Difference between revisions of "Mexico City"
Revision as of 22:34, 19 October 2008
The city is officially divided into 16 delegaciones (boroughs) which are in turn subdivided into colonias (neighborhoods), of which there are around 250; however, it is better to think of the city in terms of districts to facilitate the visitor getting around. Many older towns like Coyoacán, San Angel and Tlalpan got merged into the urban sprawl, and each of these still manages to preserve some of its original, unique character.
The outer area of Mexico City includes:
The greater Mexico City metropolitan area is one of the world's largest and most populated, with an estimate of about 20 million people living in the region. It is shaped roughly like an oval of about 60 by 40 kilometers, built on the dry bed of Lake Texcoco, and surrounded on three sides by tall mountains and volcanoes such as the Ajusco, the Popocatepetl and the Ixtlacihuatl. Mexico City proper (with an estimated population of between 8 to 9 million) is located in the Federal District (Spanish: Distrito Federal or D.F.), a federally-administered area (that is, not part of any Mexican state) which acts as the capital of Mexico. The rest of the metropolitan area extends beyond it into Mexico State, which surrounds D.F. on three sides. Legally and practically speaking, Mexico City is the same as the Federal District, and that is where most tourists will spend the majority of their time when visiting or staying in the city.
Mexico City is divided up into 16 delegaciones, similar to the boroughs of New York, which in turn are divided into "colonias" (neighborhoods), of which there are about 250. Knowing what colonia you're going to is essential to getting around, almost all locals will know where a given colonia is (however, beware that there are some colonias with duplicate or very similar names). As with many very large cities, the structure is relatively decentralized, with several parts of the city having their own miniature "downtown areas". However, the real downtown areas are Centro, the old city center, and Zona Rosa, the new business and entertainment district.
The city is located 2200 meters above the sea level. Some people not used to high places have experienced difficulty when breathing, however these symptoms fade a few minutes after arrival.
Mexico City's night life is like all other aspects of the city; it's huge. There is an enormous selection of venues: clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, and variations and combinations thereof to choose from. There is incredible variation, from ultramodern lounges in Santa Fe and Reforma, to decades-old dance halls in Centro and Roma. There are also pubs in Tlalpan and Coyoacán and clubs of every stripe in Insurgentes, Polanco, Condesa and the Zona Rosa.
Also, when going out, check the date, since this is an important indicator of how full places will generally be, and how long you might have to wait to get in. Salaries are usually paid twice per month, the 30th/31st-1st, and the 14th-15th. On or right after these dates is when most Mexicans will go out, especially if pay day coincides with a weekend. In the more expensive places, people might leave for Acapulco or vacations farther afield during the summer and long weekends. Mexican weekends, in the sense of when it's common to go out drinking, are Thursday night to Sunday morning, and sometimes throughout Sunday.
The origins of Mexico City date back to 1325, when the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan was founded and later destroyed in 1521 by Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortez. The city served as the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain until the outbreak of the Independence War in 1810. The city became the capital of the Mexican Empire in 1821 and of the Mexican Republic in 1823 after the abdication of Agustin de Iturbide. During the Mexico - U.S. war in 1847, the city was invaded by the American army. In 1864 the French invaded Mexico and the emperor Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg ruled the country from the Castillo de Chapultepec and ordered to build Avenue of the Empress (today's Paseo de la Reforma promenade). Porfirio Díaz assumed power in 1876 and left an outstanding mark in the city with many European styled buildings such as the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Palacio Postal. Diaz was overthrown in 1910 with the Mexican Revolution and this marked a radical change in the city's architecture. The 20th century saw the uncontrolled growth of the City beyond the Centro Historico with the influx of thousands of immigrants from the rest of the country. In 1968 the city was host to the Olympic Games which saw the construction of the Azteca stadium, the Palacio de los Deportes, the Olympic stadium and other sports facilities. In 1985 the city suffered an 8.1 Richter grade earthquake that tore down several buildings in the Centro Historico, Colonia Roma and other old neighborhoods.
Mexico City ranks 8th in terms of GDP size among 30 world cities. More than a third of total Mexican economy is concentrated here. The size of its economy is US $315 billion, compared to $1.1 trillion of that of New York. Mexico City is the wealthiest city in all of Latin America, with a nominal GDP per capita is $17,696. Mexico City's poverty rate is also the lowest in Mexico, at 15%, and its Human Development Index (HDI) is the highest in the nation at 0.8830. It is home to the Mexican Stock Exchange. Most of the large local and multinational corporations are headquartered here, mainly in the Polanco and Santa Fe districts.
Mexico City weather is divided in two seasons, the dry, from November to April, and the rainy from May to October. Spring months are warm, while the summer months can vary from light to heavy rains especially in the late afternoon. Fall and winter dawns get really cold but with an amazingly clear sky. Temperatures range from 0°C in late October, November, December and January mornings, to 32°C in March, April and May during mid-day highs.
The city sits in a valley, formed by mountains and volcanoes, making this the worst of the environments to locate one of the largest cities in the world. In 1987, pollution was at its worst when one day thousands of birds appeared dead on the sidewalks of the city. Environmentalists attributed this to air pollution. This situation obliged authorities to implement measures to improve air quality, resulting in the transfer of most of heavy industry (glass, car and steel factories) and oil refineries outside of the city and the introduction of unleaded vehicle fuels. Today, the air quality is in much better shape and ozone and carbon dioxide levels are on the fall. Although the smog layer is visible nearly every day, its effects in terms of breathing and eye irritation should be barely noticeable and it should not be a worry for the visitor. Pollution is in maximun effect in the hot, dry season of spring, from late February to early May and there is a greenhouse effect that appears during winter from late November to early February. You can check the current air quality on the Atmospheric Monitoring System website . This government body established an index denominated IMECA (Metropolitan Index for Air Quality) in order to make population aware of the current air pollution situation. When the index exceeds 170 points, a "Environmental pre-contingency" is issued and people are asked to refrain from performing open-air activities such as sports. In the case of an "Environmental Contingency", only vehicles with a cero or doble cero emissions sticker can circulate.
The catastrophic earthquake of 8.1 degrees richter that took place in the morning of September 19th 1985 and took the lives of between 9,000 and 30,000 people, remains fresh in the memory of the majority of Mexico City's inhabitants. Since the city was established in the dry bed of lake Texcoco and several geological faults that originate in the pacific coast reach the city, earthquakes are a common phenomena. Right after the 1985 earthquake many constructions were reinforced and new buildings are designed to meet structural criteria by law and no major building collapse has happened since, even after several strong earthquakes. You can check the latest earthquake activity at the National Earthquake Center  an institute of the National University (UNAM). Should you happen to be in the middle of an earthquake, there's no better thing to do than to remain calm. Most buildings have clearly marked exit paths (green and white signs marked RUTA DE EVACUACION, with an arrow) so follow them out to the street.
With a population of more than 20 million including the greater metropolitan area, you can expect to find all kinds of people in Mexico City, in terms of racial, sexual, political, cultural and wealth diversity. Citizens are mostly Criollo (people of unmixed Spanish racial background) and Mestizo (people of mixed Spanish and Amerindian racial background). Amerindian people constitute less than one percent of the city's population, but there are some who are still moving to the city in search of opportunities, unfortunately they are racially discriminated by most in society, and they only find poverty and end up living in slums at the city outskirts.
As a big city, it is also the home of large foreign communities, like Cubans, Spaniards, Americans, Jews, Chinese, Chilean, Lebanese, and more recently Argentines and Koreans. It is the temporary home to many expats too, working here for the many multinational companies operating in Mexico.
Mexico City is also perhaps the most liberal city in Latin America. As such, this is generally a gay friendly city, particularly in the Zona Rosa District. Civil unions/marriage for same sex couples are legal within Mexico City. Abortion on demand is also legal, as well as euthanasia, and prostitution (only in a designated "red light" district), which were recently legalized.
Although Mexico City is considered an expensive city, your trip budget will rely on your lifestyle and way of traveling, as you can find cheap and expensive prices for almost everything. Public transportation is very cheap and there are many affordable places to eat. On the other hand you can find world-class hotels and fancy restaurants with higher prices. A daily backpacker budget for transportation and meals should range between 100 to 200 pesos a day (10 to 20 USD), using public transport and eating at street stands, while a more comfortable budget should range between 200 to 500 pesos a day (20 to 50 USD) using private taxis (taxi de sitio) and eating at fast food places, for those that money is not a problem then the sky is the limit.
The addressing system is fairly simple, starting by street name, house number, colonia (neighborhood), city, state and postal code. A typical address could be something like Colima 15, Colonia Roma Norte, Mexico, Distrito Federal, 06760. However, the numbering tends to not be in the right order!
For the avid photographer, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. The city is paranoid about tripods. You are not allowed to use a tripod in any ticketed place, such as museums, the metro stations, architectural ruins, etc. You will be politely asked to hold your camera in your hands. Apparently, it has something to do with being a professional. However, you can sneak a few pictures with the tripod (lots of HDR opportunities and panoramas) and feign confusion each time you are stopped by a different authority.
Compact Flash cards can be found at several different locations. Look for stores such as Radio Shack, Office Depot, Office Max or Wal-Mart. Prices tend to be on the high end, but they are affordable. You could also try some of the places that are dedicated to selling photographic equipment, they are easily identified because you will see the street signs with names such as Kodak or Fuji.
You can print your photos at most of the major chains of pharmacies around town, look for Farmacias Benavides, Farmacias Guadalajara or Farmacias del Ahorro (with a white 'A' inside a red circle). Prices differ from store to store.
For people who love to do street photography, a good place to start is in front of the Bellas Artes square, during afternoons. There is a smorgasbord of faces cutting across the square and perching on one of the benches for an hour will easily give you access to photography fodder. Many urchins and ethnic street dwellers have learnt to ask for money before allowing you to shoot them. Sympathize and accept. It is worth it.
Keep in mind some museums, like the Museum of National History in the Chapultepec, charge an extra fee for those with video cameras. Also in most museums, flash photography is not permitted.
Like the majority of Mexico, Spanish is the dominant language in Mexico City. English is also commonly spoken in the city's affluent neighborhoods and tourist areas such as Polanco, Chapultepec, and Santa Fe, and by the city's large number of Americans and expats. It is still recommended to learn some Spanish as much of the city's population is monolingual.
Most travelers arrive to Mexico City by air, to the Benito Juárez International Airport , located in the eastern part of the city. There are frequent flights to and from most larger cities in the world, as Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Santiago de Chile, London, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Chicago, Toronto and Tokyo. Some of the international airlines that operate regular flights to Mexico City include (as of April 2007): Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France, Alaska Airlines , American Airlines, Avianca, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Copa, Cubana de Aviacion, Delta , Iberia, Japan Airlines, KLM, LAN, Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (recently grounded), Lufthansa, Mexicana, Northwest, TACA, Varig, Ocean Air, United Airlines and US Airways. The airport has a plane spotting area. To reach it, take the subway and go to the Terminal Aerea station.
As of January 16, 2008, a new terminal, Terminal 2, opened at Benito Juarez. If you are flying in or out of the city check with your airline as to what terminal you should use for ticketing and check-in. Give yourself extra time to make your flight to avoid confusion.
If you arrive on an international flight, after picking up your luggage you will go through Immigration, and then Customs. Make sure you fill in all forms prior to landing to make this an expedite process. Sometimes the airline will hand them out on the flight. There is a $300 Dollars duty allowance that include new clothing, tobacco and liquors. The Mexican customs law allows passengers to bring free of duties a laptop, an mp3 player, a digital camera, a tripod, a video camera and used clothing.
You will also be required to fill out a Migratory Form for Foreign Tourist, Transmigrant, Business Visitor of Council Visitor which must be stamped by the customs officer. This form has a bar code on it and a blue stripe across the top saying "Estados Unidos Mexicanos." Be sure not to lose this form as without it, you will not be able to leave the country. If you lose or misplace it during the visit, you must visit the immigration office at the airport to fill out a new one. If you plead ignorance they may let it go, but otherwise there's a 440 peso fine.
After going through customs you will pick up your luggage, then pass through screening. You will press a button for a red or green light. The red means they will search you, the green means you can go.
The entire process, from when the plane arrives to when you are done with customs, usually takes about an hour. After completing customs you will go through large doors to the waiting area for international arrivals. Be prepared to see a lot of people in this area. It is a custom for families to pick up their beloved ones at the airport and the hall is rather small for a city of its size. There are carriers who will offer to carry your luggage. This is a service authorized by the airport and is safe - they will be uniformed with white shirts, navy blue tie and dark blue pants, and will carry a wheelie (or keep it nearby) with the union logo on it. There is no fixed price for this service, but 15-25 pesos should be fine, unless you are travelling in a group or have a lot of bags.
The airport offers the best rates for converting your currency. There are many currency changers, some offering better rates than others. The converter near Gate E1, in the arrival wing offers the best rate.
Licenciado Adolfo López Mateos International Airport
This airport (IATA: TLC) (ICAO: MMTO) is located in the City of Toluca 50 kilometers southwest of Mexico City and recently transformed itself from a general aviation airport into the hub of several domestic low-cost carriers such as Interjet and Volaris which serve destinations as Monterrey, Cancún, Guadalajara, Tijuana and many other Mexican cities. As of April 2007, Toluca is served internationally by Continental Airlines from Houston. Reaching the Toluca airport is not easy since you will need to drive your own car or hire a taxi which could be expensive. Volaris offers free airport shuttle from its Santa Fe office in Vasco de Quiroga Avenue, while Interjet offers shuttle from several hotels around the city, including the Santa Fe Sheraton hotel.
Depending on your overall trip, it might also be worth considering flying to nearby cities as Cuernavaca (CVJ) and Puebla (PBC), however reaching Mexico City from these places could be quite tiresome and expensive.
Although most of foreign travelers will reach Mexico City by air, it is also possible to arrive by bus. Greyhound offers several connecting routes from the United States and it is possible to buy one single ticket from many major cities in the U.S. to Mexico. Traveling by bus in Mexico is comfortable compared to other countries, since many Mexicans used to travel by bus until the recent introduction of several low-cost airlines.
The city has 4 major bus stations:
Some of the most common bus lines in Mexico:
Passenger train services ceased operating in Mexico some ten years ago, only freight trains ride to and around Mexico City. Nowadays only one train route is operating. This is the Chihuahua Pacífico route between CHihuahua and Los Mochis, crossing the Sierra. Tarahumara
Mexico City is a huge place, but driving is definitely not a way to see it even if tourist attractions are scattered throughout the city. A good way to plan your trip is to stop by Guia Roji  to identify the location of the "Colonias" (neighborhoods) you intend to visit.
Mexico City has several public transport alternatives. Metro is reliable and runs underground, the city government operates the RTP bus system and Electric Trolley buses. There are also plenty of franchised private buses which are less reliable and safe because of their driving habits. And finally thousands of taxis, many of them old Volkswagen bugs in their famous green paint scheme.
Officially named Sistema de Transporte Colectivo, but known simply as Metro , it is one of the largest and most used subway systems in the world, comprised by 11 different lines that measure more than 170 km and carry 4.4 million people every day. You'll quickly see how busy it is, particularly during the day: trains are often filled to capacity, and sometimes it will be hot and uncomfortable. Despite the close quarters, it's relatively quick and efficient, especially as an alternative to taxis during rush hours, and extremely cheap (tickets for one trip with unlimited transfers within the system are only $2!). Trains run every couple of minutes, so if you just miss it, you won't have long to wait until another arrives, and the Metro can be the quickest way to travel longer distances within the city. Stations usually have food stalls inside and outside the entrances, and many have city-sponsored exhibits and artwork on display, so it's good even for a look around. Operating hours are from 5AM to midnight on weekdays (starts at 6AM on Saturday and 7AM on Sunday), so if your plans will keep you out beyond midnight, be sure to have alternate means of transport.
Although the Metro lacks informational signs in English, the system was originally designed with illiteracy in mind, so finding your way around should not be a problem. Lines are defined by number but also by a color, and that color runs as a thematic band across the entire station and along the entire route, so you always know what line you are on. Stations are identified by name but also by a pictorial icon that represents that area in some way. However, even with this user-friendly approach, entire maps of the Metro system are not posted everywhere that you'd like. They're usually only near ticket booths; there are no maps on the trains and only rarely posted on the platforms, so work out your route before going through the turnstiles. Trains and platforms do have a line diagram with icons and transfer points for easy reference.
Some lines run through more tourist-related spots than others and will become very familiar to you after a while. Line 1 (pink) runs through many tourist spots, such as Centro Historico (Salto del Agua station), the Chapultepec Forest (Chapultepec Station), Condesa and Roma neighborhoods (Insurgentes and Sevilla stations) and the Northwest Bus Station (Observatorio station). Line 2 (blue) runs through the Centro Historico (Allende, Zocalo and Bellas Artes stations) and reaches the South Bus Station (Tasqueña). Line 7 (orange) runs through many touristic spots such as the Chapultepec Forest (Auditorio Station) and the Polanco neighborhood (Polanco Station). Line 9 (brown) runs near the Condesa neighborhood (Chilpancingo). Line 3 (green) runs near Coyoacan (Coyoacan and Miguel Angel de Quevedo stations) and also near the City University (Copilco and Ciudad Universitaria stations). If traveling to and from the airport, you'll use Line 5 (yellow) to connect to the Mexico City International Airport (Terminal Aerea station).
Here are a few of the commonly-used Metro signs translated into English:
As you enter a Metro station, look for the ticket booth. There might be a short queue for tickets, and to avoid having to always stand in line, many people buy a small handful of tickets at a time. A sign is posted by the ticket window that shows how much it would cost for any number of tickets. Once you approach the agent, simply drop some money into the tray and announce (in Spanish) how many tickets you would like ("uno" for $2, "cinco" for $10, "diez" for $20, and so on). You do not need to say anything about where you are going, since fares are the same for everywhere in the system.
Once you have your ticket (boleto) it is time to go through the turnstiles (but make sure to confirm your route on a map first!). The stiles are clearly marked for exit or entry but if you are confused, simply follow the crowd. Insert the ticket into the slot (it does not matter which direction is up or forward) and a small display will flash, indicating you may proceed. You won't get the ticket back. A few frequent Metro users use keycards instead of tickets, so if you see any turnstiles marked with "solo tarjeta" that means the ticket reader is broken; just move to another turnstile.
Past the turnstiles, signs that tell you where to go depending on your direction within the Line are usually clearly marked, as are signs that tell you where to transfer to a different Line. There is no standard station layout, but they are all designed to facilitate vast amounts of human traffic, so following the crowd works well, as long you double check the signs to make sure the crowd is taking you in the same direction.
On the platform, try to stand near the edge. During rush hours when it can get pretty crowded, there is sometimes a mad rush on and off the train. Although for the most part people are respectful and usually let departing passengers off first, train doors are always threatening to close and that means you need to be moderately aggressive if you don't want to get left behind. If you're traveling in a group, this could mean having to travel separately. At the ends of the platform, the train is usually less crowded, so you could wait there, but during rush hours some busier stations reserve those sections of platform exclusively for women and children for their safety.
While on the train, you will see a steady stream of people walking through the carriages announcing their wares for sale. Act as if you are used to them (that is, ignore them, unless they need to pass you). Most often you'll see the city's blind population make their living by selling pirate music CD's, blaring their songs through amplifiers carried in a backpack. There are people who "perform" (such as singing, or repeatedly somersaulting shirtless onto a pile of broken glass) and expect a donation. There are also people who hand out candy or snacks between stops, and if you eat it or keep it you are expected to pay for it; if you don't want it, they'll take it back at the next stop. It's all quite amusing, but don't laugh... this is how they make a living. The best thing to do is observing how others around you behave, but you can usually just avoid eye contact with these merchants and they will leave you alone.
If the merchants weren't enough, the trains are usually just crowded places to be. You will usually not get seats if you are traveling through the city center during the day, and even if you do, it's considered good manners to offer your seat to the aged, pregnant or disabled, as all cars have clearly marked handicap seats. In keeping with the mad rush on and off the train, people will move toward the exits before the train stops, so let them through and feel free to do the same when you need to (a "con permiso" helps, but body language speaks the loudest here).
A few words of warning, there have been incidences of pickpocketing. Keep your belongings close to you; if you have bags, close them and keep them in sight. As long as you are alert and careful you won't have any problems. If theft or any other sort of harassment do occur, you can stop the train and attract the attention of the authorities by pulling on alarms near the doors, which are labeled "señal de alarma."
When exiting, follow the crowd through signs marked Salida. Many stations have multiple exits to different streets (or different sides of streets, marked with a cardinal direction) and should have posted road maps that show the immediate area with icons for banks, restaurants, parks and so forth. Use these to orient yourself and figure out where you need to go.
Both type of buses usually stop at the same place. Riding RTP buses is probably a safer and more comfortable way than the private franchised and smaller microbuses who are known to have terrible driving habits.
Established in June 2005, the Metrobús operates in a confined lane along Insurgentes Avenue. Plans exist for additional routes. It costs 4.5 pesos to ride during the day, but a card must be bought in advance (11 pesos). After 11:30 or so, it's 5 pesos. There are stops approximately every 500m. Expect it to be crowded around the clock.
By trolley bus
"Trolebuses"  are operated by the Electric Transport Services. There are 15 Trolley bus lines that spread around for more than 400 km. They usually do not get as crowded as regular buses, and they are quite comfortable and reliable. They can be a little slower than regular buses, since they are unable to change lanes as quickly. There is a flat fare of 2 pesos (around 20 cents USD), and bus drivers do not give out change.
By light rail
The Tren Ligero  is operated by Electric Transport Services and consists of one single line that runs south of the city, connecting with Metro station Tasqueña (Line 2, blue; alternatively you may see it spelled as Taxqueña). For tourists, it is useful if you plan to visit Xochimilco or the Azteca stadium. The rate for a single ride is 2 pesos, and while the ticketing system works very similarly to the Metro, the tickets are not the same. You must purchase light rail tickets separately; they are sold at most stations along the line.
There are more than 250 thousand registered cabs in the city and they are one of the most efficient ways to get around. The prices are low, a fixed fee of about 6 pesos to get into the cab, and about 0.7 pesos per quarter kilometer or 45 seconds thereafter, for the normal taxis (taxi libre). The night rates, supposedly between 11PM at night and 6AM in the morning are about 20% higher. Some taxis "adjust" their meters to run more quickly, but in general, cab fare is cheap, and it's usually easy to find a taxi. At night, and in areas where there are few taxis, cab drivers will often not use the meter, but rather quote you a price before you get in. This price will often be high, however, you can haggle. They will tell you that their price is good because they are "safe". If you don't agree on the price, don't worry, another cab will come along.
Catching cabs in the street can be dangerous, since free-range cabs are not accountable to anyone. Taxi robberies, so-called "express kidnappings", where the victim is robbed and then taken on a trip to various ATMs to max out their credit cards, do occur, but there are some general precautions that will minimize the risk:
The Turibus  is a sightseeing double-decker hop-in hop-off bus that is a good alternative to see the city if you don't have too much time. The one-day ticket costs $120 pesos (around USD $11) and its route includes the Zona Rosa, Chapultepec Park, Polanco, Condesa, Roma and the Historic Center. There is a secondary route which just started in late May 2007, and runs from Fuente de la Cibeles in Condesa to Coyoacan and Xochimilco. Your ticket should be valid for both routes.
If you get lost
If you get absolutely lost and you are far away from your hotel, hop into a pesero (mini bus) or bus that takes you to a Metro station ; most of them do. Look for the sign with the stylized metro "M" in the front window. From there and using the wall maps you can get back to a more familiar place.
Driving around by car is the least advised way to visit the city due to the complicated road structure and the 3.5 million vehicles moving around the city. Traffic jams are almost omnipresent on weekdays, and driving from one end of the city to the other could take you between 2 to 4 hours at peak times. The condition of pavement in freeways such as Viaducto and Periferico is good, however in avenues, streets and roads varies from fair to poor since most streets have fissures, bumps and holes. Most are paved with asphalt and only until recently some have been paved using concrete. Since the city grew without planned control, the street structure resembles a labyrinth in many areas. Driving can turn into a really challenging experience if you don't know precisely well where are you going. There is only one company that has been able to map the entire city, Guia Roji . Shortcuts are complicated and often involve about six to eight turns.
Street parking (Estacionamiento in Spanish) is scarce around the City and practically nonexistent in crowded areas. Where available expect to pay between $12 to $18 pesos an hour while most of hotels charge between $25 to $50 pesos an hour. Some areas of the city such as Zona Rosa, Chapultepec, Colonia Roma and Colonia Condesa have parking meters on the sidewalks which are about $10 pesos an hour and are free on weekends. It is possible to park in other streets without meters but is likely there will be a "parking vendor" (Franelero in Spanish) which are not authorized by the city, but will "take care of your car". Expect to pay between $10 to $20 pesos to these fellows, some of them will "charge" at your arrival, the best advice is to pay if you want to see your car in good shape when you come back.
Hoy No Circula (Today You Do Not Circulate) is an extremely important anti-traffic and anti-pollution program that all visitors including foreigners must take into consideration when wishing to drive through Mexico City and nearby Mexico State with their foreign-plated vehicles, as they are not immune to these restrictions. It limits vehicle circulation to certain restricted hours during the day depending on the last digit of your plate number (plates with all letters are automatically assigned a digit). Currently, Mexico City, but not the State of Mexico, offers a special pass good for 2 weeks, that allows someone with a foreign-plated vehicle to be exempt from these restrictions.  Excellent details of how the program works for locals and foreigners is found at the following link: .
The visitor should take into consideration the following tips when driving: avenues have preference over streets and streets over closed streets. Continuous right turn even when traffic light red is allowed. Seat belts are mandatory for both front seats. If you're stopped by a police car, it is likely they will try to get money out from you. It is up to you if you accept to do so, the latest trend is to refuse giving them anything.
Downtown Mexico City has been an urban area since the pre-Columbian 12th century, and the city is filled with historical buildings and landmarks from every epoch since then. It is also known as the City of Palaces, because of the large number of stately buildings, especially in the Centro. In addition, Mexico is the city with the largest number of museums in the world (without taking into account art galleries), with New York #2, London #3 and Toronto #4.
Mexico is the city with the largest number of museums in the world.
As the world's largest city, Mexico City offers something for everyone and for every budget. Attractions in Mexico City focus less on lazing on the beach and more on exploring the culture of Mexico. The most usual schedule foreign travelers do is a visit to the Centro Historico, a visit to the ruins of Teotihuacan in the outskirts of the City and probably a visit to Xochimilco.
If you're into sports, then Mexico City has plenty to offer. Soccer is the national sport and Mexicans go crazy about it. The city was host to two FIFA world cups, one in 1970 and the other in 1986. Other important sports in Mexico City is baseball, with many Mexicans playing professionally in the US. The city has been the only Latin American host to an Olympiade in 1968, when the majority of the city's sport facilities were built.
Like many other things in the country, Mexico City has the largest concentration of universities and colleges, starting with the UNAM, one of the finest in Latin America and the oldest university in the American continent, founded in 1551.
Some of the most renowned universities in the city include:
You can learn Spanish in Mexico City as there are various schools offering courses for foreigners, for example:
Mexico has very strict immigration laws. In order to work you should obtain a permit known as FM2 or FM3 which is very hard to get unless you're marrying a Mexican citizen or you are an expat working for a multinational company. Most foreigners working without a permit perform jobs such as language teachers, waiters or salesmen. Others own a restaurant or shop. If you're working without a permit and an immigration officer finds out, it could mean a fine, deportation or spending some time in a detention facility of the National Immigration Institute.
Mexico City is famous among Mexicans for its huge malls, streets like Presidente Mazaryk offer haute couture stores.
American-style shopping malls appeared in Mexico City by the late 1960’s and are now are spread all over the metropolitan area. Here you will find most of the fashion malls sorted by area.
Arts and Crafts
The National Fund for the Development of Arts and Crafts (Fonart), Avenida Patriotismo 691, in Mixcoac, Avenida Paseo de la Reforma No. 116 in Colonia Juárez and Avenida Juarez 89 in Centro.
Flea and Antique Markets
Although street vendors can be found almost anywhere in Mexico City, the following are more "formal" flea markets selling handcrafts, furniture and antiques.
If you're staying longer you may want to buy groceries and food at any of the hundreds of Supermarkets. These are some of the most common:
Ethnic Grocery Stores
For generally hard-to-find ingredients, such as vegetables and spices that are unusual in Mexico, try the Mercado de San Juan  (Ernesto Pugibet street, Salto del Agua metro station). You can even find exotic meats here, such as iguana, alligator, ostrich, and foie gras. Go to the cheese stand at the center of the market, and ask for a sample— the friendly owner will give you bread, wine, and samples of dozens of different kinds of cheese.
Many food products in Mexico including milk are kosher compliant. If you're looking for specific products, try some stores in the Polanco neighborhood. At some Superama branches you would find kosher departments, especially the ones in Polanco, Tecamachalco and Santa Fe neighborhoods.
Although it is easy to assume that Mexico City is the world capital of tacos, you can find almost any kind of food in this city. There are regional specialties from all over Mexico as well as international cuisine, including Japanese, Chinese, French, Polish, Italian, Argentinean, Belgian, Irish, you name it. The main restaurant areas are located in Polanco, Condesa, Centro, Zona Rosa, along Avenida Insurgentes from Viaducto to Copilco and more recently Santa Fe.
For superb Mexican cuisine you can try El Cardenal (Sheraton Centro Histórico), Los Girasoles (Tacuba 8), Aguila y Sol (Emilio Castelar 229), Izote (Masaryk 513) and, for something more affordable, Café Tacuba (Tacuba 28). Another great experience is to dine in an old converted hacienda: try Hacienda de los Morales (Vázquez de Mella 525), San Angel Inn (Diego Rivera 50) or Antigua Hacienda de Tlalpan (Calzada de Tlalpan 4619).
There are Mexican chain restaurants that can be assumed to be safe and similar no matter where you are, including Vips, Toks, and the more traditional Sanborns, all reminiscent of Denny's in the United States. You can expect to pay between $100 to $150 per person. If you're on a budget, you can also try one of the myriad comida corrida(set menu) restaurants, frequented by many office workers. Most of these offer very good food, are usually safe, and should range between $35 to $60.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous type of food almost anywhere in Mexico city are fast food outlets, located on the ground floor of a street-facing building, or puestas, street stands located on a sidewalk or almost anywhere there is room. These serve the usual tacos, burritos or tortas (filled bread rolls similar to a sub or sandwich), and they can be very cheap ($10 to $50) but caution is advised since some places may not take the necessary steps for ensuring proper hygiene. In addition, you should be aware of the time of the day you eat there, as they often do not have refrigerators on their premises. They are a great place to stop for lunch, but look for a place with a lot of people, as popularity is generally proportional to quality, and a high turnover rate ensures that their ingredients remain relatively fresh.
If you want something safe and familiar, most American fast food chains have franchises here. You'll see McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza, TGI Friday's, Chili's, Dairy Queen, Subway, and yes, even Starbucks. These are all fairly affordable compared to their American counterparts, but still not as cheap as street food.
El Globo, a French-style bakery, has locations throughout the city selling both French and traditional Mexican pastries, like orejas (little ears), eclairs, empanadas, and rosca during New Year's. It can't be beat for a quick snack or bagful of pastries to eat later.
Do not miss the chance to go to Panaderia Madrid (calle 5 de Febrero, one block off the main plaza in downtown Mexico). This is a very old and typical bakery, they will usually have fresh bread twice a day, but if there are a lot of customers they will bake as many as four times a day.
Asian food restaurants are abundant, and the quality is good, and caters from cheap Chinese cafeterias to expensive and very good Japanese food. Note that Korean, Japanese and Chinese are most common cuisines in Mexico City, while Indian, Thai and Indonesian can be harder to find.
Vegetarian alternatives are commonly available at larger restaurants. The magic phrases, for vegetarians, are "sin pollo" (no chicken), "sin carne" (no meat), "sin huevo" (no eggs) and "sin queso" (no cheese). If you can communicate this and then gesticulate to the menu, the waiter normally will give you suggestions. In regular restaurants, they will even try to edit an existing dish for you. Just make sure you are clear. Chile Rellenos are a definite standard in any restaurant for the vegetarian.
Tips— Tipping is expected, with 10% the standard for all restaurants. You can tip less or don't tip at all for poor service.
In Mexico, there is no difference in prices if you sit inside or outside, it is the same if you eat at the bar or sit at a table.
Don't leave without trying
For a quick snack you can always try a tamal (steamed corn dough with chicken or pork) bought on the street or specialized shops, accompanied by a cup of atole (hot corn starch drink), which is the breakfast of the humble on their way to work.
The typical Mexican place to go to drink is the cantina, a bar where food is usually free, and you pay for drinks (exact policies and minimums vary). Cantinas serve a wide range of Mexican and foreign drinks, with prices usually reasonable compared to prices in the US, and you'll be continually served various Mexican food, such as tacos (you should ask for 'Botana'). If your tolerance for Mexican music (mariachi or otherwise), smoke-filled rooms, and lots of noise is low however, this may not be your kind of place. Cantinas are open moderately late, usually past midnight at the very least. However some cantinas, like La Victoria, near the Plaza Garibaldi, are also open at midday for lunch.
In addition, there are bars that play a combination of Spanish and English-language rock, electronic music, and some Latin/Caribbean music. These bars tend to close around 3-4AM.
Club music mainly falls into three main categories, pop, rock and electronic music. The pop places generally play what's on the music charts, Latin pop, and sometimes traditional Mexican music, and are frequented by a younger (sometimes very young) audience, and are often more upper class. The rock places play rock in the wide sense, in English and Spanish. Most people are at least over 18 in these places. The electronica clubs, which attract everyone from Mexico City's large subculture of ravers and electronica fans, of all ages. Most clubs close late, 3-4AM at the earliest, and some are open until 7AM or 8AM.
The best bet used to be the Zona Rosa, which has a large number of street bars with rock bands playing and a large selection of clubs but most of them are strip club and gay bars. One of the best clubs is "Africa" which is reasonably priced (after the entrance fee) and plays a great selection of Latin and English pop. They also provide African hats and balloons for everyone's entertainment! A very good part of town is San Angel / Pedregal, full of young hip professionals with money to spare. Another good area is Polanco, particularly a street called Mazaryk, where you'll find plenty of good clubs but it is best to make a reservation. Be forewarned - entrace is judged on appearance and to get a table a minimum 2 bottle service is required, unless its a slow night [min. US$80 per bottle]. Otherwise slow, but cheaper bar service is available. All kinds of "hit" music plays, and the best crowds are located here. Some cater to specific types of music though [e.g. Vantay plays more rock]. Some of the more popular clubs include Momma, Cuche and the Bulldog which is always a good bet. The clubs don't really get started until after 10PM. ******In Zona Rosa at the address of #91A Cuauhtemoc is a great rockabilly club. Do not expect other foreigners/tourists. The beer is cheap, the live music is great, and the mosh pit is a blast.*****
Another great place to go out dancing is the Centro de Cultura Espana located right behind the Zocalo on the 5th floor on Friday and Saturday nights. No cover, 25 Peso beers, electro beats and chilled vibes.
The other common Mexican-style thing to do when going out is to go dancing, usually to salsa, meringue, rumba, mambo, son, or other Caribbean/Latin music. This is considerably more fun if you're a somewhat competent dancer, but even complete beginners who don't mind making fools of themselves will likely enjoy it. Most dance places close late, 3-4AM is common.
The legal drinking age is 18. It is illegal to consume alcohol in public ("open container"). This is strictly enforced and the penalty is at least 24 hours in jail.
Take an identification card such as a copy of your passport.
The city has literally hundreds of hotels in all price ranges, though the district you want to stay in will be a good indicator of price and quality. Zona Rosa is a tourist haven with a strong mid-range selection; the Polanco district is where high-end hotels thrive, and the Centro Histórico is home to plenty of budget hotels and backpacker hostels. A wide variety of hotels can also be found along Paseo de la Reforma.
If you are on a low-budget, you can find hotels as low as $7 USD if you take a room with a shared bathroom. Most are centred in the Centro Historico and are very decent.
To stay in contact while traveling in México City.
If someone is calling you the country code is +52 then the area code is 55 then the 8 digit phone number. If you want to make a long distance call out of Mexico , you should dial the prefix 01 for national calls followed by the area code. If you are making an international long distance call, you must dial 00 followed by the country code, for example, if you're calling the U.S. you should dial 00+1 and the area code, if you're calling the U.K, dial 0044 and the area code, and so on. If you want to use your cellular phone you can get your phone unlocked before you go. When you arrive in Mexico City, you can purchase a Télcel or Movistar Sim (GSM) card, called a "chip". Then you will get a Mexican Cell phone number. Remember this is a prepaid cellular option. You get free incoming calls from inside the city, but the roaming charges can easily build up if you travel to other cities. People calling you from long distance will need to dial (1) after the +52 in this format: +52 (1) (55) plus 8 digit phone number. All other phone numbers in Mexico are seven digit, and all other area codes are three digit. Calling from a Mexican phone (either land or mobile) to a Mexican cell phone is called ¨El Que Llama Paga¨ meaning only the person making the call pays for the air time, and thus requires the 044 prefix before the 10 digit number composed of the area code and the mobile number to be dialed: land or mobile to Mexico City registered mobile would be 044 55 12345678. If you are calling to a mobile with a different area code, i.e. Acapulco area code 744 then you use the prefix 045, then the three digit area code, the seven digit mobile i.e. 045 744 1234567. This might seem confusing at first but you get easily accustomed to it. Another option is to buy a prepaid Mexican phone kit, they frequently include more air time worth than the kit actually costs, air time is called ¨Tiempo Aire¨. For Telcel these kits are called ¨Amigo Kit¨ for Movistar they are called ¨Movistar Prepago¨ and for Iusacell ¨Viva Kit¨ the you can just keep the phone as a spare for whenever you are in Mexico, there are no costs in between uses. These kits start at around 30 USD.
There are four main cell phone operators in Mexico.
Mexico City has amazing access to the internet considering the availability in the rest of Latin America. There are several internet cafes throughout the city, many of them in Zona Rosa. Price varies from 10 to 20 pesos an hour.
Look for the word 'Cyber' or 'CiberCafe' in order to find a place with internet access.
Hot spots for wi fi connection to the internet are available in several places around the city, particularly in malls, coffee stores and restaurants. Most (if not all) of them are operated by the Mexican phone company Telmex through their Internet division Prodigy Movil. In order to be able to connect in those places, the user must be subscribed to the service or buy a prepaid card known as "Tarjeta Multifon". Cards can be bought at the Sanborns restaurant chain, Telmex stores and many stores that offer telephony related products.
Unfortunately there are no full-time English spoken radio stations in Mexico, however these are a few options to listen:
You will normally not find newspapers in English or other foreign languages in regular newsstands, however, you can find many at any Sanborns store. Many U.S. newspapers have subscriptions available in Mexico, including the Wall Street Journal , Today, the New York Times and the Miami Herald.
Some of the most read local newspapers include:
Travel in Mexico City is generally safe. Much of your travel within the city will be done via public transportation or walking. Mexico City is an immensely crowded place, and with any major metropolitan area, it is advised to be aware of your surrondings.
Plan ahead - know where you are going and how you will arrive. Mexico City is quite hospitable, and people who work for hotels and other hospitality-oriented businesses will help. This will help in avoiding confusion, becoming lost or stranded. Also, you can ask a local for advice to get somewhere, though you should speak good Spanish to do this. In the Polanco district, all policemen speak English, and so do many business people and younger children as it is very common to learn in school. However police officers in Mexico get paid a third of what New York City police officers get and some rely on bribe and corruption to make more money.
Catching cabs in the street can be dangerous, since free-range cabs are not accountable to anyone. Taxi robberies, so-called "express kidnappings", where the victim is robbed and then taken on a trip to various ATMs to max out their credit cards, do occur. However, be aware that 95% of total kidnapping victims are nationals, so your odds of being taken are very slim, but you should always use your common sense.
Protect your personal information. There are many pickpockets in Mexico City. Purses and bulky, full pockets are quite attractive. Do not keep your passports, money, identification, and other important items hanging out for someone to steal. Use a money belt or place these items in a hotel safe, or tuck them away inside your clothes.
Do not show money in front of others, this generally attracts pickpockets.
The Mexico City Government recently opened a specialized prosecution office (Ministerio Público in Spanish) for foreigners that find themselves affected by robberies or other crime situations. It is located in Victoria Street 76, Centro Historico. Multilingual staff are available.
In case of emergency
Dial 066, the number for all emergencies, (fire, police).
Some people may consider Mexico City to have a bad reputation, in terms of crime statistics, air pollution, and on more contrived issues, such as earthquakes. However, crime and pollution levels are down over the last decade and you shouldn't face any trouble within the tourist areas. As in any large city, there are areas that are better to be avoided, especially at night, and precautions to take, but Mexico City is not particularly dangerous.
When walking in the city you could be approached by people. Usually they are just trying to sell something or begging for a few coins, but if you aren't interested, it is not considered insulting to just ignore them. Also, if someone of importance (such as a police officer) approaches you, they will definitely let you know.
If you do get approached by a police officer, understand that there are three different types: the Policia (Police), who are usually driving around the city with their lights flashing; the Policia Auxiliar (Auxiliary Police), who are like security guards; and the Policia de Transito (Traffic Police) who simply direct traffic. If you are pulled over while driving, make sure it is a policeman wearing a brown uniform. Someone wearing a blue uniform is scamming you, because security forces are not allowed to pull you over for a traffic violation.
Remember most Mexicans are very curious in regards of foreigners and are willing to help. If in need for directions, try to ask young people, who may speak a little English.
Many locals (not all of them, of course) have terrible driving habits as a result of the frequent traffic jams in the city. Traffic signals are more an ornament than what they were made for. When traffic is not present, particularly at night, locals tend to speed up so be careful when changing lanes. Street names and road signs may not be present everywhere so it is strongly advisable to ask for directions before driving your car. otholes, fissures, and very large-yet-unanticipated speed-bumps ("topes") are common on the roads, so exercise some caution. When off the main roads, especially in the colonias, maneuvering in the narrow streets and alleys can be tricky. Often a paved road turns to cobblestone (in high-end neighborhoods) or dirt (if this happens, you've gone way off the tourist areas). Also, some colonia streets are blocked off behind gates.
Mexico City's alcohol laws are harsh; although in many nightclubs, bars and restaurants it is common for minors to drink without proving their age as long as they appear to be over 18. It is also permitted for minors to drink alcohol if they are in the company of an adult who is willing to take responsibility. Drinking alcoholic beverages in the street is prohibited--doing so can get you in trouble with the police. Drunk driving is also strictly prohibited and strongly enforced. The police have incorporated random alcohol tests on streets near bars and clubs, and if you test positive, you could be arrested and spend 36 hours in jail. The system is very efficient, and you will sometimes see a stopped car or truck with a policeman interrogating the occupants.
Smoking inside public and private buildings is strictly prohibited by law. Restaurants used to have smoking and non-smoking sections, but recent laws have banned smoking in any public enclosed space. Fines can be steep, so if you want to smoke in a restaurant it is best to ask the waiter before lighting up. Of course, going outside is always an option. Smoking light drugs, such as Marihuana, is prohibited and offenders could be imprisoned if found in possesion of more than one personal dose.