This past weekend a friend and I ventured to Mexico City, Mexico.
It was my first time in the country of Mexico and I was quite excited. 10-15 years ago you would hear about how polluted and unsafe Mexico City was. I can say that that is certainly no longer true. Sure there is still a big of smog but its is a challenge for this sprawling city, one that I feel it has overcome to the utmost of its abilities. Walking around and taking the subway the city never once felt unsafe to us. Though going between neighborhoods, I may recommend sticking to Ubers or the Subways system rather than walking so you dont accidentally stumble in the wrong side of town as the city is huge.
I was very excited because I have always wanted to visit Teotihuacan, the Meso-American/ sort of Aztec ruins 1 hour north of the city. After watching Netflix’s Chef’s Table season 2 and learning more about Mexico’s food scene, I have since wanted to try Pujol (currently ranked world’s #20 and Latin America’s #4 in Latin America) and its legendary aged Mole Madre. Finally I always wanted to try Mexican street food, in particular real Mexican street tacos, not the bastardized American version. And particularly wanted to join a Culinary Backstreets walking tour. I am happy to say that with a stroke of luck and working infilght wifi I got to do all of the above on this trip.
Like I said, we got around using a mix of subway ($0.25 per ride), and ubers ($3-$6 on average for UberX). The city in general is incredibly cheap on all levels. In the historic district and along Calle Reforma, we walked and took in the key sites of the city. The uber from the airport to our AirBnB was around $6 and took about half an hour.
Getting to Teotihuacan: To get to Teotihuacan on your own without joining some tour, I recommend taking the bus. Take subway Line 5 (yellow line) or an uber, or bus to the Northern Bus Station in Mexico City (Mexico Norte). Upon entering the wide station, walk to your left to the very end to Puerta 8 (Gate 8). By the gate there is a small booth under “Teotihuacan” where you can purchase your bus ticket for $56Pesos (~USD$3) each way, definitely buy roundtrip, the bus runs about every 15-20 minutes. First bus leaves around 6AM. You board on platform 6 or 7. Hop on the bus and enjoy the scenic 1 hour journey (no traffic) to Teotihuacan. The bus is not express, so dont be alarmed when you stop along the way, and Teotihuacan is NOT the final stop. The bus drops you off at the South gate, near the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, and then picks you up at the north gate by the Pyramid of the Moon. I recommend catching the 6:45AM bus, getting you there at 7:45 right as doors open and no one else is around to have the entire place to yourself, it is magical and powerful.
We stayed in an AirBnB located in the downtown/ Historic district just one block away from the beautiful Palacio Bellas Artes. Our hosts were wonderful, responsive, and very detail oriented, The two bedroom apartments was cozy, comfortable and had a rooftop that offered a great panoramic view of the city.
Booking Pujol: I got really lucky with this one. Usually Pujol has online reservations through Open Table Mexico, and that is probably the easiest and most direct way to book. However, when I checked online the couple days before my departure there were no availabilities for my dates. However, I thought I’d email them to see if they allow walk-ins or have some waitlist. The responded saying they do have waitlists and asked when I’d like to go, mind you I was 30,000 feet in the air on my way to Mexico already and thankfully Delta has fairly good wifi. I gave them my date and desired time for lunch, to which they said they actually had availability for 2 people, and a few more exchanges later I was confirmed for a 2PM lunch at Pujol!
Overall, I quite enjoyed my time in Mexico City. It is full of history, culture, amazing food, and beautiful scenery/ architecture. You get a bit of Europe, you get a bit of Central/ South America, and definitely ancient civilizations as well, and all for very affordable prices.
- Arrived in Mexico City at around 10PM, cleared customs and immigrations (very easy, although if traveling with only carry-ons, you will need to go through an additional bag check prior to exit even with nothing to declare). Took a 30 minute $6 uber to the AirBnB. Checked-in and settled in.
- Woke up at 5:40 before taking a uber through early morning Mexico City traffic to the North Bus Station (took around 20 minutes and USD$3).
- Easily found the bus ticket counter, purchased our roundtrip bus tickets. NOTE: public restrooms in Mexico City are clean but you need change to pay, about 5 pesos to use.
- Boarded our bus at 6:50AM, after a rather loose security check.
- Arrived at the main South Gate of Teotihuacan at 7:45AM, proceeded to purchase our entry tickets at $70 Pesos (~USD$4). Guides along the way will offer you tours, you can say yes and negotiate a price, or easily walk around the ruins on your own, read the ample number of signs, and if not just use google later if you ask me. There was not a soul around, except for the few guides, vendors setting up stalls, and custodians picking up the days before’s trash. It was surreal, magical and powerful to be at the ruins at first light of day with no one else around.
- Our first stop on the southern tip of the complex was Temple of Quetzalcoatl.
- We then walked northwards towards Rio San Juan and The Passage of the Dead, the central walkway made up of multiple courtyard and steps. This street begins at the Pyramid of the Moon and they have yet to discover where exactly it ends.
- From there we walked towards the Pyramid of the Sun, the larger of the two main pyramids in the complex. Climbed up the steep steps to the top and took in the stunning views with hot air balloons in the background and the morning mist just beginning to clear as the sun rose.
- We continued walking down the Passage of the Dead and towards the Pyramid of the Moon, while shorter than the Sun Pyramid, I liked this one more for its architecture and majesty. Unfortunately due to conservation work you can only climb up halfway to the Pyramid of the Moon, but it offers amazing views of the entire Teotihuacan.
- Next to the Pyramid of the Moon is the partially restored/ reconstructed Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, the living quarters of the priests.
- We exited at the north gate, crossed the street and waited for the bus. There is no official bus stop or sign, but waiting there with your ticket in hand and spotting the Teotihuacan bus (with Aztec markings on it), the driver will stop for you, dont worry!
- It took about 1.5 hours to get back to Mexico Norte due to traffic. As they say in Mexico City, rush hour is 6AM to 10PM. From Mexico Norte we took the subway (with one transfer) to Hidalgo station and began our site seeing walk of the Historic District.
- We walked by Alameda Central Park, Palacio Bellas Artes (a stunning theater and museum). From there we proceeded to Avenue Francisco I. Madero, the pedestrian walkway between Palacio Bellas Artes to Zocalo, the main square in Mexico City.
- Zocalo is surrounded by the Municipal Cathedral and the National Palace. Both you can tour (National Palace open on select days only).
- At the Cathedral Square we stumbled upon a public shaman ritual with colorful traditional clothing and dance.
- Just behind the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor Museum, the ruins of the main temple of the former major Aztec city of Tenochtitlan which was built on the lake over which Mexico City is actually built (the city continues to sink). We did not have time to tour the museum, but it seems worthwhile and only costs $70 Pesos (~USD$4).
- Lunch came quickly, we rushed to the nearest subway stop to take the subway to Polanco, the upscale neighborhood of Mexico City where Pujol is located. Pujol offers tasting menus only, at around USD$105 for six courses tax included but not beverages or tip, and no dress code required. For lunch you choose the second, third, fourth, and sixth courses from 4 choices each. The main course for us was the amazing 1490 day old Mole Madre with Mole Nuevo. The real highlight for me though was the incredible Cauliflower dish with almond salsa macha, chile de arbol, onions. And of course the smoked Mexican street corn topped with Chicatana Ant Mayo. Over all Pujol is good, and worth a try. I was hoping for more Mexican influenced dishes as seen in the Netflix show rather than dishes such as lamb chop, the service though friendly lacked explanation and consistency I think, but the Mole truly is something else.
- Our 2PM lunch ended at 5PM with a kitchen tour. We then ubered to the Sheraton located on Calle Reforma, right in front of the Angel de Independencia, a symbol of Mexico City. We then walked up Calle Reforma to the Monument of the Revolution, where we met our guide, Ben, at 6PM for our street tacos walking food tour. Culinary Backstreets offers 4 tours in Mexico City, street tacos tour is the only one at night, and costs USD$110 per person, inclusive of all food and beverage on the tour.
- The food tour was worth it and amazing. First stop was Taqueria el Progreso for some Mexico City style flank steak tacos, I got Cabeza (cow’s head with tongue, brain and cheek) tacos and Campechano (chorizo and flank steak mix). On the other side of the restaurant is their other station with flat top grilled steak or pork chop tacos, I ordered the Pork Chop tacos with cheese, topped with beans, cactus leaf and mild salsa. We then walked across town to the Historic District for Tacos al Pastor, at the original El Huequito (literally translates to Hole in the Wall). A block away was El Moro, a historic 24 hour chocolate and churros join with local lining around the block. We had Spanish Churros and Chocolate Especial, hot cinnamon chocolate. Next stop was Loncheria La Cochinita, for some Mexican pulled pork tacos thats dipped in the pork fat/ juice. Final stop was at Mexicano-Bar on Calle Regina (a hip street full of bars and restaurants in historic buildings). Here we sampled Pulque (traditional fermented Agave sap) and Mezcal.
- At around 10PM our culinary tour ended and being full from lunch and dinner and a few Mezcals, we headed back home for a well deserved sleep.
- Woke up at 6AM for a 6:30AM uber ride to the Airport for our 9AM flight.
- Mexico City International Airport Terminal 2 has a very nice American Express Centurion Lounge that offers complimentary massages and for Platinum card holders, complimentary a la carte dining (chargeable otherwise).
Like I’ve said above, I do recommend Mexico City. It is full of culture, history, incredible food, and art. It is safe, easy to get around and a very cheap place. There is also plenty of things to do and lots of Museums to visit. Definitely do a food tour of sorts to really understand the street food that makes up this incredible culinary city.