On our recent visit to Mexico City, I fell in love with the metropolis. Mexico City has a reputation for crime, pollution and chaos and isn’t thought of as a premier travel destination. This is a shame. Let me tell you why.
1. Mexico City is Very Safe
I realize this goes against almost everything you may think about Mexico City, but it is true. With the exception of Jerusalem, I have never seen such a strong police presence in a city. In the city center – the part of Mexico City you will want to visit – police officers are as ubiquitous as tortillas. It seems that every intersection has a cluster of heavily armed cops and patrol cars can be seen all around. Everywhere you go, even late into the night, there are families, children and people out and about in the streets.
I realize that outside the city center and tourist zones, things are rougher, but who is visiting the barrios in Mexico City anyway? Everywhere a traveler will want to go is very secure and safe. In fact, the murder rate in Mexico City, which is 8 per 100,000, is about 1/4 that of Washington D.C. and nearly the same as that of Orlando, Florida.
2. People and People Watching
The streets, parks and plazas of Mexico City are filled with interesting people. Mexico City is in many ways the New York of Latin America, and all the latest fashions and styles are on display. Mexico City has a diverse population – men in suits sit next to punks with green hair on the subway, women in indigenous dress pass tourists in tiny shorts, and ladies with impossibly high heels pass young Chilangos on roller blades.
In addition, the people are surprising nice and friendly for such a huge city. We met lots of friendly locals and anytime we needed anything, they were always helpful and courteous.
3. Colonial Buildings
I love colonial architecture, and Mexico City doesn’t disappoint. The city center is littered with imposing cathedrals, many of which are all cattywampus. Mexico City is built on a lake bed, as you remember from history class, and the heavy stone buildings are sinking into the ground, making bell towers go all askew and walls look like something from a Picasso painting. Many are abandoned and have trees growing out of steeples or balconies.
4. Mexico City is Great Value
We stayed in a clean, safe and comfortable hotel two blocks from Alameda Park for 25 USD. Museum entrance fees are about $4 and food and drinks cost about what they cost anywhere else in Mexico – which is about 1/3 the price of those in the USA. A taxi from the TAPO bus station to downtown was 100 pesos, or 6 USD. A song from a mariachi in Plaza Garibaldi only costs about 8 USD!
Last year when we stayed in Hong Kong, for example, the cheapest hotel we could find was $100 a night and that was in the red light district!
5. Cultural Museums
Mexico City features two world class museums, both dealing with the rich history of the country.
The Templo Mayor Museum, next to the Zocalo and Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, sits on the ruins from a towering pyramid that was dismantled by the Spanish after the sack of the city 500 years ago, and the surviving artifacts are truly stunning. The art rivals anything from Egypt or Rome, and visiting, I felt a profound sadness for all that was lost.
The Museum of Anthropology gives an overview of Mexico’s diverse native cultures. Many of these cultures still remain, as Spanish is a non-native language for millions of residents and the brightly colored clothes and pre-Columbian traditions remain in many places. It is a great introduction to the country, and an eye-opening look at the cultures of the Americas.
6. It is an easy city to navigate
The metro is clean, safe, very efficient and goes almost anywhere you will want to visit. One-way rides on the subway cost 5 pesos (about 30 cents US!). The entire city center is walkable and although there are throngs of people on the street during rush hour, that is part of the fun. Traffic is pretty horrible when you leave or arrive by bus, but while you are exploring, it is surprisingly easy to visit.
8. Only in Mexico
I saw several things in Mexico City that really blew my mind. Sex shops in Zona Rosa have their wares – everything from dildoes to sex swings – in full display in the window and porno mags share space with kids books at kiosks. We saw anti-government protests and huge platoons of police and riot squads, we saw zombie apocalypses and Catrinas, and people carrying statues of Jesus as they passed under statues of revolutionaries. In the market you can buy pork skins the size of a small car, eat tangy cactus salads, and wash it down with pulque.
In Summary, I’d rank Mexico City right up there with my other favorite metropolises, like Rome, Jerusalem, Mumbai and Amsterdam. You should visit, and thank me later.
Have you been to Mexico City? What were your thoughts on it?