Is it Safe? And Other Questions and Answers about Traveling to Mexico City

“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?

mexico city

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?

Mexico City: What it's 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,

Frida Kahlo Museum

gaped at Diego Rivera murals at the National Palace,

Diego Rivera Mural

ate lunch in a 16th century building’s courtyard at Sanbourn’s Department Store,

Sanbourns

rode an elevator to the top of an Art Deco skyscraper,

Latin American Tower

marveled at the confection that is the Pallacio de Belles Artes,

Fine Arts Palace

toured Aztec ruins in the city and took a day trip from the city to Teotihuacan

takeyourbigtrip-aztecpyramids

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.



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7 Responses to “Is it Safe? And Other Questions and Answers about Traveling to Mexico City”

  1. July 22, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    Thank you for writing this piece! I’ve visited Mexico City twice and I absolutely loved it. I think my favorite is that you can feel like you’re strolling through a very cosmopolitan city yet be shaded by beautiful and tall trees that line the streets. You capture the scenery well in your writing.

    I also had a lot of people ask me if I felt safe and my response was always yes. I wouldn’t walk alone at night, but I wouldn’t do that in San Diego either.

    I visit Baja a lot as well and many people worry about the safety. If you follow common sense as you would in any town you will be fine. Mexico is too great a country to not visit!

    Lindsey

    • Kristin
      July 23, 2014 at 4:52 am #

      Hi Lindsey,
      Thanks so much for sharing your experience!
      Kristin

  2. Alexis Afanador Ramírez
    July 23, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    Hi!! I really liked your report!! I like to know that another person likes Distrito Federal as me, because I’m mexican and I love to go to Mexico City (I´m from León, Guanajuato), I go there twice a year (in fact I’m going to Mexico City next week), and you are right, we thing that go to the DF is dangerous, but I don’t care about it haha. And believe me, I would like that American people removed the false mexican stereotype from they’re minds, because we aren´t sitting next to a cactus with a sombrero on the head and drinking tequila and eatin’ tacos all day long, we don’t do it at all.

    I will give you some tips for the next time you visit el Distrito Federal:
    -Learn more español, because if you learn it, you´ll can to talk with the people and learn more interesting things. Also you should learn the local expressions, like “qué onda”,”qué pedo,¿cómo andas?” because here nobody says “Hola amigo”hahahaha, all the local meaning of “madre”, because it doesn´t mean only “mother” here in México haha,”güey”,”paro, le caigo”,”¿es neta?”,”compa”,”pinche pesero se tardó un chingo”,”¡a huevo!” and something very important, all the meanings of “puto”, “pedo”, “chingar” and much more.
    -Visit Tepito, it is a very very large flea market, and go to the Mercado de Sonora, in the DF, for you to know what actually México is!! and try enchiladas, tacos, pozole, tlacoyos, quesadillas, enmoladas, tortas de tamal, etc….
    -Come to León city!!, it is located in the state of Guanajuato, it is near from San Miguel de Allende. León is a big city with over 2 million people, there are a lot of malls and places to visit!!, if you come I’d be your traslator haha.
    -Take mexican tacos to your friends and family, for they to know what actally tacos are!! because I´ve seen the tacos of taco bell and, trust me, I´m mexican and I really know that taco bell’s tacos aren´t tacos.
    -¡viva México cabrones! y ¡No era penal!

    Alexis

    • Kristin
      July 24, 2014 at 5:32 am #

      Hi Alexis,

      Thank you for this very helpful advice! I love the language lessons!

      Sincerely,
      Kristin

  3. October 12, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    I had a great time in Mexico City last year. Spent a few weeks in the city while staying in La Condesa. Not many people know but you will find people from every part of the world here. I believe that if you follow common sense, every city is safe. There are bad areas in every city. You just have to ask a local and make sure to not wander around alone in those areas. Great comment from Alexis by the way!
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  4. Amanda
    October 27, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi! I love your post! I’m strongly considering traveling to Mexico City alone the weekend of the Corona Music Fest, my question is, what did you do at night and how safe did you feel at night?

    Thanks!
    Amanda

    • Kristin
      October 28, 2015 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Overall, I do not recommend at any time a woman to go out at night in a foreign city alone.

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