Nathan Baker has been advising clients about Mexico for more than 20 years. // © 2014 Nathan Baker
Feature image (above): Palacio de Bellas Artes is one of Mexico City’s many cultural sights. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Travel agent Nathan Baker knows Mexico City well. He was born and raised in the bustling national capital, and although he currently lives in San Diego, Calif., he continues to make regular visits to the city.
Baker grew up in the travel industry. His father was a general sales agent for several cruise lines and tour operators, and Baker often accompanied him to sales meetings held in beautiful offices. His father’s work also gave the family ample opportunity to travel together; by the time Baker was 18, he’d been on nearly 25 cruises.
“I loved the business from the beginning,” Baker said. “I liked watching my father at work, and as time went by, I knew I wanted to join the business.”
By 1989, Baker was working as a full-time travel agent in Mexico City. He moved to San Diego in 2008 and soon joined the Avoya Travel network. Baker is a home-based travel agent with his own company, Wdi Travel, Inc., an Avoya affiliate. He has clients in Mexico and in the U.S.
TravelAge West spoke with Baker about how he sells Mexico City.
Why should someone visit Mexico City?
There is a lot of diversity in the city, so whatever you like doing, you will find it. It’s very cosmopolitan and very active. Some people only come to Mexico City for a layover, and I think that’s a mistake. People are always amazed and surprised by what they find in Mexico City.
What are some of the main cultural attractions in the city?
There are tons of cultural destinations, just as there are in most metropolitan cities. Museo Nacional de Antropologia is amazing. A lot of what’s being found in anthropological sites in the country can be seen here. It’s a beautiful museum in a great location, near Chapultepec Park.
Palacio de Bellas Artes, a French-style building in the center of the city, is another important cultural venue. There’s also Chapultepec Castle, where presidents once lived. And though it’s a little ways from Mexico City, I suggest that people drive to Tenochtitlan to see the Aztec pyramids.
Where in Mexico City do most of your clients stay?
I always recommend that people stay in the city itself for three or four days, but whether they’re staying in the city the whole time or coming and going, I suggest the Polanco area. This is considered the new financial center of the capital and well located within the city. It’s a close drive to many of the big museums, hotels and restaurants, and it’s also easy to get out of town from here.
Zona Rosa — translated as the “pink zone” — is another popular area in the city, with four-star hotels that are a bit less expensive than those in Polanco. This area was developed in the 1970s, so things are nice but not as new.
What accommodations do you recommend in Polanco?
There is something for every budget there. All of the big brands are available — InterContinental, JW Marriott and more. There are also boutique hotels for those who don’t want to do the big-brand scene. It depends on your taste: Do you like Mexican colonial style or something more like home? Whatever it is, you can find it.
Do you find that clients come to you with false assumptions about Mexico City?
The main concern people have for all of Mexico, not just Mexico City, is whether or not it’s safe. This is especially true for U.S. clients. I lived in Mexico City for 40 years, and my own personal experience is that it’s just like any other big city — safety depends on how you behave, what you do and the areas you visit. I suggest people plan ahead, the same way I do when I go to San Francisco or Washington, D.C.
There is professional data showing that Mexico City is no more dangerous than any other big city in the U.S. But if you feel unsafe, it’s advisable to work with a local travel agent or a hotel concierge to have a driver or a guide — someone who knows the area — take you around.
I have family in Mexico City, and when I go back, I still take precautions, even though I’m a native. At the end of the day, you want to be a tourist in places you will be able to relax. If you’re going to feel uncomfortable, there are other places you can go.
Do you encourage clients to do or see specific things while in Mexico City?
I think clients should use social media to find out what they would like to do, or what kind of food they want to try. I will never tell a client that they will miss out if they don’t do something — we might have different tastes. And that’s just my personal style as a travel agent. I talk to clients and listen to what they like and then I make recommendations, from salsa dancing venues to restaurants with Mariachi on the patio.