Mexico

Touring with Journeys Beyond the Surface (Mexico City, Mexico)

Written by Mark McElroy

Make the most of your time in Mexico City by hiring an expert guide.

While I consider myself an independent traveler, I am absolutely, completely sold on the value of local guides.

Can I use TripAdvisor and Google to pull together a plan for the day? Of course I can. But a great local guide will know things I can’t easily discover on my own. On what days and hours are key attractions closed? What do locals know about the history of a place that no guidebooks do? Which sights can be easily grouped together? What’s the best order in which to see those sights? How can we get from A to B most efficiently? (That’s a very important question when your time is limited.)

So: almost everywhere we go — especially on the first day or two — we enlist the services of a local guide. In Mexico, you want that guide to be someone from Journeys Beyond the Surface.

Journeys Beyond the Surface — regularly rated on TripAdvisor as the number one tour operator in Mexico City — is run by the clever and resourceful Mojdeh. Though not from Mexico, she’s lived in Mexico City for 23 years. When you interact with the company, you’ll interact with her. On both our trips to Mexico City, we found her to be among the most responsive and friendly coordinators we’ve hired.

On our latest tour, Mojdeh came to meet us at our B&B for coffee. When she found out we were “going her way” later in the morning, she lingered, chatted with us, and then spent a good chunk of the day with us, just because there were things she wanted us to see and experience. After that morning, a member of our group mentioned admiring Mojdeh’s bracelet; Mojdeh responded later by mailing that very bracelet to our friend.

If it’s your first time to hire Mojdeh, she’ll likely charge a small up-front planning fee before she will begin authoring a plan for you. Because I create these plans for others, I know how much time goes into creating and customizing them. This is a worthwhile investment, and the fee will be applied to your overall total should you accept the plan. (For return customers in good standing, the fee may be waived.) Oh — and let her know how you prefer to get around, too. If you love riding buses with locals, she’ll plan a route that makes that happen, but if you prefer a car or van with a driver, that, too, can be arranged.

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One of the least-appreciated services guides provide? With a guide taking group photos for me, I get to be in the group!

Mojdeh works with a number of local guides, each with a range of specialities. She’s very good at pairing guides with guests, based on whether your primary interests include food, shopping, history, art, or architecture. Over the course of our two visits to Mexico City, we’ve worked with three different guides. Two, Sergio and Alvaro, won our hearts repeatedly.

Sergio is young, cool, savvy, and very good with kids — an important trait, when our first trip to Mexico City included the three nephews. He enjoys a good meal as much as we do, and he also has a great sense of humor. Sergio can scale a story to your level of interest, providing just enough history and background to help you better appreciate a historical site without making you feel like you’re being force-fed an encyclopedia.

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In short, he’s the kind of guy who can find a great restaurant option, point out an often-overlooked feature of a historical site, and help a member of the group find the antibiotics she needs at a local pharmacy — all at once. He’s a great guy.

Alvaro struck us as being more “strictly business,” but was also a knowledgeable, flexible guide. On TripAdvisor, people rave about his knowledge of art and history — and, indeed, on our own trip out to the Pyramids of Teotihuacán, the history buffs in our family commented again and again how Alvaro’s insights helped them understand and appreciate the site. Like everyone else in Mojdeh’s employ, he’s able to change plans on a dime in order to make the most of the time you have available. When he makes suggestions, you should listen to them.

(We worked with a third guide who, in the end, wasn’t a good match for the energy of our group — and, in her defense, she worked with us on a day when our destination didn’t overlap well with her areas of expertise. That said, once we mentioned the mismatch to Mojdeh, she made things right.)

We’ve used Journeys Beyond the Surface to facilitate “first day in Mexico City” tours; shopping tours; day trips to Teotihuacán, Puebla, Xochilimco, and Taxco; visits to Frida Khalo’s house; and airport transfers. All of these services were reliable, dependable, and good values for the money spent.

Do yourself a favor: share your interests with Mojdeh, let her pull together a plan for you, and, on your first day in Mexico City, start your visit with an overview of the city from a member of her team.

Reminder: When we work with vendors like Mojdeh, we do not accept discounts or free services in exchange for reviews. I pay my own money for any service we review — just like you do. Because I want to be able to give you honest, reliable recommendations, the opinions and endorsements on MadeByMark.com are never for sale.

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Mark McElroy

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