What are some of your favorite memories of Mexico City?
I’ve lived in the city for nearly my entire life, and it’s a very exciting place to grow up and visit. My favorite place is Paseo de la Reforma; driving along it is a real delight. Night life is also amazing in Mexico City: you can walk on Tamaulipas Street in La Condesa at 3AM and you will see plenty of young people having fun at the local bars, cafés and night clubs.
How would you spend 36 hours in Mexico City?
Early in the morning of day 1 you can visit Xochimilco, take a ride on a trajinera and enjoy a few mariachi songs from the trajinera next to you. Then take a taxi to Coyoacán, enter “La Casa Azul” and spend part of the day looking at paintings and decorations inside. Walk along its streets; buy a “churro con chocolate”, which is a sugar-covered bread and a cup of hot chocolate. Then visit the popular culture museum and the chapel at the center of Coyoacan. Alternatively, you can switch and take a night ride on a trajinera. During the night Xochimilco transforms to a place crowded with happy young people riding on trajineras having a few beers and listening to music.
I would start day 2 definitely visit the downtown area, have a meal in one of its delicious restaurants, visit the Aztec ruins (El Temple Mayor), the Palacio de Bellas Artes to take a look at the beautiful mural paitings, enter to the cathedral to admire sacred art and take a ride on the Turibus to admire some of the most beautiful monuments on Paseo de la reforma. Then I would probably stay at the Gran Hotel De la Ciudad de México (around 100usd per night), which is right next to the national palace at the Zocalo.
What kind of practical information should first-time visitors know about Mexico City?
Transportation in Mexico City is very complex, but the use of the subway is very standard and it can take you almost everywhere in the city. (Do try to avoid it at rush hour, though, as the fight for a space becomes tough.) Try to take taxis from designated “sitios” which are places where regulated taxis line up, and always ask the driver to turn on the meter.
For visitors from the US and Europe, the city will be very affordable. For example, you can have a decent meal, including soup, meat, fruit flavored water, and dessert for less than 5USD. That said, you can also find upscale restaurants that will cost much more. Lodging is cheap as well: one can find a nice, well-located room for around 50USD. Transportation is also cheap: a subway ticket is less than 0.50USD and a 10km taxi ride (depending on traffic) should be around 15USD.
English is spoken by most young people and most hotels in tourist areas will have personnel with a decent level of English. Unfortunately taxi drivers are not very proficient in this language, so try to bring maps or notes with your destination written in Spanish to help guide them.
The currency in Mexico is Mexican pesos (1USD ~ 12-14MXN). Many restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, and supermarkets will accept cards, but try to bring at least 200 pesos in your pocket if you want to buy souvenirs or snacks on the street.
Being a metropolis with 22 million people has its issues, one of them being the heavy car traffic at rush hour. Sadly, it can take up to 3 hours to go from one side of the city to the other, so try to avoid transportation during this time (8-10AM, 6-9PM).
Taxis at the airport are 200% more expensive than street taxis, so avoid them if you can. You can take the recently opened Metrobu” route from the airport to downtown Mexico City for roughly 30 pesos – it’s a fairly good and comfy ride!
What are some precautions that people should take while exploring Mexico City?
Mexicans love street food, so you’ll find plenty of places serving up Mexican dishes like tacos, tamales, or boiled corn. You’ll even find stalls selling international cuisine like burgers, hot dogs, and pizzas. Although these places will be crowded with hungry customers, remember that these are native-born Mexicans with stomachs of steel. Many people from the US or Europe might have a bad stomach experience, so try to find more well-established places with foreigners already gathered ‘round.
Taxi drivers are infamous scammers, so always demand that they turn on the meter. They’ll still likely take the longest route, but that’s a risk one takes in almost every city.
Most people have heard about safety issues in Mexico from the media. Fortunately Mexico City is now one of the safest cities in the country. I have lived here for almost 30 years and have never been robbed. Safety advice in Mexico City is basically the same as any other big city: try to stick to tourist-friendly areas; don’t buy piracy products; don’t accept offers from strangers; stay on well-lit paths; avoid walking on lonely streets at night; etc.
Any other indispensable pieces of advice to share?
Visit a tourist information kiosk at the airport or at any of the spots described before. The attendants in these kiosks are very helpful and proficient in English, and they will be happy to help you and give you all the information (maps, advice, etc.) required.
If you buy anything on the streets, don’t be afraid to bargain. People usually try to take advantage of foreigners, so be vigilant! And if you want to buy Mexican handcrafts, visit La Ciudadela market; it’s very close to the city center. There you will find a wide variety of handcrafts at decent prices.
Once compared to Paris’ Champs Élysées, this is undoubtedly the most symbolic street in the city. Historic monuments, such as Torre Mayor and El Ángel de la Independencia, line the street and can be viewed comfortably from the “Turibus”, which will take passengers up and down the beautiful street.
This residential area was founded as a hippodrome (stadium for horse racing) at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the streets still retain their elliptical shape. In this area, full of so-called ‘hipsters’, one can find dense pocket of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and night clubs with a distinctive ‘hipster’ vibe. Colonia Condesa is a clear representation of Mexico City’s bourgeois class.
This park was originally the center of the Condesa hippodrome. Here you can find pop-up art shows and musical performances, sports games, martial arts classes, casual dancing, or people simply walking their dogs.
Located at the south of the city, Coyoacán retains an attractive colonial architecture that can be observed in the houses, churches, and restaurants. One can visit the popular culture museum or Juán Bautista chapel.
This is the former home of renowned artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In 1958 it was transformed into the Frida Kahlo Museum and now houses works by Frida, Diego, and many other iconic contemporary painters.
This architectural masterpiece can’t be missed, and if you think the Neoclassical outside is stunning, wait until you enter inside. Sprinkled among the brilliant fine art are dozens of murals, many of which depict social themes in Mexican history. There’s also a stained glass curtain that captures the Valley of Mexico.
More fine art awaits visitors at this museum, which has works from Mexico’s early colonial period through the twentieth century. The permanent collection is divided into three key periods: the colonial era, the century following independence, and the years following the Mexican Revolution. It’s a wonderful visual narrative of Mexico and a great way to spend an afternoon.
Entering the museum at El Templo Mayor is like taking a big step back in time. This museum houses precious Aztec ruins, which have surfaced through a large-scale excavation project. The museum is divided into eight themes, each presenting unique artifacts such as knives, idols, and instruments.
This used to be the source of food for the Aztec empire, with their revolutionary “chinampa” sowing method, which consisted of planting seeds in artificial fields floating on top of the canals. Taking a ride on a trajinera, which is a very folkloric boat, is a must. While you are on the trajinera you will be approached by all kind of sellers offering flowers, food, handcrafts, and even by mariachis who will be happy to sing for you all the time you can afford.