eye on the 20 million people living here. The altitude is also 2200 metres above sea level or higher than the summit of Whistler mountain. I, however, do not seem to feel much of an effect, just the daily fatigue of a day’s adventures.

The Zocalo, a central square in the Centro Historico
The view of the city from El Castillo of Chapultepec
Pallacio des Bellas Artes

Aside from exploring the city, communicating with the locals for street food, occasionally going off the beaten path, I also visited the canals of Xochimilco, a suburb in the south of the city, where colourful boats are steered by oarsmen who push a 6 metre stick into the river to move the “trajinera”. Navigation was a little sketchy due to the light train line being in construction midway through so having to get off and find the next station over by foot was a challenge. Subway is cheap however, about 5 pesos for one ticket or like 30 cents, and bussing is efficient and extensive with bus lanes and the option of not having to have exact change. I also visited the archaeological site of Teotihuacan, which was an hour’s bus ride north of the city. Walking the sites of early Mexican peoples and scaling the pyramids of the main complex is incredible especially because I’ve been learning about it in the courses I’ve taken this past semester. I ate lunch in a restaurant within a cave, and despite the prices, I managed to complete my goal of eating insects; this dish being crickets on a guacamole covered tortilla with lime.

(Left) A Trajinera on the canals of Xochimilco; (Right) The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan;
The view of Teotihuacan from the Pyramid of the Moon

After a few days in the city, I took a 4–5 hour bus ride north to the state of Guanajuato to the city of San Miguel de Allende. It was a much smaller town and the semi arid climate is more prevalent here. Also noticeable are the higher amount of english speakers. Almost every third person was speaking english. It is supposed to be a town that many Americans and Canadians retire to and I can see why. It has a small town charm and all the buildings have the same red, orange, and yellow colour palate. All of the streets are cobbled or brick, and everything is within walking distance. I also bought locally made chocolate with chile made from cacao beans grown in Tabasco. Navigation here was much easier than in Mexico City and it would be the most english speaking of the places I stayed in.

(Left) One of the many churches in San Miguel de Allende; (Right) The red and yellow homes and cobbled streets of SMA;

After I took an hour bus ride to the city of Guanajuato, not to be confused by the state of the same name. Here the city has a pastel coloured palate like that of a Wes Anderson film. The city also sits within a valley and scaling the sides of the mountains grants spectacular views of the town. Most streets are pedestrian friendly as vehicles can get around town through a complex network of tunnels underground and within the mountains. One of the most intriguing aspects of this town is the Museo de las Momias, which is a museum of exhumed bodies from a local cemetery put on display. Most of the bodies’ skin and hair remain intact and their positions they are in give an eerie vibe especially with the presence of babies and a fetus as well as murder victims. Another day I visited a small town at the summit of one of the mountains in which several mines characterized the town. This mining of silver is what helped kick start the wealth of the city hundreds of years earlier. The remainder of my time here consisted of trying new local foods such a the mamey fruit, sopas, huaraches, zapote, etc. and enjoying spectacular views from the Pipila monument or other points of interest with some elevation, perhaps the top of a mountain.

(Left) Teatro Juarez in the centre of Guanajuato; (Right) A park across from the theatre lined with restaurants;
The beautifully coloured palate of Guanajuato at sunset
(Left) the mummies of Guanajuato; (Right) The view from the Pipila monument overlooking the town;

My time in Mexico was brief, but I was glad to have experienced some of the culture and people who live here. I was impressed with a number of things. Bussing is very efficient and generally cheap. You don’t need exact change when loading on city buses as well and bus terminals provide buses to almost every location you can think of. English is also very sparse in central Mexico which forces you to muster up or learn some key spanish phrases or words to engage in speaking to someone for directions or something similar. The traffic is very chaotic yet, the drivers all know how to drive in close quarters and appear to be very skilled. Mexico is also very affordable and prices are cheap. Subway costs thirty cents or so, and entry to museums are around five dollars. Food and alcohol is also very cheap; street food tacos can go for less than a dollar and I’ve bought beer for a dollar as well. The total expenses for the trip including the $463 round trip flight and accommodations amounts to $1,006.50. In terms of safety, I can say that I have never felt unsafe the entire duration I was in Mexico. Mexico is modern, beautiful, and impressive. I believe everyone should give it a visit and see for themselves. Cheers to this beautiful country and til the next adventure.

Coffee overlooking Guanajuato
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