“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
When most people think of vacationing in Mexico, they usually end up on the Hawaii-like beaches of Cancun or other coastal favorites. They aren’t wrong in that approach.
But an often overlooked option lies several hundred miles inland. That place is Mexico City (aka “Chilangolandia”). With over nine million residents within its boundaries and over 21 million in the metro, Mexico City is the world’s second or third largest city (depending on the day). Built by the Aztecs in the 1300s, it’s the oldest capital in the Western Hemisphere.
Incidentally, tourists are taking notice. This year, American Express Travel named Mexico City one of its 2023 Trending Destinations, based on increased cardmember spending. (The others include Copenhagen, Florida Keys, Istanbul, Lisbon, Paris, Sydney, Montenegro, Yakuve Island, and coming outta left field, Woodstock, Vermont). For this story, I visited the Mexican capital during the week of Dia de los Muertos. I left smitten by its good looks, cozy neighborhoods, classic cuisine, and hyper affordability—no beach required.
Some people call Mexico City the “New York of Latin America,” which isn’t far off, although it’s even bigger than the Big Apple. It’s not nearly as tall, but Mexico City is a lot more sprawling. It’s also an epicenter of money, culture, power, and history. That might not sound so appealing to visitors, but walking the famous Reforma Avenue or Historic Center is more akin to walking in Paris than underneath New York’s canopy of concrete and steel.
Hence the nickname “city of palaces.” Here you’ll be delighted by the famous avenue modeled after the Champs-Elysees in France. This is especially true during Dia de Los Muertos in late October, when much of the city is adorned in marigolds and the mesmerizing skull art the holiday is known for. If you can fit it into your schedule, I highly recommend a visit during the festive and 75 degree weather of Dia de Los Muertos, replete with seasonal parades, “ofrendas,” and Pan de Muertos (sugar coated sweet bread).
There are things I liked about Mexico City and things I loved. I liked seeing Templo Mayor, the Aztec ruins in the historic center that weren’t discovered until electricians stumbled upon them in 1978 while digging for cables. I loved the soaring ceilings of the Metropolitan Cathedral and earthquake slanted but still elegant House of Tiles.
I liked walking the trendy Roma neighborhood, Chapultepec Castle, and indulging in El Moro churros. I loved eating at Tacos Londres, wondering if I was in Berlin while gawking at the golden Angel of Independence, and noodling my way through La Condessa, which is so tranquil you might think you’ve suddenly teleported outside of one of the largest cities in the world.
Two more things I loved: taking in the sprawl at Cityzen, the highest bar in town located inside one of the top rated hotels in town, Sofitel Mexico City Reforma. And Aura Cocina Mexicana, where I cooked mole blanco, ancient veggie and cheese tamales that are waaaaay better than greasy modern ones, and drank several cups of life-giving Mexican coco.
The only thing I didn’t like about my trip? Traffic, which can easily turn what should be a 15 minute drive into an hour long ordeal.
Despite being a massive metropolis, Mexico City doesn’t force you to look far to find some of the best values in the world. For example, you can buy five superb street tacos for $2 (at current exchange rates)! Four giant churros with hot chocolate for $5! That top ranked, 5-star hotel I mentioned? Between $200-400 midweek, which is a fraction of what similar hotels will cost in other big cities.
Overall, Mexico City’s affordability against the dollar is absurd. I can see no good reason why it wouldn’t be worth your time, especially over a long weekend. After spending just three days here, I can confidently say it rivals the charm of any great city. That some people are just discovering that (myself included) is the reason its star is rising so fast. Viva Mexico!
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.