Mexico City (CDMX)

It’s safe to say I will find myself in Mexico City again someday, or CDMX as it is most commonly referred to (Ciudad de Mexico). We spent 5 days exploring the city and it far exceeded my expectations. Granted my expectations, if I had any at all, were low (as I am trying to keep them with everywhere we’re visiting). Nonetheless, the city is filled with history, culture, and experiences that can keep you busy for days, and wanting more. Our adventure began with a stop just outside of the city where we got to visit a Monarch Butterfly Reserve.

Monarch Butterfly Reserve

I had no idea Monarch Butterflies migrated, let alone to the area of Mexico we happen to be driving through. Every year hundreds of thousands of Monarchs fly south for the winter and settle in the pine tree covered mountains surrounding Mexico City. There are a handful of locations where you can witness this, we ended up visiting the Cerro Pelon Reserve about two hours outside of city.

The headquarters for this reserve were in a tiny mountain village called Macheros. Some of the other reserves, such as the popular El Rosario, provide easier access to view the area’s where the butterflies post up for the winter. To access the Cerro Pelon Reserve area, you must go with a guide and hike or take a horse a few miles and a couple thousand feet up into the mountains. That being the case, this reserve is the least touristy and the most pristine. Being that we are trying to keep our spending low, and we love hiking, we opted against the horse and chose to hike our way to the top to see these majestic bugs.

Funny, when we were paying and told the guy we didn’t want a horse and were going to hike instead, he gave us a cockeyed look. We then got the same cockeyed look from our guide when we were gearing up to get on the trail. I figured it was just the Mexican’s trying to upsell us on the horse and make a bit more money. Turns out, this hike was no joke. The first ½ mile or so was easy, but after that the trail was dusty, loose, and super steep. Mind you we had just gotten through a hike to the top of a 14,000-ft. volcano only a few days earlier and our bodies hadn’t fully recovered yet. That being the case, this was a struggle for sure, especially for Linds. Lucky for her, our guide was on horseback, and was kind enough to let her hop in the saddle when he saw her huffin’ and puffin’ towards the end.

As we approached the top, increasingly more large monarchs with their vibrant orange colors filled the woods. On warm days with full, bright sunshine, you can see thousands of these bird-sized bugs gliding among the trees. On this day it was slightly colder, and being a little later in the afternoon the sun was struggling to shine through the trees, so less Monarchs were in flight. Instead, they were clung to the Pine trees in massive clumps that made it look as though the branches were filled with dying maple leaves. There must have been 1000+ Monarchs on any given branch, a bizarre sight to see. All-in-all, it was a unique experience that I would recommend as a daytrip away from the city if you happen to be visiting in the winter months. And even though I enjoyed the hike and the much-needed exercise it provided my body, I highly suggest doing it on horseback. If not for avoiding the strenuous hike, at least for the fun experience of riding one up the mountain.

Day 1: Coyoacan & Lucha Libre

After our jaunt up the mountain to visit the Monarchs, we got a good night rest and then headed into the city. We were very fortunate that our friends Blake and Jamie put us in touch with their good friend David. David owns a fantastic apartment in Coyoacan, a great little neighborhood of CDMX. He has been converting his place into a sustainable home, complete with solar water heating, solar electric power, grey water recycling, and a recycled rainwater system. If you know me, you could imagine my excitement to geek out over it. He also happened to have 2 loft rooms he typically rents out with AirBnB that were empty, so he put us up for the five days we were in town.

When we first landed we spent some time settling in and getting to know the immediate area. I found a mechanic and took in Poppins to get a little tune up and oil change. We also stopped into the taco shop below David’s apartment and had probably the best torta I have had on the entire trip, and only for 30 pesos (or $1.50)! If you aren’t familiar, a torta is a Mexican sandwich typically on a wide role. This one had amazing marinated pork (al Pastor), Mexican cheese (because I don’t know what else to call it), avocado, sliced tomatoes, cilantro, and pickled red onions. I don’t know if the fact that it was amazingly inexpensive got me so amped on it, but it’s honestly been a month and I still think about that sandwich.

That night, being a Friday, I got us tickets to go see Mexico’s infamous Lucha Libre wrestling. Lucha Libre is a hilarious Mexican version of the U.S.’s own WWF (or WWE as it’s now called). Most all the wrestlers where brightly colored masks, and of course, they add a bit of that raunchy Mexico vibe to the show. Growing up, I was a huge fan of the WWF. My sister and I watched Monday Night Raw every week, Thursday night Smackdown when they added that, and even watched the Pay-per-view events through the scrambled TV screen since I was never allowed to purchase the PPV itself. I had always wanted to go see it live and see Shawn Michaels kick someone in the face with that sweet chin music, or Stone-Cold Steve Austin chug 4 beers then hand out stunners like they were Halloween candy. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to attend, so I was psyched to fulfill my childhood dreams with a Mexican flavor, and boy did it have some Mexican flavor. They had little people in full get-ups and masks fightin’ each other, even had the big dudes throwing the little dudes at each other, or just kicking them in the head. At the end of a match, the winners got to hang in the ring while the fans threw coins at them from the stands. I’m talking bigger, heavy peso’s getting thrown from 30 rows back and the wrestlers just continued to pump up the crowd and collect the change into empty beer cups. Doesn’t get more Mexican than that!

After a quick stop into the taco shop bellows David’s apt. for a late night snack after Lucha Libre, we decided to call it night so we could get up early and explore.

Day 2: Museum of Anthropology, Roma/La Condesa Districts & La Perla

It was our first full day in CDMX and we decided to do some wandering. Beyond some light research we had done using Rough Guide’s Guide to Mexico City, we didn’t know much about the area so we decided to head towards the popular Roma/La Condesa neighborhoods to walk around a bit. Getting there, and around Mexico City in general, was easy thanks to the extensive subway system. Being from New York I have an appreciation for any city with a good public transportation system, and I must say, the CDMX subway system is fantastic. First, it only costs .25 cents per ride, which is amazing. On top of that, it’s huge so it pretty much takes you any and everywhere you need to go in the city. Combine the subway system with the cities bus routes and you can very easily get anywhere you want, fast and cheap. The trains come frequently so the longest I found myself waiting at any given stop was maybe 4 minutes.

When we arrived in La Condesa we meandered a bit through Bosque de Chapultepec which was a beautiful park that was surrounded by countless museums. Interesting fact, Mexico City has more museums than any city in the world. That being the case, felt we had to check out at least one of them, so we decided on the Museum of Anthropology. I’m not big on museums in general, apart from some art museums, but when in Rome…

Anyway, we spent a couple hours checking out the exhibits and enjoyed learning a bit about the history of Mexican culture and society. Since we have been traveling through the country and seeing all this culture, these ruins, and all the historical cities, it was nice to put a little color behind it and have a deeper understanding of the colorful history of Mexico. It was a little bit of a challenge considering only 30% or so of the exhibits had English dialog, but it was good for what we could get out of it.

A couple hours of doing the museum thing worked up a thirst, so we cut out and jumped over to the Roma district. This neighborhood is one of the cities more upscale areas, filled with modern restaurants, classy bars, and a little bit of the hipster vibe. With a big enough budget, you can spend lots of time enjoying craft cocktails and eating some of the best food the city has to offer. With our budget on the other hand, you could only spend an hour or two drinking a couple cocktails and imagining how good the dish that the guy next to us got was. None the less, we embraced our budget and enjoyed what we could before heading out to meet up with our friend Joe Stopa, who happen to be in CDMX for the long weekend, visiting with a group of friends.

In doing my research about the city, I had read about a fun Saturday night cabaret show at a club called La Perla. I had never been to a cabaret show, let alone a Mexican Cabaret show (because everything is a bit raunchier in Mexico), so I was determined to get everyone on board to go check it out. We met up with Joe and his friends and it didn’t take long to get everyone committed. I mean, Mexican drag queens singing and dancing at a somewhat sketchy and beat up club in a not so great neighborhood, who could say no?

We got there a couple hours before the show so we could be sure to get tickets and could tell right away we were in for a hilarious evening. The entrance looked as though it was the back door to a seedy restaurant, labeled only by a small, barely legible sign. The inside was tiny, old, and had a bit of that mothball scent; it was perfect. The bathroom was borderline disgusting, but did have a friendly attendant, which I found rather odd. Things got progressively odder when the show began and the bathroom attendant suddenly was decked out in full drag! Turned out he(she?) was also the main entertainer for the first half of the show. Things got even more interesting as we decided to capitalize on the clubs extremely cheap bottle service. I think we ended up polishing off three bottles of their finest tequila (not so fine…) as we took in the show. It was a hysterical and amazing time reuniting with our good friend Stopa, and a wonderful way to spend an evening taking in Mexican culture, I highly recommend it.

Getting home was an adventure in it of itself. Linds and I were on our own, fairly sauced up, and without cell service for an Uber (yes, they have Uber in Mexico City). One of the main warnings we heard multiple times about CDMX was to not trust the taxi drivers at night. You hear countless stories of drunk people getting a ride and then being held hostage or getting mugged and left in random neighborhoods. That being the case, we were determined to find Wifi so we could call an Uber. Since it was 2am or so, that proved to be easier said than done. After an hour or so we found a great little late-night food spot with Wifi and were able to secure our ride while satisfying that late-night hunger for quesadillas and guacamole. All around a successful night.

Day 3: Coyoacan & An Eating Spree

The next morning, we woke up in the fog of three bottles of tequila, stinking of cigarettes & mothballs. It was hard to say who won the night, us or Mexico City. Either way, we felt good about it. That day we planned to hang around with Stopa and friends in the Coyoacan neighborhood where David’s apartment was. We met up with everyone at the main plaza after breakfast and could see right away that we weren’t the only ones riding the struggle bus following our outing the night before. We did a little wandering, checking out the cathedral at the Plaza (which was beautiful), and explored the local crafts market. It didn’t take long before we were over it and decided our time would be best spent at a local bar.

Luckily our gracious host, David, gave us an extensive list of places to go, things to see, and food to eat. We went to his favorite spot in the neighborhood called Centenario 107. It was a great little spot that gave us a “back at home” vibe with their extensive list of craft beers and hangover appetizers. It was one of those days where although we had breakfast only 2 hours ago, who could say no to delicious appetizers? On top of that, it happened to be Sunday in January so we even got to watch some football while embracing our inner fat kid. After a couple hours of indulging, Joe and his friends took off to go see Lucha Libre (they didn’t get to see it with us a couple nights prior), and we decided to walk around a bit more hoping it would help us digest. Turns out, our will power wasn’t so strong, and our walking lead us directly into the next spot for more football and unhealthy food. This time it was Wingstop, which was a major guilty pleasure. We haven’t done any fast- or chain-food on our entire trip, but on this day the stars aligned, and wings + beer + football equaled happiness. We watched the end of the Patriots-Jaguars game here and then hit the streets to walk it off.

Coyoacan was buzzing. The streets were filled with carts selling everything you could imagine. Hundreds of people were out with their friends and family as though they were enjoying some sort of festival, but it was just Sunday afternoon. There was even some live music being played and couples dancing in the street. It warmed my heart to see this sort of thing and know its just what they do, and they do it every week. Not just for a special event or holiday, just because its Sunday and they are happy and enjoying life. It certainly wasn’t the preconceived image I had in my head of Mexico City. Goes to show you the importance of avoiding judgements of something based on second hand stories or media inflated violence.

It was a wonderful day of stuffing our face and enjoying the fantastic vibe of this great neighborhood. As we began walking back to the apartment, we remembered this Kobe beef restaurant we had walked by the day before and realized we weren’t quite done yet. Between the two of us, we had probably consumed 6-7 pounds of food already that day, but for some reason we both felt we still had room for steak! To be fair, I hadn’t had nice juicy steak since we had left the U.S. over two months earlier. This place was worth every bit of uncomfortably full it made me. It was called Ixkati Casa Kobe, and the proprietor, Leo Grebot, handmade everything. All the sauce, all the dressings, all the appetizers, the pasta, and even the deserts. We were the only people in the restaurant that night, and it was perfect. We got a nice big table directly in front of the 70” flat screen to watch the Eagles-Vikings playoff game. It was like eating a 5-star gourmet Kobe beef meal in my living room. As for the food, the pasta was some of the best I’ve tasted, and the steak was the most tender, buttery rib-eye I have ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into. I mean, you barely had to chew because it was so tender. After a very satisfying and completely unnecessary dessert, we rolled ourselves out the door practically crawled our way home. It was hands down the most uncomfortably full I have been in my entire life, and I would do it again if I had the chance!

Day 4: Zocalo & More Roma

As you can imagine, energy levels the following day were not so great. Killing a hangover with an eating binge is great when your doing it, but the aftermath when its all said and done can be a bit rough. We took the morning to relax a bit and figure out our day. We decided we would do some light exploring and try and meet up with Stopa a bit later.

Our first stop was the Zocalo District, which is the historical center of Mexico City. There you find about ten or more museums in a five-block radius, along with many cathedrals, monuments, and even some Aztec ruins. When the Spanish conquered the city in 14th century, they destroyed the Aztec pyramids and temples and built their own city directly on top of the destroyed city. They even used bricks of the destroyed temples for the construction of the new cathedral that still stands today in the Zocalo. On the ground in front of the cathedral, there are a couple large plexiglass windows that allow you to look down below the surface where you can see reminisce of the destroyed temple that was built on top of. With the right light you can even see deep down and make out skulls and bones of ancient Aztecs.

Beyond the walking tour of the Cathedrals and ruins, the Zocalo is a wonderful place for checking out museums. Unfortunately, it was Monday which is the one day all the museums are closed, so there wasn’t much else for us to do in the area. We took to the streets and went on our own walking tour that lead us through some great plaza’s and city parks. Before we new it, we found ourselves back in the familiar neighborhood of the Roma District, where we had explored a couple days earlier.

Since our last visit, we had heard about this great spot we had to check it. It was a 4-story library/café with a bar/restaurant on the roof deck. Each floor had some unique seating area where you could enjoy your coffee and read or have a snack and play a game with a friend. On the top deck, the full bar served up craft cocktails, including one of the best Irish Coffee’s I’ve had. Beyond being quality gourmet coffee, the whip cream was made behind the bar fresh with every drink and was amazing. The place even had a small venue where they would have concerts, plays, or show movies. A spot like this would kill it in the states.

From there we made our way to Roma’s well know craft food market. It was a modern style market with kiosks occupied by different vendors selling food, wine, desserts, or cocktails. There’s a place that’s been opening in the states called Eataly that is very similar. I know they have them in Boston, Chicago, and New York, but if you have a chance to check one out, you should. This style market is common in the more modern neighborhoods of Mexico City. Some are very small, with as little as 5 vendors, but this one was the best we found in CDMX and worth checking out.

That evening, the plan was to go hang out with Joe before he left the next day, but he contracted a bit of the Mexican Flu and was out of commission. Fortunately, we were able to meet up briefly and say our goodbyes. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just a little bit more fun seeing friends you haven’t seen in a while when you’re in an exotic and unknown land. Not sure who we will see next or where we might see them, but it’s gonna be fun, and I am certainly looking forward to it.

When we got back to the house, we ran into our host, David, who we hadn’t had a chance to hang out with since we had got into town. Beyond developing rainwater recycling systems for homes and businesses, David has been working on developing his own Mezcal distillation plant. Although drinking was at the bottom of our to-do list that day, we certainly didn’t want to be rude to our host and not indulge in his creations. He had 4 assorted flavors of Mezcal that he brought up to the roof and we proceeded to explore the ins and outs of the Mezcal distillation process. I had tasted Mezcal before, but didn’t have an appreciation for the spirit until now. Lindsey was singing the same tune until a few hours later when she hit a wall and the excessive amount of Mezcal decided it didn’t want to stay in her stomach any longer. Everything in moderation…

Day 5: Mercado Jamaica, Mercado Senora & Underground Jazz

The following day, Lindsey had to be at the airport around noon. She was flying back to Florida on a last-minute trip to spend some time with her family. Her 94-year-old grandmother was making the journey down from New Hampshire to visit and had never even flown before. It was Jan 23rd, and the timing worked out nicely because her brother, Patrick, was going down to Belize with his wife and family at the beginning of Feb. and we were planning to meet them there. So instead of driving, Lindsey flew back to Florida and then planned on flying to Belize with her brother and family. I stayed and planned to drive myself down from Mexico City and meet them all in Belize a couple weeks later.

Lindsey made it out with no issues and I was on my own for the next two weeks or so. I decided to spend one more day in CDMX since there were a couple more things I wanted to check out before moving on. I had heard a lot about the big markets that were in the city and had to go see what they were all about. My first stop was the Mercado Jamaica. It is a massive market, much different from the smaller craft markets like the ones in Roma or Coyoacan. This one is jam packed with all sorts of vendors such as fruits & veggies, nuts, spices, meats, fish, clothes, gifts, appliances, flowers, and the list goes on. There was even a section with prepared food stands whipping up all sorts of tacos and whatnot. There must have been 200 different stands throughout the market with everything you could possibly need. It was fun to imagine doing my weekly shopping for produce, meat and fish at this place.

From there I headed up to another well known market called Mercado Senora. This particular market is not known as much for common groceries and other necessities, but known for a bit more off the wall, witch doctor type stuff. When you come through the street side entrances you are mostly greeted with your standard trinket and gift stands, but as you make your way through the narrow, dark passage ways towards the back, you begin to see some of the odder kiosks. There are big stands filled with strange spices and herbs, along with smaller stands with assortments of oils and tonics. Just tell them what ails you and the herbal doctors will blend you up a mixed bag that is sure to help. As I continued to wander things got progressively stranger. There were duck feet hanging from strings, fragments of animal skins draped about, and ostrich heads on sticks that seemed to be eyeballing me. Feeling as though I had to experience the culture, I procured myself some herbs to make tea for upset stomach and anxiety, but I had to draw the line. There just isn’t any room in Poppins for dried up ostrich heads and duck feet.

The remainder of the day I spent walking through the different neighborhoods that I hadn’t been to yet. Some were nice, others didn’t have much to offer. My goal for the evening was to check out one of the jazz clubs I had read about. There are a few popular ones, but I was most interested in going to Jules Basement. It was a speakeasy style club that you entered through a walk-in freezer door in the back of an operating Mexican restaurant. When I got there, it was a little awkward. The restaurant was somewhat busy, and there were no signs or anyone telling you where to go for the jazz; you had to know about the place to find it. I made my way through the dining area and towards the back to find a large Mexican fellow securing the freezer door. I could tell by his questionable stare that my travel clothing did not necessarily abide by the standard dress code, but after a bit of persuading I got him to let me in. The stairs lead down to a tiny room below the restaurant that was decked out with modern décor. The bartender poured me the best Old Fashion I have had in Mexico, and the band got going. It had months since I had listened to a good band play some solid jazz. I was in heaven. Drinking my favorite beverage listening to great live jazz in a Mexico City speakeasy, it was the perfect way to end what was an amazing visit to Mexico City.

On My Way…

Like I said before, I can safely say I will find myself in that city again someday. For now, it was time for me to do some solo traveling for the first time on the trip. I got up and out the next morning and hit the open road. I planned on exploring the Mexican state of Veracruz, but first was a stop in Hidalgo at Grutas Tolantongo.

Mexico City Photo Gallery (Click Here)

2 thoughts on “Mexico City (CDMX)”

  1. Jared

    Excellent post, Kev. I was literally transported into this ancient-modern city by your story. Looking forward to new adventure tales!

    • Kevin Mulvey

      Thanks jared!

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