Mexico City – All the Fun You Can Have in 10 Hours

Mexico City, Mexico

Long layover sucks. On the way to New York from South America, we had a 10 hour layover in Mexico City. We decided to get out of the airport to enjoy a little bit of the city since it definitely beats moping around at the airport. Especially after we found ourselves stamped in into Mexico, 30 minutes after landing even though in theory we were ‘in-transit’.

It was our first time in Mexico. Well, actually it was technically my 2nd time, but since the only thing I remember from my first visit is having been put for a photo on top of a donkey, crying my 7 year old heart out, with a gigantic sombrero that says ‘Tijuana’ at the front, it doesn’t really count.

In Latin America, a lot of fun things can be found around the main plaza. So naturally, we took a taxi to Zocalo – the main plaza in Mexico City. It was early enough in the day that all the shops were still closed and there wasn’t anybody in the plaza around.

Nobody except for these rows and rows of gigantic figures – the ‘alebrijes’

What are ‘alebrijes’? They’re giant creatures made of paper mache, wood, wires, and more – fantastical creatures of wings, tusks, fangs, and more – created by Mexican artists from across the country. Some of them look like it would take a completely deranged individual to design.

Zocalo - Mexico City
The view of Zocalo from one of the rooftop restaurants. You can get a sense of how big the plaza is and how many of those albrijes were. I know what you're thinking, 'You just said there wasn't anybody around!' - this was taken hours later.
Alebrije in Mexico City

We were like, “What’s going on?” Well apparently these guys will be paraded around in order to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos – the Mexican version of Halloween. At the end of the parade, they’ll be put on display for judging. How fun! We wish we could’ve stayed long enough to see it.

Don’t know who’ll be doing the judging, but this guy right here would win our vote:

alebrije in Mexico City

Templo Mayor was another site recommended for us to check out located just next to the main church. There we got a glimpse of the Aztec civilization that used to occupy the very place the museum was built on. When the Spanish came, they demolished this great temple – Templo Mayor – that was one of the most important buildings for the Aztec people at that time.

If you don’t have much time, we’d recommend heading straight to the museum towards the end. It displays artifacts and trinkets found during excavation. Some of them are very well preserved. Even though it wasn’t as entertaining as the erotic pottery museum in Lima, for $4 – it was definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.

Our favorite tidbit we learned from the museum? Not only were the Aztecs big on human sacrificing through bloodletting and heart wrenching – they were pretty big on flaying their captives and wearing their skins as well. Aren’t you glad you weren’t living there and then? We definitely are.

The colonial buildings around the Zocalo and the street market around the plaza might have reminded us of South America – albeit with a lot more skulls thrown in…

But as soon as we tasted the street food, we knew that we were not in South America anymore

It was the heat. Whoa! The food here is spicy!

Jack eating one of the best tamales ever on the street of Mexico City

We had the best tamales we’ve ever had from a guy selling them off his bike. The best thing about it? It was spicy! There’s some spicy food in South America, but usually it comes in the form of ‘aji’ – a condiment made from chile that you add to your meal. If we piled enough of it, we could taste the spice alright. But the tamales that we had – there was no avoiding the spice, it was blended right in with the sauce – and it was HOT! Just look at that red, spicy goodness left on the wrapping.

It had been awhile since we had food that bites back!

Zocalo is only a 20 minute ride from the airport (minus the traffic). So if you happen to have a layover in Mexico City and wonder what to do – Mexico City’s main plaza (and its market) is definitely worth checking out. It’s one of the largest squares in the world (guess which is the largest? – the answer might surprise you). You can easily spend many hours there browsing the market, the buildings, and the museums.

Just make sure you take note which terminal your flight is flying out from. We ended up being dropped at the wrong terminal. It took us some time to figure out that out, and even longer to get to the right one.

Who knows – that little peek into Mexico might have the same affect it had on us: our layover went by so quick and we left with an unhealthy craving of Mexican food.

Who would’ve thought that a long layover can be so much fun? It was definitely the best quickie trip we’ve ever had. If you have more time in Mexico City, check out this city guide.

Little skull eating weird tortilla and cactus thing - Mexico City

What’s your funnest layover experience? Or most horrible?

Valuable Resources

  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, for those who love anything weird and offbeat.
  • Resource Toolbox: How I find cheap flights, accommodations, and other travel hacks.

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23 Replies to “Mexico City – All the Fun You Can Have in 10 Hours”

  1. Hello, I think your post was colorful and funny, and I am glad you got to see the Alebrijes because they are here just for a few munths. Just a comment… 'Día de los muertos' IS NOT the Mexican version of Halloween. It is a completely different tradition that comes from the times of the Aztecs, even before the Spanish people came to my country. It used to be celebrated for a month and it honored the dead, their journey, and it is believed that every year our dead come back to visit us. There are complete rituals about it like the dead's altar, AMAAAZING traditional food (the most popular one is the 'pan de muerto' which means bread of dead that is absolutely delicious (and is of course not made out of dead people haha), and colorful sugar candy skulls with the name of dead people or even your name). I cannot attempt to explain all of it here lol, but I hope you get even a vague idea. And the thing is since the arrival of the Spanish people and Cristianity, it has morphed with time, and most recently, since we definetly have influence from the US, both traditions ('Día de Muertos' AND Halloween) have come to merge in a very strange way in the center and south of Mexico. Yet, in the north of Mexico, they don't collapse and each tradition is celebrated completely apart. Hope you can get to come back soon because as other posters have commented, the food here is rich and amazing, and I am sure you'd have an amazing time. Greetings from sunny Mexico!

  2. We're currently in Mexico City…great tips…we'll definitely try get to that plaza in the next few days!

    PS: love the skull pic haha and your writing is very funny! Loving your blog, can't believe I only found it today! 🙂

  3. Jack and Jill:

    WOW….were you truly lucky on your timing and your choice to visit the main square during your trip to DF.

    We are long time supporters of the Museum Arte Popular in DF and we have always wanted to see the Alebrijes Parade from the main square to the Museum. This was the 6th year for the parade. We hope you took lots of photos – the creativity is fantastic!

  4. Gracias chiquillos! You guys have just convinced me to do a full-day layover in Mexico City on my way back to Chile after Christmas. Looking forward to it. I am totally obsessed with Mexican food, since I grew up with a Mexican babysitter who spoiled me and taught me Spanish from birth to age 5. I've also never been to Mexico City. And I saved a lot of money by booking this flight. I'll see if I can write a similar post about my experience.

    Saludos desde Santiago,

  5. Looks like you had a nice layover in Mexico City! Food sounds amazing.

    Our most memorable layover goes to Cairo. Had already spent a week there just months before and left disenchanted. Our second stop was a mere 24 hours on our return from Africa. Second time around Cairo captivated us. This layover reminded us that every destination deserves a second chance.

  6. Hey there, really enjoy following your adventures. Have fun on the East Coast! Hope to see you guys back here soon in Cali.

  7. The giant alebrijes are really something, I've been over to the zócalo a few times to check them out along with the Nuestros Silencios installation. Glad you were able to squeeze in a visit! 😉

  8. We've never really explored a city during a layover, but we're flying through Qatar soon and now I seriously wish we had left ourselves more time! Never been to Mexico City, but looks pretty cool… aside from all that spicy food, lol.

  9. You guys are so lucky to have a 10-hour layover in Mexico City just at the same day as the Dias de Los Muertos. Those alebrijes with weird and colorful features look really cool!

  10. Layovers do suck. It's fortunate that you got to go outside and see the city. The worst kind of layover is the ones when they're not long enough to go out of the airport, but long enough to bore you to death waiting at the airport.

  11. In two weeks, the same thing is going to happen to me. I have a long layover in Mexico City, when returning from Cancun. I kind of did it on purpose to have the oportunnity to see a little bit of the city. Now, I am psyched knowing you guys had a good time. I am going to follow your suggestions. I just want to eat and eat. I will get out of the airport just because of that.

  12. I LOVED mexico city (lived there for 2 years). It's so vibrant and lively and not quite what a lot of first time visitors usually expect.

  13. I'm glad you had a taste of Mexico, but the flavors and aromas are infinitely more sophosticated than you might imagine. You have left an enormous gap in your itinerary by not including more time in Mexico. It's too bad that your round-the-world experience will not be complete!

  14. Great layover! My craziest was in Sao Paolo Brazil. I was struggling with some sinus issues which made takeoff and landing uncomfortable. We had just come over from Santa Cruz, Bolivia an were heading back to the states. My wife went to the information desk to ask if they had any decongestant. She speaks Spanish, but in trying to explain the issue, she talked a lot about pressure in my head. The helpful attendent must have been a bit concerned because she made a phone call and the next thing we know, a paramedic is there taking my blood pressure, asking all sorts of serious questions and giving me a check up. I couldn't stop laughing and my wife kept kicking me as the paramedic left frustrated at being called down for this "emergency."

  15. Mexico is one of my favorite countries to visit. Hopefully you guys will come back and do a proper visit?

  16. I have been to Mexico a million times… and have YET to visit MEXICO CITY. I am so jealous… you don't know how much I love love LOVE Mexico and MISS IT as well. I miss the food, I miss the people, I miss the culture, but most of all I miss "FOOD THAT BITES BACK" I miss spicy food so much. I grew up with spicy food and am addicted to it and well in Europe I find NOOO spicy food. Looks like y'all had a great layover… and lucky y'all were there during El Dia de los Muertos… such a huge event all over Mexico.

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