When we decided to visit Mexico, it was obvious that we should spend an extended amount of time in the capital. Since we work as we travel, it is not only convenient for us to stop for a month or so and explore a city while we work, but we both enjoy the vibrancy and atmosphere of big cities so it made sense to rent an apartment there. Though we had friends from and who have visited Mexico City, it still surprised us in a few ways. Here are some of our impressions of Mexico City.
The first thing I noticed when we arrived in Mexico City was the air quality. It’s not good. I know, perhaps this should’ve been obvious for a city of its size and with so many cars, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it. While the streets are kept tidy (you’ll regularly see shop owners and residents sweeping outside their front doors) and people do not litter, it is very dusty and many older buildings are blackened from pollution. Fortunately, given its altitude and relative dryness, I didn’t find the pollution so noticeably affecting my breathing, but it’s definitely there.
Despite the enormous amounts of traffic, you do in fact see people cycling in Mexico City. I have noticed that in many cities where urban cycling is still a relatively new phenomenon, you generally only see young men riding bikes on the streets, but in Mexico City, I’ve seen plenty of female cyclists and older people on bikes too. There’s also a clear push by the city government to encourage cycling, with multiple bike sharing points around town, which offer the first 45 minutes for free.
This wasn’t really a surprise, but veganism is big in Mexico City and was one of the reasons we wanted to visit and stay a while. In most restaurants or cafés, it’s possible to ask if they have anything vegan and to be understood…well, perhaps not with the same frequency of success as in Europe, but relatively often. There are almost as many vegan restaurants as in Berlin (look out for a vegan guide coming soon!), several fully vegan shops and occasional all vegan events going on in the city.
Unlike other cities we’ve visited in Mexico, Mexico City has a metro system that is pretty easy to navigate, meaning we’ve actually used public transport more than anywhere else. I remember learning that it was one of the only metro systems in the world that used pictograms to represent the stations as well as their names (presumably to help people who can’t read or people who find it difficult to recognise unfamiliar names), and was excited to see this in action. Unfortunately, it’s pretty ugly, dirty and crowded, but it works. Despite Mexicans being very friendly and polite most of the time, on the metro they barge straight on without waiting for passengers to get off first, which is a little frustrating. Nonetheless, the system is quite comprehensive and you never have to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for a train. And at only M$5 a ride (around 0.20 EUR, GBP, USD), it’s absolutely the cheapest way to get around the city.
There is a lot of urban street art in Mexico City, with much of it clustered around the neighbourhoods of La Condesa and Roma Norte, though it can be found elsewhere too. It’s generally well kept and there isn’t much graffiti at all. Like in Buenos Aires, it seems that it is well respected as an art form. Indeed, Mexico as a country has a much stronger tradition of art in the streets than many other countries.
The city is full of museums of all kinds. There are of course the ones you’d expect, and many of them: contemporary art, fine art and modern and ancient history, but also many more unusual or obscure ones: the Museum of Antique Toys, the interestingly named Museum of Memory and Tolerance and the Museo del Carmen, the mummy museum.
Just like in all the other places we’ve visited in Mexico, I found the people to be very overtly friendly in the capital. The most obvious way I’ve seen this expressed is in customer service, which coming from northern Europe, seems very forward and aiming to please the customer at all times. Perhaps if you’re used to North American customer service in general, this won’t be shocking, but from a European perspective, I found it a little too much sometimes. Being made to feel the centre of attention in this way was my inner introvert’s nightmare!
Have you been to Mexico City? What struck you most about the city?