Since we had to pass through big ol’ Mexico City on our way to Las Vegas (more on that later), we decided may as well spend a couple days. Ideally, we would have liked more time. In my opinion, a 5-day Mexico City itinerary is a good amount of time for a relaxed visit, giving you the chance to hit all the main highlights and get a feel for the different neighbourhoods. However, it is a very big place (one of the biggest in the world, as you may have heard), with enough to see and do that you could easily spend 2 weeks in Mexico City without ever getting bored.
Nonetheless, 2 days is better than nothing. Plus, it had been over 15 years since my last and only visit, and somehow Laynni had never been there before despite her total Mexico trips numbering somewhere near 20 at this point, so we thought it would be a good idea to at least squeeze in a quick stop. Here are 4 of the best things to do in Mexico City in 2 days, with even a bit of time left over for some aimless wandering.
Getting from the Airport to Downtown Mexico City
We got a bit confused taking the metro from the airport, ended up taking 3 separate lines (all for one $C0.30 ticket) and then getting off a stop early and having to walk another 15 minutes. We did much better when visiting the castle the next day, however, but it is still the only metro I’ve seen in recent years with no automated ticket machine, nor do you keep your ticket to prove you didn’t just jump the turnstile.
Where We Stayed
With all the very different, fascinating neighbourhoods, one of the hardest decisions to make is where to stay in Mexico City. Our hotel, the mid-range Hotel Castropol, was located directly in the heart of the shoe district, apparently, and adjacent to both the jewelry district, on one side, and the glamorous photocopying, paper, and various paper products district on the other. We were only 5 blocks from the Zocalo, though.
The 4 Best Things to Do on a 2-Day Trip to Mexico City
These 4 are a good starting point for a quick trip but if you have time for a longer stay you should get started working your way through this comprehensive list of 85 Things to Do in Mexico City.
Wander the Zocalo
The Zocalo, the city’s – and country’s – main square, is even larger and more impressive than I remembered. Of course, way back then I was staying in a cheap hostel right on a busy street and vaguely recall doing a lot of drinking and very little sleeping so my memory of that time is, at best, questionable.
Unsurprisingly, the Zocalo is still surrounded by the same set of enormous, ancient buildings – the Cathedral, the National Palace, the Federal Buildings and the Old Portal de Mercaderes (shopping area of covered archways). Somewhat more surprisingly, at that moment it also happened to be filled with dozens of tent booths all named after a different country, selling a wide variety of souvenirs, trinkets and considerably strange items. For example, is Syria really known for its elephants? And in all our time in Guatemala, how many flying pigs have we actually seen? Just the one, as far as I know. Anyway, apparently this was the Mexican equivalent to Saskatoon’s Folkfest, an amusing little diversion to stumble across. Observations of note: Nepal and Guatemala were lined up 5 deep with people buying cheap crap, yet nobody seemed at all interested in the bevy of red/white paraphernalia on display at the Canadian booth. A booth, incidentally, that was clearly being manned by a group of Mexicans. At least a few people were browsing, however, unlike the sad Italian tent, which offered literally nothing except for a solo woman at a tiny desk writing in some type of ledger. I also found it fascinating that A) the entire Middle East was represented except Israel, and B) Syria, Lebanon and Jordan all shared one big tent, with the 4th corner actually serving as the medical emergency tent. Symbolic.
Visit the Alameda
A large tiled park with big trees and nice fountains, one of which featured a man with no legs bathing. I can’t say if you can see this every day at the same time, or if maybe he feels like a couple times per week is sufficient when the weather isn’t overly muggy.
Likely due to the ongoing gang violence issues in Mexico these days the security presence everywhere in the city is considerable. Heavily-armed, and surprisingly well-armoured, guards and security personnel all over the place can be alternately alarming and reassuring, depending on the situation. The manned sniper towers in the Zocalo – rather concerning. Three guards armed with assault weapons guarding Old Navy – a bit odd, and potentially overkill. The female soldier wearing body armour slipping into McDonald’s to use the bathroom – objectively amusing.
Try the Tacos de Canasta
The local specialty in Mexico City are the tacos de canasta – tacos steamed in a basket – where you have just 4 fillings to choose from, 7 pesos each, choose quick, pay quick, get run quickly through the line Soup Nazi style, then try to find a spot amidst the crowds of locals and tourists alike, if you’re lucky, somewhere close to the shared giant vats of spicy guacamole, and spicy carrots, and cabbage which was also, well, spicy. We ended up in the back room sharing a table with about 8 others surrounded by supplies, some cement blocks and a couple bikes. The tacos were ok. Ultimately we preferred the tacos el pastor at our neighbourhood taco joint the following day at lunch.
Make the Trip to the Chapultepec Castle
Finally, in our only attempt at formal sightseeing we spent a morning at Chapultepec Castle. A long, crowded metro trip plagued by inexplicable delays, then a long but pleasant walk up to the castle, where we enjoyed the views out over the city, rushed occasionally to keep away from the humongous group of school kids impatiently being educated on their country’s illustrious and perhaps frustratingly extravagant colonial history, laughed at how short the beds were of the apparently diminutive royal former residents, and made our acting debuts for some university students in a video short where we pretended to be frightened senseless by some big conflict at a lake outside the city, the combatants of which we were completely unfamiliar with, not to mention the lake itself or, generally, what the hell we were talking about in any way, shape or form. Even though I couldn’t help but snicker a little when Laynni’s voice got strangely high as she whined about no knowing what to do, overall, I think we did pretty great.
Well, that ought to do for now. We are now in Las Vegas, all sitting around resting off various levels of hangover. Why Vegas? I mean, it’s practically on our way home. Plus, it just so happens that a group of friends and family all travelled down here for Julie’s belated 40th birthday celebration. I’ve been waiting all my life to get a photo with that fake Sphinx they have here so, all in all, it should be a dream come true. Not to overstate it.
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I think that’s the same photocopy/jewelry/close to Zocalo neighbourhood we stayed in last year! Weird spot but central. I knew the beer abstinence wouldn’t last through Vegas 😉