Weekend trips are nothing new. I love getting away for a weekend, even if it is just driving somewhere a few counties away (but honestly, the further the better). Three-day weekends are the best, of course. But what about a weekend (or similar short stint) in a foreign country? Sound like too much? I spent a weekend in the CDMX a couple months ago and thought I’d provide my thoughts on the logistics and whether a weekend in Mexico City is worth it.
Planning in the Era of COVID-19
Prior to the pandemic, a weekend abroad in most countries within the Americas was as simple as having a valid U.S. passport. There are very few in our hemisphere that require a visas or have other restrictive travel requirements. But COVID-19 has added new hurdles.
Enter all the testing and quarantine requirements. To enter many countries these days, you need a COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. You might also still need to quarantine, or test again on arrival, plus you’ll need to be tested before returning to the U.S. This is enough for many people to toss out the idea of a weekend trip abroad.
Fortunately, Mexico does not require any COVID-19 testing for entry, making it one of the easier countries to visit if you’re looking for a quick getaway. Tourism is a significant chunk of their economy (8.5% of GDP), and Mexico took a major hit during the initial part of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not surprised Mexico removed the hurdles for people to visit. Bring on the gringo dollars.
The main things you need to consider if you plan a weekend trip to Mexico are:
- Attractions that are open in the city you’re visiting
- Any local curfews/restrictions (there was one in Merida while I was there, but it was easy to deal with)
- Testing to return to the U.S.
I will also say that immigration is an issue, at least if you’re landing at Terminal 2 of Mexico City Airport. It took me nearly 2 hours to clear security for my weekend in Mexico City, which might be more than many are willing to sign up for.
Putting Together an Itinerary
This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to planning a weekend trip abroad. There are certainly destinations where a quick trip is impossible, whether logistically due to travel time, or because the place you’re planning to see isn’t worth seeing for just a couple days.
I find that quick city escapes make the best 2 to 3 days trips. Plan to visit one place or small area and stick to just that. Make sure you can get around easily and fit in the major sights you want to see. If a quick weekend of relaxation on the beach is your MO, these might be even more feasible.
Mexico City as a destination might seem overwhelming for a weekend trip. The city is enormous. There is a ton to see. It’s a city where you’ll likely need 4-5 days to begin to do it justice, based on the research I did. Like most places, you could spend a whole lot more time there.
I stuffed what I could into my quick trip, which included:.
- Exploring the City Center on foot during the first day
- Hitting up multiple markets
- Evening visit to Torre Latinoamerica
- Morning in Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Afternoon in busting and lovely Coyoacán, passing by the Frida Kahlo House
- Evening in Condesa and Chapultepec
I try to be wise about museum time during short trips. Visiting museums can quickly become overwhelming and time-consuming, although I really like quality museums.
Boating along the canals of Xochimilco was one of my favorite parts of the trip. This was a very last minute addition to the itinerary. I had great conversation with the elderly man poling the boat. He has been taking tourists along the canals for ~60 years! If you ever find yourself in Xochimilco at the Belem embarcadero, ask for Cándido.
The markets were another highlight. I enjoyed exploring these, watching the bustle of activity. The one in Coyoacán was my favorite. Actually, I enjoyed the Coyoacán neighborhood immensely, on the whole.
Which brings me to the Frida Kahlo house. This is where last-minute planning failed me, as it tends to do from time to time. The house-turned-museum of Mexico’s most famous artist requires advance ticket purchase, and they were sold out completely for the day.
Lastly, the Torre Latinoamerica is well worth its relatively low entry fee. I am a sucker for tall buildings with great views (see post header photo), but this one did not disappoint. One of these days I’ll make it to the tallest building in the world.
I didn’t hit the food as well as I should have in the couple days I was in CDMX, but I did enjoy some amazing tacos. I ate as I needed to, more or less, rather than trying to plan out anything.
Mexico City has a ton of cheap hotel options, plenty of chain hotels, and a good number of high-end options as well. Rates varied considerably depending on the property when I was looking for places to stay. It’s a cheap destination if you’re only visiting for 2-3 nights, and if you want to burn points, there are some great options for this, too.
My first night was spent at a super cheap Holiday Inn where all I needed was a bed to sleep in after my day of travel. In the morning I walked across the neighborhood to the CONDEAS df, part of the Design Hotels brand under the Marriott umbrella. The hotel is unique, in a great neighborhood, and was a good use of my 50,000-point Marriott certificate, as the going rate was over $200 USD per night.
If you want to burn points, I’d check out awardmapper.com, as this is a city with plenty of options. If you’re looking for any cheap place, just start with Google Maps and search for hotels.
Weekend Trip to Mexico City: Is It Worth It?
I’ve taken 3-5 days trips both solo and with the kids at times, and I’ve almost always been glad that we went to the trouble, even for so short a time. Years ago, I would never have considered a weekend trip to Mexico City (or any other foreign destination). My thinking was that if I’m going to go, I want to get the most out of the destination. I would have rather not gone that go for just a couple days.
My thinking has changed considerably. With the right expectations and planning, a weekend trip abroad is totally doable and can be wonderfully enjoyable.
Need your answer to Kev’s Q before I can start packing. How much of a hassle is the
return test and where do you get it?
Thanks for reading, Tom. See my answer to Kevin’s comment.
What about the COVID test to return to the USA? Isn’t that worrisome, and a real hassle to have to squeeze into such a short trip?
The key here is to do the antigen (rapid) test and not the PCR test. There are services that can do this in 30 minutes. I watched the technician stick the swab sample in liquid, and then we waited for the result in the testing tray.
You can also coordinate being tested at your hotel, which is what I did on my second day. This is pricier than finding a clinic, but it saves much of the hassle.