My Top 5 Latin American Cities by Tony T'Kach

3. Mexico City

I’ve been to Mexico City twice. My first time was in 2013 as a “dry run” for my upcoming larger trip in Latin America. My first time in Mexico City was my first traveling solo, so Mexico City or D.F. as it’s often called, has special meaning to me.

I’ve never been to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta or any of the other Mexican resort (Spring Break) cities. Mexico City is a completely different type of place than those others and maybe that’s why I started looking it up back in the Summer of 2013. A contrarian Mexican destination with 20 million people exploding with culture everywhere? Sure!

Mexico City has an elevation of about 7,000ft which surprised me when I first started researching. It sits on an old lake and has a rich history.  It has one of the busiest subways in the world with an annual ridership of 1.6 billion. Like Sao Paulo, I couldn’t take it all in the first time. Or the second time. There are still things I’d love to see there that I didn’t have time my first two trips.

This is also the place I met Couchsurfers for the first time, where I used AirBnb for the first time, and where I navigated a foreign city solo for the first time. Oh and where I had a taco for the first time. A real Mexican taco.

The two times to Mexico City also show a bit how I changed as a traveler. My first time I took taxis everywhere. Like everywhere. I was nervous taking the subway system thinking that I’d might be the victim of being pickpocketed without a friend nearby. The city was also intimidating due to the size and I thought taking a taxi directly would be less hassle and I didn’t mind paying a bit more. My second trip in 2015 I took the subway everywhere. Even at night. I also took the bus to near the neighborhood I was staying at night. Walking home getting a bit lost one time. Finally finding my way and getting back without any problems and feeling completely safe the whole time.

Mexico City has so much culture its unbelievable. Amazing museums, bohemian neighborhoods, great food in the markets and on the streets, an impressive city square (Zocalo), 2,000 year old (or older?) pyramids 30 miles away, and Lucha Libre (Professional Wrestling).

Mexico City doesn’t have a beach, but getting there wouldn’t be difficult. It’s the hub for any traveling throughout Mexico and buses in Mexico are comfortable in my experience (with WiFi sometimes!).  I’m already thinking of my next trip to Mexico and the possibility of having a few days or more stop over in Mexico City so I can explore even more places in this great city.

With all the sites that I have explored and the friends I have that do live there, Mexico City is easily in my list of top Latin American Cities.

 

 

My Top 5 Latin American Cities by Tony T'Kach

4. Sao Paulo.

Reverse Culture Shock is a term to describe the experience of re-entry to your home country after a substantial amount of time traveling or working.  Most travelers experience more reverse culture shock than actual culture shock. I had read about reverse culture shock before my trip and in minor ways, I experienced it in Sao Paulo, the most populous city in the Southern Hemisphere.

Before arriving in Sao Paulo, I had spent about 3 weeks in Bolivia which is the poorest country in South America and one of the poorest countries in all the Americas. Most of the time I spent in Bolivia was at an elevation of about 10,000 feet

  • Lake Titicaca - 12,500 ft

  • La Paz - 12,000 ft

  • Potosi - 13,300 ft

  • Uyuni - 12,000 ft

  • Sucre - 9,000 ft

With the exception of La Paz and Santa Cruz, most of the places I visited in Bolivia had a relatively small population. Sometimes dirt roads (Uyuni) or crumbling sidewalks (La Paz). Cheap public transportation and meals. And cold. A few nights in Bolivia the temperature was below freezing at night!! The thought of freezing my ass off in South America is not something that really came to mind.

So when I arrived to Sao Paulo, it was completely different than any of the places I had been in Bolivia and even a majority of my trip at that point.

Everything seemed so modern! Riding in a taxi to my hostel which cost me about $80 (highway robbery) I noticed the streets and highways were exactly like home. Strip malls. Nice sidewalks. Turn lanes. Tons of trees! Where was I? This might sound pretty insignificant, but coming from Bolivia andparts of Peru, it felt like being back home.

I stayed a week in the Vila Madalena neighborhood which is an upper-middle class area with a lot of nightlife and bohemian culture. Walking around this area felt like walking around a large city in the US. Even some Americans I met had posted pictures on Facebook of the area and their friends back home asked when they had returned back to the States.

A typical street in Vila Madalena and about a 5 minute walk from my hostel.

A typical street in Vila Madalena and about a 5 minute walk from my hostel.

A very nice metro system was easily accessible from where I stayed and I could venture into Sao Paulo with ease. Taking the metro is my personal favorite method of getting around a large city (once I can figure out where to go). Taxis are expensive and buses are more difficult as you need to know the city quite a bit more to know when to hop off a crowded bus.

Sao Paulo really surprised me. Like Bogota, others didn't repeatedly tell me how great it was prior to arriving as many had done regarding Buenos Aires. I realize that I was only there a week, but could have stayed a few more I'm sure. It was such a change of pace from where I had been earlier. Busy. Intense. Diverse. Warm. Energetic.

I felt comfortable in Sao Paulo. It didn't scare me that there was 20 million people in the concrete jungle. It didn't disappoint me that there wasn't a beach nearby. It drew me in as it had to many foreigners before me. I think I could live in Sao Paulo as crazy as that sounds.

My Highlights:

  • Beco do Batman Street Art
  • Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP)
  • Mercado Municipal
  • Futbol Museum
  • Paulista Ave
Beco do Batman

Beco do Batman

MASP

MASP

Mercado Municipal

Mercado Municipal

Football Museum.

Football Museum.

My Top 5 Latin American Cities by Tony T'Kach

I'm kicking off my blog with a 5 part series counting down my favorite cities in Latin America.

5. Bogota

My first impression of Bogota (and Colombia) came from the 1994 film, “Clear and Present Danger” starring Harrison Ford as CIA Agent Jack Ryan. There is a scene that takes place in the streets of Bogota where the the FBI Director and others, including Ryan, are under attack by drug lords. In reality, this scene was filmed in Mexico, not Colombia so it looks nothing like Bogota.  

The movie was released less than a year after the death of Pablo Escobar, the most famous (and wealthiest) Drug Kingpin during the 80s and 90s. In the 20+ years since this movie was released, Colombia has seen a major transformation which includes foreign tourism which hardly existed in the 80s and 90s.

With 12 million people it is the most populous city in Colombia and the 5th biggest city in all of Latin America. It sure surprised me because I liked it so much. Colombians I met said it was cold (in both weather and the people), that it was just a big city.  Other travelers I met described it as a hub city for other places in Colombia. A starting off point.  No one really said I had to spend much time in Bogota as there were other great places in Colombia.

In some ways they were absolutely right. Bogota is much colder than the Caribbean Coast having an elevation of 8,600 feet (for reference Denver is about 5,000 feet).  It can be cloudy a lot. It’s noisy. Places can be crowded. Bogota is the major hub city for traveling anywhere in Colombia or for flying to other major cities in Latin America. And I agree with other travelers, there are a lot of other great places in Colombia. In fact, Bogota is not my favorite place in Colombia, but I still liked it a lot!

Originally thinking that only a few days was all one needed there after talking with other travelers, I thought that my 7 days there would be too many. Looking back, I could have stayed there longer.  As with any city with over 10 million people, there is a lot of energy and lots of things to do. I know I just touched the surface of what Bogota has to offer in the week I was there.

My Highlights:

  • The Salt Cathedral

  • Monserrate Mountain

  • Gold Museum

  • Street Art

  • La Candelaria

The Salt Cathedral

The Salt Cathedral

The view of Bogota from Monserrate Mountain. 

The view of Bogota from Monserrate Mountain. 

The Gold Museum in Bogota has the largest collection of Pre-Hispanic gold in the world. 

The Gold Museum in Bogota has the largest collection of Pre-Hispanic gold in the world. 

This type of street art is everywhere in La Candelaria neighborhood.

This type of street art is everywhere in La Candelaria neighborhood.

The narrow streets of La Candelaria. 

The narrow streets of La Candelaria.