What to Do in Mexico City
Whether it's your first visit or you've been here several times before, don't forget to include these sights, experiences and places to eat on your to-do list.
By AAA Travel Editor
While Mexico City boasts several world-class museums and has enough things to see and do to keep visitors occupied for months, its enormous size makes planning a sightseeing itinerary difficult. Ceaseless traffic congestion in particular requires time, effort and a strategic approach when it comes to seeing the major attractions and things to do in Mexico City.
A good day to sightsee in Mexico City is Sunday, when the traffic lanes of Paseo de la Reforma, downtown's major thoroughfare, are closed to motor vehicles for 6 hours (from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.). The pedestrian-only stretch extends from Chapultepec Park to the Zócalo, a distance of about 3 miles.
If the prospect of navigating around Mexico City on your own seems too stressful, check into a guided tour. Ask the concierge at your hotel for suggestions. Some hotels have their own travel agency or can recommend a reliable one. An alternative is to stop by one of the tourist information modules (Módulo de Información y Orientación Turística) operated by the Tourism Secretariat of Mexico City. Modules are located in the Historic Center, in the vicinity of Alameda and Chapultepec parks, in the Pink Zone (Zona Rosa) and along Paseo de Reforma.
Another easy way to see the sights is to have your hotel arrange for a private car and a guide, either by the hour or by the day. Although you'll pay for the convenience, this option allows greater flexibility and more personal service. The larger hotels should be able to arrange such an excursion; check with the concierge.
Major hotels also maintain fleets of turismo taxis associated specifically with the hotel. Such taxis can be used for a short hop to nearby restaurants and back, or for longer excursions to shop or sightsee. For an hourly rate (and normally a 2-hour time minimum), you can arrange to have the driver wait at a specific location in addition to providing transportation. Although turismo taxis are expensive, the peace of mind is well worth the cost.
Most of Mexico City's major attractions are concentrated downtown, but even this is a sprawling area, so focusing on specific districts or neighborhoods will make sightseeing easier. The Zócalo is an obvious place to begin. Officially Plaza de la Constitución, this vast, open expanse of concrete covers nearly 10 acres; only Moscow's Red Square is larger. The ever-present human hubbub—not to mention the constant stream of taxicabs navigating the streets bordering the plaza—is a sight to behold.
The lowering of the Mexican flag, performed daily at 6 p.m., is a solemn ceremony filled with flourishes of pomp. Note: Do not even attempt to find a place to park on your own; if you want to walk around and explore, hire a licensed guide, a private driver or a hotel taxi to drop you off, wait and then take you back to where you're staying.
Imposing buildings flank the Zócalo. The Metropolitan Cathedral , built over a 240-year period, is a mix of architectural styles, from a neoclassic clock tower to a baroque exterior decorated with statues and stone carvings. Inside are 16 chapels (all but two open to the public), each dedicated to a saint and lavishly decorated with statuary, ornate altars, paintings and tapestries.
Adjoining the cathedral is the Sacristy . It was built to house vestments and sacred objects. Large paintings by 17th-century Mexican artist Cristóbal de Villalpando grace its interior.
The National Palace is the seat of Mexico's federal government. The main reason to visit is to see the grand Diego Rivera murals that illustrate scenes from Mexico's history. These vivid depictions emphasize brutality, and while historically accurate the effect is sobering. Relax afterward with a trip to the building's courtyard, where there's a cactus garden.
The Great Temple was discovered by a construction crew in 1978. Excavations revealed the buried remains of a large stone Aztec pyramid with wide staircases that had been destroyed by conquering Spaniards. The Great Temple Museum displays ancient artifacts retrieved from this site as well as from other archeological zones in Mexico.
The Historic Center contains many of the city's most beautiful and important buildings. The Banamex Palace of Culture , a fine example of 18th-century baroque architecture, was formerly the Iturbide Palace (commissioned by a Spanish count as a dowry for his daughter); it features cultural and art exhibits and other things to do. The Museum of Mexico City provides a great overview—everything from daily life in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan to 19th-century carriages to the studio of Mexican impressionist painter Joaquin Clausell.
Santo Domingo Plaza , one of the city's best-preserved colonial squares, is surrounded by charming old buildings. The Old College of San Ildefonso , formerly a school for Jesuit priests, has murals by José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera.
Alameda Central is the other city park (Chapultepec is the big enchilada), although it's been around for more than 400 years. Filled with bench-lined, tree-shaded paths and dotted with beautiful baroque fountains, it's a great place to stroll and people watch. Food kiosks and craft and jewelry vendors set up around the park's perimeter. Check out the Juárez Monument, a semicircular-shaped memorial to Benito Juárez, one of Mexico's greatest presidents.
Across from the park, the Diego Rivera Mural Museum houses one of the famed muralist's epic works, “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central.” It was originally painted on a wall in a hotel that was seriously damaged in the 1985 earthquake; the mural was subsequently moved here. The House of Tiles , built in 1596, is one of the city's finest Spanish colonial mansions; since 1919 it has been occupied by the flagship restaurant of Sanborns, a popular Mexican chain.
The neoclassic Palace of Fine Arts , modeled after prestigious European buildings, is a legacy of the regime of dictator Porfirio Díaz. The exterior sculptures are a decorative highlight. The city's premier cultural center is home to the National Symphony Orchestra as well as the famed Ballet Folklórico de México .
Privileged Aztec emperors once took a break from overseeing their empire by relaxing at Chapultepec Hill, part of Chapultepec Park . This enormous green space has been enjoyed by workaday Mexican families for generations and is one of the fun things to do with kids. The cobblestoned walkways see their heaviest foot traffic on Sunday, when most residents have their day off. The major tourist attractions are located in the park's eastern section off Paseo de la Reforma.
The Monument to the Child Heroes , near the main entrance, is a memorial to six cadets who defended Chapultepec Castle during the Mexican-American War. The castle, a former military college, stands atop Chapultepec Hill. You can hike to the top (a fairly steep climb) or board a small tourist train near the park entrance. Next to the castle is the National Museum of History ; a guided tour of the 12 exhibit halls traces Mexican history up to the adoption of the 1917 constitution.
About halfway up Chapultepec Hill is the Caracol Museum/Gallery of History , where you can view colorful dioramas depicting pivotal historical events. Then head to the Chapultepec Park Zoo and say hi to a pair of giant pandas, hippopotamuses and zebras, among other animals.
Near the zoo is the National Museum of Anthropology , with world-class exhibits of temple reconstructions, archeological artifacts, stone carvings, ceramics, decorative objects and masks. The focal point in Aztec Hall is a 24-ton calendar stone with a sun god face carved in the center, while Teotihuacán Hall features a reproduction of that major archeological site's Temple of Quetzalcóatl.
Also outstanding is the Museum of Modern Art , which displays works by prominent 20th- and 21st-century Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Frida Kahlo and David Alfaro Siquerios. Additional works by Tamayo are on view at the Rufino Tamayo Museum , along with the Oaxacan-born artist's personal collection.
Two under-the-radar little museums in the vicinity of Chapultepec Park are worth visiting for their offbeat collections. The Museum of the Purpose of the Object focuses on the everyday: soda bottles, shoeshine kits, household appliances. Check it out if you're interested in the design evolution of Mexican-made products. Fans of vintage model airplanes, action figures and board games should head to the Mexican Antique Toy Museum . This fascinating hodgepodge of items is part of the personal collection of Mexico City architect Roberto Shimizu, who has amassed them over a lifetime.
North of the Historic Center is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (arrange for a driver to take you there if you're not familiar with Metro, the city's subway system). It honors the Guadalupe virgin, Mexico's patron saint; devout Catholics believe she appeared to a peasant Indian at this site, asking him to build a church. In addition to the ultra-modern New Basilica, several other churches stand on the grounds of this sprawling complex.
Over the last decade or so billionaire Carlos Slim has largely been behind the transformation of a formerly depressed area north of the Historic Center, which is now a prosperous district of high-rise offices and apartment buildings centered around Plaza Carso. The destination is also home to several new-ish attractions. The Soumaya Museum houses the Mexican businessman's personal art collection. This asymmetrical structure, covered with 16,000 gleaming hexagonal aluminum plates, looks mega-cool from the outside. Inside are paintings by Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, as well as coins, ancient artifacts and casts of Rodin sculptures.
The adjacent Jumex Museum looks restrained in comparison, but the collection of contemporary art on display is noteworthy. In addition to big names like Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol, you'll find works by emerging Mexican artists. Switch gears from art to sea creatures at the Inbursa Aquarium , across the street from the two museums. Mexico City's first aquarium has four underground levels and displays some 300 different species of marine life.
At 250 feet tall, the Revolution Monument is a city landmark. Topped by a copper dome, it is the final resting place of revolutionary Pancho Villa and four Mexican presidents: Venustiano Carranza, Plutarco Calles, Lázaro Cárdenas and Francisco I. Madero. The neoclassic building housing the San Carlos National Museum was once the residence of Mexican military generals; it contains a top-notch collection of paintings by such European masters as Rembrandt, Titian and Peter Paul Rubens.
There are several notable tourist attractions in Mexico City's southern districts; take a taxi associated with your hotel to visit them. Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros takes center stage at the Polyforum Siqueiros . This 12-sided exhibition hall's exterior is covered with vividly colorful Siqueiros murals; inside a revolving floor offers a view of the ceiling mural “March of Humanity.”
The grounds of the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Xochimilco (southeast of downtown Mexico City) are also lovely, graced with orange and fig trees, wandering peacocks and a breed of hairless dog with the tongue-twisting name xoloitzcuintle. The collection of works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is exemplary.
Where you stay in Mexico City will definitely affect your sightseeing schedule. Fortunately, there are a number of hotel options near Chapultepec Park and in the nearby upscale Polanco neighborhood. It's all about location at the Mexico City Marriott Reforma , which is right on Paseo de la Reforma near the Independence Monument. The service staff here goes the extra mile to make guests feel comfortable.
Also on Paseo de la Reforma is the Le Meridien Mexico City . Big, suite-style rooms make this a good choice for families, and if your Spanish is rusty, not to worry; the staff speaks English. If you want to be near Chapultepec Park, try the W Mexico City , which is convenient to Polanco restaurants and shopping.
Another Polanco possibility is the JW Marriott Hotel Mexico City , where the upper floors have great views of the park. Take advantage of the concierge service for arranging day trips to out-of-the-city adventure travel destinations like the archeological ruins of Teotihuacán.
If you want a typical fine-dining experience, stick with the hotel restaurants. Brasserie Lipp , in the JW Marriott, is a swanky joint favored by local politicians. It's French bistro all the way, with reliably good—and pricey—food.
The standard bearer in town for classic French cuisine is Au Pied de Cochon (in the Hotel Presidente InterContinental Mexico City ), which is great for a special occasion. From French onion soup to coq au vin to the fancy desserts, this elegant restaurant delivers. Late diners take notice; it's open 24 hours. In the same hotel you can switch from classic French to classic Italian at Alfredo di Roma , where the fettuccine is prepared tableside, the wine list fills a book and desserts are positively sinful.
Another great choice for Mexican specialties is the Restaurante San Angel Inn in San Angel. The former Carmelite monastery has multiple dining rooms furnished in Spanish colonial style and flower gardens shaded by trees and accented by stone fountains.
La Opera Restaurant Bar , in the Historic Center, also serves regional cuisine and has a wonderful Old World ambience complete with mirrored walls and cozy, dark-paneled booths. Even if you don't have lunch or dinner here, stop by for an early evening drink—the bar is suitably impressive—and check out the bullet hole allegedly fired by Pancho Villa into the ceiling (your waiter will gladly show you).
If you're pinching pennies or just want to savor some authentic street food, stop at one of the vendors who set up on almost every street corner and purchase a couple of tacos al pastor. The grilled pork and onions are heaped on a corn tortilla and garnished with cilantro; they're cheap and mighty tasty.
By AirBenito Juárez International Airport is about 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of the Zócalo. Airlines offering direct international flights from U.S. cities include American, Delta, Southwest and United. Other airlines providing service to the airport include Air Canada and Alaska. Aeroméxico, (55) 5133-4000 or 01 (800) 021-4000 (toll-free long distance within Mexico), and low-cost Mexican carriers Interjet and Volaris fly from multiple U.S. cities.
Two passenger terminals, Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, are at opposite sides of the airport and connected by a monorail that can only be accessed by passengers with a boarding pass, confirmed ticket or an e-ticket reference number. T1 handles most domestic flights; T2 handles most international flights. Phone (55) 2482-2400 for recorded information regarding Terminal 1, (55) 2598-7000 for recorded information regarding Terminal 2.
The first stop after arriving is Immigration, where an Immigration official will validate the FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) tourist permit that you received and filled out during the flight. (This permit is sometimes referred to as a “landing card.”) The next stop is baggage claim, where you will hand over your customs declaration form (if you're bringing anything that must be declared), and your bags will pass through an automated green light-red light X-ray inspection.
Facilities catering to foreign travelers in the arrivals hall include Banamex and Bancomer bank branches, cellphone rental, internet access, ATMs and casas de cambio (currency exchange offices), a food court and a variety of gift and duty-free shops. Rental car agencies include Hertz.
Mexico City Hotel and Motel Association representatives (look for booths near the baggage claim area) can assist in booking a room at one of their member properties according to location and price specifications. Authorized baggage handlers are identified by the “Union” ID placard attached to their hand carts.
Contact the airline directly when making reservations for flights to other cities within Mexico, or if you need price or schedule information. This can be frustrating if you reach someone who doesn't speak good English; airline numbers also change frequently. If possible, make all flight arrangements prior to your departure so the only reason you may need to call is to confirm times. Contact your local AAA travel advisor for help finding cheap airline flights and travel packages.
Allow for sufficient travel time to the airport—a minimum of 45 minutes if you're based in the downtown area. Arrive at least an hour before departure for domestic flights, 2 hours before departure for international flights. If you have an early morning flight, staying at the Courtyard by Marriott Mexico City Airport is convenient; a pedestrian walkway connects it to Terminal 1's level 2.
Authorized airport taxis are the safest way to reach the downtown area. The yellow-and-white vehicles, sedans or minivans, have a black aircraft symbol on the door and are labeled “Transportación Terrestre” (Ground Transportation). Taxis require prepayment at the official airport taxi counter; look for the Taxi Autorizada booth in the baggage claim area. Rates are based on a zone system and vary according to distance; consult the map at the taxi counter to verify your destination. The fare to downtown Mexico City should not be more than 200 pesos.
Yellow-outfitted escorts show you to an available taxi; vouchers are given to the driver. Do not negotiate with anyone who approaches you with the offer of a ride into town. The ride to the city center takes 25 minutes to an hour, depending on the time of day. Tipping is customary if the driver helps with your luggage. Since negotiating for a taxi can be a hectic experience, it may be worth the effort to prebook a taxi prior to arrival; services like Mexico Airport Transfers allow you to book a taxi from the airport online.
Metrobús buses run between the airport and downtown. Color-coded red buses (Line 4) depart from both terminals approximately every 20 minutes daily, 4:30 a.m.-midnight. The ride takes about 30 minutes and the fare is 30 pesos, plus 10 pesos for a prepaid Metrobús smart card. Bus drivers only accept the card as payment; the cards can be purchased in both terminals from vending machines that only accept Mexican pesos.
If you're traveling light you might consider using the Metro rapid transit system. Large pieces of luggage aren't allowed on board, however, and riding a crowded subway car weighed down with anything more than an overnight bag is not only cumbersome but unsafe. The airport station is Terminal Aérea (Air Terminal Building, line 5) on Boulevard Puerto Aéreo. The main terminal is within walking distance; follow the signs. To reach the downtown area from the airport, take the subway to the Pantitlán station and switch to line 1.
By CarMex. 15-D, 57/57-D and 85-D are the major highways approaching Mexico City from the west and north. From the south and east come Mex. 95-D and Mex. 150-D. Other routes are likely to be slow, winding or of substandard quality, and one—Mex. 134, which travels northeast to Mexico City from Mex. 200 along the Pacific Coast—should be avoided entirely.
Leaving the city, the main thoroughfares are Avenida Insurgentes Sur, which becomes Mex. 95-D as it heads south to Cuernavaca, Taxco and Acapulco; running north, Avenida Insurgentes Norte becomes Mex. 85-D/85 heading toward Pachuca. The Periférico loops around the city's western and southern sides. It is called Avenida Avila Camacho within the city and becomes Mex. 57-D heading northwest toward Querétaro. Avenida Constituyentes runs west past Chapultepec Park and becomes Mex. 15 as it heads toward Toluca; Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza leads east out of the city, becoming Mex. 190-D as it heads toward Puebla.
If you're driving, try to time both arrival and departure times into and out of the metropolitan area as early in the morning as possible to avoid getting stuck in the near-constant traffic.
Note: Seat belt use by the driver and all passengers is required within the Ciudad de Mexico.
By BusWith interconnections between Mexican and U.S. bus lines, it is possible to travel by bus from several U.S. border cities to Mexico City. Transportes del Norte, Tres Estrellas de Oro, Transportes Chihuahuenses and Omnibus de México are linked with Greyhound Lines Inc. From Tijuana it takes about 40 hours to reach Mexico City; from Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Tex., about 24 hours; from Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Tex., about 14 hours.
Bus travel is available from Mexico City to nearly every town in the country, but reservations must be made. Most major Mexican lines offer first-class (lujo) bus service; these companies include Autobuses Cristóbal Colón, Autobuses del Oriente (ADO), ETN, Omnibus de México, Primera Plus and Tres Estrellas de Oro. Arrivals and departures at bus stations in Mexico are usually announced in Spanish only.
Mexico City has four main bus terminals that correspond to the four compass points. By far the largest of the four is the Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, Av. Cien Metros #4907 (M: Autobuses del Norte, line 5). Most of the buses traveling from the northern border arrive at this terminal, also known as “Terminal Norte” or “Camiones Norte.” From here, buses travel to almost every destination north and west of the capital, including the Pacific Coast resorts from Manzanillo northward; inland cities such as Aguascalientes, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Monterrey, Morelia, Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende; and the nearby archeological sites of Teotihuacán and Tula.
The terminal offers currency exchange services (during normal banking hours) and has a hotel reservations booth. Taxis charge standard fares based on a zone system; tickets are purchased at booths inside the station. Count your change carefully, as overcharging is common.
Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente (TAPO) is at Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza #200, near the airport (M: San Lázaro, line 1). Buses travel to and from destinations to the east and south, including Jalapa, Puebla, Veracruz, Villahermosa, Oaxaca, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez and cities on the Yucatán Peninsula. There are taxi ticket booths and currency exchange services at the terminal.
Terminal Central de Autobuses del Sur is at Av. Taxqueña #1320 (M: Taxqueña, line 2). At the end of Metro's line 2, this also is a major terminus for local city buses from downtown and other points north. From here buses arrive and depart for Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Taxco and other points south and west of Mexico City. For day trips to nearby Cuernavaca, Cuautla and Tepoztlán, take one of the Pullman de Morelos buses. Estrella de Oro provides first-class service to Acapulco and Zihuatanejo.
The smallest of the four is the western station, Terminal de Autobuses del Poniente, Av. Sur #122 at Tacubaya (M: Observatorio, line 1). This is the easiest way to take a day trip to Toluca by bus. Service also is available to Morelia and Guadalajara; the going is slow but the scenery is pleasant.
City LayoutMexico City's colonias, or neighborhoods, are threaded by a maze of calles, avenidas and calzadas. Some narrow alleyways, or callejones, are cobblestoned relics from earlier days. Major thoroughfares, on the other hand, can have eight lanes.
Many signs tend to be more confusing than enlightening. There is no real logic to the city's streets, which are named after rivers, mountains, foreign cities and countries, musicians, writers, doctors, composers, the states of Mexico and just about everything else. Streets also change names frequently.
Connected highways form the Circuito Interior, which roughly encircles the central city. Beginning at the airport, on the east side of town, Avenida Río Consulado runs north and then west, becoming Calzada Melchor Ocampo. Ocampo swings south, passing east of Chapultepec Park and intersecting Paseo de la Reforma, at which point it continues as Calzada Vasconcelos. Angling off Vasconcelos is Avenida de la Revolución, which runs south to Avenida Río Churubusco. Churubusco then proceeds east before turning north to connect with Río Consulado, southwest of the airport, and completing the circuit.
Theoretically, this loop provides a less congested alternative to the jam-packed streets within it. However, these roads themselves are usually crowded, particularly during the morning and evening rush hours.
Also within the Circuito Interior are axis roads (ejes), a series of numbered boulevards running one way only, with special lanes reserved for trolleys and buses circulating in the opposite direction. East-west Eje 1 Norte and Eje 2 Norte are north of the Zócalo, Eje 2 Sur through Eje 8 Sur run progressively south of the Zócalo. North-south Eje 1 through 3 Oriente are east of Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas, which divides the central city in half; Eje 1 through 3 Poniente are to the west.
Paseo de la Reforma intersects the central city. A legacy of self-proclaimed French emperor Maximilian, this broad artery runs southwest to northeast for more than 7 miles. From the eastern end of Chapultepec Park to past Alameda Park, Reforma is exceptionally wide and is punctuated by several glorietas (traffic circles).
An easily spotted reference landmark is the Independence Monument, a 150-foot-tall spire topped by a gold angel that stands at the intersection of Reforma, Avenida Florencia and Calle Río Tiber. Another is the Cuauhtémoc Monument at the intersection at Paseo de la Reforma and Avenida Insurgentes.
Insurgentes, the capital's longest thoroughfare, runs north/south, bisecting western and eastern sections of the city. East-west Viaducto Miguel Alemán runs south of downtown, connecting Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza at the eastern end of the city with the Anillo Periférico at the western end. The Periférico (Mex. 57) traverses the city's western and southern sections.
Driving just about anywhere within Mexico City is a daunting prospect and not recommended. The sheer number of vehicles makes for an extremely slow pace. Add to that aggressive tactics (locals often disregard traffic signals), frequent construction, detours and a plethora of one-way streets, and you're far better off relying on taxi transportation provided by your hotel. Above all, never drive alone after dark due to the risk of car hijacking, robbery or assault.
If you must drive, always park in a guarded lot; street parking is not only hard to come by but chancy, as vandalism can occur. Any vehicle parked illegally is likely to have the license plate removed by police; expect to pay a fee to get it back. Never leave valuables in your car, even if hidden.
At many downtown intersections, motorists stopped at a red light will be besieged by everyone from beggars to performing children (whose parents are often sitting on a nearby corner) to vendors selling newspapers, flowers, candy and trinkets. The best defense if you're part of this captive audience is to keep your door locked, your window rolled up and look straight ahead, avoiding eye contact.
Speed limits are shown in kilometers. If a road, avenue or street is unmarked, follow these general guidelines: school zones, 20 km/h (10-12 mph); residential streets, 30 km/h (20 mph); main streets, 50 km/h (30 mph); avenues, bypasses, loop roads and overpasses within the city, 60 km/h (35 mph); main highways, 100 km/h (60 mph); selected main highways and toll roads, 110-120 km/h (65-75 mph).
TaxisThe most important safety advice for visitors is to never hail a cab on the street. Avoid the constantly cruising green and white Volkswagen Beetle taxis (often referred to as ecologicos or magna sins), or cabs with license plates containing the letter “L” (libre cabs). While residents must use them to get around an overcrowded city, drivers often are involved in robberies against passengers. The drivers themselves also are frequent victims of assault, making this a dangerous profession.
Major hotels maintain fleets of turismo taxis associated specifically with the hotel. These can be used for short hops to a nearby restaurant and back, or for longer excursions to shop or sightsee. For an hourly rate (and normally a 2-hour time minimum), you can arrange to have the driver wait at a specific location in addition to providing transportation. Rates for individual trips are negotiated with the driver; establish the fee for any excursion in advance. Although turismo taxis are expensive (a ride just a few blocks in length can cost several dollars), the peace of mind is well worth the cost.
J.R. Taxi is a reliable service; the owner/driver speaks English, is familiar with all of the city's major tourist attractions, and can pick up passengers at the airport or at designated bus stations. Favorable rates are offered to AAA members, and American Express, Mastercard and Visa are accepted. Phone (044) 55-5100-7542 (cell number) in Mexico City, (044) 5100-7542 elsewhere within Mexico, or (52-155) 5100-7542 outside of Mexico.
If your hotel doesn't provide transportation or you otherwise need a cab, the U.S. Embassy strongly urges that you ride only in a taxi summoned by phone from a designated sitio (SEE-tee-oh) stand. They are considered safer than taxis that circulate because the driver can be easily traced back to the stand. Many of the stands list telephone numbers where the taxi can be called. Arrangements also can be made to have these cabs pick you up at a predetermined time and place.
Ask for the license plate number and the cab driver's name, and only use cabs with plates beginning with the letter “S,” which are assigned to a particular site—such as a hotel—and registered. The number on the license plate should match the number painted on the side of the cab. It's much easier to negotiate for a sitio taxi if you speak fluent Spanish.
Rental CarsThere are many car rental agencies in Mexico City. The larger companies also have branches in major cities where you can leave your car at trip's end. Be sure you fully understand the terms of any rental contract, especially in regard to insurance coverage. It's much less expensive to reserve before you leave home; make reservations at least 1 week in advance. AAA members enjoy discounts through Hertz for vehicles booked in the United States. Consult your local AAA club or phone Hertz, (800) 654-3080.
Although having a vehicle at your disposal can be convenient for sightseeing trips outside the metropolitan area, keep in mind that a rental car driven by a foreigner may unfortunately become a target for police who will try to extract a bribe.
Vehicles in the Mexico City metropolitan area, including Ciudad de México (CDMX) and parts of the state of Mexico, may not be driven on certain days based on the last digit of the license plate. Make certain your rental can be driven when you wish to use it; a rental agency may inadvertently provide a vehicle with a license plate that has a last digit corresponding to the day on which it cannot be driven.
BusesCity buses go just about everywhere and are inexpensive, but the system is not user-friendly for visitors. Routes and bus numbers change frequently, and route maps are practically nonexistent. Some signs at downtown stops include route descriptions. Buses run daily 5 a.m.-midnight, but show up much less frequently after 10 p.m.
Two major bus routes put visitors within walking distance of many of the city's attractions. The east-west route links the Zócalo with the National Auditorium in Chapultepec Park and continues to the Observatorio Metro station (line 1), traveling along Avenida Francisco I. Madero, Avenida Juárez and Paseo de la Reforma. These buses are usually marked “Zócalo.”
Buses running north-south along Avenida Insurgentes connect the huge Terminal Norte station with the southern suburbs of San Angel and University City via the Zona Rosa. These buses are usually marked “Indios Verdes-Tlalpan.” Routes are marked on the windshield.
Never carry valuables onto a city bus, and know exactly where you're going before you board. But unless you simply want to have the experience, it's safer and much more convenient to use a taxi associated with your hotel for getting around.
PeserosPeseros, also called colectivos or micros (MEE-crows), resemble a minibus or van. These beat-up, green-and-white vehicles travel along established routes and charge flat rates based on distance that are substantially less than taxi fares (as cheap as 3 pesos). Route destinations, often a Metro station, are marked on the windshield or shown on a sign. Flag down a pesero as you would a bus, and tell the driver your destination when you board.
From a tourist perspective the principal east-west and north-south corridors (the Zócalo to Chapultepec Park and Avenida Insurgentes Sur, respectively) are the most convenient routes. Try to have the exact change in pesos and never pull out a wallet, which will attract the attention of pickpockets.
Millions of working-class city residents ride micros every day, but like city buses they're a form of public transportation best experienced for the thrill; drivers slouch in their seats, blasting music and aggressively maneuvering through chaotic traffic while passengers hang on for dear life. If you're not used to such sensory overload a hotel-designated taxi is still the safest—and sanest—way to travel.
MetroMetro—one of the world's busiest subway systems—is faced with the formidable task of moving millions of riders daily over both surface and subterranean track. Metro lines cover most of the city. In addition, a tren ligero (light rail) line provides service to the popular tourist attraction of Xochimilco. The two lines visitors will find most convenient are Lines 1 and 2, as they cover major sightseeing points of interest.
Line 1 runs roughly west-east from the Observatory, near Chapultepec Park, to Pantitlán in the eastern suburbs, passing south of the Zona Rosa and the Zócalo. Subway riders bound for the airport switch to line 5 at the Pantitlán station. Line 2 begins in the northwest part of the city at the Cuatro Caminos station, proceeds east, burrows under the Zócalo and then runs above ground due south to the Taxqueña station.
Line 3 runs from the Indios Verdes station, north of the Basilica of Guadalupe, south past Alameda Park to University City (National University of Mexico campus). Line 4 runs north-south east of downtown, from the Martín Carrera to the Santa Anita stations. Line 5 runs from the Politécnico station south to the La Raza station, then east and south to Pantitlán, with a stop (Terminal Aérea) at the airport. Note: To switch from line 3 to line 5—or vice versa—at the La Raza station requires a 10- to 15-minute walk through a long tunnel.
Line 6 runs north of downtown, proceeding east from the El Rosario station to the Martín Carrera station via the Instituto del Petróleo and Deportivo 18 de Marzo stations. Line 7 runs north-south along the city's western edge from the El Rosario station to the Barranca del Muerto station. Line 8 runs from the Garibaldi station (one stop north of the Bellas Artes station on line 2) south and east to the Constitución de 1917 station, in the southeast section of the city. Line 9 parallels line 1 and runs south of it, from the Tacubaya station in the west to the Pantitlán station in the east.
Two additional lines provide light rail service. Line A runs from the Pantitlán station (the eastern terminus of lines 1, 5 and 9) south to the La Paz station; Line B serves the Buenavista Railroad Station and runs east to the Garibaldi station (the northern terminus of line 8), then north to the Ciudad Azteca station. The tren ligero line runs south from the Taxqueña station south to Xochimilco.
The flat fare, which includes transfers, is 5 pesos. Ticket vending machines dispense prepaid electronic farecards in various denominations. The cards are swiped at long rows of turnstiles for access to the boarding ramps. If you plan on using the system, purchase several tickets at one time to avoid spending time standing in lines. You also can purchase an abono ticket, which allows use of the entire system for a multiple-day period. (With this type of ticket, enter Metro stations only through the blue turnstiles; otherwise the ticket will be taken and not returned.)
Metro is handicap accessible and people over 65 ride free by going through the turnstiles with police officers. Present a legal ID and an officer will swipe the machine for you. Once inside the turnstile, riders can access any of the system's lines.
At the stations, on signs and in guidebooks and brochures, Metro lines are designated by the following colors: lines 1 and A, bright pink; line 2, blue; line 3, olive green; line 4, light blue; line 5, yellow; line 6, red; line 7, orange; line 8, dark green; and line 9, brown. You can consult a color-coded subway guide at Metro information booths, or try obtaining a map of the system from the ticket booths at the larger stations.
The most striking aspect is the sea of people. There are restrictions on carrying personal items like luggage and backpacks, but they aren't enforced; many people tote large bundles and plastic bags filled with goods. The modern rail cars show some wear and tear as well as graffiti, but the ride is smooth and quiet. Keep in mind, however, that Metro is used daily by millions for commuter travel, so sardine-can conditions usually prevail. During weekday rush hours (both morning and evening) the trains are crammed and guards are employed to control the crowds; avoid using the system during these times and also after dark.
There are plenty of restrooms and the ubiquitous stands selling food and snacks. Most areas are well illuminated and ventilated. Cellphones generally do not work underground. Taking photographs is not permitted.
Pairs of police officers are at station entrances, and there are more police at turnstiles and patrolling the ramps, but they do not in general ride on the rail cars. Single women, unfortunately, may have to fend off unwelcome advances or inappropriate male conduct. Foreign visitors are prime targets for pickpockets and purse snatchers, especially at stations near major tourist sights. There are separate cars for women and children during rush hours, but regulations are not strictly enforced.
Although it can be convenient to use the subway for sightseeing, especially to get to Xochimilco or the southern neighborhoods of Coyoacán and San Angel, for safety's sake it's best to hire a taxi affiliated with your hotel if you intend to visit these areas. If you do need to take Metro for any reason, make certain you know which direction the train is heading. Check the signs on the loading platforms (andenes); they denote the last station on the line in each direction. For example, Dirección Pantitlán and Dirección Observatorio indicate the last stations for line 1. Transfer gates, where more than one line shares a subway station, are marked Correspondencia; exits, Salida.
Metro is least crowded on weekends and holidays. In general trains begin running at 5 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m. Sat., 7 a.m. Sun., and operate until 12:30 a.m. It's best not to carry personal items that hinder movement, and remain cognizant of your surroundings at all times.
Note: Points of interest and other locations described in the text for Churubusco, Coyoacán, Mexico City and San Angel include, where applicable, the name of the individual Metro station (M) and the subway line (1 through 9). Attraction listings without this designation are located away from Metro routes.
Guides/ToursThe services of a good guide can be expensive but invaluable. If you go with this option, obtain the services of a bonded guide licensed by the Secretaría de Turismo (the Mexican Ministry of Tourism, or SECTUR). Ask to see his or her official guide card marked with “Departamento de Turismo” and take special note of the expiration date to the right of the photograph. Additional fees are charged for guided trips outside Mexico City.
Taxi drivers also can function as a driver/bodyguard/guide, even if it means waiting by the car for an hour while you stroll one of the city's tourist-friendly neighborhoods. Rates are negotiable, but expect a minimum of 230 pesos an hour. Most visitors will find the peace of mind that comes from not having to negotiate city traffic or use public transportation well worth the expense.
Mexico City, DF
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2,240 meters (7,347 feet)
Secretaría de Turismo (SECTUR) headquarters, Presidente Masaryk #172; phone (55) 3002-6300 (English spoken). Persons needing legal assistance should contact this department at the Ministry of Tourism.
Dial 060 and ask to be connected to an English-speaking operator if you need immediate assistance.
In general, the police in Mexico City should be contacted only as a last resort. If your car is stolen, however, you must report it to the police, as you will be liable for any subsequent crimes in which the vehicle is involved. To reach the Federal Highway Police phone (55) 5684-2142.
Paseo de la Reforma #305 (M: Sevilla or Insurgentes, line 1); phone (55) 5080-2000. The embassy is open for general business Mon.-Fri. 8:30-4:30; closed U.S. and Mexican holidays. There is a protection officer on 24-hour duty to advise you in the event of robbery, assault, major loss, accident, illness or death; Mexican law takes precedence in such instances. Information regarding attorneys and translators also can be obtained.
Calle Schiller #529, just north of the National Museum of Anthropology (M: Auditorio, line 7); phone (55) 5724-7900. Open Mon.-Fri. 8:30-5; closed Canadian and Mexican holidays.
Phone (55) 5658-1111. This government-operated agency can help coordinate a search for missing persons or lost, stolen or towed vehicles; the hotline is answered daily 24 hours. The LOCATEL office is in the southern suburb of Churubusco at Calle Heroes del 47 #113, 3 blocks south of the National Museum of Interventions; phone (55) 5484-0400.
Consumer Protection Offic
Contact the Consumer Protection Office (Procuraduría Federal del Consumidor, or PROFECO) if you feel that you've been cheated or ripped off regarding a service or purchase; phone (55) 5625-6700 or 01 (800) 468-8722 (toll-free long distance within Mexico).
The ABC Medical Center (Centro Médico ABC) is several blocks south of Chapultepec Park at Calle Sur #116, at Avenida Observatorio (M: Observatorio, line 1); phone (55) 5230-8000. All major credit cards are accepted. The Mexican Red Cross (Cruz Roja) is located at Calle Luis Vives #200, between Avenida Ejército Nacional and Avenida Homero (north of Chapultepec Park in the Polanco neighborhood). It is open 24 hours; phone (55) 1084-4505.
Local Phone Calls
All calls made from landlines are charged as local calls. Prior to Jan. 1, 2015, there was a separate price structure for long-distance calls (designated by the acronym LADA, or larga distancia). There also are no long-distance cellphone charges; dialing either a local cell number or a long-distance cell number from a landline is charged as a local call. Calls made to a cell number must include the prefix 044.
The News is an English-language newspaper published Monday through Friday in Mexico City. Major U.S. newspapers are available at many newsstands the day after they are printed. The Spanish-language weekly entertainment magazine Tiempo Libre has information about restaurants, bars, movies, museums, performing arts and children's activities. It's also on the web (tiempolibre.com.mx).
Av. Presidente Masaryk #172 Mexico City, DF . Phone:(55)3002-6300
The rates charged by banks and casas de cambio (currency exchange houses) don't differ that much, so currency exchange is a matter of convenience. Most banks exchange currency Mon.-Fri. 9-noon, but you may have to wait in line; exchange houses often are open weekdays until 5 and may be open Saturdays as well. Exchange houses and ATMs are concentrated along Paseo de Reforma, in the Centro Histórico and in the Zona Rosa. The Sanborns chain of restaurants also provides ATMs.
Street crime—from relatively benign offenses like pickpocketing and purse snatching to dangerous armed robbery—is an ever-present risk. No part of the city is immune, even the upscale Polanco neighborhood and other areas frequented by tourists. One way to avoid being mugged or robbed is not to wear expensive jewelry or watches.