By No Vacation Required, on May 27, 2013

Making the most of Mexico City

I’m not sure why, but we were particularly overwhelmed by the thought of going to Mexico City. It probably had something to do with the fact that, with over 20 million people, it’s the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere. Overwhelmed yet?

So, yes, before digging into the planning process, we couldn’t shake thoughts of unyielding crowds and non-stop chaos. But I’m glad we didn’t let those images deter us from our resolve to get to this under-discussed travel destination. And, as it turned out, we didn’t need to be concerned at all. Now, were there plenty of crowds and some chaos? Yes. But, were those things alarmingly different from any other major city? Not really. 

So to set ourselves up for success in Mexico City, we went in with a plan. Here are a few tips from our experience.

Stay in a couple of different areas.

One of our biggest sources of pre-trip anxiety stemmed from our inability to decide where to base ourselves within such a huge city. In the end, we went with an approach that we now embrace often: we stayed in two different areas. This was an especially smart tactic in Mexico City because it allowed us to get a real feel for how varied the massive city is. 

First up, we wanted a bit of action without staying right in the core. We looked between the city’s gay neighborhood, Zona Rosa, and upscale Polanco. Four Seasons Mexico City was an ideal choice. Located right on the Paseo de la Reforma, we were well-situated to get around the city. And well taken care of! 

We decided early on that for one of our accommodations we wanted to stay in a neighborhood far away from any kind of bustle. When we read that Condesa was the “Soho of Mexico City,” we quickly set our sights on it. It was a smart choice for us – laid back and interesting. 

Mix up your activities.

When you think of Mexico City, you probably don’t think of green space. We were happy to suss out places like Chapultepec Park, the oldest natural park in North America. Yes, in Mexico City. And, as avid runners, we were happy that it’s also the largest city park in the world. 

Enjoying some green space

Because the city’s smog was a bit more than we bargained for, it was particularly satisfying to have places of refuge. When we based ourselves in Condesa, we’d often rejuvenate by hanging out in Parque Mexico, a former racetrack. The May sun peeking its way through the trees was just the medicine we needed. 

But don’t overlook Mexico City’s collection of museums, including the National Museum of Art and the National Museum of Anthropology and History.

Make yourself comfortable.

Viewfinder Tip: Take advantage of your hotel staff for local recommendations and peace of mind.

Mexico City seems scary to a lot of people. No need to worry. Just take the same precautions you’d take in any other large metropolitan area around the world. We navigated our way throughout the city with little concern. Similarly, we took a “no reservations” approach with the food. Had we been apprehensive, we may have missed out on the incredible tacos el pastor served all around the city. Use guidebooks and online resources to make smart decisions. Also, take advantage of the wisdom of your hotel’s staff. Ask where they go to eat.

We’re also glad that we took time to explore Mexico City’s nightlife. We were pleasantly surprised to see quite an open LGBT presence in Zona Rosa with many same-sex couples wandering the streets hand-in-hand. That’s progress!

What are your best tips for planning travel to a daunting destination?