Visiting Mexico City or just dreaming of a trip?
This Mexico City travel guide has everything you need to know to plan the perfect vacation!
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Mexico City caught my interest many, many years ago. I was truly fascinating by this mega-city with its intriguing history, gorgeous architecture, crave-worthy food ... the list could go on! Obviously, a trip there was at the top of my bucket.
And when I finally visited a few years ago, it somehow exceeded all my expectations. So much so, that I knew I had to return as soon as possible.
After that first trip, I returned the next year, and I have plans to keep going back. Mexico City has become one of my favorite destinations, and I'm determined to spread the love for this amazing place!
Needless to say, I’m beyond excited to bring you this Mexico City Travel Guide! It can be hard to know where to begin when traveling to this huge, vibrant city. So start with this guide ... it's jam-packed with tips to help you prepare for (and make the most of) your trip.
Mexico City Travel Guide
If you've never been to Mexico City, you need to add it to your own bucket list today!
This fascinating city is a unique blend of Mexican culture and colonial influences. It's truly unlike any other city you'll ever visit. And there really is something for everyone to enjoy, whether you're into history, art, food, architecture, or anything else.
This travel guide was created with first-time visitors in mind, although hopefully repeat visitors will learn something, too! It covers everything from history to things to do, logisitics (getting around, where to stay, etc.), and more.
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Want to know one of my favorite things about visiting this captivating capitol city? A trip there really brings all those school history lessons—from Aztecs to conquistadors to floating gardens—to life. Learning a little about the city's history before your visit is guaranteed to enhance your trip ... here's the quick and dirty version.
From 100 to 900 AD, the Valley of Mexico (where the current day city is located) was settled by a several indigenous groups . These civilizations eventually declined, and in 1325, the Mexica people (later known as the Aztecs) founded Tenochtitlán on an island in Lake Texcoco.
Over time, Tenochtitlán became the center of the Aztec empire and grew into the third largest city in the Western Hemisphere. When Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in the 16th century, he was impressed. Unfortunately, Aztec emperor Moctezuma II mistook Cortés for the god Quetzalcóatl and welcomed him with open arms. In return, Cortés and his men conquered the Aztecs and destroyed Tenochtitlán. They then forced the native people to build a European-style city on its ruins (using the rubble from the destroyed city).
Discontent with Spanish rule peaked almost three centuries later, and the Mexican people rose up against their colonizers. The movement for independence was sparked on September 16, 1810. On that day, a Catholic priest named Miquel Hidalgo rang a church bell and yelled, "Death to the gachupines (wealthy Spanish people), long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!" A War of Independence followed and lasted 11 years. It ended in 1821 with the signing of Plan of Iguala, which granted Mexico's independence.
Many important events have happened since Mexico's indepence (including a number of wars and a short occupation by the French), but today, Mexico City is the capital city of Mexico. You can views ruins of Tenochtitlán at Templo Mayor in the Historic Center of the city (they were discovered in 1978 by electric company workers!), and you'll see colonial influences throughout the city.
And every year on September 16, the Mexican president commemorates the country's independence by ringing a bell (the same one Hidalgo rang) at the National Palace and shouting, "¡Viva México!"
Just like you could never see everything this city has to offer in one visit, it's impossible to cover all its history and culture in one short article. Here are a few facts about the city you may find interesting though:
- The Spanish name for Mexico City is Ciudad de México. You'll also see it referred to as CDMX (Ciudad de México abbreviated) and D.F., which is short for Distrito Federal / Federal District.
- The city is located in a large valley in the center of the country. It sits at an elevation of 7,350 feet.
- With an estimated population of 8.9 million people (21 million if you count the whole metropolitan area), it's the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world.
- It's estimated that there are as many as 700,000 U.S. citizens living in CDMX ... many illegally. How's that for irony?
- Mexico City is sinking ... a lot. And it's readily apparent when you look at some of the city's most famous buildings, like the National Palace, Catedral Metropolitana, Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, and the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
- Speaking of the Catedral Metropolitana, it's the largest in Latin America. The cathedral was built on sacred Aztec land (after their own temple was destroyed by the Spanish).
- The city was home to the 1968 Olympic Games, which were surrounded by numerous controversies, including a student massacre.
- The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (popularly called UNAM) is one of the most highly regarded research institutions in the world. Its campus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's decorated with murals from some of the most highly regarded Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
- Apart from UNAM, there are three other World Heritage Sites in the city: the Historic Center, Xochimilco, and the house and studio of Luis Barragan (a renowned Mexican architect).
- CDMX is home to the 5th richest man in the world (from 2010 to 2013, the richest), Carlos Slim. He and his family have supported numerous philanthropic projects, including the Fundación Centro Histórico (an organization with helped revitalize this city's Historic Center).
- Chapultepec Castle, located in the Bosque de Chapultepec (a large park), is the only royal castle in the Americas.
- The city is home to one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Millions of people visit every year.
Normally, I wouldn't start a travel guide with this question, but it seems to be on everyone's mind. In fact, before my first visit, I think some of my relatives thought I wouldn't return.
CDMX has a bad reputation that it can't seem to shake, even though it's much safer to visit than in years past. Like most large cities (including those in the U.S.), it has good areas and bad areas. And as a tourist, you are very unlikely to visit the bad areas. I've visited multiple times (and plan to return again), and I've never felt unsafe, nor have I encountered any problems.
As long as you don't accidentally wander into Tepito (or other neighborhoods you should avoid), buy drugs, or otherwise draw unwanted attention to yourself, it's unlikely you'll face any problems. There's also a huge police presence in the city, and just like in NYC, Chicago, or any other big city throughout the world, pickpocketing is probably your biggest crime risk.
Still feeling nervous? Here are some common sense measures you can take:
- Never buy or take drugs.
- Don't wear flashy jewelry or clothing.
- Keep expensive cameras in a bag when you're not using them, or leave them at home.
- Avoid drawing attention to yourself. You'll stand out if you wear a tank top and shorts ... it isn't Cancún!
- Learn some basic Spanish phrases.
- Carry just enough pesos to get you through the day.
- Watch your belongings in the Centro Histórico, on the Metro, and in other crowded places.
- Carry a cross-body bag with a zipper closure, or if you use a wallet, keep it in your front pocket.
- Avoid hailing a cab on the street. Instead, use Uber or if you must take a taxi, make sure it is a licensed / registered / sitio taxi.
- Stick to well-lit, busy streets.
Wondering what to do in CDMX? The good (and bad) news is that the list is truly endless!
In fact, there are so many things to do in Mexico City that it would be impossible to see them all in one visit, even if you stay for months. The city is huge! Make a list of your top priorities before you go, and then start planning your next trip.
I'm working on a comprehensive list of things to do in the city, but in the meantime, here are some of the most popular activities:
Explore the Centro Histórico
The Historic Center of Mexico City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must see on any visit! It was here that the Aztecs built their most important temples and where the Spanish began building their empire. The area centers on the large Zócalo (main square), and it's filled with historic buildings, museums, and more. Check out my guide to the Historic Center to learn more about this area and for a free, self-guided walking tour and map.
Visit a Museum ... or Ten
Mexico City is known for its impressive collection of museums. In fact, you'll find over 150 museums, exploring everything from art to history to architecture, in the city. From the world-class Museo Nacional de Antropología to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's home and studio, there's a museum for everyone! Not sure where to start? Check out this guide to 20 of the city's best museums.
Escape the Busy Streets in a Park
Want to escape the crowds for a bit? With so many parks to explore, this massive city is surprisingly green! Chapultepec Park (known as the lungs of Mexico City) is one of the largest and most visited parks in the world. Pretty Alameda Central, which was built on a former Aztec marketplace, is the oldest park in the Americas. Parque La Mexicana is a newer park surrounded by soaring modern skycrapers. Other popular parks include Parque México, Parque Lincoln, Viveros de Coyoacán, Parque Hundido, and Parque España.
Explore the Diverse Architecture
Are you an architecture lover? Then you're going to be in heaven ... the city's Historic Center alone has over 9,000 buildings! Styles range from Colonial to Art Deco to Contemporary. Read this guide to some of the architectural hot spots in the city.
Shop 'Til You Drop
Love shopping? Then, you're in for a treat! From upscale boutiques selling designer clothes to colorful markets filled with handmade crafts, there's plenty of temptation to empty your wallet. For a mix of high end and trendy shops, head to Roma, Condesa, and Polanco. You'll also find markets all over the city. Two of my favorites include the Bazaar Sábado in San Ángel and the crowded Mercado de Artesanías in Coyoacán.
Tip: although you can use your credit / debit card in most shops, bring pesos for the markets.
Dip your toe into local cuture by attending an event. Catch a concert at the National Auditorium, enjoy the amazing Ballet Folktorico at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, or cheer along with the crowds at a Lucha Libre show. Ask you're hotel's concierge for tips, or check out one of the many other events happening daily in this amazing city!
Discover the City's Amazing Art
One of my favorite things about CDMX? Art is everywhere! From the jaw dropping Diego Rivera murals in the National Palace to the city's amazing street art and its many museums, there is no shortage of art viewing opportunities.
Learn About Pre-Colonial History
You'll see evidence of Spanish colonialism throughout the city, but there are plenty of places to explore the pre-colonial side of the city, too. Visit the ruins of Tenochtitlán at Templo Mayor or view the remains of the Pyramid of Ehécatl in the Pino Suárez Metro Station. Head to Coyoacán to the see the Church of St. John the Baptist, which was built with the bricks of an Aztec school. Take a day trip to the Teotihuacán pyramids, or stop by the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (also home to the Tlateloco Massacre), to see a unique juxtaposition of pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, and modern day structures.
Stuff Your Face with Amazing Food
Mexico City was made for foodies ... there are so many amazing restaurants and street foods to choose from! From tacos to tlacoyos, it's impossible to go hungry. Not sure where to start? Find more info on what to eat in the next section.
Explore the Neighborhoods
With such an expansive city, there is sooo much to do. It's tempting to make a huge bucket list, then attempt to check it off Griswold-style. Mexico City has some truly amazing neighborhoods though, so make sure to slow down and take your time exploring them.
This is hardly a complete list (a more comprehensive guide is coming soon!), but these are the neighborhoods you're most likely to visit:
- Centro Histórico - this is the city’s ancient heart, its core, where it all began! The neighborhood is centered around the immense Zócalo (main plaza) and contains over 9,000 buildings (many of which are historically important). The Centro Histórico has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Roma - along with Condesa, this area is hugely popular with European and U.S. tourists and expats. Roma has a hipster feel, and it's full of crowded restaurants and bars, interesting street art, and beautiful colonial and Art Nouveau architecture.
- Condesa - slightly more upscale feeling than Roma, Condesa is also home to numerous restaurants and shops, tons of beautiful Art Deco-style buildings, and the pretty Parque México.
- Polanco - this area is often called the Beverly Hills of Mexico City, and it's somewhat apt. Its pretty, leafy streets are filled with upscale shops, restaurants, apartments, and homes. We've stayed here a few times, and it makes a great home base for exploring the city.
- Coyoacán - like San Ángel, Coyoacán is filled with charming colonial buildings, although it feels more laid back, arty, and bohemian. Head to central Coyoacán to hang out in the plazas or visit Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul.
- San Ángel - this upscale, residential area of the city features picturesque cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. It's the perfect place to spend a fun, bougie Saturday afternoon, when the popular Bazaar Sábado is open.
- Santa Fe - an upscale residential / business district, this area feels much more modern than other parts of the city (it was built over a former mine / landfill, beginning in the 1980s). Although I wouldn't head to this neighborhood if you're short on time, Parque La Mexicana is worth a trip, and you'll find the biggest shopping mall in the city here, too.
Take a Tour
Feeling overwhelmed with everything there is to do and see in CDMX? Consider taking a tour, and letting someone else guide you around the city!
There are so many amazing tours available, but here are a few that caught my eye:
- Short on time? Consider taking a hop on, hop off bus tour ... you'll cover all the major sights in a short amount of time.
- Take a guided tour of the city's major sites, including the Zócalo, National Palace, Chapultepec Park, and Museum of Anthropology.
- Explore the colorful, artsy side of the city on a tour covering Frida Kahlo's house, Coyoacán, Xochimilco, and UNAM.
- Spend a night on the town visiting a cantina, seeing a Lucha Libre show, and listening to mariachi music in Plaza Garibaldi.
- Visit five of the city's amazing markets (tianguis) and sample street food along the way.
If you do take a tour, make sure to tip your guide when it's over (10 to 20% of the tour's cost is typical).
Do Some People Watching
Take a break from all the sightseeing to simply soak it all in! You'll find excellent people watching here though, so grab a spot at a cafe and sit for a spell. You could also head to a park to kick up your heels, or stroll (or bike) along the Paseo de la Reforma on Sunday morning (it's closed to traffic from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM every week).
Want to escape bustling CDMX for a day? You're in luck, because there are many Mexico City day trip options within an easy distance. Rent a car (or hire a driver), hop on a bus, or take a tour to explore one of these fun activities:
Xochimilco - This is a one-of-a-kind experience that can't be missed! You'll ride through canals filled with floating gardens (chinampas) in colorful boats (trajineras), all while enjoying a fun party atmosphere. Although it's possible to take public transportation there (Xochimilco is one of the boroughs within CDMX), I'd recommend getting an Uber or joining a tour. A trip here should take about half a day (or less), depending on how long your boat ride lasts.
Teotihuacán Pyramids / Guadalupe Basilica - A day trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacán is another sight that should not be skipped ... they will take your breath away (both figuratively, and literally, if you climb them). Go as early in the day as possible to avoid the crowds, and make sure to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (an important Catholic pilgrimage site with great views of the city) on the return trip. Get there by bus, Uber, or join a tour.
- Other Ruins Near CDMX - The Teotihuacán pyramids are not the only ruins located near Mexico City. A smaller site worth visiting is the Tollán Ruins in Tula, the former capital of the Toltec Empire. Here, you'll see the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, the top of which is covered with towering sculptures in the shape of Toltec warriors. Take a bus here (here's a great article with details) OR combine it with a tour of Teotihuacán. And there are others, too! Here's a guide to eight archeological sites near Mexico City.
Desierto de los Leones National Park - This huge National Park is located just 20 minutes outside Mexico City. It was originally a private estate, and then a convent, before becoming a park. Go hiking here, check out the wildlife, or visit the former convent.
Nearby Cities - Another option is to take a day (or overnight) trip to one of many amazing nearby cities. Take a bus, join a tour, or rent a car to reach these cities:
- Taxco / Cuernavaca - This picturesque town is known for silver production, colonial houses, cobblestone streets, small square, and the Santa Prisca Church. Combine Taxco with a day trip to Cuernavaca, the city of eternal spring. It's known for its wonderful weather, the palace of Hernán Cortés, beautiful gardens, and more.
- Puebla / Cholula - Another pair of towns that make a great day trip are Puebla and Cholula. Puebla is located about two hours from Mexico City. It's a charming colonial town with many beautiful churches. Cholula is nearby, and it's worth checking out to see the world's largest pyramid by volume (not height). This popular tour combines both.
Looking for more day trips and tours?
Check out Viator ... they have tons of great options, from tours that last a couple hours to overnight excursions!
One of the best things about Mexico City travel is the food. It is seriously amazing.
The variety of choices is staggering. You'll find everything from world-class restaurants, like Pujol, to street-side stands serving tacos and tlacoyos. The only problem is deciding where to begin ... there are so many tempting options!
Not only is the food delicious, but unless you're eating at only poshest restaurants, it's really affordable, too. I'm working on a more in-depth guide on what (and where) to eat. In the meantime, here's some info on what you can expect:
- Breakfast - If you've ever had breakfast at a Mexican restaurant, you're probably familiar with the dishes you'll find here, like chilaquiles, enchiladas, eggs served different ways, etc. You'll also find less typical entrees, like molettes (bread topped with beans and cheese). Pan dulce (sweet bread) and other pastries are very popular (many restaurants bring out a tray to choose from), as well. Not craving Mexican food? You won't have a hard time finding pretty much anything else your heart desires, from açaí bowls to waffles. Espresso drinks, tea, fresh juices, and hot chocolate are usually available with breakfast.
- Lunch / Dinner - CDMX is a cosmopolitan city, and restaurants serve food from all over the world. Which means if you're craving pizza or even Korean food, you won't have to look too far to find it. Many regional Mexican foods are also available in the capital. In terms of typical Mexican dishes, you'll find tons of tacos, quesadillas (they don't always come with cheese, so ask for them con queso), gorditas, tamales, and tortas. Dishes which you might not find in the U.S., but that are common in CDMX, include chiles en nogada, nopales, tlacoyos, and tlayudas. The adventurous eater will find a variety of insects, like escamoles (ant larvae / eggs) and chapulines (grasshoppers) on menus everywhere. If you're looking for a super inexpensive lunch, head to a local fonda for comida corrida. You'll get a three to four set-course lunch at a great price.
- Drinks - Just like you'll enjoy some unique foods in CDMX, you'll also find some interesting drinks. I for one can't resist the jugos frescos (fresh juices) and hot chocolate (did you know it was invented in Mexico?). For something with a little more kick, enjoy a chelada / michelada (beer cocktail), mezcal (somewhat similar to tequila, but with a smokey flavor), or pulque (a frothy, fermented drink that's also made from agave).
- Sweets - Mexican's are known for their sweet tooth, so it's not surprising that you'll find tons of sweets and treats available for sampling and / or eating nonstop. Enjoy everything from ice cream (helado) to candy (stop by Dulcería de Celaya for a one-of-a-kind experience), churros (my personal fave), and more!
Tips for Eating Out
For the most part, eating out in CDMX is similar to anywhere else you might do so (apart from the language barrier), but here are a few tips to make the experience a little smoother:
- Many restaurants do not have English menus, nor should you expect your waiters to speak English. It's helpful to learn some simple Spanish phrases before your trip. You can also use Google Translate to figure out the menu or ask for what you need.
- It's safe to drink water and drinks served over ice in restaurants (it's been filtered), but you should avoid drinking water from the tap at your hotel or anywhere else. Buy bottled water instead. We usually pick up a few bottles at a local convenience store to keep in our hotel room.
- When you're finished eating, you will need to request the bill from your server (ask for "la cuenta, por favor"). They won't simply bring it to you, as that is considered rude.
- If you're paying with a credit card, the server will bring a small machine to the table for the transaction. Make sure to add a tip.
- Speaking of tips, it's customary to leave one in Mexico City restaurants and bars. I'd recommend leaving at least 15% of the total food bill, or the equivalent of $1 (not 1 peso) per cocktail, just as you would in the U.S. Don't be a cheapskate. Restaurant workers make very low wages in general, and food is very affordable. Show your gratitude with a generous tip.
- You'll find street food all over the city, and it's okay to eat for the most part. Just look for well-trafficked food stands serving fresh-looking food.
Getting around Mexico City has the potential to be nerve-wracking. It's a huge, sprawling city, and you may not speak the language ... so figuring out how to get from here to there is important.
The one thing you don't need to do is rent a car. Traffic is horrible, driving in Mexico can be stressful, and there are so many better options for getting around.
So what is the best way to get around Mexico City? You have a few choices:
- Walk - Walking around is one of the best ways to explore the city. You'll see so much more than you would in a car or on the Metro, and it's great exercise (gotta work off those taco calories somehow, right?). One of my most memorable long walks was between UNAM, San Ángel, and Coyoacán ... so much to see!
- Metro - Over 4.6 million people ride the Metro (subway) every day, and apart from walking, it's my favorite way to get around in the city by far. The Metro is clean, safe, easy to use, and incredibly cheap by U.S. standards (5 pesos or about 25 cents). It's also very fast (no sitting in traffic), and the stations are really cool ... they're filled with art and archaeological artifacts, and each one is different. One caveat: avoid riding the Metro during rush hour if possible, because it gets extremely crowded. (There's also a Metro bus system, which I haven't used personally. Keep it in mind depending on where you're headed though.)
- EcoBici - If you're used to biking around busy cities, the bike sharing program is a great option. Many streets have bike lanes, and side streets can be quiet, making for a great biking experience. Not ready to brave the hectic streets? Use EcoBici to get around Chapultepec Park or ride one up Paseo de la Reforma on Sunday, when the street is closed from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
- Uber - A lot of visitors rely on Uber exclusively to get around the city. While I wouldn't recommend that, if you've used Uber in the U.S., you'll be pleasantly surprised by how very inexpensive it is. I'd recommend using Uber (or another ride sharing service) mostly for getting to out of the way places (like Parque La Mexicana or Xochimilco) and at night, otherwise walk or take the Metro.
- Taxi - Cabs are plentiful in CDMX, but use them with caution. First of all, there is the language barrier (can you give directions in Spanish?). Second, you shouldn't hail a cab on the street. Use registered taxis / sitios, only. Ask your hotel or restaurant to call one for you. Third, before getting in, make sure the cab has a working meter, or agree upon a price. Personally, I would recommend taking an Uber instead of a cab. It's so much safer and easier, especially if you don't speak Spanish.
- Driver - Finally, it's possible to hire a driver for a day tour. This is obviously the most expensive way to see city. If you're only in the city for a short time though, and have the money to spend, it's a great option.
The amazing weather is one of my favorite things about visiting Mexico City! It never seems to get too warm, cold, or humid.
Due to the city's high elevation (about 7,300 feet), the weather is vastly different than it is on Mexico's hot, more humid coast. Expect average highs ranging from the low 70s to low 80s during the day, and mid 40s to mid 50s at night.
The warmest months of the year are April and May (with average temps in the low 80s), and the coolest is January (expect low 70s). And while the cooler months of the year are fairly dry, you can expect daily showers during the city's rainy season (from May / June through September / October).
While you won't experience extreme weather here, you will find lots of pollution. The city sits in a large valley. Calm weather conditions combined with pollution from vehicles and industry, mean that smog get trapped and hovers over the city most days. Expect lots of hazy skies.
Mexico City is pleasant to visit any time of year. For the mildest temps and least rain, I'd recommend planning your visit between November and May (though May is heading into that rainy season). I've visited in November a couple times now, and the weather has been perfect. I loved the balmy temps during the day and the cooler ones at night, and there was practically no rain to speak of!
Despite the amazing weather, the combination of warm days and cool nights can make figuring out what to wear tricky.
Keep these tried and true tips in mind when planning your wardrobe:
- Check the weather forecast before you go. It seems obvious, but I'm always surprised by how few people do this when packing. Don't pack for what you think the weather will be, pack for the actual temps and conditions.
- Layers are a must. Dress for warm weather during the day, but bring a jacket for chilly mornings and evenings. I've found that jeans or light pants paired with a lightweight sweater or long-sleeve shirt both looks nice and feels comfortable. If you tend to run hot, wear something with short sleeves (or maybe a casual dress) during the day instead.
- Dress modestly. Like most big cities, pretty much anything goes. You'll see people dressed to the nines and people wearing holey jeans. I've found that people tend to dress pretty conservatively though. So unless you're headed to a club, cover up your private bits.
- Don't dress for the beach. CDMX is not Puerto Vallarta, Cabo, or Cancún. You will stand out (and not in a good way) if you're wearing shorts, a skimpy tank top, and flip flops. Dress for the city, not the beach. We didn't see anyone wearing shorts, period.
- Avoid flashy jewelry. As when traveling to any city, don't wear expensive, eye-catching jewelry. You don't want to make yourself a target for petty crime, right?
- Comfortable shoes are a must. With all the walking you'll be doing, comfy shoes are a necessity. A pair of slip-ons, booties, or stylish sneaks would be perfect for navigating uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets. I bought these super-cushy Keds last year, and I LOVE them for traveling (they're so much cuter than bulky sneakers, which I refuse to wear anyway). Unfortunately, they're becoming harder to find, but this Craze style and this Center style look pretty similar. I also cannot recommend carrying some bandaids (this flexible fabric style will not budge) or moleskin enough ... you never know when a pesky blister might pop up.
- Carry a crossbody bag. I'm super paranoid about my purse getting stolen when traveling (whether I'm in CDMX or elsewhere). For safety and comfort, I always carry a small, lightweight crossbody bag with a zipper. Want something even more secure? This theft-resistent bag has RFID blocking card slots, slash resistent fabric, and it's not ugly (a hard to find combo). I like this smaller bag, which has many of the same features, too. Men, carry your wallet in your front pocket.
- Bring an umbrella (maybe). If you're visiting during the rainy summer months, an umbrella is a must. At other times of year, you really won't need one (but again, check that weather forecast just in case).
- Protect yourself from the sun. I never leave home without sunblock, and with Mexico City's high altitude, it's even more of a must. This liquid sunscreen is my absolute fave (it's super lightweight)! Consider bringing a hat, too, especially if you'll be visiting Teotihuacán or somewhere else outside. I have and love this affordable Panama hat ... it's stylish and packs like a dream. And even with the hazy weather, sunglasses are a must.
If you are flying into Mexico City, you will be landing at Benito Juárez International Airport.
Before landing, you'll receive a tourist / customs card that you need to fill out. Once you land, you'll be directed to go through customs. If you don't get a card on the plane, don't worry, because you can ask for one after getting in line.
The customs process is relatively easy and painless, although there may be a long line (it moves quickly). Be prepared to answer the standard questions (why are you visiting, how long will you be here, etc.). The agent will talk to you in Spanish, but in my experience, they also speak English. Save the card after leaving customs, because you'll need it when it's time to leave Mexico.
After clearing customs, you can exit the airport. You have a few choices for getting to your destination:
- Metro - This is your most affordable option, but probably only viable if you don't have much luggage. The first time I traveled to Mexico City, we took the Metro to our hotel in Polanco. It was fairly easy, but kind of a pain with our carry-on luggage, Metro crowds, and lengthy transfers, often involving LOTS of stairs. To get to the Metro Station, exit the airport at Terminal 1, then turn left and follow the sidewalk until you get to the Terminal Aérea station. You can buy a Metro card and add fare in the station (or purchase individual tickets). The agent most likely will not speak English. Depending on your destination, you will most likely need to transfer at least once, so make sure to plan out your route ahead of time.
- Taxi - Exit the airport and look for an authorized taxi stand (you'll see a Transporte Terrestre sign). At the stand, you will purchase a ticket (the fair varies by destination), then get in the taxi line to catch your cab. Do not try to hail a cab!
- Uber - I recommend using Uber to get to and from the airport. It's the easiest, least stressful option. Exit the airport, then open the app to request a ride. You may be asked to enter which door (puerta) number you are at. Uber drivers can only stop at certain doors, so you will be prompted to move to another exit, if needed.
Give yourself plenty of time when returning to the airport! On our first trip here, we almost missed our flight home. We allotted what we thought was a generous amount of time, but we got stuck in traffic.
Tips: before leaving the airport, use an ATM to get cash (pesos). You'll get one of the best exchange rates there. Also, if you are a Verizon customer (and I'm guessing this may be true with other U.S. carriers, too), certain plans allow you to use your phone in Mexico at no extra cost. You just need to make sure the settings are correct. Contact your carrier before your trip to confirm. Then adjust the settings as soon as you land, and you'll be good to go for your trip!
Now that we've covered all sorts of fun things to do, let's talk about a few things you shouldn't do:
- Assume everyone will speak English. It is rude to visit another country and expect people to speak your language ... don't be that person. Sure it's frustrating to not speak the language, but the onus is on you to figure out how to communicate. Most people you'll meet will be very friendly and helpful, so don't fret too much. You should learn some basic phrases before your visit though, such as greetings, how to say thank you, ask for the bathroom, etc. Beyond those basics, a lot can be said through gestures and pointing, and Google Translate is super helpful.
- Hail a cab on the street. Don't risk your safety by hailing a cab. Doing so can put you at risk for theft, or worse, assault. Instead, only used licensed / registered cabs, which can be called (by you or a hotel / restaurant).
- Take Uber everywhere. Uber is an excellent, affordable way to get around Mexico City. Just don't take it everywhere! Instead, walk around ... you'll see more. Or save some money by taking the metro, which is my favorite way to get around. It's very inexpensive, fast (no sitting in traffic), and safe.
- Take the Metro during rush hour. The Metro gets very crowded (millions of people ride it daily), especially during rush hour. I actually got stuck on the subway once, because there was absolutely no way to push through the mass of people and exit. When possible, avoid taking it during peak hours. If you have to take the Metro during busy times, move toward the door a couple stops before your station approaches. Then, exit as soon as the doors open.
- Think you can see it all. Mexico City is huge and sprawling, and the list of interesting things to do and see is never ending. Even if you moved there for a year (let alone a long weekend!), you'd be hard-pressed to see it all. Before visiting, make a list of your biggest priorities, and schedule one or two must-sees for each day.
- Confine your visit to Roma and Condesa. These neighborhoods are very popular with visitors, and it's easy to see why. They're filled with trendy restaurants, shops, and people. They're picturesque and have a great, tourist-friendly vibe. Both are definitely worth checking out, just don't spend all your time there.
- Dress like you're headed to the beach. You won't find the same beachy weather in Mexico City that you will in the rest of the country ... it get pretty cool at night, for one thing. Skip the cutoffs and flip flops, and pack for the city instead.
Still have questions about visiting Mexico City? Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
What is Mexico City known for?
Mexico City is the capital of Mexico, and it's the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. The city is known for its amazing culture, interesting and complex history, colorful art scene, beautiful architecture, and delicious food.
Is Mexico City safe?
In general, visiting Mexico City is safe. Just make sure to take the same basic precautions that you would when visiting any large city. Read the section about safety for more information.
How Expensive Is Mexico City?
This is kind of a loaded question. Mexico City is a very wealthy city, but the level of income inequality is extreme. For the many people who live there and make extremely low wages, it's a very, very expensive city. However, if you're a tourist visiting from the U.S. or Europe, it feels quite affordable ... especially when compared to other large cities, like NYC or London.
What is the hottest month in Mexico City?
With average temps in the low 80s, the warmest months of the year are April and May.
What is the coldest month in Mexico City?
The weather is coolest is January, with average temps in the low 70s.
Is the water safe to drink in Mexico City?
You should not drink water from the tap when visiting CDMX. The water itself might be safe, but outdated plumbing systems may leach dangerous chemicals and bacteria into the water. Feel free to drink water in restaurants (it's been filtered) and to drink anything served over ice (the ice has also been filtered). Elsewhere though, make sure to purchase or drink bottled water only.
Do you need to know Spanish in Mexico City?
You don't need to know Spanish to visit Mexico City, although it is very helpful. In my experience, fewer people speak English than at popular Mexican beach destinations. You will meet people that speak flawless English, and others that speak none, but you should never expect anyone to speak English. At the very least, you should learn some basic greetings and phrases before your trip.
What is the best time of year to visit Mexico City?
The best time of year to visit Mexico City is November through May, with many visitors preferring the spring months. Temps are cooler, and you'll see little to no rain at this time of year (although the rain definitely starts picking up in May).
Is there a beach in Mexico City?
No, there is no beach in Mexico City, although many hotels have pools. And the city's central location puts you a quick plane ride away from more beachy destinations.
Figuring out where to stay during your visit will probably be your biggest and most important decision.
Plan on staying somewhere centrally located. That way, you won't waste all your precious time traveling from place to place. In terms of convenience and amenities, I'd recommend focusing on four main areas: Centro Histórico, Polanco, Roma, and Condesa.
Centro Histórico Hotels
I love exploring the Centro Histórico. This area is busy and filled with tourists, but there is so much to do. While not the hippest area to stay in CDMX, if you want to see all the city's historic sites, then it would be the perfect home base.
- Gran Hotel Ciudad de México - This classic hotel is beautiful and luxurious, and the location (basically, right in the middle of it all) couldn't be better. Even if you don't stay here, I'd recommend stopping by to check out the stunning atrium and to have a drink or meal overlooking the Zócalo.
- Hotel Downtown Mexico - This hotel is absolutely gorgeous! It's located in a historic building, but has a modern, industrial edge. And the location between the Zócalo and Bellas Artes is ideal.
- Chaya B & B - Another excellent option in the Centro Histórico is Chaya B & B. It's located steps from beautiful Alameda Central, which you can stroll through to reach Bellas Artes. And everything else you'll want to see is within walking distance, too.
Polanco is sometimes called the Beverly Hills of Mexico City. If you have any worries about safety when visiting, this neighborhood (along with Roma and Condesa) would be an excellent place to get your bearings. It's upscale (though not super snobby), popular with business people (but good for couples and families, too), has great museums and tons of cute cafes, and is located right by Chapultepec Park.
- Intercontinental Presidente - I've stayed at the Intercontinental twice now, and I LOVE it! It's luxurious, the rooms have amazing views, and it's conveniently located across from the Auditorio Metro station and steps from Chapultepec Park. The staff is also top notch ... they were super helpful when I got sick on my last trip. There are many cafes, restaurants, and shops within walking distance, too.
- Las Alcobas - If you're looking for a unique boutique hotel, then Las Alcobas is a great option. This small, luxury hotel is known for its beautiful rooms and great customer service.
- Hyatt Regency - Stay at the Hyatt to enjoy a luxurious, contemporary room, excellent service, and the same convenient location as the Intercontinental (they're located next door to each other).
Trendy Condesa is an excellent choice that's also highly walkable and safe. You'll be spoiled by all the restaurants, coffee shops, and bars within a short walking distance from wherever you stay.
- Casa Mali by Dominion - This luxurious hotel has comfortable suites overlooking the lovely Parque México. Each room here features a fully equipped kitchenette, which is perfect if you'll be staying a while or just want to feel at home.
- AR 218 Hotel - You'll love the sleek, modern decor and rooftop terrace at this hotel. The rooms are spacious and feature extra amenities that make longer stays more comfortable.
This neighborhood and Condesa kind of blend together, but Roma has a slightly more bohemian feel. You'll love the leafy streets filled with gorgeous buildings, unique street art, and plentiful shops and restaurants.
- La Valise - Art and design lovers, La Valise is for you. The large, beautifully decorated rooms in this tiny hotel are filled with unique touches. You can even book a suite with a hammock!
- Nima Local House Hotel - The petite hotel is located in a historic townhouse and only has four (gorgeous!) rooms. If you are looking for personalized service, this quiet hotel is for you.
- Casa Goliana - This cute and comfortable hotel is located in a former single-family home. It features a charming combination of vintage and modern furnishings that will make you feel at home the minute you step inside.
If you're looking for something homier than a hotel, then Airbnb is an excellent option! There are so many beautifully designed rooms and apartments available in Mexico City, and you'll love experiencing the city like a local. The prices are pretty amazing, too!
I hope you enjoyed reading this Mexico City visitors guide, and that it's helpful in planning your trip to this amazing city or inspiring you to visit!
If you're looking for a guide book, I'd recommend reading the Moon guide or this Monacle guide. For a local's perspective, pick up this "Opinionated" guide or this guide that's written by one of my favorite Mexico City bloggers.
And let me know if you have any questions about visiting Mexico City ... I would LOVE to help!