Traveling During the Pandemic: Mexico City, a City Full of Art and Culture

Wait, what?

Mexico City is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s a leading city of Spanish-speaking Latin America, with world-class museums, restaurants, and nightlife. When I was a kid my parents told me stories about their adventures in Mexico in the early eighties. I was also influenced by reading the book 1493, I was always intrigued by the place, but prioritized travel further afield. I went for the first time in 2016 and fell in love with the city but wasn’t able to visit again until October of 2020.

Getting There

There are currently no restrictions or special requirements to fly from the US to Mexico, nor is there a test required beforehand. As a precaution, I always use the Kayak travel restrictions site to verify before I book a flight.

HIlton Reforma

I took a direct flight on Aeroméxico. Covid has caused them to make a few changes to their service (just like all other airlines). First, masks are obligatory throughout the entire flight, unless eating or drinking. Second, boarding is from back to front, including business class and frequent fliers. Third, there was no meal service, only drinks. All of these things were perfectly reasonable.

Entering the country was very quick and easy. The only difference was that you had to present a completed form (Cuestionario de identificación de factores de riesgo en viajeros) to the immigration officials. This form asks you if you have any Covid symptoms. The form is handed out on the plane and also available in the immigration hall.  

Cost

In October 2020 the Mexican Peso was hovering around 21 pesos to the dollar. As with most global cities, your mileage may vary. Mexico City can be very cheap or very expensive depending on your tastes. I went to a pretty cosmopolitan seafood restaurant with a friend and for both of us it was around $80 for two with drinks and tip. But I also had meals for $5 and ice cream on the street for 25 cents.

The Language

As with all global cities, you can get around with English. But knowing a few words in Spanish will go a long way especially when negotiating with street vendors. Most international hotel brands and hotels in tourist or business clientele will have English speaking staff. As always, people are very usually very forgiving when you try to use Spanish to communicate with them.

Things to Do

There are so many things to do in Mexico City, even during the pandemic. There are a few changes. Some museums and destinations, like the Frida Kahlo Museum, require you to buy tickets online. This allows them to limit the amount of people entering every hour. Another change is that there may be a curfew at beginning at 11pm in certain areas. So, you may find that some restaurants or bars close earlier than their pre-pandemic hours indicate. Also, while it may not be a requirement where you’re coming from, wearing a mask outside is mandatory in Mexico City. Some areas have police enforcing this ordinance.

On the way to the Zocalo

Even with those restrictions, there are so many things to do. There’s great art at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which is very close to the Diego Rivera Museum. Both of those places are located next to Alameda Central, which is one of the nicest parks in Mexico City. My descriptions don’t even begin to scratch the surface. There’s a good guide at WikiTravel, which I recommend.

Safety

Just a quick word on safety. I have never had an incident in Mexico City. Just like anywhere else, you have to be careful. I don’t carry my passport or large sums of money with me when I’m walking around town. Nor do I wear expensive jewelry or talk on the phone when I’m in an unfamiliar area. Also, I make sure to take an Uber or a licensed taxi when I need to travel long distances. These are the same precautions I have taken in all my travels and they have served me well.

Bottom Line:

Mexico City is a great place to travel to even during the pandemic. Obviously everyone has to decide on their own personal risk tolerance, but if you decide to go there is plenty to do and see.

Why Bogota is One of My Favorite Cities in the World

Colombia, Really?

View of Bogota from Monserrate

I have been traveling to Colombia for three years. I originally went for two reasons. First, it is the birthplace of my favorite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Second, because I’m a cheap traveler and I had a hunch that the places most people are scared to go to offer the most value. This has turned out to be one of my best hunches ever. I have fallen in love with the people, the regions, and the culture. I have been to six major cities in Colombia, most of them multiple times, yet Bogota is my favorite. It is a city of over eight million people, full of culture, nightlife, and tons of things to do.

Getting There

One of the great things about Bogota is that it’s close. It’s a direct flight from almost all the major cities in the US, and from DFW it’s only about six hours. Compared to the over 16 hours it takes to get to Dubai (another of my favorite cities), it’s a short flight. Also, it’s a major hub for Avianca and LATAM, serving as a gateway to South America. It’s also one of the many countries which are visa-free for US passport holders. In addition, in many parts of the year, the price of a round-trip ticket costs less than $500.

Cost

For me, this is one of the areas where Colombia, and Bogota in particular, shines. At the time of writing, The exchange rate is 2,886 Colombian Pesos to one US Dollar ($1/2,886). I usually pay $35-40 a night for my hotel stays. For really simple meals I pay anywhere from $3-5, including a drink. I’ve even gone to have Japanese food with friends in one of the ritzy areas of the city, and for 10 people the bill came to $125.

The Language

While Spanish isn’t absolutely necessary to enjoy this city, knowing Spanish definitely makes it much more enjoyable. Also, without knowing Spanish, you’ll have to stay at some of the more expensive hotels with English-speaking staff.

It is my opinion that the Spanish spoken in Bogota, Colombia is some of the easiest to understand in the world. I’ve been to places like the Dominican Republic where the speed of speech, slang, and accent made it very hard to understand people. In Bogota, that’s not much of an issue. If you’re a person that has spent years learning to speak Spanish but has never had enough practice, Bogota is the place for you. I’ve also found that people are generally forgiving and patient with mistakes made while trying to speak the language.

Things to Do

Bike Tour in La Candelaria

As the capital and biggest city of Colombia, Bogota has a lot of things to offer. There is an old church up the mountain called Monserrate. There are bike tours of La Candelaria, which is a old part of the city with some buildings that date from the 16th century. This is actually my favorite part of town. On the weekends and during certain holidays, one of the streets is closed to traffic, and there are events and parades. This part of town is also home to the gold museum. In addition, outside of the city, there is an emerald mine that is open to tourists.

Safety

Just a quick word on safety. I have never had an incident in Colombia. Just like anywhere else, you have to be careful. I don’t carry my passport or large sums of money with me when I’m walking around town. Nor do I wear expensive jewelry or talk on the phone when I’m in an unfamiliar area. Also, I make sure to take an Uber or a licensed taxi when I need to travel long distances. These are the same precautions I have taken in all my travels and they have served me well.

Bottom Line: Bogota is a wonderful city with great people and culture. It’s cheap, easy to get to, and will surprise you if you give it the chance.

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