By on April 27, 2016

On a chilly cold night we landed in Mexico city after a few hours of flight delay. We checked into our Airbnb accommodation, our host welcomed us with his smiling face at 2am.  I was relieved and surprised to find a heater in the room, I was hoping this cold was unusual for this time of the year. After all,  the sun plays a big part in the decision to holiday when you live up in the North of England, where a trip to London’s grey skies feels less gloomy. I lay in bed wishing for the early morning sun rays to wake my sleepy eyes and rejuvenate my tired body. I woke up with the sun warming my face and the sounds of the hawkers on the street almost transporting me back to India. A great start to our 2.5 weeks backpacking across Mexico and Cuba.

Mexico is such a vast country with stunning landscape, rich history and cultures and amazing diversity. In such an enormous country, it’s always difficult to choose a particular region to explore in a short visit. We finally narrowed it down to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico City and Guanajuato. We’d also booked a one day hike to the Iztaccihuatl volcano which unfortunately got cancelled the day we landed in Mexico due to the storm that hit that area the previous day. We were really looking forward to our first Volcano hike but now that’s for another time.

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Mexico City or DF (District Federal) as it’s known is one of the biggest metropolis with happy people, huge and warm smiles, people breaking into a gig on the streets, couples kissing on the escalators and an energy that is contagious. The city has something to offer to suit everyone’s taste, a cliche but holds absolutely true for this city- from street food to cantinas to Michelin star restaurants, food lovers will not tire of trying out different things on offer. It is a cultural haven with many interesting museums, art galleries, theatre and an equally impressive street art scene. The walls in the city have turned into canvasses for protest and some stunning graffiti can be seen across the city. The fascinating fact is that the government encourages it and street artists are invited to create murals in an effort to inspire the youth. In Palmitas, a small town in the Northwest of Mexico 200 houses are covered with one big colourful mural. Isn’t that amazing?

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The Zocalo area of Mexico city is seeped deep in its ancient history with the Mayan ruins a few blocks away. The urban and the ancient stand side by side.If you move a little away, the city has a more European flavour and some other parts of the city are lined with food and juice carts, cobbler stands, hawkers selling eatable on carry on baskets. This is why I fell in love with the city. Even though it is a developing country, It’s a perfect mix of both the worlds- the convenience of the first world and the vibrancy, colors and energy of a developing nation. If you can get past the pronunciation of the street and neighbourhoods then you’ll pretty soon feel right at home. Due to the size of the city and the unlimited options it can get a little overwhelming but not if you plan well. Here is our list of the best of Mexico City.

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WHAT TO SEE IN MC?

EXPLORE THE HISTORIC CENTRE OF ZOCALO

Zocalo is the main square of the city and considered the largest city squares in the world.It has been a gathering ground for people since the Aztecs and a place for national celebration,protest, cultural events and concerts. The Mexican flag is ceremonially raised in the morning and lowered in the evening every day. An interesting fact is that 18,000 Mexican posed nude for US photographer, Spencer Tunick right in this square.

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Since a lot of interesting sites are right at the Zocalo and some a few minutes walks from it, it’s a great place to start your day and explore some of the best attraction on foot. On the north of it is the cathedral Metropolitan. It is one of the biggest cathedrals in the Americas and took almost 300 years to build. To the East is the Palacio Nacional, The Presidential Palace. It’s a big structure covering the entire length of the East of the Zocalo and is the site of the original palace of the Aztec ruler. The walls along the main staircase are covered in Diego Riviera’s murals, his own interpretation of the history of Mexico.

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A block away is the Temple of Mayor,  an archaeological ruin which was considered the centre of the universe.  It  showcases ruins from one of the main temples of the Aztec Empire and due to the ongoing excavation, the museum continues to grow.

The Zocalo is buzzing with life with locals and tourist alike. The Aztec dancers can be seen in feathered headgear and loin cloths moving around and chanting. It’s a good place to buy silver jewellery along the west of Zocalo or enjoy a meal in many restaurant or hole in the wall eateries.

VIEW OF THE CITY

Start your day with taking in the incredible view of the Mexico City and two snow-capped volcanoes from the skyscraper, Torre Latinoamericana. The tower in itself is quite popular for being able to withstand two very strong earthquakes. It’s an office building but the viewing platform is open to the public. The elevator takes you to the 37th floor from where you can enjoy the view or take a smaller elevator and go further to the 41st floor and to the highest viewing platform further up via two flight of stairs. There are some coin operated telescopes as well. It’s an incredible view of the city and the volcanoes in the distance and the views stretching as far as the eyes can see in all the directions.  We spent almost two hours there enjoying the views with some cocktail and munchies from the restaurant on the 41st floor.

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The two snowcapped volcanoes can be seen in the distance almost merging into the fluffy clouds

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The skyscraper is Torre Latinoamericana from where we could see the city view

WALK AROUND THE CHAPULTEPEC PARK

The Chapultepec park is the biggest city park in Latin America and an important urban green space for such a large metropolis. The park is popular for its lakes, zoo,garden area, castle, sports facilities and the museums. National History Museum, Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of Anthropology are all located inside the park. It’s comparable to what Hyde park is to London and Central park to New York City. If you have plenty of time at hand then this is a great place to spent some relaxing time at one of the lakeside restaurants away from the hustle.

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GET LOST IN EL MERCED MARKET

It is the oldest market in Mexico city, half of it is open air and other half covered. It is divided into various lanes and bylanes each dedicated to a different product like fruits and vegetables, cleaning and electrical supplies, meat and wedding finery etc. You can get anything here if you have the patience to look for it. Some rows would have vendors selling avocados or nopals others selling insects and Mexican delicacies. If you enjoy a rustic shopping experience then this is the place. It’s chaotic with people shouting, carts, cars and bicycles trying to pass through the narrow roads all at once, but it’s an excellent window to the Mexican’s ordinary trading life and culture. It’s alive and kicking even as early as 7 in the morning. We had our breakfast here, a mix of fresh fruits served in a tall plastic glass.

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MUSEUMS

Mexico has a lot of very interesting museums. One thing that you’ll constantly struggle with is the lack of time with so many things to see and do. Of the lot, these two are a must visit for museum goers.

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The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most prominent building in the city. The exterior and interior are both opulent and great top view of it can be seen from the Latinoamericana Tores. Prominent exhibits include murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo. The palace also hosts theatrical, ballet, opera and symphony performances. It is walking distance from Zocalo and you are bound to cross this imposing neoclassical Palace.

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National Museum of Anthropology

National Museum of Anthropology is the largest and most visited museum located within the Chapultepec park. It’s most famous collection is the Stone of the Sun, the Aztec calendar. It was discovered beneath Zocalo and was hung on the exterior wall of the Metropolitan Cathedral until it was bought to the museum. It’s easy to spend half a day exploring the comprehensive exhibits from the pre-Columbia period, Mayan and Aztec civilisation to the Spanish conquests. We didnt have the time to visit the National Museum of Anthropology which we both were interested in, that remains a sore point for us. But, we were so charmed by this city that we’re glad we’ve left somethings for a revisit.

VISIT FRIEDA KAHLO’S NEIGHBOURHOOD IN CAYOCAN

Cayocan is the bohemian neighbourhood in the south of Mexico City. This is where Frieda Kahlo lived in her blue house with her husband Diego Riviera. This neighbourhood was so lovely that we went there twice. We walked in the quiet neighbourhood admiring the old beautiful mansions. I’m a big sucker for colourful homes so we stopped every now and then taking pictures. Get some coffee from cafe Jarocho and hang out at Jardin Hidalgo watching couples kiss, kids run around and cute grannies giddily giggling away with each other or shop at the artisan’s market for some great finds. We met an old lady who saw us taking pictures and asked us if we’d like to take pictures of her house. She was speaking in English which is very rare in Mexico. We quickly agreed since I was curious to see what these mansions were like. She took us inside and through the big wooden door into an open courtyard with a mosaic fountain and a spiral staircase leading to the first floor. A man came out and apologised on behalf of the lady, told us that was his house and we can’t take pictures. He seemed pretty use to such intrusion bought in by the lady so we led ourselves out but I was happy to get a peek into one of the houses. A little walk further will take you to the neighbourhood of San Angel which is equally interesting and a chic place for an evening.

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Both Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s houses have now been converted into museums. We went to the blue house where Frida lived with Diego after their marriage. The queues are long and you’ll no doubt have no wait even if you’ve purchased the ticket online or gone early morning to queue up, that’s how popular the museum is. It’s a beautiful house with equally stunning exhibits. What makes the museum different is that this lets you peep into her private world and come out feeling overwhelmed and inspired. Read about our incredible experience walking around her house, Frida Kahlo museum- La Casa Azul

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FEEL LIKE A HIPSTER IN ROMA AND CONDESSA

Roma and Condesa are artsy and bohemian residential neighbour of Mexico city. It’s filled with beautiful cafes and restaurant, tree-lined avenues and friendly plazas, art galleries and hip boutiques. These are some of the best places to get a taste of Mexico’s hipster urban culture. We couldn’t find the time to go to these neighbourhoods during the day so we went bar hopping trying our the different mexican drinks. These neighbourhoods are have some of the best bars and clubs in the city with a booming party scene.

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MEXICO CITY AFTER DARK

Mexico City is not only buzzing till wee hours but the night scene is pretty impressive with a wide selection of pubs, bars, salsa clubs and topless bars as well. Some famous for having bands like Guns and Roses and Radiohead play in their premises. There are many neighbourhoods in the city which have become interesting nightspots like Zona Rosa, the posh Polanco, San Angel in the south, Roma, Condesa and Cuauhtemoc. The sidewalks are crowded, traffic on the road eased out, the clubs have crowds pouring out, bouncers checking id’s, trendy youth unwinding and the slight nip the air makes the evening even more enjoyable. And if you find yourself hungry at 3 am there are taco stands which can satiate you.

The bars and clubs tend to get crowded even on weekdays and the party doesn’t start until 11ish. For a truly Mexican experience, one must try pulque and mezcal. Both are made from the sap of the plant agave, pulque is fermented and mezcal is distilled. Pulque is an ancient drink usually part of the rituals and was considered scared. It’s popularity declined with the arrival of beer but is now coming back. Mezcal is a strong drink and is usually had neat slowly enjoying the taste. And the most famous tequila must be had in the country of its origin.

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ENJOY MEXICO’S WILD WORLD OF WRESTING

Lucha Libre , a free style wrestling is the country’s biggest obsession, only behind football. It’s a spectacle full of humour, dramatic acts and melodramatic fight of good guys vs bad guys. It keeps you on the edge of your street and laughing at the hilarity of it all. It’s a two-hour match and an excellent break from all the sight seeing.

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We went there with a few more travellers we’d met earlier in the evening on a friday night which is suppose to be the big night of the week. The arena was full and we got the top seats with a clear view and safe from the attacks from the wrestlers, as the action inside the ring often moves to the outside. Down a shot of tequila and cheer on for the masked wrestlers. The excitement kicks in as the music starts and the wrestlers make a grand entry with their cheer girls dressed in embellished bikini’s. We saw four matches, one of them of two female wrestler as well. For one match the wrestlers were accompanied by their own dwarf wrestlers and the fight at some point got shifted to the dwarf wrestlers which was equally full of over the top antics, at one point climbing up to the top rope and leaping on the opponent. Every match was exciting with antics like when the wrestler moved outside of the ring chasing his opponent grabbed a glass of beer from a spectator and threw it on his opponents face. This resulted in a huge uproar from the crowd. Another one when a long haired wrestler got dragged by his hair around the ring and was lifted high up in the air and only to be mercilessly thrown outside the ring. A wrestler got angry at his opponent’s support team, one of them being a female and he dragged her inside the ring leading to a rousing cheers from the audience. There was never a dull moment.

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Mexico City quickly became one of our favourite cities (the others on my list are Mumbai and London and Berlin in Vatsal’s). I think it’s a great place to not only travel for a short while but to live in as well. We let myself get sucked into the energy and charm of the city and loved what we saw and experienced. We’ve only scratched the surface of this enormous country. We not only want to revisit the capital but also ride the train via the Grand Canyon, hike the Iztaccihuatl volcano, dive in more cenotes and tread in the path of the Incans and the Mayans. We want to go back for the familiarity in a different land, for the incredible food- I dream of tamales and sopes, to taste rich experiences to the utmost and bring back all of them home.

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Practical Information

Airport: The Mexico City airport is huge and open 24 hours. There are authorised prepaid taxi booths inside the airport. It’s best to buy a ride at the booth, the reliable taxi companies such as sitico 300.

Visa: Citizens of some countries require a visa to enter Mexico. Indians require a visa and the procedure is pretty much standard. The cost for the visa is 25 pounds . Citizens of other countries need a visitor’s permit, known as a FMM (Forma Migratoria Multiple).

When entering the country, one needs to fill a form, one-half of which will be stamped and returned to you which must be produced before you leave the country. Everyone also needs to pay exit tax while leaving the country which is approx 45 pounds.

Language: Spanish is the main language spoken in Mexico. Very few people speak in English but people are incredibly friendly and go out of their way to help. However, the tour guides, signages and food menus are all in Spanish. We used google translate all the time to translate the written text and somethings conversation too, the app gets it right most of the time.

Transport: The city is very well connected with metros, buses and taxis. The metro is good and inexpensive costing 5$ mxn for a single trip irrespective of the distance. The metro can get very crowded during rush hour so much so that it gets impossible to get in or get out of it. Taxis are widely available and are reasonable but traffic can be a big problem.

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Safety: The city is very safe contrary to its perception. We arrived in the city past midnight and took a taxi. All the other nights we were out till wee hours and found ourselves very comfortable and at ease in the city. We even walked back one of the nights to our Airbnb apartments. However, it’s important to take standard precautions like in any country- avoid wearing expensive jewellery, carrying a lot of cash and passports etc.

Food and Drinks: The street food culture in Mexico is incredible. Personally for me, a trip to Mexico would be incomplete without sampling the street food. I had a ball tasting something different for every meal. Take it easy and stick to clean stalls if your stomach can’t hold up the street food. I thrive on street food in India so I had no issues at all but the food didn’t really sit well with Vatsal. It’s best to consume bottled water.

Weather/best time to visit: he city experiences mild weather with warm days and cool morning and evenings. October to April is the dry season with very little rain. May to September is the rainy season but most often the rain is predictable often arriving only in the afternoons for a few hours. The weather can be unpredictable though and it’s always good to carry a light jacket.

Acclimatisation: Situated at an altitude of 7340 feet, it might take a day for people to get acclimatised especially if you live at sea level. Go easy on the tequila and mezcal the first day.

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                                                             Which is your favourite city?  

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About Us :)

Vatsal is a techie and a coffee junkie. Most often he’s caught watching a film with Guinness for company. Preeti loves everything about the mountains. She always has her head buried in a book sipping tea.
We both love traveling and watching films so we decided to document some of it. Hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed traveling and writing about them 🙂

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