Initial reaction after hitting the road
I already feel relaxed and refreshed after only a few days abroad. The US with all its niceties and luxuries can also be a stressful place. The mountain of things everyone deals with just to stay afloat can suck the fun away. Utilities, health care, cell phone plans, car payments, insurance, gym memberships, furniture, decorations, car maintenance, dead light bulbs, raking leaves, shoveling snow, and dirty dishes, etc. are seemingly endless and can lead to a rut of a mindset where there’s always something you could be doing or taking care of so you feel guilty taking time for yourself to sit and reflect or relax.
After only a day in Mexico City, I feel refreshed. The atmosphere is relaxed and things happen when they happen.
People walk slowly, buses meander along and arrive late but very often, and everybody seems to be on a different schedule so they’re not rushing anywhere. Restaurants seem to always be open and full of people regardless of the time of day and are free from the pressure that surrounds the American dining experience. You’re not in a rush to get in an out and it’s rare to see lines or wait times to get in. Most places here don’t have a website or any reviews or are even searchable on Google Maps so you aren’t able to second guess your choice of restaurant and pine over your choices on an endless list of 4.5 vs. 4.6 star rated restaurants. There’s a refreshing sense of adventure in just walking along and finding a spot that looks good from the outside free from the unwinnable and uninspiring exercise of reading reviews or spoiling the surprise by looking at a restaurant’s menu online. You don’t go out looking for a particular food type or meal, rather just eat what they’re serving and what looks good on other people’s tables.
This method isn’t always foolproof though. I did manage to completely embarrass Sara at a little lunch spot when I ordered a soup that looked good at the table next to us. It was a thick red soup that appeared to be a hearty chicken soup that you’d spoon into tortillas. What I thought was chicken turned out to be stomach and intestine from various animals. I did my best with it but the texture and distinct bitter flavor was too tough to stomach. After poking around the soup for a while, another customer noticed my hesitancy to dive in and helped me to order some basic enchiladas for this wimpy kid. I gave it a good shot and learned that I definitely need to get some more Spanish under my belt!
The Places – La Roma, La Condesa, and Centro Historico are where we spent the most time. Centro Historico has the downtown buildings, museums, and old walking only streets with many small markets, mariachi bands, and your typical nice department stores. We took a great free tour that we found through Couchsurfing through a company called Yaxo. This was a great way to get our feet wet in the city and see some of the classic sites. Next, we spent a full day just walking the streets of Roma and Condesa. This area has many beautiful gardens and great food with trendy restaurants, cafes, and dessert places.
The Food - Folks in Mexico City love to eat and the food is outstanding and everywhere. I’ve never seen a place where food is so easily accessible. Sweet, spicy, meaty, fruity, grainy options on every street corner. We had some outstanding street food and it’s so cheap. We were careful about the water we drank and a little more adventurous with the food we chose but did not have any issues with sickness. Our favorite spot ended up being the very first restaurant we went to after a miserable United flight. Our Airbnb hosts recommended the place called Taquitos Frontera. And don’t miss the churo shop across the street! The restaurant had a street food feel to it with benches creeping out into the sidewalk. We ordered a handful of things we didn’t recognize and each dish was full of flavors we’d never found in the US, putting those $4 and $5 tacos at snooty taco restaurants in Atlanta to shame. Tacos al pastor are their specialty with a rotating stick of meat and a pineapple cut into your taco for a savory sweet mix. Regarding street food, try to mango with chili pepper on it and seek out street food vendors with older folks sitting down doing the cooking. I recognized a strong correlation between age of the cook and quality of the food. Price-wise, you could eat a full meal for $1 per person.
The People - People here seem to be genuinely nice and go out of their way to help. For example, in our hunt for beers, we stopped in a café type restaurant that had a big fridge full of bottled beers. After pulling out a handful, one of the guys hanging out in the nearly empty café asked if we were eating there or just getting beers. He explained that the beer was a lot cheaper in the shop a couple blocks down the street and recommended we go there instead of buying his expensive beer. One of the servers was walking that direction anyway and she even walked us to the door to make sure we found the shop. In the subway, if we lingered at a map with our phones out, folks would often stop to help point us in the right direction. Small acts of kindness like these were quite common and created a supportive and enjoyable atmosphere for exploring the city.
The Entertainment – One of my goals was to go to a Lucha Libre match (WWF style wrestling with the sweet masks). Lucky enough, the championships happened to the same weekend we were in Mexico City! We got tickets through a hostel and went with a big group of foreigners to the match, riding a tide of cheap tequila. The match was all I’d hoped for with extra machismo, martial aerobatics, and the drama of unmasking a pro. I picked a team and cheered my heart out for them along with the rest of the crowd. I got a lucky pick and ended up cheering for the champions! Tickets were very cheap and certainly worthwhile!
We also went to the famous restaurant, Miralto, at the top of Mexico City’s Torre Tower. The food was ok and expectedly expensive, but the view was rather disappointing with signs covering most of the windows. I’d recommend passing on this one and instead head somewhere with much tastier food.
If you have time, Teotihuacan is an ancient city with incredible ruins and pyramids that you can climb. It’s a short bus ride out of the city and a great day trip. We’ve got some neat 360 degree photos coming soon from the ruins and the top of the pyramids. We also got to have lunch in a cave! It was a nice white table cloth restaurant called La Gruta inside of a cave with bands playing and pretty good food. You pay a premium for the experience, but the cool oasis of the cave was a welcome change from the sunny pyramids. I tried some grasshoppers but wasn’t a huge fan of the crunchy legs. All in all, a great choice for a lunch spot.
The Dogs - Nearly everybody has a dog and most of them are off leash. Some are nice but a fair number seem to be more protective and bark when you get close. Also, there are many different breeds of purebred dogs with very few mixes. With so many purebreds, my concern is that the dog world in Mexico City may not be as welcoming of mixed breed dogs so they don’t last long. A little surface research appears to support this unfortunately.
The Transportation - Getting around Mexico City is a breeze. The Metro (subway) is about $.25 USD to ride and the trains come every 2 minutes. They’re hot, old, and dirty but so cheap and we never saw them crowded or felt unsafe. Uber is also about a quarter of the price as in the US so we used this method at night or when we were long walks from a Metro station. We did have 1 Uber driver try to take advantage by taking us down a route that had heavy traffic due to construction in order to double the fare. Not knowing enough Spanish, we couldn’t address this while in the Uber but could contact Uber after the fact. Uber Support was not very competent but we did get the issue resolved after a fair amount of back and forth.
Walking around is easy and a neat way to see all the odd street vendors and dog breeds. Sidewalks are huge but sometimes cramped with pop-up street markets. Your feet are going to get dirty, there are some peculiar smells, and cars pretty much have the right of way regardless of crossing lights. The parks around town provide some gorgeous oasis from busy streets and the city invests heavily in landscaping and maintenance of the parks.
We spent an entire day walking around the neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma where trees line the streets and generous medians give the area a greenway feel. We hopped from restaurant to café soaking up local beers, champagne, and occasional sun through the trees. This was my favorite area in Mexico City and definitely worth a trip back to explore further when not a budget traveler.
Regarding airlines, we flew into Mexico City from Orlando on United. This was a miserable experience. Each leg of the flight was delayed and our hanger (hungry-anger) started to come out on the connecting flight. The connecting flight from Houston to Mexico City was delayed an hour as we sat on the runway which turned the flight into a 6 hour flight during dinner time. Unfortunately, United skimps on their meals so they ran out of food for the plane so dinner for me was an extra bag of airline pretzels.
Flying out of Mexico City, we took Interjet, a lower cost Mexican airline. Their plane was old but had much more room than United’s planes. Checked bags were free as opposed to $25 a piece with United. The cherry on top was that they serve alcoholic drinks for free along with better quality snacks. All in all, solid experience with Interjet and we’d fly with them again.
My wife and I quit our jobs, sold our belongings and are hitting the road for nearly 2 years. We're blogging about our adventures, lessons learned, ideas, and recommendations. Take a gander at the content, leave a comment, or reach out to us to meet up on the road!