Flight: $200 (Delta found with skyscanner.com)
Hotel: $140 (4 Nights)
Fun, Food, and Drinks: $160 (Lucha Libre, Museums, Pyramids, Day of the Dead)
With only 5 days (3 if you don’t include travel) I was really intimidated to determine how best to explore Mexico City. If this was going to be the first and only time I’d ever experience Mexico’s capital, what would my itinerary include? Furthermore, what would be the greatest week of the year to explore? There was simply too much to choose from so I had to finally bite the bullet and accept I’d miss out on a lot. But the guerilla traveler in me wasn’t about to miss taking the challenge lying down. I planned on diving in so hard, I’d hit my head at the bottom, like the poorly planned human being that I am. I set out four goals:
- Attend a Mexican Wrestling Match! (Lucha Libre)
- Pay homage to Frida Kahlo by visiting her home and museum
- Visit the famed Pyramids of Mexico City
- Experience the beautiful celebration of Day(s) of the Dead
Of all the countries to visit, we often ignore what’s in our own backyard (or maybe whose backyard we are in)… see what I did there? However, finding a flight to Mexico City was too easy. Major airlines were begging to whisk me to my neighbor in the south and see what all the noise is about. Whether you are as close as Miami, or Houston, tickets were pretty easy to find under $220. Even as far as New York or Seattle, it was hard not to find something for $250. I found a great deal with Delta, but I understand Volero and AeroMexico are great too.
Next, I had to figure out where to stay. Mexico City is big… really, really big (the largest city in North America and 2nd to Sao Paulo in all the Americas. So, I had to consider an array of logistics. How close to the airport would it be? Was there mass transit nearby? Could I walk to the things I wanted to see? How much did I want (afford) to spend? I’ve been leaning pretty hard lately on my hotels.com (free hotel) points so I was hoping to earn some rather than spend. Because the flight was so cheap, I was willing to pay a little extra and get back on track with that. I still had a budget of $500. I also had another GT trick… ask a fiend to go with me. Boom! My close friend, Annie D. agreed, so my hotel room instantly priced in half. I’m so sneaky (not really). We chose the Zona Reforma district on the west side of the city. With police on nearly every corner, we felt extremely safe. We decided to stay in a very nice little hotel within walking distance of the Historic City Center, Arena Mexico, great restaurants, and the subway (extremely easy to use). It was quite inexpensive, allowing for more money to experience the city.
What to Do
The spectacle of watching grown men in tights, jumping around a small ring, lunging at one another, might not be something you’d get excited about. However, watching acrobats in colorful costumes, flying through the air in an absurdly entertaining act must appeal to even the grumpiest of stiffs. Enter Lucha Libre! Mexican wrestling has been a cultural staple and unique experience for almost a century. If you want to go “big,” you can spend as much as $15.00 (that’s right $15 dollars) or as little as $2.50. Either way (Ringside or Nosebleed) you will have a great time. It’s there for you to get into and appreciate. Think Cirque de Soleil without having to try and understand what’s going on.
The Frida Kahlo Museum
Although the Frida Kahlo museum is admittedly crowded (note: buy your tickets online) it’s also incredibly personal. Her artwork, clothes, and personal items are carefully set about the museum which is itself, her home. You wander through the rooms that she, her family, Diego Rivera, and even Leon Trotsky once lived in. Some are moved by the original artwork that hangs on the wall, while others consider the body casts and harnesses that kept her frame together carefully placed behind glass. Still, others enjoy walking around the courtyard and simply enjoy the outdoor courtyard, having their picture taken against the famous “blue” exterior. Tickets are about five dollars. So there’s really no reason not to go.
The Pyramids of Mexico City
You’ve heard of the Mayans and the Aztecs, but how familiar are you with the “Teotihuacano” people? When the Aztecs discovered these temples and people they considered the sacred land as the place where the gods were born. It’s easy to see why. The Sun and Moon pyramids, west of Mexico City were built as part of a sprawling and fascinating city center thousands of years old. Currently, they allow visitors to climb the steps of the sun pyramid, but take your time as the steps are quite steep and the elevation is noticeable.
Proper planning is necessary. Group tours can be as little as $30 per person (group of 5-6). We chose to rent a private car for $120 (split between 2) with a tour guide for more flexibility. Sometimes, it can be a pain waiting for others or you simply are ready to go. Either way, you need to see this beautiful place with your own eyes.
Day of the Dead
Everything up to now was an amazing topping on an incredible cake. The real reason I came to Mexico City on these very specific dates was so see for myself what all of Mexico would be doing for two days (remembering the past, reflecting on the present, and celebrating the future). I have to admit it… James Bond changed my life. I wish I could say I knew all about Day of the Dead before I saw the movie, and didn’t know it actually takes place in November. But what can I say, I do now! Moving on… Day of the Dead is a two day event. On November 1st, most of the country dedicates this day to children. Alters are put up in homes and in public with a special emphasis on the children, living and deceased. This is the night you will see more children wandering with their parents into the very late night, through huge crowds of well-wishers and celebrators. November 2nd is dedicated to the adult friends and family who have passed on. Alters often have bottles of alcohol that the dearly departed enjoyed in their life. The Zocalo is “the” place to be. Possibly millions of city dwellers flock to the old historic city center to soak up the scene. The sights, the sounds, the artwork, there’s simply too much for even the most greedy travel eyes. Go; that’s all I can say… go, see and enjoy!
I’d like to share two important points with you:
- Although revelers may enjoy a drink, this is not a night at Daytona Beach with your college buddies. Drinking past your tolerance and creating a urinal in the corner is not acceptable. This should be a welcome note for most of us and a word of caution for the rest.
- With few exceptions, the costume array is preferred to just one (the skeleton). Day of the Dead is distinctly different from Halloween. Less than 2% of the entire crowd dressed up as anything other than a variation of a skeleton. Somehow this gave the whole atmosphere a more formal look. you can wear your jeans and a shirt or black suit, but stick to the theme. Women often wear their street clothes of throw on a flowery dress. However, you do not need to dress up in a sexy “whatever” costume. Please don’t.
When all was said and done, I had the greatest time of my life. I came to accept I saw a single blink worth of Mexico City (after all there are 12 districts and 8 million citizens) so I’m far from an expert. However, every color imaginable blazed in that moment. Every sound and savory smell filled my other senses and I’m thankful for the chance to try. City transportation by subway is as little as 0.75 and Uber and taxi is quite reasonable at 5 to 8 dollars for 20-30 minutes worth of driving. Delicious meals are accessible at 5 dollars a pop (don’t shy away from street vendors- they’re the best). Internet and wi-fi is still a little tricky sometimes, but many restaurants and cafes offer use for free.
Mexico City is without a doubt an international city that offers more and more. Try to see as much as possible with whatever time you have available but be prepared to visit again and again.
God Speed and Good Travels!