We arrived exhausted. Note to other travellers coming straight from Australia, either stopover in LA for the night and actually get a hotel room, or spend the extra $$ and head direct to South America and up to Mexico.
We've heard lots of stories about Mexico City and were quite prepared for it to be dirty, smoggy and perhaps even give us some altitude sickness. We didn't find this to be the case at all. Over the last 15 years the Mexican Government has invested significant resources to tidying up Mexico City. Lots of bins, street sweepers and somewhat lacking in the 'typical smells' that you experience wandering around developing countries. There are police situated on every corner as well as traffic police at all major crossings to direct the flow of people and cars. At no time did we ever feel unsafe! So Mexico City haters - you have a lot of explaining to do!
Upon arrival to the International Airport, we took Lonely Planets advice and headed straight to the fixed price taxi transfer desks immediately outside customs. The first desk was US$23 and wouldn't supply a cheaper 'small sedan' car - not budging from the tourist upsell to a executive vehicle. The second desk were happy to sign us up at US$13 for a small sedan. We were off, hurdling through Mexico City in peak hour traffic following 32 hours of air travel. After around an hour we pulled up at our hotel for the next couple of nights. We were bustled inside - Hola welcome to Mexico City.
We can't recommend NH Centro Historico enough. For well under $100 per night, the hotel was clean, we were upgraded and it included a delicious buffet breakfast in the roof top restaurant. The wifi connection was gold star throughout the whole hotel. While I am trying not to compare prices in Mexico to those experienced in my Asian travels, I found Mexico City to be slightly more expensive Thailand. Actually similar in price to the touristy areas of Thailand.
We spent a day just wandering around the Centro Historico. Tip to fellow female tourists, in Mexico City it is extremely uncommon to wear shorts - in fact walking the streets in the swelting heat I was the only one.... bar maybe one or two other tourists. While not extremely uncomfortable, it certainly attracts some head turns. With the help of the trusty Lonely Planet guide, we detoured around the typical main streets of Centro Historico to visit local tacorias, local produce markets, the oldest cantina in Mexico City and gorgeous backstreets filled with hidden churches and beautiful grand old houses surrounded by local shops and eateries.
The city's oldest Cantina, El Pepe Cantina was nestled in next to Chinatown - yes who knew that Mexico City had a Chinatown. We soon found out, the Chinese are a significant part of the population in Mexico, arriving during the spice trades between Asia and Spain many centuries ago. El Pepe Cantina was tucked away, just a pair of swinging stained glass doors separating it from the outside world. What a step back in time!
We ventured into the heart of Centro Historico that night to try to get our hands on some 'safe' tacos. Upon arriving at Salon Corona, we were ushered upstairs, given Spanish menu's and told to order. Over the next hour, Brendon and I tried many different flavoured tacos and tortas (a Ciabatta style bread roll). While we aren't 100% sure what we ate, each was delicious especially when pared with some of the chilli/lime condiments which are present at all Mexican food outlets.
While I am not going into detail about our failed attempt to get to the Pyramids.....our final full day in Mexico City allowed for relaxation and research time before hitting the town on a Late Night Tacoria and Mezecal tour. We cannot praise our guide Arturo enough. A Sous Chef and tour guide for Eat Mexico Culinary Tours, Brendon and I had Arturo to ourselves for the night. We explored several of the local 'suburbs' of Mexico City including Roma and Condessa. The food was by far some of the best that I have had in my life. Australia/American Mexican is overcomplicated and complex in ingredients and really just a cheap takeaway that you gorge yourself on, like a late night kebab after a few rounds of drinks at the pub. Street Mexican is simple, with few varying ingredients, a taste sensation. Start with either a corn or wheat tortilla, warmed up over the grill. Add the meat - do you want hot roasted shaved steak, flame grilled steak, chicken or pork, roasted bell peppers, slow cooked pineapple, stringgy cheese (cheese cooked in a bowl over flames). Whichever way you have your taco, you finish with lots of lime and a chilli salsa and guacamole.
Halfway through the tour we stopped off to learn about Mexican Craft Beer and Mezecal. Not much can be said for the Craft Beer, other than in Mexico Craft Beer is on the rise with lots of brewers popping up all over the country. Mezecal on the other hand is a fermented and distilled agave alcohol which is similar to tequila. Mezecal is sold by the region, the type of fermenting process and the alcohol content. We tried three different Mezecal shots from the same region each with different alcohol content and processing and experienced very different tastes... all with the same burning experience as tequila. Mix Mezecal in a cocktail (we had rosewater, cucumber and rosemary) and its a completely different experience, no burning at the back of your throat - just refreshing, deliciousness that riles a G&T.
Ever wonder about Coronas and Lime?
For many years we have all consumed Coronas with lime because thats how its done...right? In Mexico it doesn't matter what beer - Corona, Pacifico, Tecate, Victoria, Modelo, they all come with a bowl of lime to squeeze into the beer! The curious Aussies we are we learnt that the addition of lime to Mexican beers was as a result of a marketing campaign by Corona when the beer first hit the market. As the story goes, after the original Corona recipe was bottled and hit the market, the brewers decided that the beer wasn't acidic enough. A period of successful marketing campaigns to add lime to your Corona (because that was how it was designed to be drunk) and a long standing Mexican tradition was born.
We write this sitting at the Mexico City Airport - next stop Playa del Carmen!