“So how you’ve been?” – Friend
“Oh great, I just got back from two weeks in Mexico, including one in Mexico City. It was wonderful. Mexico City is a fantastic place to visit. It’s got it all – food, art, history, easy to get around… I highly recommend visiting there.” – Me
“Really? Is it safe?” – Friend
“I felt safe the entire time.” – Me
“Really? Wow, that’s different than what you hear.” – Friend
Indeed it is. The “Is it safe?” question was undoubtedly the number one question/concern I received from friends and family as I planned my trip to the Districto Federale (D.F.) or Mexico City.
I gathered from their inquiries that what they were really asking was a) would I be kidnapped and held for ransom or b) get caught up in some drug war crossfire. Neither of those events happened, nor did I ever feel that they would. In fact, Mexico City felt safe to walk around at any time of day, taxi drivers were incredibly polite, and the only guns visible were on the armed guards at the National Palace. The residents who I interacted with were polite and helpful, especially if I used my miniscule amount of Spanish.
After visiting this magnificent capital, I am making it my mission to get travelers to spend a few days in Mexico City because none of those thing happened, nor did I ever feel they would happen. What if travelers pondered visiting the U.S. and only referred to the news reports of school and workplace shootings? I doubt any tourist would feel that America is safe to visit based on that information alone. Plus, from the U.S., we have a great city of the world – one with ancient ruins, European and Middle Eastern influences, and proudly Mexican art and food visible in every neighborhood – just a few hours flight from any continental airline hub.
My question to anyone looking for a trip filled with culture, history, and excellent food would be, “Why wouldn’t you go to Mexico City?”
This post is meant to offer up answers to frequently asked questions that I received while planning and after my trip to Mexico. I hope this helps you decide to include Mexico City on a small or big trip in the future.
Is it Safe?
After reading the U.S. state department warning on traveling to Mexico for American citizens, I can understand some concerns. It reads like you’ll be cast in a real-life version of Die Hard without a John McClane to rescue you. But read every line, like this one… “Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.“
Here are a few takeaways from this warning that apply to any traveler going to any big city.
1) “Avoid wearing conspicuous jewelry or clothing bearing logos of U.S. sports teams or military themed apparel which that may identify them as U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid situations in which they may be isolated.” But I wouldn’t break out those Canadian maple leaf patches, just dress and act like a guest, not an American billboard.
2) Be cautious traveling to cities that are known as major drug-trafficking areas or anywhere on the border. I did visit Mazatlan and Sinaloa, an area known for drug trafficking and where the famous El Chappo was captured. I felt safe as a visitor and the cruise ship companies are coming back, indicating that major travel companies feel safe bringing visitors there. Overall, the Mexican government is very aware of the economic impact of keeping tourists safe and has the police and security forces in place.
3) Take out travel insurance. The data shows kidnapping of U.S. citizens, but doesn’t indicate where these kidnappings take place. The robbery by ATM seems like a tourist scam that is common around the world.
For your first visit, be aware, don’t walk alone at night, stay on the beaten path, don’t loudly advertise your wealth, and take buses or planes in and out of the D.F. instead of renting a car.
Mexico City is HUGE! Is it hard to get around?
Yes, it’s huge. In fact, it’s the largest city in the world. And in the largest city in the world, one can expect a sound public transportation system like the Mexico City metro system – the STC. On this metro, you can get to all major tourist sites around the city.
Taxis are plentiful throughout the city. You may need to “suggest” that a meter be used and “radio taxis” (the white ones) are typically more expensive, but they are cheap and quick to get around the city. At the bus station and the airport, there are taxi stands to purchase taxi vouchers into the city. At the time of May 2014, the price from the airport to the center of the city was just about 240 pesos. You may see men in uniforms who are eager to help you find the taxi line and carry your bag. Only accept help from the valet if you are willing to tip them between 10-30 pesos.
Furthermore, there are many neighborhoods in Mexico City that are pleasant to walk around for a half or a full day in addition to the historical center. Try Coyoacan, San Angel, Polanco, Zona Rosa, and Roma Norte as a base to start your daily excursions beyond the historical center.
What’s it like?
Imagine cosmopolitan, tree-lined neighborhoods, ancient ruins on par with the Pyramids of Giza, modern architecture, trendy cafes and restaurants, polite residents, and stately cathedrals all in one city. That’s what Mexico City is like. It’s got every thing that a city lover could want. I likened it to the cosmopolitan ease of European cities like Barcelona, Rome, and Paris with a little bit of expansive chaos of Istanbul and Mumbai.
To further elaborate…in Mexico City, I visited Frida Kahlo’s home and studio,
gaped at Diego Rivera murals at the National Palace,
ate lunch in a 16th century building’s courtyard at Sanbourn’s Department Store,
rode an elevator to the top of an Art Deco skyscraper,
marveled at the confection that is the Pallacio de Belles Artes,
toured Aztec ruins in the city and took a day trip from the city to Teotihuacan
Is it cheap?
The exchange rate to the USD is about 13 pesos. It’s easy to spend lots o’ money there – the Roma Norte and Polanco neighborhoods are tres chic with boutiques and hip restaurants. Dinner at Maximo Bistro in Roma Norte was over $80 USD per person and a night at the Four Seasons was over $400 USD. On the other hand, a luxury bus ride from Mexico City to San Miguel Allende was about $40USD. You can find Airbnb apartments for about $60 USD a night and hearty meals at diners or markets under $10 a person. Mexico City is inexpensive and expensive for the American traveler- like any big city.
How much does it cost to fly from the U.S.? Is it hard to get to?
Here’s the thing: It’s about a four hour flight and under $500 buckeroos to get to one of the best cities in the world. Why spend $1200+ to get to Europe when Mexico City is so close to America?
So what are you waiting for?
Start planning your next trip to Mexico City!! Here are some more resources to get you started.
- Check out 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Mexico City by CNN.
- And 36 Hours in Mexico City by NYTimes Travel
- These 5 Essential Eating Experiences and my AFAR Guide to the Markets of Mexico City.
- Travel overview by Frommers