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Best time of day in Mexico City: early morning

The last three days, I’ve been test-running a new morning routine here in Mexico City. The reason for this was the expiration of our Gold’s Gym Polanco membership, which prompted us to reflect on a few questions before we extended it for our last couple months here:

  • They want to charge each of us $1800 pesos for 1 month or $4000 for 3 months?? Am I paying for someone to lift the weights for me?
  • Is there any way we can justify paying >$100 USD a month for a gym here? No.
  • How many people in spandex can I handle looking at during the course of one gym visit?
  • If you can drink a cappuccino and talk on your cell phone during a workout, is it really a workout?
  • What kind of gym has a cafe area that occasionally cooks meat?? (John about yakked one afternoon after a hard workout from the smell of sausage wafting through the gym)

After my return from Nebraska, John and I decided to pursue a more economic option: working out at the US Embassy gym. This costs $50 USD for a 25-visit card, and $100 USD for the two of us sounded much more compelling than Gold’s Gym’s ~$576 USD for 2 months of watching waifs drink coffee while doing side bends.

We get to the Embassy around 7AM, and I depart for home about 8AM. It’s about 2.5 miles back to our house, which gives me about a ~50 minute walk in the morning, right as Mexico City starts pulsating with life.

I realize an hour-long walk in the morning is a luxury that will soon be coming to an end once I have a job (God willing) back in the DC area in November. That could be why I am particularly savoring this time of my day. But I also think the 8:00-9:00AM time frame is a great time to experience Mexico City– tourists, take note!

To be clear, life in Mexico City certainly begins well before 8AM. People in on the street-side of our apartment building have complained of being awoken by the sound of vigorous sweeping at 5AM. For workers who transit in from the far-reaches of DF’s suburbs, their 1-2 hour commute via buses & the metro begins well before sunrise. But from the perspective of action on the streets (i.e. number of vendors set up selling food, number of men and women in suits heading toward work, level of mind-blowing traffic), I feel like it really hits its stride between 8 and 9.

What are the highlights of a walk during this magical hour in Mexico City’s mornings, you may wonder?

  • The food street vendors are in full effect. Tables/carts/stands are set up anywhere with sufficient foot traffic, selling atole, tamales, churros, pan dulce (sweet breads), and sometimes sandwiches. Another type of stand is more fruit focused, selling freshly-squeezed orange juice, other juices, and chopped-up fresh fruit to-go. Some taco vendors are even going at it to satisfy those with a craving for a good breakfast taco al pastor. I’ve been opting for atole (figuring it to be the more healthy option than made-with-lard tamales….even though a tamale verde is the best thing ever). In three days, I’ve stopped by three different atole stands and sampled flavors of chocolate, nuez (pecan), and arroz (rice). Chocolate was very similar to hot chocolate, arroz was like a runny rice pudding with a few rice grains as a surprise at the bottom, and nuez (my favorite) was like drinking liquified pecans. Mmmmm.
  • The weather is perfect. In the morning, temperatures are in the upper-50’s/low 60’s. The sun is usually out, but still slowly sliding in from its ~7AM rise time… no risk of it beating down on you from overhead. It is the rainy season right now, so walking in the late afternoons/evenings puts you at high risk for getting caught in a downpour. However in the AM, the odds of rain emerging out of nowhere are slim– you’ll generally know when you get up if a rainy morning is in store.
  • A popular street vendor stove design in Mexico City

    Other vendors are busily preparing for their day. You’ll see many a pack of gum being artfully laid out at the candy stands throughout town. I passed one woman just arriving to her final destination, whose hand truck was loaded to bear with everything she needed for a day of selling tlacoyos and tacos cooked on a stove like the one at the right topped with a massive metal disc. Of course you may also see vendors still en route to work, such as the gentleman below.

This man would seem to have a deathwish, as he pushes his soon-to-be street stand between lanes of oncoming traffic... but no one bats an eye. I would peg him as a gum/candy vendor based on his cart design, but it is hard to know with certainty from afar.

  • Smugly observing street after heavily-clogged street, and being happy that you are not stuck in that traffic. Sure, you’re breathing a little exhaust…. But you will quickly learn which streets have standstill traffic with lots of peseros (the buses) blowing smoke in your face, and which routes seem to be less stinky.

As taken overlooking the Circuito Interior this morning about 8:15AM. This really isn't that impressive of a photo in the grand scheme of Mexico City traffic, but I was still happy to be walking rather than in one of those cars.

  • There is no debate over the appropriate greeting at this hour. To explain– if you are the type of person who says hello to passers-by and you are out and about in Mexico City between a) 12-2PM or b) 6-9PM, I feel like these times are a bit of a greeting no-man’s-land. I operate by the principles of “after noon = buenas tardes” and “dusk = buenas noches”. These principles vary amongst Mexicans– some feel it’s not buenas tardes until after lunch, and not buenas noches until it is pitch-black dark outside. I will offer up a buenas noches to a stranger, get a buenas tardes in return, and then panic/feel like I need to look at my watch. POINT BEING: between 8 and 9AM, there is no debate. Buenos dias all the way, people. And just trust me– when everyone you pass by is staring at you awkwardly and you feel obligated to offer a greeting just to break the tension, it’s great to be in the definite buenos dias zone.

For anyone interested in maximizing their food-eating/people-watching experiences on a morning stroll in Mexico City, there are about a zillion cool streets on which to do this. But take note– sometimes the best ones aren’t the obvious ones, like Reforma. Instead, I found one street off Reforma to be much more bustling (Rio Lerma) & have more vendors lurking at its intersections as well. Metro stops are an obvious tip-off for lots of morning activity– the Polanco metro stop on Horacio offers plenty of excitement within a several block radius. :)

If you’re in Mexico City and not yet had a leisurely morning walk that involves a street breakfast of a tamale inside a bun (torta de tamal… touch me, carb overload) accompanied by a cup of atole, you don’t know what you’re missing. And if you’re not confident in your atole-discovery skills, email Lesley and she’ll walk you through it on a street food tour! Enjoy. :)

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  1. Lesley says:

    I love Mexico City in the mornings! You’re right — the weather is perfect and it’s a tranquil time to see the city slowly coming to life. I’m glad you listed all the great morning street foods. Have you tried the breakfast torta? There’s a lady on Rio Sena who does guisados stuffed inside a small bolillo roll — eggs with rajas, rajas con crema, etc. You also get beans, mayo, tomatoes and chipotle or jalape├▒os. You should try it if you’re ever in the mood for something substantial! With an atole, of course. :-)

  2. joy says:

    I read this while eating my morning yogurt and sipping my iced coffee. Now I’ll start work for the day. So that was strangely fitting.

  3. Totally agree, at this time the city looks clean, getting ready, etc. Best to walk and eat on the road, the champions brekfast, atole and guajolota!

  4. Irene says:

    I have just been a visitor to Mexico City but always managed to get out for a walk in the early morning. It is absolutely the best time to be out and about.

  5. Julie says:

    Lesley– Thanks for the Rio Sena tip! I will definitely have to make a visit this week!
    Mariano– Thanks for the new vocab word, I didn’t know guajolota was the name for torta de tamal. Seriously, that + atole is ABSOLUTELY the breakfast of champions!! :)
    Irene– So glad you enjoyed your visit! Hope you make it back soon!

  6. Marcie says:

    I get very stressed out by the buenas tardes/noches debate as well, partially because I came from a background in French where it’s totally acceptable to say “Bonjour!” any time of the day, and partially because Ecuadorians would dissolve into paroxysms of giggling any time I chose the wrong “bueno/as” suffix. It’s nice interpreting, because then I’m on hospital staff, and it’s tardes if I say it’s tardes. ­čśë

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