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Mexico City: The Far Side of the Wall

By 03/18/2018July 18th, 2018No Comments

Flying to Mexico CityFlying to Mexico City Accommodation in Mexico CityAccommodation in Mexico City Things To Do in Mexico CityThings To Do in Mexico City Helpful TipsHelpful Tips Safety NoteSafety Note

Ciudad de Mexico. The city of…

be careful…” 

“it’s dangerous”

“don’t walk at night”

“don’t walk at all”

“oh but don’t take the subway or bus”

“don’t take a taxi either”

“just stay your room”

“keep your head on a swivel”

and “don’t carry anything on your person but the clothes on your back”

“what if you’re robbed”

“or kidnapped”

“isn’t that a dodgy neighbourhood”

While I do appreciate the many words of advice from people who have never set foot in Mexico city, the first thing I will say about this impeccable city full of warm, hard-working personalities, surrounded by beauty, colour and life… is to just go. Don’t scare yourself into thinking you are walking into a warzone, full of murder and hate; where every local is out to get the tourist because we’re Caucasian, so we must be rich. We’re gringos, so they dislike us.

Lads, come off it now!

Oh and Trip Advisor, yeah it’s great and all but please, don’t hang to every word you read there. Do your research but take it all with a pinch of salt. If we followed the advice of what some wrote; we would have not experienced 80% of the trip we did.

We would have never found that cute local food market, we would have missed the chance to be serenaded by Luiz Miguel, one of Latin America’s biggest stars. Or had such a laugh as we waltzed down the “dark streets” of Doctores while wearing our Lucha Libre masks, oh and that time we found the gated anti-trump-wall wall as we took a one-hour walk from Roma Norte to Centro De Historico. You get my drift.

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The Mexican and I (Him, not the flag)

Now I’m not saying to go to Mexico City, relax and flaunt your possessions, or to act carelessly. Just don’t over read and listen to the whispers of rumours. Arrive open-minded and a little naïve. When I say little, I mean act as if you would walking down any let’s say, less-safe area in Dublin, London, New York etc.

Myself and Luke were chatting and realised that we have both been mugged, injured, beaten up, held up, or verbally abused more times living in our hometown of Dublin. The above has never happened to us while abroad. So whatever we do, we must do it right. (I’ve jinxed us now, haven’t I?)

Without sounding like worshippers of ‘The Secret’, we do believe that if you tip-toe around and expect something bad to happen at every moment, you will attract it. Also, don’t go looking for it and be alert after a few drinks. The devil…we mean alcohol… can become your biggest burden when abroad and it seems to be when bad luck strikes the most.

Coming from a city like New York, I feel the probability of something bad happening was far higher than it was in Mexico City. As a woman, and as a couple who are quite naïve and ignorant in some ways, we felt nothing but acceptance, respect and we felt very comfortable while there. So comfortable, after a week, we had to peel ourselves away from our Airbnb to catch the bus to Puebla.

Man, I miss Mexico City.

It’s funny, as a very good friend of mine, and fellow traveller/blogger Claire Beck, had recommended Mexico City and I’m forever grateful to her for doing so. When I started drafting this blog, I began reading Claire’s post on Mexico City and it seems great minds think alike. We are in complete agreement that this is a city you should not miss out of fear! Also, we highly recommend you go check out Claire’s mumblings over on Dirt in Your Fries.

Now that that’s all out of the way, let me tell you about the city I could (and would love to) one day live in.

 

Flying to Mexico City:

We flew into Mexico City airport from New York City at a price of €117. When shopping for a flight from Europe to Mexico, I’d highly recommend pricing separate flights i.e. we booked a flight from Dublin to NYC via Copenhagen, which meant an extra few hours on our flight, heading back into Europe before traveling onto JFK, New York.

We then booked a separate flight from Newark airport, New York to Mexico City via Charlotte airport, Georgia. A little messy, and it does take some research and a pen and paper, but at a price that you would usually pay to get from Dublin to Spain, we were laughing all the way to Mexico.

Of course you can get all-in-all flight (with one changeover in JFK) from as low as €500 (which let’s admit, is cheap!) but if you are starting off your adventure on a budget, and have nothing but time on your side; you can get yourself a much cheaper flight by adding more hassle to your journey. Again, hassle as in more hours on a plane. Also, try being flexible with your travelling dates.

Another trick is that if you are not fussed where you start in Mexico, even better. We wanted to start in Mexico City, but there are other airports available in Mexico so do shop around. While Mexico is HUGE, you can always bus it to your destination, stopping off for an overnight in the many towns along the way.

Here our trusted JetCost.ie swoops in once again (when will they start endorsing us?!). Although do check Kiwi.com, in fact download the app – it is our favourite!

NOTE: If you plan to cross any border in Mexico albeit from Mexico to USA, or from Mexico onto Guatemala/Belize etc.  Remember the following…

  1. If you fly into Mexico, don’t forget to print off a copy of your flight receipts. No, not your boarding card, your flight receipt, one that has a full breakdown in costs including all tax you paid.
  2. If leaving the country, you will need to pay an ‘exit tourist tax’ and since the border patrollers like to make a little extra money, they will try convince you that you need to pay this exit tax. However, if you have your airline receipt, just flash it at the border as the tourist tax is included in your airline costs. If you don’t have a copy of your receipt simply email or tweet (tweeting is always faster!) the airline and they’ll help you retrieve it.
  3. When you arrive into Mexico, you are given an entry visa card to fill out. Even after it is stamped at immigration, keep this card safe! You will need it to exit the country, whether it’s by plane, or crossing borders. If you do not have this when leaving, there is an extra charge of around €45 – an unnecessary cost for being irresponsible.

So once again, keep the visa card safe and your airline/flight receipts handy. These are both important if crossing  borders and leaving Mexico by land.

When you touch down in Me-hico, there are a number of shuttle busses and collectivos (shared minivan-style taxis) that will bring you from the airport to whatever district you are staying in. Alternatively, just Uber – we paid €5.50 for a 45min ride.

Accommodation in Mexico City:

There are a number of districts you can and should stay in while in the city. At first, you will be drawn to stay near the centre of Mexico City (Centro de Historico) but honestly, there is no need as there are plenty of vibrant and fun neighbourhoods that are cheaper, and for those still worrying, much safer.

Here are our recommendations:

Roma Norte District:

An hour walk or a 20 minute journey on public transport from the Centro de Historico, it is hard not to fall in love with this area. Never mind the local food stands, restaurants, parks and streets, for us, it was the locals themselves. Their extremely welcoming presence, carefree and easy-living attitude will rub off you instantaneously.

We stayed in an Airbnb which soon become our Purple Palace. We booked a week entirely for €200, which is really expensive for Mexico, but it was our first stop and we still had the whispering “it’s so dangerous” rumours in our head upon booking.  Still, no regrets as we spent very little having our own kitchen, a local market and the best food stand ever that sold 5 x tacos for .70c. Also, this neighbourhood is close to the ones recommended below, so we were free to explore and enjoy.

See link to our Airbnb, we cannot recommend Jaime and is family enough. You will love it HERE.

Condesa:

A little Northwest of Roma Norte is the ‘I’m-too-uncool-for-this’ Condesa – meaning it’s a really cool place. A very trendy, cultured, upcoming neighbourhood that is home to a lot of tattooed faces, pierced bodies, hippies, hipsters, students and, did I say cool cats? We loved hanging out in Parque Espana, walking around the markets and absorbing the fashionable district. There is plenty to do, see and explore here. We spent many hours wandering from street to street in search of hidden gems, which we found plenty of.

There are a number of budget hostels, and private rooms available via Airbnb here so shop around and know that wherever you chose to stay, you have everything you need on your doorstep.

Zona Rosa:

Sitting a little closer to the Centro de Historico is Zona Rosa, which you could describe as a ‘gay’ district – in both senses. Don’t be surprised to walk through Zona Rosa at 1pm and see the clubs packed thanks to the cheap boozy deals, or hear music at every turn from the club’s pumping bass to buskers and street performers. There is an endless amount of shops and the nightlife alone will keep you up to all hours.

It’s such a fun neighbourhood so either way, be sure to swing by ‘The Pink Zone’.

Polanco:

What we call ‘the Ballsbridge of Mexico City’, Polanco is a high-end, classy area and most definitely home to the rich! It’s quite beautiful but a tourist haven (in our opinion) which didn’t appeal to us whatsoever. It is seen and advertised as a very safe area but personally, I would question walking around any area that is known to attract big-spenders. Surely, muggers would know where and who to target? Anyway, it is a little pricier than any of the above mentioned but nonetheless if you want to see how the other half live without spending as much as the ‘other half’ then enjoy a stroll down money lane.

Centro de Historico:

There are endless choices for accommodation here, and again, while it is the central area of the city, we would recommend any of the above instead. The centro has a lot to offer during the day but night draws out a different vibe and there isn’t as much to do when it’s dark here. You will most likely end up enjoying food, drinks and nightlife in the above areas (especially Condesa) so instead, base yourselves in any of the above and take a trip into the centro.

 

Things To Do in Mexico City:

Having time to do it all, is the problem. We spent a week in Mexico City and being honest, we wanted to extend our stay so bad. It was the fact that it was our first stop that we pushed ourselves out, but since we didn’t get to to tick off everything on our To Do list – we’ll be back, most definitely.

Teotihuacan:

Throughout your visit in Mexico, you will have many opportunities to visit old Aztec and Mayan ruins. Whether you are a history buff, nature fanatic or just someone who likes to get out in the sun, put Teotihuacan high on the list. It’s an incredible sight.

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Like, look at the happy head on me!

We recommend heading out on your own as there is no need to book a tour. Take your time and enjoy a brilliant day out at little cost. Here’s how:

  1. Head to the local bus station called Autobuses del Norte, you can grab an Uber for as little as 45MX (€3) or jump a local bus/metro – both with stops titled Autobuses del Norte.
  2. At Gate 8, you will find a ticket desk, well signposted, offering tickets to “Pyramides” for 100MX (€5) per person return. A bus leaves roughly every half hour but be sure to catch an early one to avoid the many tourist busses that arrive to Teotihuacan around midday. We took a 9.30am bus, which took around an hour to get to the pyramids. Also, your outbound ticket is time specific, whereas you can grab any return bus to the city, the last bus leaves after the park closes (around 5pm – so don’ miss the last bus!)
  3. Upon arrival, you will need to pay the 70MX entry fee. There are also plenty of foodstalls and shops to have lunch. Although, you know us, of course we brought a packed lunch – hey, we are budget travelling! Besides, it was cool to enjoy a picnic on a temple. If you follow suit, please don’t litter. Yep, I’m surprised I’ve to mention that too.
  4. The minute you arrive, you will be tempted to stop at every temple for a photo or a climb, but head straight the largest and the most impressive pyramid called ‘Pyramid of the Sun’. Climb it before the arrival of tourists and the midday sun! It’s a steep and tiresome climb but the view is so worth it. Bring the camera as you’ll get that golden photo.
  5. After we climbed it, we visited the second largest ‘Pyramid of the Moon’ and then wandered around the smaller temples. It’s such a wonderful feeling, walking through history and knowing these pyramids and temples were built thousands of years ago, with no equipment, yet were built quicker than the laying of the Luas tracks or Dublin’s Port Tunnel. The Aztecs are geniuses!
  6. Be warned that there is little shade so lather yourself in sun cream. It’s extremely hot! We were fully covered and visited on a windy day, let’s just say we walked away like two lobsters and suffered severe wind-burn. Ouch!
  7. When you’re finished exploring (be sure to visit the museum before you leave!), you head towards Gate 2 or Gate 3, and across the carpark, you will see a small shop on the corner of what looks like a small town. The bus, that displays a ‘Mexico City’ sign, will collect you here. If a little lost, ask a local, they’re more than happy to help.
  8. We spent the entire day here, arriving around 10.30am, we arrived back to the city by 4pm.

Lucha Libre at Arena Mexico:

Look, whether you are a fan of wrestling or not, you will laugh hysterically and love every single moment of the chaotic Lucha Libre match. I was excited to see it (we’ve all watched Nacho Libre, right?) but I had no idea I would enjoy it as much as I did. In fact, embarrassingly enough, I got a little to “into it” even Luke had to tame me. Oh, and we bought our own masks. Eh, COOL!

Matches are held throughout the week, apparently the best matches are held on Fridays, so if you can squeeze one in, do. Instead, we popped along on a Tuesday (coincidently, it was also Valentine’s Day – how romantic!) and the match lived up to every expectation, and more.

We bought Ring 2, Row 6 seats right in front of the ring for 520MX (€26) in total.  It’s worth splurging out on ringside seats, if you can get the first row – do as the wrestlers fully interact with you. Try not book seats that directly face the corners of the ring as the wrestlers tend to hang out in the corners so you may have trouble seeing the full match.

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Loving life at Lucha Libre

It’s worth the laugh, it’s the most entertaining thing we did in Mexico and it will stay with you forever. We promise, no matter what age – this will bring out the excited kid in you and you get to scream and shout. I even learned a few Spanish curse words!

It is probably worth noting that the Arena Mexico is located in Doctores. If you read up on this area, you will be scared shitless of how dangerous it seems. All reviews urge you to get a taxi straight home, and not to attempt walking from the Arena. We once again ignored the scaremongering; chucked on our Lucha Libre masks and walked hand-in-hand home, saying “buenas” to every local we passed. We had a funny trip home that night, with no issues whatsoever.

By all means, book an Uber and be sure when you leave the Arena to take the immediate right straight towards the busy main road. Be respectful to the local area and crack a smile. You will be fine. We promise.

Centro de Historico:

Before we delve into all you can do here, we should mention that all museums and attractions are closed on a Monday, as they open Sundays instead. So choose your days wisely.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral:

Known as the biggest and oldest cathedral in Latin America, this beauty will catch your eye the minute you arrive to the Zócalo (the main square).

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What a beauty!

It’s free to enter, photos are allowed and regardless if a Cathedral would do it for you or not, the inside is extremely impressive. The walls are covered with gold, the miniature alters throughout are beautiful and the main alter that holds the biggest organ I’ve ever seen is outstanding. You may suffer some whiplash as you won’t take your eyes of the empowering ceiling. Oh and there is a gigantic baby Jesus, no guys really. It’s him, as a baby, and he’s gigantic. He also has a massive manger. It’s quite funny.

Templo Mayor

This was an interesting one as it is basically an area of old Aztec ruins that sits right in the centre of the city. It will peak your interest. You can view it from the outside, although you won’t see it to its fullest (our favourite being the wall of human skulls – yup!) but at a small price of 55MX (€2.50) you can visit the full archaeological site and the museum. We’re big fans of history, so this was right up our street. You will enjoy it but it’s not biggie if you miss it. There are plenty of ruins to see around Mexico!

Palacio Nacional

This is another interesting freebie. We were attracted to the longed building that sits along the square. We entered through the side and thoroughly enjoyed the cultural aspect to it, despite it being government buildings. On the day we visited it was hosting a “world culture day” which meant endless number of rooms, each one representing a country around the world. This is where we learned how to make Brazilian cloth dolls, and how I met and made my new friend Sam. She’s been everywhere with us, and is a hit on our Snapchat. For the “where is Sam” and “how is Sam” messages alone, this trip was worth it. And it cost nada!

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The Lowering of the Mexican Flag
I cannot recommend this anymore. We had no idea this happened on a daily basis and, it just so happens that we were in the right place at the right time. It was such a simple yet the COOLEST thing I’ve witnessed in Mexico.

In the centre of Mexico’s Zócalo, there is a large Mexican flag flying proudly. At around 5pm every day, you will see a number of soldiers create a perimeter around the flag. Out of nowhere, the bellowing sound of trumpets and drums follows and a large number of soldiers appear, with what we assume is the Lieutenant and Sargent leading the way.

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Alto!

Together, they salute then lower the flag, and carry it in to the government buildings. If you have ever visited London and enjoyed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, you will absolutely love this. I preferred it. It’s beautifully patriotic as everything around the Zócalo stops. Venders, cars, trading – you name it. It’s like time stands still, as goosebumps crawl over your skin and you immediately feel like a citizen as you watch on.The minute the flag enters the government buildings, the city continues on, as if someone hit the play button.

Apparently, the raising of the flag happens daily, around 6am – if you can manage to get up early enough. Either way, do not miss this. It’s one that will stay with you on your trip, it’s free and it takes place around 5pm. We enjoyed it so much; we went down the next day to watch it happen all over again.

Visiting Markets

We don’t need to explain this further. You won’t miss the thousands; yes thousands, of markets and stalls around the Centro. It’s a little overwhelming too be honest, but nonetheless, who doesn’t love a bit of window shopping. Enjoy, haggle and be sure to eat some street food!

 

Helpful Tips:

Budgeting:

Avoid eating in restaurants if you can as there is no need! All the best food we found belonged to the roadside food stands and they are much cheaper. OK so the most expensive meal we had (on our first night there) which included drinks and 2 x main courses cost 170MX (€8). I hear you laughing at our ‘high cost problems’ but when you then find a plate full of tacos, quesadillas or gringas for less than €1 – you soon adjust to the ‘cheaper’ way of living. We also had lunch in a local Rome Norte café once, and for two coffees and two crepes it cost us the same as above. So yeah, do yourself a favour and stop at the first sense of smell and opt in for the food stands.

Foodstands:

We cannot believe how weary people are of the food-stands. We live by them, literally. Not only can you watch how your food is prepared in front of you, but you can sit your ass right in the kitchen and eat with the chef.

Before we left, we were warned off the food-stands, told to steer clear of any salads and in particular, the pork. But, like children, we went against all advice and chowed down on as much pig as we could find, laced the plate with lettuce and all by the side of the road. YEHAW!

Now, there are some dodgy looking stands. You know like when a guy is snotting all over his arm or sleeve and then turns back to the cooker. Yeah, avoid that. Now, don’t expect to see the cook wearing gloves, or hairnet or any of those other safety rulings we need to abide back home. This isn’t HSE standards… thankfully, some might say!

Ironically enough, you have to just trust your gut, even if it is hungry! Food stands with flaming grills or permanent kitchens are best. Avoid the ones that cook out of a bucket – yes, this happens. For a peace of mind, watch how your food is cooked and enjoy the masters at work. Always squirt the lime sided on your dish as it is known to kill bacteria (as well as adding flavour) oh and follow the locals! If you see a busy stall – it’s a guaranteed goodie. Even if there are only two people at it, it’s a good sign compared to the ones who feed nothing but tumbleweed.

And look, just stop worrying, will you?! You won’t be hit with a raving bacterial disease as you fear. Worst case you will get a dose of the shits but come on, your local Chinese takeaway can do that for you.

Thankfully, we have been Imodium-free since we arrived. (I’ve jinxed myself AGAIN, haven’t I?).

For our guide to grub in Mexico, where we explain what is what to help you order, click on over here and prepare to drool.

Clothing:

We visited in early February and although it was far from cold – you might want to bring or buy a light jacket as it gets colder at night.

Being in the city, you will mostly wear trousers. Small shorts are not a usual thing – also, there is no point in standing out like a tourist. Save the shorts and bikinis for the beach and throw on a pair of leggings and comfortable shoes. This is a city!

Exchanging Money:

Whatever you do, don’t exchange money in airport. It is a complete rip off. If you need funds to get to your accommodation, order an Uber, pay with your card and hold off on a ATM visit until you reach the city.

If using an ATM, the exchange rates are not too bad. Use Ban Norte, as it has 3.2% exchange rate which is 33pesos (€1.05) on top of your own bank charges. Bring euros with you if you can, as you will receive a much better exchange rate.

If you have some cash on you, head to a currency exchange place instead of a bank. Better rates.  The best currency exchange rate and place we found was called Mawi on Londres St in Zona Rosa. We received a rate of 20MX to every €1. Don’t accept any lower than this (Feb 2017).

 

Safety Note:

Uber:

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again. Download the Uber app. If you have huge safety concerns are just too nervous to walk around – use Uber. It’s cheap, cheerful and the safest mode of transport. Although, I will say – you will miss a lot of local life sitting in the back of a car.

If you refuse to use any other mode of transport, or walk – at least Uberpool. This way you can cab share with locals and strike up some conversations, or at least enjoy listening to the language. It’s also cheaper.

Centro de Historico:

In the Centro de Historico, there are some areas to the east of the Zolaco (near Jesus Maria) that locals warned us about. At one stage, while sitting eating a Tlayuda unbeknownst to us, I was using the offline map on my phone when a local woman told me (in Spanish) to be careful as even locals are robbed there. So, be a little vigilant when there.

Doctores:

As mentioned above, this is an area that they do not recommend walking around at night. Look, there is no need to be here. Other than the Arena Mexico located within this neighbourhood, which is close to a main road called Cuauhtémoc, so you won’t wander into the wrong parts – why go there? It’s a large residential area, named after Doctores and there is nothing to see here. So don’t go. Simple.

So there you have it. Whatever you choose to do, just enjoy the city of Mexcio. It’ll take a piece of your heart and you will become addicted. It’s hard not to fall in love and there is so much to see and do, far more than what we mentioned above.

As we said, we have a long list to tick off, and although we’ve moved on – we WILL be back.

Maybe see you there?

Katie

Author Katie

I’m a self-diagnosed wanderlust sufferer who fell victim to the travel bug. As someone who has yearned for the freedom to travel for as long as I can remember in 2017, I decided to quit my dream job, run away from the "marriage and baby" queries and trade the societal life for a life on the road. Now, I spend my days wandering through the unknown, being nosy as hell while sharing stories, building websites, helping others plan their backpacking adventures, writing, filming, snapping and reminding myself to shut up and stop talking every now and again.

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