My Cinco de Mayo with Frida Kahlo: A weekend away in Mexico City

I didn’t have a real reason to head to Mexico City for a weekend getaway, other than the flights were cheap (from mainland USA) and I love Mexican food. The only real plan I had was to go to the Frida Kahlo Museum… so the rest of our weekend was (naturally) spent exploring, eating, shopping, and drinking. One bonus to our spontaneous planning though? We didn’t realize when we booked but we were arriving on Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of Mexico winning a battle against France in Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico City

This is celebrated widely in the USA, with many Americans jumping on the bandwagon to wear sombreros, fake mustaches, and drink tequila. I’d be willing to put money down that some people who celebrated Cinco de Mayo supported Trump’s wall, perpetuating the hypocrisy of the alt-right. But I digress…

We left the airport around 12, and watched the Uber app add more time to our pickup. We got a call from the driver trying to explain something was delaying him, in Spanish, and we just said “OK” and thought nothing of it until a huge parade came down the hill towards the airport.

People were dressed in blue, playing drums, and carrying French flags. There were loud, fake gunshots echoing as they came closer which must have been terrifying for anyone inside the airport who couldn’t see what was happening outside. This parade caused chaos for everyone trying to come in or out of the airport. We eventually found a taxi, but it took us about half an hour to even get out, but at least we weren’t stuck in the traffic jam of people trying to get in.

Apart from this parade, there wasn’t a lot going on for Cinco de Mayo in the city – compared to what I’ve seen in Australia for Australia Day or Anzac Day, or in the USA for 4th of July or Thanksgiving – but it’s important to note this isn’t their national holiday. It seems to carry more weight as an excuse for Americans to dress up and drink tequila than it does in Mexico City itself. Take with that what you will!

Where should I go in Mexico City?

I stayed in the business district, Reforma, which has some attractions, but it’s less of an area to eat or drink in than an area with lots of banks and businesses. We did stay in a beautiful hotel – more on that later – but it didn’t have the attractions of other neighborhoods nearby.

Roma, particularly Roma Norte, is where it’s at. The main street, Colima, is quiet, full of cafes and trees, and some of the best shopping I’ve done in a long time. Goodbye Folk is probably the most famous shop on this street, known for its high quality handmade shoes, after being featured in a New York Times article. I found a pair of handmade leather shoes that cost USD 110. They were even able to stretch them slightly to accommodate my wide feet, and I can tell they will last for a lot longer than the shoes I usually buy and trash within a couple of months.

La Guapachosa was the best place I visited in Mexico City. A simple little Cantina that had bright décor, craft beer, coconuts, spicy chips with a range of tasting dips… and a really cute waiter. You could either sit inside, or around the outside on bar stools or swings. I stumbled upon it late on Saturday afternoon which was the perfect time to visit.

Condesa is another neighborhood close to Roma, with the same tree-lined streets but with more upmarket restaurants and bars. I recommend Azul Condesa for its grasshopper guacamole, its mojitos, and its pork tacos. Even with wine, cocktails, two entrees, and two mains, the bill only came to USD 35 each.

Groove is exactly the kind of bar I want to open one day. Classic rock on the stereo, a live band upstairs. Mismatched leather chairs, velvet sofas. Menus made out of 7-inch record covers and very, very cheap beer. A beer on tap at Groove will set you back about USD 2.

Lalo café is a very popular spot for brunch, but given most businesses open later in the afternoon on Sundays, it’s one of the only places open at breakfast time. The décor reminded me of Three Williams in Redfern, with its long tables, cement floors, and lines out the door. The sourdough pancake with apples and walnuts was my choice, but the coffee was the best part.

Hotel Marquis in Reforma

There was a discount for this hotel, otherwise I would not have been able to stay in such a luxurious place. The lobby was decorated with marble, gothic statues, and a huge piano. The hotel had a gym, steam room, spa, and pool, and offered massage treatments which were tempting but cost more than I paid for the room for the weekend.

The room opened out onto a balcony that was covered in potted flowers and plants, and even a small orange tree. All the rooms on that side of the building opened out onto the balcony, and at one stage the hotel staff were running back and forth with pot plants, which from the corner of my eye looked as though the trees were moving.

On the first night, one of the staff members delivered macarons, and on the second they delivered us dulce du leche. The concierge made our reservation at Azul Condesa, and everyone else we spoke to was helpful and friendly. If you can afford to stay here, or if you’re lucky enough to find a discount on Booking.com, I would urge you to take it.

Frida Kahlo Museum

The Frida Kahlo Museum is located further south than Roma, Condesa, and Reforma, in a neighborhood called Del Carmen. It’s a chance for fans of the cult artist to pay their respects to her, see her artworks, and walk through the house she shared with fellow artist Diego Rivera.

If you’re not familiar with Frida Kahlo – what is wrong with you? – she was an artist known for self-portraits. She married Diego Rivera when he was 42 and she only 22. He was unfaithful and mistreated her throughout their marriage, and they soon divorced before getting remarried a year later.

I recommend buying a ticket online before you arrive, to avoid the line that went all the way down the block, and getting there about half an hour before your chosen session. You can’t take photos inside the house without a special permit – if this is important to you, then you should be more organized than I was – but you can take photos in the outside area. It was very relaxing inside the museum and their house, and it was a great way to learn more about Kahlo and her life.

So was it worth the trip…?

Mexico City was a surprisingly relaxing city – after I’d been told and I quote “that place is a shithole” – and while the traffic coming out of the airport was an accurate depiction of what I had been warned about prior to arriving, it was only a short inconvenience.

Everything Mexico City had to offer – food, shopping, peaceful streets, art, and culture – makes me want to go back and explore more. And who knows, the Corona Capital Festival in November with PJ Harvey, Foo Fighters, and Grouplove on the lineup may just get me back there.

Getting There

Sadly there are no direct services between Mexico City and Australia. However, both Qantas and Virgin Australia offer services to Mexico City via Los Angeles, with connections by American Airlines and Delta, respectively, who both (naturally) offer their own services from Australia. Qantas also offer a service via Dallas. United also offer flights via San Francisco or Los Angeles. Mexico’s national airline Aeromexico offer plenty of direct services from other cities in the USA and around the world.