Mexico City is home to ancient civilisations, Spanish colonial heritage, rich food and a modern and vibrant cultural scene. My fiancé and I were keen to jump into what the city had to offer on a budget of £35 each per day. Here’s how we got on.
Day 1 - Getting our bearings in Mexico City
There’s no better place to start than the Zocalo (the main square), with its gigantic Mexican flag and the grand Metropolitan Cathedral - the largest cathedral in Latin America. Here we admired the gold gilded altars and jumbled architectural styles which are a consequence of it taking 240 years to build. All very impressive.
Next we took a short walk and stepped back in time to visit Templo Mayor, the ruins of an old Aztec temple. I was interested to learn that when the Spanish colonised they demolished the old Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City directly on top of it. Indeed the cathedral is built on top of the Aztec city’s main temple, Templo Mayor, and excavations mean you can now see part of it. We strolled around the raised walkways looking down on the old temple ruins and visited the museum which gave us further insights into Aztec culture in the old city. Being a closet nerd when it comes to ancient civilisations, I loved it.
Cost: Free for the cathedral. $160 MXN / £6.50 for entry to Templo Mayor.
Refreshments Mexican style
Now if there’s one thing Mexico does well, it’s street food and we found plenty of options in Mercado de la Merced, the main market, a short walk from the Zocalo. You can find everything from tacos and quesadillas to soups and tamales and it’s all cooked right before your eyes. We opted for chorizo quesadillas and topped them with fresh coriander and various spicy salsas from bowls made available to customers. Delicious! With full tummies we went on to explore more of the market before getting quite overwhelmed by the chaos and making for the exit!
Cost: $160 MXN / £6.50 for four quesadillas. Money well spent.
In search of refreshment we headed to the imposing revolution monument (Monumento de la Revolución) and to a rooftop bar called Arango. The bar turned out to be an upmarket restaurant (oops!), but it had incredible views of the monument so we stayed to enjoy a delicious cocktail featuring tequila and mezcal (a smoky mexican liquor). We were pleased to pay with our Starling card so that we could benefit from no fees overseas.
Cost: $300 MXN / £12. Pricey, but it was nice to be classy for an hour.
Now late afternoon, we decided to head to the Roma district to explore the area where our little rented apartment was. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the arty streets, including Alvaro Obregon Avenue, a wide leafy avenue full of bookshops and bars which had a lovely feel to it.
For dinner we had more street food - it is cheap, delicious and abundant. This time we ate in the Roma district and found a stall with some seating on a street corner. We had tacos with a few ice cold beers. Very refreshing.
Cost: $260 MXN / £10.50 for dinner.
Day 2 - Starting the day the Mexican way
In need of a hearty breakfast we headed to Mercado Medellin, a buzzing local market in the Roma district. We had what became my favourite Mexican breakfast: Chilaquiles. It consists of deep fried tortillas, refried beans, onions and cheese in a green or red sauce. Top tip: go with the tangy green sauce, it’s made of lime and tomatillos and is delicious.
Cost: $120 MXN / £4.90.
A morning of culture
With the sun shining we ventured to Bosque de Chapultepec, a huge park in the middle of the city. The park is divided into three sections and there’s something for everyone, including museums, a Spanish colonial castle from the 1800s, a boating lake and a zoo to name just a few. I was keen to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (that’s the National Anthropology museum to you and me), after getting a taste for ancient civilisations at Templo Mayor the day before, so we strolled through the park to get there.
The museum is huge and brings together artefacts from Mexico’s many ancient civilisations. Make sure you see the reconstruction of Mayan King Pakal’s tomb and his jade death mask as well as the huge Aztec sun stone found right in Mexico City’s main square during cathedral repairs. If modern Mexico is more your thing, head upstairs for displays on contemporary indigenous groups and their cultures. We didn’t make it this far though due to museum fatigue - it happens to the best of us.
Cost: $160 MXN / £6.50 for admission for two.
Upon leaving the museum we wanted to explore more of the park. After a couple of minutes we stumbled on a performance of Voladores de Papantla, a traditional dance intended to appease the gods and now performed for tips. We popped $10 MXN in the donation box before four men threw themselves backwards from the top of a 25 metre pole and began spinning slowly to the ground upside down to the sound of a small drum. Impressive, and slightly terrifying due to the bizarre looseness of the ropes around their waists that stop them from falling to the ground!
We picked up a snack from a vendor in the park. Tortilla crisps, with chilli sauce and fresh lime juice poured over the top. Very zingy and very messy to eat. Then we headed south past an impressive castle perched on top of a hill. Apparently very good for views of the city, but the queue to get in put us off. Next, a little time strolling around a wooded area before getting hungry for lunch.
Cost: $35 MXN / £1.40 for a snack and tips. Strolling was free.
For lunch we found a small local taqueria (a local cafe that specialises in tacos) and enjoyed traditional el pastor tacos, which featured pineapple infused pork.
Cost: $150 MXN / £6.00.
An artful afternoon
Next we headed to the upmarket Polanco district where Museo Jumex, a private collection of contemporary art, is located. The building itself is striking - cream coloured and reminiscent of an old factory building with a jagged triangular roof. We spent about 45 minutes here exercising our inner art critics before moving on. Top tip: if you prefer fine arts, head across the road to Museo Soumaya. We wandered over to take a look at the outside of the building which is architecturally impressive - to me it looked like a spaceship had landed.
Cost: $100 MXN / £4.00 for entry to Museo Jumex for two.
Evening entertainment - Mexican wrestling!
We were keen to go to Luche Libre (Mexican wrestling) which runs every Tuesday and Friday at the huge Arena Mexico. We took a taxi there as the neighbourhood doesn’t have the best reputation, but it felt safe and friendly at the arena when we arrived.
We planned to buy tickets on the door and after a short while queueing we snagged some good seats for $200 MXN / £8 in the lower circle. And then the madness began. The stadium was packed out with families, businessmen, tourists and grandmas, all of whom shouted, swore, cheered and heckled the masked wrestlers as they played out the well rehearsed acrobatic displays. Quite soon we found ourselves joining in and laughing along. Beer is served, in comically large cups with the rim dipped in gloopy tamarind and chilli, for $100 MXN / £4. We ordered a couple.
Cost: $600 MXN / £24 for entry and a couple of drinks - definitely worth it.
Transport and accomodation
Throughout our stay, we took the metro around the city which we found to be cheap and efficient, at just $5 MXN per journey. It’s a little dingy and we had read warnings about pickpockets so we were extra careful and happily didn’t encounter any issues.
Cost: $145 MXN / £7.70 for metro tickets and an uber to and from Luche Libre. Good value for two days of travel.
We stayed in Roma, as it’s known for being a vibrant area full of hipster cafes and bars. We managed to find a compact studio apartment on Airbnb for £35 per night, which was on the cheaper end of the scale, but nice nonetheless. The area is centrally located and gave us a great base to wander around in our free time, but we did find that the trendy cafes and restaurants were out of our price range - thank goodness for street food.
Cost: £70 for two nights, for two people.
Our total cost for two days in Mexico City was £160, that’s £5 each per day more than we’d hoped to spend. We’ll blame it on those fancy cocktails. With the money we spent we saw plenty of fascinating historical sites, ate lots of delicious food and enjoyed modern Mexican culture too. I’d certainly recommend a visit!