4 Action Packed Days in Mexico City
The first thing I noticed about planning a trip to Mexico actually didn’t have anything to do with Mexico itself. It was that when you tell people that you are going to Mexico, 98% of them assume you are going to Cancun. For whatever reason, a trip to Mexico City is (unfortunately) not on most people’s radar. If I can offer a little advice from my brief experience there, Mexico City is absolutely worth a visit, and I am eager to go back as soon as possible. The food, the friendly people, and the unique cultural experiences exceeded expectations.
My main piece of advice is to plan ahead as much possible, or at least narrow down a section of the city to focus on during your time there. Mexico City is unbelievably huge and you definitely need to have a game plan for visiting a variety of areas in one trip. Otherwise, you will spend way too much time trying to get from one place to another, and no one wants to spend their entire trip sitting in traffic or waiting for public transportation.
And sorry not sorry this post is so long – this trip was awesome even though it was only 4 days!
Table of Contents
Pug Seal Tennyson is a boutique hotel that includes a full breakfast, complete with amazing Mexican coffee. You can have coffee in a quaint indoor room or in the courtyard.
The accommodations were comfortable yet artsy, and includes free WiFi and air conditioning. All of the staff were incredible throughout our entire stay.
Pug Seal Tennyson is located in the Polanco neighborhood in Mexico City, close to lots of high end retail shops and the Museum of Anthropology. It is also within walking distance of excellent restaurants such as Pujol and Quintonil. Pug Seal Tennyson is approximately 35 minutes to Benito Juarez International Airport and Centro Historico.
Normally, for a second trip to such a large city I would opt to stay in a different area of town, but this hotel was so wonderful, I would not hesitate to stay here again.
Day 1 - Adventures in Historic Mexico City
Centro Historico/ Tequila/ Mezcal/ Tacos/ Lucho Libre
After dropping our bags at Pug Seal Tennyson, despite lack of sleep from working overnight, we immediately headed out in search of drinks and food. It was my birthday after all!
Our first stop was at Terraza inside Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. For our James Bond fans, you may recognize the beautiful stained glass ceiling and view into the Zocalo Plaza from the film version of Spectre. Chris is a James Bond fan, so that, coupled with the fact I knew they served big margaritas with an amazing view, I was sold.
Prior to coming to Mexico City, I assumed margaritas would be plentiful. However, I quickly learned that was just my American bias. Apparently, margaritas are not really a Mexican thing, and are only found in the more tourist friendly areas of Mexico City. I would later learn, it is way more common to sip tequila or mezcal or have a Paloma (a mix of tequila, grapefruit, and lime). And all of those things are absolutely delicious in Mexico!
I was a little nervous about not having reservations for Terraza, but they were kind enough to find us a table with a beautiful view since we were only staying for a short period of time. We were reluctant to make reservations since we were not completely sure how things would play out with flights, getting to the hotel, and how we would feel after getting off overnight work and heading straight to Mexico. Luckily, it all worked out!
While enjoying the beautiful view, we fully embraced our American-ness and got the big margaritas. They were very good!
For snacks, we got salsas, guacamole made to order right at the table, and a chorizo dish that was incredible!
Mueso del Tequila el Mezcal
We had a really fun tour with Urban Adventures. We started the tour with a birthday drink at Bar Pata Negra before heading to the Museo del Tequila el Mezcal for a brief explanation of how tequila and mezcal are made and a tasting overlooking Plaza Garibaldi. Plaza Garibaldi is known for the mariachi bands that congregate in the area to play.
I learned that tequila is a type of mezcal, but mezcal is not tequila. And it is in fact mezcal, not tequila, that has the “worm”. WHAT!? It was a lot of fun to learn about and even more fun to taste. I had never tasted a true mezcal before, but I found I like it even more than tequila!
Following our tasting, we visited the Tenampa restaurant in the plaza for a snack and Palomas while listening to mariachi. At Tenampa we learned about a version of the Paloma which is made with “grapefruit soda”… when it arrived we had a laugh to see that it was a Fresca! By the way… its delicious. We have already attempted to recreate them at home.
The grand finale and highlight of the tour was definitely the Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling). It was loud, crazy, and highly entertaining. Our guide even taught us some choice phrases so we could join in the taunting with the rest of the crowd.
There was beer, taunting, masks, and some of the most politically incorrect costumes I have ever seen. It was so much fun.
If you are ever in Mexico City, I would recommend a trip to the Museo del Tequila el Mezcal and a night of Lucha Libre. If you are looking for a super easy way to experience those things, a tour with Urban Adventures is the way to go. They knew exactly where everything is located, took care of all transportation and tickets, and added to the enjoyment of the events with personal stories and insider information.
As someone who usually plans and books all of our trips by myself, I do not normally take a lot of tours. I chose to take more tours on this trip because we were not renting a car, and our Spanish could use some work. In this case, this tour worth the extra cost to take the guess work out of the evening, allowing us to relax and enjoy a good time.
Day 2 - Adventures in Xochimilco & Polanco
Xochimilco Canals/ Chinampas/ Cocktails/ Tacos
If you want to do an incredible tour of the Xochimilco Canals that goes beyond drinking and floating on a boat, do yourself a favor and book a tour with De la Chinampa. Ricardo is an amazing tour guide who is working with other locals to save the unique floating farms called Chinampas.
You still get to enjoy a nice boat ride, but you also get to visit a working farm and learn about this unique area. The tour also includes an amazing lunch made by locals with locally sourced ingredients.
The easiest way to get down to Xochimilco is to take an Uber. Our tour started by getting dropped of at Embarcadero Cuemanco, and meeting Ricardo at his boat.
The tour began floating down some of the larger canals, and learning about the history of and current hardships facing this unique area. As we moved along we were able to see lots of birds and see our first Chinampas – artificial islands traditionally used for farming.
The first special treat of this tour is the opportunity to get off the boat on a working chinampa. It was nice to be able to stretch our legs, and also explore these floating fields from on shore. They were currently growing lots of vegetables and beautiful flowers.
After exploring the farm, we got back on board the Trajinera, to begin our trip back to Embarcadero Cuemanco. During the trip back we were treated to a delicious lunch made with locally grown ingredients.
The lunch included salad, guacamole, chips, cheese, tamales, and tamarind water. Everything was so fresh and tasty.
Ok, so some of you may be thinking… oh, man you drank the water? Yup! We drank the water, ate the food, and even tasted a few things at the farm right off the vine. Neither one of us had a hint of gastrointestinal distress. Am I saying you should drink some random water in downtown Mexico City? Definitely not. The point I am making, is that we decided to trust a local expert saying that the food and water were perfectly fine, and were treated to a wonderful meal with no unpleasant consequences later.
I do not like to travel with a mindset of fear, try keep an open mind, and make the best decision I can in each situation. I would encourage you to do the same based on your personal preferences. You may be pleasantly surprised or you may get Montezuma’s Revenge. For me, the rewards outweigh the risk.
Now that I have given my opinion on the best way to experience the Xochimilco canals, if you are really just wanting to float on a boat with a beer, you do have some other options. You can hitch a spot on a water taxi for about 20 pesos, and get dropped off at a different Embarcadero. Or you can charter a boat for approximately 350 pesos ($18 USD) regardless of how many people are in your group.
Regardless of how you choose to experience the canals in Xochimilco, it is definitely worth the trek down to the southern part of Mexico City to experience this unique landscape.
And if you needed one more reason to visit Embarcadero Cuemanco in Xochimilco, Mexico… there is an awesome black cat who lives on the dock!!
Cats & Coddiwomple - Xochimilco, Mexico!!
We had planned to visit a museum after our trip to Xochimilco, but we were both quite tired from the lack of sleep the night before. We instead opted to go back to the hotel and take a nap. After a little R&R back at Pug Seal Tennyson we walked around Polanco, did a little window shopping, and spent the rest of the evening having cocktails and dinner.
Our first stop was a speakeasy style cocktail bar called Jules Basement. Behind a refrigerator door in a local restaurant, dark steps lead down to a cozy speakeasy with a huge cocktail menu. Phones are discouraged, but the bartenders were accommodating when we wanted to take a photo of an amazing tequila we wanted to remember for later! The service was wonderful and the atmosphere was a lot of fun. A great way to spend an hour before dinner. If you decide to check it out, be sure to leave yourself a little extra time to find it – that is an adventure on its own and part of the fun!
Pujol - Taco Omakase Bar
For dinner we had a 5 minute walk over to Pujol for the Omakase Taco Bar experience. The bar seats 11 diners who enjoy a 12 course dinner served omakase-style (chef’s choice – no ordering). It is paired with your choice of beer, wine, or tequila/mezcal.
Omakase Tacos by Pujol is available by reservation only, and they fill up quickly.
Dinner started off with three street snacks to enjoy before being immersed in taco heaven. These are not your typical American beef & cheese concoction either. These tacos featured fresh ingredients inspired by the chef’s home in Oaxaca, Mexico. That meant lots of seafood (crab, octopus, sea bass) and corn.
We also got to try our first Enmolada – made with aged mole. For dessert there was an incredible churro. I was not hungry, but I could have eaten about 10 of those churros.
After dinner it was early to bed to rest up for our next adventure!
Day 3 - Adventures in Teotihuacan, Mexico
Hot Air Balloons/ Teotihuacan Pyramids/ Agave/ Pujol
One of the things I really wanted to do for my first trip to Mexico was see some of the ancient ruins. The ancient city of Teotihuacan, only 30 miles north of Mexico City, caught my eye. Since we did not plan on renting a car, I started looking into tours or public transportation to Teotihuacan. Through tours by locals, I was introduced to Jesús, and started working with him to plan a private tour to Teotihuacan.
I would highly recommend Jesús, who made this entire trip possible. He was at our hotel at 5:30am with a car to take us on a Mexican adventure. He provided a wealth of knowledge during our drive and walks, kept us on schedule, and made sure we were comfortable. He was present to answer questions, but also gave us time to explore on our own. By the end of the day, we felt like we were saying goodbye to a friend.
Our first stop was to take a hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacan with Sky Balloons. Having never been on a hot air balloon before, I was not quite sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a spectacular experience. Even with some morning haze, the views were incredible. I couldn’t get over how much control the pilot had over the balloon. I guess I had expected to be at the whim of the breeze, but that was not the case at all. He was even able to rotate the balloon to give everyone a view of the pyramids.
There are several hot air balloon companies in operation in the area, but we deferred to Jesús to choose the best one. His preferred balloon operation is Sky Balloons. We found Sky Balloons to be a very safe and professional operation. The check-in process was easy, they have lockers for your belongings that you are not allowed to take in the balloon, and provided safety information initially and again in the balloon.
The ride was incredible, and our balloon operator was skilled and fun to be around. They even included a champagne toast at landing and breakfast after the ride!
Photos and drone footage of the flight are available for purchase following the flight. You are also allowed to take your own camera in the basket at your own risk.
After breakfast we stopped by a little shop and met a wonderful man (also named Jesús) who taught us about the history of Teotihuacan and the importance of the agave plant and obsidian rock in starting the civilization.
Did you know that agave provided liquid nourishment, paper, and needles to ancient people?
We also got to taste a fermented drink collected from the honey water found in the agave called Pulque. It was quite tasty and rumored to be an aphrodisiac.
After our exploration of aloe and obsidian, we went to view the ruins if the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan. The city predates the Aztecs by centuries, but the name Teotihuacan was given by the Aztecs upon finding the abandoned city.
Many of the names of the structures come from the Aztec use of the space, as not much is known about the original inhabitants.
We learned that when the Aztec’s discovered the city they started using the pyramids to honor the gods of the Sun and the Moon. However, archaeologists later discovered that the original function of the pyramids was likely to honor the gods of water (rain and river water) instead of the sun and moon.
The Moon Pyramid stands at the Northern end of a long path, called the Avenue of the Dead, and is the second largest structure in Teotihuacan. Many smaller pyramids and platforms surround the Pyramid of the Moon.
Jesús showed us where to stand on one of the platforms and clap to hear the echo that comes back sounding like a bird chirping.
The Sun Pyramid is the largest structure in Teotihuacan, and is in the center of the Avenue of the Dead, facing west.
You are still able to climb to the top of the Sun Pyramid, and stand at the altar where sacrifices took place long ago.
Being a cat lover, one of my favorite areas of the Avenue of the Dead was the Puma Mural. Further down the Avenue of the Dead we explored the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent where archaeologists have recently begun to excavate caves full of tens of thousands of artifacts.
At the south end of the Avenue of the Dead is a large courtyard called the Ciudadela. The courtyard contains multiple structures believed to be residential complexes, and a large temple – the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent).
The Temple of the Feathered Serpent was the most decorated, adorned with lots of stone statues.
We spent a little over two hours wandering around the Teotihuacan ruins complex. We climbed both pyramids and went inside of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.
Although the pyramids look like a difficult climb, it was easier than we expected. If you want to climb them, but are concerned, go early in the morning before it gets too hot, and take it slow. There are plenty of spots to step to the side and rest as you make your way up. The views are worth the climb.
Before heading back to Mexico City, we stopped for a snack and cocktail at La Gruta. While we usually try to avoid more touristy spots, we couldn’t resist a quick stop for a snack inside of a volcanic cave. Even though we went for the atmosphere, the prickly pear margarita was excellent, and the snacks were decent.
We hit some traffic coming back into Mexico City, but Jesús got us back safely to the hotel. I want to take another moment to say, if you are looking for a private tour guide for Teotihuacan or anything else in Mexico City, give Jesús a shout!
After a much needed siesta and watching a little Netflix in our room, it was time for the experience that brought us to Mexico City in the first place: dinner at Pujol. We actually made sure we could get reservations at Pujol prior to booking our airline tickets and hotel.
Pujol was started in 2000 by Enrique Olvera to bring creative cuisine rooted in Mexican ingredients to Mexico City. The experience is a choice of 2 (corn or sea) 7 course tasting menus. We opted for one of each so we could try everything.
Even though we had previously eaten at the Pujol Taco Bar, the only item on either of our menus that was duplicated was one of the street snacks served to start the meal. Not that we were bothered by that, as everything we had was excellent.
The menu had a few more tacos and some other small plates. One of the dishes that stood out was the octopus. It was so good we haven’t eaten octopus since for fear we will be disappointed.
Another amazing experience was the opportunity to try a variety of mole. We tried tastes ranging in age from a day old to well over 1000 days old. You could definitely tell a huge difference! It was quite a treat to eat something that took so much time and effort to prepare.
To top off the evening, Chris had let me them know we were celebrating my birthday when we made the reservation, so the kitchen surprised me with an extra dessert – complete with a candle!
More information about Pujol can be found on their website or by watching Season 2/Episode 4 of Chef’s Table on Netflix.
After dinner we returned to the hotel to pack up for our trip home. Once we were settled in, we curled up in bed and reminisced over photos from the past few days before turning in for the night.
Day 4 - Mexico City, Mexico to Atlanta, GA, USA
Breakfast at Pug Seal Tennyson/ Flying Home
We were limited for time on our last day in Mexico City, not to mention exhausted from all the early mornings/late nights. So we opted to sleep in and enjoy a wonderful breakfast at Pug Seal Tennyson before heading to the airport.
Our trip to Mexico City was a wonderful experience that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to delve further into Mexican culture and cuisine.
Mexico City is a place that I will be returning to in the not so distance future. And I already have a list of things I hope to do on our next trip that we just did not have time for on our trip this time.