I was supposed to visit Mexico the last time I was Stateside (early this year), because I wanted to write my own Mexico solo travel guide. I already had a ticket from New Orleans to Mexico City, and was quite excited about the trip. Unfortunately, life happened (as always), and I had to cancel my flight.
Fortunately, another blogger, Adrien Behn of StrangersAbroadPodcast.com, loves Mexico City and has been there several times. She wrote this article of Mexico travel tips on as part of our monthly Solo Travel City Guides series.
Mexico City is the original New World city. It has always incorporated and blended with the surrounding cultures and influences from native tribes moving throughout the area to the conquistadors and their captives.
Today, it still holds the interconnection, creative exchange, and pulse of people traveling thousands of miles just to be there. It holds some of the oldest histories of Latin America while simultaneously creating some of the world’s leading contemporary art, music, and cuisine.
Mexico is caught in a timeless space where the past and present are constantly interloping on each other blending their ancient Aztec roots, Catholic influences, and modern technology.
Some would say that Mexico City is an eye candy. It’s a city that looks like someone spilled buckets of paint over it and forgot to clean it up. It’s a city that has no inhibitions — it is passionate and magical and strange. It is colorful and wild and intense. It is complex, and it contains multitudes. It’s the coolest city in the world!
How to Get to Mexico City
Mexico City has one international airport: the Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juarez. When you arrive, you can get into the city multiple ways.
You can take the metro, which is the most affordable way to go. However, be careful on the subway because it can get crowded and is known for pickpockets ( I say this from personal and researched experience). The station is on Metro Line 5 (Línea 5 ), and you want to take the train to Pantitlan. That will get you in the direction for the zocolo (city square), which is central to anywhere else you need to go.
Granted the city isn’t far from the airport, so taking an Uber is the best way to go. You are guaranteed that you won’t get ripped off AND it is roughly $5-8 into the city from the airport (with an Uber X!) depending on where you are staying. The ride can be anywhere from 15-30 minutes depending on traffic (which can get muy loco).
Where to Stay in Mexico City
The best neighborhoods to stay in that are trendy, relatively affordable, and centrally location are La Condesa, La Roma, or Roma Norte. Polanco is also trendy but a tad bit pricier and a wealthier neighborhood.
Top Things To Do in Mexico City
Visit the National Anthropology Museum
This article on Mexico travel tips won’t be complete without the recommendation to go to the National Anthropology Museum (“Museo Nacional de Antropología”). Even if you’re not a museum or history lover, seeing the huge number of archaeological and anthropological artifacts from Mexico’s pre-Columbian era is a bit daunting.
The museum is the biggest and most popular in the country, and its significant collection include the Aztec calendar stone (a.k.a., the Stone of the Sun) and the Aztec Xochipilli statue, the god of art, games, and beauty, among others, in Aztec mythology.
(Speaking of museums, you should also go to the Soumaya Museum [featured photo] if only to take pictures of its gorgeous architecture! Inside has world-class collections of the murals of Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros plus some El Greco, Van Gogh, Matisse, Rodin, and Dali art work.)
Follow the street art
The Mexicans are known for their passionate forms of expression and you can see it on the streets. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and paint it for the world to see. The city is painted with a wide variety of street art, and you will typically find one on every corner.
The paintings range and include all of the influences that make up Mexico — modern takes on ancient Aztec or Mayan influences that blend with catholic iconography or sometimes peyote trips. The symbols, passions, and priorities of the people are painted on the streets: day of the dead art, oppression, music, religion, nature, suffering and love.
They are hidden all over the city like Easter eggs. If there is a corner amiss with a mural or graffiti, the colorful houses will nevertheless make up for it.
Hang around at Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes (“Palace of Fine Arts”) is a beautiful structure in Mexico City. It hosts a lot of musical events, dance shows, theater perfomances, and art exhibitions, among many others.
Also called the “Cathedral of Art in Mexico,” you will see murals of Diego Rivera here (also known as Frida Kahlo’s husband). For the best vantage point, head to the terrace of the cafe at Sears building across the road; you’ll get the best pictures there!
Entry to the museum is free on Sundays.
Walk through the parks and eat mangoes
As a daughter of horticulturists, I firmly believe Mexico City holds some of the most unique parks in the world. They are as lush as the city they grow in. Each park is overgrown with diverse native flora, from pine trees to cacti; their roots tangle together underground fighting for the same water. The trees are old and mighty and create expansive canopies that blanket the parks, allowing only random and soft streams of sunlight in between the leaves.
The parks don’t just harbor regional vegetation, hidden behind the layers of trees you will find avant garde sculptures, hand-decorated shrines of Our Lady of Guadalupe, waterfalls, libraries, mosaic kiosks, and castles.
But these trees and flowers are not quarantined to just the parks. They are everywhere. Each street is shaded with large Mexican cypruses, sweet gums, or pine trees that twist and contort around the street and buildings like advanced yogis. Some areas are so densely covered with trees it feels like the city was built around the jungle. The people know that the city is too wild to be tamed. It’s like living in a tree house.
Go to Frida Kahlo’s house + Leon Trotsky Museum
Frida was a fierce and capricious woman who cultivated a home to keep her inspired. She understood that an artist must organize their space to keep them challenged yet comforted. In the neighborhood of Coyoacan, you can retrace the steps that she took every day in her house Casa Azul.
You can slowly pace around the rooms that were only big enough to hold her dreams, her pains, and ideas. You can observe her kitchen table where many philosophical conversations and fights happened between her numerous lovers and friends. Then walk through her studio overlooking her garden filled with palm trees, cacti, and ferns, and step out in the gardens themselves.
You can go up to her bedroom at look at her ceiling butterfly collection, permanently frozen in mid-flight. It hung above her head and they gently lulled her to sleep. In times of pain, she was often anchored to her bed, where she painted through her torment.
There is also an exhibit that has a selection of her clothing on display, including the body casts that she was often trapped in after a street car accident when she was 18. They are decorated with butterflies, tigers, communist symbols, unborn children, and stars.
It is inspiring to walk through the rooms of other fearless and adventurous women who made beauty out of their limitations.
If you are huge history buff, you can also go to the Leon Trotsky museum, which is where he was murdered. Leon Trotsky and his wife sought asylum in Mexico City under the protection of Diego Rivera and Frida. A love affair between the Russian communist and Mexican painter quickly ensued.
Leon and his wife were kicked out once Diego realized the affair was happening, and they moved to a nearby house where Leon was later murdered by one of Stalin’s assassins. The house has been preserved as a museum that you can also walk through, and where his ghost remains.
Scream at a lucha libre fight
The only event that gets locals more riled up than football is their national sport of Lucha Libre (free wrestling). I honestly didn’t know I would enjoy lucha libre as much as I did. The theatrics are as dramatic as watching a Shakespearean play — hell it basically is one.
Each character has a backstory and rivals, lovers, and are typically part of an extended family with their own drama and history. They are almost like telanovelas (Mexican soap operas) with more stage dives, backdrops, and power strikes.
They are iconically known for their vibrant metallic masks that are influenced by ancient Aztec and Catholic myths, heroes, and symbols. Each luchador creates a mask that represents their character and helps distinguish their identity. If a luchador loses a match, they will be unmasked, revealing their true identity.
They also have luchadoras, female wrestlers, who are gaining more respect and credit in the community. The wrestlers are also often adorned with capes and boots, making them true superheroes or villains. There are matches that happen in the oldest lucha libre fighting ring Arena México on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.
Yoga in Spanish
There are several places in La Roma or La Condesa where you can do daytime or night time yoga. This is a great way to realign yourself after contouring your body on an airplane for god knows how many hours, and you get to practice Spanish.
The yoga class becomes more mentally enduring because you are listening, translating, and moving to the words more intensely than if it was in English. Although this is a bit more of a mental challenge, it is a great way to actively practice and associate the words you need to learn anyways! Arriba!
Day Trip from Mexico City: Teotihuacán
Teotihuacán lies in the Mexican highlands. It is an ideal day trip from Mexico City located in a valley surrounded by mountains just 50 km (25 miles) outside the city. Built around 100 BCE, it is one of the largest ancient cities in the Americas.
Back in its prime, the city of Teotihuacán had over 100,000 people, not including people from other tribes coming to trade. Archeologists believe that the city is organized around geometric and religious symbols, the greatest architectural feats being the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.
The site was founded and named by the Aztec but not created by them and is a mystery to the Aztecs themselves. They deemed it “place of the gods” and re-purposed it for their own civilization, controlling the area until the conquistadors arrived. Teotihuacán’s original makers are still unknown.
Archaeologists have found evidence of these people’s ancient rituals: human and animal sacrifices. The Pyramid of the Moon has been excavated and found a plethora of human and animal remains, with heads decapitated from their bodies. You can walk around and dance on top of the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon.
There are multiple buses that go out to the pyramids every day. The site also has souvenir shops and a museum that holds some of the excavated objects and histories.
Mexico Solo Travel Guide: Safety Tips in Mexico City
From the outside, Mexico tends to get a bad rap, reinforced by exaggerated stories and generations of xenophobia (which is ironic because if anything they should be afraid of Americans coming in and taking their land). However, like most cities, there are safe spots and there are neighborhoods to avoid.
Going on a Mexico solo travel trip isn’t necessarily dangerous. Unless you travel to some of the poverty-stricken areas, red zones, or poor towns, the chances of you getting robbed are pretty slim. Yes, it happens; nevertheless, everyone’s experience is going to be different. The first time I traveled to Mexico, I got my passport stolen in the first three hours. This most recent time, it was smooth sailing. It’s chance.
If you feel more comfortable, I would suggest to have a male companion when you go out at night. However, I took a ton of cab rides with solo taxi drivers who said nothing inappropriate, walked by plenty of homeless people who asked for nothing more than money or food, and walked home late at night by myself. There was the occasional ogle, but I didn’t find it to be what I anticipated.
Here are a few Mexico solo travel safety tips.
- Use Uber so you won’t be ripped off. You can also contact your cell phone provider to see if your data transfers over to Mexico. Alternatively, you can rent a mobile Wifi.
- Keep your passport close + your money closer. I always have a pair of leggings that have a tiny zipper pocket in the back and it is perfect credit card size. My bra is always my best pocket, too.
- Take a photo of your passport and make sure a family member has a copy.
- Know where your embassy is. If you lose your passport or need help, you would need to contact them.
- Research nearby cafes with Wifi close to where you are staying (and the parks have excellent Wifi as well!).
- Walk around your hotel/hostel during the day and be familiar with the streets, posters, and other identifiers. That way you can always Hansel + Gretel your way back to your hotel to avoid getting lost.
- Ask women for help. I hate to be sexist, but I always feel more comfortable and am less likely to be scammed ( or coerced) when I ask a woman for help. I don’t feel as uncomfortable when being openly vulnerable in front of them.
- Use Women Safety app — this allows women to let their loved ones know if they are in an unsafe space. It sends details of your location if the panic button is pushed.
Have you gone around Mexico City alone? Cna you give some Mexico solo travel tips?
All photos courtesy of Kin Enriquez of Boarding Gate 101, unless otherwise specified. Pixabay photo credits: mochilazocultural (featured photo), javierbenitezl, and pexels.