Mexico City 2021 (first travel since the pandemic)

[November 2021] It’s our third time in Mexico City and each time feels like it’s our first. There’s always something new and we always feel we have to come back again. I love this city for many reasons. It’s a short flight (4 hrs from SFO), the weather is always nice, it doesnt get too hot it doesnt get too cold (its like being in the bay area), so many things reminds me of home (Philippines, that is), I can’t speak Spanish (yes I love the fact that I feel lost talking to people), and there’s just so many cool walkable neighborhoods to explore.

It’s our first time outside of the country since the pandemic and so let me share my thoughts on probably what’s on everyone’s mind. When we planned this months ago, of course we didn’t know how things will be so we were ready for everything to be cancelled last minute, if needed. I didn’t know what to expect but I was really impressed with how strict people are with wearing masks everywhere we went. No one removes their masks even if there’s only one person walking on a sidewalk with no one else in the entire block. If there’s a person sitting on a park bench with no one else around, that person would still be wearing a mask. Our temperature gets checked and hand sanitizers are given everywhere we go. Travel tip: bring hand lotion, my hands were getting really dry from all the hand sanitizing and hand washing.  All restaurants and cafes, no matter how small, ALWAYS have tables outside so we never had to dine indoors. One time, I went to a small pharmacy to buy something, I noticed there was a small container with some liquid next to the register. As soon as I handed my MX$10 bill, the cashier put the bill into the liquid and left it there (to sanitize the bill!). In the past, we’ve always taken public transportation here in CDMX since they have an extensive and convenient subway system, not to mention some stations that are photo worthy, but this time around we took Uber around instead. Of course masks are required in Ubers and car windows are always open. So in general, we did feel pretty safe during our whole stay. 

Mexico City (CDMX) is comprised of hundreds of neighborhoods (literally) which means you never run out of places to explore!  On our first day, we opted to see Palacio de la Bellas Artes once again since it was a clear sunny day and sitting on the terraza of the Don Porfirio cafe right across the Bellas Artes sounded pretty nice. We walked along the Alameda Central next to the palacio, sat in the park and people-watched.  We didn’t have a set itinerary this time around so we just walked around and stopped when we felt like it.  We went to the Museo Nacional de Arte (there’s a one-way direction to go through the rooms and floors and staff to direct you) and ended up in the Zocalo.  There’s always something going on in the Zocalo, and this time there was an event that celebrates Mexico’s indigenous people. There were performances on stage and tons of stalls that sells food, products, crafts.

Condesa-Roma Norte

Condesa/Roma Norte is our favorite neighborhood in CDMX. I sort of lump these two together because they are ‘sister’ neighborhoods, and are right next to each other. You  just keep walking and go from one to the other.  Condesa is more chill between the two though so really, this is where I would stay.  This time around we stayed right next to Parque Mexico, a beautiful park with lush gorgeous tall trees, well maintained hedges and clean promenades. Everyday we walk through this park and everyday I say “I love this park so much”.  Weekends are even more special as the park becomes host to buskers and dancers. One day we even saw something being filmed in the park. There are playgrounds, outdoor gym, dog park, and spaces for kids to run around.

The neighborhood is very walkable. I feel safe to walk the streets even at night.  The streets are lined with tall trees with branches forming a canopy over the sidewalks.  The wider avenidas would have a middle island, which would have a tree-lined walkway in it. Walk in that walkway and you’d forget that you’re in the middle of a city street!  In such a huge city like CDMX, I love how they still maintain slices of nature around. It’s such a delight to walk the streets of this neighborhood. 

Condesa and Roma Norte are full of charming restaurants, trendy bars and neighborhoody little cafes with outdoor tables. Places to eat range from casual taquerias to renovated colonial mansions turned into a hip bistro to full-on Michelin starred restaurants. I wish I have 10 stomachs so we can eat 10 times a day and have coffee 20 times a day. Everytime we turn a corner there’s a cafe or a restaurant we’d like to go to except we just had a full meal. There weren’t many tourists in Condesa during our entire stay, and it feels like there are more tourists in the bars of Roma Norte. Not many spoke English either but that didn’t bother me, we sort of get by with the little  Spanish (dotted by portuguese words) that I know. 

These neighborhoods are very dog-friendly.  There are always people walking their dogs or hanging out in the outdoor tables with their dogs.  Everyone’s got a dog, from little shitzus to big greyhounds,  and even cafes have bowls of water out on the sidewalk for dogs to drink if they want to.

And then there’s the food. I’ve mentioned this in my previous write up about CDMX. This city is definitely a culinary destination.  Check best restaurants in the world, or best restaurants in Latin America, you’ll always find Mexico City restaurants there. We’ve tried hole-in-the-wall looking taquerias to ones on those best list and we loved them all.

There is one downside. And this never bothered me until now.  The altitude! CDMX sits at 7,300ft above sea level, and somehow this time around it took me 4 DAYS before I was able to walk my normal pace without gasping for air (of course it doesnt help that we have to wear mask). I felt like an old lady needing a bench to sit on every few feet. Of course, on the 5th day I felt perfectly fine, and it was about time to leave.

Coyoacan

Monday after the Formula 1 race (that will be covered in another post of course), we opted to visit the neighborhood of Coyoacan.  Famous for La Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s house where she lived most of her life, Coyoacan is about a 30-minute ride from the city center.  Unfortunately, the museum is closed on Mondays so that was not really in our itinerary that day. In fact, we did not have an itinerary so we just directed uber to take us to the main plaza, Plaza Hidalgo.  

Coyoacan used to be a separate village until it became a municipality of Mexico City. It still has the traditional village feel to it.  Since it was a Monday morning, the plaza was pretty quiet, except for this organillero who’s continuously cranking this instrument that looks like a big music box, producing this high pitched creaky tune that may evoke memories of the past for some – but after a minute or so, I started to wonder if people really liked hearing this screechy (is that a word?) sound all day long.

We walked around the plaza, hung out for a bit, admired a big dia dos muertos altar in the plaza, walked a few blocks out in all directions, checked out some stores, took pictures, watched people until it was time for lunch. We picked one of the restaurants by the plaza that serves Oaxacan dishes. I was being adventurous so I ordered something with chapulines, thinking it would be a sprinkling of grasshoppers but alas, I got a flat tortilla loaded with chapulines. I had to try it, but I guess I might have to try it somewhere else next time because this one was very salty I couldn’t finish it.

San Angel

It was a Sunday and our flight leaves only at 6pm so we still had some time during the day to wander around and we were pretty excited with out last-minute find, the neighborhood of San Angel. About 30 min uber ride south of the city center, this neighborhood is a gem ! It has a traditional, quiet, yet trendy feel to it that makes it such a delight to explore.  We started in Plaza Loreto where 1 of the 2 Soumaya Museums are (we loved the other one in Polanco).  The colonial era villa-like museum had exhibits on history of prints and film in Mexico. Just like the other museum, this one is also free admission.

We then walked towards Plaza Jacinto, and passed by Mercado San Angel on our way.  Plaza Jacinto is the heart of San Angel, and on weekends, its bustling with vendors selling arts, crafts, flowers, ice creams, jewelries, and all sorts of stuff.  It’s surrounded by beautiful buildings and leafy cobblestoned streets.  We picked one of the taquerias that flanks the plaza and people watched as we munched on tacos.

We continued to walk the streets lined by colorful buildings, and reached Plaza del Carmen which looked like a huge art gallery, with art works sprawled all over the plaza.  Every Sunday, hundreds of artists belonging to the Garden of Arts Association bring their works to this plaza transforming the plaza into one big gallery of color. Around the plaza are historic buildings and former mansions, one of which has been converted to an upscale marketplace hosting restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques with shared community tables in the middle.   We were about to leave when I saw this church across the street that has beautiful tiled domes.  A quick google told me its part of the El Carmen complex which also has a monastery converted into a museum. I am bummed we did not know about this until now and we definitely do not have time to go inside the museum.  I’ve read that the museum features collection of art works from famed artists, statues, ancient relics and mummies (yep, not for the squeamish).  Now we know the first place we will be visiting the next time we are in Mexico City again.

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