We're taking an Uber from our apartment in Condesa to El Centro Historico, which was once known as Tenochtitlan - the capital of the Aztec empire, to check out Zocalo, El Templo Mayor, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Mexico City's oldest municipal park, Alameda Central.
There was tons of traffic so our Uber ride took us 30 minutes and cost 120 pesos. For safety reasons, we're visiting during daylight hours and have tucked our belongings into the front, interior pockets of our clothing.
When we arrived all the streets leading to Zocalo square and El Templo Mayor were blocked off. There were tons of people and we couldn't seem to get through anywhere. We weren't sure what was going on and if we were about to get stuck in a protest. As this seemed like a potentially risky situation we wanted to move away quickly.
After weaving through some of the streets, we figured out what was happening. This was the day that president Joe Biden and prime minister Justin Trudeau were in town for a summit with Mexico's president Obrador. They were coming through El Centro Historico and everything was barricaded for security.
We decided to walk away from the Zocalo area, down Avenue 5 de Mayo towards the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Alameda Central park to see if things were better over there. The streets started to feel a bit less congested as we walked.
One the way we passed the House of Tiles or la Casa de los Azulejos. Which is a Baroque palace built in the 18th century and just cool to look at.
A block later, the Palacio de Bellas Artes came into view and it was amazing to see. I love the metallic domed roof and all of the sculptures surrounding the entrance. And the Alameda Central park, with it's wide walkways and fountains was a welcome break from all the noise in the surrounding area.
Looking back down Avenida 5 de Mayo, we saw the streets were still barricaded. We were still hopeful that the streets to Zocalo and the Templo Mayor would open up, so we went to Los Bisquetes Obregon, which is a Mexican restaurant chain of about 110 locations, for some lunch.
I ordered the Nopales with chicken. Chris ordered the chicken enchiladas, and Chris' dad, who was visiting us for a week, ordered the enchiladas suizas. The food was quite good and the service was friendly. Lunch for 3 people came to $389 pesos.
And guess what?
Coming out of the restaurant we saw the barricades getting taken down and being put into these rather intimidating looking trucks! We were finally able to get to the Templo Mayor! We checked it out from both the free walkway above the archeological site, as well as from the paid area.
The free raised walkway gives a good overview of the ruins and you can see most of the site from there.
The paid area includes walkways that take you right through the ancient ruins, as well as a museum at the end. Going through the paid area took us about 90 minutes. Click here for more info on the museum, entry fees, and hours.
The Templo Mayor is the largest temple built in this area. Its original size was smaller than the Pyramid of the Sun at the Teotihuacan archeological site about 50 km north of the city, but larger than the Greek Parthenon we visited last year.
El Templo Mayor was built in the center of the city of Tenochtitlan, which was the capital of the Aztec civilization. It was founded by the Mexica group of the Aztec people around 1300 AD. Tenochtitlan only existed for about 200 years and fell to Spanish conquerors led by Hernan Cortes in 1521 AD. Its location became the center of modern Mexico City.
El Templo Mayor was built in 7 stages over 2 centuries. The first stage built the most interior part of the temple and each Mexica ruler built on top of the previous stage to continue expanding it. As the new stages were built, the older stages become inaccessible.
Next we visited Zocalo square. We arrived around 4:50pm just in time to see the Mexican miliary take down the massive Mexican flag that flies on a giant flag post in the middle of the square. Taking down the flag each evening is a process that takes about 10 minutes. At the center of the flag is the Mexican coat of arms, which is based on the Aztec symbol for Tenochtitlan.
The coat of arms is an image of an eagle sitting on a cactus devouring a snake. This image represents the story of how the Aztecs decided where to establish their new city of Tenochtitlan. Zocalo square itself was originally made by the Tenochtitlan's to be their main ceremonial center and was kept post Spanish conquest as a political and ceremonial area.
And that's our day seeing the Palacio de Bellas Artes, El Templo Mayor, and Zocalo. As the traffic has now picked up even more, our Uber ride back to Condesa took over 45 minute and cost 200 pesos.
The ancient city of Teotihuacan was settled in 400 BC and grew to become the most powerful city in the region. Today, we can visit the ruins of the 2000 homes, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Sun, and the Pyramid of the Moon by walking along the 2 mile stretch of road known to the ancient people as the Avenue of the Dead.
The UNESCO world heritage site of Teotihuacan is about 50km north of Mexico City and can be visited by taking public transit, signing up for a tour, by a taxi or ride share app, or by driving. We decided to take an Uber for about $800 pesos.
When our Uber driver arrived, he offered to be our driver for the day. Because it can be difficult to get an Uber or bus leaving Teotihuacan back to Mexico City this time of year, he offered to take us to the archeological site, wait for 3 or 4 hours while we walked the grounds, then take us for lunch and drive us back to Mexico City. He told us the price for him to be our driver for the day would be $2000 pesos. We weren't totally sure if this was a good price, but it seemed reasonable enough, so we decided to go with it. Chris's dad was visiting us, so a tour for the 3 of us would have been over $200 CAD, and the Uber there and back would have been $1600 pesos anyways. For a similar price, we had a private driver for the day.
We left our Mexico City neighbourhood of Condesa around 7:15am on a Friday in January and we were dropped off at Teotihuacan's door #1 a little after 8am. Teotihuacan is over 2 miles long, so there are several entrances. We chose to be dropped off at door #1 near the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, so we could see that first, then walk through the site towards the Temple of the Moon at the other end. Our Uber driver would then pick us up at door #5 in a few hours. This meant that we would only have to walk one-way through the archeological site and be picked up on the other end. We would just need to send him a WhatsApp message when we're ready and he would meet us there.
We paid our entrance fees at door #1 and walked into the park. More info on the site and pricing is here
Our first stop was the Temple of Quetzalcoatl.
The steps up the temple are pretty steep, but lead us to higher viewpoints and into the interior part of the structure too! The Temple of Quetzalcoatl is also known at the Temple of the Plumed Snake. It was built almost 2000 years ago and decorated with carved snakes. The heads of many of these serpents are surrounded by a feather headdress which identifies them as representing Quetzalcoatl, while others are possibly crocodile heads, and likely representations of war.
From there we started towards the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.
Our walk to the two temples takes us down the creepily called, Avenue of the Dead and past the homes where the Teotihuacan's lived. It's estimated that the population of this major center peaked at over 200,000 people.
You used to be allowed to walk anywhere in the park, over all of the archeological features, but due to the popularity of the site and the erosion caused by so many visitors, Mexico is asking the 4.5 million people who visit the site annually to stay on the designated paths. Mexico is also working with The World Monuments Fund to put practices into place to better preserve the most visited archeological site in Mexico.
The origins of the Teotihuacan people are a mystery. There are some theories that the Mesoamerican city was founded by tribes who may have been forced to leave their homes in other parts of the continent due to volcanic eruptions, but nothing is known for sure. The reason for the disappearance of the Teotihuacan people is also unknown. The city thrived until at least 400 AD, but by the time the Aztecs arrived in the region 1000 years later, the city was empty. What happened to the Teotihuacans between 400 AD and 1400 AD is still a secret to be discovered.
Prior to our visit, I found it interesting that though the Pyramid of the Sun is the largest pyramid it is only located mid-way through the Avenue of the Dead and not in the more prominent position at the end of the avenue. But when I arrived at the Pyramid of the Sun, I read a possible explanation for this. The Pyramid of the Sun may not have worshiped the sun at all, but the water deity Tlaloc. So perhaps this pyramid might better be named, Pyramid of the Water, and it was located close to the canal in the center of the city.
Afterwards we headed past the vendors to our final pyramid of the day, the Pyramid of the Moon, or La Piramida de la Luna. The Pyramid of the Moon stands dramatically at the end of the Avenue of the Dead and has been calling to us since we started the walk earlier this morning. First it was far in the distance, and after several hours of exploring we were finally right up beside it, able to see all the details and hand-placed stones. As the pyramids are basically solid sand and rock inside, and not filled with empty spaces or rooms, the work involved to build up these 200 foot tall pyramids must have been tremendous.
Before leaving we spent about 15 minutes touring the small museum located behind the Pyramid of the Sun at door number 5. The museum shows some stomach-turning sacrificial human remains and some cool artifacts from the ancient site.
After touring the site for about 4 hours, we headed to get some food. And our goal was to have lunch in a cave! There are two cave restaurants near Teotihuacan, one is called La Gruta, or The Grotto, is more famous - and expensive - and the other, called La Cueva, or The Cave, is where we decided go, beased on our driver's recommendation. To get into the restaurant we really did need to walk through a cave! The menu had lots of variety and plenty of things I wouldn't normally eat, but I took a chance and tried something different - I ordered the quail dish!
And that was our day at the Teotihuacan archeological site near Mexico City, walking down the Avenue of the Dead to explore the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Sun, and the Pyramid of the Moon.
The brightly coloured boats and high-energy, fun atmosphere of Xochimilco make the trek out to the south part of Mexico City worth while.
The boats, or trajineras, that float through the canals of Xochimilco are available for rent any day of the week, but if you're looking for an entertaining, fiesta-style atmosphere, it's best to go on the weekends.
We called an Uber from our apartment in Condesa around 1pm on a Sunday and arrived at the Xochimilco canals about 45 minutes later. The driver dropped us off right at Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas Xochimilco. The cost for the Uber was 300 pesos.
For safety reasons, we visited Xochimilco during daylight hours and stayed close to the pier.
When we arrived there were tons of boats available for rent, which was pretty amazing given how many boats were already on the canal, and people were offering us trips right on the spot. We had already booked our boat online though, so we didn't have to worry about bargaining. Larger tour operators also operate group trips, that include transportation, food, and tequila tastings, but we wanted to explore on our own.
If you are going to purchase a ride directly from one of the vendors on the pier, know that there are maximum prices they are allowed to charge you. At the time we went, the max price was 600 pesos per hour, and we paid less than that. Our cost was 450 pesos per hour. We booked a 2 hour ride for a total of 900 pesos. That's the price per boat, not per person. It doesn't matter if you go solo or if you put up to 18 people on the boat - the price per hour is the same.
You can bring any pre-purchased food and drinks you want on the boat, and there are also lots of vendors selling stuff.
If you're celebrating something, you can also plan to get your boat painted and decorated ahead of time. Otherwise, like us, you get a boat that had been painted for a previous group. The boat operator we booked from, Embarcadero Las Flores Nativas, was located all the way at the other end of the pier, so we had to walk through the market to get there. Once we arrived, we paid them in cash and boarded the boat pretty much right away.
There were so many boats on the canal! It was amazing! There were tons of boats with families having Sunday afternoon parties, smaller groups of people enjoying lunch, and couples who had rented a boat just for themselves. And vendors floated by on their own, smaller boats selling everything from flower crowns, to palomas, to grilled corn. You could even get a boat with a mariachi band to serenade you. All these vendors contribute to this super fun atmosphere, so don't forget to buy a thing or two, even if you've brought your own stuff on board.
If you are having a few drinks, don't worry, there are lots of bathrooms along the canal that you can ask your driver to stop at. Don't forget to bring some change as a bathroom visit is usually about 5 pesos.
Down the canal, past the beautiful flower gardens, we pulled over at the Ajolotario to learn more about the Ajolotes, also known as "axolotl", which are similar to salamanders. We paid 50 pesos a person to enter this area to learn more about the ajolotes and the history or the area.
100 years ago, the canal was primarily used for transportation, but now with all the pollution and invasive tilapia fish in the canal, the ajolotes are endangered. Today, those who live along the canal still use boats for transportation and work, and there are several along the route we were on that were used as ferries.
Let's get back to the party. This family strung three boats together! This group is celebrating an engagement. And many people are just like us, sitting back on a boat and taking in this super fun and colourful atmosphere. And that's our day on a trajinera along the beautiful, flower filled, energetic canals of Xochimilco.
Mexico City Surprised Us! Here are 10 Things to do in CDMX:
We've been in Mexico City for the last month and it's not at all like what we expected. Though I really wanted to see Mexico City and experience its art and culture, I was also kind of afraid to come. I had heard so many negative and frightening things that made me re-think my decision to book a flight here.
But Mexico City is absolutely amazing! I expected some big, scary, concrete city but instead we walked down lush tree-lined streets filled with shops and restaurants, met kind and helpful people, and ate delicious food. Our neighbourhood of Condesa is beautiful and I feel very safe walking around by myself during the day.
There are so many taco places and a huge range of restaurant pricing options. We could eat street food for with filing portions for just a couple of dollars all the way to to much more expensive, higher-end dining.
About a 20 minute and less than $10 Uber ride away from our neighbourhood of Condesa is the historic centre. It's full of cobblestone streets, ancient ruins, and shopping districts. I really loved being able to see the foundations of the thousand year old Templo Mayor.
At the center of the historic center is Zocalo square. I love all the older structures around the square, including the cathedral and National Palace, and the giant Mexican flag that flies in the middle of the square. And just down the Avenida Cinco de Mayo is the Palacio De Bellas Artes, or Fine Arts Palace. We were lucky enough to be able to go inside to see the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, with its stunning stage curtain made from a million pieces of iridescent coloured glass.
And Mexico City isn't just about ancient ruins and history. If you want to switch things up and be part of a high-energy Mexican party on the weekend, you just need to get on a colourful trajineras, or boat, on the canals of Xochimilco.
I loved our time here and being able to just walk around the different neighbourhoods and explore everything that Mexico City has to offer.
Mexico City has so many fantastic places to eat! Just like in many metropolitan cities, there is a wide range of delicious food choices here. These are some of the places we really liked:
Welcome to Tepoztlan, a charming town located just a short drive from Mexico City. With its rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking scenery, Tepoztlan is the perfect destination for any traveler looking for a unique and unforgettable experience.
Tepoztlan has everything you look for in a weekend destination, including a beautiful hike to a pyramid, a bustling market, a cute cobble-stoned main street, great food and restaurant choices, and spas to relax in.
When we arrived, it was only 10:30 in the morning, but our hotel let us check into our room early.
One of the must-visit attractions in Tepoztlan is the Tepozteco Pyramid. This ancient Aztec ruin is located on a hill overlooking the town and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside. And to reach the top, you'll have to tackle a steep and rocky trail, but the journey is well worth it.
Before getting to the official start of the trailhead, you walk through the town, past lots of fun looking stalls selling drinks to either prepare you for your trek or celebrate when you're done.
The trail to the top of the pyramid is well-maintained but challenging, with steep stairs and switchbacks. Along the way, you'll see stunning views of the surrounding mountains, lush vegetation, and beautiful rock formations. And lots and lots of stairs. And some flat parts - but mostly stairs.
After about an hour of climbing, we finally reached the top! To get the full views of the town below, we needed to go to the pyramid around the corner. And that costs 90 pesos a person. Its a good thing we had some cash on us too, cause otherwise we would be turned away on the last 30 meters of our hike.
You can admire the views of the town below from the base of the pyramid, or you can climb some very steep steps up the pyramid, and get the view from a slightly higher vantage point. From here you can see for miles and take in the sheer scale of the scenery. It's a perfect place to snap some photos and take in the beauty of Tepoztlan.
With our hike done, it was time to find a spot for lunch.
I liked the look of Avenida 55 on the main street, with them baking up these delicious looking tortillas and itacates right out front. We tried the itacates filled with Oaxaca cheese and flor de calabaza, or pumpkin flower. They were delicious!
In the later afternoon, I enjoyed an excellent massage at the spa next to our hotel for only $50 for 90 minutes. Then we were already hungry for dinner! We at some delicious empenadas on a balcony of a nearby restaurant, then it was time to go to bed so we could tackle the Tepoztlan market the next day.
The market is a great place to get a taste of daily life in Tepoztlan and experience the town's rich culture and history. And on Saturdays the market spills out into the streets.
We can't buy any goods as things won't fit into our backpacks, but we can definitely be tempted by the food. The market offers a variety of traditional Mexican dishes for you to try, from tacos and fresh veggies to tamales wrapped in corn husks. Though some things, like these little insects, may not be for us.
And that concludes our tour of Tepoztlan, one of Mexico's Magical Pueblos! If you're thinking of visiting Tepoztlan here are a few things that were useful for us:
Our month in Mexico City has gone by so quickly. Though we chose this lifestyle of long-term travel and moving around to different places, saying goodbye to our home for the last month is never easy. Mexico City surprised us with its warmth and great energy. We're leaving with so many wonderful memories of walking around El Centro Historico, Zocalo and El Templo Mayor, seeing the stunning million-piece iridescent glass curtain and the ballet at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, getting on a trajinera to join the floating party on the canals of Xochimilco, visiting the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan, having Chris's dad visit us for a week, eating tamales on February 2, walking around all the beautiful parks and tree-lined streets, attending a local trivia night, discovering new foods that we now love, and travelling to the Pueblo Magico of Tepoztlan.
I'm definitely sad to be leaving here, but I'm also looking forward to heading even further south to discover new places and ways of life.