Just a short plane ride away, Mexico City is a gritty and charming alternative to the cruise ports along Mexico’s coast. As it sheds its violent past, the city remains a highly affordable destination for adventurous travelers. Here are eight reasons why I’ll be returning soon.
1. It’s safer than you think.
Located in the center of the country, Mexico City isn’t prone to the drug violence plaguing the U.S.-Mexico border. Sure, you want to stay vigilant and stick to the beaten path, but you’ll find Mexico City is not the dangerous, crime-ridden place some would have you believe.
2. It’s cheap.
One U.S. dollar currently nabs you 13 Mexican pesos. Street tacos can be had for pennies. A high-end meal with wine and multiple courses will set you back $80 for two. Entry into museums is just a few dollars and silver jewelry sells for $10 to $20.
3. You can eat grasshoppers!
Look on the menu for “chapulines,” or toasted grasshoppers. They’re squishy, sour and, surprisingly, not disgusting. After the waiter brings your order, you may need to down a few shots of mescal to summon the courage to try one. Just a slight breeze and those suckers look alive.
4. The food is amazing.
In addition to bugs, you will also find homemade soups, grilled cactus, fresh seafood and the best guacamole in Mexico City. Each restaurant serves its own salsas. Lime slices adorn every table. Do a little research, as food quality and safety can vary among restaurants, but in general you’ll find fresh food at ridiculously low prices.
5. The museum scene is world class.
Tourist officials claim that Mexico City has more museums than any other city. I don’t have time to count, but I can tell you there are a lot. There’s modern art and ancient ruins, wall murals and ornate post offices. The most famous is Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which houses relics from the Mayan, Aztec and Olmec civilizations, to name a few. The museum is surrounded by gardens filled with replicas of ancient villages and temples.
6. It’s like Venice. Sort of.
When the conquistadors arrived, Mexico City was called Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire. The Aztecs lived on a series of manmade islands connected by footbridges. When the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlan, they drained the lake but spared one area called Xochimilco. Now Xochimilco’s canals are traveled by colorful flat-bottom boats full of partiers, mariachi bands and food vendors. Sundays are an especially lively day to cruise the canals.
7. It’s not Cancun.
Most visitors to Mexico don’t venture past the jewelry hawkers and blanket vendors hustling at the cruise ports of Cancun and Cozumel. There are no spring breakers in Mexico City. Know a little Spanish, or at least carry a good map and be prepared to smile and point.
8. Beer cocktails!
Why settle for a plain old Corona and lime? Mexico City serves up some mean beer cocktails. A “michelada” tastes like a mix of beer, lime and salt. A “cubana” tastes the same, but with hot sauce and spices. They’re a delicious and refreshing way to spice up Mexico’s light beers.