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Mexico City, DF

Bustling Markets and Pleasant Retreats The sound of a steam whistle pierces the air, announcing the arrival of the camote man selling candied sweet potatoes from a street cart. At a mezcalería well-dressed 20- and 30-somethings clink glasses before sipping mezcal, a smoky alcohol made from the agave plant. Mariachi bands serenade a crowd at historic Plaza Garibaldi, while commuters stuck in afternoon gridlock provide a steady chorus of impatient honks.

This is Mexico City. It’s chaotic, cosmopolitan, cultured and alive. Mexico’s capital city is crowded (more than 20 million people live in the metropolitan area) and sprawling, ranking alongside New York City, London and Bangkok in terms of eye-popping urban density. Its 16 municipalities and more than 300 colonias (neighborhoods) pulse with a never-ending hum of activity, promising more museums, restaurants, shopping markets, events and street carts than you’ll ever have time for. One thing is for sure—whether you’re visiting for a weekend or a month, you’re going to need an afternoon siesta or two to keep up with the frenzied pace.

The best way to get acquainted with Mexico City—officially Ciudad de México, or “CDMX” for short—is to dive right in. A walk through the streets of the Centro Histórico (Historic Center) introduces many popular landmarks and travel sites: the towering Metropolitan Cathedral , built over a period of 250 years; the colonial-era National Palace and its breathtaking Diego Rivera murals; the partially unearthed Aztec ruins of the Great Temple ; the gold-domed Palace of Fine Arts ; and the people-packed Zócalo , a plaza built over the destroyed ceremonial center of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

But that’s not to say all of Mexico City’s top attractions are old. One of the most visited art museums is the Soumaya Museum , showcasing the eclectic art collection of billionaire Carlos Slim. Opened in 2011, it’s housed in a striking building covered in aluminum tiles. Contemporary works by renowned Mexican artists are highlights at the Museum of Modern Art and the Frida Kahlo Museum, where Frida Kahlo and muralist Diego Rivera lived and worked.

To fully experience the living, breathing Mexico City, though, venture into a neighborhood market. As Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once said, “Mexico is in its markets,” and the capital city has more than 300 of them to explore. Wander the vendor stalls at Mercado de la Ciudadela to find pottery, handbags, colorful blankets and Day of the Dead decorations. Practice the art of bargaining at markets near the Zócalo, where vendors shout over baskets of chili peppers and stacks of prickly cactuses. Browse local art at the Saturday bazaar in San Angel, or hunt for antique furniture and vintage clothing at La Lagunilla Market on Sunday afternoons.

Of course no visit to Mexico City is complete without a taste of traditional Mexican cuisine. Trendy places to eat in downtown’s Zona Rosa, Condesa and Roma neighborhoods serve everything from regional specialties to new Mexican cuisine. Puestos, or street stands, are seemingly ubiquitous, with trucks, carts and bicycles selling fresh fruit cups, juices and tacos al pastor (thick strips of pork sliced off a spit and often topped with pineapple and cilantro). For adventurous eaters, chapulines (dried grasshoppers), escamoles (ant eggs) and other edible insects can be found at many places throughout the city.

Mexico City’s sheer size can be overwhelming to the first-time visitor, but there are pleasant retreats amid the hubbub. Nearly double the size of New York City’s Central Park, Chapultepec Park is a quiet sanctuary away from the cinderblock sprawl. In addition to a zoo, an amusement park and several world-famous museums, the grounds include Chapultepec Castle, a former presidential residence that now houses the National Museum of History.

The tree-lined streets of Condesa—a trendy neighborhood often compared to New York City’s Greenwich Village or SoHo—boasts hipster-approved coffee shops, sidewalk bistros and a bohemian vibe. Leafy Parque México is delightfully well-kept and has plenty of benches. Families gather at the park on Sundays, when there are all sorts of arts and crafts activities for kids. But Condesa also draws crowds who congregate for a night out at one of the fashionable cantinas and bars, many of which are open until the wee hours.

Finally, a few words of advice. Like any big city, Mexico City has its issues with crime, traffic congestion and pollution. Visitors should stick to well-traveled areas and use common sense when venturing out after dark. If the very thought of attempting to drive the vehicle-clogged streets gives you pause—and if you’re hesitant to use Metro, the city’s subway system—have someone else do the driving; many hotels maintain their own fleet of tourist taxis. Smog and pollution levels peak from mid-November through January, but the air tends to clear with the arrival of spring.

So pack a light jacket, brush up on your Spanish and make a mental note to stick to bottled water—Mexico City awaits.

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Mexico City, DF

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Travel Information

City Population

8,851,080

Elevation

2,240 meters (7,347 feet)

Tourist Protection

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.

Police (emergency)

Dial 060 and ask to be connected to an English-speaking operator if you need immediate assistance.

Police (non-emergency)

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.

U.S. Embassy

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.

Canadian Embassy

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.

LOCATEL

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).

Hospitals

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.

Publications

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.

Visitor Information

Av. Presidente Masaryk #172 Mexico City, DF . Phone:(55)3002-6300

Currency Exchange

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.

Staying Safe

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.

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