Almost every time that we excitedly shared with someone that we were going on a family trip to Mexico, people told us stories about getting sick in Mexico, or about how they knew someone who ended up in really bad trouble out there, or how bad the crime can be. Our families were quite concerned for our safety and often recounted the kinds of things they’ve heard about Mexico City in the news. While we kindly reminded our well-meaning family and friends to try and not worry too much because we do our best to be smart travelers, eventually everyone’s scary stories caught up to me and I became pretty nervous about taking my two small children (18 months and 6 months at the time) on a Mexican adventure. Perhaps a visit to this large city of roughly 25 million people would be a little too much for our first international trip as a family of four.
Everything changed the moment we arrived in Mexico City. Sure, our car seat got lost and I was thrown head-first into practicing my broken Spanish trying to explain how I was looking for a toddler car seat (which is not as strictly mandatory out there as it is in Canada), but after a few phone calls (thanks to my mother-in-law’s help!), the situation was sorted out, the missing car seat and infant carrier were delivered to our hotel 24 hours after we landed, and our airline compensated us for the hassle of going through it all (gracias, Westjet!).
We hit the ground running as soon as we arrived in Mexico City. From our research, we learned about two particular neighbourhoods (Roma Norte and Condesa) that were the safest for families to be in. These neighbourhoods were great for things to see as well as places to eat! Since we were flying in and out of CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico), we decided on The Gallery Hotel in Condesa (which happens to be very close to Chapultapec Park) for our first 3 days in CDMX and an Airbnb near the Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica for our last day before we headed home. Both neighbourhoods were safe, family-friendly, and peaceful. I read a review about the sidewalks being difficult to navigate with a stroller due to the driveways (especially in Condesa), but we found that not to be a problem at all. We found locals to be super friendly and accomodating to young families and we felt genuinely welcomed by everyone we came across. Our days typically consisted of getting out in the morning in search of coffee, checking out a few sights within the city or a quick road trip to a nearby site, a break back in the hotel for naps, and then out again in search of more tacos for dinner. We were usually back and settled in by around 8-9pm, so the kids’ bedtimes stayed relatively consistent. There is so much to see in and near Mexico City and our 4-ish days there felt so insufficient to see it all. I’m already dreaming about going back.
We knew we didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted, but we still tried our best to include as many things as possible given the time we had. If you’re thinking of heading to Mexico with the family, we highly recommend adding Mexico City to your itinerary. There are so many great flight deals to this amazing city that often pop up -- if you’re on the fence, I say GO FOR IT!! You won’t regret it, I promise.
**Tip: Go and check out the Mexico History podcast. We listened to the Tenochtitlan (ancient Mexico City) episodes during our road trip around the Yucatán and found it so informative and interesting. It might be a good idea to listen to it on your flight over to Mexico City, to give you good insights into how this vibrant city came to be.
Here are a few highlights of our time in CDMX, all of which we recommend for families traveling with small children:
Where to eat:
Parent tip: We had an 18-month-old and a 6-month old for the trip. Our youngest was still primarily breastfed, so he was easy to keep full. He was already introduced to solids so I had a few pureed pouches packed for him. As for the 18-month-old, restaurants were more than happy to help whip up something that’s small and easy for him to eat. Typically he picked off meat or cheese from our plates, but restaurants were happy to either prepare something simple for him or to gift us a few extra tortillas for the niños.
- El Hequito - A chain that can be found around CDMX. This was our first meal in the city and boy, it did not disappoint. We recommend the tacos de chicharrón and the tacos al pastor especial. You also can’t go wrong with their salsas and anything with Oaxaca cheese.
- Taquería Orinoco CDMX - We heard about this place because Luke attended a design conference in Vancouver where the founder of the restaurant was one of the speakers. So naturally when we visited Mexico City, we couldn’t miss this local joint. The al pastor tacos were great.
- Churrería el Moro - This is also a chain that is located in various spots around town. The churros are not too bad (not the best we’ve had; Spanish churros have our heart, but still decent). If you want a cheap, light snack, a churro is a yummy way to go.
- Volver - A fun little breakfast joint in Roma Norte. The seats were basically on the sidewalk so we had a fun little view of the neighbourhood.
- Contramar - We read really good reviews about this place. Seafood is always good in our books, so despite the pouring rain, we took an Uber 30 mins across town to get here. Our mistake: we didn’t make a reservation. When we got there, we were told that we were looking at about an hour wait. A few minutes later, as I was walking back and forth trying to comfort a crying Judah under the canopy, the host noticed us and said he’ll get a table for us asap. Trust me when I tell you that Mexicans are generally super accommodating towards young families. As for food, everything in this restaurant was ah-ma-zing. Don’t miss it!
- Cardinal Cafe - Good coffee in Roma Norte. Great atmosphere too. 😀
- Comunal Condesa - This is a fun food hall with an awesome atmosphere and great food options. We felt as if we’d had our fill of tacos for the day, so we switched it up and tried the shawarma place (which, come to think of it, is still basically a taco).
Sites to visit:
- Chapultapec Park - A beautiful park in the city center, about twice as big as Central Park in NYC. Take a leisurely walk around and enjoy the sights and all the little shops!
- Museo de Papalote - We visited this children’s museum in the park on our first day in the city. We wanted to take it easy, and wanted our kids to visit something they would enjoy. Obviously this was more for Micah (18 months at the time) than for anyone else in our family, but we all had a lot of fun. There are sections of the museum that are meant for toddlers and smaller kids, so Micah enjoyed getting to play freely.
- Free Zoo in Chapultepec Park - Because our time and energy were limited, we opted to visit the zoo instead of going to the Chapultepec Castle. We figured that our kids would enjoy seeing the animals more than being dragged around a castle. And boy, it did not disappoint! It was a large zoo with all kinds of animals from around the world. The downside to it being free is that it is often full of visitors, especially on a weekend. We found this not to be too much of an issue (perhaps because we were there in late September); we were in no hurry, so we just took our time.
- Teotihuacán - You can easily take an Uber to and from here. There is a toll that the Uber driver will go through; often they have this plastic chip thing that covers the cost of the toll. Our Uber on the way there did not charge us for the toll, but the Uber on the way back charged us $15 CAD. Once you get to the Teotihuacán ruins, we recommend climbing the Pirámide del Sol (the taller of the two pyramids) right away instead of spending energy walking around or climbing the smaller pyramid. Once you’ve climbed the Sol, then you can decide how else you want to spend the rest of your time there - either by climbing the Pirámide de la Luna, walking around the other ruins, or checking out the shops. The taller pyramid takes about an hour total (up and down), and the shorter pyramid takes about 25 minutes. From the Pirámide del Sol, you can get a good view of the entire site. If you have a small infant, wear them using an infant carrier -- some of the steps can get quite steep/narrow, so it will be nice to have the freedom to use your hands to hang on to the rope/stone. The ruins aren’t great for strollers, but we brought ours because of plans to visit the city after going to Teotihuacán. So when we arrived at the ruins, we asked a shop owner if we could park our little stroller near her stall. She kindly obliged, tying our stroller to a fence to protect it, and later refused the cash we tried to give her as a small thank you. We recommend going really early in the morning to avoid the hot afternoon sun. We left our hotel at around 8:30am, arrived there closer to 10ish, and were up and down the Pirámide del Sol by around 11:30am. We decided to go back into the city for lunch, though there are restaurants there that you can go to (probably priced for tourists). You don’t really need a whole day here, so plan your visit accordingly.
- Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe - Regardless of your religious background, we recommend a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We learned that this church is the 3rd most visited religious site in the world, with over 20 million visitors every year. The Tilma has such an amazing and miraculous story, which you can read more about here. The church building is also one of the most beautiful and unique churches we’ve seen in our travels, perhaps our second favourite after the Sagrada Familia in Spain. We visited towards the end of the day, about a half hour before it closed. Most tourists and visitors were gone, and we were able to quietly, prayerfully, and peacefully take in the environment.
- Torre Latinoamericana - Head over to the Torre Latinoamericana in the Old City, near the Post Office. The tower boasts a great view of the beautiful city, and very quickly you get an idea of how truly vast this grand city actually is.
- Palacio de Correos de México - If you’re walking around the Old City, pop into the Post Office and mail a postcard to a friend. The cool building gives nice Hogwarts-esque vibes.
- Museo del Templo Mayor - After listening to the Mexico History podcast about the story behind CDMX, we’d be remiss if we skipped on visiting Templo Mayor museum on the Tenotichlan site. You’ll get to walk around the actual ruins originally built by the Aztecs. It’s located right at the heart of Mexico City, which is fitting for the birthplace of Mexico. It’s also mind-blowing to imagine that the ground we were standing on used to be a lake, and around the 16th century, Tenotichlan was considered one of the most beautiful and technologically advanced empires in the world, only to be destroyed due to colonial greed.
Places to stay:
Parent tip: Before leaving for your trip, contact the hotel/Airbnb that you have booked and ask for a playpen/crib if they have any available. 7 out of the 8 places we stayed in Mexico were able to set up a playpen for us so we didn’t need to pack two of ours! We did take our Shrunks bed because it was small enough to fit in our suitcase, and because we needed a bed for Micah (Judah usually slept in the crib provided).
- Condesa: The Gallery - We LOVED this little boutique hotel. Our room was spacious and had a kitchen. Their advertising said that breakfast was available, but the options were quite limited. There are tons of nearby cafes and restaurants though (as well as a bakery, a grocery store, and a bank), so finding great food within walking distance was not a problem.
- Linda Vista (near the Basilica): This Airbnb loft - This great loft was a 3-minute walk from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was located in a quiet neighbourhood and the hosts are some of the friendliest you’d find. The abuela (grandma) cared so much for our kids -- she reminded me so much of my own abuela (she always reminded us to hold on to our kids and to look both ways before crossing the street. lol)! This house is perfect for families with kids. The room downstairs was equipped with toys and books that can entertain little guests. The only downside was that we needed to keep an extra eye out for Micah -- who really enjoyed going up and down the stairs. Good restaurants and cafes were a little harder to find, but we were happy to hop into an Uber and head back into the heart of the city for better choices.
How to get around:
Ubers are available virtually anytime and anywhere. We even took an Uber to and from Teotihuacán, even though it was outside of the city. Our hotel also had bikes that you could borrow, which we never did because of the two kids. Walking is a fantastic way to get around and to get to see the culture and vibe of different neighbourhoods. By walking, you’ll quickly see that the city is cleaner and can be easier to navigate than other large cities like London and NYC.
One last note:
I just want to take a moment to give a shout out to the Mexican people. You’re the real deal. We felt so welcomed and so cared for, taking nothing but good memories from our time in Mexico. Even when my children lost their marbles on the plane or in restaurants, yelling or crying, moms/dads/grandmas/grandpas only offered kind glances and empathetic smiles. Hotel or restaurant staff even offered to hold kids or to make a little bed/fort out of chairs and towels/blankets. Nobody made me feel as if I had inconvenienced them by having young (sometimes boisterous) children out and about. People were helpful and understanding, friendly and accomodating. Two young guys were even clapping and cheering me on, saying “Mama fuerte! Mama fuerte!” (Strong mama! Strong mama!) when I had Judah in a carrier while climbing a massive pyramid in Teotihuacán. Muchas gracias amigos. You’ve warmed this mamacita’s heart.
And there you have it! Four(ish) days in Mexico City with two kids under two! Like I mentioned earlier, we have just barely scratched the surface of what this great city has to offer. I sincerely hope we can take our kids back there again in the near future!