Mexico City is one of the world’s most captivating travel destinations, a vibrant and passionate Latin American center with an infectious spirit and energy that is sure to suck you in deep. Of all the places in the world I have been lucky enough to travel to, Mexico City (otherwise referred to as Mexico DF) is one that lingers in my mind years after my initial visit, beckoning me back for round two.
For those seeking an immersive and action-packed urban adventure, Mexico City has it all. Incredible food, intriguing (and often offbeat) markets, thrilling festivals, and a thriving cafe and bar scene. The history of Mexico DF is as dramatic and engaging as the city itself, pieces of which can be found in the many museums, historical buildings and ancient ruins spread throughout the city limits and beyond.
From morning until night, Mexico City is alive and ready to draw you into its unique brand of magic, and visitors must prepare themselves to be swept away and enchanted by this city of almost ten million.
Mexico City DF
Mexico City Safety
First, let’s debunk a few myths. Mexico City has a somewhat shady reputation, often portrayed as crime ridden, overly busy and difficult to navigate. It is, however, quite safe as long as you follow a few basic safety guidelines. As with any well-touristed city, travelers must keep an eye on their belongings. Pickpockets are prevalent at the tourist hot-spots of Plaza Garibaldi and Zona Rosa, with visitors being advised to take particular care at night.
Car owners make up 60% of the population meaning the roads are busy, flush with impatient and erratic motorists. So, (at the risk of sounding like a concerned mother), be sure to look both ways before crossing. Another valuable safety tip, to ensure you kick your trip off in a safe and stress-free style is to pre-book a reliable Mexico City airport transfer service such as Blacklane. Although taxi scams have decreased in number since their 90’s heyday, they are still an ongoing problem, especially for first-time visitors.
Tenochtitlan to Mexico DF
Mexico City’s history is a true saga, extending back to its initial founding as Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs in 1325. Tenochtitlan was a city of wealth and grandeur, boasting enormous temples, palaces, and merchant centers.
However, In 1519 the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés besieged and razed the city, claiming it and renaming it for Spain. In fact, the current seat of the federal executive, the Palacio National, stands at the site of Montezuma’s original palace and is built in part with repurposed materials from the original Aztec city.
A visit to the Palacio National is a must for anyone with an interest in the city’s history, as well as fans of the artist Diego Rivera (sometimes better known as Frida Kahlo’s husband). One of the palace’s main stairwells features a triptych of brightly colored murals painted by the artist in the mid-20th century depicting Mexican civilization from the arrival of Quetzalcóatl (the Aztec serpent god) to the post-revolutionary period. The palace holds an extra bonus for cat lovers, the grassy central square is a place where you can find dozens of moggy’s relaxing and basking in the sunshine.
Visiting Frida Kahlo’s House
Located in the affluent university suburb of Coyoacán, south of the city center is another highlight – the Frida Kahlo museum. Otherwise known as the Blue House, or La Casa Azul, for its intense cobalt blue coloring, Kahlo’s former residence has been filled with artifacts from her life, along with countless paintings by both herself and her husband Diego Rivera.
The museum tells Kahlo’s story in a delicate and humanizing way, allowing you to gain an insight into her life; one filled with tragedy, triumph, debilitating illness. The suburb of Coyoacán itself is also quite enchanting, a bohemian feeling neighborhood with plenty of green plazas and cute cobblestoned streets. There are also many great cafes and coffee shops for a post-museum pick me up.
Mexico City Market Guide
For market lovers, Mexico City is pretty much beyond compare. La Merced is the city’s oldest market, located just east of the Centro Historico, and is the original site of Spanish-Mexican trade. The market is divided into seven handy zones, and here you will find a huge variety of traditional products and foodstuffs, from fried Chapulines (grasshoppers) and pork skin, through to festive Mexican holiday decorations and traditional hand painted tableware.
A great place to pick up souvenirs or presents for family and friends back home. Those looking for second-hand treasures and antiques should instead head to the Tianguis (open air market) in Lagunilla on a Sunday, while foodies must make time to visit Mercado de San Juan, a high-end produce market that is popular with locals chefs due to its variety and quality. Rumor has it, you can even buy armadillo meat here (although we didn’t spot any)…
Deserving special note, however, is Mercado Sonora, commonly referred to as the ‘Witchcraft Market’. Here the goods peddled are of a more alternative nature, potions that guarantee success in love or wealth, herbal remedies, ingredients, and instructions for a variety of spells and curses as well as a number of charms, jewelry items and tokens to ward off evil spirits (or invite them to do your bidding).
My purchases included an unnervingly cute little voodoo doll (subject TBC) along with a small silver Santa Muerte token, inspired by the many street corner shrines I had seen dedicated to the skeletal, female, ‘Deity of Death’ upon my walks through the city.
Mexico City for Vegetarians
Although Mexico as a whole is quite vegetarian-friendly, Mexico City’s food culture is extremely meat-centric and can be a challenge for those who wish avoid it. The smell of barbecuing meat hangs heavy in the air near street food hotspots, vendors tending smoky grills, laden with hard to identify cuts. As vegetarians traveling in the city, we did have a little trouble truly immersing ourselves in the food culture.
However, once we discovered the delights of traditional Mexican breakfasts we were on a roll, ordering these for basically every meal as they were the only thing that was guaranteed meat-free. Layers of sauced-up fresh corn tortillas, topped with fried eggs and queso fresco. Delicious. Quesadilla stands are also a great option for vegetarians, as you can pick exactly which ingredients you want to be included in your dish.
But be warned, anything bean based is likely to be prepared with lard. We did however, break our fast to sample a few of the aforementioned Chapulines (deep fried grasshoppers) which were surprisingly tasty and nutty in flavor.
As far as recommendations go for a city such as Mexico DF, they truly are endless. I could keep on typing forever, but the observations and words of one person will never truly capture the city’s spirit. From the 13th century, Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor to the imposing, Spanish built central Zocalo square, time spent in Mexico City is time excellently spent.
Lovers of art, culture, and history, make a positive life decision and add this intoxicating city to your next travel itinerary. If you’re looking for where to stay in Mexico or things to do in Cancun, check out this guide.
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