Tuesday, September 26, 2017

10 Things You Should Know About Mexico City


What are the first things to mind when you think about Mexico City? Is it busy, crowded, dirty, and unsafe? Okay, so it can be a busy, crowded, and overwhelming place, but I really think that Mexico City is an often misunderstood city, and there are a lot of stereotypes about it.



I once had those misconceptions about Mexico City as well, but I finally had to pay a visit after hearing all the buzz about what an amazing city it is (and well, a cheap flight from SFO didn't hurt either). When I got there, I surprised by how beautiful and safe it was. I fell in love with it so much that I had to come back for a second visit, less than a year later.

Here are some of the things you should know about Mexico City:


1. It is safe 
One of the things I kept getting asked over and over when I told people I was going to Mexico City (especially as a solo female traveler) - "but is it SAFE?!" The answer to that is - yes, absolutely! The big misconception about Mexico City is that it is a crime-ridden city, full of drug violence and that kidnappings are abundant. This is farther from the truth - these tend to happen in the northern and Pacific states, closer to the border. While the US State Department recently issued a travel warning for many parts of Mexico, the Mexico City area was excluded. Mexico City doesn't even make it in the top 50 cities with the highest homicide rates in the world - a list that includes US cities such as Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Baltimore.


That is not to say that you shouldn't take precautions and keep your guard up. Pickpocketing is a legitimate concern here, so stay alert, watch out in crowded areas, and take caution with your valuables. As with any major cities, there are definitely bad neighborhoods that you should avoid (i.e. Tepito and La Lagunilla) - be sure not to accidentally stumble into these. Don't take unofficial taxis - the official ones are pink and marked with "CDMX." Also avoid hailing cabs on the street - use marked taxi stands or call one from a hotel or restaurant. Ubers are super cheap and readily available as well, which makes it a great option for getting around the city.



2. It stands at over 7000 feet above sea level
Mexico City stands at 7,382 feet (2200 meters) above sea level. That is 2000 feet higher than Denver. It is in a valley surrounded by volcanoes. It shouldn't affect you too much, but if you are sensitive to high altitude, definitely carry some drugs. I wasn't too bothered by it, but did find myself a little more out of breath than usual when climbing stairs and such. Did you also know that the city was built on a lake called Texcoco, and is has sunk more than 9 meters over the last 100 years?


3. There are a lot of amazing museums
With more than 150 museums, Mexico City is home to the most museums in the world. These museums exhibit anything from European art, Latin American culture, history, science, and more - literally something for everyone!

I will admit that I have not been able to check out as many museums as I have wanted to - but there's always next time, right? Some of my favorites are the Frida Kahlo, Casa Luis Barragan, and the Capultepec Castle, which also serves as the National Museum of History. Some of the others I've been wanting to check out and hear great things about are the Museo Soumaya, Mueso Jumex, and Museo Nacional de Antropologia (Anthropology Museum).

TIP: Many museums are closed on Mondays.


4. It is HUGE
Mexico City is an enormous city, with over 20 million residents calling it home. It is the largest city in Latin America, the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the top 10 most populous cities in the world. It also has a huge economy - if Mexico City were its own country, it would have the fifth largest economy in Latin America.



5. There is a LOT of traffic
Because it is such a huge city, there is also a LOT of traffic - getting from one end of the city to another can often take over an hour, so be sure to allow for plenty of extra time for travel. I grew up in LA and am no stranger to crazy traffic jams, but the traffic in Mexico City was like LA on steroids. There is also plenty of smog here, but the city has taken big steps to reduce pollution in recent years - since 1991, carbon dioxide levels have dropped 74% and ozone levels have been reduced 57%.


6. It is very green
One common stereotype about Mexico City is that it is a grey, smoggy concrete jungle. One of the things that surprised me most about the city was how green it was, from the tree-lined boulevards, to the lush parks and green spaces scattered all over the city. Chapultepec Park, which is kind of like the Central Park of Mexico City, is known as one of the best urban parks in the world, and is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere.


7. It's a pretty city
One of the biggest misconceptions that I had about Mexico was that it was dirty and busy. While many parts of the city are definitely busy, I was blown away by how pretty the city was, from the greenery mentioned above, well-manicured homes, colonial architecture, and beautiful facades. Walking through parts of the city reminded me of strolling through the streets of Paris and in Italy. I especially loved wandering the streets of Coyoacan, an artsy, bohemian neighborhood, and San Angel, with its pretty pastel facades and cobblestone streets.



8. There are 2000 year old pyramids an hour away
When you think of archaeological sites in Mexico, you probably think of Chichen Itza and Tulum. However, did you know that one of the world's largest pyramids stands just an hour outside of Mexico City at Teotihuacan? In its heyday, the city of Teotihuacan was the largest city in the Western Hemisphere before the 1400s, spanning over 20 square kilometers and with a population of almost 200,000. There are many tours offered to this fascinating archaeological site, but you can also easily (and inexpensively) take a bus there, making it a great option for a day trip outside the city.



9. Some of the world's best restaurants are here (but there's just good food everywhere you look)
Mexico City is home to an up-and-coming foodie scene, with everything from world-renowned restaurants, to inexpensive street tacos, to anything and everything in between. Three of its restaurants ended up on a list of the world's 50 best restaurants, including Enrique Olvera's acclaimed Pujol, which was hands-down one of the best meals I've had in my life.

Mexico City also has a strong street food culture, with stands on almost every street corner with everything from Al Pastor tacos, tamales, corn, fresh fruit, and more. I've had some of the best tacos of my life on the streets of Mexico City. Worried about food poisoning? One of the best tips I've received is to seek out stands that have professionals eating at them, as these folks don't have time to be sick.

Markets (mercados) are also a huge part of the everyday life and culture too, and you will find some of the most authentic food in the city in these markets - Mercado La Merced is the largest in Latin America, but there's also the Mercado de Coyoacan, or for a hipster chic vibe, Mercado Roma is a popular spot.



10. It ain't no Cancun (or Cabo).
If you're expecting to Mexico City to be reminiscent of something like Cancun, you are going to be disappointed. For starters, it isn't a tropical climate - because of the altitude, it is much milder, with temperatures maxing out around 80 degrees, and cooling way off at night. It is a great idea to dress in layers!


One thing I discovered about Mexico City is that English isn't widely spoken here, so it is a good idea to know some basic Spanish phrases. While the locals will work with you, it will be much easier if you know a few useful phrases (and the effort will be much appreciated).

Have you been to Mexico City? What are some of the things that surprised you?




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

5 Tips for Taking Photos of Yourself While Solo Traveling


There are many things to love about solo traveling, but one of the challenges about traveling alone is trying to get yourself in your travel photos. However, as I have gone on more and more solo trips, I've discovered there are definitely ways to take photos of yourself while solo traveling, if you get creative.



Of course, traveling shouldn't be all about taking photos of yourself. However, I am a huge believer in documenting my life and my travels, hence I blog and I am a scrapbooker. I always enjoy looking back at my photos and reminiscing about these memories, especially when I'm actually in the photos. Plus, I want my kids to look at these photos someday and go "well, mom was pretty cool back then" (well, hopefully they think that).



One thing to remember is that you WILL feel super awkward and get some judgy looks, stares and comments. I wanted to die of embarrassment when I was out shooting by a pretty beach one day and was posing in front of my tripod, when this little girl blurted out, "mommy, what is that lady doing?!" That same day, another guy looked at me and went, "isn't that what a selfie is for?" But you WILL eventually get used to them and learn to ignore them, I promise!



Here are my best ways to take photos of yourself while solo traveling - now get out there and work it!


1. Camera tripod with remote or time lapse mode


I use this to take most of my photos - I like to joke that my tripod is my Instagram boyfriend. I have this tripod from Amazon. It is cheap, easy-to-use, and lightweight - this is super important because if it was big, bulky, and difficult to use, I would never take it with me anywhere.



You can get a remote for your camera, so that you are not running back and forth to set the self-timer. I personally don't use a remote, because I have an older dSLR (Nikon d300) and they don't make very many remotes for them anymore. However, one trick that I have discovered is the time lapse mode - on my camera it is called "interval timer shooting," but you can look in your use manual or Google your camera model + time lapse mode to figure out what it's called for yours and how to use it. I love this because I can set it to take dozens of shots at a time, without having to run back and forth, so I just turn it on and pose away.



This is my preferred method of choice - however, I avoid setting up in crowded areas, and try to keep my camera not too far away from me. I have been known to show up to a location super early in the morning so that I can avoid the crowds (this photo in front of the Bean in Chicago was taken at 6:15am). Also, keep in mind that different locations have different rules regarding tripods so you may not be able to set one up in certain places. I also use caution in areas that have rough terrain or heavy wind, as my tripod can easily get knocked over.

2. Selfie Stick

Ok, I know, I know, you're totally judging me right now - I used to roll my eyes when someone busted out a selfie stick, but now I consider them to be another useful tool in helping get great travel photos of myself. Plus, they are so readily available - if you need one in a pinch, they are available EVERYWHERE (and I mean, you can even get one from an annoying street vendor if you decide you need one right then and there).



I'm honestly still trying to figure out how to make the most of my selfie stick and up my game - but I have seen other people take some epic shots using theirs! I did bust mine out several times while in Mexico City, and glad I had one with me. Some people opt to use a GoPro with their selfie sticks, but I just use my handy dandy iPhone.


My selfie stick came in handy when I was at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, which as you may know, is always swarming with people. For this shot, I stood on a ledge, whipped out my selfie stick, and got all the people out of my shot.


3. Tripod for Smartphone

These are great for situations in which you just can't use a traditional tripod, or when you don't want to carry one around. I actually use this selfie stick with tripod leg attachments which is super versatile and compact. It's small and easy to keep in my purse, and quickly whip it out when I need it.



I found that traditional tripods were not allowed at many landmarks and archaeological sites in Mexico City. However, I was able to use my smartphone tripod at the pyramids of Teotihuacan, which allowed me to capture photos of myself with these epic pyramids.



I went on a cabin trip up in the mountains earlier this year - when I got there, I discovered that I had failed to charge my dSLR battery and also didn't bring my charger. Luckily, because my selfie stick tripod is so compact, I usually just leave it in my purse, which allowed me to capture these shots of myself in this winter wonderland.



I also used my selfie stick tripod to snap this photo of myself in front of the palace at Versailles - "real" tripods weren't allowed, but I was able to use my phone tripod to get this snap of myself. This is one of my favorite travel photos to date!


4. Ask someone!

Sometimes you've gotta do what you've gotta do and ask someone to snap a quick photo (or two, or three. Or even ten) of you. Sometimes I get really shy about this, but if you don't ask, you don't get! This is sometimes my only option in locations, such as museums, in with neither tripods or selfie sticks are allowed.



Be selective about who you ask! Pick someone who looks trustworthy - perhaps someone with a camera of their own. I like to ask people who have dSLRs of their own, since the likelihood is higher that they know how to use them. Tell the person what shot you had in mind, and don't be afraid to ask for a retake (or you can ask another person). One strategy is to ask someone who is also alone, and to snap a photo of them in exchange for them taking one for you. If you are on a tour, you can ask someone else on the tour with you, or even the guide to snap a quick photo for you. This is what I did while touring the Luis Barragan house in Mexico City.



Or, you can ask a group who is struggling to get a photo with everyone in it. When I see a group of people taking turns getting a shot of each other, I usually offer to take one of all of them in exchange of a photo of me. The added benefit here is that usually means there ends up being fewer people getting in the way of your shot. Patience is key. For this shot in the atrium at the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, I waited until the room emptied out except for this family who was struggling to get a photo of themselves, so I offered to snap a photo of them in exchange for a shot of me. They were so appreciative that they invited me to tour the garden with them so they could help me get more photos of myself - ha!

5. Make new friends
photo by: Melissa @ Wit & Folly

Meeting new people on your travels is a great way to explore a destination and help you get some photos of yourself! One way to do this is by staying in a hostel, which has social events and activities to help you get to know others who are also staying there. I personally have only stayed in a hostel once, and ended up barely spending time there because I was constantly on the go, but I have friends who stay in hostels all the time and have met lots of people who became activity partners and friends.


photo by: Suzy @ Krave the World

In this day and age, social media is a powerful tool to help you connect with people all around the world. You can use social media in a number of ways to help you connect with people who are in the same destination you will be in. You can post a status update on your profile asking friends to connect you with people they may know who are in the same city you are going to. Or, you can join a travel Facebook group - Girls Love Travel is a great one - to help you connect with other travel lovers all over the world.


photo by: Jennifer @ Adventures of Wander

For me personally, Instagram is a platform that I've had great success with in connecting with amazing, inspiring travelers from all over the world. When Jennifer from Adventures of Wander, who lives in Stockholm,  saw that I was going to be in town, she reached out to me via Instagram and offered to show me around her hometown. We spent an afternoon exploring the city and snapping photos of each other - and she helped me discover some Instagram-worthy spots that I would not have known about otherwise!

photo by: Melissa @ Wit & Folly

I had been friends with Melissa from Wit & Folly on Instagram for awhile before I found out we would be in LA at the same time. I had a fun day meeting up with her and going mural crawling in Venice and Santa Monica, and then going up to the observation deck at Sky Space. It was so lovely to finally meet up in person - and to snap a bazillion photos of each other!


photo by: Natalie @ Pastels and Passports

Social media is also great for helping you find local friends who can accompany you on your adventures. I regularly meet up with Natalie from Pastels and Passports, whom I also met on Instagram, for photo outings that help me discover some of the amazing spots that we have here in San Francisco.

And there you have it! What are some of your favorite ways to take photos of yourself while solo traveling?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that link to products I love. Thank you for supporting Pictures & Words.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Checking In: Chaya B&B Boutique - Mexico City


Located in the heart of Mexico City's bustling city center, Chaya B&B Boutique was created with one concept in mind: for travelers, by travelers. It nixes the traditional hotel experience, with a renewed focus on comfort and hospitality. It is designed to be a home base for your trip - a place to relax and refresh, meet other travelers, and to be a place that provides support and inspiration for everything you need to make the most of your Mexico City adventure.


Independently owned and operated by a small team of young entrepreneurs with a passion for travel themselves, Chaya B&B Boutique places a strong focus on comfort and hospitality. The staff does everything in their power to make the property not just a place to stay, but a true home away from home, catering to your every need, and helping you plan your journey in Mexico City.



Chaya B&B Boutique sits in the heart of the Centro District, on a pedestrian street right next to Alameda Park, making it the perfect home for your explorations. It is very conveniently located near many tourist attractions - the Palacio Bellas Artes is less than a 10 minute walk away, and the Zocalo is also nearby. It is also located near 2 metro stops. 


The stylish property is built on the third floor of the renovated 1920's Barrio Alameda building that houses a number of fun, hip businesses in the lower floors, such as a yoga studio, tattoo parlor, an ice cream shop, trendy boutiques, and two restaurants. While I did not have time to really explore the other businesses in the building, I did enjoy coming back and enjoying a drink every night at the bar at Butcher & Sons, which is the burger restaurant on the ground floor.



The beautifully decorated property has a rooftop terrace with hammocks, perfect for relaxing after a long day of exploration. There is also an upstairs bar with a daily happy hour, and I enjoyed grabbing a glass of chilled white wine and hanging out in the hammocks, relaxing and refreshing for a little bit before heading off to dinner. Side note - if you think that climbing into a hammock with a glass of wine in hand is difficult, well, it kinda is, but it can be done - and swaying in there with beverage in hand, chilling out and enjoying the view made for the best time.



Chaya B&B Boutique features an abundance of greenery,  with hanging green vines, potted ferns, cacti, and succulent details scattered all over the property, creating an oasis in the middle of the busy, bustling city of Mexico City. It really created a fresh, relaxing feel, which was lovely to come back to after a long, packed day of exploring the city.



Also on the rooftop is a small patio with a small cactus garden and some tables and chairs. There is also a shelf that displays dozens of potted succulents, which was quite impressive and one of my favorite things in the hotel. This would have been a great spot to relax and have breakfast or a drink, but I never ended up doing it.



As this is a B&B concept, do not expect luxurious rooms - the rooms are simple and minimalist. However, as this is a boutique concept. the rooms are stylishly decorated (think hipster-cool), and very cozy and comfortable. The rooms feature hardwood furnishings and concrete floors. I loved the little details that I found around the room that added a bit of style to the room, such as the pop of color from the rug next to the bed and embroidered pillow on the bed.



Some potted plants and succulents around the room continue the greenery theme, and I loved the vintage alarm clock, and the exposed light bulb hanging from a tree branch attached to the wall. There is a straw hat hanging in the corner of the room, which is a nice design touch, but you can also borrow it for the day. There is also a maroon umbrella hanging on the outside of every room, which was appreciated as I was there during rainy season and I was unprepared and did not pack an umbrella with me.


The room was immaculate and housekeeping was on point. Funny story: I have a bad habit of leaving my clothes all over the floor, especially when I'm on vacation. The clothes usually stay there during the entire duration of my trip, until I'm ready to pack them back into my suitcase. After being out and about all day, I came back to my room the second day to find that the maids had hung my dresses up and folded my PJs and put them on the bed. I felt so embarrassed that they had to pick up after me like that, but it was such a nice touch.


The bathroom was simple with concrete and tile details. The shower was perfect and I liked the toiletries that were provided. The bed was super comfortable and I had some of the best nights of sleep - which was amazing as I always ended up coming back to the room super exhausted. 



There is a poster in every room that tells you more about the hotel's services and amenities. While I did not get to take advantage of these, some of the things that piqued my interest were that the staff will arrange for you to take a yoga class at the studio downstairs; and they also rent out vintage film cameras to help you capture your adventures around the city! So cool - I had meant to do that but I totally forgot.



Breakfast is included in the room rate, and both continental options and hot options are provided. For the hot breakfast, you have the choice of traditional eggs or a daily rotating Mexican specialty - during my stay, they had huevos rancheros, enchiladas verdes, enfrijoladas (chicken in tortillas with bean sauce and cheese), and a dish that was essentially a Mexican eggs benedict, . All the breakfasts that I had were delicious, and I enjoyed eating them every morning. I usually love eating out at local spots for breakfast too, so this created a dilemma for me because I loved the hotel breakfasts too - but no problem, I just ended up eating breakfast twice on some days! ;)



The breakfast area is super cozy and stylish, with lots of wood details. Chaya B&B is a small property with only 11 rooms, which creates for a cozy feel and provides for personalized service. This also meant that you really got to know the other people staying there. I had originally intended for my breakfasts to be a quick grab and go, but I ended up meeting and getting to know some lovely people at breakfast, and they ended up being more of a relaxed affair for me, which was nice for a change.



Also in the front lobby area is a sitting room with a comfy couch and lots of reading material about Mexico and Mexico City to help you plan your trip. The area is so stylishly decorated and it looks straight out of an interior decor magazine - I seriously wanted to move in there. Every detail is thought out to create a cozy feel, and definitely has a bit of an eclectic traveler feel, with little artifacts and knick knacks on display.




The hotel also provides their own guide book, which you can find a copy of here, as well as in each room. These not only tell you the basics about the city, but also has personalized recommendations from each member of their team - for example, one person points out the best gastronomic spots in the city, another features the best markets, another tells you where all the music and cultural spots are.




There is also an office area in the back with a desk if you wanted to hang out there to get some work done - this room has a great view of the park and has lots of natural light streaming through, which I loved.



There is also a "tienda" or souvenir shop with a selection of carefully curated goods that are made by local artisans.


Every member of their staff that I encountered were all super friendly and always had a smile on their face. They will really go out of their way to ensure that your stay is impeccable. They will give you as much or as little guidance as you will like. I tend to be a fairly independent traveler who likes to figure out things on her own, but it was nice to know that they were there for me should I have a question or need more assistance. 


They can also arrange for airport transportation, book group or private tours for you (i.e. for a night of watching lucha libre or an excursion to the pyramids of Teotuhiacan), or arrange to hire a driver for you.


A couple minor shortfalls that I want to point out...first, since it is situated in a historical building, there are no elevators - you will have to climb up 3 flights of stairs (good exercise for me after those double breakfasts, haha!). However, the staff is more than willing to help with your bags upon arrival and departure. While I loved the fact that it is situated on a pedestrian street while out and about during the day, it also means that a taxi/Uber cannot drop you off directly on the street, and you have to be dropped off at the corner.  Another issue is that there is no clear signage on the outside of the hotel, so it may be hard to find. I got in off a red-eye flight and around 6:45am when it was still dark out and I could not find the entrance. Luckily, my Uber driver was willing to drive onto the street to make sure I arrived safely and I eventually found the entrance and was able to get in. Management did assure me that it was an issue they were working on with the building administration.


All in all, I absolutely loved my stay at Chaya B&B Boutique and it was the perfect home away from home for my Mexico City trip. It absolutely made my trip an amazing experience full of great memories! I highly recommend it as a great home base for your Mexico City adventures.

Disclaimer: I was welcomed as a guest of Chaya B&B. As always, all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Find Chaya B&B Boutique:
Website: http://www.chayabnb.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/chayabnb
Instagram@chayabnb

Liked this post? Pin it!