Mexico City: My 6-Day Itinerary
I saw a lot, ate a lot, practiced my Spanish, and inevitably made a few bad decisions in my 6 days in Mexico City. Learn from my mistakes before you set off on your own Mexico City adventure!
Check out my general Mexico City overview and tips for solo travelers here.
I prepaid for a cab from the airport to an Airbnb in Coyoacán for a cost of $30 plus tip (tipping is about 10% for cabs if you liked the service, but it's not expected in Mexico). The daylight being short (it was late October), and threat of rain high, I dropped off my things, and headed out to to the main square right away for dinner. Preparations for the local Dia de los Muertos Carnival in Coyoacán were going on all around the square. This was very exciting as I deliberately timed this trip in order to take part in the festivities, and was happy to find out that one of the larger street fairs in the city took place near my Airbnb.
Staying in the spooky spirit, I took the metro out to the Sonora Market in search of love potions, shrunken heads, and cursed dolls. The market is enormous and very crowded, as are the surrounding streets. The more ‘black magic’ stands are in there, but it’s also an all-purpose market that sells clothes, dishware, piñatas, etc. I found the maze of aisles and stands difficult to navigate and eventually decided to cut my losses. Due to the crowds, it took me forever to get out of there and even longer to find the correct entrance to the nearby Merced Metro station. It's not an area for those who are claustrophobic or uncomfortable in crowds, that's for sure. My anxiety might have started kicking in.... To be honest, I'm not sure it was worth it. It might be less overwhelming at other times of the year. Late October market stands had a pretty booming business of costumes, candles, piñatas, and other tchotchkes. The delay in getting out of that area meant abandoning my initial plans to visit some of the museums in the center of town and instead took the train back down to Coyoacan to wander the (equally crowded!) local street fair that was happening on Halloween. I learned that Mexicans had taken on the American trick-or-treat traditions, but with a twist. Kids in costume would walk up to any adult at the festival, myself included, and ask for candy. I wasn't prepared for that, and had to disappoint a few children. On the plus side, I learned what atole is, as the hot chocolate-like drink was sold everywhere. And for 50 pesos, you could get a drink and keep the very nice ceramic mug
Now joined by a group, we started the day with an amazing brunch at La Pause in Coyoacan. We then hopped a cab for about $20 USD down to Xochimilco - about a 30-40 minute drive. We first stopped by the fascinating Dolores Olmedo Museum to see Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's artwork. Dolores Olmedo was a wealthy businesswoman and associate of the mid-century artists. Upon her death she turned both her house and her massive collection into a fantastic museum. Entry is about $6 for non-Mexican adults, discounts for students and Mexican citizens. We also spent time wandering the extensive gardens, which are full of both peacocks and Aztec dogs, the descendants of a dog breed that lived in the area in the preconquest era. Since it was a holiday (Day of the Dead) there was a small festival happening on-site, and a correspondingly long line to get in. Luckily, it went quickly! Our group was also able to take advantage of the on-site festivities to get our faces painted to resemble Catrina dolls for free! The museum was conveniently on the way to the canals of Xochimilco, where we took a 4-hour canal trip to La Isla de las Munecas, easily the highlight of the trip.
Learn more about the trajinera boats of Xochimilco and visiting the Island of the Creepy Dolls here
Not having done enough research, I thought November 2nd would be a perfect day to check out some of the highly regarded museums in Mexico City. Fun fact: November 1st and 2nd are both national holidays and most of the museums are closed. D'oh! After sadly peering through several doorways, I did end up finding my way to the small but fascinating Museum of the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, which was open, free, was selling edible sugar skulls, and allows you to view the side of one of the Aztec pyramid that the Zocalo was built around. If you’re in the Zocalo, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
We signed up in advance for a sunrise tour of Teotihuacan through Viator. Despite the fact that my group had to drag our butts to a cab to get to the Zocalo in time for a 6:30am pickup, it was a great experience. Being up there the day after a holiday weekend meant that we had the site largely to ourselves that morning. Our guide was informative and fantastic and we learned a lot from him. We also bonded with our fellow travelers as we huffed and puffed our way up the steps of multiple pyramids. Luckily there was still a bit of morning chill in the air!! We were at the site for about 2 hours. A lot of tours, mine included, will stop at tourist trap lunch venues/gift shops. They’ll often bill it as how you get to learn about ‘authentic basket making’ or some such, and also get a ‘real mezcal tasting,’ but it’s just trying to sell you stuff. To be fair, the mezcal tasting was pretty nice. And the food was welcome after several hours of walking and climbing. I just could have done with slightly less time at that location.
I was less thrilled by our return trip, as I found that our specific tour had a drop-off policy that somehow lead to three very long and full-bladdered hours spent in the van to drop off one couple in a far, far west district (about 30 miles from downtown) prior to letting any of the rest of us out. Keep in mind, the trip from Teotihuacan to the Zocalo would have been a little over an hour at that time of day. I kept thinking about how the relatively nearby Coyoacán was way too far for them to pick up from, and how we were required to get a cab. My complaint email to Viator about this poor route planning fell upon deaf ears. We finally arrived back at the Zocalo at 4pm, just in time to see the murals at the Palacio Nacional before they closed for the day. Lucky for us, as this stop is wonderful. Both the exhibits on the founding of the modern state of Mexico, and the murals by Rivera and Siqueiros, are great. Make sure to check out the massive History of Mexico mural in one of the stairways.
Being in Coyoacan, I wasn’t leaving without visiting the Frida Kahlo Museum. I’d heard in advance that lines could get fairly long here. I couldn’t figure out how to buy advance tickets (our wifi was a little lacking at our airbnb), and so picked up some street cart breakfast (juice and pasteries!) and showed up 20 minutes before the museum opened. I was about 30th in line. Once the museum opened, that line moved quickly, much to the delight of my late-rising friends who joined me right before we went in. The tickets are about $14 USD. It varies from weekdays to weekends. The museum, known as Casa Azul, is Frida’s childhood home. It houses both her artwork as well as her furniture and special medical devices (she lived in chronic pain and was often unable to walk without support), along with fun design pieces. Being a fan of both her art and her life, I loved it. However, my cohorts who came with me confessed afterwards that they were underwhelmed by it. So… go if you like her art. And buy your ticket in advance.
We did a quick swing through the nearby Coyoacán market to pick up any last souvenirs (and one more stop at a taco stand). Much calmer, and much more enjoyable, than the Sonoran market! From there, we hopped a cab back to the airport to return to the States.