Judging from the reactions I got upon telling friends and family about my upcoming trip to Mexico City, the country’s most populous city suffers from a bit of a perception issue.
There were the well-meaning proclamations of water warnings and safety concerns; one even brought up Man on Fire, the 2004 thriller in which Denzel Washington goes to great lengths to save Dakota Fanning in what’s portrayed as a grungy, dangerous metropolis.
And so, when my husband and I arrived, we were a bit apprehensive—our Spanish is comically bad, and we’d heard that many people there don’t speak English.
Edgar, our Uber driver from the airport to our bed and breakfast, confirmed the language barrier, although he tried his best to communicate and we gave it a good effort, too. But something else about him proved to be true for the people we met throughout our stay—he was genuinely friendly, not put off by our terrible Spanish, and gave us tourists the benefit of the doubt.
At the Red Tree House in the Condesa district, the hotel staff treated us like old friends. They made our dinner reservations each night, served us a hearty breakfast each morning, and poured us complimentary glasses of red wine or cups of mezcal each evening before we went out.
The hipster ’hood itself was instantly one of my favorites of all time, one that encourages exploration via the Avenida Ámsterdam, a long, looped walkway lined by tall trees.
And although the area is world-famous for its hot restaurants and lively bar scene, it also boasted a surprisingly neighborhoody feel—something we hadn’t expected to find in a metro area home to almost 20 million people.
Residents run the Avenida with their dogs, read in the many small parks, and sip coffee in sidewalk cafes. Nearby Colonia Roma, which is also trés trendy, often inviting comparisons to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, includes a host of cosmopolitan boutiques and a super-cool food hall, Mercado Roma, where you can sample everything from a sushi burrito to a wagyu beef taco to the perfect pistachio paleta.
But as far as ambience, Condesa has Roma beat, and we found ourselves sticking close to “home” each evening, sampling restaurants including Azul Condesa, which offers upscale Mexico City fare like chiles en nogada and guacamole with grasshoppers, and MeroToro, known for its high-end Baja Californian cuisine. Despite the deliciousness of each well-prepared dish, multi-course meals for two with a bottle of wine never topped $100.
During the day, we hit cultural sites like Museo Frida Kahlo, the artist’s old residence, which has been kept intact and includes a room full of her beautiful clothes; Casa Luis Barragan, the colorful, light-filled home of the Pritzker Prize–winning architect; and Bosque de Chapultepec, the city’s nearly 1,700-acre park, which is home to several museums including the contemporary Museo Tamayo and the Museo Nacional de Antropología. We wandered the park's grounds, stopping to buy hot-sauce-doused potato chips from a street vendor and take in a traditional dance performance.
The thing that had us planning our next trip immediately, though, was the friendly approachableness of it all. We’d expected the hustle and bustle of a huge city, and indeed, it was there, but softened by the smiles on the street and the endearing conversations of broken English and broken Spanish, not all that different from home.
Stay: The Red Tree House, from $95 per night
Fly: Aeromexico direct to Mexico City, starting at $100 one-way
Tip: For a one-stop souvenir shop, check out Mercado de Artesanias la Ciudadela