Tips for Travel to Mexico City

October 3, 2012

We’ve visited Mexico City numerous times – but this time we’re here for two weeks and have put together a list of tips for Mexico City, we hope you find them helpful.

1.  Comfortable shoes. Avoid blisters like the plague.  If you’re like us you’ll walk 120+ blocks a day and one little blister can wreck the whole plan.

2.  A smart phone helps. We are always forgetting our map or changing our plans and need to consult a map or the web.  Using the GPS mapping feature the phone will locate where you are on a map and you can go from there.  We also used some static maps printed as pdfs and put in our iPads, but we don’t carry them usually.

3.  How to choose a restaurant.. If you aren’t heading out to eat with a certain restaurant in mind we tend to walk (and walk, and walk) until we are weak with hunger.  That can lead to some bad choices!  Our new rule is to NEVER sit down in a restaurant with no other customers.  We just keep hoofing it until we find a popular spot and only then do we take a load off!  This always works!

4.  Wear layers. DF has very changeable weather no matter what time of year you visit.  If you dress in layers you can add or subtract as needed.

5.  Think ahead when you need money. As with any city in Mexico, make sure you don’t HAVE to visit the cash machine on paydays, which are the 15th and the end of the month.  Lines will be out the door and around the corner and you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t go the day before.

6.  Traveling by Taxi. If you have a friend in the neighborhood, ask them for their taxi number.  We got good taxis (that came quickly and knew where they were going) that way but when we relied on street taxis or ones called by our concierge it was hit or miss.  One lame taxi driver almost totally wrecked our Lucha Libre night!

7. When to eat. People pretty much snack anytime here – tacos on the corner or a coffee and pastry but for the most part the hours here are:  10 am – breakfast or coffee and pastries  2 to 4 or 5 for lunch and Dinner starting at 8:30 or 9.  If you try to find a restaurant ready to serve dinner at 6 pm you’ll be looking for a while!  Of course since lunches go late you may find yourself at the end of the lunch service.

8.  Listen. There are lots of sounds in the city that are probably different than at home.  For example, the garbage collectors park the garbage truck in a central location and one guy runs around ringing a big school bell for several blocks.  You gather the trash and take it out to them.  You’ll also hear the fellow calling “Pan” as he pedals his tricycle with a huge basket of bread and pastries.  The shrill steam whistle means steamed camotes, or sweet potatoes.

9.  Give yourself time to acclimatize.
It takes me at least two days to feel like myself again since DF is over a mile high.  I recommend drinking lots of water, resting if you get out of breath and to take tylenol (not aspirin) if you get a headache.  Be careful when you drink, too.  Alcohol will affect you way quicker and stronger than it will at sea level.

Hope these tips help you!  Buen viaje

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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. Great advice, not just for Mexico City but most other cities as well. Sounds like you had a great vacation.

    1. Yes, great tips.I would love a smart phone, but have to get along with old fashioned folding paper maps that make it obvious one’s a tourist.But you can meet the nicest, most helpful people that way! We so agree with tip #3. and are successfully following your advice in our current city- chow down at the most crowded bistros and you can’t go wrong. Thanks, as always, Nancy! Mexico City is on the top of our list.

      1. Contessa, You’re right, many of these would suit where every you are! Hope to see you soon!

        Judith, I know you are having a blast in Paris, I bet you have on comfortable shoes with all the walking you’re doing. See you soon!

    1. #5 – In San Miguel, and possibly in DF, get money from ATMs early on Friday because by late Saturday or Sunday, they are out of money. YOU are out of luck!

    1. About money, we had a bad experience at one of the bank machines near the centro. We discovered a few days later that there was an old 2000(20 yrs or more?) bill among the regular 200 peso bills. We went back to the bank a few days later, but the bank refused to exchange it as there is no evidence of the fact it came from their machine. Since then we check all bills before we leave the bank.

    1. Nancy,
      Thank you for being so descriptive of what you see and experience. I appreciate being able to experience places I will probably never go, through your posts. Keep up the wonderful writing!

    1. When, I first found your blog it was the pictures that caught my attention but I found I liked your writing style, too. I became interested in how you got ready to make the move to Mexico so started reading from the beginning. I am now at July 2009. But it is two posts of nearly four years ago that keep popping into my mind – I found them interesting. I wonder what your thoughts might be today on the same subjects. The post of November 4, 2008, do you still feel as hopeful about Obamo as another election approaches? The post of November 12th, do you still worry for the same things today and maybe even more? Just wondering if there are any thoughts you might share.

      Thank you for the time you spend on your blog and especially the pictures. When I need a Mazatlan fix I know where to go.

    1. Hey, Sandy…a big reason why I’ve visited Mazatlan twice (soon to be thrice)is to get away from the hyper-partisanship and vitriol of American politics. I know Nancy is too polite to tell you what I would tell you about President Obama (your misspelling gives you away)and Governor Romney and that is, “Why do you think it’s any of your business?” If you need a “Mazatlan fix”, get on a plane and come down. The economy in Mexico needs the dollars AND the locals may support different parties, but they don’t spend time SHOUTING at each other. Sorry, Nancy, but I’ve had it with people such as Sandy politicizing and polarizing every public forum. Safe travels back home from Mexico City.

      1. Babs, You’re right, that can happen, and does – often!

        Midori, Oh, that is terrible. I can see the bank’s side of it but what a pain!

        Terry, Thank you! I really love Mexico City, I think we might spend a month there next summer.

        Sandy, So glad you’re enjoying the blog. It’s very flattering to think of you reading your way forward. Regarding Obama – I still believe in him but am truly disgusted by double standards (rich/poor) and so much more. Where are the statesmen and the people willing to sacrifice for worthy causes? I no longer feel very connected to the US, more than anything I am ashamed of what she has become. I go back one week a year to visit family and that’s enough for me. Re the Nov 12 2008 post – yes, I am still worried about the environment of entitlement – people overextended buying meaningless stuff and the decay of the family. But my opinions are based on the cranky faces of people I see buying everything in sight at Target when I visit once a year. When I visit up north I come back very sad about the state of society in the US. I am a much better fit here in Mexico for sure.

        Les, I don’t think Sandy was being aggressive – I’m sorry you thought he was. We are back home safe and sound now, about to head out to the grocery store as the cupboards are empty! Hope to see you soon.

    1. Wow! Nancy, I apologize for posting the questions but I do appreciate your answer. I did not want or mean for it to become a political issue; was only interested if you feel the same way about your posts almost four years later. As for Les I wonder if he even read the original posts and the misspelling of Obama was a typo and nothing more.

      I should have more clearly stated that your pictures give me a “Mazatlan Fix” between visits.

    1. I apologize to both of you, Nancy and Sandy, for spouting off that way…I’m probably hypersensitized to the (perceived)bashing of everything and everybody by the extreme right wingers in the U.S. Sorry.

    1. Great Post Nancy!

      I’d second the thing about the altitude. Even though I’m very fit, it takes me about a day to acclimate, and I often have a headache the first day. It took me a while to realize that it was the altitude, but it happens every time, so it’s a great tip.

      I’ll also add my own suggestion. Make sure you have plenty of small bills (20’s and 50’s) and change before you take a taxi because the taxi drivers typically have very little change. Also at night, they don’t have to use the meter and are free to charge whatever they want, so be sure you’ve fixed the fee in advance.

      Finally, before I ever came to Mexico City (early 2005), I read all the horror stories about being kidnapped by taxis flagged down on the street. Since then, Mexico City created the targetón program whereby it identified all the taxi drivers and put their relevant data along with a photo on an 8.5″x11″ laminated card that all taxis must keep displayed on the rear passenger window. I don’t have any statistics, but I think this massively cut down on the taxi kidnappings. I’ve flagged down a ton of taxis on the street and never had any problem worse than maniac drivers. Make sure the driver and the targetón match. Also, the old VW taxis are apparently now illegal (though a few still circulate). I’d avoid them.


      Kim G
      DF, México
      Where an amazing taxi driver who knew every back street of DF (thereby escaping several traffic jams with ease) took us home last night.

      1. Kim, Thanks so much for such good suggestions! And I love your signatures…. always funny!

    1. P.S. If you don’t have a smartphone, or don’t want to sign up for an exorbitant data plan but need maps, I’d HIGHLY recommend the Guia Roji “Ciudad de México Area Metropolitana” map. It’s essentially a paperback book about 4.5″x 9″ and roughly 120 pages and it has every street, alley, park, etc on it with an index to streets. I have a well-worn copy that I carry everywhere. That said, if your smartphone has wifi, then it’s not to hard to find free or unprotected wifi in the city where you can load maps too. But I love my Guia Roji.

      If you’re going to stick to the tourist areas, the Streetwise Mexico City Map one of those laminated cardboard-y maps is good too.

    1. Nancy, VERY good tips, BUT I have one correction to make. You say to take Tylenol (paracetemol here in Mexico) but not aspirin. From personal experience, I would recommend at least one, 100mg aspirin (acido acetilsalicilico-generic name in Mexico)or even one regular size aspirin, daily if you are not already doing this. The advice for using only paracetamol

      Why? By going from sea level to the altitude of Mexico City (over 7,000 ft. mostly), due to the much lower oxygen available, your body automatically produces a LOT more red blood cells, and this increases the chance for TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack-minor temporary stroke), a stroke or even a heart attack, significantly. None of these are any fun and could easily ruin your visit to this fascinating city. It sure ruined MY last visit!

      1. Thanks so much for your comments, David, I hadn’t thought the whole aspirin/paracetamol thing all the way through. It sounds like you had a scare on your last visit, definitely something we all want to avoid. By the way, I suffer with altitude sickness even when I go to Guadalajara, Morelia, anywhere in the interior, really. Thanks again.

    1. Posted to quickly, sorry. The advice for using only paracetamol(correct spelling) is good, but a combination of paracetamol and ibuprofen (Advil) is even better. Note-It is recommended to take ibuprofen only 1/2 hour or more AFTER taking your daily aspirin, as otherwise it interferes with the anti-blood-clotting effect of aspirin.

    1. Nancy, I didn’t have a scare, as I was “out of it”. But my wife sure had one. Altitude sickness at any altitude over 4,000 ft. is common and just requires acclimatization. What I was writing about is quite a bit more serious. Growing up mostly at altitudes near or over one mile, I have enough lung capacity to avoid altitude sickness, but this was something quite different, and relatively common, according to Dr. Levid Torres, my doctor.

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