What if I told you there was a magical place that was a short flight away with wonderful food, beautiful architecture, friendly people and to top it all off it is one of the most affordable travel destinations? Would you believe me when I told you I was talking about Mexico? Most Americans consider Mexico the land of touristy beach resorts not realizing that Mexico is home to gorgeous cities with massive cathedrals that any European capital would envy.
You can step off a plane in Mexico City in a matter of a few hours ready to start your adventure without jet lag. Because of the short distance from the United States it is worth it to visit Mexico for a long weekend and return multiple times instead of long-haul flight destinations in Europe and Asia where it would not make sense to spend less than a week at your destination.
I have visited non-resort Mexico twice spending time in Mexico City each time. Mexico City is a mega-city of over 20 million people in its metro area that does not get the credit it deserves when compared to other major cities in the world. Mexico City is full of vibrant neighborhoods. Hop on the efficient subway system and surface in an entirely new neighborhood. Centro Historico is the heart of Mexico City with a massive zocolo (plaza), the Metropolitan Cathedral and endless historical buildings, pedestrian only streets and even Aztec ruins, since Mexico City was once Tenochtitlan the center of the Aztec empire.
Although I had plenty of tacos in Mexico City (which are much more flavorful than the ones north of the border), Mexican cuisine is much more complex than most Americans think. One of my favorite dishes I devoured in Mexico City was Chiles en nogada, a poblano pepper filled with shredded meat, nuts, and fruit topped with a creamy white sauce and pomegranate seeds. The dish is traditionally served around Mexican Independence Day in September. The colors of the dish match the colors on the Mexican flag (green, white and red).
At every turn in Mexico City there are beautiful parks with fountains, flowers and mature trees. One could spend their whole trip just park hopping in each neighborhood. There are families playing, people selling balloons and someone always playing music nearby.
Use the efficient subway and train system to take an excursion to Xochimilco. Still part of Mexico City, but 17 miles from the center, Xochimilco is home to a canal system of floating gardens where you can rent a private gondola for roughly $20 USD an hour with a guide to steer your boat through the canal.
One of the interesting parts of this adventure was that the canals are mainly used by local families for celebrations, so you get a glimpse of life in Mexico City. Families will spend entire afternoons on these boats. They will bring food, drinks and some even hire mariachi bands. I witnessed several large groups that tied five boats together for one big party. Forgot to bring your own food? No problem! Small boats selling snacks, drinks and toys for kids will come up to your boat to give you what you need. You can even hire a mariachi band for a song or two.
As you can see there are countless ways to enjoy your trip to Mexico City. You can return over and over having a different experience each time. As I mentioned before Mexico City is a very affordable travel destination compared to other international cities. You can eat in casual places for less than $10 USD per person. You could spend even less money by buying food in local markets. We stayed in a private room in a hostel in the city center for $35 USD a night. Of course if you want to spend more money on food or lodging there are plenty of high end hotels and restaurants.
Americans unfairly characterize Mexico City as unsafe, but crime rates are similar to any other urban metropolis. Mexico City is very family friendly and I personally never felt unsafe. With any travel you need to use caution and research the areas of the city you will be visiting.
Mexico City is also a great jumping off point for bus rides to other cities in Mexico like Puebla (2 hours away) and Oaxaca (6 hours away). First class buses in Mexico are luxurious and affordable and offer frequent and convenient times.
Next time you are anxious for an international adventure, consider Mexico City. A unique cultural experience is only a short flight away.
*Prices in USD in this article are from 2015 when the exchange rate was 13 MXN to 1 USD, as of this writing in early 2017 the exchange rate is 19 MXN to 1 USD. It is now even more affordable to visit Mexico! Go!