Musings about early retirement with no fixed address

Falling In Love With Mexico City

It’s hard to overstate just how fantastic Mexico City is. The enormous Mexican capital has so much to offer. There are enough things to see and do that even after staying 9 weeks, we still left without crossing everything off our list. It’s the largest city in North America, but it’s not a concrete jungle. Full of great parks, large trees, abundant museums, historic churches, and distinct neighborhoods, it’s easily one of the best cities we’ve visited. We both fell in love with Mexico City.

The most surprising part to me was just how many green spaces Mexico City has. We knew about the enormous Chapultepec Park prior to visiting, but there were so many more. Every neighborhood has multiple parks spread throughout. Many areas also have boulevards with shaded paths that make it feel more like you’re in the middle of a jungle instead of the high desert metropolis. It’s really remarkable how green this megacity is and how much those parks and giant old trees help create a pleasant living experience.

What We Did

We found it almost impossible to be bored in Mexico City. There are so many museums, and we made it to 18 in total. We attended live sporting events for the two most popular sports: soccer and wrestling. We visited a number of historical ruins, including the giant pyramids of Teotihuacan. Every weekend featured pop up flea markets and art fairs. Day of the Dead and Independence Day celebrations spiced things up too. In fact, this is by far the longest post I’ve ever written, and I’m still not going to cover everything we did. 

Museo Franz Meyer

The Franz Meyer Museum had one of the best temporary displays that I’ve seen in a while, featuring the iconic photography of Steve McCurry. (Which I wrote about here.) But they also featured entries to the World Press Photo of the Year contest, which was quite moving as well. There were a lot of raw and emotional photos on display that day. Between the two exhibits, it really hammered home the power of photography and its ability to capture the human condition. In addition, they had a permanent collection of some very intricate antique furniture, many ornate religious relics, and had a really great courtyard.

One of the eye opening photos from the World Press Photo contest
The World Press Photos were displayed around the outside walls of this courtyard

Museo Nacional De Arte

Located in an old historic building, the National Museum of Art is worth seeing as much for the structure as the art displays. It has great stone pillars, antique iron railings, and a really nice courtyard. I thought the permanent collection was good, but the temporary exhibit we saw featuring Rodrigo Pimentel was even better. His use of vivid colors was quite enchanting. 

Tsunami by Rodrigo Pimentel
A Pleno Sol (Full Sun) by Rodrigo Pimentel

Museo Soumaya

One of the largest art museums we saw was the Soumaya Museum. Its modern design makes it one of the most unique buildings in the city. Completely free to visit, it’s funded by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and features works from famous Mexican artists along with many European masters. The collection is quite diverse and offers something for all tastes. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular.

The Father of the First Victim of the Cananea Strike – David Alfaro Siqueiros
A collection of 9 paintings by Renoir
The top floor is wide open and features almost all sculptures, about 2/3rds of which were by Auguste Rodin

Museo de Arte Moderno 

The Modern Art Museum is a fun museum featuring many pieces from famous Mexican painters like David Alfaro Siqueiros or Dr. Atl, both of which we saw numerous pieces from and really enjoyed. The museum is a nice mix of experimental art and more traditional stuff. The most notable painting we saw was the Two Fridas, by Frida Kahlo. That was the only Kahlo they had on display, but it made a strong impression.

Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo
Parícutin by Dr. Atl

Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México

In the heart of downtown is the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral. Officially named the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, I can state with confidence that it lives up to its handle. This large church is very impressive and almost no detail was overlooked. My favorite part was probably the organ, which is the biggest one I’ve ever seen. I would’ve loved to hear it in action. They also had a shrine to Judas, which surprised me as I’ve been in a lot of churches during our travels but had never seen one of those before.

The Cathedral from across Zócalo square
That’s a good lookin’ organ

Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe

On the north side of the city is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This expansive compound dedicated to the Virgin Mary features a modern worship facility, multiple historic cathedrals, and grounds that include water features, gardens, an ancient clock, and even a helicopter landing pad. The manicured gardens were great and had many small lizards inhabiting them. While we enjoyed all of the churches and gardens, the best part was climbing to the top of the hill for impressive city views. This was a really fun place to spend half a day.

Museo Frida Kahlo

The only museum we visited that required advanced reservations was the Frida Kahlo house. The residence where she and Diego Rivera lived for many years is now a museum dedicated to sharing extensive stories of her history. If you are interested in the life of Frida Kahlo and all of the hardships that she had to overcome in order to become one of Mexico’s most prominent artists, this is a great place to learn about her in detail. But unfortunately, there just wasn’t much of her actual artwork on display. Of the pieces they did have, most were early career works that were portraits of her family that felt like they could’ve been painted by anyone.

Self Portrait by Frida Kahlo
Part of the workshop
Decorated torso casts

In fact, if I had one disappointment about Mexico City, it’s that despite all the museums we visited during our stay, we only saw a handful of pieces from Kahlo. We learned that most of her famous paintings were not on display anywhere. They were previously part of the Dolores Olmedo Museum, which closed permanently in 2020. That museum featured 25 Frida Kahlos, which is way more than we saw among all open museums combined. The collection is not lost though. It’s apparently being moved to a new museum in Chapultepec park that is scheduled to be open sometime in 2024.

Museo Anahuacalli

Included in the ticket price of the Frida Kahlo House is entrance to the Anahuacalli Museum. Founded by Diego Rivera, it showcases pre-Hispanic works of local indigenous peoples. This museum was probably the nicest surprise that we had during our stay. The art is mostly statues and pottery, which is not normally our favorite medium. But the building housing the collection was absolutely incredible. It’s made from local volcanic rock and has stone based murals on many of the floors and ceilings. Visiting just for the building alone would be worth it as it’s very impressive. 

Ceilings and floors had great stonework throughout

Parque Ecológico Huayamilpas

If you’re making the trek south of downtown to the Anahuacalli Museum, it’s worth checking out the Huayamilpas Ecological Park a couple of blocks over. It has a very nice natural area with a plethora of impressive cacti. Most of the parks in the city are pretty well manicured, but this one is meant to be wild, so it’s a nice change. The walking paths are both paved and unpaved, so it’s easy to squeeze in a little urban hiking. Many of them pass by interesting sculptures and some large metal observation decks. It’s also a parrot hangout, so they provide some extra entertainment.

Giant snake sculpture with additional decoration

The Metro

To get everywhere, we took the Metro. Mexico City’s subway system is world class and one of the best we’ve ever experienced. (Only Vienna would fight it for the top spot.) It’s clean, fast, and ridiculously cheap at only 5 pesos per ride (~$.30 USD), which includes unlimited transfers. The trains run with such frequency that I think the longest we ever waited for one to arrive was about 3 minutes. 

Even still, rush hour can still get extremely crowded since it’s the main method of transportation for most people. But it felt like the riders were almost universally respectful, no matter how many people were waiting to jam into a car. To make sure that everyone can ride comfortably, trains even offer a few cars that are designated women-only. It’s definitely the best way to get around.

National Park Cerro de la Estrella

The Metro is so extensive, it’s even possible to take it to a national park, which we did. The National Park Cerro de la Estrella (Star Hill) is in the southeast section of the city. The park is a little rundown and wouldn’t earn a national park title in the US, but it does offer a pretty nice view of the city after a decent hike. We saw a handful of other hikers and a couple of bikers on the paved roads, but mostly we had the place to ourselves. It took us about two hours to climb from the nearest subway stop to the top, going uphill almost the whole way. The hiking trails weren’t signed, but Google Maps worked quite well. And of course if we were climbing, we knew we were headed in the right direction. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon and get some exercise. If you go, make sure to bring plenty of water as there are no services or shops in the park.

I made it to the top!

Chapultepec Park

Maybe surprisingly, the national park is not the biggest park in Mexico City. Not even close. That title is held by the Chapultepec Park. Featuring multiple museums, a zoo, cemetery, and all sorts of activity, this park is definitely a popular hangout spot. But with so much space, it’s also fairly easy to feel at least somewhat removed from the other 9 million people in the city, especially outside of the main areas. 

An egret hunting in the creek

Castillo de Chapultepec

Built on the high point in Chapultepec Park, the Chapultepec Castle is definitely worth a visit. It has lots of art on display, including some very impressive and absolutely massive murals from David Alfaro Siqueiros. They were easily the highlight to me, but there is also a lot of ornate jewelry and other ceremonial items once owned by the Spanish royals prior to independence. And being a castle, there are also plenty of fancy rooms with weapons, tapestries, portraits, and other fun stuff.

Part of a giant mural by Siqueiros. Random kid for scale.
Part of another large Siqueiros mural

Museo Nacional de Antropología

One of the most popular museums in the city is the National Anthropology Museum. Also located in Chapultepec Park, this vast and extremely well done museum covers an extensive timeline of all of the people that have lived in Mexico throughout history. It has a deep focus on civilization in the Valley of Mexico (where Mexico City is located), including the Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Aztec peoples. In fact, it’s so extensive that we spent 3 hours there and only made it about halfway through. We’ll have to save the second half for another trip.

A couple of giant stone calendar wheels

Teotihuacan Pyramides

We took a day trip to see the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan, and I wrote a full post about it here. If you’re interested in both the Anthropology Museum and visiting Teotihuacan, I would recommend visiting Teotihuacan first if possible. That will give you a good base from which to digest all of the extensive information in the Anthropology museum. If you’re choosing between one or the other, the actual site of Teotihuacan is better as its massive scale and impressive pyramids make for a wonderful in person experience.

Local Art Fairs

We found three different parks that featured weekend art festivals filled with local artists plying their wares. All were great and very fun to browse. The largest was in the San Angel neighborhood at the Plaza San Jacinto. It takes place every Saturday. It’s become so popular that the artists have expanded beyond the original park to include two others nearby.

The entrance to Plaza San Jacinto

The next largest art show was in the Jardin del Arte Sullivan. This Sunday market features a lot of different artists and also has many art supply sellers. The park has a bunch of large trees and features a really nice skate park, so if you get tired of looking at art, you can gawk at young people trying to break their bones for a while. Both are enjoyable ways to spend a Sunday afternoon in my opinion.

The smallest art festival, and also the one we visited the most, was in the center of the Coyoacán neighborhood where we stayed. They have art in Jardin Allende on both Saturdays and Sundays. Despite the smaller space, it’s packed full of art. We even bought a small piece. The park is right across the street from the lively Coyoacán market too, where they have tons of vendors selling clothing, trinkets, produce, and prepared foods. 

Lucha Libre Wrestling

Lucha Libre is a staple of Mexican sporting events and especially popular in Mexico City. The luchadores wrestle at least 4 nights a week in different venues, so it’s easy to find a match. Attending this performance was a blast and I would recommend it to everyone. One of the main reasons it’s so fun is that the crowd is seriously into it. From the opening bell, they are hooting and hollering, whistling and yelling, cheering and jeering almost non-stop. There’s very little break in the action during the two hour event.

At first I thought it was going to be a little dumb, as the opening match began a little slow, with two guys doing obvious fake wrestling moves that were not that exciting. But by the end of that match, one of them had gone off the top ropes outside of the ring, lost at least one tooth, shook off the team of 3 medics that came to look at him, and managed to finish the match while leaving a couple of pools of blood around the ring. Now we’re talking!

It carried on in a similar fashion from there. Well, no one else got seriously injured that I saw, but there were plenty of high flying and dangerous stunts. And everyone in the crowd ate it up, including us. 

Cruz Azul Fútbol

We also went to a professional soccer match between the Cruz Azul and León fútbol clubs. This felt a bit like going to an Oakland A’s game, as the stadium was 10% full at most. That didn’t mean it was quiet though. Our seats were in the upper deck and just a couple of sections over from the Official Cheering Section™. About 10 minutes before game time, this section went from empty to mostly full as the entire group marched in together. As soon as the game started, these fans began singing, chanting, and waving flags. Aside from halftime, they didn’t stop. I don’t think a single one of them sat down the entire time. In addition to the fans, the level of play on the field seemed pretty solid, so we enjoyed the experience. Plus the home team won, so it’s tough to beat that.

Our view from the cheap seats. Not bad.
Waving the Cruz Azul (blue cross) flags, singing, chanting, and raising a ruckus for the home team
The whole section to ourselves. Olé!

Día de Muertos

Our visit coincided with the Day of the Dead, when Mexicans celebrate and honor their ancestors. This is done by erecting shrines throughout the city, usually with offerings of food and drinks that were preferred by the honorees. Larger scale exhibits happen in just about every neighborhood as well. Almost all of them use the marigold flower as a central part of the theme, and potted marigolds pop up for sale on multiple street corners leading up to the holiday. It was very interesting seeing all of the tributes, both large and small, public and private, that took place throughout the city.

Marigold petals make up the entire floor of the display
A pop up neighborhood flower vendor

New Dental Techniques

Katie and I each had some extra dental work done during our visit. It turns out that the dentist we chose handles cavities a bit differently than we were used to. Neither of us received any numbing agents during our fillings. Sounds horrible, right? Surprisingly, we didn’t feel any pain during the procedures. The dentist was very careful to avoid the nerve and only remove the decayed parts of the tooth. Apparently it’s not necessary to be numb if the dentist is deliberate. The main drawback of this technique is that it’s exceedingly slow. It took about 2 hours to have 2 cavities filled. But the only pain I felt was in my jaw from keeping my mouth open for so long. The next day, there was zero tooth soreness at all. It was an interesting experience and something I didn’t know was even possible. 

Air Quality

Mexico City has a reputation for having poor air quality, but we found it to be mostly okay. Many days were a bit hazy, but the AQI reading never got above 100 during our stay. It also never fell below 70. So while the air wasn’t amazing, it was also never bad. There are still a few too many trucks and buses with bad exhaust, but the massive number of parks and the extensive metro system help avoid a lot of that.

Where We Stayed

We rented a one bedroom apartment in the Coyoacán neighborhood, which is Frida Kahlo’s old stomping grounds. The neighborhood itself was really nice. Located on the south side of the city, we were a bit removed from some of the hustle and bustle, but only a short train ride away from being right downtown when we wanted to be.

The apartment we rented is the type of Airbnb that I love to find. We were part of a compound that included a couple of apartments attached to the main house. Included were two canine residents, Jacinta and Pancho. They hung out in the courtyard and would greet us as we came and went. After about the first week, Pancho decided that he wanted to become better friends. He started visiting our apartment for hours at a time most evenings, just hanging out and sleeping under our coffee table. (I’m sure Jacinta would’ve as well, but she couldn’t climb our stairs.) We really enjoyed having a little buddy for a couple of months and things couldn’t have worked out better in that regard.

Pancho and Jacinta

What We Spent

We stayed in Mexico City for 63 nights during which we spent $6229. That number is inflated by the almost $1000 that we spent at the dentist, so day to day living expenses are a little cheaper than that. But it definitely cost us more than other Mexico stops as we were always off doing something. I’m happy to spend money when it comes with so much fun. Adding in our recurring expenses like mail service and health insurance bring the grand total amount to $6721.50 or $107/day.

Overall we really loved our stay in Mexico City. It’s just such a vibrant city with tons of activity, yet it’s full of green spaces that offer a break when needed. The Metro is top notch and there are just so many museums. I made it through this whole post without even mentioning the food, but we ate really well. The people are almost universally friendly and helpful, and we felt right at home almost immediately. We will almost certainly return.


  1. Jason Hull

    We are heading to Mexico City for the first time in three weeks, so this report came at a very auspicious time! We’re staying in Condesa very near the Chapultepec stop and are looking forward to lots of walks in the park. We’re also going to the dentist, but, admittedly, I don’t know that I’d have the bravery or patience that you had to do it without a numbing agent.

    • Eric

      Hi Jason,
      The dentist thing actually worked out pretty well. Don’t be afraid! I hope you guys have as much fun as we did.

  2. Ryan

    Great post and thanks – we are planning to go there at some point.. soooo were you satisfied at nine weeks with the experience despite not seeing everything orrrrrr would you have wanted to stay longer..?

    Side note – do you guys also speak Spanish, and if not – how hard was it to function in English?

    Thanks again!

    • Eric

      Hi Ryan,
      We could’ve easily stayed longer. There was just so much going on, and the city is so vast, we never ran out of things to do. Our Spanish is not great, but we can ask for and understand basic things like greetings, numbers, and food. It’s the listening part that’s much harder. But unlike most big cities, people are patient and friendly. With the help of contextual clues and Google translate we did just fine.

  3. Prashant

    Surprised how expensive the Airbnb was! Visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacan is on my list of things to do. Saw a traveling exhibit a few years ago, very similar to your pictures at the National Anthropology Museum, and I was just blown away.

    Talking of traveling exhibits, the best collection of Frida paintings I ever saw was a special exhibit in Phoenix at the Heard Museum several years ago. Maybe 30 or so of some of the most famous works of art by her and Diego, pieces I had only previously seen in books and documentaries. Surprised and disappointed to hear that the pickings were so slim in Mexico City.

    • Eric

      Hi Prashant,
      Mexico actually adds some hefty taxes to all of their Airbnb bookings, so ~20% of the amount we paid went towards that. If I subtract out the taxes, we were at about $42/night. That may be a small premium above what we would normally spend, but for a place with canine companions I think it was worth it. 🙂 And yeah, the lack of Kahlo paintings on display was a bit disappointing, but I guess we have a ready made excuse to return sooner than later.

  4. Glenda lehman

    Lots of enjoyment found in Mexico City!
    So many things. I loved the green areas to help cover up desert. The museum’s filled with a great variety. The bright colors they use. I will have to research why Marigolds for the Day of the Dead?? It is an easy grower. The Dentist visit is regretted by all but at least you could enjoy the different methods used and now pray it was a long range fix and not something that comes back to haunt. The wrestling match, and athletic games all good.

    Again thanks for sharing.
    Aunt Glenda

    • Eric

      Hi Glenda,
      We did have lots of fun. Even the dentist wasn’t too bad. Thanks for reading.

  5. Heather

    Have you visited the Yucatán or Quintanaroo areas of Mexico, and if so, how does it compare?

    I just visited there and didn’t enjoy it 🙁 I’ve heard some say if you’re too well traveled, it isn’t enjoyable, but i found the persistent street sellers really degraded the experience, plus I was surprised the food wasn’t that great. We ate out for every meal hoping we’d find something better, but were largely disappointed.

    It sorta killed my desire to visit Mexico City, but I know little about it.

    Thanks and awesome blog!

    • Eric

      Hi Heather,
      Prior to retirement, we had vacationed in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. We also visited a few spots on the Pacific coast as well. I think we enjoy the center a lot more. The weather is better and it doesn’t feel like you’re a walking dollar sign like it does sometimes in the super touristy beach areas. Mexico City is definitely way better in that respect.

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