Summer Camp, Covid, and Mexico City

In late July, we spent a week in Mexico. While it’s more common to visit beach-oriented areas of Mexico (e.g. Cancun or Cabo), we already had other beach plans for the summer and wanted to see something more typically Mexican. We ended up deciding (with 2 days of notice, see below) on Mexico City and the Guadalajara area.

The backstory of getting there was a little long – after being grounded in 2020 and cautious in 2021, we negotiated some extended time off work for the summer of 2022. But then our kids got Covid at camp/etc less than 2 weeks out of school. Our kids recovered, but our well-laid plans had to change. Towards the end of July, we realized that our kids were better, we had time off work either way, had some points/credits, and had 2 days to decide to travel somewhere not too far away for a week (or just do a “staycation”).

Somewhere in Mexico had been on our list for some time – our previous exposure to Mexico was crossing over to Tijuana from San Diego, and we knew this didn’t really count as an “authentic” Mexican experience. We were deliberately avoiding the beach, so many popular destinations were out. Since Mexico City is a cultural center for the county, this placed high on the list, and the flights worked out.

We figured that one week in Mexico City could be too long for an initial visit, and pondered other pairings. One option that we did strongly consider was San Miguel de Allende, which is a popular destination with US expats, and roughly a 3-4 hour ride from Mexico City. That said, a former colleague had visited Guadalajara and mentioned it was a nice colonial city and nearby the Lake Chapala area, so we ended up choosing that. We (slightly arbitrarily) split the week 4 days in Mexico City and 3 days in the Guadalajara area.

In practice, we did find Mexico City to be a culturally interesting destination, though we could have truncated Guadalajara a bit. Both destinations had their charm – it’s uncanny how the colonial parts of both areas reminded us of e.g. Cusco in Peru, of Spanish Missions in California, or parts of Spain. The food was great, and Mexico City simply had a lot of interesting institutions and sights and energy. Though honestly, the trip was also a little difficult simply because for us, it was a last-minute “plan B” trip – before our kids caught covid, we’d originally intended to be hiking the Italian Cinque Terre and the Swiss Jungfrau region, and that’s a tough comparison to be in the back of our heads.

In any case, we’ll write up in some following posts about the week in Mexico, but wanted to give a bit of context. Some of the highlights that we did really appreciate in Mexico City were:

  • Teotihuacan Pyramids near Mexico City; these were definitely worth seeing, roughly an hour outside Mexico City. Caveat: before Covid, it was possible to climb the pyramids, but as of mid-2022, it’s not possible.
  • Mexico City center sites, including the Templo Mejor ruins, the Cathedral, and the whole atmosphere down the pedestrian area towards Bella Artes and in the park/market area beyond. We stayed in this area and enjoyed the location.
  • Anthropology Museum – this was a top-notch museum, giving insight into the pre-Spanish parts of Mexico. The nearby large Chapultepec park and lake was a great place to spend some time afterwards as well.
  • Xochimilco boats/canals – these were quite interesting to try for an hour. Locals can spend a Sunday afternoon there, but for us an hour on a weekend was enough to get the idea.

There were plenty of more minor sites we did see, and we did even squeeze in a Lucha Libre wrestling performance for our 14 year old. We wandered around some of the various neighborhoods somewhat (e.g. Condesa, Roma), and discovered eating institutions like the “Churrerias” that serve fresh churros and coffee.

We found it easy to get around the Mexico City neighborhoods between walking and Ubers (we stayed fairly central, near the Cathedral, and didn’t use the metro), though it’s important to take typical urban safety precautions in mind, and to understand some districts (e.g. Tepido) where it makes sense to stay away.

We did find some very basic “high school Spanish” to be useful, but it was quite rusty. Our 15 year old helped more with language than we expected. Weather-wise, Mexico City felt quite nice coming from the hot New England summer – Mexico City is high elevation, roughly 70’s Fahrenheit much of the year, and had occasional brief afternoon thunderstorms.

In Guadalajara, we found that the main area was reasonably easy to navigate, and we were able to take Ubers to the Lake Chapala area, albeit with some waiting. It was interesting to see once, and we do see why many US and Canadian expats do settle in the region, but given some of our observations, we won’t necessarily talk it up too much as well.

Stay tuned to learn more about our Mexico adventures!

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