Once upon a time I backpacked in Mexico for two months back in 2003. I was enthralled with Mexico and loved it. I had planned to go to Mexico City, however every single Mexican I asked about it told me in no uncertain terms not to go. They told me it was a crime infested shit hole and was too dangerous for them, let alone a tourist. A cab driver told me that you couldn’t even drive with your windows down for fear of being car jacked or robbed. Not a single person told me I should go. I listened to them and only passed through Mexico City twice just to catch a bus somewhere else. I remember my mind being blown at its size and density, but not much else. Heeding their warnings I was kinda terrified while I was there (for no real reason). I’ve regretted skipping it ever since.
As a country, Mexico is pretty fucking amazing and I’ve been there seven times in the past 15 years or so. Tickets were pretty cheap and we had some miles that reduced the cost even further. Lodging was a steal. The exchange rate right now is heavily in our favor, reducing the cost even further. Unlike other trips to Mexico, we didn’t have to rent a car which saved us hundreds of dollars.
Our place was on Plaza Cibeles in La Roma neighborhood. We stayed on the 15th floor, which was quite a feat for me as I’m terrified of heights. I kinda got over it staying here and that was kinda the point.
This area was chock full of restaurants, bars, coffee, etc. It was super safe, we didn’t feel sketched out the whole time we were there. Its also ideal for exploring other nearby neighborhoods, the Centro Historico, and Bosque de Chapultepec. This is a different type of trip for us… usually I want to get as far away from populated places as I can. However, cities have a lot to offer and we decided to do an urban trip this time.
Mexico City is the 2nd biggest metro area in the world and words cannot convey the massive size and density of this city. Its really something special to see. It has a massive subway system with 25 cent tickets and it is fucking packed. We rode the subway once and it was like seeing the Tokyo subways where people are packing and pushing to squeeze into every last space.
We immediately noticed we were having issues with the elevation, the city is well over 7000′ and we are from sea level. It took about three days to completely adjust and feel normal when climbing stairs, etc.
Our first full day, we were lucky enough to have a friend take us to a gigantic restaurant that even had a damn bullring. The drive there was insane, mile after mile of high rises in all directions. The traffic was the craziest I’ve ever seen and I was thankful to have not been driving. There was traditional music and dancing the whole time. All of the food was family style traditional Mexican food and the best mezcal I’ve ever had.
Here is a guy at the restaurant that had trained little birds that would come out of the cage, eat some seeds and take two fortunes out. Then the guy would give them to you to read.
Our second day we took a trip with our friends friends up to Teotihuacan pyramids/ruins. Unfortunately I started the day shitting my brains out, but decided to go anyhow. I pounded water and gatorade to stay hydrated to stave off the effects of the heat, dry air, and moderate/severe diarrhea. This area is vast and we walked a few miles. We climbed the pyramid of the Sun, which was pretty damn difficult considering the elevation here. Honestly it was the hardest climb cardiovascularly speaking that I’ve done in recent memory including pretty brutal 3000′ climbs in the Cascades.
Our buddy in the know told us about a nearby restaurant called La Gruta, which is literally inside a cave and served traditional foods including crickets and worms. Its fancier than we tend to be attracted to, but fuck it, we were on vacation.
On Tuesday, we went down to the borough of Coyoacan. It was a separate city that got swallowed whole by Mexico City. It was quite beautiful to walk through, enough that we decided to return later in the week to more fully explore. Our goal for this day were the Frida Kahlo museum and the Leon Trotsky museum. This is an important pilgrimage for art fans and commies alike. I really had no idea Frida was a communist, in fact she’s the one that helped Trotsky gain political asylum in Mexico. Stalin had him killed here anyhow.
That evening, I was feeling well enough to go out with our friend. He took me to a Luchadore match and it was a fucking blast. I highly recommend it. The crowd wasn’t too big and it was probably around 1/3 tourists. The beers were huge, but weak as fuck. I drank two and *kinda* had a buzz. There were around six matches total, starting with the minor leaguers and working up the the big boys. With each match the skills increased correspondingly with the flair and drama.
A bonus at the end was finding these anti-Trump Luchadore themed t-shirts:
Wednesday we walked to the National Anthropology Museum. I’ve been to museums all over North America and Europe, and this one is in my top 5 without a doubt. It took all day to explore. On the ground level were in depth exhibits on ancient pre-hispanic cultures all over Mexico. On the top level were in depth exhibits on indigenous cultures today in Mexico. It is truly astounding and a must-see museum.
We both love artisan markets and Mexico City has a pretty big one called La Ciudadela. I collect traditional masks, mostly from Mexico. You have to hunt around for the good shit though. Many of the shops are crap, but I’d say one out of ten were real gems. I go for the dirty, shitty looking ones with poor lighting. In these stores you will find the best handicrafts.
Check out my mask haul:
Later in the day we went to the Diego Rivera museum, which houses one of his most gigantic and famous murals. I was surprised to learn he was also a communist. We didn’t learn much about Mexican artists in school, much less communist ones. That’s a real shame that our education was so propagandized and pro-capitalist. I was grateful to learn more about them now.
Friday we went back to Coyoacan. We mostly just walked around checking out the beautiful neighborhood and had a leisurely lunch on the Plaza.
Saturday we started the day by going to the Bosque de Chapultepec (giant city park) and visited the Castillo de Chapultepec which houses the National History Museum. I was really struggling with pollution or something on this morning, my sinuses were producing extraordinary amounts of mucus and my tonsils were swollen to the point I was gagging and nearly puking. Whatever I was reacting to stopped thankfully after a few hours and I felt normal again. After this we returned to the Historic Center to see the remaining major sites.
We were able to get into Bellas Artes which had tremendous pieces and murals contained inside. Again there was a theme of anti-fascism and anti-capitalism (at least that I picked up on). We went to the Zocalo which was absolutely packed with people, just a sea of humanity. Finally spent, we returned to our place and packed up to leave at 430AM.
Mexico City even has a large bike share program and protected bike lanes.
I’m a big fan of street art, graffiti, and murals. Mexico City didn’t disappoint.
On our last day, the pollution cleared a bit and revealed the Volcanoes of Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl. Iztaccihuatl is higher than any mountain in the lower 48. Popo is currently active. They’re faint but you can make them out with conical Popo on the right and Iztaccihuatl more broad on the left:
I can’t recommend going to Mexico City highly enough. Mexico gets a bad rap from racist and anti-immigrant US media, either being represented as a narco-infested, deadly shithole or a place full of only high end resorts for rich chuds and woo girls. Its a normal place where people get up and go to work everyday like anywhere else. Its as safe as any American/Canadian or European city. The food is amazing even though I shit my brains out for a few days there (not sure if it was the food or water). While I love outdoor, remote wilderness adventures, going to one of the worlds mega-cities is also a pretty awesome experience.