I have always had some kind of a calling to visit Mexico City. I have been always enchanted by the vibrant, lively colours
of the terracotta, yellow mango, and the blue tiles combination in their architecture and interiors. I also think it is the music, and the warmth of the people I met, that made my yearning stronger. Finally, I had the chance 18 hours layover in Mexico City on my way to Ecuador, yay bonus.
I spent more time planning these 18 hours than my whole trip to Ecuador. The thing about spending so little time, in such a big city, is that you need to develop certain skills and have a STRATEGY.
Looking for a one day tour seemed to be the perfect solution. So I spent a lot of time looking for one day tours, reading recommendations from Lonely Planet, and Trip Advisor. I also came across other websites that recommended other types of tours. I felt like I was caught up in a loop of recommendations, opinions, and suggestions. So after reading sooooo many reviews, I knew what kind of attractions I’m interested in, and this was the first step on the way. I started contacting some of the recommended agencies that offer one day tours. I was really shocked by the prices and quotes they offered me because at the end of the day they cater for the “Gringos”.
I decided to surf more websites that cater for the travelling- on- a shoe-string- kind of traveller, which is me. And I found some suggestions like taking the Turibus www.turibus.com.mx —which I don’t recommend— for a city tour. The idea itself seemed great because you get to the see the whole city or the parts you are interested in— since they have different tours/routes—in the limited time you have. This seemed to me the most viable option, and this company was the most famous, however, after my experience not necessarily the best. The thing about these tours is that if you don’t hop off and you stay on board the whole tour takes approximately 3-4 hours. So If I decided to stay on board that would leave me with another 14hours. But, If I decided to hop on and hop off that maybe will give me some time to hang around in the areas we are visiting and then kill some time. Another idea popped up, which was my second best strategy.
The most comfortable place to hang out in somebody’s house is on the……? Yes, the Couch. So I logged into my account on https://www.couchsurfing.com.It was a great idea. As soon as I posted that I’m visiting Mexico City, I got tons of suggestions, recommendations, and invitations, (I know that Mexicans are friendly but also I guess all this attention because I’m a female solo traveller) it is good to have some perspective ;). After some convos back and forth, a couch surfer offered to show me around, after my tour. I also told the fellow surfer what kind of sightseeing I’m interested in, which was basically, the streets, the people, the smells, the colours, and anything that will keep me outdoors for as long as possible in sunny Mexico, the sunny part was overrated, though.
The countdown to my 14 hours started:
Hour 1-2: I arrived at the airport at 7 a.m, and I have to blurt it out, this is one of the most annoying and obnoxious airports that I have been to in terms of uncooperative officers and customs procedures. This is a comparison based on the fact that I lived in four different continents, and have been to over 40 different countries, and almost 100 cities. Apart from having to pick your luggage at the airport, even if you are in transit, the fact that you have to lift it up on a high counter, and if it is heavy, nobody offers to give you a hand, even though they see that you are a lady, and struggling to lift your big luggage on their counter, was inhumane. Then, of course, the searching procedure where they have to rummage through all your stuff and hand you your bag with its belly open to reorganise again. So the first two hours I spent in the airport, going through customs, then delivering my luggage to the connecting belt, storing my valuables in a rented locker—recommended, if you are going to walk around in the city— then checking for an ATM. After withdrawing some money, not a lot, though, I went out to check the taxi rates to LA CATEDRAL, this is where I’m supposed to catch my Turibus tour.
The rates for airport taxis were quite similar, so I just picked one and hopped on board. I choose to take one from the airport because I was advised by the fellow surfer that this is safer since I’m a female solo traveller, who only has survival Spanish. The streets of Mexico City were quite packed at 8.30 a.m. It took us about an hour to reach the cathedral, however, cruising the streets of Mexico, I found it quite fascinating, to say the least. The sights of the real Mexican people, as opposed to the one in Mexican soap operas, the street vendors, the food carts, and the coloured houses, even if it was tinted with poverty. From that moment onward I knew that I’m going to love Mexico City.
I hopped off the taxi and walked towards the big plaza where LA CATEDRAL stood tall and grand. The building of the cathedral was majestic, and it demands respect. The façade was very ornate with intricate details. There was some kind of a festival going on, and they were setting up tents for the event. Turibus booth was on the side of the cathedral. I approached them, and one of them spoke some English, and I paid with my foreign credit card which was accepted, then was excited to start my sightseeing tour in Mexico City. Although I was flying from Vancouver, and supposedly “well geared” for cold weather, with lots of layers. It was quite chilly in Mexico that morning, and it was really challenging for me to sit all the time on the open deck. I did for most of the time, though. With Turibus, as advertised on their website, there are many routes, I took the most popular one, that shows you most of the landmarks of Mexico City. To my disappointed, the Wi-Fi didn’t work, as advertised, nor their bilingual guide as they said. Later on, they provided me with a pair of cheap headphones, but then the Spanish audio guide was very loud and overlapped the recorded English guide so I opt out.
The stops that really stood out during my tour were; Reforma Rio DE La Plata, Monumento Ala Indepencia, and my favourite La Roma. It is located in a district called Cuauhtemoc. Mexico City is full of colonial architecture mostly from Spain, however, this particular neighbourhood’s architecture is from the French colonial period. La Roma is now considered THE place for hanging out. You can see a big array of restaurants, cafes, and pubs dotting every corner. Also, it is considered a hip area and quite pricey compared to other places in the city since it is the trendiest. Turibus stops in several stations where people can choose to hop off, explore the area, and then hop back on the next bus, which passes approximately every 20 minutes depending on the traffic.
The tour takes approximately2.5 hours then it takes you back to the cathedral. I was supposed to meet my fellow surfer after the tour so we can start our tour in another part of the enchanting Mexico City.
Hour 7 and I stopped counting…………
I met my friend, I was so starving, and exhausted but so excited and willing to go on with only two hours of sleep on the plane the day before, given that I can recharge with a good meal. He suggested that we head straight to our destination before rush hour since it will take us almost an hour to reach this place. We took the metro, which was quite acceptable for me compared to public transportation in Cairo, or India. We also took a bus, which I found quite challenging if I wasn’t travelling with a local. The buses were cramped up with people, and you really have to keep an eye on your belongings from one side, and your ass from the other side—if you got what I meant—standing in the middle of a crowded bus. After the daunting trip, we reached magical Coyocan. This is one of the 12 boroughs of Mexico City, which lies in the south of Mexico City. Coyocan is now considered the historic centre and is famous for housing the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s museum. The minute I set foot in Coyocan, I didn’t want to leave. The colonial architecture was mesmerising. Quaint cobbled stone streets, adorned with coloured houses, from the Spanish colonial times. The energy and the vibrancy of the area were contagious and suddenly I was full of energy, without a bite of food.
We found a historic house that was turned into a restaurant. According to my friend, it was considered touristic, but for the atmosphere, I was willing to pay a bit more. The sun started to be strong, and it was like a summer day, so I started peeling off layer after layer of my Vancouverite clothes asked for the vegetarian quesadilla, and vegetable soup. Both were good. I also tried one of their local juices with a coconut flavour called horchata. My friend had a typical homemade meal of rice, cooked vegetables, and a piece of chicken. In Mexico, as most of the Latin American culture, food is love. So most of the culture revolves around going for food or gathering together to eat out. So it is very typical to find big families out together for lunch or dinner. After lunch, it was time for dessert then coffee: D. On our quest to go to the traditional ice-cream shop, I was stopping almost in front of every house, contemplating the architecture, the colours, and its special features.
Coyocan has a special spirit, I found myself not wanting to spend one minute indoors, I wanted to soak it all in, the smells, the colours, the architecture. That is why when we arrived at Coyocan, I wasn’t eager to go anywhere else or see anything else because walking in its streets quenched my thirst to the image of Mexico that was yearning to see. We reached the ice cream place, the traditional Mexican ice cream is water based and is called Nieve, so you will get the flavour but not the creamy texture, which is a haven for vegans. I let my friend pick the flavours since they had many that I wasn’t familiar with. They were all great, and generally, food is cheap depends on where you go, so for three scoops of ice cream, you can pay 2.5 $. We also went to a local place that is famous for its coffee, and I ordered a small Americano which was for 1.3 $.The coffee was very good. The sun was about to set and it was time to go take a look on Coyocan Market. The market was like a small labyrinth full of people, vendors, and some singers standing by the food stalls where people were eating. It is a good place to sample local food in Mexico, as my friend suggested. However, I was still full from the ice cream, so couldn’t really try anything. There were a lot of souvenir shops, and many indigenous people selling beautifully handcrafted shawls, and ponchos. The prices were high since the place is considered a touristic area. I managed to pick two souvenirs from the market after a little bit of bargaining. Then we went to catch a bus for our final destination, San Angel.
I read about Coyocaan and San Angel before seeing them, when my fellow surfer mentioned that he grew up in Coyocan and that he would be more than happy to how me around, I couldn’t be more ecstatic. San Angel is a small historic neighbourhood close to Coyocan, however, it caters to a more posh segment of tourists and Mexicans alike. One can tell from the grandeur of the beautiful old style mansions that were converted to a fine wine and dine gourmet restaurants and bars. It was dark by the time we reached San Angel, so, unfortunately, many shops were closed, and people were only hanging out inside the restaurants, as it started to become cold. We took a walk in the unwinding streets of San Angel. My friend explained that some of these mansions are still inhabited by its owners who passed on the property a long time back to their children. It is considered a weekend house for these rich families, and I could tell from the luxury cars, and the bodyguards standing in front some of these houses, that this area is for the la crème de la crème of the Mexican society.
As I checked the time, I couldn’t believe that my 14-hours in Mexico City are about to end, and I have to start heading back to the airport. My friend took me to the bus station where there are special buses that go directly to the airport, and that guarantees that they can avoid some of the traffic by taking a special lane. I bade my friend farewell with a promise to come back to see the rest of the enchanting city. On the way back, I couldn’t help but think whether having that little time was to my advantage or not? Knowing that I have such limited time made me enjoy every single minute of this day.