It’s not a beach resort. Or a place where whistles are blown and tequila is violently poured into your mouth. There aren’t packs of college students from some Big 10 or SEC college on spring break. It’s Mexico City, North America’s largest capital, and the cultural, political and spiritual hub of the Mexican people. I don’t know why I wanted to go there but I felt like it was an important place to experience.
Five days in El Capital. Five days to visit the museums, cathedrals, canals, taco stands, cantinas, ruins and everything of Mexico. Imagine New York City having a baby with Mad Max: Fury Road. Vibrant, loud and chaotic, it’s an incredible city—too big for its own good and remarkable in countless ways.
Got into the Benito Juarez Airport. Found our way through immigration and made our way to the Uber stand. Got in the car and basically took our lives in our own hands. Three near misses that could have been catastrophic. The hotel was very nice. Don’t expect a lot of people to speak English. They speak Spanish in Mexico—we should have tried to learn more conversational Spanish before we left.
Went for a walk and ended up at a pizza parlor. The pizza was good and the beer was cold. It was funny to be eating Italian food in Mexico City (CDMX) but globalization, right? After eating, we headed to Chapultepec. It’s the biggest park in the city, three times the size of Central Park in NYC. There were lots of statutes, memorials, beautiful trees and museums. It was after 5:00 p.m. and the Museum of Anthropology was closed. We found a place to call an Uber and went to the Mercado Roma.
The market was rad. Lots of food selection and drink options. We got a margarita and settled in. Very cool. Hung out for a bit before walking back to the hotel. It was a good 1.2 miles. Stopped at an OXXO, bought bottle water, beer and a bottle of wine. Erin went to bed and I went out looking for a taco. I ended up finding a place, ate two steak tacos and got an al pastor torta to go. While walking home, I caught my foot in a drain, twisted my ankle and fell down. Strangers helped me get up. I limped back to the hotel, iced my foot and went to bed. BTW, the torta was amazing.
In less than 24 hours, I knew that we were not on a vacation—this was an adventure. CDMX is fast paced, big and doesn’t have time to wait for me how to figure out how to buy a bottle of water with a handful of pesos. I learned through the trip that strangers will literally bend over backwards to help you up if you fall, but couldn’t care less if you can’t manage the kiosk at a Metro station.
Got up early and went to get churros at El Moro.
Uber ride to Coyoacan. The plan was simple: visit the Casa Azul, Frieda Kahlo’s home. We had tickets for 1:00 p.m. In retrospect, that was way too late. We should have just waited in line and try to be the first through the door at 10:00 a.m. Instead, we toured the fountains with the coyotes, went to the Inglesia de la Immaculada Concepción. Remarkable. It smelt as old as anything I’ve ever been. Dark wood, ornate carvings, statutes of Jesus and Mary and simple stained glass. It was definitely a working church with parishioners worshipping in the the church. There were beggars in front of the church and people selling small trinkets everywhere.
My embarrassing moment: I thought the Mercado Coyoacan was on the edge of the town square. There was a newly married coupe taking pictures in front of a simple, large building. I told Erin that I needed to get souvenir money ready. I went to the ATM and pulled out a couple thousand pesos and we went into the building. Turns out it was a children’s hospital for impoverished children. Oops.
We wandered over to the National Museum of Popular Culture and toured the facility. Very cool. Lots of great pictures about the indigenous people of Mexico. It was then off to the “real” Mercado Coyoacan. Super impressive. Lots of food and household items for purchase. Bought a runner for the couch in the office. We tried to find a lunch place but ended up getting into line for the Casa Azul. My foot was killing me, but I was being brave. Took an hour but we got inside.
Extremely impressive. It reminded me of my Uncle Paul Raskin’s home: tall ceilings, filled with books and incredible artwork. The home is a living museum and you can easily see how she was able to be incredibly creative and productive here. The center plaza was incredible. Filled with plants, statutes and a replica of the Teotihuacan pyramid. There was a display of her clothes. She suffered a serious bus accident and lived with the pain for the rest of her life. You can see the braces she needed to move.
Went and had a nice lunch afterwards.
Called an Uber and went to the Anthropology Museum. Exceptional. It told the entire history of Mexico City and the surrounding areas. The Aztecs, the Mayans, the pre-colonial era and the introduction of the Europeans. There were panoramas, paintings, interactive displays and colossal statutes. We could have spent a full day there but ended up only getting two hours wandering the displays.
Walked back to the hotel. Got dinner at the Fuente de las Cibeles. I drank a weird beer that had mezcal, sangria and beer. Delicious. Ate deep fried tacos and the best guacamole. Took an Uber back to the hotel for bed.
Big day. Spoke with the hotel consigliere and he organized a private driver to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan. It was about an hour drive northeast from CDMX. Really saw what CDMX looks like as your heading out of town. Raw, dirty, poor. Really hard living. Large highway signs point towards the Pyramids. Went through two toll booths. Got the southwest entrance and went into the ancient grounds. The first thing you see is an open-aired market with a bathroom. Looks like it was built in the 1970s.
Walking out of the area, there is the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, or Quetzalcoatl. We climbed up a smaller pyramid and then made our way up Quetzalcoatl. There were reliefs in the stairs of snake heads. The stone stairs were worn smooth through 2,400 years of use (and probably some of the blood of human sacrifices held there). Got to the top and back down. My first pyramid.
From there, we walked down the Avenue of the Dead. It’s about 3 kilometers long with the Pyramid of the Moon at the very end. We went through a couple of depressions—up and down the stairs—until we got to the base of the Pyramid of the Sun. It’s the third largest pyramid in the world after Cholula, MX and Cheops in Egypt. There is a flight of stairs up the face of it, five tiers, that goes up 65 meters. The stairs are relatively manageable, but it got a little hairy on the fourth tier—really steep on the get go. Made it to the top. The view was stunning. Walked around the top level and took pictures. The air quality (pollution) was bad but were able to get some really cool images.
Heading down was a pain in the butt. Not only did my knees hurt from being me, but my twisted ankle from the first night was really throbbing. I took my time, avoiding other people, and eventually got to terra firma. My second pyramid. We headed to the last one, the Pyramid of the Moon. This was insane. Whereas the Sun was approachable, going up the Moon was as dicey as anything I’ve done since hiking Angel’s Landing. The grade was extremely sharp, maybe at a 20-degree level with short landings and tall rises. I climbed up it on all four and made it to the top. The view down the Avenue of the Dead is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. We saw two stray dogs close to the top of the pyramid. No idea how they got up there or how they’ll ever get down.
I’m not telling you how I got down. It wasn’t very becoming. But it was my third pyramid.
We strolled back to the car on the Avenue of the Dead. The grounds were filling up with people, merchants selling cheap goods and a jaguar sound creator. I could go a lifetime without listening to that stupid jaguar sound. The drive back to CDMX was quiet as Erin and I silently processed what we saw. Plus, I was tired and hungry from the excursion.
We cleaned up at the hotel and took a car to El Centro. Our driver took us around Zocalo and dropped us off at Café de Taguba. Classic Mexican food served in an incredible restaurant with waitresses dressed in traditional 1960s attire. There was a mariachi band and the beer/food were perfect. Ate vegetarian and it was incredible. The mole sauce was the best I’ve ever had.
From here, we walked to the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Built in 1573, with Cortez laying the cornerstone, from the remains of the Templo Mayor, it was a massive, beautiful building. On par with any church I’ve seen in Europe. It’s the largest cathedral in North America and the oldest. We wandered around Zocalo and checked out the massive Mexican flag they raise and lower on the 6s.
Zocalo is massive. It’s one of the largest public squares in the world. Completely paved over, it had traditional Aztec dancers banging on drums, political protestors, political campaigners, and just politics. It’s the center of the Mexico City government and filled to the brim with folks enjoying a sunny Saturday.
Checking into the National Palace, I used an expired UT ID badge I brought with me. Inside was a really cool cactus garden and a large pavilion with an impressive fountain. Here is where I remembered why I love to travel—we made the happy accident of coming to Diego Rivera’s murals. On the footsteps leading to the second floor, there is the most intricate and detailed history of the Mexican people told with Rivera’s signature style. On the second floor, there were 6–7 more murals each illustrating different eras of Mexico’s history.
Leaving the National Palace, we went to Templo Mayor. This was the first great temple of the Aztec people and because Hernan Cortez was an asshole, he tore it down to build the CDMX Metropolitan Cathedral. I was conflicted by this destruction. I thought the Cathedral was absolutely stunning and I’m glad it’s there to service the people, but the colonization of Mexico came at a price. And that price was razing an incredible monument to the Aztec Gods. The Templo Mayor is really impressive. You go to a subterranean museum entrance and then follow a pathway showcasing the different points of the Aztec ritual site. Lots of sculptures imbedded into the footing of the temple. It’s a perfect place to spend an hour learning about the history of the original Mexicans.
We took an Uber to the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The outside is stunningly beautiful, and the interior is even more incredible. It has an art deco design and is home to Diego Rivera’s masterpiece, Man at the Crossroads. The original was commissioned and eventually destroyed by the Rockfellers when Diego painted Lenin in the mural. He recreated the mural and it will blow your cookies off the plate.
We finished the day back at Mercado Roma, eating tacos and drinking wine, beer and a wicked margarita made with mezcal. I also ate deep fried grasshoppers and ceviche made of a spicy cocktail sauce and octopus.
A note on eating in CDMX: do it. Don’t just eat for nourishment, eat for the sake of Mexico having some of the greatest food in the world. They don’t eat burritos and there isn’t chips and salsa available before your meal. Eat the street food. Eat octopus. And definitely eat the tortas. I couldn’t get enough of the tortas in CDMX. Globalization has mucked up a gastronomical journey (hell, you can get about anything you want in SLC) but the experience of enjoying new meals in Mexico was incredible.
Off to the canals of Xochimilco. We hired a car and the driver thought he was giving us a tour of all of Mexico. I accidentally asked about the CDMX Olympics held in 1968. Next thing you knew, we were outside the Olympic Stadium, on the campus of the University of Mexico, with 60,000 people getting ready to watch a soccer match. It definitely added 30 minutes of driving time to Xochimilco.
A quick aside, Xochimilco has more stray dogs I have ever seen in my entire life. They were everywhere, running down streets, eating trash and looking menacing. Never trust a dog that walks sideways. We hired a boat and took an hour tour on the canals.
It’s an experience that would have been better enjoyed with a group of people, but it was still pretty cool. It’s like a bumper boats with each of the flotillas crashing into each other as the pilots try to fight for space. When we were done, we exited crossing over three boats before making it to the shore. Did some shopping and bought a blanket.
The hour drive back to familiar territory covered about 10 miles. I don’t want to harp on how bad traffic is in CDMX, but it’s bad. Really bad. With so many people and so many cars, it’s not surprising how bad traffic can get. We got out in Condesa and wandered around a bit before settling in for a nice lunch. I ate rib eye tacos and Erin had a great looking salad. We shared empanadas and drank beer and wine.
Wandered back to the hotel, stopping in Roma before getting to Reforma. Took a nap. I was exhausted. Later that night, we went back to Fuente de las Cibeles and ate pizza again. I did wash it down with a bunch of margaritas.
Last day. Flying home at 3:45 p.m.
There was only one location for the day. We were going to go to Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, or Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our driver was going to take us to this religious pilgrimage site and then drop us off at the airport. Nothing could have prepared me for visiting this location. First off, it is massive. It’s spectacularly beautiful. It has more history in any square inch. Also, it has the Shroud of Guadalupe, Marian apparition of the Virgin Mary as Juan Diego witnessed Jesus’ mother four time in the area.
The main building is called the Modern Basilica, and this is where the Shroud is housed. It has a very modern, 1960s feel from the outside—almost like a flying saucer landing in the main square. It is set off by being located next to the original, gothic looking church. We went inside and there was a mass in process. There was probably about 300 parishioners worshipping as the priest was giving a benediction in Spanish.
To the east of the building is a series of stairs that lead passed the baptism chapel and takes a long winding path to the top of the hill. There was a church at the summit with spectacular views of CDMX. Heading down the other side, you make it to the grounds of the Basilica. There is a massive statute of the Lady of Guadalupe accepting offerings from all periods of Mexico. We saw a kid in his confirmation suit. It’s always funny watching parents trying to get their kids to pose for pictures—it never works out.
Back to the main square, we stopped at Pocito Chapel. A quaint building with a stunning alter inside. We then walked into the nunnery and the old church. The old church is sinking. The northwest corner is dropping into the ground. They propped up the statue of Pope John Paul II to counteract the sinking. There was another mass taking place at that time. We respectfully watched for a moment before heading to the Shroud.
The Shroud is in the basement of the Modern Basilica. It’s behind bullet-proof glass, in a low oxygen environment. You pass by it on a moving sidewalk. Looking up, there it is. Like all religious artifacts, it’s not for me to describe but rather to only say it is marvelous. If you only had one day in CDMX, you couldn’t do much better than witnessing the Shroud.
We visited the gift shop and purchased a small cross for the house.
Off to the airport. Ate at a Chili’s, drank a beer or two and flew home.
I doubt I’ll return to CDMX to visit again, but I will never regret or forget this trip. CDMX is so big and incredible and filled with remarkable people, sites, sounds, eats and everything. It’s why you should travel. It’s a little scary and dangerous at times, but the experience of walking through the cobblestone streets and busted up sidewalks and discovering crazy fountains with thousands of people eating and drinking makes it a definite must for any traveler. My only regret is I waited so long to go.