I now know that Mexico City, home to 23 million people, is the best-kept secret in the Americas. Rich with architecture, public art, and an incredible culinary scene, Sammy and I won’t wait long to take another long weekend trip south (only a 4-hour direct flight from Chicago!). Under Spanish rule for nearly 250 years, you clearly see the European influence throughout the city. While you must be mindful of any city you visit, we felt completely safe exploring the vibrant and interesting neighborhoods of Polanco, Roma, and Centro Historico. Here is our itinerary for my recent birthday trip:
Airfare: About a 4-hour direct flight that left Chicago at 8:35 pm and arrived in Mexico City at 1:50 pm. Flights ranged from $500-600 for direct, roundtrip flights. We’ve spent $450 roundtrip for nearly the same flight to San Francisco.
17th: Fly to Mexico City from Chicago, Arrival and the Centro Historico Neighborhood
18th: Bike Tour, Cocktails Overlooking the Ruins, and the Polanco Neighborhood
19th: Cooking Class, Castillo de Chapultepec, and the Roma Neighborhood
20th: Shop in the market and fly to Chicago from Mexico City (2:40)
Sprint International Call Settings
Samsung Galaxy Phones
Go to settings, click on connections, click on mobile networks, click data roaming, turn off all domestic roaming (voice, text, and data), turn on all international roaming (voice, text, and data). We’ll receive a welcome message when we arrive.
Charles Schwab Brokerage Checking Account
Transfer cash for free ATM withdrawls and no transaction fees.
Bring the Chase Sapphire, Mileage Plus Explorer (20% off on-flight purchases), and Chase Business Ink for no transaction fees.
1 USD = 19.16 Pesos: Think about $5 USD for every $100 Pesos. Overall, dining is cheaper in Mexico City. Most experiences are 20-30% less than Chicago after a 15% tip (sometimes as high as 40% less expensive for a meal). A few of the historic sites were free or only as high as $10 USD.
Traveling Throughout the City
Although we could’ve taken public transportation (bus or train) throughout the city, we always chose Uber…which was a reliable, safe, and cheap option. With this being said, be prepared for a 15-43 minute ride to a neighboring area. I’ve never witnessed more traffic in a city (sorry Manhatten). With this being said, though, we enjoyed the ample time to look at the public murals, sculptures, and parks along the way. The fare is still cheap (USD 5-10) for this length of time, and you avoid taking the chance on the cabs (avoid the pink cabs). I highly encourage to plan your trip with a neighborhood for the day in mind (to minimize back and forth travel time). Walking is also an option, but you must know the adjoining neighborhoods and stick to the busy streets to be safe.
Where We Stayed
17-20th: Mexico City (Centro Historico Neighborhood)
Airbnb Listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/17924711?guests=1&adults=1
Check-in: 3:00 pm
Check-out: 1:00 pm
-Directions: Uber was an easy, cheap, and safe option to Dirk’s Airbnb (20-30 minute ride for $8-10 USD).
-About the Airbnb: The apartment consists of 3 private rooms and 2 terraces in this vintage Mexico City home. We enjoyed the privacy and quiet of interior designer, Dirk-Jan Kinet’s trendy upstairs apartment. The space was a true reminder of why we stay in Airbnb homes across the world. The unique design inspired us to begin transforming our home, and the hospitality was unmatched (sorry hotels). On our first day, Dirk’s partner, Jose Luis, gave us an informative 2-hour walking tour of the historic area with a sneak peek into the local life and bountiful suggestions. Of course, we couldn’t resist sipping the complimentary bottle of sparkling wine left in our new home later that night! Without a doubt, this Airbnb enhanced our experience in our first visit to Mexico City.
Day 1: Arrival and the Centro Historico Neighborhood
Since we arrived early afternoon, we didn’t book any tours. We started our journey with an espresso from Café Jekemir and a tour from our host around the Centro Historico neighborhood…the city center for government buildings, a public square, cathedrals, pyramid ruins, historic buildings, and hidden restaurants. After seeing the Mexican military remove the national flag in Zocalo Square at 6 pm, we ventured over to Azul Historico. From the outside, the historic building gives very little insight into the gastronomic experience floating in the air inside. As we entered, it opened into a closed courtyard of dining tables among a forest of trees. This famed restaurant typically featured chefs from different regions of Mexico and, that night, we met the various tastes of Veracruz. After indulging in traditional cuisine that included tortilla soup, the shrimp and mackerel ceviche Rojo mixto, and the mouthwatering empipianadas rellenas de minilla dishes, we explored the city streets and found performers practicing traditional Aztec dances in an unassuming area. Night one: Check!
Centro Historico/Centro/Alameda Central Sites
-Alameda Central (visited)
-Palacio de Bellas Artes (check out the top floors, walked by)
-Catedral Metropolitana (visited)
-The Zocalo (where the marathon began in the 1968 Olympics, visited)
-Palacio Nacional (walked by)
-Museo del Templo Mayor (visited)
-Gran hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico (incredible interiors featured in a James Bond movie, will visit next time)
-Palacio de Carreos de Mexico (will visit next time)
-Museo National de Arte
-La Ciudadela Centro Artesanal (market for artisan crafts and more)
Centro Historico/Centro/Alameda Central Restaurants and Bars
-Azul Historico (Make reservations)
-Puntarena (Beautiful courtyard restaurant in the same building as Azul Restaurante, great breakfast)
-El Mayor (Beautiful rooftop views of the ruins near Zocalo) -Café Jekemir (coffee)
-Bar la Opera (tequila, will visit next time)
-Miralto (amazing rooftop views, will visit next time)
-Casino Espanol (checked out an event…perhaps we weren’t on the list 😊, will visit next time)
-El Cardenal (lunch)
-Nonsolo Mx (traditional Mexican)
-Maison Kayser (pastries)
-Hosteria “La Bota”
-Café de Tacuba
-Tio Pepe (historic bar)
-Beer La Bota (late night bar)
Day 2: Bike Tour, Cocktails Overlooking the Ruins, and the Polanco Neighborhood
What do you do in Mexico City if you’re a personal trainer? Sign up for a bike tour, of course! With the tour starting at 10 am, we had time to eat chilaquiles in Puntarena’s open-air courtyard nearby, though (don’t tell my personal training clients). The grassy wall with a tricycle created a memorable backdrop for our breakfast. Considering the amount of traffic in Mexico City (the most we have ever witnessed in a city), we needed to jump in an Uber for our 24-minute ride to the Polanco neighborhood after a time-pressed meal (assume it could take 13-43 minutes to drive to any neighborhood). Upon our arrival, we jumped on our bikes and began our private tour of the city. From Polanco and back, we traced Mexico City’s history across many neighborhoods and documented the Spanish and French influence on its architecture, public sculptures, and art. The city was a far cry from the rural Mexican style we envisioned. After 250 years of Spanish rule, you clearly see the European influence on every neighborhood (especially the Centro Historico).
By the tour’s end, we covered most of the historic sites and parks in the nearby neighborhoods and stopped in a traditional taco stand to indulge in Roma’s authentic cuisine. Feeling parched, we took an Uber to the terrace restaurant, El Mayor, in the Centro Historico. While enjoying the 70-degree weather, we sipped margaritas and look over the Aztec pyramid ruins. To cap our night, we enjoyed a drink at Unica before our reservation in the celebrated traditional Mexican restaurant with a modern finish, Dulce Patria.
-Mexico City Bike Tours (http://mexicobiketour.com.mx/): $38pp, 4-4.5 hours, includes a tour of the Polanco, Centro Historico, and Roma neighborhoods (and everything in between) and a taco stop -A walk through the beautiful tree-lined streets looking at the mansions
-Castillo de Chapultepec and the Museo Nacional de Historia (Castle on the hill looking down on the French-inspired street, Reforma)
-Bosque de Chapultepec (one of the biggest parks in Latin America)
Polanco Restaurants and Bars
-Pujol (book reservation 2-3 months in advance, one of the top 5 restaurants in the world, will visit next time)
-Dulce Patria (a modern twist on traditional Mexican dishes, restaurant design is very simple with an 80’s flare, book reservation 1 month in advance)
-Quintonil (book reservation 2 months in advance, one of the top 5 restaurants in Mexico City, will visit next time)
-Jules Basement (speakeasy, will visit next time)
-Unica Restaurant (neat place for a drink, too)
-Contramar (seafood restaurant, will visit next time)
Day 3: Cooking Class, Castillo de Chapultepec, and the Roma Neighborhood
With no time for breakfast, we went straight to our cooking class at 9 am in Roma’s Aura Authentic. Luckily, our chef-teacher, Graciela, already had breakfast in mind for us. Before preparing homemade salsa, a zucchini salad, tortillas from scratch, white mole, and cornbread, we ventured out to a local market for ingredients. On the way, we stopped at a delicious corner quesadilla stand to taste a familiar dish in a not-so-familiar way (quesadillas in Mexico City are made without cheese and filled with a variety of ingredients including squash blossom and cactus). After learning about the differences between peppers of various regions, we capped our first meal with Oaxaca worms, grasshoppers, and flying worms (and, yes, we did taste each and they tasted good). Once we returned to the kitchen, we began preparing our master feast that finished with a traditional birthday song and a candle on cornbread.
With daylight hours to spare, Sammy and I Ubered to Latin America’s biggest park, Chapultepec. During our visit to the Castillo de Chapultepec, we hired a docent to explain its history. Soon after, we returned to Roma for Italian cuisine at Rosetta and a night of cocktails in the same area.
-Aura Authentic Cook Class (https://www.auramexcooking.com/cooking-classes): $75pp, 4.5-5 hours, includes a morning market tour, meal, and drinks -Plaza Rio de Janeiro
-Templo San Francisco Javier and Plaza Romita
Roma Restaurants and Bars
-Rosetta Restaurant (excellent Italian restaurant, booked reservations 1 month in advance)
-Sabrinos (great breakfast, will visit next time)
-Contramar (seafood restaurant, will visit next time)
-Licoreria Limantour (recently ranked on “The World’s 50 Best Bars” for cocktails)
-Maison Artemisia (bar, will visit next time)
-Maximo Bistrot Local (excellent French restaurant, booked reservations 2 months in advance, will visit next time)