MEXICO CITY — Things To Do

The Zocalo Square in Mexico City. Photo: Wendy Carrillo

I love Mexico City (CDMX), there’s so many things to do! I mainly decided to write this because friends who are traveling there for the 1st time always ask me what to do and I find myself emailing or Facebook posting things to do. May as well just have a handy guide ready!

The itinerary below is designed mostly for first timers who want to take it all in a few short days. There’s a mix of street food, fancy eats, art, culture and history mixed in. Enjoy!

Getting Around: Uber is now available in CDMX. In the below, where I say grab a taxi, if you have wifi, you can also catch an Uber. I never pay for international data, so I use the local pink/white or brown/yellow taxis, which show the driver’s photo and information on a sheet displayed on the window. I’ve never felt unsafe and have used them by myself. Also, jump on the buses and metro! But do be cautious, that goes without saying for ANY country.

Wifi: If you don’t have an international data plan, turn your phone to Airplane Mode ✈️, turn on your Wifi finder and connect. I have AT&T and have never received international data charges while doing this.

Peso to Dollar: At the time that I wrote this (Sept. 1, 2016), the rate was $1US = $18.80MXP. As rates change, so will the prices I marked below.

Day 1: The Historic Core @ the Zocalo

9am: Have breakfast at La Terraza,” the rooftop terrace at the Best Western Majestic Hotel overlooking the Zocalo. It’s an incredible view with buffet and it’s all delicious. Based on the value of the Peso, it’s approx. $15US per person. They open at 7am and if you’re an early bird, you may be able to catch the flag being raised at the square, it also adds more time for you to enjoy this historic area!

11am -12pm: After breakfast, visit the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral which was finished in 1656 and gaze at the amazing architecture. CDMX was built on top of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which is both insane and depressing (the whole genocide, destruction and erasure of people and all). You will see peep holes on the grounds of the Cathedral where archologists “rediscoverd” an ancient temple when the city was digging tunnels for the Metro expansion. Yes. FREE.

The view from a Zocalo window room at The Majestic Best Western where I stayed on one of my trips.

12pm — 2pm: El Templo Mayor.” Behind the Cathedral, lies the exposed temple and a new museum designed specifically after its discovery which is also home to the Coyolxauhqui Stone, found at the site. The entrace fee will allow you to walk around portions of the temple and give you access to the museum. I can spend all day in a museum, but you can walk the temple and the museum in about 2.5hrs. The entrace fee is $57MXP, approx. $3US

2pm — 3:30pm-ish: The National Palace. This place is amazing and is home to Diego Rivera’s “Mexico Through the Centuries” murals depict Mexico’s history which are just so incredibly thought provoking. Pop culture reference: In the movie, “Frida” with Selma Hayek, Alfred Molina who plays Diego Rivera is painting the mural when he and Frida meet. FREE

4pm: Go down the Metro station right on the Zocalo outside the National Palace and buy an ice cream at the McDonalds ice cream shop. This is like visiting a very busy subway stop in New York. Walk around some more and admire the trees, the giant piñatas decorating the Zocalo, the various statues, architecture, sit down and people watch. FREE.

5pm-ish. Maybe you need a drink and some chill time at this point. Go have a drink at Terraza Bar and Restaurant at the Gran Hotel, another rooftop bar on the opposite side of the block as Best Western Majestic Hotel. This hotel is a bit more fancy. If you go right as the sun begins to set, you will see the lights decorating the Zocalo Square light up. It’s pretty cool.

6:30pm-ish. Dinner! Walk around some more, admire the colonial architecture and walk (5min) to a fancy dinner at Azul Historico, where the trees are trimmed with streamers and candles — real ones. Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita is considered the anthropologist of Mexican gastronomy and is serving up nothing but mouth savoring dishes with historical and regional value. I would recommend you go right around dusk, so that you enjoy the setting sun as you walk and the magic lights. Make a reservation.

The rest of the night is up to you!

Day 2: Parks, Art and Street Food

9am: Spend the morning at Chapultepec Park, which is like visiting New York’s Central Park. It’s huge! Have the taxi driver drop you off as close to Chapultepec Castle as possible, best entrance is on Chapultepec Ave. The castle, which is in the middle and on a hill, is free and has incredible stained glass and amazing views. Make your way towards the lake, lots of vendors selling fresh fruit, street tacos and other snacks. Exit on Reforma Ave. on the other side of the park and catch a cab towards your next stop at Alameda Park. PHOTO ALERT: As you exit the park on Reforma Ave., there is a middle divider with a sculpture of bronze Angel Wings, by Mexican sculptor Jorge Marin called “Alas de la Ciudad,” or “Wings of the City.” FREE.

Once in the cab, you’re going to pass Diana the Huntress Fountain and the Angel of Independence on your drive.

12pm: Benito Juarez Hemicycle: Have the taxi drop you off at this incredible site, it’s kinda strange/cool to have this Greek-inspired monument dedicated to the legacy of one of Mexico’s presidents who was of Zapotec indigenous origin. The hemicyle is located at Alemeda Park on Juarez Ave., which has an interesting history of being a place where witches were once burned at the stake, much like the Salem witch trials. Walk through the park and its many Greco-Roman mythology inspired fountains and make your way to Palacio Bellas Artes. I hope you’ve taken advantage of the many food vendors on the street! FREE.

1:30pm: Want some coffee/dessert/bathroom? At the end of Alameda Park, you will see Palacio Bellas Artes right across the Sears Tower. Take a break, go inside the Sears Tower and head to the 8th floor. Have coffee at Cafe de la Gran Ciudad and take in the views from the balcony. Chill for a bit. This part of CDMX is considered to be the just outside the entrance of the Historic Core, some streets don’t allow cars. It’s all pedestrian, like a promonade. Although, main streets do have cars and when people cross, it almost seems like hundreds! Think New York Times Square if Times Square looked like a colonial city.

2:30pm — 4:30pm: Feeling rested? OK good. Time for art! Palacio Bellas Artes is incredible! This magical place holds the murals of the great muralsists of Mexico: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros as well as a wing of modern art. Make sure you ask if all wings of the museum — especially the murals — are open! Each wing (temporary and permanent installations) is $60MXP, approx $3US. You can buy tickets for either or both, and for a couple dollars more, you can buy an English iPod tour.

4:30pm: Walk around the small streets as you enter the Historic Core. Get lost in hidden small churches, pop-up art installations, visit The House of Tiles on Callejon de Condesa, a small street between 5 de Mayo and 16 de Septiembre streets. The House of Tiles is an 18th century palace and architectural beauty, the entire facade consists of ornate tile from the state of Puebla. Inside, there is a 1925 mural by José Clemente Orozco by the staircase that you must stop to admire. This section is a few short blocks towards El Zocalo. FREE.

6pm: Hungry? You can have dinner at La Case de Madero, the restaurant at the House of Tiles, so people like it, some don’t, last I checked it was buffet style. I recommend dinner at Cafe Tacuba, just a couple of blocks away, it’s hearty. Or you can try one of the many bars / restaurants that strike your fancy on the side streets if you decide to stay in the area. If you’re feeling adventurous, leave the Historic Core, get in a cab and try any of these “2016 Best New Restaurants” in CDMX.

The rest of the night is up to you!

Day 3: Teotihuacan and Xochimilco

For this trip, you either need to buy an excursion from your hotel, or you can go to the Zocalo and talk to a “Visit Mexico” tour guide. However, if you buy an excursion, you may not be able to do both on the same day. I have a guy, because, off course I do! Carlos Vargas is a tour guide with his own company, Travel Mas Mexico, and he can arrange a personal trip for you. My girlfriends and I met him on one of our trips, used his services and were very happy. Great prices. I believed we paid $40US each to be driven around in his private van to various places all day. We tipped him generously, he was the best!

My friend Michelle with Carlos, Our awesome tour guide!

8am: Start your day early. Teotihuacan, the location of the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon is about an hour away from Mexico City and you want to spend at least 3–4 hours at the location. Depends how fast you can climb an ancient temple! Pro-tip: When you climb the Temple of the Sun, at the very top, there is a black metal piece on the ground that marks the very center of the temple. If you get kissed by a butterfly at the altitude, it means you are fortunate and blessed. Some people like to stay here the entire day. Half a day was fine for me. I bought the red stone hoop earrings I’m wearing in the photo below from on of the many vendors at the site.

Note: Teotihuacan is FREE. What you pay for is either a car if you drive there and need to park or a taxi or tour bus to take you and bring you back to the city. I’ve only gone with a private tour, but here’s a WikiTravel link on using public transit to get to the sit.

Here I am at the top of the Temple of the Sun. Behind me, the Temple of the Moon. 2010.

2:30/3pm: If you leave Teotihucan by 1pm, you can be in Xochimilco within 2hrs with traffic, maybe less. Come hungry and with cash. This is a great place to eat, buy lots of artisan crafts, hand made jewerly for yourself or as gifts and enjoy live music. You can buy food to take on the boat, I recommend the tacos from the stand right in the middle of the plaza where the workers are cooking up a storm. It smells delicious. Once on the little boat and on the water, other boats will come to you and sell you more food, drinks, beer and other goodies. Musicians are also available to come onto your boat and serenade you. I like the Mariachis — make sure that with any band, either Mariachi, Trio or Norteño, they tell you how much per song before they start. Costs of the boat — you are paying for the boat, not per person. There are signs in tourist areas (like the Zocalo) that say the boat costs $350MXP (approx. $20US) per hour. So, whether you rent a boat for 1 person or 5, it costs the same. Two hours on a boat is a good use of your time if you’re eating, drinking and just relaxing. There are more extensive environmental/ ecological tours, but those would require more time. Otherwise, just do the hour. As any place, this is a tipping economy, be generous!

Walk around the plaza, see the Voladores fly from the pole in the center of the plaza (tip them!), eat more fruit, ice cream, buy stuff. Have fun!

By 7pm, Xochimilco will be closing down for the night, and you my friend, will be tired. The rest of the night is up to you!

Day 4: A Day at the Museums

Today you will visit the neighborhoods of Coyoacan for Frida’s House (omg!) and Polanco.

10am / 11am: Buy your tickets online to Casa Azul and avoid the LONG lines to get in if you buy tickets at the door. Casa Azul is Diego Rivera’s and Frida Kahlo’s home, like for reals. It’s a wonderful place to spend a few hours if you’re a fan of their work. Several art pieces are on display as well as their actual stuff like clothes, dishes, furniture, the bed where Frida painted when she was in her full body cast, its all pretty incredible. Get the early 10am or 11am entrance and you can be done in few hours. Do not be late to your appointment or you will lose your spot .The artsy Coyoacan neighborhood is about 30 min from CDMX. Entrance is $140MXP for foreigners, approx. $7US

2pm: Make your way back to CDMX proper and go to the Museum of Anthropology, home to the original Sun Stone, aka, the Aztec Calendar. This museum is amazing, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to roam around it. You can easily spend a whole day here (or more!), but a good afternoon works just as well. The Mexica wing is my favorite. The museum is closed on Mondays and opened 9am-7pm. $65MXP, approx. $4US

7pm: After the museum, you can take a leisurely 20min stroll (or 10 min taxi) to the high-end neighborhood of Polanco (right behind the museum) and go have a drink at Living Room Bar and dinner at Spanish meets Mexican culinary delight, J by Jose Andres, both at the swanky W Hotel which overlooks the city.

Note: The Musuem of Anthropology is across the street as Chapultepec Park. You can easily swap out iteneraries and do both of these activities on the same day.

Day 5: Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

10am: Grab a taxi and go spend the day the Basilica. This compound has several structures which include the original basilica which rests on the hill of Tepeyac where the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego. You can climb the hill. There is a small church to the side of the old basilica where indigenous people were allowed to worship once they converted, because, well, they weren’t allowed inside the Spanish church. Awkward… I should note that the basilica is built over a place of worship for the indigenous female deity, Tonatzin. Because, off course. FREE

The new and old Basilica of Lady of Guadulupe alongside the bell and clock tower. Photo: Wendy Carrillo

That’s it!

Hope these itineraries have been helpful! Now that you know what to do, I would recommend pulling up a Google Map of Mexico City and mapping out these locations in the event you want to mix them up, which you totally can. My goal was to give you things to do that were walking distance to each other. But you don’t have to do it that way, for example, you can to the Cathedral at the Zocalo and take a taxi to the Basilica on the same day. Or you can go to El Templo Mayor at the Zocalo and take a taxi to the Museum of Anthropology on the same day or take a taxi to Teotihuacan (just remember this is an hour away). Or you can do the Chapultepec Park and Castle and cross the street to the Museum of Anthropology on the same day. Or you can visit Casa Azul and head towards Xochimilco on the same day.

You can mix it up to whatever works for you!

BONUS: 12 hour lay over in Mexico City:

Last time I was in Mexico City, we had a 12 hour layover, arriving super early in the morning. We put our luggage in a secure locker at the airport (located in the main hallway by a 7–11) and headed into the city. We allotted nine hours to hang out and be back in time to catch our flight.

This is what we did:

7am Breakfast at La Terraza at the Hotel Majestic, walked around the Zocalo and visited the Cathedral, El Templo Mayor (we didnt go inside the museum), National Palace, bought tickets online for Casa Azul (no waiting in line!) and ended our day at Xochimilco around 3:30pm. All this was possible thanks to Carlos, our tour guide who drove us around and planned out the route. Giving ourselves time for traffic, we made it back to the airport just in time.


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