Budget Mexico Guide: Mexico City
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Guide to Mexico City: Things to do, best places to eat and stay and how to get around
Mexico City is the multicultural melting pot of Mexico. Some of the strongest Mexican culture can be found in this bustling, sinking city. It’s dirty, grungy and a difficult place to immediately like. Give it some time though and you’ll find reasons to remember this place. Be it the ancient skulls buried under the Cathedral, the Aztec ruins in the city centre or the gothic-style buildings looming overhead. Have lunch in a brothel; watch a wrestling match or explore museums until your feet scream. This dark city will never let you get bored.
Things to do in Mexico City
Mexico City is a fascinating place. Bursting with culture and architecture, it’s compelling to find out that the city is actually sinking. Some might even call it free falling… since it has dropped ten metres into the ground in the last century. It’s cool to think about this when you are required to step a metre or so down to enter into old buildings when coming off the street. The reason for this is because Mexico City was built by the Aztecs in the middle of a lake that was filled in when the Spanish conquered and built their city on top. Now, there is no easy fix and buildings are literally cracking and crumbling day by day. Here is a list of my all-time most engaging sights to see in this captivating city.
Zócalo: This is a great place to start your exploration of the city. A short walking distance in all directions are some of the best sights the city has to offer, with more that 1, 500 buildings declared historic monuments in this small area. While checking out the Zócalo, there’s a good chance you will be approached by someone and offered a walking tour. Walking tours are a great way to learn the impressive history of this city. Many are offered for free, although you will need to tip. Make sure you are clear on wether or not you are required to pay before you leave.
Metropolitan Cathedral: This world-famous gothic cathedral is the largest in the Americas. It is built directly atop a former Aztec sacred precinct, something the Spanish often did when they conquered native tribes and took over their lands. Right in front of the church are huge holes in the ground covered in glass you can walk over. If you look carefully, you can see the skulls and bones of Aztecs buried in the earth.
Museo Nacional de Arte: The National Museum of Art is located in a beautiful neo-classical building in the historical centre. The permanent collection gives a view into the development of fine arts from the early colonial period to the mid-twentieth century. Entry is 70 pesos pp.
Templo Mayor Museo: Situated right next to the church the Templo Mayor is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It was originally a temple dedicated to two of the Meso-American Gods; the God of War and the God of Rain and Agriculture. The Spanish destroyed it in 1521 and their own Cathedral was built on top. But you can still explore some of these excavated and rebuilt ruins today. Cost is 75 pesos entry, however it’s free to enter on Sundays.
Other Things to do in Mexico City
Museo Nacional de Antropología: I liked the Museum of Anthropology way more than I thought I would! It not only has a great collection of pre-Colombian Mexican art, but also a vast array of information and interesting artefacts showcasing Mexico’s long and complicated history. It is one of the best examples of high modern Mexican architecture and I can see why it’s the most visited museum in Mexico. Entry is 80 pesos pp.
Frida Kahlo Museo: Also known as the blue house, this museum is located a little out of the city centre, but definitely worth the trip. This place contains much more than just Frida’s artwork… it also contains her clothing, furniture, art supplies and provides intimate details of her amazing and complex life. Entry is 250 pesos pp.
Museo del Juguete Antiguo México: The Old Toy Museum is an absolute hidden gem of Mexico City, and one you MUST visit if you are at all interested in the obscure. Spanning four floors, with not an inch of space to spare, this manic collection of toys seems more like stepping into the mind of a crazed toymaker. It is frenzied, demented and amazing. Entry is 75 pesos pp with a chance to buy toy antiques at the exit.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
Hostel Amigo Suites: This hostel is SUPER close to the Zócalo but it’s very basic. It has everything you need, including a free dinner every night and free breakfast! So good. The rooftop is also a nice place to catch the afternoon sun. Click the link for pricing.
CDMX Hostel Art gallery: A cool boutique hostel in a good area (close to La Reforma) with great ratings. Click the link for pricing.
Airbnb: I found that everywhere I went in Mexico, there was always much more selection on Airbnb at affordable rates. Stay in this trendy apartment located in the beautiful, green neighbourhood of La Condesa, where all the chic cafes, bars, restaurants are. Also super close to Chapultepec Park, which is the oldest and biggest urban park in Latin America, and one of the oldest parks in the world!
Couchsurf: Mexico City has a pretty good Couchsurfing scene and I enjoyed staying in one of the more posh areas just outside the
Where to Eat and Drink in Mexico City
Mexico City is one of the best places to try cheap, fast and traditional Mexican foods. I am obsessed with Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day), where you can get 2-4 courses for a reasonable price. Mexico City is bountiful with ‘Menu del Dia’ found everywhere, including brothels! I commend you to try as many as you can while there. Here’s a list of my favourite eateries in Mexico City
K-Guamo: The most amazing Octopus Tostadas you will ever have. They also have tasty ceviche and other seafood.
Churrería El Moro: Really good churros and an awesome live show to go with it! Piped onto a huge pan and flipped by hand these sweet Spanish doughnuts are made to order.
Chamorro at El Sella: Located in the same area as the Toy Museum, this little restaurant fills up fast! The braised pork shank is particularly succulent and served with endless tortillas.
How to Get to and from Mexico City by Bus
Going from Mexico City to Chiapas / San Cristobal / Tuxtla there is a bus stop a fifteen-minute walk from the Zocalo. Several companies have cheap buses that leave from Emiliano Zapata 98 (Dropped Pin). You may have trouble finding the actual garage so ask for directions. Say; “camiones para Chiapas?” (buses to Chiapas?). We went the day before just so we could make sure we knew where it was before lugging our heavy backpacks there. Tickets are 250 pesos to San Cristobal and it takes 14 hours total.
From Chiapas (San Cristobal or Tuxtla) to Mexico City there are Cristobal Colon buses, which cost 300 pesos. Otherwise, the ADO tourist bus is 800 pesos for the same trip.
Going to Chiapas / San Cristobal Next? Read my Budget Guide to Chiapas
From Mexico City to Oaxaca City seems easy if you want to get the first class buses. To get ADO just head to the TAPO (Eastern) bus terminal where buses leave every hour until 1am. Tickets are around 600 pesos and it takes about 6 hours. But for half that price you can get a second-class bus. Here’s a good link for how:
To Mexico City from Oaxaca there was a crossroads that’s one block from Zócalo where the bus would get you from the side of the road. However, the bus stop always changes, so ask you hostel for the latest information. Cost is 250 pesos.
Here’s a useful link for getting buses around Mexico from Mexico City.
Going to Oaxaca Next? Read my Budget Guide to Oaxaca
Mexico City Tours
MEXICO IN A NUTSHELL
Tourist Bus Company: ADO. You may need a translator installed in your browser to use this site.
Supermarkets: Oxxo (like 711), Chedraui and Walmart. P.S. Oxxo
Cheap Accommodation: Mexico has a strong Couchsurfing scene that I highly recommend you try, even if it’s just to meet up with locals. I’ve met some great people and only had positive experiences!
Speaking Spanish: You won’t NEED Spanish in Mexico City, but I suggest you spend some time learning if you want to make the most out of your travels and get the local prices on buses, etc. You can take private lessons all around Mexico for as little as $5 USD an hour. Just ask your reception for a tutor.
WHERE NEXT? If you’re heading to Cancun or the Yucatan, check out my Budget Guide to the Yucatan Peninsula!