Planning Your First Trip to Mexico? Your Guide to Mexico City and its Surroundings

For Cuisine Noir. July 2019.

From white sand beaches and Pacific blue waters in the west and ancient Mayan ruins in the east to traditional cuisine and tequila distilleries in the south, Mexico has a variety of landscapes and experiences to offer. However, it can be hard to decide where to begin and how to navigate this Spanish-speaking neighbor, and you will likely have to plan a few trips to see it all.

Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, is the largest metropolis in the country and often overlooked by tourists. Originally built by the Aztecs in 1325 A.D., it is the oldest capital in the Americas and one of the best places to learn about the country’s history, culture and food, while still having a big-city feel. There is a range of accommodations and more than 100 museums, art galleries, award-winning restaurants and performing art venues to choose from.

Most major airlines fly directly to Mexico City’s Juarez International airport, which receives thousands of business travelers each day. There’s no visa needed to enter Mexico (for visits up to 6 months) but you need to carry your passport.

Due to its high altitude, Mexico City enjoys pleasant summers and mild winters. Note that Mexico City sits about 7,382 feet above sea level, so you may want to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol as you get acclimatized. Remember to bring a sweater even in the summer months.

Mexican City Skyline
Pictured: Mexican City Skyline | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Stay in Fashionable Neighborhoods

It’s best to stay in one of the centrally located areas accessible by walking or taxi, to avoid traffic during peak hours.

La Condesa, with its largest city square, Zocalo, is lively from dawn to dusk. The streets are crowded with old-fashioned organ players, street vendors selling tacos and elotes (Mexican grilled corn) and businessmen and women chatting in bars after work. Local Mexicans also gather at Zocalo to eat dinner, listen to live music and dance the night away.

The Colonia Roma neighborhood was built by wealthy Mexicans who traveled to Europe in the 1800s. Here you will find French-inspired buildings, European cafes, bistros and gelato shops. Even if you are not staying in Roma, make sure to go for a visit or take a guided walking tour.

Savor One of the Biggest Art Scenes in the World

Art lovers can easily spend a week visiting more than150 museums dedicated to pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary arts. The Anthropology and History Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the San Ildefonso Museum and the Templo Mayor Museum, are some of the most popular ones. A must stop is at Frida Kahlo’s private home, Casa Azul, where you can see some of her paintings and personal belongings.

Enjoy Live Music and Dance

Watch a colorful Mexican folklore ballet at the Tiffany-designed stained glass Palacio De Bellas Artes, or head to Plaza Garibaldi, known for its mariachi musicians. It is hard to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t have live music in Mexico City.

Take a Day Trip Outside the City

There are many historic and natural sites within driving distance of Mexico City that make for perfect day trips.

Canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City
Pictured: Canals of Xochimilco | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Escape to the colorful towns of Puebla and Cholula, known for their beautiful Baroque-style old churches, busy craft markets and traditional restaurants.

You will find many Mexican families renting party boats, or trajineras, meandering through the canals of Xochimilco with food and music on board. This “Venice of Mexico,” a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is about an hour’s drive from Mexico City. You can access it via taxi (about $20 round trip) if you want to avoid booking through a tour company.

Continue to Charming Colonial Towns

While there’s plenty to do in Mexico City, it is also a gateway to smaller towns in Mexico, where you can extend your stay.

Take a flight (1 hour) or road trip (6 hours) from Mexico City to Guadalajara, where you can hop on the Jose Cuervo Express, also known as the “tequila train.” This two-hour journey takes you through picturesque agave fields to the “Magic Town” of Tequila, also the birthplace of the spirit, where you can visit distilleries and enjoy tequila-based cocktails. Stay at luxurious hotel Solar de Las Animas, overlooking the main square for rooftop views of the town. You can watch traditional music and dance every evening as you smell the aroma of roasting agave molasses.

Jose Cuervo Express Train in Mexico City
Pictured: Jose Cuervo Express Train | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Puerto Vallarta is a popular resort destination on the Pacific west coast. It is known for its white sand beaches, artsy neighborhoods, water sports and nightlife. From Guadalajara, take a flight (50 mins) or drive five hours to Puerto Vallarta, once named as The Friendliest City in the World.” It is a popular destination with domestic as well as international tourists.

Whether you choose to go to Mexico City for a week or a weekend, you will find that the city and the surrounding areas offer a wide variety of attractions for all interests.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved. 

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