- Section 1: Who Am I and How Did I Come To Know About Mexico City?
- Section 2: General Background On Mexico City As A Healthy City
- Section 3: What To Eat In Mexico City
- Section 4: Where To Workout In Mexico City
- Section 5: Local Perspective: What It Is Like To Live In Mexico City
- Section 6: Sample Itinerary
- Section 7: Additional Resources
Section 1: Who Am I and How Did I Come To Know About Mexico City?
Author: Lee Wagner
Lee is from Colorado, but spent her adult life in New York City. She gave up her sales career to write about travel and is now living in a different city every month for the past two years. She is an avid runner, explorer, animal lover and photographer.
In my first year of traveling, after leaving the corporate world in New York City, I was with a group called Remote Year. Remote Year is essentially a concierge program for ‘digital nomads’, or remote workers who want to travel. I love to call it a ‘trip in a box’ as our accommodations were taken care of and our travel managed. The program took us to a new international city every month and coordinated our apartments, community events, and co-working spaces.
After 6 months in Europe and North Africa, we were on our way to Mexico City, Mexico. It was my first time heading to this particular overpopulated city in North America, and I have to be honest: I wasn’t that excited. I had heard Mexico City was amazing, but I was skeptical. I had been to Mexico before, to border towns and resorts, and Tijuana (not a great example of a typical Mexican city), but overall, it wasn’t a choice destination. My distant impression of the massively overpopulated city was a high crime rate, gridlock traffic, and pollution thick enough to corrode the ozone layer.
However, my month in Mexico City changed my life and my impression of Mexico as a whole. I felt completely safe, the air quality never bothered me, and I walked or biked nearly everywhere. It’s now one of my favorite cities in the world and a place where I would love to call home one day.
This guide will outline the best (and healthiest) places to eat, move, and discover during your time in Mexico City. Enjoy, and never stop exploring.
“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.” – Anthony Bourdain
In a nutshell, Mexico City is electrifying, calming, inspiring, and comforting. It’s familiar yet foreign, both old and new.
It’s a city of art and expression. Not only are there are more museums in Mexico City than anywhere else in the world, but the artwork on the street is its own gallery. Statues are on display or tucked behind trees, billboards are graphic art designs, and each home or building becomes a unique architectural treasure. The rollercoaster sidewalks, the storefronts, the park designs, and the clothing are all forms of art.
There’s an energy to the people: they’re incredibly hardworking and happy. They glow as they offer to share their world with you.
In many parts of the city, lush vegetation seeps out of cracks in the buildings and sidewalks. It’s an overgrown city bursting with life and expression. If you’re looking for organic, health and wellness, there are plenty of options and people to join you. If you’re looking for nightlife or fashion, history or cultural exploration, it’s at your fingertips.
Like anywhere, there are neighborhoods to avoid, but even more neighborhoods you must see.
- Condesa: I spent 27 days living in Condesa and would highly recommend staying here or, at the very least, spending a day wandering around this ideal neighborhood with its wonderful parks, restaurants, and cafes. Its trendy, hipster vibe is contagious and makes the city easy to fall in love with. Known for: Chic, distinctly European vibe
- Roma is next to Condesa, a little livelier, filled with restaurants and cafes, and has similar refurbished colonial architecture. Known for: Robust culinary scene
- Coyoacán: Think Frida Kahlo (her home, now a museum, is a must-see while you’re in this city), one and two story homes with electric colors on lush tree-lined streets, a central square, and enormous parks. It’s six miles out of the city center and has some industrial areas surrounding it, but is accessible. You can bike from Condesa (it’s about 45 minutes), just be careful as the bike paths are spotty, or take an Uber. Known for: Historic center of Mexico City meaning “place of coyotes”
- El Centro and Zocalo: Aztec history in full view with the newly uncovered pyramids next to Latin America’s largest cathedral: Catedral Metropolitana. The buildings downtown are noticeably tilted and sinking; the restaurants, carts, and markets are aplenty. Each street is a colorful unique neighborhood. Start with Av 5 de Mayo, a main thoroughfare cobblestone street, from the Bellas Artes (Opera House) to Zócalo (the city’s main square and 3rd largest in the world) for a colorful sample of your surroundings. Make sure to check out the Starbucks on the left: part church, part coffeehouse. See the Palacio de Correos (post office and art nouveau building) just a few blocks away with its stained glass ceiling and gold railings. And, of course, don’t forget to stroll through Alameda Central, their beautiful central park! Known for: City center
- Polanco: Mexico City’s Beverly Hills equivalent. The most beautiful hotels and most expensive restaurants (including multiple top-50-in-the-world) are located here. A famous book store/coffee shop/indoor garden with a spiraling staircase is a common destination for travelers: Cafebrería El Péndulo. Known for: Premier shopping and upscale restaurant
Above all, it’s a city to walk and bike, to explore and appreciate, to absorb new cultures and enjoy their food.
Section 3: Places To Eat In Mexico City
Wondering where to eat in Mexico City? Everywhere! Here, a play-by-play of what might be the perfect afternoon in Mexico City.
It would be wrong to travel through Mexico City and not get your hands a little dirty. That means eating at markets and testing the street food.
Mercado San Juan is a perfect example of shock value in all aspects food: exotic animals (including their eggs), bugs, fruit, tortillas and juice. Blue corn tortillas stuffed with beans and grilled on silver metal sheets. Ostrich eggs perched next to duck and quail eggs on display. Woven baskets of scorpions and platters of sautéed grasshoppers presented with four different salsas. Crocodile, lion and rattlesnake are offered on one menu towards the back. Looking for something a little more tame? The produce is exceptional, especially the strange papaya/mango-like fruit called sapodilla, which some say tastes like honey, almond and sweet potato pie.
When you leave Mercado San Juan, you’ll spot a colorful wild-west-looking bar called Las Duelists, complete with swinging doors. The place is covered in colorful Aztec murals and has been around since the 1930s. This, friends, is one of those pulquerías you may have heard about.
Pulque is an alcohol made from the same agave sap as tequila and mezcal, but its origin dates back to the Aztecs, who believed it was a gift from the gods. Typically a white milky coloring with 3-5% alcohol content, the substance can be consumed straight or added to fruit smoothies, which Las Duelists is known for. They have flavors like piña colada, mango, pineapple, mint, red wine and Oreo cookie.
Photo credit: bonappetit.com
Next, head over to the famous street vendors. For the equivalent of $1USD, purchase three el pastor (marinated pork) tacos with unlimited toppings like (extremely) spicy green salsa. (Luckily, water is included in the price, too.) Cross the street to the oldest churro restaurant in Mexico City, El Moro. Order a cup of café de leche (coffee with milk) and get the churros and chocolate sauce.
Make your way down the street to the Mariachi section of town and stop by El Museo del Tequila y el Mescal (AKA the Tequila Museum) for a mezcal tasting. As you sip, ogle the hundreds of different brands of tequila and make friends with the Mariachi bands.
As you head back to your lodging, stop by one of the many popsicle stands you’ve been spotting all over the city and try on of the sixty or so fruit ice or ice cream popsicles on offer. But stick with just the one… after all, it is almost dinner time.
Section 4: Where To Workout In Mexico City: Being active is a way of life in this vibrant city.
Consistent bike lanes may be hard to come by, and the roads are still not 100% after the devastating earthquake in September. But Mexico City is resilient, and a bike is still the best way to see the city. ECOBICI, the shared bike program in Mexico City, allows you to do just that. Much like similar programs in the States and in Europe, you can borrow a bike and return it to rack stations all over the city. No need for a bike lock, ideal for travelers.
There’s nothing better than whizzing by traffic in the bike-only lane with wind in your hair while witnessing the local life unfold, especially in a city like Mexico City. Especially considering that traffic can stand still at any time of the day, and you’re better off not being in a car. Wealthy neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods border one another. The mix of food carts, office buildings, restaurant lean-tos and the people everywhere are what make this city beautiful.
The city encourages its citizens to bike. One of the ways the city is fighting their pollution problem is to close major streets like Reforma (the major business center avenue) on Sundays to allow non-auto traffic. Just seeing people running and biking on a sunny day (on what’s normally a hectic street) is encouragement enough to tap into the exercise movement there.
While biking is prevalent, the city also has a few great gyms to keep you in shape — and help you learn Spanish. (Many classes are in Spanish.)
Located in the heart of Roma in Mexico City, Qi Wellness is a five- story gym that has it all: Meditation classes, yoga, Cross Fit, Combat, Spin, Pilates, ballet. A rooftop, a three-story climbing wall, an obstacle course, a spa, an outside cafe. The gym is a cement building that opens to a glass wall on one side, with trees and plants cascading its five floors. The rooftop looks out over a street filled with tropical plant life taller than its surrounding buildings. A wooded running path makes up the median of the road out in front.
While bikes and beautiful gyms may be found in Roma and its nearby neighborhoods (famous for artists and health-conscious citizens), the entire city makes a statement with their abundant parks and artwork. Chapultepec is a massive park, larger than Central Park, with a castle at the top of its main hill and four museums to visit inside. Parque España and Parque México are destinations in Roma, but almost every neighborhood has at least one small park, and many of them include free workout equipment. Artwork peeks out at you from every crevice of this city, from architecture and street art to free standing sculptures and funky storefronts… Art is this city’s oxygen.
Mexico City is a place to discover wellness, art and outdoor life. And, while there are plenty of options regarding where to work out in Mexico City, do yourself a favor: See this city unfold via bike.
Section 5: Local Perspective: What It Is Like To Live In Mexico City
In a word? Fantastic.
Before I arrived in Mexico City, my preset fears revolved mostly around pollution and crime. I envisioned shanty towns that stretching to the horizon, people lurking in dark alleys to pick your pockets. I honestly wondered why we were stopping in Mexico City at all. And for a whole month? I was scared when I thought about living in Mexico City.
Little did I know I was going to discover my favorite city to date: An overgrown paradise with blue skies and amazing people ready to hand you the shirt off their back. I’ve found a safe, tropical city with everything from the bizarre to the familiar, the romantic to the extraordinary, the tragic to the glamorous.
In some neighborhoods, like Condesa, healthy restaurants and vegan ways of living abound. In others, sheer survival is the goal, with lean-tos tucked in between buildings. The city itself is filled with entrepreneurs — people have fruit stands, juice carts, an endless supply of chips and cheese puffs. They sell toys and trinkets on the sides of streets (and in the streets). They sweep the dirt patches under palm trees, grill blue corn tortillas on coal-fired metal sheets from the sidewalks, and peddle knife sharpening services at dusk. The only people sitting around seem to be the tourists.
Since I traveled with Remote Year, I had immediate access to locals who helped manage our group and provide expert advice. I fell in love with this city, but it wasn’t without the help of our local City Manager, Paulina Torres.
Paulina is a Remote Year City Manager from Mexico City, and has lived in the States, Spain, France and has traveled all over the globe. I interviewed Paulina about staying healthy in a city which reaches a capacity of 30 million people on any given day. To me, these answers could be coming from the average New Yorker. Maybe we’re not so different after all.
What do you do for exercise?
I go to siclo [spin] and take yoga classes.
Do you run or bike outside?
Yes, I use ECOBICI [Mexico City’s shared bike system] to get around, and I’m currently waiting for my bike to be delivered.
How often do you go out with friends?
2-3 times a week.
What is your favorite cafe in Mexico City and can you work from there?
DOSIS. Yes, I do, but they do not have plugs [outlets].
What are your top 3 favorite restaurants?
What’s your key to staying healthy and happy here?
Eat well, love what you do, live in the present!
What are your favorite things about Mexico City?
I like how much culture we have, the art world, the different neighborhoods we have, the food, the people.
How often do you get out of the city?
3-4 times a week.
What is your favorite day trip outside of Mexico City?
San Miguel de Allende or Grutas de Tolantongo.
What’s your favorite meal in Mexico City?
Caldo de Camaron or Mojarra al Chile Limon
What’s unique to Mexico City that you can’t find in, say, San Francisco (where I know you lived)?
There are actually many similarities and that is why I love both so much! I do love the rush of the craziness Mexico City has that San Francisco doesn’t. The rush of being in a city with many different vibes, moods, and types if people. You can be fancy one day, hipster the other day, and get into the crazy hoods.
Section 6: Sample Itinerary: 36 hours in Mexico City. Where to go, both on and off the beaten path.
Stay in La Condesa neighborhood, which looks like an overgrown city built 30 – 60 years ago. Sidewalks are broken and uneven, trees, ponds and vines abound.
They own 21C Museum Hotels in the States and are there to buy art, which in itself is a life-changing experience. You get to schmooze with the big time art dealers, artists, and buyers. You see amazing art, from funky to creepy, from complex to simple, and they’re all mesmerizing.
That evening, try to get a table at Quintonil, the twelfth best restaurant in the world (according to The World’s 50 Best List). Dine on cactus sorbet, squash and cheese whipped cream. It’s an experience you won’t easily forget.
The next day, it is time to hit the markets. Mexico City is a city of markets, and while some may not be pretty to our sterilized eye, each is certainly thought provoking and jaw-dropping.
Start at Mercado Jamaica, famous for its 24-hour flower market, restaurant counters and colorful fruits. Farmers come from up to 16 hours away to sell their flowers and produce, and will stay until everything has been sold, often resulting in them sleeping in their trucks parked next to their stands.
Got more market in you? Check out La Merced, the biggest market in the city. (Seven blocks by seven blocks, to be exact.) It first began operation in pre-Hispanic times, when it was the original hangout spot and place to find your mate. Women would let their hair down (otherwise usually pulled back in a braid), and paint their lips and teeth red to show they were available and looking. San Juan is known for exotic food products. Located just off of historic downtown, this market has anything from grasshoppers, rattlesnakes and scorpions to chicken feet and ostrich eggs. And Mercado Señora is a must-visit for its witchery products, herbal medicine and exotic animals. Go and get your witch cleansing. (I sure did.)
When you’ve had your fill of markets, take the metro back to Chapultepec metro stop. Go to the National Museum of Anthropology in the park, or wander through La Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, exploring either on foot or via ECO BICI (the shared bike program). Both neighborhoods are havens for artists, galleries and five-star mom and pop restaurants.
You’ll stumble upon street performers and musicians in the crooked streets, you’ll breathe in the clean air of the large parks, you’ll see artwork rising up from every corner, and the blue sky shining over head.
Welcome to Mexico City.
Section 7: Additional Resources
- Walking or Bus Tours on Day 1 are a great way to find your bearings and determine where you want to focus your time…
- Free Walking Tours: https://www.freetour.com/mexico-city
- Hop On/Hop Off Bus: http://mexico.city-tour.com/en
- City Website: https://www.visitmexico.com/en
- Lonely Planet City Ideas: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/mexico-city
“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
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