Montezuma and Cortes, Frida and Diego, tacos and tasting menus: there are two sides to every aspect of Mexico City.
The old perception of the city still hangs on with many who haven’t visited since its low point in the mid-1990s though, when crime was high and the smog count was higher. Now the air and streets are cleaner, crime stats are on par with Las Vegas or Miami, and blue skies are seen more days every year. Among the clanging of rising skyscrapers and rising wealth, there’s an electric feeling in the air of a city on the move.
The foodie capital of Latin America can also credibly claim to be the museum capital of the world. There are 173 official museums in the city, ranging in subject from tequila to the art collection of the world’s richest man.
CDMX is huge, but many of the city’s attractions are close to the center. Visit on a Sunday and you can explore some of them on a bicycle or take a traffic-free walk as the main Paseo de la Reforma boulevard is closed to traffic.
Getting there is usually quite reasonable too by air. Besides the big U.S. legacy airlines, there are flights from Southwest, Aeromexico, Interjet, Volaris, and more. With prices often dipping down to $300 round trip, it’s worth considering a weekend in Mexico City trip as a getaway.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
First you’ll need a base and if your visit is short, it’s best to be somewhere central to minimize your time in traffic. Fortunately, the hotel zones of Mexico City are pretty cut and dry.
Some of the best luxury chain hotels in town are in two distinct areas. The first batch is a few blocks from each other on Paseo de la Reforma: the Four Seasons Mexico and the St. Regis. For tricked-out rooms on top of two of the city’s best restaurants, choose 35-room Las Alcobas in the chic Polanco district. There you’ll also find a JW Marriott and a W nearby. There are also a few good choices in the historic center, like Downtown México and Hotel Ciudad de Mexico.
What to Do in Mexico City
The museum choices in this metropolis are overwhelming, but for a true understanding of Mexico’s pre-Columbian history start with the National Museum of Anthropology. Extensive exhibits are arranged by time period, from giant Olmec stone heads to Mayan artifacts to items recovered from the original capital city here.
The delightful Museum of Popular Art is fun for all ages, with whimsical Day of the Dead skeletons, masks, and fantastical alebrije creatures from Oaxaca. Explore the historic center and cross the Zócolo (Constitution Plaza) to see the giant cathedral, remainders of the pyramids it was built on top of, and buildings that date back to the founding of New Spain. If the national Ballet Folklorica is in town, enjoy a colorful performance in the gorgeous Bellas Artes performance hall.
Or if you can spare much of a day, head out to the huge and mysterious ruins complex of Teotihuacan and climb a giant pyramid to understand the scope. Better to go on a day other than Sunday though–that’s a free day for Mexicans and the place gets packed.
You’ll Eat Well in Mexico City
Mexico City has a well-deserved reputation as a great food city, the best one in Latin America in most respects. From street carts and taco stands to some of the world’s best restaurants, you’ll be looking forward to every meal. See this post on the best restaurants in the city at the moment, but there are so many memorable ones here that any list will only scratch the surface. It’s best to ask around and if you can spend some time in Roma, you’ll catch many chef stars of tomorrow.
You’ll drink well too and find plenty of new taste sensations. Mexico is the home of tequila and mezcal, after all, plus the original agave drink pulque is coming back in style. Mexico produces good wines in the northern section of Baja California and there’s finally a real craft beer scene in the capital.
Where to Shop in CDMX
Cheap and kitschy souvenirs are easy to find, but for good quality items at a fixed price the best bet is Fonart, a government-sponsored handicraft promotion cooperative with five locations. Another reliable option is the Museum of Popular Art’s boutique.
In the historic center, browse the eclectic Shops at Downtown Hotel for something more contemporary.
Take a Walk
One of the best ways to get a feel for this vibrant city is to do lots of walking. You could stroll for miles in the historic center, in the Condesa neighborhood, or Roma. If you have Frida Kahlo’s Blue House high on your list, spend some time strolling around Coyoacan and maybe catch a meal on the main square.
Enter your dates on Bonwi.com to get a high reward points payback and book a flight to one of North America’s most vibrant cities. Even if you only have a weekend in Mexico City, you can see and do a lot.
Article and photos by Timothy Scott Leffel, who lives in Mexico and edits a luxury travel blog about travel in Latin America.