When I was 23, I saw the film Man on Fire for the first time. It features Denzel Washington as a bodyguard with a history of violence, searching for Dakota Fanning, a little girl kidnapped by a wealthy family.
It was also the first time Mexico City had entered my consciousness as more than a vague idea of a place that existed on a map.
Movies like Man on Fire reinforced the stereotype that the average American suburbanite saw Mexico and Mexico City as a place of danger. Movies, politics and fearful news reports shaped our perception of Mexico as a country ruled over by corrupt politicians and cartels, where Americans were robbed or kidnapped, just like Dakota Fanning. You didn’t want time there, except for Cancun and cruise ports.
Although I knew long ago that no place is exactly as it appears in the media, it was only after COVID closed much of the world that I finally visited Mexico to see what I had been missing.
Mexico, like many Americans, never seemed exotic to me. It was close enough to be less urgent. It would always be there.
I wanted to see the world and not just my backyard.
Are you looking for hidden gems in Mexico? Mexico City.
My friends have returned to the area over the years with tales of culinary delights and wonder. They’d exclaim, “You must go!” “How could you have not been out of all people?”
According to their stories, it was not a place for violence but for art, literature and cutting-edge cuisine.
Only recently did I realize just how true they were after spending nine days in Mexico City. I was captivated by its large green spaces, colonial and art deco buildings, and intoxicating beauty. It was like Oaxaca. There was something magical about it. Vibrant energy swept through people engaged in lively discussions at coffee shops or gathered around seemingly endless street vendors eating tacos and even dogs playing in parks.
It was like I was in New York City, but with more street food, markets and open spaces. If only there were taco stands on every corner in the United States.
I enjoyed exploring it as a vibrant green city with many parks and tree-lined streets. You can feel as though you are in an urban jungle when you live in certain neighborhoods. Chapultepec Park is the largest and oldest urban park in Latin America. There, you could people-watch, stroll around a lake, have a picnic, go for a run, or even visit a castle-turned-art-museum. It’s Mexico’s answer to Central Park.
It was also a great place to be between sunset and dawn. It’s a nighttime city. It came alive as the sun set: people filled parks with their dogs while dance groups practiced in front of gazebos. They drink, shop, and stay up until the early hours. There was always a food truck available to offer delicious and affordable meals, no matter where you were.
What attracted me the most was the emphasis on the arts in Mexico City. Mexico City’s rich history of art dates back hundreds of years. It has been home to many great artists, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and the Ruptura movement’s abstract painters. It is a place that appreciates art in all its forms.
There are many bookstores, art nouveau buildings and open mic nights in the city. The colorful murals show that creativity is a big deal in Mexico City. It is a paradise for artists.
Add all the street food, markets, cool restaurants and lots of greenery, and you can see why I fell in love.
As I walked, I was reminded of other cities I call home: Hong Kong and Tokyo, New York, Tokyo, Tokyo, and Paris. They all share a long history of delicious cuisine, rich culture and bustling nightlife. It is no surprise that I felt at home after seeing all of that in Mexico City.
My trip was very superficial, as it was seen through the lens of tourism. I have many social and political questions I would like to explore on my next trip (I am especially curious to learn how the number of digital nomads moving around there has impacted the city).
It’s cliché to say, but it is true. I cannot wait to return. It was too important to leave so much of me there. There’s so much more to discover, learn, eat