With nearly 22 million inhabitants, most first-timers are going to need a guide to Mexico City. Also known as ‘CDMX’ (Ciudad de México) there’s an undeniable heartbeat that you just have to experience for yourself!
Did I mention there’s NO BAD FOOD in Mexico City? From the littlest street vendor to some of the most incredible high-end restaurants, your soul and stomach will be thanking you for making it down south to Mexico.
In this guide to Mexico City, you’ll learn about:
- Brief History & Cultural Overview
- Accommodation & Neighborhoods
- Food & Tour Recommendations
- Top Safety Tips
- FREE Google Maps Guide
As a 2nd generation Mexican-American, this was a particularly special experience for me because I got to explore my heritage on my own terms. So much of Mexican culture is diluted in North America to ‘make room’ for American culture, which is such a shame.
I loved the vendors in the streets, the fresh-made corn tacos, and the general warmth and trusting nature of Mexicans in Mexico. I am determined to show you a side of Mexico that unfortunately never makes it to the headlines of FOX News.
It’s time to display the true nature of Mexico for all to enjoy.
A Brief History of Mexico City
Mexico City has always been the cultural renaissance capital of Mexico, but it does have a dark past. 5 centuries ago, CDMX was actually a chain of lakes, filled with canals that people used for goods, food, and general transport.
For centuries, Teotihuacan (now the Aztec ruins north of Mexico City) was the capital of an impressive Aztec empire that spanned across Central-American all the way to the borders of Guatemala.
When the Spaniards arrived in 1519, all of the native Mexican inhabitants were turned into second-class citizens after just two years (Lonely Planet, 2019).
Then disease struck and the native population shrank dramatically from 1.5 million to just 100,000 in just 1 century. From this immense loss of life, Nueva Espana was born as the capital of the Spanish new world.
It wasn’t until September 27, 1821, that Mexico gained independence from Spain and then, present-day Mexico City was born. From then on, Mexico started to accumulate wealth and with it, a variety of issues with corrupt leaders/dictators along the way.
However, like most countries with a complicated past, the people continued to thrive and create incredible traditions, culture, and ways of making the most out of not much.
Today, Mexico is a vibrant cultural and food hub. In fact, in 2010 UNESCO designated traditional Mexican cuisines as ‘cultural treasures’ and in my opinion, there is NO BAD FOOD in Mexico; at all.
For a more indepth experience dive into Mexican history, I would recommend that you do a ‘Free Walking Tour‘ through the Historic Center of Mexico to learn more.
The Culture of CDMX
Mexican culture is VIBRANT! This is expressed in the wonderful colors and delicious cuisine that covers the streets of CDMX. I wanted to include a few nuggets about Mexican culture that stood out to me in particular in my guide to Mexico City.
- Mexicans are always on the MOVE. Many people endure up to 2-hour commutes (one-way) every day so food and consumer culture reflects this. You’ll see multiple food stalls and businesses along the roadside or even in the middle of the road! Food is shaped and organized to be consumed whilst on the go and this is to make life easier for the average busy commuter.
- Mexicans are so sociable. When the sun is out (like it is normally), all of the parks, main squares, and playgrounds are covered in people. They bring food, drinks, and are always willing to share. For that reason, loads of people bring trinkets to sell or services to provide and advertise them with booming voices. This is cheap and effective marketing in my opinion and I saw lots of business being done.
- The hospitality is quick and efficient. Whenever we wanted anything (restaurant recommendations, Mexican candy, a car for the day, etc), it magically appeared in seconds. If it wasn’t quite what you expected, that’s okay because they have 3 other options! We were never troubling anyone; they were just taking pride in their job.
- There’s no ‘scamming’ or bartering culture. Coming from China, I was ready to negotiate till the bitter end, but I never had to. Throughout the markets, I was constantly being given a fair price or the prices were clearly labeled for all to see. Even though my Spanish is nothing to write home about, I was still treated fairly by all vendors and I was honestly blown away. It’s way more relaxing to shop in the mercados this way versus in the Souks of Marrakech or the markets of Beijing, where I’m so used to negotiating.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mexico City
There are a few popular neighborhoods to consider staying in when visiting CDMX. In this guide to Mexico City, I’ll give you a few options based on what type of experience you’re looking to have.
Historic Center – Touristy
If you want to be in the mix of it all, definitely stay in the Historic Center of CDMX. This will give you walkable access to the most famous historical buildings, significant plazas, and parks, and you’ll be in the heart of the political scene.
There are incredible local and upscale restaurants scattered along the streets of the Historic Center so you won’t need to learn during your time there if you really don’t want to. I’ve included loads of things that are within walking distance in my Google Maps guide to Mexico City.
I would recommend Hotel Punto MX during your time in the Historic Center. The location is absolutely unbeatable. We easily walked to every major historical point of interest and we felt quite safe the entire time.
Nearby are incredible local restaurants with thousands of positive reviews so we never had a bad meal; not even once.
The amenities are all brand new, with luxury accessories – such as an indoor jacuzzi 😉 – that made it such a relaxing place to call home whenever we returned from a long day of sightseeing.
The staff and customer service was unparalleled as they had wonderful and accommodating staff members that spoke multiple languages.
Anything that we might have needed would be delivered to us after a few seconds, which was basically MAGIC.
- 3.5 Star Hotel
- 85£ – £100 ($110-130) per night
- Restaurant, concierge, gym
Book Hotel Punto MX NOW!
Condesa – Trendy
Condesa is where all of the cool kids are. With almond-milk lattes and vegan eateries, Condesa is where the rich and trendy go to live their best lives.
It’s a quiet, affluent neighborhood with families walking their pedigree dogs and pushing their upscale prams. It doesn’t entirely feel like the ‘real’ Mexico City, but rather, a bit like SOHO in Manhattan.
If you plan to stay in trendy Condesa, I would actually recommend that you book an AirBnb whilst you’re in the neighborhood for the best experience.
The houses are lush and often empty for long periods of time as many international families live here.
Coyoacán – Cultural
Home to the Frida Kahlo Museum, Coyoacan is a hidden cultural gem amidst the noise. The little neighborhood is super colorful (great for Instagram!) and has a wide range of local culinary options that are INCREDIBLE, local, and affordable.
This is where you get to see the REAL Mexico and all of its splendor with normal families, living normal lives. I’ve included the best local joints in my guide to Mexico City that can be found in Coyoacan.
We called H21 Boutique Hotel our home during our time in Coyoacan. The owner – Cristian – and his wonderful sister run the hotel together and their attention to detail and attentiveness is spectacular.
We were able to bond immediately during our short stay with them and this is what’s so beautiful about boutique hotels. You can see exactly where your money is going and customer service tends to be unparalleled.
As for the amenities, this was the most carefully curated suite that I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. The interior design was breathtaking; with each detail, a representation of Cristian’s personal style complemented with mementos from the surrounding neighborhood.
Even the delightful Mexican candy that awaited us every afternoon was curated from a local shop down the road. These are the special details that I fall in love with every time I say in a boutique hotel.
- 3 Star Hotel
- ~£100 ($130) per night
- Concierge, luxury amenities, personalized experience
Book H21 Boutique Hotel Now!
What to Do in Mexico City: Food Tours
With Mexico being a UNESCO-recognized food hub, an organized food tour is your BEST BET to sample the street food safely and most efficiently.
Bonus: you’ll be taken to multiple mercados (or markets) so you’ll be able to do some sightseeing along the way!
My Recommendation: Eat Like a Local MX
I cannot recommend Eat Like a Local MX enough!! It is a women-owned food tourism company that focuses on sustainability and creating social programs for the children in the mercados that you’ll visit.
Honestly, I do a lot of traveling (duh) and this was the most incredible sustainable food tour that I’ve been on because of the variety of food, knowledge of local vendors and their family history, and the diversity of each food type.
I ate just over 15 tacos during the 3-hour tour, along with multiple sweets, small appetizers, and local delicacies…. like bugs 😉
On a personal note, I enjoyed my time with Eat Like a Local MX immensely because our ethos are so similar.
They focus deeply on paying their guides and vendors a fair wage whilst establishing a deep relationship with each person.
We heard wonderful stories about the history of each vendor’s specialty, how younger generations have assumed the responsibility of the stalls, and how Eat Like a Local MX is sponsoring classes for the vendors and their children to learn English.
By supporting Eat Like a Local MX, you are supporting these communities in a meaningful way.
How Safe is Mexico City?
Despite much of Mexico’s recent bad press, Mexico City has been able to largely distance itself from the drug war and the streets feel safe and welcoming.
In any major city, you need to be careful with your personal items and to stay aware of your surroundings, but I’m happy to report that I actually felt way safer on the streets of CDMX than in London.
I think this was because everyone was so friendly on the street. We never had a single rude or aggressive person approach us.
3 Safety Tips:
- Pickpockets are your ‘biggest concern’ in CDMX so I used a little lock on my backpack, which worked perfectly.
- Take Uber everywhere in the city. It’s quite affordable and the safest/easiest way to get around.
- If you’re going to tourist hubs outside of the city, have your hotel book a private cab that will wait around for you. We booked a cab for 6 hours to Tenochtitlan and it cost us about 1500 pesos or $80 USD.
Monday 25th of April 2022
Mexico City really has a lot to offer. I'm sure we'll pass through again, though we tend to stay in smaller towns when possible. Thanks for sharing!