As we’ve discovered this past year and a half, traveling with a little one is a whole different ball game. No more are the days of lazing on beautiful beaches, trekking through jungles or chilling out for entire afternoons at quaint sidewalk cafes. However, while relaxing may no longer be the word used to describe our trips, travel is still a necessary and enjoyable part of our lives. It’s just taken a bit of a different form. So, if you happen to find yourself headed to Mexico City with a tot under five in tow, here are some suggestions for survival. Babies are truly adored by all Mexicans and your little one will be the perfect introduction to meeting new people. And if your little one is blonde, get ready to hear “que bonito guero bebe” a thousand times (which translates to “what a beautiful white baby”).
It is all about the shortest travel duration possible. In our experience, no matter how many perfect travel toys or finger foods we bring, how well the diaper bag is packed, or what time of day we travel, the flight is pretty awful. We have an extremely active little dude who will not be made to sit still and who sleeps no where but his crib at his exact sleeping hours. Oh, and he is known to shriek at the top of his lungs whenever he doesn’t get what he wants. And so, our one and only goal when planning a travel day is to get to our destination the absolute quickest possible. If flying from San Diego to Mexico City, this means traveling by direct flight from Tijuana to Mexico City via the Cross Border Xpress (see my post here on how this works). Another benefit of flying out of Tijuana is getting to use the airline Volaris, which through Optiontown.com, gives you the option to “reserve” the empty seat next to yours. This means booking your child under 2 as a lap infant and then getting a seat for them! It couldn’t get much better. Just a fair warning – some flights book up last minute and its not guaranteed.
Where to Stay
As far as location, the closer to Parque Mexico or Parque Espana the better. In fact, somewhere along Calle Amsterdam in between the two would be about as ideal as it gets. But really, anywhere in the La Condesa/Roma Norte/Hipodromo neighborhoods are good. These neighborhoods have tons of cafes, street stalls, leafy sidewalks and clean-ish parks and plazas.
After some less than fantastic hotel stays with our little bear (think pac’n’play shoved into the bathroom in order to get him to fall asleep since he won’t with us in the same room), we are now all about Airbnb (reserve using this link for $35 off your next stay). For about the same price as a hotel room, you can book a two bedroom apartment. Everyone gets their own sleeping space and there is a kitchen to prep snacks for the little one or simple meals. And so far, all of our hosts have left us fruit and some other food staples so that we can make a quick dinner and get the little guy straight into bed when we arrive. And in our opinion, the absolute best part is feeling like you are a local living as a local would.
What to Do
Mexico City is full of amazing historical sights, top notch restaurants and cultural museums. But unless your little one is content sitting in their stroller for hours on end without making a peep (please send me your parenting secrets!), you likely won’t be enjoying this part of the city. Here are some suggestions to keep you busy:
Parque Espana – this park has a wonderful playground (that would probably be illegal in the States due to numerous gaps between railings where little ones could easily fall through and slides so steep kids literally catch air and rarely land on their feet). But, if you are willing to keep a close eye on your tot and stay within arms reach, it is a great way to pass an hour or two. There are also tons of hawkers just outside the park gates selling bubbles, balls, candy, ice cream, and all sorts of other treats. On the weekends, a small train that you can ride on circulates the park as well. There are also often dance performances, open air markets, and other more cultural diversions in the park that you can fit in between play time.
Parque Lincoln – this park is located in Polanco and the playground is even nicer than the one at Parque Espana (the entire playground is covered with a rubber mat material so you don’t get nearly as dusty). It is in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of the city and so is not uncommon to see a child accompanied by both their mother and nanny. Just avoid Sunday afternoons unless you want to be there with every other child in the entire city and be forewarned that there are none of the bucket-style baby swings in case your tot is a swinging enthusiast. It is just a few blocks from the main strip of Polanco though and makes a great stopover to let the little ones stretch and run between touring.
Parque Mexico – This is a great park for strolling. There are huge leafy trees, a lake in the center with ducks, and tons of dogs! There is a small play area that is mostly oriented towards older children, but has some baby swings. And the plaza in the center of the park is a great place to scooter, bike or kick a ball around.
Parque Chapultepec – known as the “lungs” of the city, this massive greenspace takes up a huge portion of the city center just west of La Condesa neighborhood. Many of the city’s museums are within the park adjacent to Paseo Reforma, a large boulevard which bisects the park into a northern and southern portion. If you have a little one in tow, I’d recommend two spots in the park: the Zoo (which has no entrance fee) and the Liberia Porrua (an amazing bookstore on the southern shore of the Lago de Chapultepec at the Grutas entrance off Paseo Reforma). You can grab a snack at the bookstore, take a turn on the slide going down to the children’s section, and then head out back to a large grassy area along the lake for a picnic or rest. [Note – as long as you don’t have food, you can bring your stroller and backpack with you in to the zoo. No need to check your bags despite the signs saying you must.]
Markets – There are many to choose from, but we’d recommend Mercado de la Merced, Mercado Sonora or Mercado Medellin. Mercado de la Ciudadela and the Bazar del Sabado are good for handicrafts. They are filled with snacks and trinkets with which to distract your little ones and they can be as noisy as they please.
Calle Amsterdam – the pathway down the center of this street which circles Parque Mexico is perfect for a morning or evening stroll. It’s a much smoother ride than bouncing up over curbs and across chunks of pavement on the sidewalks. It is also lined with cafes, ice cream shops and little boutiques if you want to grab a snack or do some window shopping.
Papolote Museo del Nino – In the southern portion of Parque Chapultepec off Avenida Constituentes, this children’s museum has a variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits as well as a 3-D Imax theater.
Aquaria Inbursa – aquarium in Polanco across from the Museo Soumaya.
Biblioteca Vasconcelos – Designed by the Mexican architect, Alberto Kalach, this 409,000 square foot library is located in the Buena Vista neighborhood and is an architectural masterpiece. We didn’t make it here for a visit ourselves, but our friends took their little girl and said it was fantastic. There is a huge children’s section where little ones can play.
Where to Eat
Mexico City has burst onto the international culinary scene the past few years with the arrival of restaurants like Pujol, Rosetta and Contramar. If you can get a babysitter (ask your Airbnb host for a recommendation) and secure a reservation, then they are worth a try (other nice options are Cafe Azul and Merotoro). If your tot will be in tow, then some of these more child-friendly eating options might be a bit more up your alley…
Mercado Roma – This eatery provides a sampling of many of Mexico City’s most famous restaurants, bars and bakeries all in one place. Take a bite to eat and grab a drink to go and sit in the beautiful back courtyard to enjoy while your little one runs around. It’s noisy and boisterous – the perfect place for your kid to be a kid. And don’t miss out on the El Moro churros con chocolate (I’d recommend the chocolate espanol, which is thicker and better for dipping the churros in).
Freims – This is a cute little cafe on Calle Amsterdam. Although similar to others in the area, this one has a fully enclosed courtyard in the back with a fountain that is great for letting your little one run free while you relax. And the owners have a one year old so are very accommodating of children.
El Ocho Recreativo – Located at the southern end of Parque Mexico, this is a popular brunch spot for Mexican families. There is a wall of toys, clowns blowing up balloon animals and a range of child-friendly foods like pancakes, waffles, and fruit parfaits.
Sanborns – This chain restaurant can be found every few blocks throughout the city and is a classic Mexican experience. The food is just mediocre, but it serves traditional dishes and again has a very child-friendly atmosphere. Any of them are good, but I’d highly recommend the Sanborns located in the Casa de los Azulejos near the Zocalo for a bit more ambiance.
Street Stalls – The Mexican food stalls are ubiquitous throughout the city. Tortas (sandwiches), tacos, burritos, huaraches, tamales and more can all be gotten for just a dollar or two and in a matter of minutes. When you have a cranky toddler who also changes his mind every few minutes about what foods he does and doesn’t like, I don’t know anything better than cheap and fast food. Get a sampling of everything and let them try it all. There are also juice stalls everywhere. They serve three types of drinks: licuados (smoothies that are fruit mixed with yogurt, milk or soy milk), jugos (juices that are pure fruit blended with or without sugar) and agua dulce (fruit, water and sugar blended). I’d highly recommend trying a cucumber (pepino), limon (lime) or pina (pineapple) agua dulce. Jugo verdes (green juice with spinach, nopales (cactus) and fruit) are also popular.
So next time you are trying to decide on a location for a long weekend trip, book a ticket to Mexico City and explore some culture and eat some amazing food!