About the city
Mexico City can be overwhelming for any first-time visitor. One of the biggest cities in the world, it’s easy to lose your bearings in the metropolis and difficult to know where to begin. With so many options, making any decision right off the bat is almost impossible, and moving there on a whim can be complicated. There are many things you need to consider before moving to Mexico City, the most important of which is what type of lifestyle you want to be able to maintain during your time there. This involves everything from your work to health concerns to your diet. The entire city has around 20 million inhabitants, which means that everything tends to happen on a larger scale. Air pollution is a huge factor to take into account. Combined with the altitude (2,200m), Mexico City is not the best option for those who suffer from respiratory problems. Since Mexico City is found in a valley, there is normally little wind activity, which means that pollution stays in the valley.
Like most of the country, Mexico City regularly experiences earthquakes. While most are small, if you’re not accustomed to them it can be frightening. There are also volcanoes, as the city falls within the Pacific Ring of Fire. The closest active one is in the state of Puebla. Popocatepetl, or el Popo, as the locals call it. If it erupts, expect there to be some disturbances in the city. These will rarely be truly threatening, but ashes and tremors are common when the volcano is particularly active. That being said, the Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres (National Center for Disaster Prevention, or CENAPRED) publish daily reports regarding the volcano’s activity. So if you ever feel uneasy because you can see it smoking, you can always check their website and make sure you’re informed.
Mexico City’s climate is quite mild most of the year, but it rains heavily during the summer months and mornings can be very cold during the winter months.
When moving to Mexico City, safety is understandably a big concern that many people have. It’s hard to separate the good from the bad when the bad is all you’re told about from outside sources, but don’t worry. The worst you will probably witness is petty crime, as foreigners are rarely the target of more serious offences. That said, there is a risk of armed robberies, kidnappings, car thefts, and credit card fraud. As long as you follow some simple rules and adopt certain habits, you should be fine. Many will come naturally, others you will have to work on. Here are the basic rules:
- Don’t hail taxis off the street - especially not at night.
- Keep an eye on your possessions at all times.
- Avoid wandering alone in secluded areas.
- Avoid wearing flashy clothing and jewelry when in public.
- Always insist on watching when they pass your card through the terminal (card machine) to avoid credit card fraud.
- Avoid certain areas of the city - some are notorious for being dangerous. Recently, Cuauhtemoc, Iztapalapa, and Gustavo A. Madero have had the highest crime rates.
That said, foreigners are rarely crime targets in Mexico City.
Mexico City has one of the largest international communities in the world. You will find plenty of people from every and any nationality everywhere. Most choose to live in the more historic districts where they can walk around more. Others may relocate to gated communities.
What to do
There are so many things to explore in Mexico City, it’s hard to know where to start. We’ve rounded up the best of the best to start you off. There is something in the city for everyone, regardless of budget, personality, or background.
One of the main things you should do to really take in the history that Mexico City offers is to explore the Historic Center. The Historic Center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to the oldest cathedral in Latin America that was made from stone taken from a Mesoamerican pyramid. Also in the Historic Center, you will find the remains of the Templo Mayor and its museum. The Templo Mayor is an Aztec archeological site next to the city center, or Zocalo. You can visit the Museum of San Ildefonso, the Central Alameda (oldest one in America!), the National Palace, and the stunning Palace of Bellas Artes. The best way to explore it is by foot, since you can take in all the other amazing buildings that make up the Historic Center. After the tour, you can have lunch at Azul Historico, El Balcon del Zocalo, or Los Cocuyos, which are some of the most noteworthy restaurants in the area. Also worth visiting is the Plaza Garibaldi and the Casa de los Azulejos.
Xochimilco is a must for anyone visiting the city, and any local who likes a good party. This neighbourhood is emblematic for its chinampas, a mesoamerican agricultural method that consisted of canals and islands for crops. These chinampas are still intact, and can be reached on traditional trajineras (intricately decorated boats). When you reach Xochimilco, go to the ports of Nativias of Zacapa, where you can rent a trajinera to move around the canals. You can get drinks, music, and food while you try to spot endemic animals like the axolotl.
Bosque de Chapultepec
Chapultepec is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It is home to the only royal palace in the Americas, the summer home of viceroys and official residence of Emperor Maximilian I. The palace has some of the most impressive views of the city you can find. The forest is full of things to do, starting with the castle and then making your way to the National Anthropology Museum. This is one of the most important museums in the country, and not only is the architecture itself something to behold, it is also home to the most important collection of Mesoamerican artifacts in existence - with an example being the famous Mayan Calendar.
Teotihucacan is arguably one of the most important archeological sites in Mexico, if not all of the Americas. In order to make the most of the visit, you need to wake up early and make the hour-and-a-half-long trip to the pyramids. You can drive there or take one of the buses that go to Teotihuacan every 15-20 minutes, which you can find in the Central Bus Station. Once you’re there, the best way to explore is to access through Entrance 1 and leave through Entrance 4. How long the visit takes depends on how long you spend admiring the different structures, and how long it takes you to climb the pyramids! Always take a hat, sunblock, and water - you’ll struggle to find shade while you’re there.
Teotihuacan is home to the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, the Citadel, and the Road of the Dead. In the Citadel, you can observe the intricate etchings on Quetzalcoatl’s Temple. The Road of the Dead, or Calzada de los Muertos, is the city’s main artery that will take you through the entire archeological site. The Pyramid of the Sun is the most important part of the site. It is the world’s third largest pyramid and definitely worth the climb. From there, you can walk to the Pyramid of the Moon and climb it. It’s smaller than the Pyramid of the Sun so it will be easier and faster to do so. Almost at the end of the route is Quetzalpapaloti’s Palace, the Palace of the Jaguars, and the Temple of the Feathered Snails (Templo de los Caracoles Emplumados) none of which you can miss.
In Coyoacan, there are many historical places you can visit, as well as walk around and take in the most traditional and beautiful atmosphere in the city. The Luis Barragan House and Studio is an architectural landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its emblematic status in Mexican architecture. You can also visit Frida Kahlo’s house, called Casa Azul, where she lived and painted her whole life. It has not been disturbed, so you can completely immerse yourself in her life and the one she shared with her muralist husband, Diego Rivera. Nearby is Leon Trotsky’s home, where he lived after exile and was later assassinated in. It has been perfectly preserved, so its historical importance cannot be overstated. The Cineteca Nacional de Mexico will always have exhibits and showings that will blow you away, and its architecture will certainly make it a once in a lifetime cinematic experience.