CDMX: Ciudad de Mexico. I absolutely LOVE traveling for New Years and I have to admit, when I first heard people talking about how amazing Mexico City was, I was confused. For some weird reason, I always pictured CDMX as a farm town: slow paced life, no big buildings, even rural. My boyfriend and I spend NYE in a different city every year. And, after looking up the list of places Southwest flies (thank you Companion Pass) that were both outside of the U.S. but close enough where it wouldn’t be a long plane ride, I decided to do a little more research on Mexico City. Lo and behold, I found that CDMX was a booming town, with a little bit of everything for everyone. Most importantly, I found it was a huge foodie city, and I was sold!
Tips and Tricks:
*Be aware, if you visit during New Years Eve weekend, many things will be shut down for at least a week. There were a few places we were hoping to visit (Piso 51, Frida Kahlo House, Pujol, Quintonil, etc) that were actually closed most of the week we were in town.
*If you go with a big group (8+) you will have trouble finding restaurants that can accommodate your group size so make reservations in advance.
*Lots of museums close on Mondays. Be sure to do your research and plan around this before you go.
* While CDMX is anything but rural, it’s not Cabo or Cancun. Most people only speak Spanish so make sure you brush up before you go.
*You don’t really need a car. Driving in the city feels crazier than LA: not only is there a ton of traffic, but the roads are terrible. We used Uber the entire time and had zero issues. Also, Uber is cheap, cheap, cheap.
*CDMX is HUGE! One trip won’t be enough time to see everything. Choose a few key things you want to see and prepare to do multiple trips to see the rest of the city.
Nido de Quetzalcoatl
Nido de Quetzalcoatl translates to “the nest of Quetzalcoatl” and happens to be the name of the most phenomenal Airbnb I’ve ever stayed in. This is the kind of place that reminds me of why I love traveling so much. I’ll be doing a separate, detailed post on this property. But for now, here are the basics…
Nido de Quetzalcoatl is a gorgeous property built by famous organic architect Javier Senosiain. Currently, the property is closed to the public and open only to the residents of it’s 10 apartments. As a non-owner, the only way you can visit the property is by booking through Airbnb (be sure to book using my Airbnb link to get a discount: www.airbnb.com/c/jillianm825). Our Airbnb host, Patricia, was on vacation so she asked her friend Gaby to host us while we were in town. Gaby was phenomenal! She organized everything from a three hour tour of the property (a must do if you want to see the park grounds) to taxis, to our own private cook for the two nights we stayed.
Be sure to arrive early to MEX airport if this is your first stop. When it comes to traveling to a foreign country, I always like arriving in the daytime. We had a pre-arranged driver pick us up from the airport. We made sure to stop at a Walmart on the way to the Snake House to pick up the necessities (snacks, water, and tequila). It took us about an hour without the Walmart stop to get from the airport to the house. Please note that although Naucalpan isn’t the safest place, the Snake House is very well protected. It is located up in the hills of a very wealthy, armed and gated community. When we arrived, we were awestruck. There was just enough daylight for us to get a quick glimpse of the property before settling in for the night.
The inside of the house is shockingly clean and well lit. It’s also eerily quiet. My boyfriend and I flew in a day before the other 4 in our group, so we had the place to ourselves. If you come during winter be sure to bring warm clothes. While the space heaters in the bedrooms work great, the common room seems difficult to heat up. The window in our room opened right into the trees; we felt like we were spending the night in a treehouse.
The next morning our group arrived and we set out on our three hour tour of the park grounds. We saw everything from the amphitheater, to the mineral cave, to the greenhouse. *Pro Tip: Mexico City is about 7,000 ft above sea level at its lowest point which may cause some travelers to get altitude sickness. It may be a good idea to save the tour (a lot of walking) until everyone’s bodies have had time to properly acclimate. After our tour, we settled in for the night. The next morning, Gaby had transportation to our next destination arranged and we were off!
The Snake House was a difficult experience to put into words. Walking the grounds and staying in the house left me with an overwhelming feeling of tranquility and steadfastness, which are so rare to experience with the hustle and bustle of every day life. I felt truly present in the moment, and it was the perfect way to start our trip into the New Year.
We left the rugged beauty of Nido de Quetzalcoatl for it’s stark opposite: posh, luxe, and trendy Polanco. There are a few key neighborhoods in CDMX and they all have their own vibe: Polanco (luxurious), Condessa (trendy hipster), Roma (down to earth hipster), Centro (historic), Coyoacan (home to Frida Kahlo Museum), and many more. Part of the beauty of traveling is that you get to experience so many different places within the same city. We stayed in an Airbnb (be sure to book using my Airbnb link to get a discount: www.airbnb.com/c/jillianm825) that was a few blocks away from Avenida Presidente Masaryk (the Rodeo Drive of CDMX), across the street from the Antara Mall (think Fashion Island if you’re Orange County based), and walking distance from a Walmart type store.
Our Airbnb was perfect! There was a 24/7 doorman, the apartment was two floors, had enough room for the six of us who were staying, and enough room to host the extra 9 friends who were also in CDMX for NYE drinks. There is an amazing cafe around the corner called Esperanza. We were able to order two pan dulces, two sandwiches, a coffee and fresh squeezed OJ for under $8 USD. Needless to say, it became our go to breakfast spot. We also explored Avenida Presidente Masaryk. *Pro Tip: While there is great shopping and amazing restaurants on this street, it’s not the best for cocktails without food, as most places had more of a restaurant vibe. The Inbursa Aquarium is also walking distance from the Airbnb as is the Soumaya Museum.
Balmori was our first group dinner in CDMX. After calling around to a few restaurants, I found Balmori was one of the few that could seat a group of 15 together. Located in Roma, Balmori has a low-key atmosphere, good food, and phenomenal cocktails. A DJ played deep house beats while the hum of conversation lingered in the air. My favorite thing about traveling is the food! Balmori, with a fun vibe and strong drinks, is the perfect restaurant to get your night on the town started.
We didn’t stay up too late on our first night in Polanco because we had to be up early on Sunday for the pyramids. I read a lot of blog posts saying not to visit on Sunday, but it was the only day that fit in our schedule. On Sundays, all Mexican citizens are able to gain access to Teotihuacan for free. From our experience, you shouldn’t have to worry about overcrowding if you go early. We were on our way from Polanco by 9 AM, and at the pyramids by 10 AM. We immediately made our way to the Pyramid of the Sun (the tallest pyramid on the grounds. Teotihuacan is unique for a couple reasons: 1. We don’t know who built the pyramids. While the Aztecs did utilize the land for a period of time, they were not the original inhabitants and 2. You can still climb these pyramids unlike those of Chichen-Itza.
Be sure to wear something you’ll be comfy in (ie workout clothes) because the walk up definitely leaves you winded. This is also a good activity to save until your body has had time to acclimate to the altitude of CDMX. We were able to walk up the pyramid with no wait. But, by the time we got back down, there was a line wrapped around the pyramid of people waiting to get the chance to climb to the top.
After climbing the Pyramid of the Sun which is the tallest pyramid on the grounds, we decided to do lunch at La Gruta, which is walking distance from the pyramids. We probably should have made reservations. However, we got lucky and had no wait. La Gruta is a restaurant built into a cave. We tried a variety of different drinks and food. Everything was good, but it wasn’t to die for. You’re really going and paying for the unique experience of eating in a cave.
We finally made our way back to Polanco (which took 1.5 hours) and freshened up before exploring Centro the rest of the night. We walked through a night market near Bellas Artes and found some of the best churros we had ever tasted. Teotihuacan is a LONG day! Be sure not to book anything too close, because you’ll want time to recharge before heading out on the town again.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is actually a family holiday in CDMX. We noticed most locals spent the countdown with their families, then came out to play afterwards. We booked tickets at Joy Room because it was walking distance from our apartment. We noticed our tickets said “open bottle” on the description. Now I know what “open bar” means and I know what “bottle service” means, but we had to ask about “open bottles.” Sure enough, we legitimately got as many bottles as we wanted all night long (I LOVE MX!!!). When we left the club at 2:30 AM, things were just getting started and some people were just starting to arrive.
We got to ring in the New Year with our closest friends in a foreign city, and it was perfect! As we were walking home at the end of the night, we noticed our building looked super dark. Sure enough, the power was out! We ended up walking four flights of stairs to get to our apartment in total darkness. *Pro Tip: Regardless of how nice the place you’re staying in may be, it’s still Mexico and the infrastructure isn’t quite what it is in the U.S. We finally went to sleep around 3 AM and were ready for our next day ahead.
We chose to do Xochimilco on New Years Day because almost every other museum was closed. Xochimilco is about 40 minutes south of Polanco and home to pre-Aztec Mexico. During the days of the Aztecs, these waterways were the main form of transportation. Trajineras, think Mexican gondolas, line the waterways and transport guests up and down the canals. We had six in our group and opted for two hours. Our boat even came with a very large speaker.
Two hours gave us just enough time to enjoy Xochimilco, hear some mariachis, and order some elote from vendors in other boats on the canals. While two hours was enough, if our group wasn’t so exhausted from NYE the night before, I could see how a full day on the boats is enjoyable. *Pro Tip: Catch a trajinera at Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas, as it’s where more of the locals go. Prices are clearly published and there are no surprises or extra tariffs.
We always like to end our trips with a nice dinner. We weren’t able to get reservations at Pujol or Quintonil because our group was too big, so we opted for Rosa Negra at the recommendation of our Snake House host Gaby. Rosa Negra oozes luxury from the second you walk through the door. It’s located on the famous Avenida Presidente Masaryk, and rightfully so. We were seated among patrons dawned in diamonds and designer. There was a DJ playing deep house beats in the background to help set the vibe. Everything we tasted was phenomenal. My favorite thing was the Black Market Ribeye which had a unique taste and texture and only took a tiny bit of sea salt to create the perfect steak. Service was phenomenal and the cocktails were so tasty. This will be an expensive dinner, especially if you go all out with appetizers and sides like we did. But, it’s so worth it!
And so much more…
My cousin lived in CDMX for a few months and warned me it would take a couple trips to see everything. But, even with that warning, I didn’t realize how vast Mexico City really is. Here are a few of the things we didn’t get to do, but will most definitely be going back to do in the future:
- Frida Kahlo Museum
- Lucha Libre
- National Museum of Anthropology
- Gran Hotel
- Chapultepec Castle
- Piso 51
“Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times”