Sat. Oct 1st, 2022

In some ways, picking “the best” of Mexico City goes against what makes CDMX so alluring and worthwhile as a travel destination. The buzzing urban expanse of 22 million people is built for wandering and random discoveries: Blue-corn street tlacoyos like nothing you’ve ever tasted. A crumbling movie house from the golden age of Mexican cinema. A pocket bamboo garden with piped-in flute music to instantly ease the mind. You definitely can’t do it all in Mexico’s vibrant, ever-changing capital, so enjoy whatever comes your way.

That’s not to suggest you go without a few guidelines. Just back from a week in Mexico City on a graduation celebration trip with our college-bound son, I’ve compiled a list of favorites drawn from our experience, online reviews and from talking to locals and seasoned visitors. Don’t view these as must-sees-and-dos but rather as signposts along the way to remind you what an incredible place you’re in.

STAYS

Sofitel Mexico City Reforma Hotel gets epic reviews for good reason. Rising directly over the The Angel of Independence monument and bustling Paseo de la Reforma, the landmark 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 areas like Roma and La Condesa within easy strolling distance. Sleek but soulful with the prettiest 38th floor pool (and one of the finest city spas) in Latin America, the Sofitel has 275 guest rooms, including 56 suites done up in Scandinavian-chic style: polished light woods, velvet modular furnishings, the soaking tub of your dreams. Service is warm without being over-the-top or snooty, and the rooftop Cityzen bar is an exceptional place to clink margaritas over the twinkling lights of the world’s largest Spanish-speaking city. Salud!

The Wild Oscar is one of those hidden travel gems you’ll try to keep to yourself but end up telling everyone about anyway. The luxury private residence in the ritzy Polanco district is that delightful. Blending in with its posh apartment neighbors, you can barely tell from the street that it is open to guests. Inside, however, it’s a welcome retreat. There’s a wall of gold skeleton keys behind the reception desk and a clubby retro lobby, illuminated with Edison-style bulbs and dotted with vintage art books. Upstairs, 28 suites in seven different categories, many with private brick balconies, are laid out on four floors, and all have the air of sophisticated pieds-à-terre. Service is personalized, down to remembering which coffee drink you prefer in the morning. The original artwork is by local artists and from the owners’ travels. Furniture pieces are designed for each space. Signature plush red robes make you feel like you own the place. Polanco is Mexico City’s swankiest neighborhood and the property is close to some of the top shops (Pressed for time? Look no further than Onoro) and restaurants (you’re a mere five-minute walk from legendary Pujol). In the stunning rooftop garden one night during our stay, a DJ played beats for an international crowd of young entrepreneurs and gorgeous locals. But the party wrapped by 10 p.m. Even the regulars want to keep the Wild Oscar magic on the down-low.

EXPERIENCES

I didn’t know about Gyde and Seek until I began searching for a guide to the wonders of CDMX. The U.S.-based global travel company operating since 2016 in more than 20 cities focuses on socially-responsible private tours led by carefully vetted “gydes” who are as knowledgeable as they are un-boring. Bottom line: you’re highly unlikely to get stuck with a droning mansplainer (Gyde and Seek is run by two dynamic women: veteran travel advisor Vanessa Guibert Heitner and consultant Andrea Guthrie, who were fed up with dull tours). Services are private and custom, which makes it sound fancy, but the prices are reasonable—rates for this tour are $40 an hour for up to 25 people. Another plus: 2% of your cost goes directly to non-profits doing meaningful work in your destination. Paco, our genial Gyde for the day, was a former professional bullfighter and recovering chess prodigy, who has a university degree in Mexican cultural history. He was as fluent in Aztec cultural history and the architecture of Luis Barragán as he was in steering us clear of misses on 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 daylong excursion to the famous canals of Xochimilco and the Frida Kahlo house, we felt like in-the-know locals with a favorite Mexico City uncle at our side.

Bikes and Munchies—founded in Mexico City in 2017 by Paola Amador and Sven Urselmann—gets so many breathless five-star TripAdvisor reviews (the experience is rated #1 among 235 outdoor activities), it almost gives you vertigo. I love a good bike tour and the price is right, so we spent a day with amiable local guide Sebastian on an eating safari through La Condesa and Roma. As visitors, it’s wise to have someone pointing out the choicest tamale carts and churros counters, and each stop was more delicious than the next. Bikes & Munchies offers a separate food tour of Mexico City’s historic center, and a vegan route, too. CDMX got a lot friendlier to cyclists during the pandemic, so even if you’re nervous about big-city riding, it’s worth considering this as a safe and comfortable outing. Two wheels get you farther than two feet, and the more you see in Mexico City the happier you’ll be.

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