I didn’t expect to love Mexico City.
Seriously, I didn’t even expect to like it… and truth be told I cried nearly the entire drive to move there.
Unexpectedly, it quickly gained a place in my heart second only to Bangkok.
While I no longer live in Mexico’s biggest city (we’ve since moved to Puebla and now Puerto Vallarta), but I still find a time to visit at least a few times a year. I love it that much, and use any excuse I can find to make it back (in fact, I’m going again in just 2 weeks and can’t wait!)
The Positives of Living in (And Visiting) Mexico City
1. World-class food
I would seriously argue that Mexico City has the best street food of any city, anywhere in the world. Anyone can find something they like, and everyone can find something they’ve never tried before: there are just SO many options… and at jaw-droppingly low prices. You’ll find the tastiest street food dishes and widest variety near office complexes and anywhere lots of people work, on working weekdays, before 3pm.
If street food isn’t your thing, the city is also home to some of the most incredible restaurants, hailing from nearly every corner of the world, from Middle Eastern (we especially liked El Jamil) to Brazilian to homegrown hipster. Again, the prices tend to be around 50% lower than a comparable meal in the US.
2. SO much to do
Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world, so if you’re a culture or history or science buff, you’re all set right there, with options including the Light Museum, the Peace and Tolerance Museum, the world-renowned Anthropology Museum, and so much more.
For outdoorsy and active types, the city has acres of green space and running opportunities, with two of my favorites being Parque Mexico (which is full of dogs on the weekend, love!) and Parque Chapultepec.
There’s always one festival or another going on (especially in plazas like the Zocalo), or some celebration of culture. Conde Nast sums up the hippest happenings each month here, so check it out when you’re visiting.
While Mexico City is enormous, it’s also quite walkable, especially if you choose where you’re staying based on what you’ll be getting up to. Trust me, you’ll want to walk as much as possible if it means avoiding traffic, which is unreasonably bad throughout the city, especially at peak traffic times (mornings and evenings).
If you’re feeling like a lot of walking (or you need to up your steps in your latest FitBit challenge), you can even get from Condesa to the Zocalo in around an hour, passing some interesting buildings and architecture along the way.
4. Surprisingly special-diet friendly
While Mexican cuisine has a reputation for lots of pork lard, and Latin America, in general, isn’t known for its vegetarian-friendliness, Mexico City is a total exception. The city has tons of vegan-only restaurants along with vegan health-food stores (my favorite is Mr. Tofu, which has the full range of Daiya products).
If you’re gluten-free, you’ll be delighted to know that most dishes use corn tortillas (though you’ll always want to confirm when ordering), and there are several restaurants that offer such delights as gluten-free waffles, gluten-free pasta, and more.
5. Awesome place to learn Spanish
There are a range of Spanish schools, but if you’ve got a strict schedule or lack easy transport, it’s easy to find amazing private-class Spanish teachers at great prices. My Spanish teacher, who came to the Starbucks next door to my house for lessons, was getting a degree in linguistics, spoke several languages fluently, and charged just 500 pesos for a 2 hour session. (unfortunately, my Spanish teacher is no longer in Mexico City, but checking out the expat Facebook groups is the best way to find an up-to-date recommendation)
Aside from organized instruction, Mexico City is the perfect place to practice your Spanish because people are so incredibly nice and speak pretty clearly.
6. Engaged expat community
One of my least favorite parts of living in Bangkok was how isolated most of the expat community seemed from the locals. Many had their own expat bars, rarely socialized with people born there, and existed in a sort of separate universe.
That’s not the case in Mexico City, where expats (in general!) seem much less isolated and much more engaged in the local community.
There are lots of groups available for expats and visitors to learn more about the city and culture and/or to get involved in the community. While I didn’t have a great experience with Internations, I have a lot of friends who recommend them. I would suggest the Women’s Club of Mexico City (if you identify as female).
For activities outside of clubs, one of my favorites is the weekly Photo Walk. For a less structured experience, just go to a plaza/park and hang out.
7. Shopping, I suppose
I’m definitely not a shopaholic, and I don’t consider “shopping” to be a legit hobby. Sorry! If you are into consumerism, though, Mexico City is a great city for it. The artisans market at Ciudadela is a great place to pick up souvenirs, and malls like Antara or pretty much all of Santa Fe (just kidding but seriously, that whole neighborhood seems to be one endless shopping mall) have a mix of local stores and big-name international brands.
I break out my wallet (and push the limits of my budget) for Lush and the aforementioned Mr. Tofu, only.
8. Amazing apartment buildings
Whether you’re living in Mexico City or just visiting, it’s hard to ignore the variety of incredible housing in Mexico City and relative value (though it is the most expensive rent market in all of Mexico).
There’s an option for every taste, from modern high-rises in Polanco with pools and gyms, to old-school houses broken up into condos in Condesa. If you’re visiting for a short time, Airbnb is usually the best bang for your buck (here’s a link for $35 off the first time you use Airbnb, which definitely equals a free night in an awesome Mexico City apartment).
9. Cheap flights
Whether you’re traveling on to a new destination, or living in Mexico City and taking a vaca, you’ll be able to appreciate the low flight costs.
Seriously, Mexico City airport has cheap flights EVERYWHERE. Domestic flights are low (you can easily score roundtrip tickets to almost any destination for under $100 roundtrip if you plan ahead), but so are international flights.
The US is so close, which is great for family visits. I could fly into Chicago for under $250 roundtrip, and vice versa when my family wants to visit me. I also scored a last minute, less-than-2 weeks-out deal for a nonstop flight to Las Vegas for $320 roundtrip.
Things I Don’t Miss About Mexico City: The Downsides of Living in Mexico City
1. Awful air pollution
you can’t see it, but the smog is there
Sometimes I would walk through a fog of smog so thick I could see it, and if I couldn’t make it through without taking a breath, I’d cross the other side coughing and burning and sputtering.
The city is certainly trying to do something, like installing “green walls” and enforcing driving bans (depending on your license plate, there are certain days of the week you just can’t drive).
2. Rough parking situation
crowds like this make parking – and driving in general – hard
Parking is relatively pricey and can be hard to find in Mexico City (not to mention how insane the traffic is).
If you’re visiting, this is no big deal (skip the rental car and use Uber, it’s cheap and safe and easy, and your first ride is FREE with this link).
If you’re living in the city, it can be a big annoyance, to that point that we opted not to have a car just because parking is so expensive and difficult (both in your own apartment building, and everywhere else).
3. Relatively high rent
surprisingly, living in Polanco (neighborhood shown) is cheaper than living in Condesa
If you’re coming from New York City or San Francisco, you will choke on your drink at this observation, as compared to your crazy costs, Mexico City rentals ain’t no thing.
But for Mexico, rent prices are HIGH. In fact, the average rent is higher in Mexico City than any other city in the country (yeah, that means it’s cheaper to live near the beach in Puerto Vallarta or Cancun or Puerto Escondido than to live in Mexico City).
For example: A two-bedroom, two-bathroom unfurnished apartment in a modern high-rise in Condesa costs 26,000 pesos a month.
For comparison, a four-bedroom, four-bathroom unfurnished independent house with a yard in a community with 24-hour security in Lomas de Angelopolis, Puebla costs 16,000 pesos a month. A three-bedroom, two-bathroom unfurnished condo in Fluvial, Puerto Vallarta (a 15-minute walk to the beach or the mall) costs 18,000 a month.
4. It’s hard to find a yard
parks yes, yards no
While green spaces are scattered throughout the city and easily accessible, a little yard of your own isn’t quite so easy to find. Because the majority of housing within the main areas of Mexico City take the form of apartments, finding a space with a yard is near impossible. While it’s not a big deal (especially to my husband who prefers apartments and has only ever lived in them previously), I love a little garden space of my own, and to be able to just let the dog(s) outside if I’m feeling lazy AF and not feeling like taking an elevator down 18 floors.
5. Nonstop noise
not Mexico, but this looks accurate
Mexico City has ridiculous traffic (this point bears repeating, TRUST ME), and for some reason, everyone seems to think that blaring their horn makes them get through traffic faster… even at 4am.
Add to this the sound of firecrackers and cannons that seem to go off 24/7, whether for a saint’s day or some holiday, and you’ve got guaranteed noise pretty much every hour of the day.
On top of that, noise regulations aren’t really enforced, so if you’re unlucky enough to have college student or party hearty neighbors… invest in some of those Bose noise-canceling headphones. You’ll need them.
6. Negative public perception
not scared, just excited about this big ol Marg!
Let me set the record straight: Mexico City is not unsafe. Yes, it has sketchy areas (as does every city!! including the ones in the US), but those are easy to avoid, and the areas with the most tourist interest are also the most safe, so you will be fine with a bit of common sense, a pickpocket-proof bag to deter petty crime (I love the Travelon line), and simple jewelry only.
The problem with the media and Mexico City is that they only like to show the unsafe areas, and the negative statistics… which means that most family and friends didn’t want to visit us when we lived there, even though flight prices were cheap and pretty much everyone could get a direct flight in.