Robert Schrader in Mexico City

Is Mexico City Overrated?

I always knew I was going to dislike Mexico City. Everything I read before my trip foreshadowed an insipid megalopolis drowning in the sea of frou-frou restaurants, superfluous street art and über-rich neighborhoods that makes most American cities north of the Rio Grande unbearable to visit.

While I hoped going there myself would prove this assumption wrong—I hate putting my name on anything that could be perceived as a hit piece—I fell asleep my first night in Mexico’s capital wishing I’d skipped it for Baja California or Oaxaca.

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Downtown Disaster

I try to strike a balance between the tourist trail and the less-beaten path in my blog posts, but I generally begin my own time in a city with a visit to its most ubiquitous landmark. In Mexico City’s case this was Zócalo square, which was desecrated by the ugliest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen, and a massive plastic slide that made the plaza all but impossible to photograph.

Bothered but still bullish, I made my way westward along Avenida Cinco de Mayo toward the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which is probably Mexico City’s other most-famous landmark. While not obscured by hideous decorations (well, unless you count the nearby Torre Latinoamericana, whose observation deck is inexplicably a no-DSLR zone), it was far less attractive in-person than it had appeared in photos, though I decided to reserve full judgment until after night fell.

In the interim I headed north to Plaza Garibaldi, where I expected to find mariachis strumming and singing, but instead found them bored and talking shit amongst themselves, to say nothing of the generally run-down condition of the square.

As the sun descended toward the horizon, I ascended to Café don Porfirio, which seemed to be the best place to marvel at the aforementioned performance hall. But I ended up leaving just seconds after arriving, as construction on the Sears department store below had all but obstructed any view of the now lit-up Palacio.

Apartment in Mexico City's La Condesa neighborhood
Zócalo square in Mexico City
Mariachi musician in Mexico City
Robert Schrader at Teotihuacan, Mexico
Mexican mole at Teotihuacan
Street scene in La Condesa, Mexico City
Mexico City's Angel of Independence

La Concesión

Disappointed, I retreated to my apartment in the famed La Condesa neighborhood, which I’d admittedly found charming upon my mid-day arrival from the airport and during my hurried check-in. Taking to the district’s streets in search of dinner, on the other hand, was nothing short of an exercise in soul-depletion.

In addition to the fact that nearly every person I walked past was white and speaking English, many of the restaurants my host had recommended were precisely the dens of condescension and pretentiousness that make me happy I left the US. Just as I conceded I’d be going to bed hungry, I happened upon a deserted taqueria, where I wolfed down a plate of conchinita pibil.

Muy rico!” I answered the sweet, middle-aged waiter when he asked me how my meal tasted, wishing I could say the same, in my heart of hearts, about the rest of my experience in his city thus far.

Day Trips and Denouement

Being that I had only 48 hours in Mexico City before my planned excursion to see the monarch butterfly colony at Cerro Pelon, I’d always intended to wake up my second day without a definitive course of action. The aftertaste of Wednesday afternoon and evening was still quite rancid on Thursday morning, however, so I decided the safest bet would be to make a day trip to the pyramids to Teotihuacan.

This proved a satisfying choice, not only because my crack-of-dawn arrival at the historical site meant I had it almost to myself, but because a tacky tourist restaurant nearby served me perhaps the most satisfying plate of mole I’ve ever torn into. Arriving back to my Airbnb around noon, I faced a binary choice for the evening: Venture out of town again, this time to the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco; or make a second attempt at appreciating the city center.

I ended up walking through door two, but rather than exploring the much-hyped districts of La Roma and Polanco (which I feared would be even more whitewashed than La Condesa), I decided to enjoy the view from Chapultepec Castle, before heading down Paseo de la Reforma to admire its skyscrapers (and El Ángel de la Independencia, the de-facto symbol of Mexico City) as day darkened into night.

Oddly, this proved to be my most fulfilling experience in the city-proper, which surprised many of my Instagram followers. “Sorry you weren’t blown away,” one wrote, as if leaving a comment in a guest book at a funeral.

(Yo también, mi amigo.)

The Bottom Line

I’ll admit that I didn’t devote enough time to Mexico City—hell, I didn’t even see any Frida-related sights—and although I arrived vowing to prove prevailing narratives about the city wrong, the cynical light they painted it in obscured my judgment. With this being said, I stand by my general conclusion—that Mexico City is vastly overrated—and imagine much of its positive reputation among Norteamericanos derives from how poorly-traveled they tend to be. I plan to return to Mexico in the future, but while I can see myself making a second visit to delightful Guadalajara, there’s almost no chance I’ll give Mexico City another one.

Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Mexico

About The Author

is the author of 896 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather January 16, 2018 at 11:26 pm

I just spent two weeks in Mexico City over the holidays staying with a friend and our experiences couldn’t have been more different. I am still trying to figure out if you were in the same city as I was because I think Mexico City is one of the most underrated cities in the Americas. Why?

1) No english was spoken, except for the occasional museum. I was allowed to fully immerse myself.
2) Tacos. I had the most delicious tacos. Mostly from random street vendors. Not to mention the tamales. Oh the tamales.
3) Elotes. From the back of a truck. Driving through my neighborhood.
4) Lamb barbacoa, served on Sundays, down the street from my house. Came with tortillas and all the fixings to make tacos too.
5) Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. You missed out on Frida’s House, and several places where Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros’ murals are located. The art in Mexico City is some of the best I have seen outside of Europe. If you had actually gone into the Palacio de Belles Artes you could have even seen Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles”.
6) Quesadillas made from blue corn masa by the lady down the street from my place. She was only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. So damn good.
7) UNESCO World Heritage Sites galore…the Templo Mayor, UNAM, Teotihuacan, Centro Historico, Tepotzotlan and the Ruins at Tula should be a UNESCO Site. So amazing.
8) Hidalgo State has two beautiful national parks as well as some historical mining towns with their version of an Irish pasty called pastes. But that’s more of a trek than you were probably up for or available to do.
9) Yes, I ate a lot of food. Mexico is good for that. I can’t believe you didn’t go to the churros place near the Zocalo. Heaven. Pure heaven.
10) Public transit was efficient and easy and cheap.
11) Museum entries were also cheap though I thought it was funny they charged extra for taking photos. I still never spent more than $4 for entrance into world class museums.

If you or any of your readers want to check out my experience, the whole story is on Instagram. @renegadepilgrim

I am considering a long term stay in Mexico City in 2019 to study Spanish and use it as a base to see the rest of the country. I loved the culture and the history. Maybe next time, I can set you up with my friend who can show you the real Mexico City instead of whatever it was you saw.

Robert Schrader January 17, 2018 at 4:27 pm

Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful comment, Heather! I don’t think I’ll be going back to Mexico City, but I encourage any of my readers who do to contact you.

Robert Schrader February 19, 2018 at 4:25 am

Hi Joana!

Thanks for your constructive and heartfelt comment. I wish you luck on your journey!

Alex February 25, 2018 at 4:48 pm

It’ s boring there’s nothing to do. People who says it’s a great place haven’t traveled enough, they just don’t know how beautiful can be a latin american city like Buenos Aires, Lima, Sao Paulo or Panama.

Robert Schrader February 25, 2018 at 4:49 pm

Right? I mean not to be condescending, but…

Daniel March 27, 2018 at 9:59 am

Hi Rob. I couldn’t disagree more with you about Mexico City. Having been there 4 times I find it to be a very exciting city with surprisingly friendly people specially considering the sheer size of the city. During a short stay there with my mother in 2008, I photographed a classy elderly lady in a colonial neighborhood. Whens he came up to me I was afraid she was going to complain about me taking her picture and she actually started joking around. She was there with her 2 daughters and 4 granddaughters, and they proposed to drive us back to our hotel in the center and then invited us for breakfast the next day followed by a tour of DF’s neighborhoods with the old lady driving and cursing at other cars as an added bonus. Surely that was a chance encounter, but besides that, the city has a great variety of neighborhoods, amazing ruins within the city center as well as close by, great food, a cosmopolitan population, etc etc. The city can be many things, but insipid doesn’t seem to be the right adejective to describe it. I think you should give it another chance, maybe not now but in a few years time and as Heather suggested maybe by meeting a local beforehand.

Robert Schrader March 27, 2018 at 6:46 pm

I appreciate your perspective, and I’m glad you loved it. But honestly, I have zero fond memories about my experience in the city-proper, aside from when the plane left the ground. I’m not sure I would go back, even if someone paid me! Too many other places in the world I actually love, without caveats or qualification.

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