When many people think of Mexico City, what first comes to mind? Gangs, pollution, gridlocked traffic and a city choked with almost 30 million inhabitants. Well, I’ve been to Mexico City and I can say it has all those things, as most cities this size do, but there’s also so much more.
The amazing thing about visiting Mexico City (or DF as the locals call it, stands for the District Federal) is that it almost always is a pleasant surprise. It’s a bustling, dynamic city with more culture, museums, parks, restaurants and bars than you could ever hope to visit even during a 2 week trip.
First off, let’s start off with the one thing worry about the most in Mexico City: crime. Yes, Mexico sadly has a problem with gangs thanks to the unquenchable thirst for illegal drugs north of the border. However, statistically DF is actually safer than many American cities, including Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC. New Orleans has a per capita murder rate five times that of DF! Most parts of the cities are completely safe, and there’s a very big police presence. There are of course instances of police corruption, but in all my trips I’ve found the police to be nothing but helpful and friendly. That’s not to say you should be totally blasé either. There are so called “red zones” where really nobody should be going, and you should consult your embassy to find out which areas you ought to avoid. Again this is no different than most large cities in Latin America or even the US.
DF is also a great place for gay travelers. The city has a free cosmopolitan vibe, and I’ve actually seen more gay couples holding hands or showing affection than almost any other city I’ve been to.
DF was the first part of Mexico to legalize gay marriage, and now it’s legal across the country; quite a feat in what has traditionally been a very Catholic nation. While DF doesn’t have a gay “village” as such, the neighborhoods of La Condesa, Zona Rosa and Polanco have the highest concentrations of gay culture and nightlife. All three neighbourhoods are fairly high-end. La Condesa was an area built with a French style in mind, full of beautiful broad avenues, cafes and parks. Polanco is one of DF’s most exclusive haunts and houses most of the city’s wealthy expats. You know you’re in a fancy area when the street hawkers are selling home accessories and decorations instead of tacos!
There’s way too many bars to even mention, so I’ll just touch on the ones that I know. In the historic centre there’s Marakesh, a really fun little local bar that gets jammed full on weekends. This would be a good place to practice your Spanish. The aptly named Tom’s Leather Bar in La Condesa is also a blast. On the weekends they have sexy go go dancers up on the bar as well as a dark room in the back if you’re feeling really frisky. The music is a mix of top 40 and latino hits. In the ritzy Polanco neighbourhood there’s Guilt, a high end nightclub ($15 USD cover charge) that also plays a mix of top 40 pop hits mixed with some latin beats. Here you can rub shoulders with the movers and shakers of DF and the fashion models who work the bar (literally, they are models). This place is expensive for Mexican standards but definitely nice if you’re looking for something a bit posh and a great night of dancing.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food. What better reason to visit than to sample the famous fiery cuisine of Mexico? In truth Mexican food isn’t always super spicy; usually salsas are served on the side and you can choose how hot to make your food. For a quintessential DF experience I recommend eating at one of the restaurants looking over the central city square, known as the Zocalo. El Balcon de Zocalo is one of my favourites. Another great option is Azul, with locations in La Condesa and the Centro Historico. And finally, you can’t leave DF without trying some churros, the crispy fried doughy dessert of Mexico. Search out Casa Churra in the Centro Historico. Don’t let the crowds intimidate you, it’s worth the wait!