Mexico City. As you fly above it, you see miles and miles of sprawl. You see cement buildings built too close to each other; it doesn’t feel safe. You see miles of brake lights as the cars are backed up. But look closer and you see more. You see the brightly colored murals all over the walls and even the rooftops. You see the people, so full of ingenuity, throwing up stalls to sell something to make a living, or even staying at the side of the road to clean your windshield for tips. You see beauty in the old churches, and you see the pyramids and ancient history hidden just under the surface of this complex, harsh, and yes even beautiful town. Come with me as I write my love letter to Mexico, Mexico City and its people.
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Before our trip to Mexico City, I had never been to “real” Mexico. As a teenager, I went to Cancun with my family, stayed in the resort strip, and enjoyed the beaches, the bars, the cleaned up shops for tourists, and even Senior Frogs (if you know, you know). When my son was a toddler and I was heavy in pregnancy with my littlest one, we stayed at an all inclusive in Cabo San Lucas, where we spent a few days on the beach, poolside, and enjoying the view of Mexico without ever actually interacting with the people in Mexico. But in 2015 my dad married a woman from Mexico City, and once her green card was approved, he started visiting quite often with my stepmom, and started to talk about the wonderful city.
One day, when researching what points to use for one of our many trips to New Jersey for 2023, I was annoyed that I couldn’t get a good point/cash value for tickets. Frustrated, I decided to see what I could get for my points for February break. And surprisingly, I found I could get all four of us to Mexico City for 100K points, with an excellent point to cash value. I couldn’t believe my luck. I purchased the tickets and then told my husband. We had been wanting to see Mexico City and suddenly it felt like the perfect opportunity. I let my husband know that I purchased it and thankfully he was excited. I let my dad know as well.
“Well, hun, I don’t know if that is a good time for us. We wanted to do something for our anniversary in January.”
“Well Dad, that’s when the tickets are purchased for. Here is our itinerary. Feel free to join us if you’d like. Otherwise, I’ll just hang with my stepsisters”.
Then, I emailed the itinerary to my stepmother. Needless to say, she assured me she and my dad would be joining us there.
Our typical February vacations are relaxing and pleasant. We usually go to the beach and unwind. We always like to go warm. But Mexico City is inland. This wasn’t going to be a “relaxing” vacation. There was so much to do and see in Mexico City. We wanted to make sure to do it all.
So many people were surprised at our choice to go to Mexico. I heard so many various versions of concern.
“Is it safe?”
“Aren’t you scared of the violence?”
“Is it safe to bring your kids?”
Honestly, I was surprised by this. Sure, I had heard of the violence that can happen, but I know that it’s possible in any city. We were pickpocketed in Paris – TWICE! We know the risk. But we also understand how to stay safe. After traveling all over the world, there are few places I see as truly unsafe. Mexico is not an active war zone. I was going with my family. I felt safe.
What I will say is that my family really took care of us. While we were prepared to take Ubers and use the Metro, our family wouldn’t see any of that. They lent us a car to use (I never drove, I let my father do that), and made sure to take us all over the city to see places and eat the best food. They would warn us where to go and where not to go. And they wouldn’t even let us walk the block and a half from their apartment to our Airbnb at night.
I quickly learned that in Mexico City, you had to go at the pace of the city, not at the pace you wanted to go to. We were staying outside of downtown, choosing to stay close to our family. Since we were driving everywhere we had to deal with the two nemeses of Mexico City: Traffic and Parking. Going across the city could take 25 minutes to an hour and a half. It depended on the time of day, what was going on, the wind, and what the fates had in store. There was no rhyme or reason. Then, parking was always interesting. When we could, we would often look for a garage as we were in a borrowed car. But when that wasn’t possible, we would find one of the many helpful people who would stand by, and help you find a street spot for a small tip. But often we would circle looking for parking and end up walking much further than we wanted. My dreams of seeing multiple sites a day quickly faded as I realized that driving and parking would be the second activity of the day.
Instead we focused on one thing we wanted to do that day, and would then stick to that area. When we went to the Frida Kahlo house, we then walked in Coyocan, a happening area of Mexico City to get some tacos and wander the artisan market. When seeing Chapultepec Castle, we enjoyed the view, the park surrounding it, and bought chips from a street vendor doused in hot sauce, or lemon and lots and lots of tajin or salt. We had a BBQ on the rooftop of my stepsisters apartment – dancing and singing while eating fresh tortillas with carne asada, and looking at the lights of the city. We had lazy mornings, where almost each morning we made it to Emily’s restaurant, a little outdoor restaurant that served the most amazing fresh fruit juices, bread that had to be laced with crack it was so good, eggs and refried beans or chilaquiles every morning. Don’t forget that large cup of coffee and fruit that came with your meal. We found every taco street stall to try. We ate every kind of street food possible and somehow avoided getting sick. On the last day, we had the most amazing experience of floating on a cannel boat on Xochimilco, drinking, listening to music, eating snacks, and having a party on the canal with what looked like everyone else in Mexico City.
With the news we are seeing lately, Mexico can seem scary. Mexico City from above can seem raw. But get to the heart of Mexico City and you will find the most amazing place. One filled with color and a rich history. A people filled with pride for their country. Strong, hardworking, and caring people who have incredibly ingenuity and amazing compassion. It’s a country every one of us fell in love with and hope to visit again soon. So continue to follow along to see all we did and fall in love with this ciudad magica as our whole family did.