Let’s Go Exploring! The Terrifying Truth About Mexico City

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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“Why would you go to Mexico City? It’s so scary and dangerous!”

We heard these words from friends and family every time we mentioned “Mexico City”.

Which is strange because when it comes to homicide rates, Mexico city doesn’t even make it to the top 50—unlike St.Louis, Detroit, and Chicago. And yet, they never bat an eye whenever we mention going to any of those cities.

But facts and statistics didn’t matter. Going to Mexico was bad enough, but Mexico City? You might as well just save the Cartel the trouble of kidnapping you and just kill yourself right now. Because apparently, of all the places we visited in Mexico, Mexico City scared everyone the most.

I get it. When you see scary headlines about kidnappings and extortion in the news, that’s pretty much all you know about a place. But what we learned via travelling throughout the last two years is this:

Don’t make decisions based on headlines.

Think about it. When was the last time you read articles about “most tourists who go to Mexico are perfectly fine. In fact millions of them visit every year and nothing bad happens to them.”

Reality doesn’t sell newspapers. Fear and sensationalism does.

Not only that, we also discovered that everyone thinks their own city is safe and everything outside of it is dangerous.

While we were in Cancun, we had a chat about Thailand with our host, who happens to be a SCUBA diving instructor.

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to Thailand!” he said. “I would love to teach SCUBA there.”

“Then why don’t you go?” I asked.

“Well, it’s Thailand. I heard it’s very dangerous.”

Dude in Mexico thinks Thailand is dangerous. Uh-huh.

So you can see why we ignored all the fear mongering and went to Mexico City anyway.

And as it turns out, the most dangerous thing we encountered was…

The drinking water.

H2O. The H stands for “Help! My insides are melting! GAHHH!”

Because unlike in South East Asia, where you could boil the water, the water in Mexico is not potable even if you boil it. So you have to remember to buy bottled water or you’ll probably be spending most of your days staring at the inside of a toilet.

On the plus side, you might lose a ton of weight after getting an awesome parasite. YAY?!

But other than that, by sticking to safe areas like the Condessa, la Roma, and the Reforma area, we never felt uneasy or unsafe. Not even in the subway, which only costs 5 pesos (or 28 cents Canadian) to ride.

Before coming to Mexico, we had no idea about all the oodles of cool shit that Mexico City had to offer:

Like Chapultepec (which means “grasshopper” in Spanish) park, which is a massive green space similar to Central park in New York.

Except this one has a FREE zoo:

Several museums:

I counted 11 museums in this one park!

And even a giant castle:

Photo credit: By GameOfLight (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: By Colariboo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

View of the city from the castle garden

Just make sure you don’t go on a Monday when everything’s closed.

We spent a week in Mexico City, walked around the park for a few hours everyday, and still didn’t get to see it all.

If you ever go to Mexico City, I highly recommend taking one of the free walking tours that start everyday at 11am at the Zocalo in the middle of the city. This is where the guide takes you on a 3-hour walk around the city centre and tells you all sorts of fascinating historical facts about Mexico City—like how the city centre is gradually sinking every year and may eventually end up under water in a few centuries.

Apparently, legend has it that the Aztecs built this place because God told them to build a city where they spotted an eagle on a cactus eating a serpent. Apparently, they managed to spot that exact ridiculously specific combination somewhere in the desert and that’s how Mexico City was born. Incidentally, this is why their flag has that exact image.

Wow, that is oddly specific.

Problem was, when they saw this weird phenomenon, the cactus was on a rock in the middle of the lake. But since it was God’s word, the Aztecs said “screw it!’ and built it anyway. And that’s why Mexico City has been sinking ever since.

“Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them….” –Monty Python’s King of Swamp Castle

In addition to the bizarre history of Mexico city, the walking tour also takes you to the opera house, the best museums to visit (my favourite was the engineering museum with models of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions, imagined into real life from his drawings.), and historical theatres. So lots of cultural and historical learnings were had that day. In fact, the guide explained to us that no, dressing up and parading for the Mexican “Day of the Dead” is NOT a tradition, and was a fabrication by the film director for the James Bond “Spectre” movie. But now tourists are flocking to Mexico, desperate to dress up as skeletons, thinking this was actually a Mexican tradition. So now the government has actually made up a “Day of the Dead” parade in Mexico City to promote tourism.

HA HA. Stupid tourists. And no, this conversation totally didn’t start because I asked him about where to see the “Carnival” parade from Spectre. *Ahem*

Anyhoo….

One of the things I found lacking in Mexico was the presence of Asian food.  Since we weren’t in Asia, I obviously can’t hold this against Mexico, but I figured since Mexico city is a major metropolitan city there would be lots of international choices.  But no. Pho and Thai food were non-existent. The Indian restaurants were expensive, had tiny-ass portions, and not very authentic. Chinese restaurants mostly consisted of Chinese take-out.  So I was ecstatic when I found this gem—a Japanese ramen place in Mexico City:

After eating a ton of Mexican food, which I enjoyed for the most part, I was seriously craving something different. So this really hit the spot. If you’re craving Asian food in Mexico, go for Japanese!

As much as I loved the food, Chapultepec park, the Zocalo, and all the amazing historical buildings downtown, the thing that I loved the most was actually a 30 min drive out of the city, a place called Teotihuacan (or “the Titty place” as Wanderer likes to call it).

Instead of explaining why I loved this place so much, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking:

And here I thought pyramids were only in Egypt. HA! Well-played, Mexico. Well-played.

To wrap it all up, here’s how much we spent in Mexico City:

Category Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $33/night We stayed in an AirBnb with private bathroom and shared kitchen. The host family was super nice and gave us a lot of info about places to eat and where to go."
Food: $30/day $20 for eating out, $10 for groceries (mostly booze). Food was cheap and plentiful. Everywhere you look there were food stands and restaurants so you never run out of choices.
Transportation: $31/day Travelling within the city was actually ridiculously cheap at only 5 pesos (28 cents) per ride. Getting to the Pyramids by bus was cheap too ($10 per person). But the flight into Mexico city from Cancun was $92 CAD/person, which averaged out the costs to be around $35/day for the week. That being said, the availability of budget airlines like InterJet and Volaris in Mexico helped cut down costs when travelling to cities that are too far to reach by the ADO bus. Budget Airlines are pretty much non-existent in central and South America, so Mexico wins big time in terms of transportation costs.  
Entertainment: $4/day The only costs for entertainment were the entry to the castle ($5 per person), entry to the pyramids ($4 per person), and tips for the walking tour.
Total: $98 CAD/couple/day ($74 USD/couple/day).

So sorry to disappoint you, friends and family. But there was no scary shit in Mexico city. The actual scary shit was actually quite a few miles away, in place called Chichen Itza. Which I will tell you all about in my next post…



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51 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! The Terrifying Truth About Mexico City”

  1. This looks like an awesome trip. Isn’t it funny how people will be more comfortable with the familiar danger (Chicago, St. Louis) but be scared out of their mind of the unknown (Mexico City, Thailand)?

    1. I know right? I totally don’t get it. They only care about how it “feels scary” rather than statistics.

  2. The water thing would be a deal-breaker for me.

    Do you have to brush your teeth with bottled water, too? Or how about taking a bath / shower? Or washing your hands? If you got parasites on your hands that could transfer to the food you’re touching, no?

    1. Ok, you’re taking this too far, you won’t get sick for showering unless you go all “if all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops”, but mostly you would be fine if you keep the bottled water only for drinking, maybe brushing your teeth if you’re too concerned.

    2. I didn’t have a problem. Bathing is no problem and if you are very concerned, you can moisten your tooth brush with your saliva and rinse with bottled water.
      I drank beverages at restaurants and bars that had ice cubes and everything was fine. I eat salads and other raw food at restaurants without incident.
      You got to follow simple rules: don’t eat street food no matter how delicious it looks (and it all looks delicious); drink bottled beverages on-the-go and only eat at quality restaurants. Do this and you’ll love the experience.

    3. The parasite comment was just a joke 😛 If there were really parasites, you could just kill them by boiling the water.

      Brushing my teeth and showering with the water wasn’t a problem for me. If there was a serious problem with the water, thousands of people would be getting sick and hospitalized and that’s not the case. In fact, that happened in the States and not Mexico (think “Flint, Michigan”)

  3. I gotta love all the people that think cities abroad are so dangerous, yet some of the cities that they live in/near are way worse. We know some people that think any place outside of the US, there are no houses and the people live in huts. Geez! Talk about misperceptions. Mexico City is definitely on my list! I’ve flown into it, but never spent time there!

    1. Yeah, that sort of ignorance happens when all your information about the world comes from the news. It’s unfortunately, but fear is what sells.

  4. The news really are only in the business of making headlines. It’s unfortunate, but it is the way it is. I am hoping blogs and us online creators can make a difference by sharing the real deal.

    I wacted to visit Mexico city so bad! I am trying to convince my gf who’s in the camp of “I don’t want to get kinapped”.

    I love the history of Mexico city and had no idea about the flag!! Thanks for sharing this great article.

    1. I hear you! I was in the “oh no, it’s dangerous” camp before I started travelling. Luckily, Jeremy from GoCurryCracker and Justin from RootofGood set me straight. I’m SO glad I listened to them and visited Mexico. It has some of the warmest, kindest people on the planet.

      Hopefully you’ll be able to convince your gf to go one day. You could try easing her into it by going to Merida first. It is, after all, the safest place in all of Mexico (same as most European cities)

  5. Traveled extensively in Mexico. Beautiful country and warm, charming folks.

    Also, another Fake Day – Cinco de Miyo. Not a thing any where in Mexico (except maybe at the US / international tourist beach destinations).

    1. Ha ha. Our Spanish teacher told us about the Cinco de Mayo misunderstanding. It was the ONLY thing I knew about Mexican festivals before we went and they don’t even celebrate it. Only Puebla residents do. But in Canada and the States, we think it’s their biggest holiday. Hilarious.

  6. Gosh so nice to see someone from North America saying good things about South America. This is so rare unfortunately.
    Love you guys for this. Hope you’ll have a chance to visit Chile, Brazil and Colombia…I can barely wait to read about these places here in this blog.

    1. South America is great, I’m sure – I loved my trips to Peru and Bolivia – but Mexico is in North America.

    2. I’ve heard great things about all 3 of those countries! Especially Colombia. That’s definitely on my list.

      Sadly, we didn’t get to visit Brazil and Chile (was a bit too far for us, given our timeframe), but we did get to visit 2 Central American countries, which I will be writing about soon 🙂

  7. My mom was always really bad about the paranoia of sensational headlines. She watched too much Oprah and then thought that everything she saw on there applied to everyone in real life. I remember she almost didn’t let me go on my grad trip because according to her if she let me go and something bad happened and I died then she’d look like a bad mom for letting me go. I should mention that we were going to Whistler, not Mexico City or Thailand but she was mostly concerned because it was just a group of us with no adult supervision.

    1. Yeah, being a parent is really hard, and I can see why it would be challenging for her to get over the mental hurdle of letting you go. It does get easier with time though, as you end up visiting more places and coming back in one piece.

      In our case, I try to keep our family in the loop with Skype messenger, e-mails, and this blog so they know we’re okay. That helps with peace of mind.

  8. There was a street in Maryland a few miles from where I used to live that the locals said was a “bad area” and to stay away. The “bad” reputation was because someone was stabbed there 20 years prior. Yup, that was it. Street was rather pretty with trees and nice houses.

    1. If that’s the definition of a “bad area” than no place in the world is safe 🙂 Time to go crawl into a cardboard box and never come out 😀

    1. Great post, Jason. I completely agree with you about the value. You can get a high quality restaurant experience at very little cost. And the waiters/waitresses are super nice too!

  9. I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life and my favourite place to be, I’ve been twice, is… Mexico City.

    So happy to read that you had the same experience as everyone else that I’ve talked to.

    The last time I was there was on New Years 2004 (my husband proposed!) and there was so much to see and do just by walking the streets; vendors, fairs, people, life. We’re horrible tourists so we didn’t do any tours, the ruins or the zoo but I definitely will next time. We stayed at a hotel in the middle of the city but I’d consider a B&B/AirBnB next time as we love to meet people (and we speak Spanish).

    I’ve spent 12 years (on and off) living in Mexico, the last 7 years with young kids and I have never, not once, felt unsafe in Mexico City or Chiapas (we winter in San Cristobal de las Casas).

    My husband and I have both been to Chitzen Itza (not together). There are amazing ruins, Palenque, a few hours from where we live in Chiapas so I’d love to take our kids. They’ll be amazed.

    Let us know if you’re ever in Chiapas. Mi casa es tu casa.

    Besos Sarah
    Canadian by birth, Mexican in my heart.

    1. You’re in San Cristobal de las Casas? Oh sweet! That’s one of the cities we were going to visit (timing didn’t work out this trip). Will definitely let you know if we go there next time!

      (So jealous that you can speak fluent Spanish! We took some lessons, but can only speak “un poquito”)

      1. Dear FC,

        Spanish is my husbands mother tongue (he was born in Canada but also holds Panamanian citizenship). I speak enough Spanish to get me into trouble 🙂 It improved a lot when we lived in Mexico for three years (2005-2008).

        San Cristobal is tons of fun! If everything goes according to play, we’ll winter there from December 2017 to April 2018. Hope to see you there.

        Besos Sarah.

  10. Love your comments. Living in Mexico has alerted me to the fact that Mexicans think that the US is NOT a safe place to visit (which it frequently isn’t). They often ask how to stay safe from mass shootings if they go. And don’t even get me started on what Canadian expats think!😁

    1. Yup, it’s interesting to see how the rest of the world views the States. Someone I met in Malaysia mentioned they thought the shootings were scary in the States too. For some reason, my friends and family are easily able to ignore the mass shootings in the States but can’t stop focusing on terrorism and kidnappings in Europe, South East Asia, and Mexico. In reality, you’re much more likely to die from heart disease and cancer.

  11. Isn’t the issue with traveling to Mexico that there is random severe violence towards tourists (vs frequent violence)? That it may not happen very often at all, but there’s no way to absolutely guarantee it won’t because it’s not localized to specific ‘bad parts’ that you can avoid? I’m not trying to stir the pot, I’m seriously asking.

    1. The “severe/frequent violence towards tourists” is a myth perpetrated by the media. There are certain areas in Mexico that should be avoided (they have travel warnings), but even in those areas, they don’t specifically target tourists.

      As for the safe areas without travel warnings, there’s no reason why they would target tourists. I mean think about it, what exactly do you have that they want? Unless you’re being an asshole and flashing money around (which can get your robbed anywhere, not just in Mexico), targeting you as a tourist is challenging because a) it’s too much trouble when police and family members overseas start demanding answers b) you’re not there long enough for them to bother.

      Statistically, millions of tourists visit Mexico each year without issues. There are also an estimated 1 million US expats currently living in Mexico. They are all fine and well.

      1. Absolutely agree, millions are safe every year travelling and living in Mexico.

        I’m on my mobile and can’t check this right now but a few years ago I was looking at travel advisories on the Canadian and US govt sites, and both had advisories for Mexico precisely because of occasional random violent crimes against visitors even in ‘safe’ places. These types of advisories did not exist in other south American countries – here the advisories were mostly for petty crimes like stolen wallets etc, and violent crimes were restricted geographically so easy to avoid.

        Again, I agree it’s a rare occurrence and that media blows it out of proportion. But the Can and US govt websites ( I think) would be more impartial.

  12. Damn it! Now I want to go back to Mexico. I will have to add Merida and Mexico City to the ever-expanding list. As an aside, South America I found also to be very affordable, but I did feel safer in Mexico. I do speak some Spanish so it isn’t a language thing for me. Mexico is just an awesome place to spend time and the tacos are just fantastic!

    1. When I was researching Central and South America, I also found that Mexico is WAY better in terms of transportation. ADO buses are fast and reliable, tickets are easy to book online and they have lots of high quality budget airlines. South American countries don’t have as an extensive transportation network and flights are expensive. Unless you want to be riding buses for 10-20 hours, it’s a pain to get around. Mexico wins hands down on that aspect.

      Hope you get to visit Merida and Mexico City soon! Speaking some Spanish is really helpful.

  13. Me Encanta Mexico! Did you climb the Temples of the Sun and Moon? Fun fact about Mexico City sinking is that because the ancient city Tenochtitlan was built on a marshy lake (as you noted) and when the Spanish destroyed the city and filled things in they didn’t do a very good job of filling in the marshy lake. Ergo, the city sinks a few centimeters per year. Oh now I am jealous and wanting to return to Mexico. If you ever get back that way take a day trip to Cuernavaca and Taxco. What a great trip.

    1. Yes we climbed both! So awesome. The view from the Moon temple was the BEST!

      Good to know about Cuernavaca and Taxco! Will keep them in mind next time!

  14. Ahhhh Mexico, how I love thee.

    Surprised you guys didn’t find more ethnic food in Mexico City. The one night we stayed in Roma, we had a hard time finding Mexican food. It was all Italian trattoria, Argentine/Brazilian steakhouse/Asian something or other (think one of them was a Ramen place next to our Four Points hotel)/generic sidewalk cafe serving maybe Mexican-ish food. But dammit we found a hole in the wall Mexican joint serving real Mexican food for our first meal in Mexico (literally a hole in the wall – it was knocked out and built using pallets mostly).

    1. We did find some but it wasn’t as cheap or authentic as I’d hoped. That’s funny that you had a hard time finding Mexican food in Roma 😛 We stayed in Condessa and it was all over the place! I even found a place called “Pancita” which I was super excited about because I thought they served my fav dish exclusively. But by the time we got there, they ran out 🙁

  15. I visited Los Cabos about 4 years ago. We visited a little village tourist shopping district maybe about 15 min bus ride away from the resort. I vividly recall seeing several police officers stationed at various corners wearing bullet proof vests and holding automatic assault rifles, and this was within a strictly tourist merchant shop centre!

    Just because nothing happens to you in several days trip does not conclude that the area is necessarily safe.

    I live in lower mainland area of BC, Canada and there is an infamous place in the suburbs known as Surrey. In the past five years a major violent turf war has erupted among gangs related to drug trafficking. I still venture out there for the shopping malls but I would never want to live there on a day by day basis.

    1. We saw soldiers carrying M4s in Paris and heavily armed police in the tourist areas of London. What’s your point? Using the metric of “I saw heavily armed police” = dangerous means you should probably cut out most of Europe too.

      And we were only in Mexico city for a week but we spent 4 months in Mexico in total. And if you read the comments from other blog readers, there are expats who’ve been living there for years.

      I know anecdotal evidence isn’t useful, so let’s look at statistics shall we? Mexico city has a homicide rate of 8.4 per 100,000. Chicago? 27.7 homicides per 100,000. St. Louis? 60.37 per 100,000. The worst in the world? Caracas, Venezuela. 130.35 per 100,000.

      I agree with you that certain cities in Mexico aren’t safe and should be avoided, but that doesn’t mean the same brush should be applied to the entire country. Would you avoid going to Boston, just because St.Louis is in the top 50 highest homicide list? No, because that wouldn’t make sense.

  16. Aha! I was wondering when you were going to post about Mexico! You guys were there for quite a long time!

    Looks like a great time! Low costs, pyramids, and good ramen? What more could a person ask for?

    Taco’s probably…. but I hear Mexico has those as well. 🙂

    1. Yeah, we definitely got our fill of delicious tacos 🙂 And they are nothing like the “tacos” from Taco Bell. Blegh.

  17. Hi

    Could you please tell me the name of Airb&b in Mexico City so that we could also plan our stay there? Thanks

  18. I went to Mexico city, and I wasn’t afraid. The Mexicans I was with seemed to think I was in constant danger as a gringo of being kidnapped. Anyway, it was fun, and I went to the Zocalo, saw that tilting cathedral, and climbed the Moon Pyramid (but not the Sun Pyramid, because the park closed before we got there).

    1. Moon Pyramid is the best one. Sun Pyramid is higher and takes longer to climb but the view wasn’t as good.

      Glad you had fun!

  19. I love the DF. Next time you’re there, check out Coyoacán (Frida Kahlo’s house, Leon Trotsky’s house—where he was assassinated), Diego Rivera & Frida’s studio/house in nearby San Ángel, and Xochimilco (for the brightly decorated, gondola-like trajineras that can take you to the creepy island of the dolls). There’s also a Koreatown (Zona Coreana) in the Zona Rosa of the city, if you’re looking for Asian eats.

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