When researching flights to Havana for our long weekend in Cuba, we found a great deal using Delta miles through Mexico City (only chartered flights directly from the US to Cuba at the time of our trip). Our return trip had two options for the same price, a 5 hour layover (is there a more awkward amount of time for a layover?!) or an 8 hour layover. We opted for the latter and decided to utilize the time to get out and see Mexico City. The location of the airport, within city limits and just a 15 minute drive to downtown, made this an even more enticing option.
After arriving from Havana around 8:30 in the morning, we rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and quickly made our way through customs, ending up outside the secure area of the airport. Some prior research indicated lockers at the airport where we could drop our bags off for the day. An airport worker directed us to the locker station (located outside of security on the arrivals level of Terminal 2, close by the 7-11). We quickly checked into our afternoon flight, dumped our bags (kept our cash/passports), and headed for the taxi stand by 10:00.
Locker rental was <$10 and held all of our bags (roller, two weekenders, backpack).
We had read multiple blogs recommending only an authorized, government run taxi, so we went this route to get to/from downtown. In order to get an authorized taxi at the airport you must wait in line at a kiosk and obtain a ticket to give the driver. You pay the person (credit cards accepted) at the kiosk so no money is exchanged in the taxi. While in line for the kiosk one driver approached us and asked where we were headed, quickly “claimed” us and let the lady working the kiosk know. We didn’t have any problems with this as he appeared to be an authorized driver. Interestingly he went and got a large SUV for us instead of the many regular taxis parked all around, and he also didn’t seem to have a good grasp of the downtown area. Afterwards we suspected they charged us a higher rate (~$20) than normal. It wasn’t until our $13 taxi ride back to the airport we could confirm it. Not much of a difference but enough that it is something to beware of.
We were dropped off on Calle de Carmen and wandered along looking in the shops, many of the just opening up at this earlier hour. Overall we were a bit underwhelmed by the shopping, expecting more trinkets/souvenirs, yet most shops were practical things – hats, nail polish, clothes, etc. Soon we found ourselves near the Zocalo. This is one of the largest city squares in the world and also has the largest Mexican flag that we had ever seen right in the middle of it. It was while examining the square that we noticed free public Wi-Fi signs on some light poles lining the street, a welcome change from the past few days, even if it only lasted for an hour!
The Zocalo, with the Cathedral providing a great background.
By this time we were starving for an early lunch and knew exactly what we wanted – tacos! We read online about Tacos de Canasta Lost Especiales, located close to Zocalo. We made our way here and had some of the best tacos of our life! For a little over $2 USD each we each got five tacos and a Mexican Coca-Cola to wash it all down. Five tacos was more than enough and filled us up for the rest of the day.
Make sure you bring $4 for a view like this.
We made our way back to Zocalo and explored the huge Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. This cathedral is not as touristy as European cathedrals, for example, where tours are given and the flash of the cameras are frequent. There is a section for prayer, and you can walk through parts of it, but the main area is off limits unless you are attending Mass. If you go inside be sure to look at the stained glass, it is one of the more unique cathedral designs.
Another attraction we had read about and wanted to see were Aztec ruins, discovered in the heart of Mexico City. We headed to the Templo Mayor and paid a few dollars to walk in and around the ruins (takes 20-30 minutes) before entering the museum and seeing some amazing artifacts. Side note on the museum: most restrooms in that part of the city are neither free nor very clean, however the restroom in the basement of the museum was both of these!
Skull carvings inside the museum.
Many of the statues and figures are in remarkable shape.
Over 7,000 artifacts have been discovered in the area.
After getting our fill of the ruins and museum we headed back out into the steamy afternoon and walked down Republica de Argentina for more window shopping. The heat was getting to us and nothing sounded better than a scoop (or three) of some ice cream, so we headed back to the pedestrian-friendly Avenue Francisco I. Madero for some ice cream at Santa Clara (there are three locations within the half mile street so would be hard to miss).
An endless amount of goods for sale on Republica de Argentina.
Here’s the scoop – get a scoop of blueberry!
We window shopped as we walked down Avenue Francisco I. Madero and tried to eat our ice cream before it melted. Av Fransisco had more of your typical chain stores, including Pull and Bear; Garret ended up buying a few things from there. The pedestrian portion of the street ends at the House of Tiles, which we stopped to examine. A bit underwhelming, and Garret kept asking if this was for sure the building (it was). Worth a picture but we don’t recommend going out of your way to see. Across the busy Eje Central is the National Museum of Architecture. We ventured around, but not inside, the beautiful old palace.
Take a walk down Avenue Francisco I. Madero.
Hanging at the house of tiles.
The appropriately-housed National Museum of Architecture.
There was a nice-sized park across the street, Alameda Central, but unfortunately we had to make our way back to the airport. We asked one policeman if the abundant pink and white taxi’s were government-run and he said yes, so we hailed one and made it safely back to the airport in plenty of time to grab our bags from the lockers and make our way to the gate. A five-hour flight later we were back in NYC.
(De)Parting Words of Advice:
- If your trip has multiple flights, consider a quick stopover to start/end your trip! The airport location/ease of access can be critical to this being doable.
- The downtown area is walkable and has a lot to soak up.
- Sometimes the simple things are unexpectedly some of the best parts – the taco shop being a great example.