The secret is out – Mexico is cheap, cheerful, and jam packed with history. And tacos.
Anyone travelling to Mexico is likely to spend at least one or two nights in the capital, referred to by locals as D.F. (Distrito Federal). We’ve kept costs in mind when putting this guide together. This means you can save dollars on accommodation and afford to shove more tacos down your throat than you thought physically possible. Read on to discover what to eat, see and do in the sprawling capital.
The underground train network is cheap and avoids the congestion of the roads. Staying in the Centro Historico means you’ll be close to attractions like the Templo Mayor Museum and the impressive Catedral Metropolitana.
The following hotels are close to metro stations, and are perfect bases for exploring the vast city.
Casa San Ildefonso
Located in a 19th century building across the road from San Ildefonso Museum (best known for its works from famous muralists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros) is Casa San Ildefonso. Like Amigo Suites below, dorm beds and private rooms are available for an extremely attractive price.
This is the place to stay if you want to be in the thick of the action for a price that’s less than your usual Dominoes order.
Amigo suites is only two blocks from the main plaza and mayhem of central Mexico City. The rooms vary from dorms to private doubles with ensuites. The real highlight here is the rooftop bar and terrace, which is the ideal place to put your feet up after a day of exploring.
Words to know
Chela: Che-la. Mexican slang for ‘beer’.
No Manches: No man-chez. Slang for ‘You can’t be serious’. Some of the hotels below are at ‘no manches’ prices.
Chido: Chee-doe. It means cool, but not cool as in temperature, cool as in what your Mum might describe as ‘funky’ or ‘hip’. Mexicans love this word and there are several hotels that have embraced it in their core design.
Revered Mexican designer, Ignacio Cadena, is the man behind the striking industrial layout and interior design of Carlota. Once in a state of decay, the hotel was completely renovated in 2015 maintaining many of the original features and layout.
Special attention has been given to the central courtyard, home to the crystal clear, glass walled pool. Sit by the pool, and enjoy a meal from the in-house restaurant that focuses on organic and sustainable produce. And yes, they serve chilaquiles (read on to find out what the fuss is about).
Room Mate Valentina
Located in one of Mexico City’s ‘coolest’ suburbs, Juárez, Room Mate Valentina delivers when it comes to interior design. Looking at the pictures, you’d think this hotel would cost a mint, but the beauty of Mexico City means it doesn’t. Rooms are a cross between crisp white beds, fluorescent geometric walls, and all the colours you’d expect from a Mexican marketplace.
What to see
Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls): Legend has it that in 1951 an island caretaker found the body of a drowned girl, with her doll washing up nearby. To appease the girl’s spirit, he hung her doll to a tree, and kept doing so with hundreds of other mutilated dolls he collected over time. Visit the island to see the ‘haunted’ dolls.
Museo Frida Kahlo: If you’re in Mexico City, then a visit to Frida Kahlo’s house should be on your to-do list. The little blue house is located on an un-assuming street, and is where the revered artist was born, grew up, and eventually died.
Mercado San Juan: Located in the heart of Mexico City’s historic centre is every foodie’s dream – a market that sells almost everything edible. Chapulines (fried grasshoppers) jumiles (stink bugs) and ALL of the cheeses are just some of the things you’ll find inside the market.
This hotel exudes Mexican spirit in the best way. It’s cheap. It’s colourful. And there are statues of La Virgen de Guadalupe everywhere.
Some of the larger rooms open onto breezy balconies – perfect for kicking back with a beer in the evening.
Your dollar is going to go a long way when it comes to accommodation, but be warned: cheap is not always cheerful (note: Bed bugs are not fun, and I wish I did not know this from personal experience).
Things to eat
Don’t go expecting burritos and nachos. They aren’t actually Mexican, and Ol El Paso has been feeding us lies.
So what can you expect food wise? Tacos: Al pastor, bistec, longaniza – it really doesn’t matter what kind of protein they’re filled with, they’re still going to be damn delicious. If you’re hungover, take note: the Mexican equivalent of a Bacon & Egg roll is Chilaquiles. This meal consists of corn chips drowned in salsa and topped with eggs.
Drink: Micheladas – Everything Mexicans love combined into the one tasty beverage. Beer, lime juice, Clamato juice and hot sauce. What could go wrong?
If you’re looking for a cheap and simple private room that wasn’t last redecorated in the 1970s, Stella Maris is your go-to. The contemporary furnishings, free WiFi, and rooftop pool are among the highlights, as is the location to some of the best tacos in town.
Walk one block northwest of the hotel and you’ll find La Periquita, a restaurant that specialises in tacos árabes. Put simply, these are tacos crossed with a kebab. A match made in heaven.
Strange Mexican Things
– Chilli goes on everything – you name it – Mango, cucumber, lollies, and even in your beer.
– Telenovelas – TV series like Home & Away or Neighbours on drama steroids and Mexicans love them.
– You have to pay for public toilets, and even then, there still probably won’t be toilet paper.
– Clothes store mannequins have huge butts. And it’s great.
– Lucha Libre – grown men pretending to wrestle wearing elaborate masks. Kind of like the Mardi Gras meets WWE. Go and watch a show, drink beer and cheer them on.
Ever dreamt of sleeping in a sewer pipe? Nah, neither had we. You have to admire the ingenuity of anyone who decides to transform their spare drainage pipes into accommodation though. An hour’s drive South of D.F., Tubohotel’s cosy ‘rooms’ sleep two, and look out onto the pool (we promise it’s clean).
Planning a trip to Central and South America? Check out our guide to the best budget hotels in Rio de Janeiro.