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Tips for Driving in Mexico

 

Tips for Driving in Mexico
Mexico City

 

If you plan to drive in Mexico there are a few things to consider: toll roads, driving “rules”, and restrictions.

1. Toll Roads

In Mexico the main highway system is a series of connected toll roads, however alternative free roads are offered (at your own risk). We were advised to remain on toll roads as they are better maintained and safer. Of course, the cost of the tolls do add up, but the price is well worth it to drive on a maintained road. The toll varies from as little as $1 to $20, to get an idea of the toll cost for your chosen route check out this mapping service.

2. Driving “Rules”

Driving in Mexico, while similar to the US, has some unwritten rules of conduct. For one, we learned that drivers do not stop at a yellow light, but keep going and only after the light is decidedly red do they stop. For left turns there are not dedicated turn signals, instead wait until the light turns red then go, this is your window of opportunity. Drive as fast as you can with the flow of traffic, the speed limit signs mean nothing, that is why you have to keep your eyes peeled for speed bumps. Called topes, these handy speed deterrents are used all over Mexico for speed control. Last but not least, passing around slower moving cars or trucks on a one-lane road is common, just make sure to avoid passing on hills, curves or blind turns. Driving in Mexico felt like the wild west, no hard and fast rules, just action and guts. I’m not sure how I’ll ever get used to driving in rule obsessed US again!

3. Mexico City driving restrictions

Before arriving in Mexico I read briefly about the driving restrictions known as Hoy No Circula in Mexico City, however I was unclear how they worked until we were forced to postpone our drive from Metepec to Palenque because all highways pass through Mexico City. Due to the large regional population, vehicle congestion and concern about high pollution levels the government enforces a restriction based on license plate numbers, only allowing certain vehicles to drive on certain days within the limits of Mexico City. For example, the license plate number of our vehicle ends in a 2 so we were unable to drive in the city on Thursdays and because we are tourists our vehicle was not allowed to drive in the city on Saturdays and everyday before 11am. I am not sure how rigorous they are about enforcing the rules, but we were not going to risk it to find out, to enter and exit the city you go through a toll booth where there are armed guards, so presumably they are checking license plates. To find out more read here.

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Two Days in Mexico City

Two Days in Mexico City

Since getting used to small town beach life in California I have become less enchanted with traveling to big cities. But when in Mexico, there was no way I was going to miss out on visiting bustling Mexico City. A city of 9 million, there is no respite from the constant flux of people. Sprawled upon 1,485 square kilometers of land, the city is cradled by a mountain range of volcanoes reaching elevations of 5,000 meters. Once the location of Lake Texoco, the valley is now awash with a sea of urban buildings as far as the eye can see. Informal settlements perch on the mountain sides, while some of the wealthiest people in the world make the downtown core their home.

Mexico City

Saved from having to drive ourselves into the chaotic fray of stop and go traffic, we used our time wisely in the city to fill our days with cultural sights. The city is steeped in its historic past, with Spanish colonial era architecture brushing up against 15th century Aztec ruins, all together juxtaposed with modern glass towers reaching to the sky.

Palacio del Correo
Palacio del Correo

Dizzying to the senses, Mexico City is both grand while also containing a dark underbelly of poverty. While we did not venture forth to the informal settlements, you would almost not know they existed among the shop lined streets of Centro Histórico.

Mexico City

What follows is a selection of cultural and historical experiences for a fully packed two day visit to Mexico City. This by all means does not encapsulate the multitude of things to do and see in a city with over 150 museums and hundreds of neighborhoods.

Mexico City

DAY 1

After a drive down the picturesque Avenue Paseo de la Reforma, lined by seasonally landscaped gardens, opulent mansions, and the outer edges of Chapultepec Park, begin your day at the National Museum of Anthropology. Make sure to get an early start as this museum could easily take all day, but if you structure your time well it can be covered in four hours. This expansive museum covers the history of Mexico from the ancient Neanderthals to the Aztecs and Mayans. Carefully curated collections of art, pottery, jewelry, textiles, weapons, and statues are displayed in different rooms separated by time period and civilization.

Museum of Anthropology
Museum of Anthropology

If you are not experiencing museum fatigue then make sure to visit Soumaya Museum, created to house millionaire Carlos Slim’s personal art collection. Opened in 1994, the avant garde style building offers several floors of unique pieces. The exhibit of intricately carved ivory from China and India is a must see. Other exhibits include collections of 15th to 18th century European masters, 19th century Mexican artists, sculptures by Rodin, and coins from Mexico’s colonial past.

Museo de Soumaya
Museo de Soumaya

End the day with a stroll through Chapultepec Park where a bevy of diversions await. If you so choose there is a Museum of Natural History, Zoo, Museum of Fine Art, and Chapultepec Castle. Or to end the day lightly, meander the trails of the park to take in the views of the lakes, while stopping for a keepsake at one of the hundreds of stalls selling brightly colored woven backpacks and jewelry.

DAY 2

Start your second day at Palacio de Belles Artes, originally a 19th century national theater before being rebuilt in the 1930s in the Art Nouveau style. The land below holds such historical wonders as a 17th century convent and an Aztec plumed serpent altar. The interior features murals by renowned Mexican artists including Sigueiros and Diego Rivera. There are a few art and photography collections, but the remainder of the space is used by the National Opera, National Theater, and National Dance Company.

Palacio de Belles Artes
Palacio de Belles Artes

Next stop is Centro Histórico, encompassing Avenue 5 de Mayo and the surrounding streets. This pedestrian only avenue is lined with shops and restaurants. Continue down to the National Palace and Metropolitan Cathedral located along Plaza de la Constitucion. Take in the grand structures before entering a tour of Templo Mayor, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Templo Mayor is a Postclassic period Aztec temple first built in the 1300s dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain, and Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.

Centro Historico
Centro Historico
Book Seller Market
Book Seller Market
Templo Mayor
Metropolitan Cathedral beyond the wall of Templo Mayor

Treat yourself to a meal at Restaurante El Cardinal located in a building reminiscent of French architecture. Dine on the second or third floor of the building overlooking Centro Histórico. The menu offers a variety of traditional Mexican dishes including moles and tacos. Make sure to start with a Pre-Columbian delicacy, fried maggots served with homemade tortillas and guacamole.

Ecobici City Bike Share
Ecobici City Bike Share next to El Cardinal
Centro Historico
Centro Historico

Finally, end the day atop Torre Latinoamericana, now the second tallest building in Mexico City at 188 meters. Take an elevator up to the 44th floor to watch the sun set over the city. Completed in 1972, the building offers stunning 360 views of Mexico City, a satisfying finish to two full days.

Nacional Palacio
Nacional Palacio
Avenue 5 de Mayo
Avenue 5 de Mayo

 

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Travel Guide: One Day in South Park

Travel Guide to South Park

A Little History Behind South Park

As someone with a proclaimed distaste for suburbs, I quickly fell for one in San Diego. Located to the north-east of downtown San Diego, along the eastern edge of Balboa Park is the charming historic neighborhood of South Park.

Tucked between the neighborhoods of trendy North Park and up-and-coming Golden Hill, South Park is the kind of place where neighbors chat as old friends and business owners live locally.

Even though controversy surrounds the beginning of the neighborhood’s name (some say it was really part of Golden Hill), it can be said that the neighborhood was established in 1905 as one of the first suburbs of downtown. Shortly thereafter a streetcar line was installed connecting South Park to downtown. Although the streetcars were disassembled in 1949, many historic Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival homes remain.

This compact, walkable neighborhood effervesces with independently owned restaurants, cafes, gourmet markets, breweries, and unique shops. Really a village within a city, South Park was the perfect place to hunker down and prepare for our road trip to Costa Rica.

Travel Guide to South Park

Living in the neighborhood for two months gave me time to spend countless hours wandering the streets, poking into shops and dropping by restaurants. From the perspective of a temporary member of the neighborhood, I would like to share a fun and fully-packed travel guide to South Park.

South Park San Diego

Morning

Start your day leisurely with a feast at Big Kitchen Café. This eclectic diner serves the classics like omelets and plate-sized pancakes. Choose from a menu that includes Whoopi Goldberg’s favorite meal, and if you are lucky the owner Judy will be there, with a big personality and many a “très bien.”  But if you are in the mood for something healthy, then head to Captain Kirk’s, an open-air cafe with a selection of fresh fruit smoothies and acai bowls. My favorite is the incredible hulk bowl, a delicious mixture of acai, green apple, kiwi, bananas, and kale.

Work off the hearty meal or continue with the acai bowl health trend and get some exercise. In early 2015 the City of San Diego launched their city bike share program with the installation of bikes conveniently located in South Park. The bikes are parked next to Captain Kirks for rent by the hour or the day. If you are not one for bike riding, take a yoga class at Ginseng Yoga. A variety of yoga classes are offered daily from Vinyasa to Hatha to Kundalini.

South Park San Diego

Afternoon

After working up a sweat and most likely hunger, grab a home-made sandwich from Grant’s Marketplace. Classic sandwiches are made to order in this old-school style specialty market with products ranging from coffee beans to olives to wine to rotisserie chicken. Try the tuna sandwich on sourdough from their excellent selection of gluten-free bread. Enjoy dining on their out-door patio or take your order down the street for a picnic at Balboa Park.

End the afternoon by wandering the unique artsy shops on Fern Street. You will find everything from vintage clothing, locally crafted items, art, home goods and more.

Bad Madge & Company – Vintage curated shop, perfect for lover of 1950/60s fashion. This shop boasts a complete selection of dresses, jewelry, household goods and trinkets.

Graffiti Beach Boutique – True to their name, this shop exudes beachy Southern California style with a selection of modern and trendy art work, clothing, and jewelry.

Make Good – This shop offers an extensive collection of 100% locally made artisan goods sourced from across San Diego and Tijuana.

Junc.Life – An ever evolving, perfectly styled collection of home goods and fashion, this shop exudes a dark and bohemian vibe. You can regularly find items like bird feather earrings, animal skulls, and books on taxidermy

Progress – An airy, bright home goods and interior design shop, featuring the latest in living room furniture and design. There are also a variety of paper goods, jewelry and items perfect for a gift

South Park San Diego

Late Afternoon

For an afternoon pick me up stop by Café Madeleine for a mocha or maybe even a Nutella filled crepe. Cozy up inside on one of their large cushy benches or at a table outside to enjoy the afternoon sun.

With renewed energy explore South Park’s historic neighborhoods. Not only are there a multitude of charming homes, but gardens and verdant landscaping full of succulents and palms. Some of the best homes are located on Edgemont, 32nd and Bancroft Street.

South Park San Diego

Evening

Originally a café, Piacere Mio was recently remodel into a self-styled Italian trattoria serving delicious, authentic homemade pasta and main dishes. An excellent priced menu, the Amatriciana sauce over homemade penne is my favorite. Another option is Brabant Bar & Café who dishes up Belgian home-style food. Try an order of le moules frites, but do not despair if mussels are not your cup of tea, try one of their hearty main dishes or the special of the night such as bolognese topped with a fried egg. There is a full bar and yummy appetizers like the scotch egg.

South Park San Diego

 

More Dining Options:

Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro – Every item on the menu incorporates cacao or vanilla, or just stop by for dessert and try one of their homemade chocolate confections.

Station Tavern – This outdoor dining experience offers burgers and craft beer plus a side order of tater tots you can enjoy with a choice of four different home-made sauces. Going gluten-free, try a Farmer’s Market Salad topped with a burger patty.

Seven Seas Taco Truck – Look no further for an inexpensive, quick, and filling meal of fish tacos. The food truck is parked in the neighborhood daily.

South Park Food Truck Tuesday – Every Tuesday from 5:30pm to 8:30pm, five to six trucks park in the vacant parking lot of Gala Foods, offering different cuisines of the world.

Fun Events to Plan For:

Walkabout – Held four times a year, all the shops and restaurants open for a fun festival like atmosphere with booths and open-houses, rub elbows with neighbors and revel seekers alike as you meander through the shops and surrounding neighborhoods to see live bands playing.

Old House Fair – Held once a year in June, the fair is an opportunity to take a peek inside some of the unique historic homes that make up the neighborhoods of South Park, complete with landscaped yards straight out of Home & Garden magazine.

 Map of South Park

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