My trip to Mexico was a very random choice and I literally booked it three weeks before. It was exactly on the 27th of December – a very important day on my calendar because it’s my birthday. I spent the whole day travelling to work in Sweden getting messages from everyone wishing me a wonderful day. Yeah… car, train, metro, plane, bus… the day was truly amazing. So when I reached the destination I poured myself a celebratory drink and I wished myself happy birthday. “I wish myself more travels!” And then I used the hotel computer to look into cheap flights wherever. After a couple of hours I was typing in details from my credit card. The best deal I found was a return flight from London to Mexico City (500 GBP).
Being at home and hearing everyone around saying how dangerous it is in this part of the world was making me want to put tapes on their mouths. Shhhh…. I’m gonna go anyway. I got in touch with one my friends whom I met on one of the European trips that I led three years ago. It turned out that I could have crashed at her parents’ house for as long as I needed to. Perfect. First four days in Mexico with a real Mexican family and a chance to catch up with my friend. It was also a chance to brush up on my almost non-existing Spanish so I could communicate a bit with my friend’s parents and the local people. Having a good base in French and Italian it was much easier than I was expecting.
Mexico City – CDMX
I started my adventure in the capital, Mexico City – the agglomeration of around 21 mln inhabitants which is the second largest metropolitan area of the Western hemisphere, behind New York City and the tenth largest agglomeration in the world. I landed very early in the morning around 5am. My friend couldn’t have come to the airport because of work but she sent her parents instead. They were waiting with a sign with my name just outside the arrival hall. After over an hour drive, once we got to the house, the first thing I did was to go to sleep. I know, very exciting.
For the first three days I didn’t feel too well and was constantly tired. I was blaming it all on being jet-lagged but as it turned out it wasn’t the only reason. Mexico City is situated 2250 m above the sea level therefore the altitude sickness is something very common for those who are not used to it.
Having my friend Jeny around was amazing. She took a couple of days off from work to show me around. We drove to the city centre, or how they say it to ‘downtown’, a few times to do some sightseeing. It is the oldest capital in the Americas and as you can imagine has a lot of history to offer. In the middle of the city there is a historic centre with Aztec Ruins and it has a great museum related to the Aztec culture. The building which in my opinion was the most beautiful was the Palacio de Bellas Artes which is a prominent cultural centre in Mexico City. It has hosted some of the most notable events in music, dance, theatre, opera and literature and has held important exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography. In front of it, there is a big shopping centre where you can go to the 6th floor and sit in the cafe having an amazing view over the Palace. Just next to it, and you can’t miss it is the Torre Latino – a skyscraper in Mexico City (188m height). Its central location and history make it one of the city’s most important landmarks where for the cost of 100 pesos you will also have a fantastic view over the city. Admission includes access to an on-site museum that chronicles Mexico City’s history. Few minutes walk towards the Old Town and you will find a square with Mexico City cathedral. It’s free to get in and inside you will have a little surprise in a form of the biggest baby Jesus in the world… I know… I asked one of the workers “why” and she said it was one of the attractions. I took a photo and moved on. For those who are interested in more spiritual attractions, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an interesting place. The shrine was built near the hill of Tepeyac where The Lady of Guadalupe is believed to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. It has several churches and related buildings.
For anyone who is looking for a good area with bars and restaurants, the Central Business District would be a good choice.
We also did half day trips to places around the city. One of them was Xochimilco – which could be easily called the Mexican Little Venice. Xochimilco is characterized by a system of canals, which measure about a total of 170 m2. You can take a local colourful boat called ‘trajinera’ and a have peaceful ride far away from the crazy traffic of Mexico City.
Another trip was to Teotihuacan which is an ancient Mesoamerican city located 40 kilometres Northeast of modern-day Mexico City, known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. This is the place where you have to go and see. I’ve seen quite a few temples and ruins in Mexico and these were my favourite.
From Mexico City I had a flight to Cancun at a very precise time 9:12am. And to my surprise we left pretty much on time. Well done. The flight took around two hours. I had a transfer to the city booked together with my Volaris flight. The problem was where to drop me as I wasn’t staying in any of the hotels and just wanted to get to the city centre. The language barrier at the pick-up point turned out to be a big problem. When they dropped me at some hotel I went to look for Wi-Fi as I had a friend waiting for me… somewhere in Cancun. Eventually I got in touch and after 20 minutes I was standing next to Francisco who looked after with me when I was in Cancun. We met around 12 years ago so we had a lot to talk about.
My friend had to go to work so after familiarising me with the local transport and places to go I went on my own little adventures. First day I spent in the Hotel Zone. It is an area with beaches and a lot of restaurants and bars. Very touristy place but also safe. Another day I went to a nearby island called Isla Mujeres. It costs 19 USD for the return ticket on the speedboat and it is a great excursion. I rented a scooter for 2 hours and circled the island. On the island you can go to the most Eastern Point of Mexico so obviously I took quite a few photos there. They also have a really nice beach and a few good restaurants around. My last day in Cancun I decided to stay in and have a rest after quite an intensive week. On the last evening my friend Francisco and his friend Javier took me for some Mexican buffet-style dinner in the City Centre.
Playa del Carmen
It was time to move to another place. I used ADO buses to get to Playa del Carmen. I really liked the place and stayed there for four nights. Playa has a really nice beach where I was spending my days reading a book and having a well-deserved break. In Playa the most famous is the 5th Avenue which I walked every day however never stopped there for dinner. It’s a proper touristy trap and if you look for anything more authentic I recommend any of the side streets. Nevertheless, I must admit that one evening I went to the most touristy restaurant I could think of – Senor Frog. It is a popular chain with restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. You are pretty much surrounded by it wherever you go. After two weeks my curiosity reached my limits and I went there for dinner. To be honest the food was exactly as I thought. Expensive and not that great.
For those who are looking for some evening entertainment for sure you will find it on the main street and beaches. However if you are looking for some adult entertainment you are also in the right place. I’ve decided not to describe it here so if you are keen to go then let me know and I will tell you all about it 🙂
One of the days I spent on Cozumel Island and I recommend it to everyone. I rented a scooter for the whole day for 400 pesos and I cruised around the island. I stopped at Paradise Beach for 3 hours, where for 3 USD entry you can use sunbeds, facilities and have access to bars and restaurants. Perfect place for some rest.
The last two days I spent in Tulum. It is a resort town on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, around 130 km south of Cancún. The 13th-century, walled Mayan archaeological site at Tulum National Park overlooks the sea. It costs 70 pesos to get in and it is a good place to learn more about the Mayans. You can go down to the little beach near the site and have a swim overlooking the ruins. Amazing. Tulum has also beautiful beaches few hundreds meters away from the ruins and they are full of bars, restaurants and entertainment.
Currency – what to take with me?
Mexican currency is a Mexican peso which is subdivided into 100 centavos. Modern peso and dollar currencies have a common origin in the 15th– 19th-century Spanish dollar, most continuing to use its sign, “$”.
The most common currency to bring with you to change is USD or EUR. Many places will also accept US dollars but they will give you worse rate. You can find some places exchanging GBP or AUD but they are rare.