Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to one day in Mexico City! The historical center of Mexico City is an obvious place to start your exploration of the Distrito Federal. But who wants to be obvious? Be sure to spend at least one day in Mexico City exploring one of the other neighborhoods and visiting attractions like the Anthropology Museum.
Why not start with the upscale Polanco quarter, which is home to many of the most famous restaurants in Latin America? We will start the one day in Mexico City with a 7 course food tour, continue with a trip to the most popular museum in Mexico, the Anthropology Museum, stroll through a park so big it is actually called a forest, and then finish with some gourmet…grasshoppers!
All you need is a sense of adventure! Well, that and money. They won’t serve you food if you don’t have money.
One Day in Mexico City
Where to Stay?
My recommendation for your 24 hours in Mexico City would be Chillout Flats Bed and Breakfast. It’s a family run B&B right in downtown Mexico City. The area felt very safe even at night. Best of all, a delicious breakfast was included everyday. It’s served at a large table with the other guests, so as a solo traveler you can make friends. When I stayed there, the other guests were all French speakers like me, so I truly lucked out!
One Day in Mexico City
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today around Mexico City. It’s very frequently hot here, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around Mexico City. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so you’ll never run out of juice!
One Day in Mexico City
Morning: Polanco Food Tour
Polanco is home to some of the wealthiest people in Latin America. I guess those Richie Richs like to eat well because Polanco is also home to amazing restaurants from the legendary Pujol to fabulous hole-in-the-walls that only serve tamales. The best way to see this famous area during your one day in Mexico City is through the Mexican Food Tours Polanco Food Tour.
I was the only one who signed up for the tour on this day in February, so I had the guide Luis all to myself. Good for me, because I am just as greedy for attention as I am for food. And we’re being classy at the Anthropology Museum later, so I can be as greedy as I want this morning.
24 Hour Tip
The tour doesn’t start until 11, but you will want to get your morning started before then! Why not explore the ritzy shops around Polanco a little bit? For example, I think this is an unfortunate name for a furniture store…
But maybe there are stores in the neighborhood with even more unfortunate names. Who can say? Also many of the streets in the neighborhood are named after famous thinkers and writers so it’s fun to see how many you can recognize. Now let the tour begin!
Approximately top 5: Polanco food tour edition
1) Oaxacan mole
Our first stop of the tour was at a wonderful Oaxacan restaurant called Guzina Oaxaca. Luis told me that Oaxacan food is famous for its moles.nI got a chance to sample three of them: red, yellow, and black. They were all good, but the spicy yellow mole was my favorite because I had never tried anything like it before. But the mole sampling wasn’t even the main attraction at this restaurant! Lucky, lucky me!
At each food stop, I was given a Mexican drink (sometimes alcoholic but usually not) and a small snack. Here the drink was refreshing pineapple water, and the snack was a memela. A memela is a thick corn tortilla topped with a thin spread of refried beans and crumbled white cheese. I felt very cozy eating this warm and homey dish.
2) one hot tamale
Our next stop was at a tiny tamale restaurant called, appropriately enough, Tamalli, and I was served a chicken tamale. The beverage was a delicious warm guava drink thickened with cornstarch that tasted a little like a dessert. I loved how flavorful the tamale was, and you could tell it had been freshly prepared. I was also satisfied with the amount of chicken fillings. Tamales can sometimes be too corny.
3) beef taco
Now that I’d had beans and chicken, it was time for beef! To be more precise, a fresh beef taco made with a blue corn tortilla at a restaurant called Surtidora Don Batiz. The taco was bursting with spice and taste, and I loved the adorable look of the restaurant. The concept is the fun look and vibe of a cantina combined with restaurant-quality food. This way you get the lively atmosphere of the cantina and the gastronomic appeal of a good restaurant.
This taco was served with an agave beer flavored with a little cranberry. Remember, agave beer is an alcoholic drink made with agave, just like mezcal and tequila, but it is much, much lighter in alcohol content. Thank goodness, as I try not to get drunk at noon these days.
4) Marlin tostado
Next it was time to be under the sea at Agua & Sel, which you can probably guess is a seafood restaurant (not literally under the sea). Now it was time for a beautifully plated shredded marlin served on a corn chip with a slice of perfect avocado on top. I washed it all down with a refreshing glass of ginger limeade that mer-fectly complimented the marlin tostado. I really loved this concept of pairing a perfect beverage with each snack. All food tours should do it!
5) Tortilla soup
After the chic Aqua & Sel, we went to a much more cazh cantina called Karisma to try their hearty and filling tortilla soup. My favorite part of this dish was the sultry black mushroom you can see in my photo!
Even better than the soup was the rich and tart tamarind drink served with it. I think this was my favorite of all the drinks we had on the tour. Tamarind is such an unusual flavor! I really associate with my trips to Latin America because it’s popular in Mexico and Puerto Rico.
6) Mexican chocolate
Now that we had eaten a five-course lunch, it was time for the two-course dessert! Our first dessert was at a chocolate shop called Que Bo that specializes in serving upscale Mexican filled chocolate. I was treated to a sample of two: coffee-chocolate and Pan de Muerto, which is a sweet anise-flavored bread served in Mexico around the time of Dia de los Muertos.
The treats were served with a small drink of mezcal, my new favorite liquor. Both chocolates were delicious, but the Pan de Muerto chocolate was really something special. I’ve never had a sweet bread-anise-chocolate before!
7) Mamey ice cream
The final stop was at Neveria Roxy, a charmingly old-fashioned ice cream parlor for a decidedly nontraditional flavor: mamey. The mamey is a beautiful fruit (technically a berry) that grows in Central America, and it is especially popular when turned into ice cream. The flavor was a little bit like pumpkin, a little bit like cherry, and very creamy. I’m glad I didn’t have a whole carton of this stuff or I would have eaten the whole thing.
24 Hour Treasure
Perhaps my favorite part of the tour was when I mentioned to Luis that I had tried and liked the Yucatecan liquor xtabentun in Merida, and he stopped at a liquor store in Polanco to help me find a bottle. They didn’t have it, but they confirmed for me that their store in the historic center did carry it if I wanted to buy some that evening. Way to be a proactive and helpful tour guide, as well as to spread the wonders of Mexican booze around the world!
One Day in Mexico City
Afternoon: National Anthropology Museum
The Anthropology Museum is the most popular museum in Mexico, and it’s pretty easy to see why. For one reason, the Anthropology Museum has just about every artifact that any reasonable person interested in Mexican history could want to examine, and it has quite a few artifacts that only an unreasonable person would want to examine. Also, it has an upside-down fountain called “El Paraguas” at the entrance that simulates rain. Where do they get those wonderful toys?
24 Hour Tip
It is tempting to walk under the Upside Down fountain, but don’t do it! A guard will definitely yell at you. I saw that happen at least thrice while I was at the Anthropology Museum and it will spoil your one day in Mexico City. Instead of getting soaked and screamed at, why not soak up…
THREE FUN FACTS: Anthropology Museum
1) what is this?
The Special treasure of the Museum is the gimungo Aztec Sun Stone pictured above. The fiendly looking chappie in the middle is the God of the Sun. He is charmingly holding a heart in each hand and a knife in his mouth. I don’t think that’s a very polite way to greet people. Next time the God of the Sun invites me to his house for a petite soiree, I’m RSVPing no. Sadly, other than its obvious role in terrifying POWs, no one knows exactly what the Sun Stone was for. They’re pretty sure it must have been part of a religious ritual.
2) What are these people doing?
Each region of Mexico not only has its own food traditions, it also has its own celebratory traditions and religious traditions. But one element that is popular in many different regions of Mexico is the use of the jaguar as a symbol of martial strength and masculinity. Look at the display of these proud gentlemen and their inner spotted cat! The symbolism makes sense to me–I’m sure a jaguar is just as brave as a lion and, IMHO, it has much better fashion sense.
3) Are there any un-fun facts?
After the Spanish came, they brought Christianity with them and converted the Native populations of Mexico to Christianity (sometimes willingly, sometimes by force). After that, many Mexican religious celebrations combined Christianity with indigenous religious practices. I guess that the cross in the display at the Anthropology Museum here is part of the Christian influence? I am so smort!
You should leave two and half hours to explore the Anthropology Museum, though truth be told, you could probably spend all day here and not see all the things the Anthropology Museum has to offer. At this point you are probably all overwhelmed with tortilla soup, mezcal, and culture, so let’s get you outside for…
One Day in Mexico City
Late Afternoon: Bosque de Chapultepec
We’re going to continue our one day in Mexico City with this impressive sight. The Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the largest parks I have ever been in. Bosque actually means forest in Spanish, not park, so that should give you some idea of how big the park is. The Anthropology Museum is right in the Chapultepec P., so you will hardly have to walk for a long time to go check the park out!
With a park this big, it can feel overwhelming to decide what to do. So let me help you out with…
APPROXIMATELY TOP FIVE: CHAPULTEPEC PARK
1) Lago Menor
Rent a little blue paddleboat and go for a ride on the beautiful Lago Menor (Smaller Lake). There’s a Lago Major as well, but apparently the Smaller Lake is more popular. I guess good lakes come in small packages.
2) Shop Stop
Go shopping for random tchotchkes or snacks from kiosks. DON’T BUY A STUFFED MINION, THOUGH! Those are not authentically Mexican. If your child asks you for one, tell him not to be such a tourist and keep walking. Just leave him alone in the park. He deserves it for his bad taste in souvenirs.
3) a real castle
Go check out Chapultepec Castle, former home of Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I. It will be too late to go inside, but you can still admire the only real North American royal castle from the exterior. Try not to remember that Maximilian was definitely executed by the Mexican people for being a terrible Emperor and also for being Austrian.
OK, now that I showed you that painting of Maximilian getting shot at close range, I feel like it might be harder to forget that he was executed. That’s on me.
4) Chapultepec Hill
Go for a walk up Chapultepec Hill, where the Castle is located and check out the views of Mexico City. You’re going to want to work up a big appetite for our amazing dinner!
One Day in Mexico City
Evening: Dinner at Dulce Patria
You might feel that after the food tour this morning, you don’t need a big dinner. How wrong you are, Internet Stranger! You do need a big dinner to finish your one day in Mexico City! This is Mexico, and we’re not going to waste even one bit of time that could be spent chowing down on amazing Mexican eats.
There are three very important reasons to dine at Dulce Patria. San Pellegrino says its one of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America. The chef is an alarmingly inventive woman, Martha Ortiz. Most importantly, the food is fantastic.
I began my evening with a stunning mezcal and orange cocktail with this scrumptiously insane chile foam on top and a chile candy on the side. It was a feast for the eyes and also for my tongue. As far as I am concerned, people need to combine booze and candy more often. Less health for all, that’s my motto!
24 hour treat: grasshoppers
Dulce Patria is known for its boundary-pushing food, so I wanted to take a big risk when I was there and try the tomato salad with…grasshopper-Parmesan crackers. There was something so decadent about eating perfect tomatoes in February to me. I am from NYC which was recently hit by a snowstorm. The grasshoppers didn’t have much of a taste, but they added a fun crunch to the crackers. (No, I do not feel squicked about eating bugs. I can eat anything. Plus I think grasshoppers are kind of cute, which makes it easier for me to eat them)
24 hour treat: pink mole
After a light appetizer, I decided to go for a heartier main course and get the duck with mole and rice. Martha Ortiz is famous for her pink mole. I had already had red, yellow, and black mole earlier than day, so why not pink? Mole! I don’t know exactly what she puts in it to make it pink. Maybe beets? Cotton candy? Lipstick? I appreciated the small portion size. The duck was perfect but extremely rich and the mole only made it richer.
I was getting full at this point. For dessert I wanted something lighter. That’s why I ate a spearmint ice with Mexican fruits and flowers that came straight from the mind of Siegfried and Roy. Martha Ortiz sometimes uses molecular gastronomy. That smoke you see in the picture is the liquid nitrogen that froze the mint ice. I like a little show with my food, and the mint flavor of the ice was pure and strong, which I assume was due to the rapid freezing process with the liquid nitrogen.
24 hour treasure: my beloved chicken
After I finished, I got this free platter with a gorgeous chicken sculpture on top that very tragically I was not allowed to keep. But chicken aside, the sweetie platter was full of tamarind and apricot jellies, chocolates, milk candies, and little nutty cookies.
I bet you think I could not polish of these goodies after the day of eating I had experienced. WRONG! I ate them all, and they were spectacular. I think the delicate milk candies were my favorite, although I can never resist a tamarind treat.
Afterward, I rolled myself out into the street, hopped onto the 25 cent subway, and slept the sleep of a person who had consumed about 35 things that day. Viva Mexico!
Related Reading: One Day in Mexico City
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Mexico City right now? Then let me help you get started with some suggestions for further reading. My favorite guidebooks for the region are the Moon Travel guides to Mexico City. In fact, these are my favorite guides for the Americas because they are so detailed.
If you want to become more immersed in Mexican culture, The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes is a true classic of Mexican literature. Whether you want to actually read the book and expand your mind or just carry it around and impress people is entirely up to you, Internet Stranger!
If you’re in the mood for more contemporary Mexican literature, try Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis. This is a coming of age story set in both Mexico City and Oaxaca. It has first love, nudists, Ukrainian dwarves…basically everything I am looking for in a novel.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. If you have more time to spend than just one day in Mexico City, and you really should, check out my other itineraries for Mexico’s capital here and also here. If you want to spend 24 hours in Merida click here. And if you have an extra 24 hours to spend with Chichen Itza check out my other itinerary here.