Lindsay and I spent a bit of time in Mexico City a few years ago – roughly a week I think. We went there a few days after the Christmas holiday and were there for New Years Eve. It was a really wonderful trip, and I think Lindsay and I both were pleasantly surprised by the “ease” we felt there. We decided at the time to add a longer return trip (if the opportunity should present itself!) to Mexico City (henceforth CDMX) onto our travel TODO list.
Last year when we were planing our 2023 travel plans we decided it would be a good time to head back, this time, for a bit over a month and a half. The timing was almost exactly the same as before except we found a cheaper flight New Years Eve so arrived in CDMX on the 1st of January.
Arriving in CDMX is easy and uneventful. One of the great things (or terrible, not sure on the moral issues) about the city is that Uber is incredibly affordable, and convenient. I think the Uber from the airport, 45 minutes maybe, was only 14 or so dollars. In general Uber was our chosen method of transportation while in the city. Most trips to places we would visit would cost (with a healthy tip) between 5 and 8 dollars.
Anyway, the apartment we rented for the time in Mexico City was in a neighborhood called La Condesa. It’s one of the “hipper” and more touristic neighborhoods, lots of cute little coffee shops and restaurants. We were near-ish the border of two hip / cool / touristic neighborhood called Roma Nortre and Hipodromo. Overall this is one of the “obvious” neighborhoods to stay in, and I’d certainly recommend our exact area to anybody thinking about visiting CDMX.
I’ll say up front, the tl;dr; of our time in Mexico City was that we ate lots of great food and hung out at night at the nearby park Parque Mexico, and had some great time with friends. This park was our favorite thing about the city, and the thing that I think we both will likely miss most from our time there.
There are many parks in Mexico City (and we went to quite a few of them), but for us this park is particularly special. Not only was it close (we walked by it at least once a day on our way to good ol’ Walmart Express Michoacán), it was absolutely full of people doing interesting things ideal for people watching. At night there would be hiphop dance troops (sometimes multiples!) dancing, dogs running around playing, kids skateboarding, kids playing soccer, groups of people doing tango, and musicians playing drums or guitar or singing, and then just a whole ton of people sitting around the perimeter (like we were in the video below) having conversations and just people watching. This is one of the thing we really miss about cities.
Other than go to this park, we did a lot of other stuff in the city. A few random highlights in no particular order:
- Ate a bunch of different Japanese food
- Went to lucha libre twice
One thing I won’t dwell on too much (because this post is already too long), but at times being in Mexico City felt “bad” on account of knowing we were part of the crowd overrunning our part of the city with tourists. I mention this here because one night we went to lucha libre and and we were sat in a section with a ton of other foreigners. They didn’t bring much energy, sort of were there to see the spectacle and take some photos, then a HUGE section of them left part way through. This isn’t a big deal of course, but that entire section became dead, and it just felt like these people (and of course I’m solidly in the camp that’s part of the problem!) came, spent a ton of money on premium tickets, but just wanted to check it out then leave. It brought the energy of the section down, and part of the fun of going to lucha libre I think is having the crowd get into it, booing and cheering and putting some effort in to get into the spirit of it. Anyway, moving on…
- Ate quite a few street tacos
- Hung out at local coffee shop(s)
- We rode bikes
Honestly my photos aren’t that great and you probably get the general vibe, but a few more things we did worth noting:
- Did a walking bar crawl of sorts (of a very mild variety) for our aniversary
- Went to a pulque museum and did a small testing. Pulque is a somewhat slimy-ish textured drink made from “fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant”
- Went to the Templo Mayor Museum which was pretty cool
- Walked around a lot
- Ate random food to try new things
- Took a tortilla making class, which was really more about indigenous plants and wild crops
Another thing that was nice is our friends Stephen and Megan were in town for a few days and we got to see them and hang out.
One big thing that happened early on in our trip was our friend Corie came to visit. This was great, and she also introduced us to her friends Elisa and Fer. Corie was visiting for roughly a week, and in that time we did all sorts of great exploring and hanging out and more of the eating of tacos, etc.
We also had the opportunity (thanks to Elisa, who works with the Ukrainian expat / refuge population) to go to a pretty interesting holiday party / fundraising event for the Ukrainians living in Mexico City. I believe the funds raised went towards (at least in part) paying for prosthetics for injured soilders.
We also saw a great jazz concert and a really cool venue called Jazzatlan.
On the weekend when Corie was visiting we decided to make a drive up to Tolantongo, a few hours North of Mexico City. To be honest I was not entirely certain about making the trip, mainly because I had enough going on with normal life stuff (e.g. work) that the idea of having car issues or getting stuck somewhere while driving through Mexico wasn’t super appealing to me. I’m writing this here to document the fact that I had very mixed feelings about the trip going in. Generally when Lindsay and I are doing longer term travel, without so many responsibilities outside of travel, this isn’t a huge issue or concern for me, we’ve done plenty of trips through plenty of countries, driving ourselves, on bus, or driving with strangers. Still, I wasn’t exactly super excited for the trip going in.
BUT, it was really really beautiful and fun, and certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
Tolatongo is this natural hot spring “resort” of sort up in the mountains. Apparently it is setup like a co-op, it’s on private land, so you pay to get in, but then you can stay at very reasonably priced cabins (~50 bucks a night I think) in this little hot sprint place on the side of the mountain.
There are pools you can swim in (mainly man-made, but with natural hot springs feeding them), or there is a river of sorts that has this beautiful water in it that is super warm and amazing to swim in.
The photos really don’t do it justice. I think if I came back here, I’d stay for a week or something and just hike and drink coffee and swim and read in teh mornings overlooking the mountains.
Not pictured, but there were amazing (not fancy, but amazing just the same!) Michelada for sale here. It was like a 40 of beer, all of the clam juice and other ingredients, and a SUPER thick tamarind paste rim, served in a bright yellow paper cup. Sitting in the shade in the middle of January drinking one of these and looking out over the mountain was pretty great, certainly made me feel lucky.
One of the most magical things from this trip is actually a big cave that you can swim into. It’s really impossible to describe how cool this was, but you hike up the mountain a little ways and there is a cave with bright blue water coming out of it.
The water is initial a bit cold because of the non-hot spring water coming down, but once you get past the cold water coming from above you are in a fairly large cave, swimming in ~4-5 feet of incredibly warm water. There are tons of people around taking photos and swimming, and there is enough light coming from the opening over the cave that you can see OK. BUT then there is another passage that leads to a narrower passage with water rushing out of it (enough water that you have to grab onto a rope on the wall to pull yourself through this passage. This leads to a smaller cave (but still large, plenty of room for 20-30 people easy to be there) that is pitch dark. So you’re swimming in this beautiful, warm water in a deep dark cave with a huge waterfall of warm water coming down from the roof. It’s really difficult to describe, but one of those special places that you generally would only dream of or perhaps see in some sort of movie, but not ever expect to experience yourself.
We drove home without issue, stopping along the way for barbacoa (lamb) at a roadside restaurant.
Before Corie left we went out for a boat ride with our new friends in Xochimilco, which was fantastic and beautiful
Again, in between all of the photos there is just a lot of work, walking, shopping at the local Walmart express grocery store, eating random pastries and tacos, and exploring on foot.
Here is a last photo of Lindsay taking a nap in a park. It wasn’t very clean.
When we left Mexico City I think we were both sort of ready to move on. As mentioned above, I think the thing we’ll miss and enjoyed most (other than friends of course!) was the park near our place. On the flip side, it’s sort of hard, in a “first world problems” sort of way to live somewhere you feel compelled to eat out all the time, and when you eat out you don’t feel particularly healthy. Bottom line, I was ready to move onto the next portion of our trip. Actually, as I type that I’ll admit that there was part of me that was perhaps a bit “unexcitable” in general, I think I had to get myself somewhat pumped up for Cozumel by listening to Jimmy Buffet or something, trying to get in the spirit of things.
We flew into Cozumel direct from CDMX, and the flight is easy and not particularly long.
When we arrived, we were too stubborn to take a taxi to our hostel so we ended up just walking with our packs there. This is sort of dumb of us, because the taxis were not THAT expensive, and it’s part of the “system” of coming to Cozumel, but all of the years traveling to places where you have to be on your guard to avoid being ripped off we sort of default in high pressure situations where people are overcharging you for things to just ignoring the people calling for you to come over and just keep walking.
The guest house we stayed in was absolutely beautiful. I unfortunately do not have any great photos of it, but it was about a mile or so inland from the most touristy areas of Cozumel. Ironically (not sure if it’s ironic actually), we were about a block from a different Walmart.
Here is another photo of the pool, and a little kitchen area in the back which we sadly didn’t use much. I’d love to stay at this place for a month or something and just relax, but we were fairly busy every day doing one thing or another constantly.
Overall our time on Cozumel was pretty good. The weather could have been a BIT nicer (it rained a few times) and also we opted to work one day while there (which sort of ruined the total relax / vacation vibe), but we also managed to work in three shore dives and a lot of exploring / walking / scootering.
One thing I would NOT do again is go to “Isla Pasion.” This is where the scooter photo above was en route to. You go to a guy who takes you over to this “isla” on his boat (10 or 20 bucks), which I’m not even sure is actually and island (based on the map). The other beach seems to be a destination for cruise ship day trips, so when you get to the island on your own (as we did) you basically can stay in this somewhat suboptimal beach without shade, or you can walk down the beach to an area where you can pay something like 7o or 80 USD for all you can drink beach hangout experience. No way in hell were we paying for this, which meant we were kicked off the nicer part of the beach and end up just sitting in the somewhat not-nice beach waiting for the boat to come back to pick us up. This was certainly the least positive part of the trip I think.
One highlight for us, that I wish we had done more often and earlier on, was a day trip to Buccanos. This is a resort that you can pay $20 (per person maybe?) to get into, but that money goes towards your tab if you order food. It’s a way out of the city so you have to take a taxi (or a scooter), but it’s really chill and the water is beautiful and the food is also great. We had a nice time just hanging out all day swimming and reading in the pool. I wish we’d done this at least one more day (in place of Isla Pasion!)
Another general highlight was some of the more casual swimming / snorkeling we did from random public spots. Cozumel isn’t known for it’s great sandy beaches, but there are quite a few nice public / free places to swim or watch the sunset.
Another place that I think is actually a pretty good “value” is the restaurant / bar called Hemingway. You can sit and watch the sunset, jump in the water / swim with a beer, and generally just hang out / relax. We felt pretty lucky sitting and watching the sunset here one night after swimming in the water.
I didn’t talk a ton about it, but our shore dives were overall pretty good. We did one dive from the Barracuda, which we’ve done in the past, but honestly it wasn’t too great. We did two other dives (one of them with a guide just so we could figure out where the best places to swim were) at another bar called Takila. This was certainly better, and the first dive in particular I’d say was “great” – we swam out through a bunch of kelp overhead which is always sort of magical.
I feel like this blog post is not very inspired or exciting, but I wanted to get it out there before too much time passes. If you’ve made it this far, sorry for wasting your time. Unless you’re me, in which case, “this is what you wanted.”
Honestly part of the reason this blog post isn’t so inspired is because I don’t think I was SUPER on fire for life for a lot of our trip. Even Cozumel I felt a bit like I was going through the travel motions, without my heart really being in it. This is nothing against Mexico City, or Cozumel, I think it was more of a headspace I was (am?) in.
I’m not sure if I’m getting boring, or if perhaps I’ve just recently had some life experiences (looking at you Japan and York!) that have impacted how I feel during certain types of travel.
In the end I’m really thankful for the time I had in Mexico City, I’m thankful for the friends that we met and the friends that visited. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience. I can absolutely see going back to Mexico City, possibly for even longer next time.
For now, I’m looking forward to time spent doing some pottery and the next adventures.