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It’s easy to have a love/hate relationship with the places we visit.

Case in point: Mexico City.

I’ve been visiting since the late 1970s. This beast of an urban area continues to fascinate millions of annual visitors. There’s no shortage of superlatives and need-to-know news surrounding the reminted CDMX moniker.

It’s been said this behemoth encapsulates the best and worst of Latin American capitals. Americans say it reminds them of Europe, Europeans say it’s too American. The city’s historic layering means there are civilizations, literally one atop the another. NAFTA opened doors to popular US brands. Billboards, logos, and lighted neon accentuate the binational character of the hemisphere’s largest urban area.

CDMX in the context of modern Mexico

For some, the city and surroundings are just plain exacerbating and too chaotic. Others put CDMX in the context of modern Mexico’s challenges and opportunities. So, when confronted with ‘Are you kidding?’ reactions from friends and family that you’re considering living here, here are some conversation starters.

You could start by telling them that western civilization’s most defining event happened here. That’s right. The city’s grand main plaza sits atop the Mexica (Aztec) capital where European and Amerindian cultures collided. This epic two-year battle gave 16th century Europe a launchpad for the conquest of the American continents, north and south. For three hundred years, CDMX was the epicenter of Spanish America’s vast empire and a crossroads that brought Asia and Europe into mutual orbits of social and commercial influence. Have you been to Europe and seen Baroque buildings? Mexico’s mineral wealth was the progenitor of this artistic flourishing.

But what about the sprawly and traffic? CDMX of today is a reasonably accessible series of attraction ‘clusters’. For the urban-curious visitor, CDMX is surprisingly accessible. Mexico City sprawls, but it’s also quite vertical (sometimes underground too), built around communities or ‘Colonias’. Each has captivating stories to tell, along with world-class museums, mercados, dining, street life, and more.

 

Is it safe?

Mexico observers and frequent visitors will give you the same advice: stay vigilant of your belongings and surrounding, avoid late evening walks, and ask your hotel about any local concerns. If you’re in one of the areas highlighted below (and many others not listed), take big-city precautions and you’ll be hospitably welcomed.

The Metro:

for some, this can be the answer to the city’s traffic snarls. Use it wisely, ignore the exterior dilapidation of many stations and you’ll safely zip from Colonia to Colonia without the above-ground hurdles. I have always felt safe underground in CDMX and finding help (and English speakers) is not a hindrance. Ridesharing App service abounds.

The Colonias:

there are too many to explore, even if you had the time. But favorites include Avenida Reforma, Centro Histórico, posh Polanco, renovated Zona Rosa, hip Condesa-Roma, and the step-back-in-time San Angel-Coyoacan boroughs. Each has museums, fine dining, historical curiosities, green parks, boutique lodging, mercados, and eye-popping diversity of interesting things to see and do. All of these are accessed via the Metro.

Museums:

again, far too many to list here, but some favorites and ‘must-sees’ include the renowned Museum of Anthropology, Chapultepec Castle, San Carlos, Arte Popular, Franz Meyer, Dolores Olmedo, Luis Barragan, National Museum, Templo Mayor, National Palace and of course Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera museums. Every frequent visitor has their favorites. Museums are all closed Mondays and can be crowded on weekends.

Seasons Matter:

CDMX weary residents need frequent respites and holiday escapes. When they vacate for beach time or to visit family, many urban inconveniences are dramatically diminished. The Christmas holiday (extending from Dec 12 to January 6), the week prior to Easter Sunday, and the first half of July are great times to visit.

Where the Air is Clear:

Mexico City’s air quality has improved dramatically. January and February inversions from colder temperatures (the city is at 7,250 feet!) can be a smog issue. Spring brings blooming trees. Summer rains are generally an afternoon/evening occurrence, and Fall is always a prime time to visit.

Dining par excellence:

A couple of years back, Food and Wine Magazine devoted its entire September issue to Mexican gastronomy. CDMX is the capital of cuisine for not just Mexico but in many ways the entire hemisphere. Mexican cuisine has UNESCO World Heritage recognition alongside France and China. Places like Lorena, Pujol, Quintonil, Máximo Bistrot, Biko and Dulce Pátria have all earned their place in top international rankings. Reservations are sometimes needed weeks in advance.

Take a deeper dive into Mexico City for living at www.choosingmexico.com