Any big city confronts the visitor with a vast array of unknowns. Mexico City, due to its vastness, may be even that much more unknown. But it’s not unknowable.
One of the most heavily visited of cities in the world, it’s got its share of tourist operators, and these are willing to show you tacos, museums or curiosities on pretty much any day of the week.
But lots of international visitors will be overwhelmed simply by the sheer number of organized tours of Mexico City – there are a lot to choose from. These are five of the best.
Mexico City’s Amigo Tours run a walking tour of the city center which quickly rose to be one of the most personalized and in-depth three-hour walking tours of the classic Centro Historico. At just about US$32 per person, it’s a good deal and gives you an in-depth feel for walking the storied streets without getting lost or wasting energy finding anything. They’ll meet you at your hotel or at nearly any pre-arranged location.
Starting and ending at the Mexican Design Museum at the end of Madero, by the Zocalo, this Urban Adventures tour whisks you to the Arena Mexico for some good Lucha Libre, and then back up to Garibaldi plaza where you can sing your heart out with the Mariachis wondering why your luchador lost. Before heading back to the Design Museum, there’s plenty of time, inside and outside the cantina, where folks of all stripes will be singing, crying and romancing.
One way or another, you need to take a boat-ride in Xochimilco. That presents a few problems for international visitors. Organized tours nearly always include University City and probably parts of Coyoacan and possibly even the Aztec Stadium. And while you can organize and haul off with one of these tour companies, most natives of the city will likely find that Xochimilco is enough destination for one day. Both Coyoacan and, arguably, University City, justify another trip south. It’s an awful lot to do in just one day.
That brings us to the next issue. Finding a purely English language trajinero — that is, a boat pilot — is not always easy. And, while the added expense is not too much (all pure English tours anywhere in the city will cost slightly more simply because the market demands it), it’s not always guaranteed a real English speaking guide will be available.
It’s highly recommended that you bring your own interpreter along with you, or if you plan to book and travel entirely independently, find someone willing to negotiate a price and you’ll very likely find someone more or less willing to try to communicate with you! They really are friendly enough people and they aren’t likely to hold your “English-only” status against you, except in the form of slightly higher prices. Let’s say, between 300 and 500 pesos per hour, as opposed to between roughly 200 – 400 pesos per hour, if your party negotiates purely in Spanish. You may also negotiate a quite long tour, and fully enjoy it, without a guide talking in your ear very much at all. Xochimilco is simply beautiful without any language at all.
The most important embarcaderos, that is, places where you can board, after negotiating your itinerary, are those Cuemanco, Caltongo, nearby at Belem de las Flores, or just slightly further at Nuevo Nativitas. All of them are at least loosely regulated by the city government.
Chloe, at Chloe Visits Mexico City, has some further tips for finding, hiring and exploring Xochimilco aboard one of the canal boats.
Though most of us experience Street Art almost exclusively on the internet, it’s actually intended to be seen on the streets. And though they leave only on Saturdays at 11:30 AM this 3-hour walking tour is one of the best ways to experience not only magnificent works of art, but it’s a great way to experience the city, and some odd corners of the city, too. We recommend contacting them via Facebook to confirm that an English speaking guide is available for the week you’d like to book.
“SABORES MÉXICO,” literally “Flavors of Mexico” is a great excuse to grit your teeth and get on the big red bus. Focused on the Roma neighborhood, you get access to a ton of food you’d likely never otherwise experience, and as a Saturdays-only Turisbus tour, it’s one of the most popular. Not feeling hungry? Check out the rest of their website for lots of other good ways to get around the city and really learn how it works.
Main picture above: Payton Chung – Flickr / Creative Commons
Mexico City is vibrant, vast and very important. Not just in terms of the space it occupies and the stone and brick from it’s made from, but Mexico City greeted more than 30 million visitors last year. That’s more than it’s entire metro-population (though not by much). Let’s look at why they came.
Last year, at about this time, The New York Times had named the city the number one travel destination for 2016. Tourism searches on Google showed Mexico City as not just a Latin American Favorite, but in the top five tourist searches in the world. And of course, people have been asking for the last several years if it wasn’t the Next Paris, or the Next New York or the Next SOMETHING.
The City government set itself to the task of figuring out just why people love coming here. These are the top 15 reasons they came up with, and ultimately they’re the reasons that Mexico City is Latin America’s favorite, and maybe your favorite too!
1) 185 museums, nine archaeological sites and four World Heritage sites? The cultural scene is enormous, rich and varied. There’s something for every kind of cultural traveler.
2) Fairs, festivals, conventions, meetings and extravaganzas cover music, food, movies, books, and trade in every kind of human activity, down to the annual clown convention.
3) Blockbuster events? Last year saw a Formula 1 race, an NFL game or two, the Tour de France, and a free Roger Waters concert in the city center.
4) Chosen for the sixth world C40 Mayors Summit in November of 2016, Mexico City is widely perceived as a world leader in combatting climate change.
5) The Metrobús system, originally based on one running in Bogota, Colombia, is now the biggest in Latin America. Stretching some 125 kms today, in 2017 no less than 90 Alexander Dennis Enviro500 double-decker buses will begin plying the length of Paseo de la Reforma, as Metrobus Line 7 officially opens.
6. The tourist program Sonrisas por tu ciudad, literally “Smiles for your city,” organized by the Secretary for Tourism, has benefited more than 200,000 people.
7. Mexico City’s Central de Abasto (pictured below), after more than 30 years sells 30,000 tons of merchandise (mostly food) and sells to about 30,000 people every day. It’s the largest shopping area in the world.
8. Mexico City was the first Latin American city to join the Rainbow Cities Network, which coordinates city-level actions to protect LGBTI citizens and residents.
9. Mexico City was chosen as the World Capital of Design for 2018, by the World Design Organization.
10. The Centro Histórico is the largest historical city center in Latin America, with 1,500 buildings designated as having historical, cultural, artistic or architectural value. That’s more than most tour guides can handle, but it’s also home the continent’s biggest Metropolitan Cathedral.
11. Mexico City’s first ever Day of the Dead parade was celebrated by more than 250,000 marchers, band members, onlookers and, yes, zombies.
12. The city’s El Médico en tu Casa program puts a “Doctor in Your Home.” It’s already recognized in America, Asia, and Europe, for bringing health services closer to people who can’t easily visit hospitals or clinics.
13. Mexico City also began the first Specialized Center for the Management of Diabetes anywhere in Latin America.
14. The Ecobici system (pictured below) is the biggest public bike system in Latin America, with 452 cycle stations and about 35 million trips made by 200,ooo riders every year.
15. And finally, the good old underground Metro network is the biggest in Latin America, too. With 12 lines 226 km in total length, about 5 million people ride it every day.
Source: CDMX government, with information from International CDMX and the 4th Governmental Report CDMX, 2016.
Casa Madero may have been the first winery in the Americas, founded way back in 1597, and way up in Coahuila. But Mexico’s predominant “beer culture” has always given wine producers something of a long shadow to grow up in. Aguascalientes, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Chihuahua all produce respectable wines, but it’s been the environs of Ensenada (the Guadalupe Valley, the Santo Tomas Valley, and the Ojos Negros Valley) that have really busted the Mexican wine scene out onto international lists of “respectability.” Some parts Coahuila (the Valley Of Parras, and Cuatro Ciénagas in particular) still hold their own – but most wine enthusiasts agree, Baja’s got the wine to beat.
Mexico exports wine around the world. According to the Mexican Wine Council, about 400 brands of wine are currently being produced in the country, and these increasingly appear on the international lists as being wines to watch (and to taste). But those lists aren’t everything. Even the most sophisticated drinkers know today that plenty is coming each year from Mexican wineries that’s worth taking note of.
Yes, you can still find plenty of good Mexican vintages mixed in with the international offerings on the shelves at Liverpool. But the wine shops below are pretty active at pushing good wines, from Mexico, onto more Mexican tables.
Vinoteca has three locations in and around the city and carries a wide range of Mexican wines, and still more around the country. They do a fair internet trade in wines too, but stopping in lets you pick the brains of their knowledgeable staff.
La Contra, also with shops all over the country, is one of the city’s leading advocates for the Mexican wine industry. With a capital location in Roma, it’s an easy and relaxed place to pick up recommendations, or indeed, to sample some of the best bottles coming in.
Address: Álvaro Obregón 130, local # 10, Colonia Roma Norte
Telephone: 5564 0966
Website | Facebook
Á de Acento offers a very well-regarded restaurant, but the gourmet shop offers plenty that’s pure Mexican and well worth a bottle or two. In fact, prices are very reasonable, but there’s also usually something special hidden away in the shelves that inquiring customers will be very pleased to find.
Another in the list of combo restaurant and gourmet shops, Amaya has made a big splash with their list of “vinos raros.” Far from weird, many of them are fabulous. They’re also generally available in the shop, no reservation necessary and many of the best are, in fact, domestically produced!
Don’t expect friendly service. La Europea is still trying to figure out in which decade they’re doing business. But for all the wood-boxed bacalao these people sling during the holidays, they’ve always got a ton of good wine, too. With a good number of branches in and around the city, calling them one of the best wine shops in Mexico might be a stretch, but they do a lot of business, and for that, they always offer a ton of good Mexican wines too.
Si Mon is run by the chefs at Broka Bistrot, practically next door. And the emphasis is on local, good, and even inspiring wines. One of the best things about shopping at a wine bar is after all, that there is usually a bottle open. And for that, including Si Mon in a list of the best wine shops is practically a given.
Main Photo Above: Aborigen Valle Seco, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Courtesy of La Contra