In some ways, choosing “the best” of Mexico City goes against what makes CDMX so appealing and interesting as a travel destination. The buzzing urban sprawl of 22 million people is built for wandering and chance discoveries: blue corn street tlacoyos like you’ve never tasted before. A ruined movie theater from the golden age of Mexican cinema. A pocket bamboo garden with flute music to instantly soothe the mind. You certainly can’t do it all in Mexico’s dynamic and ever-changing capital, so take advantage of everything that comes your way.
This does not mean that you do without a few guidelines. Back from a week in Mexico City on a graduation trip with our college-going son, I’ve compiled a list of favorites gleaned from our experience, online reviews, and conversations with locals. and seasoned visitors. Don’t think of them as must-haves, but rather as signposts along the way to remind you of what an incredible place you are.
The Sofitel Mexico City Reforma Hotel gets epic reviews for good reason. Rising directly above the Angel of Independence monument and bustling Paseo de la Reforma, the historic 40-story tower that opened on the eve of the pandemic puts you at the epicenter of the elegance and majesty of the financial district, with neighborhoods like Roma and La Condesa within easy walking distance. Elegant but moving with the most beautiful swimming pool on the 38th floor (and one of the most beautiful urban spas) in Latin America, the Sofitel has 275 rooms, including 56 suites furnished in a chic Scandinavian style: polished light woods, modular furniture in velvet, bathtub of your dreams. Service is warm without being over the top or pretentious, and rooftop bar Cityzen is an exceptional place to clink margaritas above the twinkling lights of the world’s largest Spanish-speaking city. Salud!
The Wild Oscar is one of those hidden travel gems that you’ll try to keep to yourself but end up telling everyone about anyway. The luxury private residence in upscale Polanco is so delightful. Mingling with its posh apartment neighbors, you can barely tell from the street that it’s open to guests. Inside, however, it’s a welcome retreat. There’s a gold passe-partout wall behind reception and a clubby retro lobby, lit by Edison-style bulbs and dotted with vintage art books. Upstairs, 28 suites of seven different categories, including several with private brick balconies, are spread over four floors and all have the air of sophisticated pied-à-terre. The service is personalized, right down to memorizing the coffee you prefer in the morning. The original artwork was done by local artists and comes from the owners’ travels. Furniture is designed for every space. The iconic plush red robes make you feel like you own the place. Polanco is Mexico City’s fanciest neighborhood and the property is close to some of the best shopping (Pressed for time? Look no further than Onoro) and restaurants (you’re only a five-minute walk from the legendary Pujol). In the beautiful rooftop garden, one night during our stay, a DJ played beats for an international crowd of young entrepreneurs and gorgeous locals. But the party ended at 10 p.m. Even regulars want to keep the wild Oscar magic low.
I didn’t know about Gyde and Seek until I started looking for a guide to the wonders of CDMX. The US-based global travel company operating since 2016 in more than 20 cities focuses on socially responsible private tours led by carefully selected ‘gydes’ who are as knowledgeable as they are not boring. Bottom line: you’re highly unlikely to find yourself stuck with a buzzing mansplainer (Gyde and Seek is run by two dynamic women: seasoned travel consultant Vanessa Guibert Heitner and consultant Andrea Guthrie, who had had enough of boring tours). Services are private and personalized, which makes it gimmicky, but prices are reasonable — rates for this tour are $40 per hour for up to 25 people. Another benefit: 2% of your costs go directly to non-profit organizations doing meaningful work in your destination. Paco, our awesome Gyde for the day, was a recovering former professional bullfighter and chess prodigy with a college degree in Mexican cultural history. He spoke Aztec cultural history and Luis Barragán architecture as well as he was to save us the hiccups of Mexico City’s Eater 38 (say yes to Hugo and Lardo; Los Panchos, not so much). From the minute we met at our hotel and throughout the day trip to the famous canals of Xochimilco and the Frida Kahlo house, we felt like locals with a favorite Mexico City uncle in our sides.
Bikes and Munchies, founded in Mexico City in 2017 by Paola Amador and Sven Urselmann, receives so many jaw-dropping five-star reviews on TripAdvisor (the experience is ranked #1 out of 235 outdoor activities), it almost gives you the vertigo. I like a good bike ride and the price is right so we spent a day with the friendly local guide Sebastian on a food safari through La Condesa and Roma. As visitors, it’s wise to have someone point out the best tamale carts and churro counters, and each stop was more delicious than the next. Bikes & Munchies offers a distinct food tour of Mexico City’s historic center, as well as a vegan route. The CDMX has become much more bike-friendly during the pandemic, so even if you’re nervous about big-city riding, it’s worth considering this as a safe and comfortable ride. Two wheels take you further than two feet, and the more of them you see in Mexico City, the happier you’ll be.