See Mexico City like a Nat Geo Explorer
Discover excellent cuisine, deep cultural roots, and extraordinary sights in this vibrant city.
Mexico City’s amalgamation of excellent cuisine, friendly people, deep cultural roots, and extraordinary sights is truly unparalleled. There is an underground culture that is very welcoming to any non-Mexican willing to visit a cantina con botana, stroll around the zoo or Chapultepec park, explore the streets of Coyoacán, or go bird-watching in a myriad of destinations nearby.
National Geographic is sponsoring my work on giant carnivorous bats in the Mayan rain forest. Very little is known about these bats, but we have uncovered unsuspected behaviors and lots of information about their diet, movements, social life, roosts, and conservation needs. A television special and article in the July 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine featured our work with photographer Anand Varma.
Traveling for good
My favorite farm-to-table, fair-trade places are all in the Polanco area: Raiz, Quintonil, and Pujol (where they feature my other project, bat-friendly tequila and mescal). For an even more local experience simply go to Lake Xochimilco, where most restaurants serve locally sourced produce and delicious Mexican fare. And do not forget our botana culture: Some local bars serve delicious, original dishes offered for free with every drink you order. For example, order a beer, and you may get a plate of carnitas tacos, chicharrón, or chipotle meatballs.
What's in my bag
I always carry a small flashlight. Even if you are not a bat biologist like me, a flashlight is always helpful to look for that USB you dropped under the bed, peer into a tree hollow, or illuminate the menu in a dim restaurant.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
La Ciudadela is a certain bet for finding traditional crafts—I always bring visitors there and they all leave satisfied. There are other craft markets in Coyoacán and downtown, but La Ciudadela has it all.
Remove hats when you walk into a church. Always smile at people, and always try to speak a few words of Spanish. We Mexicans are very appreciative of people making an effort to do that. Do not feel embarrassed—it's much more valuable to see people who try than people who never make an attempt. When walking into a restaurant, casually smile and say buen provecho (bon appetit). It may sound strange but it will add a very nice touch to your visit. You can say it again as you leave the restaurant.
For general Mexico City culture I always recommend La Región Más Transparente (Where the Air Is Clear) by Carlos Fuentes. Another fiction story is Las Batallas en el Desierto (Battles in the Desert) by José Emilio Pacheco. If you like police thrillers I really like El Complot Mongol (The Mongolian Conspiracy) by Rafael Bernal, which happens entirely in Mexico City's Chinatown.
Ethical travel tips
Don't laugh at locals. That may sound obvious, but I have seen this happen. If they are trying to communicate with you or are simply in a conversation of their own, don't laugh at them (unless of course the situation calls for a good laugh). Be generous with tips (15 percent across mid and upper range restaurants, 12 percent at lower end). Greet people with buenos dias, buenas tardes, or buenas noches. Say adios. Always try to sprinkle your English with a few words of Spanish!
Savor the flavors
Don’t leave Mexico City without eating tacos al pastor. When I live away from the city, they are the thing I crave the most. Ask your concierge where to find it, or go to the nearest El Tizoncito, Taco Inn, or El Fogoncito.
Get off the Beaten Path
Being the megacity it is, Mexico City has lots of places that are not on the usual tourist path. My university’s botanical garden (UNAM in Ciudad Universitaria) is especially gorgeous in the mornings. La Clandestina Mezcaleria in Condesa is an absolute hit if you like top-notch mescal and simple food.
The Interactive Museum of Economics (also known as MIDE) in the historical downtown district is excellent.
Explore the outdoors
Our oldest national park, Desierto de los Leones, is reachable by Uber or taxi.
Travel back in time
Go to the Teotihuacan pyramids and have lunch at one of the local restaurants there. Ciudad Universitaria in the south of the city is beautiful.