Mexico City: Trying to break away from a reputation

Mexico city

“You’re going to Mexico City?!” a friend gasped after I excitedly told him about my next planned trip.

“Do you want to get killed?!” he exclaimed.

He had just come back from a trip to Cancun and having booked my flights to Mexico City with a few days in Playa Del Carmen, I had hoped for some tips and his thoughts on the country.

Instead I was left with doubts of whether I was making a wise decision. I knew about the city’s reputation but I figured that was old news by now. And I had heard Mexico City had lots to offer, with lots of blogs telling me it was a great place to visit.

My reason for going was just to see a different side to Mexico. I wanted to explore and experience as much of the country as I could in 10 days, and I didn’t just want to spend the entire time at a beach resort – the typical destination for many British holidaymakers. So the capital seemed an obvious choice.

Planning the trip and conscious of its dangrous reputation, I read as many articles as I could about the best areas to stay and tips on staying safe. And I tried to plan as much as I could to make sure we made the most of the short time we had.

We decided to stay in an apartment in La Condesa.  A hip, trendy area with lots of bars and cafes and a real European feel to it. The neighbouring district La Roma was another option too which had an abundance of fancy restaurants and bars.

Worrying over nothing

One of the reoccurring tips I kept reading was to blend in as much as possible. Although with me hanging my camera round my neck and my boyfriend in shorts and dressed for the beach in the middle of March, it was obvious we were tourists. We were hardly following advice and blending in!

Palacio de BEllas Artes from outside with Mexico flag infront
Palacio de Bellas Artes

But during the day we walked around hassle free and walking from the supermarket to our flat at night was no problem either. The area was quiet, safe and a great location for access to all the tourist spots. While the nearest metro station was a bit of a walk, Ubers were everywhere and reasonably priced.

Safety wise I was worrying about nothing. The city is no more dangerous than any other big city like London or Paris and you just have to be sensible and aware of your surroundings. I would encourage anyone to put these worries I had aside and visit Mexico City. It’s a stark contrast to the beach resorts but gives you a real insight into Mexican city life.

With three full days to explore there was a lot of choice on what to see and do. Mexico City had tonnes of museums and historical buildings that we could have spent weeks exploring. There’s parks, ruins and public squares to wander around. And an abundance of restaurants and bars where you could indulge in good food and local beers.

Here’s a rough guide of what we did:

Day 1 

Wander around the Centro Historico and around Zocalo – one of the biggest squares in the city with one of the biggest flags I have ever seen. Standing at you couldn’t possibly forget what country you were in.

The Metropolitan Cathedral is grand and worth a quick look around for its sheer size and extravagance. Round the corner is the stunning Palacio de Belle Artes building, which stands dominant on the edge of the cultural area.

wrestling inside Arena Mexico
Luchas Libre

In the evening we headed to Arena Mexico for Luchas Libre (wrestling) for a night of loud, energetic drama. Sat in our own colourful Luchas masks we joined in the fun, taking part in the chants when we found the energy.

Having landed that day and spending the day sightseeing we were exhausted and the wrestling seemed to go on for a long time. Three hours to be exact. The event runs every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night. It was amazing to see how locals really get involved and had we gone on a Friday or Saturday night it might have been busier and even louder inside the arena.

Day 2

We headed to Xochimilco – a town which has kept its original canals that Mexico City was built upon. The colourful boats are the best bits about this. All hand painted and in eye catching colours the sheer number of boats tied up is possibly a bit excessive but it makes for a great sight….and great photos.

The boat tour lasted about an hour. It was relaxing and interesting to hear about the many legends of this city from our guide but there was little else to see here.

In the afternoon we headed to Chapultepec Park. I’d heard there was a zoo there with pandas – an animal I’m obsessed with so I really, really wanted to go there. The park is vast for a city park. There is a museum, castle, botanical gardens and zoo – all free – so it is a must for all visitors to the city, even if just to get away from the traffic filled streets for a while.

Although the zoo looked run down and some animal areas were empty, I stood watching the pandas for some time and left happy. A lifetime wish had been fulfilled.

In the evening we headed to the Hotel Condesa DF for a cocktail at their swanky rooftop bar. It was certainly one of the most pricey drinks we’d had but it was a great treat. The hotel is at the top end of places to drink and is close to Neuevo Leon and Avenue Tamaulipas, popular for bars and restaurants in La Condesa. Even on a Wednesday night some of them were busy with music blaring out so there were plenty of options.

Day 3

I was unsure of whether to visit Teotichuachan – the original Mexico City which has been preserved and restored. I’d read that it gets very busy, and we already had an excursion to Chichen Itza planned for later in the trip so was conscious this would be quite similar.


As an hour drive away from Mexico City it is a full day excursion so it was a matter of deciding whether it’d be worth spending a whole day visiting or staying in the city to venture elsewhere.

And I’m glad I took the trip. The pyramids were huge and fascinating to look around. You can also climb up them (which you can’t do at Chichen Itza) and can be quite a challenge in the burning afternoon heat.

Once at the top it was a chance to get your breath back and take in the great view and sheer size of the site before making the steep descent.

For the evening we went for a typically touristy salsa dancing class at Mambocafe. I managed to roughly follow the instructions in Spanish and it was fun, if not a little tiring. There was also time afterwards for social dancing and to perfect your moves before the band started for the night’s performance.

Day 4

We had just a few hours left in the city before catching our plane to Cancun so we decided to wander around La Condesa and grab a coffee in one of the area’s many cafes. We opted for a cuppa at La Gloria although there are many, many others to chose from, ranging from European inspired cafes, organic ones and the trendy, artisan types too.

Purple flowered trees lined the streets, beautifully built and coloured buildings make a lovely sight and the extravagant doors and windows are an art form – a small reflection of this colourful and elaborate country. There was something new to discover about this area every day.

Still lots to see…

Having fitted so much into our short visit to Mexico City there were still things we had missed out:

  • The Templo Mayor
  • Plaza Garibaldi famous for the Mariarchi bands who play in the evenings and a tequila museum
  • Palacio Nacional
  • Exploring around Polanco district
  • Frida Kahlo Museum and wander around Coyocan district, known as an “arty area”

I’m glad I didn’t listen to my friend and put off visiting Mexico City based on its former reputation. Of course like any other capital city it is huge with lots to do and has its ups and downs. There’s the tourist spots, the business districts, the posh areas as well as the run-down, dangerous areas, and while there is clearly crime and armed police officers on every corner,  I did not once feel threatened or in danger.

It shows there is so much more to Mexico than the Cancun beach resorts. Go out and explore!

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