Gregory Bull  /  AP
Tourists riding the city's double decker Turibus make their way though downtown Mexico City. In Mexico, a dollar still goes a long way, offering many options for the tight-budgeted traveler.
updated 3/5/2007 6:34:12 PM ET 2007-03-05T23:34:12

In Mexico, a dollar goes a long way. Cough up $20 and you'll be thoroughly entertained, by anything from a professional wrestling match to a night of dancing to Latin music. And many of these options will steer you clear of the ready-made foreigner-friendly Mexico, while you save money and live it up with the locals.

Start with a free, self-guided walking tour in the Historic Center, where you'll be impressed by the scale of the huge central plaza, the Zocalo. If you go on a weekend evening, you may run into an outdoor concert, and during the day you'll find street protesters, crafts vendors and traditional dance groups.

The buildings surrounding the square date back to the Aztecs, whose ceremonial center was located there before the Europeans built over it. At the Templo Mayor, just off the plaza's northeast corner, archaeologists continue to excavate ruins of the civilization that fell to the Spaniards. You can tour both the museum and the archeological site for $4.

Right next to the Aztec ruins is the city's Metropolitan Cathedral, designed by 16 architects and built over two centuries. To the east is the National Palace, where stunning murals by Diego Rivera lay out the entire sweep of Mexican history. It's free to enter, but well worth finding a free, accredited guide to the left as you enter or paying about $9 to one of the guides outside to explain the images.

As for Mexican music, there are plenty of options - swaying with a partner to romantic Norteno cowboy music, getting serenaded by a mariachi band or dancing to the Mexican version of the cumbia.

One of the best places to hear the costumed, guitar-playing mariachis is Plaza Garibaldi, where they ramble across the plaza and take requests from customers in the many surrounding bars. Another is the canals of Xochimilco on the city's south side, where you can rent a 14-person boat for about $13 an hour, order lunch from passing boats for about $6 and request songs from mariachis floating by. Official prices are $2 to $7 per song depending on the type of melody, but as with most services in Mexico, prices are negotiable and tipping is customary.

To dance to Norteno music in a club that mixes rodeo, traditional Mexican sounds and modern music, go to the Rodeo Sante Fe in Satelite, in the northern part of the city, for bouncy banda rhythms, cumbia and a separate room with rock, pop and techno. For prices, concert listings and directions, visit http://www.rodeosantafe.com.mx.

The intrepid traveler on a budget shouldn't miss the Lucha Libre, the Mexican version of the WWF, where you can see masked, muscly giants like Mistico and Blue Panther pummel one another in a crusty downtown arena that will bring Jack Black's "Nacho Libre" to life.

You can even buy your own mask for about $5, and scream obscenities at the fighters along with the rest of the hyped-up crowd. While nerve-wracking for the faint of heart, most of the fighters' swings, jumps and slaps are choreographed and safe, but be prepared for the stomach-curdling, accidental injury. Reserve tickets at http://www.ticketmaster.com.mx or buy them ahead of the show at the Arena Coliseo or the Arena Mexico for about $13.

After seeing the city's wild side, it is worth getting serious and exploring the wide array of local museums, most of which charge $4 or less. Many are scattered throughout the city's expansive Chapultepec park, where you'll encounter outdoor monuments, playgrounds and street performers as you take a break from the city streets.

To get around, hop one of the city's red, double-decker Turibuses that, for $9 during the week and $10 on weekends, will take you to all the main highlights. Their routes and schedules are listed at http://www.turibus.com.mx. The city's efficient metro system will also ferry you around for a mere 18 cents a trip. Get off at the Auditorio or Chapultepec stops and meander along the park's winding paths.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

The Museum of Modern Art and the Rufino Tamayo Museum have interesting exhibits; Papalote is an interactive children's museum that takes a whole day to explore. History buffs won't want to miss the Castillo de Chapultepec, the hilltop mansion where Emperor Maximilian briefly lived with his wife Carlotta before the French withdrew and Maximilian was executed by Mexican forces. An exhibit also describes in great detail how American invaders killed heroic Mexican cadets in 1847.

Just down the hill is the world-class National Museum of Anthropology, with exhibits on the first humans who found their way to the continent, the height of the Aztec and Mayan cultures and modern-day indigenous communities. Admission to the regular collection costs $4, Tuesday to Sunday.

And just outside the museum is a fascinating spectacle - the Voladores de Papantla - ritual dancers who risk their lives climbing a towering pole and then spinning around upside down as the ropes slowly lower them to the ground. The event is free but a tip of about $1 is in order.

Anyone interested in Mexican muralists should return to the city center, to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, known for its European architecture that incorporates curvy, organic shapes in an art nouveau exterior with the straight, geometric figures of an art-deco interior. Works by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, designed specifically for the space, stretch from floor to ceiling, telling the story of Mexico's social struggles. Admission is $2.25 and free on Sundays.

After all this adventure, treat yourself to an evening at La Bodega, at Popocatepetl 25 in the trendy Colonia Condesa, where you can have dinner for about $15. Throw in $5-$10 more on weekends and you can dine while listening to live pop, rock or blues, or even a standup comedian. Check the schedule http://www.labodega.com.mx. You deserve it - this is a night to relax and have fun after days of adventurous budget exploring in one of the world's most interesting and exciting cities.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Marvelous Mexico

loading photos...
  1. Tempting Tulum

    The Mayan City of Tulum, Mexico is located on the Caribbean Sea coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Ml Sinibaldi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. View from Palenque

    Tourists sit atop a pyramid in Palenque, set in the foothills of the Tumbal mountains of Chiapas Mexico. (Marco Ugarte / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Blessings in Chiapas

    A tzotzil child walks in front of the church of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. (Matias Recart / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Luxury in Puerto Vallarta

    The terrace on the Celestial Suite is seen at Hacienda San Angel in Puerto Vallarta. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ancient stories

    This photo shows details of a Maya stone, relating the coming to power of governor Sir Jupiter Humenate and dated 613 AC, found in Tonina, Ocosingo, Chiapas. (Janet Schwartz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mexico magic

    Mexico City, the capital city of the nation of Mexico. (Diego Goldberg / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Musical Mexico

    A mariachi band play on a punt at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cool Cancun

    Cancun, Mexico is ranked as one of the top international vacation destinations. The beaches of Cancun have been completely restored following damage caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Travelers will find its newly renovated resorts, restaurants, beaches and attractions better and even more accessible than ever. (Business Wire) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Isla bonita

    The ferry landing on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Isla Mujeres is a tiny island mere miles from the Yucatan coast, and feels a world away from Cancun's hustle and bustle. Isla Mujeres, thriving in its own tourism, manages to maintain the feeling of a small fishing village. (Anja Schlein / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soccer and bullfights

    Estadio Azul (left), a soccer stadium; and Plaza Mexico, the world's largest bullring, in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Azure Cortez

    People kayak in the Bahia de Loreto National Park, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. (Terry Prichard / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments