Mexico Part II-- Central Mexico
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Boarding a plane ($34 OW via Interjet) from Cancun and landing in Mexico City 2.5 hours later...In this post, we'll start exploring in the capital Mexico City, then move our way down south, passing through Puebla and ending in Oaxaca.
Traveling through Central Mexico...Mexico City is a vast city full of life, lights, movement, art, history, and enchantment. Puebla, the fourth largest city in Mexico, a city filled with colors, archaeological sites, and genuine people. Oaxaca, a coastal state, combines the best of fine dining, mezcal/tequila production, traditional cultural festivals, and off the beaten path beaches.
The temperature in Central Mexico is lower than in the Yucatan Peninsula. It's best to bring an easy to carry jacket as temperatures during the day can reach 80F then drop to 30F during night time.
Transportation -- We're using Interjet
(an affordable local Mexican airline) from Cancun to Mexico City. Then an ADO local bus from Mexico City to Puebla and from Puebla to Oaxaca. From Oaxaca, we're flying back to Mexico City. We decided to fly to save time and visit all 3 places in a total of 9 days. Our plane tickets were about $34 each way. We recommend buying your ADO bus tickets on your travel day unless there's a holiday. They have multiple buses leaving daily from the main stations. You can leave your bags at their lockers for a small fee if you decide to buy your tickets in the morning, then explore a bit and come back. For Transportation, within Mexico City, we relied heavily on walking and Ubers. Ubers are so affordable! Don't even bother renting a car there, be stress-free and let someone drive you around.
Where to stay in Mexico City--
You'll be doing most of your exploring, eating, and drinking in the following neighborhoods :
Roma Sur/Norte: Boho/ nightlife /artsy vibes and centrally located.
Condesa: Upscale /posh / trendy / boho/ nightlife and centrally located.
Polanco: Upscale/ nightlife / luxury/ fine dining and centrally located.
Coyoacan: former village/ near Frida Kahlo's house/ beautiful, artsy, and quiet/ 30min away via car from the center.
Day 1 - Travel day / Half day
We're using half of our day for day one as a travel day since we're flying from Cancun to Mexico City. Flying time is approx 2.5 hours. We chose a late afternoon flight with a 1pm departure from Cancun to have enough time to grab breakfast in Playa del Carmen, drive to Cancun, return our car rental and take a shuttle to the airport. With the time difference between both places, we arrived in Mexico City at 2:30pm. From there, we took an Uber to our hotel, checked in, relaxed, and decided to start the second part of our adventures, exploring the nightlife in Mexico City.
We started with dinner, followed by a night of bar hopping. You'll find plenty of cool bars in Roma Norte/ Sur, Condesa, and Polanco. For a complete list of our favorite bars plus 3 of the best-hidden speakeasies, check out my post " Bar Hopping in Mexico City."
Make sure to stay safe while drinking in Mexico City, as it's considered one of the world's most dangerous cities. We never encountered any problems, but we were always alert, never wore anything too flashy, avoided dark alleys, and took Ubers.
-- end of day 1
Day 2 -- Art and Local Markets
Have an easy-going day sleep if you need to after traveling and bar-hopping the night before. Wake up, whenever you wake up! Today is a full leisure day to soak the art in, admire all the beauty Mexico City has to offer, and eat your way through some of the local markets. When you're ready, start your day at the "Museo de Arte Moderno," Where you'll find Frida Kahlo's original painting of " The Two Fridas," among work from Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and many more local artists.
Castillo de Chapultepec --
Across the museum, through an enchanted forest and a small hike after, you'll find this famous castle set atop a hill. Once the country home for the Spanish Viceroy, later the former home of Mexican royalty and most recently used as the Capulet's castle in the 1996 remake of Romeo & Juliet directed by Baz Luhrmann. Castillo de Chapultepec, now open for public viewing, offer stunning views and mesmerizing corridors with a flare of an 18th-century decor and structure that's not to be missed.
After a feast of the eyes, head on to Mercado Roma and get a feast for the belly or visit any the local Market in Mexico City. We went to a total of 4 markets, and Mercado Roma was our favorite! This market is more upscale and trendy, yet despite being smaller and more commercial compared to the other markets, Mercado Roma can also offer some delicious authentic bites.
Our favorite stalls were:
La Reina de la Braza
Butcher & Sons
Churerria El Morro
The rooftop beer garden
Other Markets near by:
Mercado La Merced
Mercado de San Juan
Both these markets were a little too intense for us, so we simply did a quick stroll and left without eating. People are hustling hard here, and even knowing the language, we felt rushed and uncomfortable with all the screaming. Another thing to note about both these markets is that you can't have a delicate stomach to come here. You'll see all kinds of animals hanging dead in front of these shops. These markets are enormous, so imagine walking into 50 butcheries at the same time where everyone is calling out the specials to lure you in. On another note, both these mercados are the real deal. Chefs come here to shop for fresh meats and produce, so it definitely deserves a visit.
Angel de la Idependencia --
Walk off your food coma and head on to the iconic Angel de la Independencia -- a 27 min walk from Mercado Roma or a 19 min uber drive, depending on traffic. "El Angel" Mexico City's Independence monument was Built-in 1910 to commemorate 100 years of Independence from Spain. The Angel is modeled after Victoria, the Roman goodness of Victory. The Angel's base hosts a mausoleum with the remains of generals and investigators that fought during the Independence. With advanced notice and a permit, you may visit upstairs for a bird's - eye view of these bustling city streets.
After strolling around Mexico City, make your way to the Polanco district for a fancy dinner at Quintonil; Named one of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017 that's also a Michelin Star recipient. Their menu is always changing and offers an optional seasonal tasting menu of 10 courses for $104pp or $179pp with pairing. Reservations are required, so book ahead of time if planning a visit as they're almost always booked. After dinner, end your night at Jules Basement, an underground speakeasy nearby. RSVP is required.
Day 3 -- Casa Azul and Lucha Libre
" Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly" - Frida Kahlo
On day 3, we're heading south to Coyoacan, a former village and also where the home of Frida Kahlo "Casa Azul" is located. Frida Kahlo was an inventive artist with a tragic life, and by visiting her house, you get to learn more about her past with an audio tour. Her home, now turned into a museum, is kept the way she had it when alive. If possible, I recommend buying tickets ahead of time since lines can be long. If you try buying your ticket through the direct website, there's a possibility your card might be rejected if it's foreign; that happen to us, and we had to make the line and buy our ticket at the box office. There's an additional fee if you want to take photos inside her house. Taking pictures outside is free!
After visiting Frida Kahlos House, we decided to stay in Coyoacan and explore a bit... It's so cute, no wonder Frida chose to live here!
Our favorite spots in the area:
• Have coffee at: El mundo del Cafe
• Eat at: El Fronton
• Have dessert at: Mercado de Coyoacan
Mercado de Coyoacan--
This Mercado is smaller compared to the more central ones. We found the best local desserts here! People were super friendly, and we highly recommend visiting if you're planning to go to Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo's House). This market is authentic in a traditional way with a more relaxed vibe and much less of a hustle.
Try Some Chapulines--
A Mexican delicacy, but what is a chapulin exactly? Chapulines are grasshoppers/ crickets that for centuries have been considered a classic Mexican snack. Full of protein and being a local edible insect in Mexico, these little guys can be found everywhere, from world-renown restaurants to local markets. They're crunchy and can offer a "pick-me-up" when needed!
Depending on time and personal preference, from Coyoacan, you can head south, visit Xochilico and take a canal tour. Colorful gondola-like boats will carry you while vendors, artisans, and mariachi bands float past you, creating a unique shopping and eating experience. The vibe and atmosphere here are festive, with day cruises available from 9am-6pm and night cruises available during the weekend. You can also opt to extend your cruise by a couple of hours and visit the dolls' haunted island, a mysterious floating garden.
A night of Lucha Libre--
I used to watch lucha libre on t.v when I was a kid. I don't exactly know what drew me to these fights, for I was overly girly growing up. But right after school, doing my homework and having the occasional barbie playtime with my besties, when the lights went dark and they went home, when I was utterly alone and getting ready for dinner, this was my time! Time to be in awe of everything I was seeing.Time to cheer, kick, and pretend I was one of them! So when I was planning my trip to Mexico City, I immediately knew I had to go see a live fight. For locals, going to a lucha libre match is more about releasing stress and venting. You'll hear the crowd screaming insults and offensive words at these fighters- all part of the fun and culture for them. I personally couldn't do it, but I found it hilarious seeing others really get into it! I had a great time at the fight, but I must confess that being an adult and being there in person was a completely different experience. The fights seemed a little staged most of the time, which is understandable for safety reasons. If planning a visit, I recommend buying your ticket ahead of time either through ticket master or the morning of at the ticket booth. If it's a famous fight, tickets tend to sell out, so keep this in mind. Also, professional cameras are not allowed, but they let you take photos with your mobile device.
After all that screaming, EAT! The best tacos we found we're street ones for .42cents! Stop by a local street vendor and order some tacos, Al pastor!!!
--end of day 3
Have extra time in Mexico City? Here's a list of a few other things to check out:
Visit la Basilica de Guadalupe
Hike or ride a hot air balloon in Teotihuacan -- this could be a full or half-day trip.
Visit China town and the central zocalo in the heart of the city-- this area is bustling, so hold on to your belongings tights. There's also a mercado nearby that sells rare exotic meat like lion, for example, if you're into that. It's worth noting that for some reason when we were in this area, we lost all cell phone signals and had the most challenging time hailing an uber, a side note in case you're in a rush when in this area. If that happens, your best bet is to hail a local taxi. Be sure to negotiate the price before getting in!
Day 4 -- Travel to Puebla
Just a couple of hours via local bus from Mexico City is colorful Puebla -- one of our favorite cities in Mexico. We Stayed at Meson Sacristia de la Soledad and loved our stay. The owners live downstairs and made us breakfast every morning! Their beautiful home has 4 master bedrooms upstairs that are divided by colors; Yellow, Pink, Red, and Blue. We stayed in the Blue Room and had our own private patio/balcony, mini living room, and giant bedroom. If in Puebla, we highly recommend staying here!
They also have a sister hotel 3 blocks away that's more centrally located if you're planning to just spend a night while traveling between towns. At Meson Sacristia de la Compañia, the rooms are a bit smaller and boasting of eclectic decor. This hotel was first a church turned into an antique shop, so all the furniture is for sale! See something you like in the room you're staying in? You can buy it! How cool is that?! After settling in, go downstairs and dine at their restaurant. Named one of the best places to try authentic mole at according to the New York Times. We had a feast made for royalty there! Tried a mole sampler with local wine! Mexico is not really known for their wine production but, I feel that's about to change in the years to come...
Day 5 -- Explore Puebla
Today we'll spend the entire day traveling by foot. The places on our list are near each other with a maximum walking distance of 30 min. We love walking when possible, and it's our preferred method of transportation every time we travel. We find it to be the best way of getting to know our surroundings. Start your day in the same area you had dinner the night before, near "Meson Sacristia de la Compañia," or if staying there, simply walk down and out! How convenient is that?!
Spend your morning roaming around the colorful streets of "Barrio de los Sapos" and "Barrio del Artista."Here you'll find an array of cute little cafes, antique shops, and street vendors. This area also has an open-air flea market that's super fun during the weekend, with excellent prices for handmade goods. Have breakfast and coffee in this area while taking in the colorful scenery and culture.
Take a pasita shot!
Around the corner, you'll find the famous "Pasita" bar. Go in and have a pasita shot!
A pasita shot is a traditional aperitif shot served in the oldest cantina ( bar ) in Puebla, dating back to 1916. It's a mixed raisin liqueur with aged salty cheese at the bottom ... delicious!!
After, if you're up for a challenge, try a detergent shot! Yeah, you read right, a shot made with cleaning solution... but is detergent drinking a thing in Puebla? Well, not really. What happened was after the pasita shot, we ordered a different shot from the menu, and they were out of one of the ingredients, so they substituted it with fabuloso (the detergent). We saw
this happening and were curious as we couldn't believe it was actually fabuloso and we asked what it was. The bartender very casually said, "it's fabuloso; it tastes just like the liquor we are out of." A lot of emotions and thoughts went through my head in those first 10 seconds after his reply. Eventually, I opted to pass on the shot, but like a real trooper, Fernando had a go at it. Of course being a bartender he googled if it was safe to drink, and it turned out, it causes no harm in small quantities. He said the shot was ok, and that he probably won't drink anything with fabuloso in it ever again...
After cleansing your palate, cleanse your soul and visit the Puebla Cathedral, followed by the main zocalo just across the street. During the weekend, they have open-air-live performances that you can enjoy for free. Stroll around, and people watch. The zocalo is an ample common area space where locals hang out. Past the zocalo, cool off with some menjul-- Mexican mojitos at an open-air patio sitting restaurant; there are so many nearby with live local music. Some of these restaurants even offer happy hour!
A short walk away, you can find"La Capilla del Rosario" -- located in El Templo de Santo Domingo, this 17th-century church is completely gold plated! Hours: 10a-12:15p & 4:30p-6p
Ready for an epic sunset? Head on to "La Purificadora's" rooftop-- one of the best spots in Puebla to watch the sunset have a cocktail, take a swim in a heated pool overlooking the city, and fall in love... This hotel is also a great option if you're looking for accommodations with a pool! The vibe here is luxurious and upscale.
End the night seeking street food. Elote / Esquites is a must-try!
Favorite late night taco spots: El Patio de las Ranas & Tacos Beyrut.
-- end of day 5
Day 6 -- Half day trip to Cholula
Cholula is located only 32 minutes via car from Puebla City, making this the perfect half-day extension to your adventures in Puebla. Tour busses are leaving daily near the zocalo, or you can hire your own private driver to explore sites at your own pace. We highly recommend doing this, there's not much price difference, and you'd be supporting the local community. You can find these drivers hanging out next to the tour buses.
On our way to Cholula, we stopped on the highway to admire this beauty from afar, even though this would be our final destination."Nuestra Señora de los Remedios," a 16th-century catholic church built atop the Tlachihualtepetl pyramid -- the world's largest pyramid. It's all underground, but in size, it's even bigger than the one in Egypt! To make this church even more dramatic, check out the backdrop... it's still active glacier-clad stratovolcano Popocatepetl that last erupted April 3rd, 2016. It was a bit cloudy when we went, if you look at the top where the clouds end you can see its fuming tip and its massive structure below the clouds. Tour buses don't make this stop, so to catch this view, you're better off hiring a private car and asking nicely to please stop as this is not part of the tour.
Here are some of the stops your tour will include...
* You'll visit a handful of very unique churches and monasteries. Some have been damaged by recent earthquakes, so construction might be happening when you visit. Our guide was very informative and genuinely wanted to share his culture with us! We were so grateful and learned so much...
* You'll visit the underground pyramid Tlachihualtepetl -- the largest pyramid in the world...
*You'll roam around its vast land and meet local vendors while taking in some historical past...
* You'll climb pyramid ruins and make bird sounds by clapping your hands...
* You'll hike to the top and visit the famous "Iglesia Nuestra Señora de los Remedios"...
* You'll get to go in and say a little prayer while taking in a bird-eye view of this colorful city...
* You'll enjoy a refreshing local cacao drink on your way back to the center...
Hungry in Cholula? Check out Mercado de Cholula for a local market experience or Casa de Frida for a more relaxed / sit down meal. If skipping a meal while in Cholula, head back.
Once back in the center, check out our favorite local restaurant in all of Puebla Moyuelo -- a real, local gem! Have dinner there. Our favorites things to try:
*Cemitas de pork belly *Pulpo Al Carbon
*Chalupas de Camaron But in reality, you can't go wrong with anything you order there... Everything's so good, and the cocktails are to die for! Ask for Oscar, our favorite bartender, and the person responsible for us finding this fantastic place! Thanks again!!
-- end of day 6
Day 7 -- Travel day to Oaxaca
This will be a long travel day via bus, so make sure to get a goodnight's sleep and depart with a full belly. Enjoy your last breakfast in the zocalo or at a cute outdoor café near el barrio de los artists. When you're ready, head to the bus station and take an ADO bus to Oaxaca. Travel time is approximately 4 hours and 50 minutes, and the price ranges from $20-$35 depending on time and season. Where to stay: for a reasonable price and a centrally located place, we recommend Casona Oaxaca.
If you can splurge a bit (still within reasonable pricing), we recommend Hotel Los Amantes; they have an incredible rooftop and their own mezcal tasting bar... the cutest! After that long travel day, spend your night in the zocalo for live music, people watching, and happy hour (depending on arrival time ). Or if feeling fancy, treat yourself to some fine dining at Los Danzantes, a meal we still talk about months after our trip...
Fine dining at Los Danzantes --
We had 3 memorable fine dining experiences throughout our stay in Oaxaca that we'll add to our itinerary daily. Oaxaca became our favorite city for fine dining in Mexico! We highly recommend having dinner at Los Danzantes! Ask to be sited at their outdoor patio. The vibe here is casual, chic, and laid back in a very classy way...
-- end of day 7
Day 8 -- Day trip to Hierve el Agua
I know what you're thinking, another day trip? We were just sitting on a bus for 5 hours the day prior, and I want to explore Oaxaca before I leave... I promise you, we'll be back! The only reason I arranged this way was for the time. If you have an extra day to spare, then make this your off day, but if you're on the go like us, then day-tripping today to one of the only two petrified waterfalls in the world won't be that bad ... we promise ya! We arranged the day trip tour from our hotel.
Here's what we did on our tour:
* We stopped at a nearby town to see the oldest tree in the world.
* We got a chance to visit a small village in Oaxaca and learn traditional Oaxaca rug weaving, all naturally sourced...
My favorite part was seeing how they create colors for the dye out of parasites and flowers! The colors were so vibrant!
Deep reds, blues, yellows with no chemicals added, just the art of pulverizing, boiling, and blending ...
Every pattern has a story and represents something about the culture, location, and way of life. You can see mountains, waterfalls, and even birds local to the area if you look closely. One of these rugs can take from 3 weeks to 9 months to make! It all depends on size and design.
* We got to visit a tequila/mezcal distillery What's the difference between tequila and mezcal? Tequila can only be made from one agave plant (blue agave), while mezcal can be produced from any wild agave plant. We loved this part of the tour because we learned how mezcal is made and try so many different rare batches that are only sold locally! It takes 8 to 35 years for an agave plant to fully mature, so the process of tequila and mezcal making can be lengthy, especially when it's an aged one. Most mezcal is made in Oaxaca, and not all mezcal/tequila is exported... They keep the best batches in Mexico since it's hard to produce, making this a truly unique experience and a must!
* We went back in time and got to visit the archeological site of Mitla.
* & for our last stop, we got to hike and swim in Hierve el Agua, Visiting one of the only two natural petrified waterfalls in the world and swimming in mineral water infinity pools...no better way to end a day!
Back in town, end your day spoiling yourself with some fine dining at Casa Oaxaca. Tip: for the best view and tables, ask to be sited upstairs overlooking this beautiful city. Celebrating something special? let them know ahead of time and make a reservation. We were celebrating our 5th anniversary, and they got us the cutest candle and dessert... thanks, guys!
-- end of day 8
Day 9 -- Half-day in Oaxaca & Travel day back home... long day, but fun day!
Have breakfast in the main zocalo. Plaza de la Constitución is packed with outdoor seating restaurants overlooking the zocalo's main area. Live music is continuously being played here, and the ambiance is relaxed. Beware if eating outside as homeless people and local vendors will walk up to you non stop. We were lucky enough to catch a beautiful parade while in town, so this was perfect timing for us. Monthly celebrations are very common in Mexico, so be sure to check the calendar, so you catch one!
After breakfast, head over to Templo de Santo Domingo, a church and former monastery.
Here you'll find a sanctuary, courtyards, cloisters, and museum-like rooms filled with original Oaxacan artifacts and cultural/historical pieces overlooking an ethnobotanical garden.
After, head downstairs and roam around Oaxaca's Ethnobotanical Garden, where hundreds of live plant species, all native to Oaxaca, coexist. Tours are available at 10:00am - 12:00pm & 5:00pm. You need to book a tour to walk through the garden. Tours are automatically canceled if it's raining or about to rain that day. I recommended attending an earlier time if wanting to do this tour as rain is more common after 5.
For lunch, we're heading over to Origen, another favorite fine-dining spot!
Walk your food off people watching and cooling down eating a Nieve. There are so many flavors to choose from... Yum! and Huh? How is that a flavor?!
Nieves are traditional Oaxacan water and milk-based ice creams. Stalls selling this delicious treat can be found near the Basilica de la Soledad.
Walk around and get a little lost...Walking to our last spot ( a mezcal tasting place ) and unexpectedly finding a local art gallery... Aren't those the best moments? When you're walking around in a new city and discover little nooks that were not even on your list.. so go ahead and get a bit lost! Find something cool? share it with us in a comment below!
End your Mexican adventures with a mezcal tasting. Oaxaca's two great spots to have a tasting at are: Mezcaleria Los Amantes; also a great hotel to spend the night. If staying here, ask for the room with the private rooftop jacuzzi overlooking the city... worth the splurge! & Mezcaloteca; reservations are required via email. Only open after 5pm and closed on Sundays. From Oaxaca, we flew back to Mexico City and from there home to NYC.
Dear Mexico, you were terrific!