Landing in Mexico City

by Angela Petersen on 12/13/2013

Seeing Mexico City from the Air

Typically I’m an aisle seat kind of person. I like the freedom to be able to get up as many times as needed without having to bother anyone. The only other option is being a window person since no one actually wants a middle seat. Being small, I get a little fidgety if I’m trapped sitting in an inside seat next to someone who’s big or tall. They tend to take up all the extra space leaving me squeezed into the strictest confines of my seat. I know this arrangement probably seems great to him, but rarely do I enjoy it.

Lately I’ve been rethinking my aisle seat allegiance. While a painfully early morning flight out of SFO can be exhausting, it can also be gorgeous way to watch the sunrise. Another flight made me so glad to have a window seat from which to watch the heavy, looming clouds and watercolor-like mountains on our approach into SFO.

My flight into Mexico City was similarly spectacular.

Landing in Mexico City

Landing in Mexico City

Shoehorned into a shallow basin surrounded by mountains, Mexico City boasts a population of twenty million people, qualifying it as one of the world’s megacities. Established by the Aztecs in 1325 as Tenochtitlán, the spot they chose was considered auspicious, despite being on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Legend holds that the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli decreed that the city should be built on the spot where the Aztecs found an eagle eating a snake perched on top of a cactus, as now depicted on the Mexican flag.

Viewing the city from the air was a great way to get a sense of this well-known geography.

As you look out along the smoggy horizon, you can (barely?) make out the mountains circling the city and strain your senses to imagine the spots now over-stuffed with buildings and people in another time as water and islands. Even the conquistadors found it hard to believe when they discovered Tenochtitlán. In The Conquest of New Spain, Bernal Diaz called the city that seemed to grow up out of the water an “enchanted vision,” and some of the Spanish soldiers even wondered whether it wasn’t a dream. Sadly, that awe didn’t deter them from the destruction that followed.

Landing in Mexico City

Landing in Mexico City

Landing in Mexico City

Landing in Mexico City

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Mexico City. I’d heard about the the terrible pollution and the rampant crime, but I’ve learned enough from my travels to suspect that those stories had outlived their usefulness, leaving maybe only a grain of truth.

As you can see from these pictures, the pollution clearly exists, but the stories of noxious fumes and terrible choking air are from the past. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Mexico City recorded only eight days with air quality considered ‘good’ in 1992. That compares with 248 ‘good’ air days in 2012, reflecting the success of initiatives to relocate industry, kick clunkers off the capital’s streets, encourage cleaner technologies, and expand public transit and cycling options.”

On the issue of crime, I can say that I felt completely safe during my time in Mexico City. Like any city, there are neighborhoods to avoid, and I didn’t seek them out. I spent my time in the parts of the city where there were things that I wanted to do or see — tourist attractions, museums, shopping, and good food. El Centro, Reforma, Condessa, Polanco, Roma, Coyoacán, and San Ángel. There’s plenty to keep even the most discerning travelers busy in these parts of town.

I’m not saying that there’s no issue with crime in Mexico or even Mexico City, but I am saying that it’s more complicated than a simple blanket statement dismissing the entire country as unsafe. As the US State department says “millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.”

For more information about safety in Mexico and Mexico City, check out these articles:

What doesn’t yet seem to stick in the minds of Americans about Mexico City is the vibrant colorful energy of the city.

It’s both modern and quintessentially Mexican at the same time. Office towers, the extensive subway, and dedicated bike lanes, are paired with the sounds of old-timey street organs played for a few pesos, people peddling their wares on the street, and open air markets reminiscent of Aztec markets from centuries past. It’s easy to see — whether on the ground or from the air — that Mexico City is a massive, colorful, and complex megacity worth exploring.

Stay tuned for more posts from Mexico City and the rest of my time in Mexico.


Also, congratulations to Heather Sinclair for winning of the Free Trip to SF writing contest! I’ll be sharing her winning essay here soon, but until then you can check out her blog Travel Wanderings.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen Anne Travis December 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Great post and window seat pictures! I look forward to reading more about your adventures in Mexico City.


Angela Petersen December 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Thanks, Helen Anne! I’ve enjoyed your Mexico posts and thought the ‘Is Mexico City Safe?’ post was a perfect addition here!


Brandy Slater December 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I adore Mexico City–although I was last there in the mid-90s. The smog was very heavy then, and landing/taking off was always a very bumpy experience! I will also never forget how the city smells (or smelled, perhaps). Not bad, simply unique!


Angela Petersen December 16, 2013 at 11:59 am

I loved it too! I’m already plotting a return trip…


Heather December 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I’m a window seat fan, not just because I’m small like you but because of the view! Even when I don’t have the window seat I end up staring over my neighbour for a look. Mexico City looks really impressive from the air, I’m looking forward to hearing more about your adventures! Also to seeing my essay on the site. :)


Angela Petersen December 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Thanks, Heather! I’m not a part-time aisle seat person, except for when I know or suspect the viewing will be good! I’m looking forward to hosting your essay here too. :)


Sean December 14, 2013 at 6:43 am

I remember the first time I flew into MC at night…it just went on forever. Also looking forward to more on you trip.


Angela Petersen December 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Hi Sean! It definitely seems to go on indefinitely… Flying in at night would be such a cool way to see it too! Thanks for the comment. :)


Bo December 16, 2013 at 10:58 am

That moment when you takeoff on an overcast day and the plane rises above the cloud layer and all you see is the bright sun shining on a blue sky day–I’m totally a window person.

Plus, I tend to fall asleep and drool all over the windowsill. When I sit in the aisle, my neighbor is much less forgiving of this tendency.


Angela Petersen December 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Haha! That’s a great reason to be a window seat guy! Sleeping is definitely easier on the inside too.


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