Most travel professionals and avid travellers alike, will agree that the best way to kick off a city stay is with an orientation tour. I have lived in and travelled many of the world’s largest and liveliest cities so believe me when I say there is a right way and a wrong way to experience every city. One of my favourite ways to start off on the right foot is by taking a walking tour guided by locals. Most major cities around the world will offer something like this in various forms such as private guided tours, foodie tours, bar crawls, etc., but my recommendation to get started is to find free walking tours. Naturally, when I booked my trip to Mexico City, that’s the first thing I looked for.
Ashlea, She Roams About Outside the Frida Kahlo Museum
Representing any business as offering a service for free always sounds a bit too good to be true so I want to explain why a company would choose to do this and why it’s so great for travellers when they do. The business model for a free walking tour is really simple: Offer the tour for free to entice people to book, then do such a great job they’ll want to pay for your service anyway. It’s a win-win!
It is important to realize that free walking tours are not charitable enterprises. These are cash businesses that allow the customer to determine the value of the tour for themselves, rather than paying a set ticket amount. Because of this, guides typically go above and beyond to provide an outstanding experience and earn the best possible tip from each tour. Another reason why I love these tours is because it gives you a chance to chat with a local guide and get recommendations on things like where to eat, where to find the best coffee and other local tips that may be buried deep in the internet.
Mexico City, known locally as CDMX, is actually the largest city in North America with a population of around nine million people as of 2021 and a history dating back almost 700 years. Trying to blindly explore a city of this scale, on your own without prior experience is just not a good use of time. In fact, the most common mistake people make when visiting Mexico City is that they don’t allow enough time. Not realizing the expansiveness of the city geographically, the traffic factor and the fact that there is such an array of things to do and see, can leave travellers wishing they had planned better. Free walking tours are a great way to fast-track orientation and get local opinions on how to spend your time.
Estacion Mexico, Free Walking Tours Mexico City
While there are several companies that offer free walking tours in Mexico City, I opted for a local company called Estacion Mexico who I found through a Youtube video and had excellent reviews online. Estacion Mexico offer a variety of tours covering various areas of the city including Roma -Condesa, Coyoacan, Chapultepec and Centro Historico [Historic Downtown]. They also offer paid tours to Teotihuacan and Lucha Libre. All tours run twice daily, rain or shine and are offered in both Spanish and English. It is important to note that the Spanish and English tours, although they run at the same time, are separate groups. Of the four free walking tours of Mexico City that Estacion Mexico offer, I took three during my time there: Roma-Condesa, Centro Historico and Coyoacan.
Admittedly, I was somewhat apprehensive about exploring Mexico City as a solo female traveler. Mexico has an unfair and inaccurate reputation for danger and violence and I wasn’t sure what to expect. My free walking tour of Roma-Condesa was about to allay all those fears.
Pedestrian Walkway, Roma Norte, Mexico City
The tour meets at the north-west corner of Avenida Cuahtemoc and Puebla. I was greeted by two friendly locals in hard-to-miss hot pinks t-shirts holding even harder to miss hot pink umbrellas. We waited a few minutes and then divided off into our English-speaking group of four. Our tour guide was Javier, a Mexico City local with an infectious passion for his hometown. Having lived in the US on and off since childhood, Javier’s English was near perfect, clear and easy to understand. He had a warm ease about him that encouraged conversation throughout the group and dispelled any of the awkwardness that comes with being thrust into a group setting with strangers.
Rectoria San Francisco Javier, La Romita, Mexico City
We headed off down an unsuspecting laneway with Javier at the helm until we came upon our first stop, a historic church tucked away off a busy thoroughfare. It was here that Javier explained the barrio we were in, why it was unique and gave context to some of the history of the area before embarking on a meandering trail through the beautiful neighbourhoods of Roma and Condesa.
The tour offers something for everyone. As we wandered trustingly through the streets of Roma and Condesa Javier made a point to get to know each member of the group. I am a foodie so he made sure to point out the best places to eat, another member of the group wanted to know where the best clubs were, another enjoyed street food, and another liked architecture. Effortlessly, our trusty guide catered to each of our individual interests, all the while teaching us about the culture and history we were experiencing and helping us plan how we should spend our remaining time in Mexico City.
Sights from Roma Norte and Condesa, Mexico City
After around two and a half hours we found ourselves at the Parque Mexico, a large and lively community space. To call Parque Mexico a “park” would be a gross understatement. It features towering palm trees, hanging egg chairs for reading, space to roller skate and play games, food vendors and WiFi. During the tour we had each compiled a list of places to revisit; beautiful parks, ornate churches, quirky museums, enticing cafes, the list goes on.
I slipped a generous tip in the woven bag and turned to look at Mexico City with new eyes. No longer daunting, I was seeing the city for what it truly was, historic, diverse, surprising, and full of possibility. Javier and Estacion Mexico had made me feel not only safe, but welcome here.
Parque Mexico, Condesa, Mexico City
The next two days went in a blink and then I was back at the airport for a flight to Oaxaca but Mexico City had stolen my heart. I flew back three weeks later to spend another two weeks using Roma as my base and the love affair continued. Had I not have been introduced to this city by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic local guide I’m not sure I would have ventured much further than a few blocks radius from my accommodation. Instead, here I was sipping cocktails in a hidden jazz bar, devouring Manchego lava cake in a buzzing restaurant, and happily spending my pesos at an artisan bazaar. I can’t wait to get back for my next visit.
She Roams About