Headed to Mexico City? Here are TPG's favorite family-friendly things to do
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“You took your kid to Mexico City?”
I heard the same question over and over again after our four-day weekend there, but put away your notions about the largest city in the Western Hemisphere and learn what I discovered: Mexico City is a terrific getaway for families.
Here are my favorite things to do in Mexico City with kids.
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Climb to the Top of the Sun
Some historical landmarks are fascinating but let’s face it: They can be booooring to your average kid. The pyramids of Teotihuacan are anything but! Our small group tour was a fulfilling way to accomplish the climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.
I chose Urban Adventures for our tour because the small group size -- ours was six tourists and three guides -- made me feel safer with another set of eyes on my daughter while I focused on getting up that pyramid. Urban Adventures accepts kids as young as 6 on its tours in Mexico City. The company is listed on Expedia so Urban Adventures tours should be bookable via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. (An all-day tour combining the Pyramid of the Sun and dinner with a local family costs $74 per person.)
Explore Cultural Treasures
Mexico City has a world-class anthropology museum that is laid out in a way that’s easy to understand. The cultural treasures are beyond belief -- Aztec, Maya, Toltec, oh my! -- but even better were the gardens outside each room demonstrating how the statues and artifacts looked in context. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is 75 pesos (about $4). Mexican citizens get in free on Sundays so it will be more crowded then.
The highlight for us actually took place right outside the museum: Twice an hour indigenous Totonac dancers “fly” on a pole over 20 meters high while playing handmade instruments and singing. It’s not to be missed.
Learn About History Through Chocolate
Yes, the anthropology museum is world-class, but did you know that in ancient times chocolate was used both as currency and in sacred rituals? Learn all about it at the Mucho Mundo Chocolate museum. Even better, register for one of the reasonably priced weekend classes with your kids and make chocolate the traditional way on a metate or grinding stone.
Classes are in Spanish, but the staff does speak some English, so your high school Spanish should suffice. Yes, there’s a cafe and gift shop with homemade chocolate -- and you can get adventurous with chocolate-covered bugs if you like. The Chocolate Museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; admission is 75 pesos (about $4) for adults and 50 pesos (about $3) for kids 5-12.
Eat a Skull
If you've seen the movie "Coco," you already know that Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is more a celebration than a day of mourning. In Mexico City in October, Dia de los Muertos decorations rival those of New York at Christmastime. Skeletons and skulls aren’t at all morbid in Mexico; they’re seen partying, playing guitars and dancing. There is even skull-shaped candy.
For an immersion into Dia de los Muertos sweets, you can't do better than Dulceria de Celaya, the classic candy shop on Avenida Cinco de Mayo. The shop’s been around since 1874 and counted Frida Kahlo among its fans. Try the coconut-stuffed limes, Frida’s fave.
Savor a Foodie Paradise
From the high cuisine of Dulce Patria restaurant in the Polanco neighborhood to the sweet corn grilled in oil drums on the street, we didn’t eat anything we didn’t want more of. We grazed on an ear of corn and some mini bananas before lunch and tacos for two at the Coyoacan market. Our only challenge was deciding what kind of fruit smoothie to drink, so we just ordered a bunch of them to sample. My daughter was a fan of the strawberry (fresa), while I preferred the hibiscus flower (jamaica). Dessert was coffee and stuffed churros at a bench at the main square. We snacked and enjoyed a front-row seat at the most vibrant show in town -- ordinary citizens going about their business.
Related: What to eat and drink in Mexico City
Safety in Mexico City
Of course, Mexico is still a developing country and you’ll see quickly that you’re not in Kansas anymore. However, I found security concerns to be manageable as long as we stayed in tourist areas -- for one thing, tourist police are everywhere. I felt no less safe in Mexico City than I have in Manhattan or any other huge city. The U.S. State Department puts Mexico City in Category 2: Exercise increased caution. This is the same level of warning the State Department puts on much of Europe, including all of Spain, to give you some perspective, but always check the current status before planning your trip.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
I'm writing this guide with families in mind, so I will only mention properties that allow four people in a standard room via online booking. This eliminates two of my favorites, the W Mexico City and Las Alcobas. Mexico City is known for luxury hotel award values, both on cash rates (especially on weekends) and on points. However, I didn't see great values using points on rooms for four (even at somewhere like the St. Regis that offers two queen beds in the room). I don't trust occupancy limits that are listed for overseas hotels without contacting the hotel first. It's not worth showing up and being turned away. On the other hand, some properties not listed might let four or more in a room if you send a nicely worded email to the manager.
The Hampton Inn Centro Historico has long been a family favorite in Mexico City. The 18th-century building has a lovely stained-glass ceiling. It has suites that sleep four -- for as much as 52,000 points a night for a premium award, so I wouldn't recommend using points. Room rates are often around $130/night, which for more than 500 square feet in a great location could be a good deal.
IHG is well represented with 17 properties in the city that will sleep four, most varying between 15,000 and 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points/night. Cash rates for most are under $100/night, so using points might not be a great value unless you're getting the fourth night reward with the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. Based on location, I'd choose the Holiday Inn & Suites Zona Rosa or the Holiday Inn Express Reforma because the Reforma location is convenient to most tourist attractions.
Marriott properties are almost all better values with cash versus points, and there are some good options. The Le Méridien Mexico City is in a good location and offers 516-square-foot suites as its base-level room, so you'll have plenty of space to spread out. It's a Category 4 hotel, but I see cash rates around $100/night. Other solid choices are the Sheraton Maria Isabel and the Four Points by Sheraton Colonia Roma. The Four Points is a Category 3, so it could be a value both using points and cash. You can top up your Marriott Bonvoy balances with the Marriott Bonvoy family of cobranded credit cards.
Related: How families can stretch 100,000 Marriott points
Hyatt has five properties in Mexico City now that the Small Luxury Hotels of the World partnership is live. However, only one, the Hacienda Pena Pobre, offers larger two-floor suites online for a family of four. The suites look lovely, are more than 1,100 square feet, and are often under $300 per night. Sadly, these would not be bookable at the same 15k points per night rate as standard rooms.
I'm not sure why the Hyatt House Santa Fe wouldn't sleep four in a two-queen suite, but it won't let me book online for four people, so I would definitely contact the property first. The World of Hyatt Credit Card could be a good fit if you go the Hyatt route.
If you'd rather stay through Airbnb (and I wholeheartedly endorse this idea), TPG has compiled a fun highlights list of Mexico City Airbnbs.
Mexico City should be on your list for a family-friendly destination. Between the cultural attractions, colorful street scenes and amazing food, Mexico City is an easy and inviting choice for a long weekend holiday. Best of all, there are a ton of things to do in Mexico City with kids.
Looking to enjoy other vacation destinations in Mexico? Here are some ideas: