Mexico City is an exhilarating destination that captures the heart and soul of Mexico. As one of the largest cities in the Americas, the capital offers endless possibilities for exploration and discovery. From admiring stunning murals and Aztec ruins to indulging in mouthwatering tacos, Mexico City promises unforgettable experiences.
An Introduction to Vibrant Mexico City
Sprawling across a high valley in central Mexico, Mexico City is among the Western Hemisphere’s most populous urban areas. But don’t let the vast size deter you—this capital city is filled with grace, grit, mystery, and non-stop energy.
The Aztecs founded the city in 1325, and the Spanish later colonized it. It is officially known as Ciudad de México. Remnants of ancient cultures and colonial influences beautifully intermix here. Gothic cathedrals loom beside modern skyscrapers, trendy cafés occupy converted colonial mansions, and ancient ruins lie scattered amidst busy boulevards.
With so many eras and influences woven into its fabric, immersing yourself in Mexico City offers endless opportunities for adventure. From browsing bustling local markets to wandering the cobblestone streets of Coyoacán, you’ll fall in love with its resilience, creativity, and traditions. Make ample time to dive into its wealth of cultural gems and culinary delights.
Planning Your Trip to Mexico City
Proper planning ensures your Mexico City adventure goes smoothly from the start. Here’s what to arrange before your travels:
Passports, Visas and Official Documentation
U.S., Canadian, U.K., and Australian citizens can enter Mexico for tourism without a visa for up to 180 days. Have your valid passport handy, along with a printed copy, in case the original is lost or stolen.
If driving across the border, be sure to bring your vehicle’s registration and proof of Mexican car insurance. An International Driving Permit and a Spanish phrasebook are highly recommended.
Health and Medical Considerations
There are no vaccination requirements for Mexico City, but check that your routine immunizations are up-to-date. The moderate elevation of 7,200+ feet can trigger altitude sickness. Stay hydrated, limit alcohol, and ease into physical activities until your body adjusts.
Pharmacies treat minor issues, but for serious medical treatment, visit the ABC Medical Center, Galenia Hospital, or contact your embassy for physician referrals. Only use certified taxis or ambulances for emergencies.
When to Go
Mexico City enjoys mild, sunny weather year-round. The dry season from November to April sees fewer crowds and rainshowers. May through October bring warmer temperatures, afternoon rain showers, and slightly lower hotel rates.
Time festivals and events into your trip, like Día de Muertos (late October-November), Independence Day (September 15-16), and the Frida Kahlo Cultural Festival (end of July).
- Flights: Mexico City International Airport (MEX) is a major international hub served by leading global carriers. It’s located 7 miles east of downtown.
- Buses: Affordable bus service connects cities across Mexico with four major terminals in Mexico City.
- Driving: Drivers can reach the city via highways from the U.S. border, Guatemalan border, and nearby regions like Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and Puebla. Get Mexican car insurance beforehand.
Where to Stay
With endless lodging options, Mexico City can overwhelm first-timers. Stay near key attractions in neighborhoods like Centro, Juárez, Roma, Condesa, Polanco, or Coyoacán.
- High-end: St. Regis, Four Seasons, W Mexico City
- Mid-range: Condesa Haus, Carlota, La Valise
- Budget: Casa González, El Cacao, Hostel Amigo
For a local vibe, book a family-run bed and breakfast, boutique inn, or private home rental via Airbnb.
Money and Budgeting
Mexico’s currency is the peso (MXN): $1 USD = 20 MXN. Carry cash for markets, street food, and public transport, but most hotels and nicer restaurants accept credit cards. ATMs are plentiful. Tipping is customary at 10-15%.
You can enjoy Mexico City on as little as $30-50 per day staying in hostels and eating cheap street food. Luxury hotels and upscale dining will run you $200-400 per day.
Arrival Logistics and First Impressions
Follow these tips for a smooth arrival:
Navigating the Airport
Mexico City International Airport (MEX) has two main terminals:
Both have 24/7 amenities like currency exchange booths, hotels, car rentals, tourist info desks, shops, and restaurants. Official taxis offer flat-rate rides into the city center for around $30-40 USD. Or take the Terminal 1 Metrobus for cheap airport connections.
Clearing Immigration and Customs
Have your passport, Mexico tourist card and completed customs forms ready. Be cooperative if questioned further or bags searched. Duty limits allow personal goods like clothes, shoes, electronics, etc. Undeclared valuables may get confiscated.
Culture Shock & Jet Lag
The size, noise and energy of this 21+ million resident city can overwhelm at first but you’ll soon adjust to its rhythm. Combat jet lag by avoiding naps, drinking plenty of water and easing into activities gently the first few days. The altitude may leave you winded but take it slow.
Getting Around Mexico City
As one of the world’s most populated cities, Mexico City offers an extensive network of public transportation:
- Metro System – The Metro is the fastest and cheapest option, with 12 color-coded lines and over 200 stations. Fares are only 5 pesos (25 cents USD) per trip when using rechargeable plastic tickets available at machines. Service runs daily from 5am until midnight. It is generally safe during daylight hours. Women can ride in special female-only cars.
- Metrobus — This efficient bus system runs along dedicated lanes allowing quick traverses across key arterial routes. Over 400 stations serve 7 different Metrobus lines. Line 1 and 2 efficiently connect to the Historic Center and bus terminals. Fares are 6 pesos for service every few minutes from 5am until midnight.
- Public Buses– Thousands of green pesero microbuses run everywhere, although routes are difficult for visitors to decipher. Pay the 6 peso fare onboard but expect crowded rides. Women should avoid isolated buses at night for safety. Better options are the Turibus hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses and the newer Metrobus lines.
- Taxis– Registered sitio taxi stands are safer and more reliable than street hail taxis. Ensure the meter runs or negotiate rates upfront. Provide cross streets instead of addresses for destinations. Uber is popular but exercise caution when riding alone and consider arranging airport transfers instead.
- Colectivos– Shared public minivans offer inexpensive inter-neighborhood transport along fixed routes for around 10-15 pesos per trip. Destinations are marked on the windshield. Useful routes connect Centro, Coyoacán, Xochimilco and San Ángel. Ask fellow passengers if unsure where to get off.
Exploring Mexico City By Neighborhood
Mexico City spans over 600 square miles, so exploring by neighborhood makes it more manageable. Here are some highlights:
Centro Histórico (Downtown)
The city’s historic heart dotted with stunning landmarks like:
- Zócalo– Mexico City’s expansive central plaza
- Palacio Nacional– Ornate seat of the federal government
- Metropolitan Cathedral– Largest cathedral in Latin America
- Templo Mayor– Prominent Aztec temple ruins
- Alameda Central -A vibrant public park great for people watching, located next to Bellas Artes and the Palace of Fine Arts.
- Juárez – Bustling district perfect for first-timers with tourist-friendly hotels, restaurants and pedestrian zones. It abuts the trendy Roma and Condesa neighborhoods.
- Roma and Condesa – These side-by-side districts offer chic cafés, boutiques, innovative global cuisine and art deco architecture. Don’t miss the colorful street art.
- Polanco – Chic, upscale area akin to Beverly Hills. Home to high-end hotels, designer shops, art galleries, and museums. Great fine dining and nightlife scene.
- Coyoacán – Artsy, cobblestoned neighborhood with a charming vibe. Visit Frida Kahlo’s house museum and the Diego Rivera Studio Museum. Relax in its lively public plazas.
- San Ángel – Former monastery district turned leafy artist enclave. Browse the Saturday Bazaar and ornate colonial mansions along cobblestone streets.
- Xochimilco – Famous floating gardens and colorful gondolas on the area’s canals provide a tranquil natural escape from the city bustle. Go early to avoid crowds.
Top Things To See and Do
With endless options in this cultural mecca, these activities offer a great introduction:
- Wander Historic Downtown– Beyond the aforementioned Zócalo, Alameda Park, and Templo Mayor, don’t miss other relics like the Baroque Casa de los Azulejos, Art Deco Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.
- See Ancient Pyramids – Take a day trip out to the awe-inspiring archaeological zone of Teotihuacán to climb the monumental Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Guided tours available.
- Marvel at the Anthropology Museum– This world-class museum boasts expansive exhibits on Mesoamerican history and culture. Admire artifacts from the Mayan and Aztec empires.
- Immerse Yourself in Frida Kahlo’s World –Casa Azul is where the famed artist was born, lived, worked and died. Her former residence is now a museum with many personal artifacts and paintings on display.
- Grab Tacos at Local Taquerias– In a city renowned for incredible street food, don’t leave without hitting up authentic venues for carnitas, al pastor, barbacoa, and beyond. El Huequito, El Tizoncito, and Tacos Gus are solid bets.
- See Lucha Libre Wrestling– This beloved theatrical form of pro wrestling featuring masked characters putting on an entertaining show of acrobatic moves and costumed flair makes for a lively night out.
- Explore the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco – Cruise the canals in colorful gondola-like boats amid singing mariachis and vibrant foliage. Come early and avoid weekends. BYOB is permitted.
- Hit the Nightlife Scene –Dance the night away at hotspots like funky Patrick Mill er club or Mama Rumba in the coveted Colonia Juárez district. Or mingle with locals over drinks at Coyoacán’s bustling cantinas.
- Take a Day Trip to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan– Just outside Mexico City lie the amazing ruins of ancient Teotihuacan including the massive Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Take organized tours for insight into their mysterious origins.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
With endless accommodation options, here are some top neighborhoods and recommendations:
- Downtown: Downtown Beds, Casa de los Amigos
- Roma/Condesa: Condesa Haus, Carlota, La Valise
- Coyoacán: El Cacao, Los Sueños
International Luxury Brands
- Polanco: Las Alcobas, W Mexico City, St. Regis
- Juarez: Four Seasons, Hampton Inn by Hilton
Local Small Hotels or Inns
- San Ángel: Posada del Angel, La Quinta Luna
- Xochimilco: Suites Arrecife
Hostels – Hostel Home, Hostel Centro Historico, The Green Hostel Hostal
Homestays – Try Airbnb for apartments, shared rooms or family homestays often at lower costs than hotels
Neighborhoods – Centro, Roma, Condesa, Polanco, Juarez recommended for first-time visitors
Mexico City’s Amazing Food Scene
As one of the culinary capitals of Latin America, be ready to indulge in these classic Mexican flavors:
- Mole– With many regional variations, this quintessential Mexican sauce made from chiles, spices, chocolate, seeds and nuts tops proteins like chicken, turkey or enchiladas. Rich, complex and addictive.
- Tacos organ meats. Must-try varieties include al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa, and lengua.
- Esquites– Grilled corn kernels doused in lime juice, mayo, chili powder and cotija cheese create this popular and protein-rich Mexican street snack. Look for esquites vendors in parks and markets.
- Pozole –This hearty traditional hominy stew gets its red coloring from dried chiles and is served with lettuce, onion, radish and lime. Choose pork, chicken, or vegetarian versions.
- Churros– You can’t leave Mexico without trying these irresistible fried-dough pastries, often coated in sugar and served piping hot with a side of chocolate dipping sauce.
- Agua Frescas– Quench your thirst with refreshing agua frescas made from real fruit, rice, seeds or flowers blended with sugar and water. Flavors like lemon, lime, hibiscus, tamarind, and jamaica (hibiscus) are typical.
Mexico City’s Vibrant Arts and Culture
Beyond its rich cultural traditions, Mexico City offers an endless bounty of museums, galleries, theaters and more:
- Museo Nacional de Antropología – This phenomenal museum boasts expansive exhibits on pre-Hispanic Mexico including the Aztec, Mayan and other ancient cultures and societies. Truly deserving of a full morning or afternoon for exploration.
- Frida Kahlo Museum– Housing the famed artist’s collection in her former residence, this museum provides an intimate glimpse into Frida Kahlo’s world accented by her bold personality and works.
- Palacio de Bellas Artes– With an ornate art nouveau exterior and stunning Tiffany glass curtain within its main theater, this prominent cultural center showcases visual arts exhibits, ballet, opera and more.
- Cantaros Cineteca Nacional– Art house and independent Mexican films screen at Cineteca’s two theaters, a must-see for cinephiles. The surrounding park hosts cultural festivals.
- Salón de la Plástica Mexicana– Dedicated to promoting Mexican artists, this gallery and cultural institution is housed in a stunning 1910 porcelain-clad building with rotating exhibits.
- Centro Cultural Italia– This multifaceted arts complex, funded by the Italian government, presents innovative opera, theater, music, cinema and visual arts.
Annual Events and Festivals
Time your travels around these lively festivals and events:
- Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead)– Late October to Nov 2nd sees colorful costume parades, candlelit vigils, food offerings and more to welcome deceased loved ones.
- Independence Day– Celebrating freedom from Spanish rule, September 15-16 brings fiestas, parades, street fairs and a Presidential shout of ¡Viva Mexico!
- Semana Santa (Easter Week)– Passion plays, elaborate religious processions, food fairs and music fill the week leading up to Easter.
- Alebrijes Parade– Whimsical creature sculptures are showcased in this annual October parade down Reforma Avenue.
- Festival del Centro Histórico– Two weeks of cultural events in August including concerts, theatre and expos across 300 historic venues.
- Fiestas de Agosto– Dance, food fairs, craft markets and cultural celebrations in August recognizing Mexico’s pre-Hispanic ancestral heritage.
Shopping in Mexico City
Shopaholics flock here for endless retail therapy options:
- Bazaars– Score artisan crafts, textiles, pottery and more at huge weekend markets like Bazaar Sábado and Mercado de San Juan.
- Modern Malls– All the top international brands can be found at upscale shopping centers like Antara Fashion Hall and Centro Santa Fe.
- Boutiques– Trendy districts like Roma, Condesa, and Polanco abound with chic local boutiques and designers.
- Souvenirs– Look for colorful Day of the Dead figurines, Frida Kahlo items, woven textiles, carved masks and handicrafts.
- Arts & Antiques– Browsers delight in the antique dealers, galleries and specialty stores concentrated in San Ángel, Colonia Roma and downtown
- Haggling– Bargaining is common at markets. Start low and compromise on a fair price for both parties.
Mexico City Day Trips
Beyond the city, easy excursions allow you to explore more of the region:
- Teotihuacán– The phenomenal pyramids of Teotihuacán make for Mexico’s most visited day trip. Wander the Avenue of the Dead and climb the massive Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.
- Tula– This archaeological zone contains remnants of the ancient Toltec capital, including warrior statues and burial mounds. It’s just 43 miles north of Mexico City.
- Puebla– Soak in Puebla’s beautifully preserved colonial core centered around Zócalo square. Nearby Cholula beckons with the world’s largest pyramid.
- Valle de Bravo– Recharge amid the pristine nature, pine-forest trails, and glistening lake of this charming resort town dubbed the “Mexican Hamptons.”
- Cuernavaca– Nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” for its perfect year-round weather, Cuernavaca entices with lush gardens, a lively zócalo, and charming cafes.
- Toluca– Visit Mexico’s highest city to explore the grand 16th century Toluca Cathedral, the cosmic Monumento al Cóndor, and excellent museums.
Health and Safety in Mexico City
While quite safe overall, take some basic precautions:
- Drink only purified bottled water and avoid raw fruits/veggies cleaned in tap water.
- Steer clear of street food that looks improperly handled or kept at incorrect temperatures
- Use hotel safes for valuables and avoid flashing expensive jewelry or electronics
- Keep wallets in front pockets and avoid deserted areas late at night.
- Take only regulated taxis or Uber rather than unmarked cabs
- Don’t physically resist robbers – give up possessions demanded.
Emergency Medical Care Info:
- Ambulance: 060 or 911
- ABC Medical Center: +52 55 5230 8000
- Galenia Hospital: +52 55 5999 1000
- S. Embassy Mexico City: +52 55 5080 2000
Getting Around Mexico City With Children
Mexico City offers many family-friendly attractions to dazzle all ages:
- Chapultepec Park – Rowboats, a zoo, children’s museum, amusement park and more
Papalote Museo del Niño – Massive interactive children’s museum
- Desierto de los Leones National Park – Picnic, hike and explore this pine forest
- Six Flags México – Thrills and rides galore at Mexico’s largest theme park
- Lucha Libre Wrestling – Boys and girls alike can cheer the theatrical masked wrestlers
- Xochimilco Canals – Cruise on colorful gondolas amid singing mariachis
- KidZania – Children role-play adult jobs at this interactive mini-city
- Museo Dolores Olmedo – Kids can view Frida Kahlo’s works and see Xolo dog sculptures
Exploring Mexico City’s LGBTQ+ Scene
Mexico City offers a very welcoming and lively LGBTQ+ scene:
- Zona Rosa – The heart of the community with rainbow flags and gay-friendly businesses
- Pride Parade – The joyous late-June parade draws nearly a million celebration along Reforma Avenue
- Queer Tango – LGBTQ dance classes and milongas are held across the cityCafe La Poesia – Longtime LGBT-friendly cafe with events and performances
- Veterans Park – Popular LGBTQ open-air gathering space to mingle
- Top Gay Clubs and Bars – Boy Bar, Cabaret Tivoili, Club Gayta
- Spartacus Sauna – Mexico’s largest gay bathhouse for socializing and steam
- Homobile – LGBT-friendly airport transfers and private drivers
Sustainable and Responsible Travel
Mexico City offers many options for eco-conscious travel:
- Use public transit like the Metro and Metrobus to reduce your carbon footprint
- Look for eco-friendly certified hotels that implement green programs for waste, water and energy
- Eat at restaurants focused on locally sourced produce and ingredients
- Bring reusable shopping bags, water bottles and coffee mugs to reduce waste
- Respect cultural traditions and sacred indigenous sites when visiting
- Ensure tour companies follow ethical practices and treat workers fairly
- Buy directly from local artisans, cooperatives and community-based tourism groups
- Make donations to organizations supporting disadvantaged groups and communities
As one of the world’s most vibrant capitals, Mexico City rewards visitors who take the time to look beneath the surface and immerse themselves in all its diverse neighborhoods have to offer.
From world-class museums and stunning buildings to lively culture and delicious cuisine, there are endless treasures here waiting to be discovered. We hope this comprehensive travel guide gave you the knowledge and inspiration to plan your own exceptional trip to Mexico City that you’ll remember for a lifetime.