I left my Heart in Mexico (Deje mi corazon en Mexico)
This was not my first trip to Mexico, but it was the first time I got out of the Yucatan, and first time spending an extended period of time in the country. And I am SO GLAD I did. Mexico has 32 states, and during my 7 weeks in the country I explored 8 of them: Quintana Roo (Cancun); DF (CDMX); Guanajuato (San Miguel de Allende); Queretaro (Santiago de Queretaro); Hidalgo (Pachuca and Real de Monte); Morelos (Cuernavaca and Tepoztlan); Oaxaca (Oaxaca City, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, and Hierve del Agua); and, Jalisco (Puerto Vallarta). As an FYI: this blog affords me a relatively small amount of space for photos and it makes no sense for me to pay and upgrade to a business page; as such, I’ve had to start creating YouTube videos of photo montages. Hope you like the “videos” of my photos! The highlight of anywhere in the world is always people (closely followed by food and actual experience in cities and nature), and I simply adore Mexicans. I found people so warm, caring, friendly, and willing to go out of their way to invite me into their lives or play tour guide to show me around their city/country.
My return to Mexico (first trip back in 8 years and whoa! It has been developed like crazy! I stayed at the Westin Lagunamar, which is right smack in the middle of the hotel zone and used to be surrounded by a lot of nothing, but now has everything within walking distance. The hotel also has Mayan ruins on north side of the building. Tacos & Tequila is a restaurant on the water in Cancun Plaza Shopping Center that has amazing vegetarian tacos (recommend adding “nopales” as your extra option). My trips to Cancun are always about down time on a beautiful, white sandy beach, with lots of ocean time, and very little of anything else. One exception was heading to downtown for an awesome dinner at Cantina La 20 (located in the Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center).
Mexico City, Mexico
This amazing city was homebase for 6 weeks and I am so glad it was! I flew from Cancun to CDMX with Interjet based on frequency of flights between CUN and CDMX and cheap price. Pleasantly surprised!! More seat and leg room in coach than most airlines offer in economy plus on international flights. (Can’t say I’m as much a fan of Interjet with international flights, but for domestic flights in Mexico this is probably the best option.)
(1) To live/stay: 100% recommend Condesa or Roma
(2) To explore: everything listed below!
For walk ability, safety, great public transportation options, and overload of character + restaurants + bars = Condesa or Roma. And speaking of walking and getting around outside, one thing I absolutely LOVE about CDMX is that every Sunday the city shuts down the majority of lanes on one of its biggest and most beautiful streets so that walkers, joggers, and bikers- including pets(!) can enjoy. Thousands of people take advantage every week and flood the streets, and it made me so happy seeing that.
This is the neighborhood I decided to stay in, given its proximity to so much that I wanted to explore, and reputation for being safe. It’s true that Mexico City is a noisy city; I’m staying in an apartment on the 13th floor and still hear traffic throughout the night. But it’s worth it! This is a beautiful neighborhood, lots of tree-lined streets, safe (even walking at night- of course, ladies, be safe, be aware, don’t walk around visibly drunk, stay off of dark alleys, try to not rely too heavily on Google maps, etc), and a true hub of places to eat, drink, and explore. Also located right next to Chapultepec Castle and Park. My Airbnb was with the most WONDERFUL couple (and super sweet puppy dog who I fell in love with), Jesus & Victoria, 100% recommend!!
My Airbnb was actually right on the border zone between Condesa and Roma. Funny enough, I intentionally wanted to stay out of Roma, considering quite a few articles I read (prior to arriving) described it more as the center for nightlife and louder than Condesa. But I can honestly say that I didn’t notice a difference at all between the two neighborhoods, and when I was out and exploring, which was frequent, I never knew where one stopped and the other started. Roma is also a wonderful neighborhood with tree-lined streets, and overflowing with amazing restaurants, bars, and cafés.
Apart from historic center in Zocalo, this is by far the most historical, interesting architecture. And unlike Zocalo, it’s almost purely residential, and very chill. I absolutely loved visiting and strolling around this neighborhood! It’s also super safe and though it’s a bit farther away from other parts of the city, could be a great place to stay/live.
Others: this blog would get too long if I listed all of the awesome neighborhoods I walked through or stayed in, but to mention just a few more (1) For slightly more high end and also super popular, walkable, tons of bars and restaurants, shopping: Polanco. If I had to describe this neighborhood in one word: fancy! It is beautiful and feels upscale as you are walking through it. Not surprisingly, home to several of the city‘s top restaurants. (2) Some of the top restaurants in the City (and as such, also make lists of world’s best) are located in the south side (which has a reputation for being the more dangerous part of the city, except this particular neighborhood is home to perhaps the richest in the city): Jardines del Pedegral. (3) For very high end (high rises) or if you’re in the city for business that is located nearby, Santa Fe is a super safe place with beautiful parks (first images from video under first video in neighborhoods above). (4) When I brought my parents to CDMX over Christmas, I found them an Airbnb apartment in Anzures. This neighborhood is sandwiched between Condesa and Polanco and is mere steps away from the amazing Chapultapec Park, and has the advantage of being super residential, which means, really quiet at night!
Tetelan– 5star, everything great, awesome for veg & meat. Went twice while living in CDMX, both times with meat eaters and we all agreed that the best thing we ate was the cauliflower (“coliflor”) app; IT IS A MUST EAT IN CDMX. Yes, it is that good. Another nice thing- restaurant located in the south part of the city, in Jardines del Pedregal, so it gives you an excuse to see more of the city.
Por Siempre Vegano– 5star, amazing, and cheap! I don’t care if you eat meat, GO HERE!! (Yes, this is also below but for anyone tempted to gloss over the plant-based suggestions because you eat meat, I didn’t want you to miss out on this recommendation. Some of the best and cheapest tacos you’ll eat in the city, promise!)
Salon Tenampa– this place has been around since 1925 and is a super fun place to get the full on, traditional, Mexican Mariachi music experience. The surrounding neighborhood is pretty dangerous so it’s not a place to casually stroll to or from, but definitely worth a visit while in CDMX. (Shout out to Ricardo for introducing me to this classic spot!)
Azul Historico– located in Zocalo, gorgeous courtyard, and AMAZING MOLE!
Utopia– very small, but super delicious food. Went several times during my time in the city.
Los Loosers– they offer amazing veg options, tons of flavor, large portions. Totally reasonable prices.
Lardo– great ambiance, Mediterranean food, always packed so worth arriving early for lunch or dinner, or getting a reservation.
La Casa de Tono– open all the time (even on Christmas) and offers a wide spread of traditional Mexican dishes for super reasonable prices, and even has veg options.
Punto Gozadera– this is a unique space, self-describes as a feminist cultural space + restaurant and bar. Located near China Town, reasonable prices, and the servers were all really sweet. And they host tons of events (admittedly, primarily or exclusively for women).
Tamales Flor de Lis– you can get tamales in plantain leaves or corn husks
Raku Cafe, Condesa (Slayer Machine! Reasonable prices for quality! A cappuccino, latte, or flat white costs 45MXN)
Rosetta Panaderia– I went here based on the recommendation of a friend and OMG! He was dead on, what an amazing bakery. I had a spinach and ricotta stuffed croissant and it was so incredibly tasty I could hardly believe it. There’s always a line out front but you don’t have to wait long for carry out.
Churreria El Moro– super tasty place for churros y chocolate, or my personal favorite: consuelitos, which are 3 small ice cream sandwiches made with fresh churros instead of cookies, and they’re delicious.
Freims– ALL DAY BRUNCH. So damn tasty. Beautiful outdoor courtyard where you can hang out too.
Huset (Roma)- gorgeous courtyard, friendly servers, and if you need a break from traditional Mexican food, this is where to go.
SKIP THE TRIP (Veg restaurants)
Forever Vegano– not that impressed with food, just ok, but lovely setting and great service (and cheap rose by the glass; and plugins throughout if you wanna bring a laptop and hang out awhile)
Pan Comida (veg)- Maybe I ordered wrong (though I followed the server’s recommendation), but NOPE. Taste was good but the portion was ridiculously small and cost 200MXN ($10.50)!! And absolutely terrible service (at the Condesa-Hipodromo) location. I went to another location (in Anzures) to give it a second shot and while the service was much better and the sandwich was tasty, it was still pretty small for the price.
All public museums are FREE on Sundays, so if your trip overlaps with a weekend, it’s great to take advantage and save yourself some $$ (but private museums, such as Frida Khalo, Memoria y Tolerancia, etc., are not included). Apart from Frida, every museum I visited cost less than 100MXN ($5USD) to enter!
This is a MUST visit in CDMX if you have any interest in museums or history. Impressive collection that is very well laid out. I spent 4.5 hours and didn’t get through it all. Plan on at least 1/2 day. There is some information in English but the bulk is in Spanish, so if you speak/read none may be worth taking one of the guided tours. Easily one of the best museums I’ve visited in the world!
Chapultepec Castillo– next to the Anthropology Museum, this is probably the top must visit when in CDMX. The physical site was once important to the Aztecs, and since that time has been used as a military academy, royal residence, and presidential palace, to name a few. The views of the City from the Castle are spectacular, and information is readily available throughout in both English and Spanish.
Museo de Memoria y Tolerancia (Museum of Memory and Tolerance, dedicated to genocide and tolerance)- 90MXN entry. powerful museum that is very well done and documents most of the world genocides in recent history, focusing extensively on the Holocaust, but also covering Armenia, Serbia-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, Guatemala, and finishing with a focus on the importance of tolerance and diversity. Tips: very cold inside the museum, so wear pants and at least bring something with long sleeves (unless you’re hot all the time). The audio guide tour costs only 20MXN more and is essential if you don’t speak Spanish, as the entire exhibit is in Spanish. Pero si habla español, no necesita. Hay carteles y vídeos por todo que explica toda la información en la guía audio.
Museo de Palacio de Bellas Artes– one of the most important in all of Mexico City, housed in a building that is worth the visit alone. Lots of incredible artists featured, including some of Diego Rivera’s most famous murals. Much information available in English.
Museo Mural Diego Rivera– very small museum that is really focused on perhaps his most famous mural, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park. Conveniently located at Alameda Park, a close walking distance from Bellas Artes. Fee is low and there’s an additional 35MXN fee (equivalent to entry price I believe) if you want to take pictures. You won’t need much time, but it’s still worth the visit because this mural is spectacular! The museum offers much of the information in English too.
Both Bellas Artes and Diego Rivera Mural Museums (actually, Tolerance & Genocide too) are located around the fabulous park in central CDMX, Alameda Central.
Zocalo (Historic City Center) & Museo Templo Mayor– if you love history and ruins you don’t have to venture outside of the city to Teotihuacan to see Pyramids/Temples. Right in downtown CDMX there are some incredible ruins combined with an even more amazing museum. Highly recommend a visit! (Another massive thank you to Ricardo for a spectacular tour of this area when I first arrived to CDMX. You’re the best!)
Monumento de la Revolucion (Revolution Monument)- this building was originally designed to be the Capitol building in CDMX, but due to social conditions in the City and running out of money, construction was stopped. The dome part of the design was preserved and eventually converted into the Museum you can visit today, which offers spectacular 360degree views of CDMX. I recommend a visit for that reason alone!
There is SO much to do and see in Mexico City beyond just food and museums, so I can’t finish this blog without adding in a few more videos highlighting some other awesome experiences I had. Especially Lucha Libre! This classic Mexican wrestling is a must do for most people visiting Mexico City, and I was lucky enough to be invited to join Pedro and his family for this fun event one Friday evening.
Traveling outside of CDMX
As soon as I arrived and started meeting people I started getting recommendations for other cities and states in Mexico I needed to visit. There are SO MANY cities and states to visit, some that work well for a day trip, but others that need at least a weekend/couple of days. Either way, if you have more than just a few days in CDMX, you should definitely explore a bit! I’m going to start this section with a video from the Christmas trip my parents made to CDMX, as their vacation included a good mix of sites inside and outside of CDMX, so it’s also a preview of things to come below! In the video are shots from several restaurants mentioned above, lots from the heart of Roma and Condesa, Coyoacan, the beautiful Christmas lights and decorations in the Zocalo, as well as our Christmas Day evening trip out to the Gardens of Mexico (gracias a Pedro y su familia tan generosa).
Day Trips from Mexico City
Teotihuacan. Arguably the most famous pyramids (technically, temples) in all of Mexico, or at least, central Mexico. Most people will make a trek out here, even if you only have a short stay. There are so many options on Airbnb for Experiences out to Teotihuacan, with the two top differentiating (at least based on descriptions) by: do you want mezcal tasting included, or would you prefer to have lunch included and have a cave visit and ceremony (of sorts) included? Based on time/day availability, I ended up opting for the latter (ever so slightly less popular of the two, with still almost 900 reviews and around a 4.9 rating!), and 100% no regrets! I had an amazing day trip that I would totally recommend to anyone who wants to get to know this wonderful site. Alejandro, our host, grew up steps away from the ruins and this place is in his blood and heart.
Jardines del México, Cuernavaca, Morelos. Thanks to a wonderful local named Pedro, I had the opportunity to go and see this spectacular site. This is easily one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve been to anywhere in the world. They’re relatively new (opened ~5 years) and located about 1.5 hours outside of the city (based on normal traffic flow). There’s a lovely restaurant on site that offers a meal with a gorgeous view, and totally reasonable prices. And there are numerous different gardens, artwork, and sculptures throughout. My particular favorites: the Japanese garden and the Italian garden. Pedro was kind enough to drive, so I unfortunately can’t offer advice on how to get there with public transportation, but I do think this destination is worth the trip if you have more than just a couple of days in CDMX. Also, the stunning cover photo from this blog post (that looks like an Italian garden) is from these amazing gardens.
Puebla! Absolutely one of my favorite cities in all of Mexico, and a very quick ~2 hour (bus) ride from CDMX! It is so convenient to get here you can easily do as a day trip, though I loved it so much that I did 2 days, 1 night (and could have spent more time). For me, as wonderful as the food in Oaxaca is, Puebla is where it’s at!!! I ate sooooo well and it was probably the most affordable city (for amazing restaurants) I found in Mexico. Everything about Puebla is charming, from its architecture, design, parks, museums, and amazing food. If you only have time for one trip outside of CDMX, Puebla is a great choice! Speak of amazing food, here are some restaurants that blew my mind (but not my budget! And all had veg options!!!): EntreTierras; Fonda de Santa Clara; and, La Mexicana. All of these places were just incredible!!! I actually used points to stay at the Four Points by Sheraton (only 5,000pts!!!), which was an incredible value. The location isn’t walkable to anything you’ll want to see, which is the only downside. But for value (and amazing view of the Popo Volcano), 100% I’d stay there again.
Tepotzotlán, Morelos. This is a small town located between Cuernavaca and CDMX. It was originally settled by the Aztec Indians, and in more “modern” times has buildings (such as the main Cathedral) dating back to the 1500s. It’s a cute place to walk the cobblestone streets (which cover pretty much the entire town), with 360° views of the mountains surrounding this town. And do NOT miss out on the ice cream. This small town is absolutely overloaded with Tepoznieves (ice milk), in every flavor you can dream of then some! (I visited Tepoztlan with Pedro as we headed back to CDMX from Cuernavaca, if you’re planning a route.)
Pachuca and Real de Monte, Hidalgo. Pachuca is a city 1.5 hours north of CDMX. I headed to Terminal Norte and walked around until I found a company that went to Pachuca. I know of two for sure: ADO and Flecha Rojo. I found the Flecha desk first so went with them. Cost was only 90MXN (cash only), and they depart every 10 minutes between 5:30am – 11:45pm. Once I got to Pachuca, I was driven around the city a bit to see things, before heading the ~20 minutes to Real de Monte. While Pachuca is a city, Real de Monte is a Pueblo Magico. Honestly, I wouldn’t say either are a “must visit” especially if your time in CDMX is limited.
Overnight or 2+ Day Trips
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Even before arriving to CDMX, my Argentine friend Beatrix told me I “had” to go here. And that sentiment was echoed by just about every Mexican I met. It has a reputation for being a picturesque city, and is only a few hours north of CDMX. And in my opinion it definitely lived up to that reputation. All cobblestone streets and charming architecture throughout. (Tip: between the stones and some seriously steep hills, this is not a place for your heels- make sure you have comfortable shoes or boots for walking!) It is SUPER safe, and has loads of tourists so don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll get by just fine. SMA is also located in the heart of one of Mexico’s wine producing regions. Shockingly, I did not visit any wineries, but if you have a few days here, that could be a great option! Shout out to Brian for helping me navigate and enjoy the city so much. Places not to be missed: Don Taco Tequila!!! It’s a veg restaurant that serves up SUPER tasty food, but even if you’re a carnivore and not convinced, it was still the best mezcalita I drank in all of Mexico! (Not exaggerating. If you want more recommendations for places to pop into for tasty drinks, check out La Mezcaleria, which is also a very well reviewed restaurant, or San Mezcal, both of which are downtown.) Restaurante Nectar offers healthy and tasty alternatives, or just a great place to pop into if you need a break from walking and want a tea in a gorgeous courtyard. Chocolates y Churros San Agustin is THE most insanely tasty and well known churro joint in all of San Miguel, and is definitely worth stopping by. But consider yourself warned: if you go with the traditional, Spanish-style dark chocolate, it is HEAVY. I recommend splitting between 2-3 people, for real. Finally, a must visit is Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. You don’t have to pay to stay at this fabulous 5-star hotel, just head there for sunset and enjoy a drink (not more than 1 because prices are crazy! Though food is tasty and prices not unreasonable for starters especially) and check out the FABULOUS view of San Miguel this wonderful hotel rooftop terrace offers.
Transportation: I opted for one of the luxury bus lines, ETN (also because it has the most frequent departures to SMA- running hourly through most of the day). My ticket to SMA cost me USD$31, which included my seat pick (it’s a double decker bus so I purchased top deck, front row window seat for the view- but spoiler alert, there’s not much to look at during the trip so don’t know that I’d worry about selecting front row again), a bottle of water, and a sandwich (which had lunch meat so I won’t be eating it, but I appreciated the gesture. I caught the bust from Terminal Norte, which was super easy to get to via Metro. Also, there’s a kiosk just inside the main entry of the Terminal that has tacos, juices, and a few other foods. I had time so grabbed a taco before going to the bus; it was tasty and at only 15MXN, is one of the cheapest tacos I had eaten in Mexico to date. I booked my bus ticket online to take advantage of a 15% discount that comes with the online booking; though, the bus was nearly empty so I’m guessing (apart from holidays) advance purchases aren’t quite so necessary here. The bus was scheduled to depart at 13:30 and ran only 10 minutes behind. Another option is Primera Plus, which also has frequent trips to SMA and departs from the same terminal. ETN is definitely nicer, and if you’re not in the front row in PP the seat in front of you will recline damn near all the way into your lap. Also, with ETN the bus has 1 row on left and then on right aisle 2 seats; so if you’re traveling solo and don’t want a stranger for a seat mate, ETN has the advantage there. (Yes, PP tends to be cheaper but the cost savings tends to be between $1-$5USD, not enough to choose PP over ETN.) Also, both bus companies have TVs in front of all seats with movies, just like you get when flying internationally (but with bigger screens!). Though, content is in Spanish.
Another transportation note once in SMA. Uber exists but is illegal. As such, you need to sit in the front seat. Also, the Uber cars cannot pick you up from directly in front of the bus terminal- you just need to walk up to street level for pickup. I visited during the week, when there weren’t too many tourists, so never had to wait long before getting an Uber, but can imagine that with so few drivers during busy days/times you may need to use cabs.
Accommodations: Because I am also paying for my Airbnb in CDMX, these trips effectively double my travel costs, so finding something affordable is super important. For that reason Airbnb (again) won over hotel options. Mine was lovely and quite affordable. No matter where I highly recommend staying in Zona Central, so that you’re walking distance to everywhere you want to go.
Santiago de Queretaro, Queretaro. I combined San Miguel and Queretaro into a single, 3-day trip outside of CDMX, which worked great (though I wish I would have had a bit more time in Queretaro because it’s charming and SO AFFORDABLE!!!). I didn’t love my Airbnb so not going to recommend that here. I did have some GREAT food in Queretaro. My favorite meal was at Tikua Sureste, which served up a fabulous mole (with veg option!) in a gorgeous courtyard with live music. Brian gave me some other great recommendations that I unfortunately didn’t get to check out, but the places looked so great I want to share: PIA Cocina Libre and Chinicuil Cocina de Origen. Also, I stopped into the Casa de Alegria and had the most wonderful talk to the resident artist, who is the most wonderful Argentinian who has called Mexico home for decades. And really affordable prices. If you like art and want something authentic, this gallery is worth a stop.
Oaxaca! Gracias a Pedro y su familia, tenia la oportunidad ir a la ciudad de Oaxaca para pasar el fin del ano, y disfrutar un viaje del coche desde Oaxaca hasta CDMX. (Thanks to Pedro and his family I had the opportunity to go to Oaxaca City to spend NYE, and to enjoy a car trip from Oaxaca City to Mexico City.) I started off the last day of 2019 and the first day of 2020 in Oaxaca City, which is beautiful, charming, walkable, full of historic buildings, some of the best mezcal in Mexico, and the best mole in Mexico!!! Do yourself a favor and eat mole nonstop throughout the state of Oaxaca!!!
After leaving Oaxaca City, Pedro, his darling niece (and my friend) Ana, and I took an epic 2-day road trip to first visit the ruins at Monte Alban (historical pyramids/temples just slightly smaller than Teotihuacan), then onto Hierve del Agua to view the gorgeous, natural pools sandwiched in the mountains, before arriving to the Pueblo Magico of Mitla for the evening. I loved the charm of Mitla but warning for vegetarians or vegans: your food options are super limited! We had to stop by at least 10-15 restaurants before finding something to eat for me (that wasn’t just strictly a quesadilla with cheese, because holy meat heavy). The absolute best options we found were at La Ofrenda (located adjacent to the Hotel y Restaurante Don Cenobio). Super duper tasty but painfully understaffed and slow, so don’t go if you’re in a hurry (and don’t walk in anywhere close to closing time or they won’t give you a table). But if you have time and especially want tasty Mexican food but plant based options, this is a great choice in Mitla. For anyone who wants to road trip through Oaxaca, you will see so many mezcal distilleries along the highway (between Hierve del Agua and Oaxaca), I’d definitely recommend going slow if you can so you can stop and visit some of these.
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. I was desperately craving beach time, and had never been anywhere on Mexico’s west coast, so PV won (FYI: Acapulco is actually much closer, you can get there in 4-5 hours by car/bus). I also liked the idea that the town of PV poured right onto the beach/water, rather than having the town separate from the beaches, which is what you have in many other places. I must confess I had somewhat mixed feelings about PV. It is beautiful and right on the water, which I love! But nothing quite compares with Mexico’s east coast beaches (you have PERFECT water temperatures and white sand, vs. colder Pacific waters and rockier beaches), and PV has a rather large English-speaking ex-pat community, which means it is actually a bit hard to even speak Spanish here. That said, it was a lovely beach weekend trip and I’m glad I had a chance to know a sliver of Mexico’s west coast.
I packed so much into my 7 weeks in Mexico, and loved every moment. This trip just CRUSHED any ridiculous stereotype I had heard (or, perhaps, subconsciously, had) of Mexico. And Mexico City is officially added to my short list of places in the world where I could definitely see myself living. I highly encourage anyone who has ever been remotely interested in Mexico to GO!