Things to See and Do in Mexico City (Part 2) – And why Teotihuacan was a massive disappointment

Things to See and Do in Mexico City (Part 2) – And why Teotihuacan was a massive disappointment

I’m going to get into trouble for this post.

I’ve previously written about Mexico City (Part 1) and how impressed I was. It’s a HUGE city and really can only be explored bit by bit. Last time we (my Mom and I) stayed in the historic center and explored some of the neighborhoods using the Hop On/Hop Off bus (which is a great way for the first timer to get a feel for Mexico City).

This time we stayed in an Airbnb apartment outside the Historic Center and were a little more adventurous getting around. We also visited the famous Mesoamerican ruins of Teotihuacan, a place I was dying to see after having previously visited Monte Alban (outside Oaxaca) and Cholula (outside Puebla). As you can probably guess by the title of this post, the experience was a letdown. I’ll explain that in this post as well as cover where you should go instead to get a more rewarding Teotihuacan experience. I’ll also add a few things (including 3 museums) to my list of things to see and do in Mexico City.

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Teotihuacan

 

Teotihuacan, Mexico (3)

Located 48 km from Mexico City, Teotihuacan was the largest Mesoamerican city in the Americas. It was inhabited between 100 BC and 700 AD and at it’s peak (around 450 AD) it covered an area of about 30 square km and had a population of approximately 150,000. The city was connected by a large avenue known as the Avenue of the Dead (above photo) which takes you from the Temple of Quetzalcoatl on one end, to the Temple of the Sun (the largest temple) about two-thirds of the way through, to the Temple of the Moon at the other end. These 3 Temples evoke the mysticism of Mesoamerican culture: the worshipping of the gods, the huge pyramids built to appease them, and grisly human (and animal) sacrifice. The history is fascinating. Unfortunately the site isn’t.

Mom “Totally uninspiring”.
Me “Big piles of rocks”.

Mom lasted about 25 minutes, enough to see the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and walk about 200 m down the Avenue of the Dead. “I think I’ll just go sit somewhere and have a coffee” said she. I continued on by myself down the cemented road, passing stray dogs and vendors selling tacky trinkets, until I reached the Temple of the Sun. I climbed up, enjoyed the views, and decided to go find Mom. I had also had enough.

These are the best of a whole bunch of very uninspiring photos.

Teotihuacan, Mexico (2)

Above: the Temple of Quetzalcoatl

Teotihuacan, Mexico (4)

Above: Temple of the Sun

Teotihuacan, Mexico (5)

 Above: Views of the Avenue of the Dead and Temple of the Moon from the top of the Temple of the Sun.

Teotihuacan, Mexico (6)

Above: On the cemented Avenue of the Dead looking towards the Temple of the Moon. Blah, never mind.

Besides finding it just plain uninspiring, I have a few other gripes about Teotihuacan. Unlike the sites of Cholula and Monte Alban (which I found incredible) there are vendors all over Teotihuacan. If they’re not pushing you to buy tacky plastic souvenirs they’re making jaguar sounds with some kind of mouth piece they’re also trying to sell. You’re walking around and you hear jaguar sounds all over the place. Frigin Annoying. Mom: “no benches, no shade, not even a nice cafe. The river passing through the site smells like raw sewage. Can you imagine what these people living here hundreds of years ago would say about our civilization?”.

I browsed the internet and have yet to find anyone who has been disappointed visiting Teotihuacan. It gets great reviews on Trip Advisor. But I somehow find it impossible to believe that we are the only people to find Teotihuacan disappointing*….

* See Tony’s comment below in the comments section. He enjoyed Teotihuacan and has some good tips on how to best explore the site.

Below: short video.

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Want to really get a great understanding of Teotihuacan in a more stimulating setting? See the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City instead (below).

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National Museum of Anthropology
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National Museum of Anthropology, mexico city

Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum is a world class museum, the best Anthropology Museum I’ve ever visited. It details the history of Mexico, from the first people who migrated to the area, describing the evolution of humans through the ages and regions of Mexico. It also covers all the major archeaological sites in Mexico: the Mayan temples in the Yucatan and Chiapas (Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Yaxchilan, Tulum, Palenque), the Zapotec and Mixtec sites in the Central Valley of Oaxaca (including Monte Alban), the civilizations in Northern and Western Mexico…and has a whole section on Teotihuacan which includes artifacts that you won’t find at Teotihuacan itself. Through the use of large replicas (see the replica Temple of Quetzalcoatl below) and descriptive signage it gives you great insights on what life was like in the city. It is excellent.

National Museum of Anthropology, mexico city (2)

Mexico city, at the  National Museum of Anthropology

Above: It is hard to imagine that the valley on which Mexico City was built used to be a lake. Today it is a city of over 21 Million people.
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National Museum of Anthropology water god

Above: God of Water
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outdoor replica, National Museum of Anthropology, mexico city

Above: Outdoor Mayan Temple.

 

National Museum of Anthropology sculptures

Above: various sculptures. How many cartoon characters do you think the one on the right inspired?

You can spend all day at the Anthropology Museum and not see everything. I would actually come here again – there is so much to see and the few photos I have above don’t give it justice. I think a visit is essential to understanding Mexico.
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 Frida Kahlo Museum

 

Frida kahlo museum

Frida Kahlo is a very popular figure in Mexico despite having having died over 70 years ago.  This museum, the house where she was born and spent much of her life, is one of Mexico City’s most popular museums and it is dedicated to her life and work.

entrance to the Frida Kahlo museum (2)

Above: entrance to the museum.

Frida had a painful life: at 6 years old she contracted polio which made one leg shorter and skinnier than the other. At 18 she was in a bus which had an accident with a trolley. She had serious injuries including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, 11 fractures to her right leg and a crushed and dislocated right foot. A handrail also pierced her abdomen, rendering her incapable of ever having children. She was in constant pain in her life (she had 35 surgeries, mainly on her back) and it is reflected in her work. A few days before dying in 1954 (at the age of 47) she wrote in her diary “I hope the exit is joyful – and I hope to never return”.

Below: some of Frida’s work.

Frida Kahlo museum paintings

 

Below: corsets that Frida would wear under her dressed to help support her spine. 

Frida corsets

Below: Frida’s workshop. 

Frida's workshop

Frida Kahlo museum, mexico city

Don’t come to the Frida museum for art – it doesn’t contain her best paintings. But anyone interested in Frida or her life will enjoy this museum.
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Postal Museum (Palacio Postal) 

postal museum with latinoamericana tower

We discovered this museum entirely by accident when walking around Mexico City’s historical center. Finished in 1907, it was built by an Italian architect and is a mix of architectural styles and materials (from both Europe and Mexico). It’s a gorgeous building. Best of all, entrance is free.

postal museum in Mexico city (1)

postal museum in Mexico city (2)

postal museum, mexico city (2)

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Sights, colors and food in Mexico City
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There’s lots to see in Mexico City and we enjoyed walking around and seeing the sights. Here are a few photos from the Historical Center.

latinoamericana tower, mexico city

Above: Views of the Latinoamericana tower – the best place for views in Mexico City which I covered in my last post.  

 

bellas artes, mexico city

Above: Palacio de Bellas Artes (home to ballet and theatre). 

 

historical building, mexico city

Above: Typical buildings you’ll see in the historic center. 

A few odd and colorful sights we encountered walking around.

colorful scenes in mexico city

Above: stands outside the Museum of Anthropology selling drinks and snacks. 

scenes in mexico city

Above: Taking a nap with an improvised ‘roof’ in case of rain. 

dog walkers in Mexico city

Above: Dog walkers. I counted each handler had about 8 – 10 dogs and  they were incredibly well behaved. Is it a wonder Cesar Milan comes from Mexico? It blew my mind seeing this.
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We took the metro to get around this time and never had any issues. Easily the quickest and most cost effective way to get around.

mexico city metro (2)
mexico city metro (1) Above photos: Mexico City metro.
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What’s Mexico without the food? Here are a few photos of Taquerias, Tacos, and Huevos Mexicana.

taqueria in mexico city, mexico

taqueria in mexico city
huevos mexicana in Mexico city

 

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Practical Information

- We stayed in this 2-bedroom apartment in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City. Recommended. The neighborhood is full of leafy, shady streets, cafes and restaurants of all kinds. Kind of reminds me of the Plateau Mont-Royal in Montreal. I could live here.
- To get to Teotihuacan. Take the metro (5 pesos – dirt cheap!) to the Autobuses del Norte bus station. When you walk in, go to your left. At the end there’s a “Autobuses Teotihuacan” counter where you’ll pay 80 pesos to get to Teotihuacan. Buses leave every 15 min and it takes roughly an hour to get there. The best thing about getting there this way (and not paying for an expensive tour bus) is that you have flexibility about when you come back.
- To get the the National Museum of Anthropology. Located in Chapultepec Park, huge green space where you’ll find many of Mexico City’s museums. Chapultepec metro is not too far away if you chose to take the metro. If taking the Hop On/Hop off bus, there’s a stop here (taking the Hop On/Hop Off something I recommend highly in Mexico City).
- To get to the Frida Museum. It’s a bit outside the center so we took the metro to the Coyoacan metro station. From there it was a 15 minute walk to the house in a residential neighborhood. You’ll see quite a lot of signs pointing you the right way.
- The postal Museum. Across from the Museo Nacional De Arte, a block from Palacio de Bellas Artes (In the Historical Center).
- Taxis in Mexico City are numerous and very inexpensive. Traffic can be very bad however and I suggest taking the metro if you can.

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My mom and I both love Mexico City and never get bored when visiting.

1) Would you go to Mexico City or does the city’s reputation still make you nervous?
2) Have you been? If so what was your experience?
3) Anyone else have favorite spots in Mexico City?

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Tell me what you think!

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Comments

  1. We enjoyed Teotihuacan when we had visited back in 2012, having said that like you we did not enjoy the vendors or the noises that they made with there stupid little whistle like things. We spent several hours there and there are lots of little hidden places to visit in among the ruins so maybe you just didn’t give it time. We also had seen many ruins before this so it wasn’t like it was our first time. Palenque is still our favourite of all the ruins we have seen!

    The Anthropology Museum is fantastic. We spent the whole afternoon there and still didn’t get to see everything. Loved the Post Office, it had a Harry Potter feel to it.

    You know that you can go up to the 5th floor, I believe of the Sears store and get a great photo looking down on the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

    Ruth

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the feedback Ruth. Maybe we should have given Teotihuacan a more thorough visit…but honestly what we saw just didn’t motivate us in the slightest. And luckily, just as we left, it started to pour buckets. So maybe it just wasn’t meant for us.

      Haven’t been to Palenque but I’ll keep it in mind, I usually end up back in Mexico once a year. The most impressive I’ve seen so far is Monte Alban.

      Exactly right about Harry Potter feel, actually that’s what I mentioned to my mom upon seeing the stairs.

      I’ll keep my Sears store in mind for the next time :)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, appreciate the feedback!

  2. Teotihuacan sounds like my worst nightmare (minus the teeth gnashing wild dogs and the mountain precipice). Such a shame that a historically important site like this has suffered thanks to the lack of imagination and respect of today’s generations. My mum visited here a few years ago. It was her first such temple site, and whilst she didn’t hate it quite as much as you, she wasn’t blown away with it either. Which is a shame because these places really are wonders of the world. Our first site was Tikal in Guatemala, and we were completely in awe, just as it should be. We even got engaged on top of one of the temples, it was that good. Maybe you should take your mum there instead next time :-)
    Heather Cole recently posted…How to survive Ladies Day at Royal AscotMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      “Teeth gnashing wild dogs” LOL. I know, have been keeping up with Spanky’s FB page and both of your fears of dogs. Honestly, they just want to be your friend :)
      Maybe hate is a strong word but definite disappointment, just not how I had visualized it. And I’m not sure how Monte Alban could have been so well organized and Teotihuacan so much less so…and you are right that it is a wonder of the world and the experience should be better.
      Really nice to hear what you have to say about Tikal. Wow, didn’t know you were such a romantic Heather :)

  3. Nice photos and good information. It has been about 15 years since visiting Teotihuacan. Fortunately I was with someone who studied the place and had special permission to go where tourists could not go. Found those areas to be of much more interest than where the public is allowed. But the hawkers were detriment to the experience even then. My wife visited Mexico city about 20 years ago. She and I both agree with you that the National Museum of Anthropology is the best we have ever seen. We plan on returning again, as it is a great place.
    Michael recently posted…The Life of a Colombian Curuba is from Flower to Healthy DrinkMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the feedback Michael. Yes. the National Museum of Anthropology amazing and I would actually go back a 2nd time as well. Can’t say that about many museums.

  4. How lovely to be able to spend sometime with your mum and explore a great city. Mexico City is so huge it scares me a little, but sounds like it is easy to navigate and explore with public transport? Although you felt disappointed by the Teotihuacan Temple you did a good job with the pictures and video, I would certainly be interested in visiting it. I love Mexican food and could easily eat my way around this fascinating country very happily indeed.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I think Mexico is a great country and that there’s lots to see. People usually think of beaches – but in 4 trips I’ve yet to make it to the coasts. Love the interior and the small towns and cities, lots of colonial history and color. And the temperatures perfect – people are amazed when I tell them how cool central Mexico gets. I just got back to Croatia and it is sweltering here compared to the weather in the highlands of Mexico.
      I wouldn’t say Mexico City is easy to navigate. But if you know where you’re going and it’s close to a metro station then it’s pretty easy. Taxis are fine too but you get quite a lot of gridlock.

  5. Hi Frank – I go along with everything especially the Natl Museum of Anthropology (as everyone acknowledges, probably the best + finest Athro Museum in the world !) but I cannot follow on Teotihuacan ! You are tough .. “Uninspiring”? “A big pile of Rocks” ? Hmm. I guess a lot of ruined cities and sites across the world can be described as such (and often are) but lets face it – What a great pile of rocks” Some tips about visiting Teo :-
    a) have a guide – what a difference it makes, putting everything into context, illustrating the pertinence of things (everything)
    b) Enter at Gate 3 at the north end (near the Pyramide de la Luna” ) – much smaller crowds (far fewer !), easy entry, visit of the Palacio de los Jaguares + Templo de los Caracoles ,+ Palacio de Quetzalpapaloti, then onto “Luna” before “Sol”. And , not least, there is a large home style restaurant, café, + Bar within a 150 metres or so of the entrance, just outside the park (which lets you back and forth as you wish) Nice change from all the fat laden Mex fast food ! Just a beer or water ? No problem .and it has one of the best Hielo Frapeés I have ever had !) .
    c) Climb both Luna + Sol – v different – the “city” layout, perspectives etc are made to see from “Luna”
    We didn’t even visit the lower (south of Sol) part of the ruins – lack of time but also ‘cos the guide mentioned we would probably find them disappointing after what we had already seen! They are really only of interest to the ‘professionals’ she said … (There you have it ..)
    d) If nothing else impresses, its also just the immensity of the place – and a wonder as to how it was all constructed without metal tools, without pack animals of any type (which even the Egyptians had for their Pyramids).

    But I agree entirely about the hawkers – although they are fewer up the north end of the site . But theres no way we wwere going to let them spoil things for us. Besides I’m afraid they go with the territory everywhere in Mexico, and the agressivity of many of them puts a worse damper on things. They are the tourist emblem of the country – unfortunately. But then what is the alternative ? In fact several of the Yucatan Mayan temple cities we visited were far worse than Teo as far as hawkers go. Why they are allowed to pry their trade within the confines of the site I do not know. It would be far better to have a structured system for them outside the entrance ?

    All to say we thoroughly enjoyed Teo . Its totally different to any of the other civilisations in Mexico and to us is a “must see” in its own right.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I knew it was just a question of time before you commented on this one Tony!

      Thanks for those tips, hopefully will help out some readers. I wish I had known them beforehand, everything I read suggested entering in gate 1. Sounds like you did it right. But maybe we’re fortunate that we left (relatively) early – got back to the bus stop just as it started pouring like crazy.

      I’m sure I’ll be going through Mexico City for many years to come. I’ll make sure to do it your way next time and will give you my impressions then :)
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Things to See and Do in Mexico City (Part 2) – And why Teotihuacan was a massive disappointmentMy Profile

      • Some trivia on the Natl Museum of Anthropolgy
        - It was built in the early 1960s – though its avant-garde architecture and design leads one to think it was built in the 2060s …
        - At the time it was built , its design and ambitious coverage of its ‘subjects (all the major Mexican civilizations was unique – since copied for many other (and less ambitious )projects around the world
        - History (unlike in the rest of N. America) is still a very important part of Mexican kids//students’ education. A very large proportion of the visitors to the NMA are students, most on class-projects and assignments – often on special education ‘junkets’ from the far corners of the country. The Mexicans are incredibly proud of their extremely rich History and Heritage – and have a very good background and knowledge of same. That alone is exceptional in the modern world – and in no small measure due to the NMA !

  6. I have been wondering where the heck l visited about ahem..32 years ago when my uncle lived in Mexico City! It was Temple of the Sun! I remember loving it, climbing up..but then l was pretty young and went with Linea Gris. I don’t remember it being crowded. The bus wasn’t even full :-). I never knew the health problems of Frida Kahlo, the poor thing. That’s funny about the dog walkers, l guess Cesar is not the only whisperer. It’s a good sign that people can afford dog walkers.. :-). Glad you got to spend time with your mum! The food looks good..dinner time now and l am starving!!!
    Kemkem recently posted…Shibuya District in Tokyo and a dog’s taleMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I thought you hated a hike Kemkem? I have to admit I was a bit out of breath climbing that temple, it’s a long way up. Of course that was 32 years ago and I can only imagine you were at most 5 years old at the time :)
      There are a lot of people with money in Mexico City, I’m actually impressed with the size of the middle class and the infrastructure of nice restaurants, bars and cafes. I used to think the worst of Mexico City based on the media and movies but I’ve been there twice now and really like the place. Sure, its huge and there is a lot of ugliness, but there are also a lot of really nice neighborhoods that are very liveable.

  7. Looks very lame. My brick bbq looks better.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Right? :) I had a brick wall in my kitchen that looked more interesting too…

      I appreciate the history, but neither of us “felt” it.

  8. The anthropology museum sounds absolutely fascinating Frank and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t necessarily put museums at the top of my list of things to see when travelling and I love the beautiful, opulent interiors of the postal museum!
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave) recently posted…Travel Tips for JapanMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      The Anthropology Museum is actually the #1 most visited tourist site in Mexico City…that probably makes it the most popular site in the whole country. Fabulous, fabulous museum.
      Yes, we’re not always museum fans either, travelling full-time over the past few years we’ve sometimes felt “museum-ed out”.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment Shikha :)

  9. You didn’t want to buy any tacky souvenirs at Teotihuacan :-) We are considering spending the winter in Mexico with a couple of side trips to the Caribbean. A Mexican friend of ours (from Mexico City) suggested that Oaxaca would make for a good long term base. Any thoughts or other suggestions would be very welcome. Where you stayed in Mexico City looks very nice as well.
    Mark recently posted…Postcards from the Past: EuropeMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I think you would love Mexico Mark. The base really depends on what you like; towns, to smallish cities, to a huge place like Mexico City.
      For long term, San Miguel de Allende where my mom lives is great. Lots of see and Do. And if you want to meet expats you’ll meet lots. But it’s far from being undiscovered if you know what I mean. Nearby, the town of Guanajuato is smaller but incredibly beautiful and has a small expat community as well.
      Puebla is one of my favorite Mexican cities and feel very European. Beautiful. Oaxaca I think is the “Mexico” most people think of – I don’t know if I’d make it a long term base but it would be a nice place for a month or so.
      Depending what “long Term” is to you (I’m thinking 3 months +) I would recommend San Miguel, Puebla or Mexico City (if you’re a big city person).
      But all the places I’ve mentioned above are great.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Things to See and Do in Mexico City (Part 2) – And why Teotihuacan was a massive disappointmentMy Profile

      • Thanks for the tips Frank and sorry I haven’t got back to your earlier – a combination of crappy wifi and trekking in Kyrgyz mountains (recommended by the way). I know of San Miguel Allende from others I have met but hadn’t heard of Guanajuato or Puebla. The wifi is still sketchy where we are (I cannot open on the links for example) but I’ll bookmark the page and take a look when I get a better connection. Thanks again!

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          I’ve got a post coming up on Guanajuato over the next week or 10 days – it must be one of the most photogenic places anywhere. 90 minutes from San Miguel, can easily be done as a day trip.
          Puebla great, Oaxaca also very nice, just different. Lots of great places in Mexico.

  10. i think the vendors are the kind you can find in many places. they are trying to make a living but nevertheless it is frustrating as a visitor. I imagine that as usual you find there are way too many vendors for the possible amount of customers. and so they get narky and will try anything to get a sale. Honestly your temple photos make it look pretty impressive! Looks worth seeing but perhaps not a site to hang around for ages. Have you been to Giza? Plenty of hassle there – in all of Egypt actually. Well, that was a long time ago for me.
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    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank Andy – I thought the photos in this post were a bit boring but happy someone liked them :)
      Never been to Egypt and no plans to go anytime soon. But must be very impressive!

  11. Question: if Mexico is so good then why do so many jump the border into the US? Is the economy crap with little jobs outside of tourism?

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You’ve got migrants going one way into the US – and Americans going the other way to buy properties and settle there.
      It’s a great place if you’ve got money. You can have a great life there as an expat (as my mom has. She was in Thailand for 5 years and now Mexico is home). Unfortunately that’s true for most of the world these days, if you’re looking for a job and to start a life it’s tougher. But I’d rather be young in Mexico than in some other places, you’d be surprised by all the big business that’s moved down there and by the very large Mexican middle and upper class. Sure, you see the uneducated masses trying to make it into the US but there are so many Mexicans (the most populous Spanish speaking country in the world) plus they’re joined by lots of migrants coming from Guatamala, El Salvador or Honduras.
      But overall Mexico’s economy much more than tourism. Look here.

  12. It happens in Asia too. Westerners that are sick of political correctness and western bs moving east for lifestyle while Asians are going west looking for work.

    The grass looks greener on the other side of the fence as farmers say.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, very true. But the one thing you realize also when you travel is how pitiful some of the world’s economies are. In the Balkans for example (unlike Mexico) there is very little industry and most young people enjoyed in service/tourist industry. Large unemployment. We’re we’ll be going at the end of the month – Portugal and Spain – also have very high unemployment. As you say, these people always looking to migrate to richer countries for better opportunities.

  13. Margarita says:

    Thanks for sharing those pics, really nice ones!
    If you visit Mexico City once again, I would suggest the following places:
    - Mercado de Coyoacan (Coyoacan Market) and Coyoacán Neighborhood
    - Plaza de San Jacinto (on Saturdays) in San Angel Neighborhood
    - Mixcoac Neighborhood (where Octavio Paz was born)
    - Dolores Olmedo Museum (Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo collections)
    - Condesa Neighborhood.
    Kind regards.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hello Margarita
      Thank you so much! I think I will always be coming back to Mexico City because my mother lives in San Miguel de Allende now. I really appreciate all these tips (the only one I’ve seen is the Condesa neighborhood which I saw on my first visit when we explored the city with the Hop On/Hop off. Very rich neighborhood).
      I always enjoy Mexico City.
      Thanks again :)
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…The place to stay in San Miguel de AllendeMy Profile

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