Hops and Skips

Mexico City with an Infant, Part 2

**If you missed Part 1 of the guide (including need-to-knows on transportation, water safety, weather, and accommodations), be sure to check it out here!**

As any flight nears its end, you know you’re getting close to the ground by the feel of the plane—the movement of the wings, the changing noise of the engines. The buildings below get more dense, and you feel as if you’re quickly drifting towards your destination. But flying into Mexico City is not unlike flying into LAX; you sense the impending landing, but it never. seems. to come.

This was my first indication of the vast size of Mexico City. It stretches on and on, with towns blending into suburbs, blending into city center, and back again. As landing loomed, one of my first close views out the airplane window was of this amazingly symmetrical oasis of greenery with tree-lined boulevards radiating out from the center. In the scheme of that descent, it was barely a blip, bypassed in a matter of seconds. A feature of city planning that was probably an icon of a neighborhood, and, in the scheme of that aerial view, it disappeared in the blink of an eye.

That’s when I understood that over the course of next seven days, I would barely scratch the surface of this city. But like any good traveler, I could try my best.

| Where to Stay. |

So like I said, Mexico City is HUGE. The city itself has just under 9 million people without counting the “Greater Mexico City” surrounding areas. That’s around the same population size as New York City, but Mexico City FEELS huge. It’s vast and sprawling, and its distinctive neighborhoods almost feel like different cities. So when you’re looking for a place to stay, the city’s sheer size makes it a daunting task—it takes much longer than a 10 minute stroll to explore the next neighborhood over, so it feels like a lot of pressure to pick the right location!

The neighborhoods of CDMX are definitely distinctive and run the gamut of architecture style and economic level. If you’re doing your research, the neighborhoods you’ll most likely run across are Roma, Condesa, Centro Historico, Coyoacán, and Polanco. Each has its own style and vibe, so it’s necessary to base your search on your own individual wants and needs. Many of your museums and historical attractions are in Centro; Roma and Condesa neighbor each other and have a laid back vibe with lots of parks, restaurants, and colorful street art and architecture; Polanco is more upscale with lots of hotel chains and a definite restaurant scene; Coyoacán is further from the city center and therefore a little less urban-feeling, but it has an energetic bohemian vibe with numerous markets and restaurants.

We stayed in Roma Norte, which had wide, busy avenues filled with the everyday businesses and institutions. Tucked behind the thoroughfares were quiet, tree-lined streets with apartments, restaurants, markets, and coffee shops. Our little pocket of the city was cozy with low-rise buildings and abundant foliage, and it was very easy to get to other parts of the city with Uber. It was perfect for a family, but it was also very hip—full of trendy but (mostly) inexpensive cafes, restaurants, and shops.

You’ll most likely find an oasis of everything you need within your neighborhood, but be sure to venture out to see the diversity of vibes this city offers.

| Where to Eat. |

Mexico City is one of those places so big that any specific spots I share will seem inconsequential in the scheme of things; it’s impossible to create a “definitive guide” to any part of this city, because it’s huge and living and changing. There’s an advantage to this, though—it’s the perfect climate for the “stumble upon” find. It’s almost better to just venture out without a list or agenda and hope the fates will lead you to a treasure. Here are some that we ran across in our neighborhood of Roma Norte:

  • Delirio | Start the morning with this coffee & cafe chain that is both trendy and delicious. Grab a quick breakfast pastry or sit down and order off the menu. I frequently make my own version of their avocado toast–it was that good.
  • Luna Mixteca | The kind of small restaurant you’d choose by virtue of strolling by; quick, good tacos, inexpensive, very friendly staff.
  • La Buenavida |  A casual lunch spot with a changing menu, though known for its cemitas (sandwiches). Cool atmosphere (definite hipster vibe), sidewalk seating, reasonably priced.
  • Traspatio | You’ll want to sit down and stay a while in this amazing outdoor oasis, tucked away and hidden from the street. Good for dinner, great burgers, a little pricier than the previous two, though still reasonable.
  • Pizza Felix | Another spot that’s hard to find from the sidewalk, essentially tucked into a patio courtyard. Great pizzas and cocktails, standard dinner prices.
  • El Deposito | Self-described as a “world beer store,” a definite stop for beer fans. Better beer = more expensive prices. Also a good spot just to sit, enjoy a drink, and watch a match on TV. There are a few around the city.
  • Mercado Roma | An impressive gourmet food hall that’d be a foodie’s paradise. There’s a bar on the roof that we attempted to visit, but it was ultimately all too overwhelming for a 7-month-old during “witching hour.” Definitely worth a visit, though.

A couple notes on dining in CDMX: restaurant hours don’t follow a typical American eating schedule; expect later lunch and dinner. We never had an issue or felt uncomfortable with an infant in tow, no matter where we went; restaurants were very accommodating and even frequently packed our meals to go when our infant got especially squirmy. Take advantage of the fantastic weather, and dine al fresco as much as possible!

| What to Do. |

Where to even begin??? If you best explore a new city on your feet, start your visit by wandering the Centro Histórico. This is the heart of the city, dating back to the days of the Aztec. Begin in the Plaza de la Constitución and explore the surrounding buildings, especially the gorgeous Catedral Metropolitana. Spend a couple hours perusing the Museo del Templo Mayor, which was the main temple of the Mexica peoples in the 14th century when Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) was their capital—definitely a must-see if you’re interested in history and civilizations! At the start of any trip I take, I like to get a good grasp of my surrounds, so I recommend grabbing an aerial view early on by visiting the observation deck on Torre Latinoamericana. Continue wandering the busy streets, taking in the architecture, including the extravagantly gilded Palacio Postal (still a functioning post office) and the iconic Palacio de Bellas Artes, designed to be an opulent representation of Mexico City’s high culture.

The museums in Mexico City were some of the most fantastic I’ve ever visited—not only thorough in content and brilliantly curated, but housed in some amazing buildings, as well. The Museo Nacional de Antropología is, in my opinion, the city’s premier institution. It is perfectly designed for its setting—an interior, open-air courtyard surrounded by rooms that flow together through archaeological and anthropological history. Bébé was a trooper during our 3+ hours here, and the layout was actually perfect for children. If ever they get antsy, escape to the big open courtyard to run around! If you’ve still got the energy afterwards, or are looking for a different kind of museum collection, try the Museo de Arte Moderno just around the corner. Also designed to blend the indoor with the out (it’s a trend you’ll notice city-wide), this museum hosts a substantial permanent exhibit of Mexican artists as well as changing contemporary exhibitions by both local and international artists. Both of these museums are located in Bosque Chapultepec, which is the one of the largest green spaces in the Western hemisphere and considered the “lungs” of the Mexico City.

I always recommend strolling your home neighborhood frequently and extensively; familiarity helps you feel a part of the place you are visiting. But one outlier you need to make time to visit is Coyoacán. Part of the reason it feels so distinctive from the rest of the city is that it has a heavy Spanish influence dating back to the 16th century when Cortés was conquering the Aztec Empire. Coyoacán was a headquarters for the Spanish and actually remained independent from Mexico City well into the 19th century. There you’ll find La Casa Azul (The Frida Kahlo Museum), which is definitely worth the admission price. (Order tickets online ahead of time to avoid the massive queues that form outside.) The Mercado de Coyoacán is another icon of the neighborhood, full of both food and crafts. And in a city with a thousand plazas, the main one in Coyoacán is one of the finest. Take a seat, rest your feet, and take in all the life happening around you.

Typically, we’re not really “organized tour” people, but we always make an exception for one that’s going to show us a side to a city we wouldn’t see otherwise. Here, that was a street food tour with Eat Mexico. For three hours, we wandered the city’s business district, discovering a variety of foods from different vendors  and learning how “street food” became a integral part of the city’s identity. It’s definitely pricier, especially by Mexican standards, but we believed it worth it. Our tour guide gave us a great perspective to not only the food, but also the history and economics of the city. Plus, we could bring the baby for free, and she loved walking around in her baby carrier. (A stroller would’ve been a big hassle, because you go in and out of narrow streets and market passages.)

Lastly, as we are a family of bibliophiles, I cannot neglect to mention one of the most stunning sites from our whole tour of the city: la Biblioteca Vasconcelos. Once again blurring the lines between open-air and containment, this library seems astonishingly unreal, like something out of a sci-fi movie. The books housed here don’t know how lucky they are!

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