Our main reason for coming to Mexico City (or CDMX as it is referred to these days) and Mexico in general was the Formula 1. Dale couldn’t travel for a year and not get to at least one race – for more about the F1 read Dale’s post. Initially I didn’t love the idea of jumping up to Mexico from South America, but I have to admit that the F1 was super fun and more importantly it brought us to Mexico – one of my favourite countries that we visited this year. Coming to Mexico also meant that we got to catch up with friends that we have not seen in a while – Nick Berry and Kirsten. We also happened to be in CDMX for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and my birthday. The combination of all these things plus CDMX being the great city that it is meant that we had an amazing 10 days.
We arrived in CDMX on my birthday and Dale booked us for a tasting experience at Pujol, one of Mexico’s top restaurants whose chef has been featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table (budget is irrelevant on birthdays!). The restaurant is famous for its innovative Mexican cuisine and its aged mole – the mole we tasted was over 1,000 days old. Rather than the traditional menu Dale chose the taco tasting menu for us which was paired with craft beer, cocktails and wine. A perfect combo!
For our first few days in CDMX, we stayed in a beautiful Airbnb studio apartment in Coyoacan which apparently means “the place of coyotes”. The borough remained an independent small town until the mid 19th century and even today has a quite different and more traditional feel compared with other neighbourhoods such as Roma and Condesa.
Coyoacan is full of colourful colonial architecture, has two lively plazas where locals and tourists hang out and is also home to Museo de Frida Kahlo (La Casa Azul). I have become quite fascinated with Frida so a visit to the museum was at the top of my list of things to do in CDMX. The museum provides a great insight into Frida’s life and work and I found it to be quite intimate and moving. Both Dale and I really enjoyed our visit. The museum is very popular so to avoid the queues (which are common) we arrived for opening time and only had a very short wait. You can also purchase tickets online although this didn’t work for us.
Coyoacan is also home to a small but bustling market, Mercado de Coyoacan, where you can grab a bite to eat, purchase some handicrafts or fruit and veg. In preparation for Day of the Dead and Halloween (which is also celebrated in Mexico) there were also many stalls selling costumes, masks and Day of the Dead decorations. (CDMX has quite a few markets but unfortunately only got a chance to visit this one.)
We loved our few days in Coyoacan but for the arrival of Nick and Kirsten we booked a larger Airbnb in the more central Condesa. Condesa is one of the city’s more affluent neighbourhoods and is full of bars, restaurants and cafes – we were lucky to have some really cool bars and restaurants practically on our doorstep. Condesa is also next to Roma which is one of the city’s coolest neighbours and where we spent quite a bit of our time. Overall, for us Condesa was the ideal location from which to explore the city and get to the F1.
We were in Mexico about a month after the powerful earthquake which killed hundreds of people. Whilst in Coyoacan we saw little sign of the earthquake, Condesa was a different story. Right next to our apartment, there were half or fully collapsed buildings and many other buildings were cordoned off and not suitable for habitation. Next to one building there was even a car wreck. The streets were full of tributes to the victims and signs asking passersby to respect the victims and not take any photos. These were really scenes of devastation which continued to shock and sadden us every time we walked past.
On a happier note, we were in CDMX for Day of the Dead which is celebrated on 1 and 2 November. Although to us it may sound morbid it is actually a beautiful and spiritual celebration to honour the deceased. The tradition is to put up alters for loved ones who have passed away. These altars include offerings, candles, flowers and the loved ones’ favourite things. The traditional flower used and one which we saw everywhere leading up to Day of the Dead is the cempasúchil, bright orange Mexican marigolds. Another tradition is eating pan de los muerto (or pan de muerto, Day of the Dead bread) which is sweet bread with bone like decorations on top – quite tasty.
CDMX also now hosts a Day of the Dead parade, taking the idea from the James Bond movie, Spectre. This year’s parade took place the weekend before Day of the Dead and paid tribute to the victims of the earthquake. We joined the hordes of people on Paseo de la Reforma and watched the colourful floats and people dressed as skeletons and catrinas (female skeletons wearing a big hat) walking or dancing past. Whilst this may not be the most authentic celebration in Mexico it was still pretty amazing.
On 2 November, we headed to the historic centre which was beautifully decorated for the holiday, especially the Zócalo, the main plaza.
As a half day trip, we ventured to Teothiucan, an ancient Aztec city about an hours’ drive from CDMX. This city was built over 2,000 years ago and at its peak was home to 175,000 people. Pretty impressive! As there were four of us we opted to go there and back by Uber (instead of catching the bus), this was super easy and very reasonable between four people. This also meant that we could come back to CDMX for lunch and hit some our favourite street food stalls.
The street food scene in CDMX is amazing but the volume of stalls can make the experience a little overwhelming for first time visitors. We therefore decided to do a street food tour with Eat Mexico. At $85 per person the tour was very expensive (especially given that street food is super cheap) but we all agreed that it was worth it. We may have found the stalls ourselves but never would have selected the delicious dishes ordered for us by our friendly and informative guide, Ubish. Apparently the secret for choosing the best street food is to follow the construction workers, policemen and taxi drivers. Our particular tour also catered for vegetarians, which is not that easy in Mexico. We loved the food so much we returned to our favourite stalls the following day.
Apart from the street food, there are many restaurants, cantinas, bars and cafes in CDMX. We barely scratched the surface but loved the following places, listed by neighbourhood:
- Café Avellaneda – a little hole in the wall serving great coffee;
- La Coyoacana – a traditional Mexican cantina serving local food and a huge selection of drinks including spirits by the bottle. The key is to get a table in the garden, order a few snacks, some micheladas or something stronger and wait for the mariachi band to start playing. This was without doubt one of our favourite places and one of the best afternoon/evenings we had in CDMX. It was there we also discovered our love for Don Julio 70 tequila.
- Chiquitito Cafe – great coffee and avocado on toast to start the day;
- El Trappist – a tiny craft beer place. We were lucky to have this place only two minutes walk from our Airbnb;
- El Pescadito – amazing fish and prawn tacos. Dale absolutely loved the prawn ones. The place gets packed and is only open for lunch; and
- Merkavá – delicious Israeli food, so good we went there twice. Once for lunch and once for dinner. It’s great if you’re craving a break from Mexican food and some vegetarian dishes. Again we were lucky to have the restaurant just around the corner from our Airbnb.
- Dosis Café – another great coffee shop;
- Churreria El Moro – for your churro fix. There are a few locations in CDMX but we went to the Roma Norte branch (close to Dosis Café);
- Chetito – yummy tacos and great cocktails;
- Lucille – for games of pool and jugs of cerveza, great for a chilled Sunday night;
- Máximo Bistro Local – modern French food with Mexican influence. Delicious food in a nice casual atmosphere. It’s one of the best restaurants in CDMX so you need to make a reservation in advance;
- La Botica – one of the many mezcal bars in CDMX. The trick is to order beer (as a chaser) with your mezcal shot; and
- El Transpatio – a nice beer garden with a selection of beer and food (mainly burgers). The food was not the best but the setting was lovely.
We may have said this about quite a few places but CDMX is definitely a city that we hope to return to again and again.
Next: Vallodalid and Chichen Itza.