Mexico

QuickTips for Mexico City

Written by Mark McElroy

These QuickTips for Mexico City may be all you need to organize and arrange your trip.

Want to have a great time in Mexico City? Save time and effort when planning your trip by taking advantage of these QuickTips from mine!

Get There

Most MadeByMark.com readers will arrive via an airport. From there, you can take a legal, licensed taxi (do *not* accept rides offered from non-licensed taxi drivers) from the queue. (At both the airport and the bus stations, taxi queue operators will take down your destination, calculate the fare, and hand a slip to a driver they select for you.)

We arranged an airport transfer through Journeys Beyond the Surface, which worked well because we started a tour the minute we disembarked the plane. It’s a good option — but if you’re just going straight to your hotel, you might as well use Uber to summon a car. While in Mexico City, we found Uber to be a safe, clean, cheap, and delightful alternative to taxis.

Stay Here

Hands down, no questions, no exceptions: stay at The Red Tree House.

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Breakfast at the Red Tree House isn’t just a meal — it’s an event.

Staying at this gracious bed and breakfast is like living in a vibrant, colorful painting by a Mexican artist. Made-from-scratch breakfasts include hand-made quesadillas, chilaquiles, and more, plus fresh fruit, churros, juices, and hot coffee. The happy hour at 6:30 every evening is a don’t-miss event, with guests from all over the world brought together by Jorge, Craig, Victor, Carlos, Alexandro, and other staff members’ generous pouring of delicious wines and local beers.

Rooms are spacious and well-decorated, with comfortable beds, thoughtful touches, and (relatively) fast wi-fi. But the real attraction here is the spirit of the house: the owners and staff are genuinely and universally in love with the house, their guests, and the city. Trust me: this is one of those magical places. If you’ve been to Mexico City and haven’t stayed at the Red Tree House, you haven’t stayed in Mexico City.

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Book in advance from their website. Red Tree House is the number one accommodation in Mexico City for a reason, and its popularity is only going to grow.

See This

Save yourself time and effort by contacting Journeys Beneath the Surface and arranging guided tours through Mosdhe, the smart, delightful owner who’s been arranging delightful tours in Mexico City for years now. She commands a team of sweet, supportive, professional guides — like Sergio (a young man with a passion for history) and Alvaro (who has taken our family to the pyramids and out to Taxco, the silver city).

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Sergio is a great guide — especially good with kids. (Even older kids, like us.)

A day tour of key sights — Chapultepec Castle and Park, the Placio nacional, the Place de Bellas Artes, the Zocalo (or main square), the cathedral, and the Templo Mayor — will easily fill a day, especially with a nice lunch in the middle. Take your time, trust your guide, and soak up all the ambience Mexico City has to offer.

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A nice view of the city from the courtyard at Chapultepec Castle.

I consider Eat Mexico’s Late Night Taco Tour a must, as it provides a safe, approachable, and entertaining introduction to Mexico City’s lively street food scene. You’ll sample tacos from several different vendors and finish up with generous tastings of local beers and four kinds of mezcal. Please, please take my advice about this: just do it!

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Frantic workers can’t make the delicious tacos al pastor fast enough for an eager crowd of locals and tourists.

Upscale shopping is available in Polanco, which is fun for strolling and window shopping. We had a better time, though, at the Mercado de Artesanias La Ciudadela, the sprawling crafts market in the heart of town. This is the place to buy all your trinkets and souvenirs — but also the spot where you’re likely to find one-of-a-kind surprises, like gorgeous glassware and good jewelry.

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Devote plenty of time for browsing. The Mercado de Artesanias is huge!

Most people take the day trip to see the ruins at Teotihuacan — large, well-excavated pyramids about an hour away from the Red Tree House by car. (A good alternative: take an early morning hot-air balloon ride over the deserted ruins, followed by a massive breakfast buffet — a service offered by Veulos en Globo Mexico.)

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The Pyramid at Teotihuacan. Bring a hat and plenty of water!

For a less arduous alternative, consider a trip to the Great Pyramid at Cholula, the world’s largest pyramid. In order to preserve the church built atop the pyramid mound, this site is unexcavated, but you can walk through the buried pyramid using a series of narrow tunnels, and there are other excavations in progress on the site. This is easily combined with a day trip to Puebla, one of Mexico’s “magical cities,” where a walk around the Zocalo, an amazing prix-fixe lunch at the Hotel Colonial (about $7.00 for appetizer, soup, mole-drenched entree, and dessert), and a trip to Uriarte to shop for distinctive Talavera pottery will fill the day.

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Uriarte is considered the very best dealer of Talavera in a town devoted to the production of the pottery.

Personally, though, I prefer the ambience of overlooked Taxco, where red-roofed colonial buildings perch on the edges of steep cliffs, linked together by streets so narrow the local taxis are all Volkswagen Beetles. The bustling Zocalo here feels more authentic to me than Puebla’s, and the amazing views offered by the city’s unique mountain setting (oh — and the silver shopping!) can’t be beaten. While options are limited, this is also where I’d plan to spend a night (perhaps at the Hotel Los Arcos), since the trip back to Mexico City is a three-hour drive.

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The zocalo at Taxco is the center of all life in the city.

If it’s Saturday, you will love the energy, people-watching, and shopping at the Bazar el Sabado. Take an Uber Car to this San Angel institution, check out the art outside the main market, and then plunge into the maze of high-end shops. (This is not your average “Chinese trinkets on blanket-covered tables” market!). Save time for lunch at Sak’s, next door, where the live music and delicious sangria pair well with the enchiladas.

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One of several sprawling, intricate manger scenes at the Saturday Market in San Angel.

Finally, I do recommend a trip out to Xochimilco, where gondoliers with poles guide flower-laden flatboats up and down a charming river route. You’ll be serenaded by mariachis, you’ll be approached by floating vendors selling everything from beer to silver jewelry, and you’ll be immersed in a genuine local pastime that feels both over-the-top and very genuine.

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Everyone loves the boats at Xochilmilco! Bring a picnic lunch and take the two-hour tour.

(I can’t recommend eating from the taco stands here, though, as one eatery in the main plaza gave me the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had in my life.)

Xochilmilco is easy to pair with a visit to the Frida Khalo museum, but …

Skip This

… I’d skip the visit to Frida’s Blue House, mostly because everyone else in Mexico is going there. Seriously.

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From this angle, you can’t see the hundreds of people packed around us. Trust me: this stop is as crowded as it is overrated.

Yes, I know: it’s blasphemy. But those long lines of tourists (even the line for tourists with advance tickets is long!) are being driven through the place like cattle, and the resulting tour feels more claustrophobic than the tunnels through the Cholula Pyramid. If you’re a fan of Frida’s work or life, see her major works at the Museo de Arte Moderno or watch the movie Frida on Netflicks.

Instead, spend some time enjoying the beautiful little neighborhood around this attraction: Coyoacan.

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Making grasshoppers in a park in Coyoacan.

Walk through the little park, visit the restaurants and shops, stroll through the beautiful cathedral, snag some fresh churros, and soak up the ambience of this magical little place. While others are struggling to see Frida’s corsets over the tops of other tourist’s heads, you’ll be living the good life.

Eat This

After Eat Mexico’s Late Night Taco Tour and Saturday lunch at Sak’s, you’ll need options. So many other guests at the Red Tree House raved about La Capital, I feel comfortable recommending it without ever having eaten there.

I love the atmosphere at Rojo Bistro (just a seven-minute walk from the Red Tree House), but the food wasn’t as good this year as it was two years ago.

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Stick with simple sandwiches and bar drinks, and Rojo Bistro still makes for a fine evening destination.

Our most memorable memorable meal within walking distance was actually at Cent’anni, an Italian eatery, where the respectable pizzas and sweet staff gave us a much-needed break from all the tacos we’d been scarfing down.

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Downtown (after a visit to Chapultepec, for example), have lunch at El Cardinal for authentic, delicious local dishes. (Not many tourists, but amazing food.)

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Stay Safe

Ignore most of what you hear about Mexico as a dangerous destination. (See my own post, “Is It Safe to Visit Mexico City?”) With the exception of the border towns and some remote locations, Mexico is a magical place to visit and you shouldn’t hesitate to go there.

Mexico City (including the metro area) includes 23 million people. Are there places you shouldn’t go, particularly on the outskirts of the city? Why, yes, of course — just as there are places you shouldn’t go, as a tourist, in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or any large American city. So: don’t go to those kinds of places.

Instead, keep your wits about you. Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Don’t wave your expensive digital camera or your fat wallet in the air. Slow down, be low-key, and soak up the local color and vibe the way the locals do, and you’ll be just fine.

Remember This

Mexico City is at at very high altitude: well above 7,000 feet. Air is thinner here, and you’ll feel that for the first two or three days of your visit, particularly when you climb stairs or rush from A to B. So: take it easy. Drink lots of water. Your sleep the first night or two may be restless as you adjust to the thinner atmosphere.

Almost everyone coming to Mexico will eventually eat something that creates some minor (or even major) gastrointestinal distress. Avoid raw salads and bowls of salsas that sit out for long periods of time (the two major causes of food-borne illness). You can limit the impact of this kind of thing by exercising a little common sense (don’t eat at food stalls that aren’t busy) and by taking one Pepto-Bismal tablet every morning.

If you get really sick, your hotel or B&B can arrange a house call. Yes, a house call. On our 2015 trip, a member of our group needed a doctor; the house call and filled prescription cost less than $25.00 USD.

More than anything else: remember to relax, leave time for surprises, and go with the flow. Mexico City has a frenetic energy, but you’ll be calm and happy if you take your time and keep an open heart.

About the author

Mark McElroy

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