Mexico City Trip Report: Teotihuacan Ruins, Xochimilco Canals, & Frida Kahlo’s Blue House

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This time a month ago, I was headed to Mexico City for Round Two, after a pretty terrible time there in November 2018. I’m happy it turned out to be the quintessential visit, including:

  • Amazing food
  • Aztec ruins at Teotihuacan
  • A boat ride in Xochimilco
  • Frida Kahlo’s studio home
  • A walk through Chapultepec Park
  • Shopping at one of the sprawling street markets

Mexico City is vibrant, welcoming, safe… and brimming with attractions. There are museums galore, amazing restaurants, tons of green spaces, architecture, historical sites, nightlife, and so much more to enjoy. And, it’s easy to get around, considering everything is a ~$10 Uber ride away (Lyft isn’t there as of August 2019). We didn’t even bother with the subways.

I could’ve spent a month there and it wouldn’t have been enough. Considering it’s only a ~2-hour flight from Dallas, I can see myself returning for a quick weekend visit. Plus, temps are in the 70s (with lows in the 50s/60s) all year, because it’s set in the temperate basin of a mountain valley. So coming from Texas, I got a mid-summer cool-down. 🤠

Mexico City Trip Report

Here I am with a shirt and bag from the street market, trying pulque for the first time in Mexico City

I’ll share the trip highlights!

Mexico City trip report 2019

I traveled with a couple of friends for a 5-day #friendtrip to Mexico City, July 4 through 9. We flew American nonstop from DFW, and after a couple hours, landed at MEX.

The forecast called for rain every. single. day of our trip, so we were prepared for wet weather. Sure enough, right after we touched down, the sky broke open and unleashed torrential rain during our Uber ride to the cute Airbnb we rented in Roma Norte. The ride only cost ~$7 – and Ubers are prevalent throughout the city. Here’s my link to sign-up if you don’t already have an Uber account.

Our mood was down because with heavy rain every day, it would obviously be harder to enjoy many outdoor activities. We were hoping for at least one nice day to see Teotihuacan, and the others… well, we’d deal.

But, we ended up with a streak of beautiful, breezy days with only small bouts of rain. And this ended up being one of my favorite trips to one of my favorite places – the incomparable, sprawling, serene-yet-electric Mexico City.

Teotihuacan

The first night, we grabbed dinner at Cabrera 7, about 10 minutes from our Airbnb. I recommend it if you stay in Roma! While there, we saw the forecast for the next day had NO rain… and was supposed to be nice and sunny!

Wellll… during our rain-soaked Uber ride from the airport, we told our driver about our plans, and he offered to drive us round-trip to Teotihuacan for ~$80. Split three ways, that was manageable. So we confirmed he could drive us the following day. We set out at 11:00 am, and arrived just under an hour later. Getting out of CDMX is the hard part. But once you’re out, the rest is clear.

Pyramid of the Sun

Right after you park, you’ll walk down a corridor lined with vendors – so bring cash if you want to buy trinkets and gifts, like magnets, shirts, hats, jewelry, and other cute stuff. Gifts aside, you will absolutely need:

  • A hat – the sun is fierce here, so you’ll want some shade over your eyes and face
  • Sunscreen – Ditto. Cover those arms and legs because you will definitely get a sunburn. Despite liberal applications, I got a hardcore farmer’s tan
  • Water – I bought a liter for ~$1 and stuck it in my backpack. And drank the ENTIRE thing. You’ll want it for all those 248 steps
  • Snacks – Ditto. There isn’t much food nearby, so you’ll want something. I brought a bag of chips and a power bar and was fine
  • A fully charged camera / backup charger / any items you wish to present to the Sun or Moon Gods 🌞

The entrance fee is 70 pesos, or ~$4.

I bought a cute hat for ~$10 on the way in, and some extra sunscreen. It’s fun to look at all the wares.

But then get your marching boots on, because it’s 248 steps straight up to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. Fun fact: it’s not actually a pyramid because it doesn’t have the point at the top, so this is a colloquial name.

The steps are narrow, uneven, and nearly vertical in places. So caution is a must.

That said, we saw kids and many older peeps handling them with no problem. There are plenty of side areas to pause, guzzle water, and take photos. I’d give this part at least an hour. Plus, once you get to the top, you can hang out, look at the broad Avenue of the Dead to observe the structures that have been around since 300 BC (!!!), and commune with the Sun God.

A picture is literally 1,000 words

From the top, you can see the 130-foot-wide Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Sun, and several smaller temples arranged in a grid formation that points just east of true north

Pyramid of the Moon, as seen from Pyramid of the Sun

Wearing my new hat and imbibing the currents of energy still located at this amazing site

I put my Iceland spar crystal that I held during the Midnight Sun at the exact center of the pyramid. The Sun God was v pleased (notice my fresh sunburn ouch)

It’s actually harder getting down because you feel like you’re going to slide right off the entire time.

Afterward, we climbed the Pyramid of the Moon, which wasn’t as spectacular but much easier – although the steps are HUGE. I basically had to lift myself up with my arms the whole way.

Then, we looked at the ruins, glyphs, and artifacts from the area.

Profoundly beautiful

Do you see the eagle?

We learned dyes to make the color blue aren’t available in the area – they had to be imported. But there was plenty of cinnabar, which was heated to make liquid mercury (and used for the color red, of course).

In fact, there are lakes of liquid mercury under the pyramids that represent eternal god-water. Freaking crazy (and toxic).

But there is definitely an energy here. If you go to Mexico City, you simply must get yourself to Teotihuacan.

Dinner at La Gruta

Within walking distance from the Pyramid of the Sun, there’s a home-style Mexican restaurant located in a cave. How cool is that?

It’s called La Gruta (The Grotto). They have amazing food and nice, stiff cocktails (including mezcal). Reservations are recommended. We didn’t know that, and had to wait 45 minutes for a table. But once we got settled – wow.

So cool to eat in a cave

Wonderful, authentic, local dishes

We had a few drinks, and I had a delish stew with all the fixins. We had to rush a bit to get back to our driver, but this was an amazing way to end the trip to Teotihuacan. Especially because we were pretty hungry after all that climbing and walking.

Before you go, be sure to light a candle in reverence of the local spirits. You can walk up a staircase deeper into the cave and ask them to grant your deepest wish. ✨

Candle offerings to the spirits

Boat ride at Xochimilco

The next day, we rented a boat and cruised around the canals at Xochimilco – where you can find that creepy doll island. We were low on pesos, so had to opt for a canal tour instead. But it ended up being the perfect length of time (3 hours). Be sure to bring pesos to pay for bathrooms along the way (at 5 pesos a pop, which is about a quarter) and any drinks and food and entertainment – only cash is accepted.

Our port

We shoved off at Embarcadero Cuemanco, though there are many other ports set around the canal system.

You can rent a boat on demand, and tours are all at set prices – around $30 and up.

Vessel of the day

Our boat was the Cosita Hermosa, or “Pretty Little Thing.” Indeed, it was a total cutie. 😽

Our guide was a nine-year-old boy, under the direction of his papa.

Expert paddler at age nine

The canals are shallow, so they basically use long poles to push from the bottom.

We got micheladas for the ride, and rented a mariachi band for a song along our way.

Cheers from Xochimilco

This ended up a super relaxing way to recover from all the climbing the day before. A couple of beers, some snacks, and cruising on the river made for a wonderful time. And again, it was very sunny!

There they are – the dolls!

As a bonus, we got to see some creepy dolls anyway. If you like stuff like this, I recommend going to the island where hundreds of these dolls hang from the trees!

Frida Kahlo museum

On our last day, we visited Frida Kahlo’s house and studio. I love visual art, especially painting, so this was a dream come true for me. We learned more about Frida, her life, fascinations and psychoses, and her terrible afflictions.

I had no idea she was so immobile, or that her infertility haunted her until death. She was surely a complex, and deeply passionate woman. Being in her home and seeing her death mask, studio, and clothing was a deeply touching experience. I highly highly recommend a visit if you love art. It’s very tasteful and a lovely tribute to her life.

The incomparable Frida

Her wheelchair, paints, and brushes

She was obsessed with fertility

Death mask in her “day” bedroom

The entire house is adorned with sculptures, many of skeletons

Then of course there are the iconic dresses

And that shocking shade of blue

I could go on and on about this place and post tons more photos. Visiting here added a new dimension to my understanding of Frida Kahlo’s art. You will definitely feel her presence.

Wander around Coyoacan

As long as you’re in Coyoacan (“Place of the Coyotes”) where Frida’s house is located, you might as well wander the area. There are many great restaurants, old churches, and a street market to enjoy.

We had a fantastic dinner (with a mole sauce flight!) and spent a while at the artisanal market.

Down at the Mercado Artesanal

I got a cute button-up shirt and bag (see the photo at the top) and tried a few candy treats – including a delicious churro. This market is huge, and spans the length of a city block spread over two floors. Suffice it to say you can spend some serious time here.

While some merchants accept credit cards, you’ll want to bring some pesos just in case. My friends got lots of gifts, including purses, magnets, and baby clothes – you can find pretty much anything here (and even get a tattoo!).

Coyote fountain

We spent a while sitting in the plaza, eating our treats and looking at the fountain, then went to dinner across the way.

Coyoacan is considered the Bohemian center of Mexico City, so if you like handmade goods, shopping at markets, street food, and architecture, you must visit here – especially if you’re already here before or after the Frida museum.

Everything else

So what else did we do? We:

  • Wandered around Chapultepec (the huge ~1,700-acre park in the city center)
  • Had dinners and drinks in Polanco and Condesa)
  • Partied in Roma
  • Saw the Angel of Independence on La Reforma in Zona Rosa
  • Tried pulque for the first time
  • Drank lots of mezcal cocktails
  • Took many naps because see above 😝

Plus, I had one of the best old fashioneds I’ve ever had in my life.

Our big day trips were to Teotihuacan, Xochimilco for the boat ride, and Coyoacan to see the Frida museum. Then we filled in around the edges and wandered other neighborhoods.

In Polanco with my amazing old fashioned 😸

Along the way, we encountered the kindest people. Though Mexico City is a sprawling metropolis of nine million, it feels oddly calm on the sidewalks. And some of the best times were when we saw a cute place and popped in… on a lark.

Bottom line

Now this was the trip I wanted to take last November. But after going back a second time, I already know I want a third and fourth and twentieth visit to Mexico City.

On your first pass, you should do the “touristy” things (which are actually spectacular) then fill in with your personal interests. No matter what, you’re bound to find it somewhere.

I love Mexico in general, but especially Mexico City. The city reveals itself in layers, as huge cities tend to do. It’s up there with New York and Tokyo for me in that regard. It reminds me of how gritty New York used to be and where it still lives in parts of Japan.

Plus, everything is dirt cheap there. I’m talking opulent meals with apps, multiple drinks, and premium entrees for ~$30 a person. And world-class museums for a few bucks. If you’ve never been, you must!

And if you’ve been before, what’s your favorite part of Mexico City? What’s something you love to do there? I might add it to my next visit!

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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Comments

  1. Great summary and sweet hat! For Teotihuacan which I love, I have two further recommendations.

    Try to get there early in the morning say by 9. It is much less crowded and less likely to rain so it’s worth getting up early.

    If you do follow the early in morning, definitely bring a jacket. It’s cold, then hot, so make sure you have something you can carry.

    As re the Frida Kahlo house, you need to buy tickets in advance for most days. They are not hard to get but it does get crowded and it’s well worth it.

    Some other ideas:

    If you are there on a Sunday morning, the Reforma is closed to cars and open to bicycles, skaters, walkers, and is a great way to see the city, including Chapultepec Park.

    Nightlife is insanely cool and fun I am told by my younger acquaintances and from my peers, we always find a concert or other cultural event.

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