Mexico City can be overwhelming for a first time visitor. Think about it: 8.84 million people making it the most populous city in the country, covering 573 square miles, and status as the oldest capital city in the Americas. So it's loaded with people, spans wide, and its roots run deep. Culturally, that results in a diverse population of indigenous, mestizo, and immigrant populations. For a new visitor trying to figure out what to do, and what to see, it might be unclear. I felt this way before I visited in June 2017, but I found my way around and made some great travel memories. I recommend these top five must-do activities which will also be on the itinerary next February as I take a group of travelers to explore the city. And you can join us!
5. Eat the street food
I don't eat street food from any street, or any vendor. I am a veteran traveler that has seen his share of stomach bugs and viruses related to poor food preparation. I always pick the vendor that has the largest local crowd, eating the freshest dishes. The aroma of tacos heaped with any variety of proteins, including chicken, pork, or veggies can be smelled blocks away. They are sold in multiples of 3-5, and are very inexpensive. Its a quick, delicious, cheap meal that will surely get you in touch with locals that have a taste for the authentic flavors of Mexico City. You can also grab incredible meals in the town markets. Just pull up a seat (again, follow the crowds) at one of the many small food stands and ask them what they have on the menu for the day.
4. Take a trajinera ride through the floating gardens of Xochimilco
Hundreds of miles of canals wind through a suburb of Mexico City, against the backdrop of blue skies and mountains. The most striking features on the canals are the vibrantly painted trajineras, gondola-like boats fit to carry up to a dozen people thru the "floating garden" as they are called. These small islands of land were traditional family subsistence farms. Today, many are eerily decorated, such as the island of the dolls. Grab a friend (or several), some food and drinks for a few hours of partying and boating.
3. Visit Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul
Located in one of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in Mexico City, the Blue House was made into a museum in 1958, four years after the death of the painter. Today it is one of the most popular museums in the Mexican capital. Popularly known as the Casa Azul (the ‘Blue House’), the Museo Frida Kahlo preserves the personal objects that reveal the private universe of Latin America’s most celebrated woman artist.
2. Peruse Mercado La Merced the city's largest market
Whatever you want, its there. Mercado La Merced could really be an entire day's excursion due to it's sheer size and diversity of goods for sale. You might get lost, but just keep walking and exploring. Markets are great places to grab souvenirs, too. And not just in the souvenir section. Try thinking of useful, everyday items as souvenirs---those kinds of items that are culturally relevant to the place that you are visiting, but are much more significant than a magnet or a shot glass. I brought back an iron citrus expresser stamped with Mexico on it. Its the same kind used in restaurants and households to squeeze lime juice into Mexican dishes.
1. Climb the ancient pyramids at Teotihuacan
The thing that is the most jarring about Mexico City is the way that the ancient is still visible and tangible there--and often create a poignant juxtaposition next to the contemporary. The Spanish literally built their capital city on top of native Indian pyramids which have been uncovered hundreds of years later. You can see their remains at the Zocalo in the city's center. More impressive still is the vast archaeological site at Teotihuacan about an hour outside of the city. You can climb the pyramids which were part of an ancient city. I recommend you go early in the day on a full stomach, because it requires some walking and climbing to get the best panoramic shots and take in the grand size of the site.
You may be wondering how the city is doing after the September 2017 earthquake. Well, its on its way back...and aside from certain areas, its safe to visit. In an effort to revive tourism, airlines are slashing flights to Mexico City. I recently purchased a round trip flight for less than I'd spend during a weekend of partying in Washington, DC. Grab your flight while fares are low, and meet me in Mexico City next February! Registration is open until 10/31.