A bit of a caveat before I dive into our impressions of Mexico City – our schedule was driven by Paavo’s nap schedule, which means we had only 2 hour increments at a time to actually explore the city, as that’s about how long Paavo could stay awake before he needed another nap. He was also in bed by 7-7:30, he wasn’t the best restaurant-clientele, and he wasn’t cool with us just hanging out very long at places like museums and such. He liked movement, so much of our days were spent on foot exploring what was within a 1-2 mile radius of home.
Both of us also like to run every day (ok, Matt likes to run every day and Julie intends to run each day, but doesn’t), which means we have to carve out time for that. Matt also has to work each day, some more than others, for his coaching business. Lastly, we love food and we are vegan, so we spend a lot of our time walking around looking for the various vegan options in our area.
So, what I’m really saying is that we’re limited in time and attention span of an infant, we have no intentions of exploring every nook and cranny of each city we visit, we ourselves have a decent amount of stuff to accomplish each day, and we usually chose an area of the city that already caters to our interests, so our impressions are limited and biased by our lifestyle and surroundings.
When: 5/1 – 6/15/2016
Where we lived: Roma Norte neighborhood
How long were we there: 45 days
How old was Paavo: 5-6 months
Unique fact about our stay: It was noisy!
Quick score: 3 of 5
Vibe of the city: Bustling nearly all hours, friendly, crowded, some pockets more laid back than others, where there are parks, coffee shops, vegan/vegetarian restaurants, and people strolling along down tree-lined streets.
Why did we choose it: We always want to improve our Spanish, we have some connections to Mexico on Matt’s side of the family (thank you Karla!), and Mexico is quite close to the States, so it felt like a small jump in order to make the big leap of taking Paavo abroad. We chose Mexico City because we asked ourselves, “Aside from taking care of Paavo each day, what else is important to us?” Running. Once we looked at Strava, an online running community where athletes post their workouts like running, swimming and biking, we saw that the majority of runners in Mexico were in Mexico City, and a lot of them ran in this one particular park, Chapultepec.
Where did we stay: Once we honed in on Chapultepec Park, a huge greenspace in this city of 22 million, we then looked at lodging options around it, particularly Airbnb, so we could live in a real home for several weeks. According to Airbnb the Roma Norte neighborhood we were looking in described it as, “Vegetarian, Hipster, Bikes.” Sold! Once we chose the area it was easy to find a great apartment to rent, and we checked the neighborhood with our family friend Karla, who’s from Mexico City, and she assured us it was a great location. And just like that, we had chosen Mexico, Mexico City, and Roma Norte, our neighborhood right next to Chapultepec Park.
What did we eat – both restaurant and groceries: For restaurants, see our Vegan in Mexico City post. For groceries, which covered the majority of what we ate, we rotated between Sumesa and Superama, two grocery stores that had plenty of fresh produce and other items that we needed. We visited the Sumesa for produce since it was only a half mile walk away, and we went to Superama when we needed baby stuff like diapers, diaper cream, wipes…as that Superama had a better selection. The Superama also had the vegan dark chocolate bars that we liked, and in general had a better selection of food, but since it was a mile walk each way, we often went to Sumesa for a shorter walk.
One food that we ate a lot of, which surprised us, was peanut butter. We likely ate about 10 jars of peanut butter as our fat source; it was also one of the few satiating foods we could find after eating so much produce. We would also have our “fiesta” nights when we’d get chips, or Sabritas, and Oreos as our junk food fix.
Safety – We felt very safe in our neighborhood of Roma Norte, as well as La Condesa, and in Chapultepec Park. Julie often walked around with a diaper bag with her phone and wallet in it, and never thought about wearing it on the front for extra caution. The neighborhood seemed like there were plenty of wealthy Mexicans in it, so we didn’t feel like we stuck out as rich foreigners. When we went to the city center, the Zocalo, it was packed with people. We did feel a little more cautious about our pockets and backs, as would imagine it’s a high tourist location with lots of pick pocketing.
Favorite aspects – Fresh, cheap produce, especially mango, papaya and avocado. In our 6.5 weeks in Mexico City we ate at least 100+ mangos. Lots of vegan restaurant options, many of them cheap, filling and delicious. Chapultepec Park very close to us for an easy, car-free running route. Running races every weekend, normally very close to us, and cheap and easy to sign up last minute. Starbucks is here. We searched for good strong coffee but never found it and the Starbucks was close, cheap, and reliably strong. Feel free to judge, but after our third cup of tasteless coffee-colored water, we opted for the old standby.
Least favorable aspects – Traffic. We mainly walked wherever we needed to go, which was within about a 2 mile radius, but we took Uber otherwise. Traffic was horrible every day, at all hours. On a Tuesday afternoon, coming home from the city center, it took 45 minutes to go less than 2 miles. At that point we had about 1.5 miles left so we got out of the Uber and walked the rest of the way. And we still had to pay for the entire Uber. Air quality. It really is quite bad there. Also the bustling, busyness of the city got to Julie by the end. We were on a busy street that was noisy all hours of the day and was especially bad on weekends. It was tough having so much noise coincide with Paavo’s naps, from trucks, to honking cars, to vendors with megaphones, to the utility guys yodeling in doorways, to barking dogs.
Unique characteristics – The traffic. It has to be one of the worst cities in the world for traffic.
Special tips/pointers for others – It will take some time to adjust to the altitude. All of us, including Paavo, where very tired the first week. Most places don’t have screens in the windows, so be ready for mosquitos. Julie had over 30 bites at one point and Paavo had several on his face and arms. We bought a net to put over his crib and we tried sleeping with one over us, but it didn’t work that great. In hindsight we’d bring a mosquito net.
Special considerations for baby – Most Ubers don’t have car seat anchors, so know how to use the car seat with just the seatbelt. Strollers don’t work well on the uneven sidewalks. If you bring a stroller, bring a heavy duty one like a Bob. Also, Julie had read this advice before but didn’t heed it, to buy every homegood and/or clothing item before getting there, like baby spoons, sippy cups, a travel high chair. It’s just easier at home when you likely have a car, or you know what store to go to in order to find things, or you have a shipping address for Amazon orders. We had to buy a swimsuit for Paavo and at the local store it was $35 USD, even though it was on Amazon for $12. We also bought him an inflatable duck bath tub for $36 and it was $13 on Amazon. We did end up ordering stuff off Amazon and it did show up, but for items that we needed right away, we couldn’t wait for shipping. And it just seemed harder to find things that we needed with the vast amount of tiny shops selling random things. We even went to Walmart, thinking we’d find everything we needed for cheap, but the selection wasn’t great and it was still fairly expensive. Lastly, we couldn’t find Pampers diapers anywhere, only Huggies. Not that we’re set on either one, but we were surprised that a really big brand was nowhere to be found.
Running – See our Running in Mexico City post
Language info – We were pleasantly surprised to find that most everyone spoke Spanish to us, no hesitation. Not many people spoke English and we were happy about that because we really wanted to practice our Spanish. So if you go, make sure you’re pretty decent at Spanish. That being said, we didn’t do much touristy stuff or go to many gringo-like restaurants, so I imagine there is plenty of English spoken there.
Weather – Hot for the most part during the day, in the high 70’s and 80’s (we were there May and half of June), but it cooled down to the 50’s at night. We were there during the rainy season, where it stormed most afternoons, and we loved it. It knocked out the heat, the pollution, and the bugs.
How did we get around – For anything within 2 miles of us, we walked because traffic was so bad. For anything over 2 miles away, we used Uber. It was cheap, easy, safe, and a great way to practice Spanish.
Best things we did – Running races on the weekend. It’s a cool way to experience a culture, see a city, and really be part of something local.
Touristy stuff included going to the Zocalo, the city center, the Chapultepec castle, which was actually pretty cool, and the Diego Rivera murals, which were also pretty amazing to see.
Most memorable aspect of the experience – Meeting other runners haphazardly as we were shopping for bathing suits, and becoming friends with them. We found this business online, which sold gear running, swimming and biking, and when we went to their store, we found that it was just an office, not a store. The owner, Ricardo, who speaks perfect English, still sold us swimming stuff from their small inventory there in the office, and became our friend that way. Matt ran with him on trails a few times while we were there and we hope to stay friends with him and his family going forward.
If we were to go back, what would we do differently – If we stay in the same neighborhood, we’d find a quieter street that didn’t have so much traffic. Or maybe we’d stay completely outside the city near the big parks and running trails, so we could avoid some of the traffic and smog and actually run on trails versus the same loops around Chapultepec Park.