Mexico City has always been loud. Colonial texts imply that they could hear Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, a day’s walk away.
Miles away from the urban center, the wind carried the sound of haggling and shouting of goods that traveled considerable distances to be exchanged at that very spot. Archaeologists have found materials from far reaching places, suggesting that tribes traveled from as north as Arizona and as south as Peru just to get a taste of the action.
This was sound pollution before they had speakers. And now they do have them. Merchants no longer have to shout over everyone else with similar hustles; instead, you will see speakers strapped onto on venders hips or balanced on bikes selling tamales or asking for your used furniture. Reggaeton blasts through car speakers and mariachi bands belt in city squares. This city is bumpin’. It is sometimes feels so loud that they can wake the dead, which they honor more than the living sometimes. Modern day Mexico City hasn’t strayed away from its original vibe.
It is a mosaic of Aztec cultures integrated with colonial Spanish influences while still able to keep up with the modern world. It is in constant contradiction and harmony with itself. It is magic and modernity.
Tacos + Street Food
Mexicans still respect the dedication it takes to makes food good. It is a culture that can take any given ingredient and make it appetizing, from crickets to corn fungus. You don’t have to go to a restaurant to eat like a queen.
The street food in Mexico City is always delicious, always indulgent, and sometimes healthy. Stands perfume the streets with aromas of fried meat, onions, and peppers.
But the stands have more than tacos. Tortes, soups, hamburgers, tamales: any shape you want corn to take, you can have it. GOOD stands will have an array of other offerings to add to your meal: guacamole, beans, red+ green salsas, cucumbers, radishes, cilantro, bowls of lime wedges, fresh and pickled onions, pickled carrots and jalapenos. This rainbow of toppings will balances all your taste buds demands. You will not find cheddar cheese or Tostitos salsa here.
You must grab a quesadilla if you stumble upon a blue corn tortilla stand. They are a nuttier version of the classic yellow corn and typically made by women whose hands are stained periwinkle from making hundreds of patties in a day.
Regardless of where you end up, all eateries have a golden rule. When you approach a stand and are about to bite into your taco, you must pause your excitement, turn to your neighbor and say “provecho.” It is their bon appetite but with more social gravity. It shows that you are courteous of those eating around you, and you open yourself for conversation with your eating companions. You will be well received by the locals.
But Mexico’s gastronomical pleasures do not end there. Several vendors are on wheels, so you must hunt them down. There are carts with peanuts spiced in every way imaginable and make your own mix bag. There are mango men who sell cups of sunshine. You can have them sprinkled with lime, chili, and hot sauce, which looks like you are swallowing a sunset. There are sweet potato men who come out only at night. You can hear them streets away by the screeching sound of their ovens releasing steam.
The food in Mexico is always an adventure.
If you want to understand Mexican entertainment, you must experience lucha libre. It is as theatrical and staged as a Shakespearean play, but with a tele novella plot line. There are two kinds of luchadors: technos and rudos. Their fight represents the larger narrative of good vs evil, and each has their own backstory. Technos are the good guys who have moral upstanding and play by the rules. The rudos are always the bad guys who cheat. However, they are only half the show.
The audience fuels the theatrics in ways where no Broadway show could ever function. They are loud and melodramatic as the characters they are cheering for and against.
It is a place where everyone can release tension from the week, scream and shout, and hope that good will prevail. It’s like group therapy where you can drink and is significantly cheaper.
Luchadoras, lady wrestlers, have become more accepted have been in the spotlight more. Although sometimes oversexualized, these wrestling women are working hard to have the same respect as their macho male counterparts.
Coffee + Chocolate Culture
What is the point of going to the land that made chocolate without breaking out a few bars. The Maya’s coined cacao as “the food of the gods”, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees.
There are several places around the city that are supporting organic and fair trade bean to bar chocolate. Many of these bars have less processing and sugar than commercial counterparts. They may take some time to get used to because their taste is a bit stronger than the Western palate is used to. But, once you start understanding what real chocolate tastes like, you will never be able to eat Hershey’s again.
The real treat is the hot chocolate. There are several places that are making hot chocolate with pre-Hispanic techniques. They have wooden molinillos, which can easily be mistaken for a handheld massager, but instead make frothy hot chocolate. These hot chocolate makers are used to make the beverage foamy and creamy, using the same hand motion as warming your hands on a cold night. You can watch your barista vigorously whip up a frothy cup and get an bicep workout at the same time. It is traditionally made with water, but you can have it made with milk as well and is not rich or thick as its European counterparts ( typically made with cream). Most places offer a selection of different spices to add to your drink. I recommend getting some with cardamom or orange.
Great places to check out are the chains Tierra Garat, El Moro, La Rifa, and Central Cacao. Most of them serve hot chocolate and bars.
If your sweet tooth isn’t satisfied, you can also visit their Chocolate Museum.
Coffee, although did not originate on this side of the world, is still living its best life in Mexico and grows spectacularly here. Most places don’t serve drip coffee, so it will help you wean off your Starbucks coffee addiction and learn how to enjoy a proper espresso. Third wave coffee is booming here, focusing on locally sourced and higher quality beans. Lots of places are open late for you to relax after dinner. There is nothing like having a cake and nice espresso around midnight.
Back when the Aztecs ruled over this land, Mexico City was built on an island in the middle of a lake and was navigated by boat. Then 300 years ago, the Spanish drained the lake and the culture from the natives. However, you can still experience some of the ancient Ubers today in the neighborhood of Xochimilco in southern Mexico City. The name translates from Nahuatl to where flowers grow and is still an agricultural center.
Today, you can glide through these human made islands on giant, colorful, wooden boats. It can be a romantic trip for two but is ideal for a large group. Whole families and friends spend their weekend afternoons here. You can often see two boats linked up together where people will drunkenly hop back and forth between the two.
To help keep the party going, there are snack and taco boats that will paddle up to you and serve you food. Gliding along side of them are mariachi boats that will impressively to belt and balance on a boat at the same time. Although the water isn’t super clear or pretty, the surrounding view is interesting and reminiscent of how the Aztecs might have navigated from temple to home and partied themselves.
Mexico City beats out New York as having the most museums in North America and is second to London for most museums in the world. From the classic to hyperniche, they honor every facet of Mexican culture and modern interest. They are everywhere: parks, peoples homes, grand theaters. Any edifice can and has been turned into a museum.
Here are some of the must hits.
- Women’s Museum
- Memoria y Tolerancia
- Museo Nacional de Antropología
- Franz Mayer + Cloisters
- National Palace- Diego Rivera mural
- Palacio de Bellas Artes
- Casa del Indio
- Dolores Olmedo
- Frida’s House- Casa Azul
- Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno)
- Folk Art Museum (Museo de Arte Popular
- Museo Jumex – contemporary art
- Museuo Del Objecto
- Mucho Museuo De Chocolate
- Museum of Sound- Fonoteca National/ Octavio Paz’s House
The parks in Mexico City are wild. Although they are manicured, they still have the feeling that they are untouched by modern horticultural machinery. Long vines hang off of trees, flowers popup wherever they please, and cactus will take root between pine and palm trees. Although it sounds like a horticultural contradiction, when you see them, they somehow make sense.
There are always sculptures and secrets in the parks- from paintings, colorful kiosks, clock towers, or signs that remind you to breath.
They are typically filled with vendors selling peanuts, fruits, and other snacks because the Mexicans always have their picnic game on.
Their grandest park is Chapultepec: the lungs of body of Mexico City. Named Grasshopper Hill by the Aztecs, it’s history is anything but tiny. From pre-Hispanic empires to European colonialist, it is the space that people have fought over in order to be in control of the city. But don’t let the souls of those who died on this land prevent you from enjoying this park.
Chapultepec is so big it can fit 9 museums, a zoo, a theme park, AND a castle. It can fit two Central Parks inside of itself and still have room for tres leches. It is massive. With so much to do, it is also perfectly ok to enjoy the pleasure of doing nothing ( they have an entire section of hammock for that purpose exactly).
It’s not just their parks that are lush but their streets as well. Any empty space on a balcony ledge or front door must be covered with flowing vines or terra cotta pots. You can stop on the street and stand next to an agave plant as tall as you that fortunately no one decided was a nuisance. Or maybe they are doing to balance the rampant air pollution in the city. Nevertheless, as reflective as they are on death, this is a city that cultivates life.
If you don’t have time or find any of the museums to be too pricey, just take a walk through the streets. They are an outdoor art exhibit on their own. In the 1920’s, artists were commissioned to paint the streets to renew national pride and identity. They are bright and bold and thought provoking. The art pulls from every facet of Mexican culture, from Aztec gods +symbols to Catholic iconography, with a flair of modernity and contemporary issues. They cover the city like rainbow sprinkles on an ice cream cone. Even locals are still finding new ones. The best neighborhoods to find street art is Roma Norte, Roma Sur, Juarez, Downtown, La Condesa, and Coyoacan.
If there is one thing Mexicans know how to do is throw a good fiesta. Like all the elements Mexico city has, you can jump from one mood to the next in a single night.
You can bounce from cozy bars, hop over to Reggaeton gay bars or get intimate at a salsa dance floor. If you find yourself circled by a mariachi band belting and professing their love to you at three in the morning, lean into it.
If you are looking for a packed dance party, go no further than Patrick Miller. You might think you have walked into a temescal when you enter: it’s that steamy in there. Rico, a gay club, has three levels of dancing with different music played on each, including a rooftop. For great Reggaeton, another gay bar is Divina, which hosts great drag shows on weekend nights.
If you are more in the mood for classic Latin dance, Mama Rumba is your go to. There are two floors with a balcony and a stage for live music, typically played on Friday + Saturday nights. They have a wider variety of music. Salón Los Ángeles is perfect if you are a beginner you want to take classes and dance after. This is a more traditional salsa center where you will find elderly couples salsa dancing and dressed to the nines.
Bars + Cantinas
If you are looking for a chiller vibe with nicer cocktails and a chance to chat, head over to El Departamento. They host downtempo DJ nights every first Wednesday of the month and have a spicy selection of mezcal cocktails.
Casa Franca is a jazz club around the corner that is so homey you might think you accidentally walked into someone’s living room. It calls back to the 1920s and has incredible live jazz music every Friday + Saturday. Bosfero, closer to downtown, is ideal if you want to get a great taste of mescal. Hidden behind a curtain ( there is no actual door), the dim lit and edgy place is perfect for philosophical conversations over garlic peanuts and the iconic Oaxacan liquor.
Nevertheless, you can’t leave Mexico city without getting serenaded by a mariachi band, and Garibaldi Square is exactly where you want to go. It is lined with canteenas that have several bands belting and boasting inside and outside. You will almost feel like you are in an old timey western.
Mexican literature is unique in its own. Their influences of magical realism, views on poverty, mortality, and the struggle of existence seeps through their literature like agave pouring out of a plant. But damn do they know how to make existentialism look pretty. Mexico City has some of the most beautiful bookstores, decorated with plants, local art, and wide open windows. There are as many as there are museums.
Here is a list of some you must walk through
- El Pendulo- multiple locations through the city.
- Under the Volcano Books- Roma Norte
- EXIT La Librería- Cuauhtémoc.
- Bookstore Fondo de CulturaEconomica- Hipodromo.
Regardless of which one you stumble into – you might find yourself aged significantly by the time you walk out- and still feeling like you don’t have enough time to read everything.
When you have finally made a decision on which book to buy, there is even a spot in Chapultepec where you can sit quietly and read. Audiorama is a quiet space with a mini library, and you will find people seeking some silence to read quietly in this obstreperous city.
One of the best day trips out of the modern metropolis is to go visit the ancient one.
About an hour drive away, the remnants of the indigenous tribes still stand as tall as the contemporary skyscrapers.
Teotihuacan was the largest pre-hispanic city in the Americas at its time with an estimated population of 125,000. It is believed to have originated as a religious center, but its origins are still unknown because it was built before the Aztecs. BEFORE. The Aztecs claimed relations to the original creators, usurped the pyramids, and created their city.
You can still walk this arid landscape. As you explore the full breadth of the area, you will probably be starved for shade, and people normally don’t take more than an hour or so to stroll around. Walk down the avenue of the dead to the Sun and Moon pyramids, which are both geometrically and symbolically impressive.
You can hike the Sun Pyramid and envision what it might have been like to rule all that you can see. If you are a morning person and have the dinero, you can splurge and do a hot air balloon over the pyramids.