Mexico City in Mexico
Mexico City is the political, financial and cultural nerve center of Mexico, and to understand the country one should spend some time here. Perhaps more than any city on earth, it is at the intersection of the first and third worlds, with all the ills, thrills and surprises that suggests. Read more...
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Mexico City is the political, financial and cultural nerve center of Mexico, and to understand the country one should spend some time here. Perhaps more than any city on earth, it is at the intersection of the first and third worlds, with all the ills, thrills and surprises that suggests.
By planeBenito Juarez International Airport
Most travelers arrive to Mexico City by air, to the Benito Juárez International Airport, located in the eastern part of the city. There are frequent flights to and from most larger cities in the world, as Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Santiago de Chile, London, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Toronto and Tokyo. Some of the international airlines that operate regular flights to Mexico City include (as of April 2007): Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France, Alaska Airlines http://www.alaskaair.com/, American Airlines, Avianca, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Copa, Cubana de Aviacion, Delta http://www.delta.com/, Iberia, Japan Airlines, KLM, LAN, Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (recently grounded), Lufthansa, Mexicana, Northwest, TACA, Varig, Ocean Air, United Airlines and US Airways. The airport has a plane spotting area. To reach it, take the subway and go to the Terminal Aerea station.
As of January 16, 2008, a new terminal, Terminal 2, opened at Benito Juarez. If you are flying in or out of the city check with your airline as to what terminal you should use for ticketing and check-in. Give yourself extra time to make your flight to avoid confusion.
Mexico City is a huge place, but driving is definitely not a way to see it even if tourist attractions are scattered throughout the city. A good way to plan your trip is to stop by Guia Roji http://www.guiaroji.com.mx/ to identify the location of the Colonias (neighborhoods) you intend to visit.
Mexico City has several public transport alternatives. Metro is reliable and runs underground, the City government operates the RTP bus system and Electric Trolley buses. There are also plenty of franchised private buses which are less reliable and safe because of their driving habits. And finally thousands of Taxis, many of them old Volkswagen bugs in their famous green paint scheme.
Officially named Sistema de Transporte Colectivo, but simply known as Metro http://www.metro.df.gob.mx/red/index.htmlhttp://www.metro.df.gob.mx/red/index.html is one of the largest and most used subway systems in the world, comprised by 11 different lines that measure more than 170 km and carry 4.4 million people every day. It's relatively quick and efficient, especially as an alternative to taxis during rush hours, and extremely cheap (tickets for one trip with unlimited transfers within the system are 2 pesos-around 20 US cents). Trains are often filled to capacity, especially at rush hours and sometimes it can be hot and uncomfortable. There are also a few incidences of pick pocketing. A good way to avoid being robbed is to wait for the train at the end of the tracks where is less crowded. The Metro is most useful when your destination is on a Metro line you're already close to, to minimize train changes. In those cases, the metro can be the absolutely quickest way to travel longer distances within the city.
Although the Metro system lacks of information in English, the system was designed to define Lines and Stations using pictorial signs and colors, originally intended for people who couldn't read, therefore using the Metro shouldn't be a big problem. A few stations may not be in good shape and their signs may have been destroyed, so be sure you get information on which stations you have to use before hopping in. At the larger stations, polite, knowledgeable guides are available who speak Spanish and hand out small maps.
There are often people walking through the carriages trying to sell stuff. Act as if you were used to them. Often they advertise their merchandise with songs. It's quite amusing, but don't laugh... this is how they make a living and that deserves respect. There are also people, who perform (such as repeatedly somersaulting shirtless onto a pile of broken glass) or even hand out free candy and then expect a donation. The best thing to do when encountering one is observing what the people around you do, if they donate or not. If you avoid eye contact they will generally leave you alone.
Metro stations usually have food stalls inside and outside the entrances, ranging from pastries and coffee to tacos and fresh juices. Many have city-sponsored displays and even artwork in the tunnels and walls, so it pays to look around.
One important thing about the Metro is that, from start to finish, one should look businesslike and look as uninterested as if you had done it every day for twenty years; many people on the system do just that. The place is, after all, a means of transportation and not an attraction. As in other Western countries, it's considered good manners to offer your seat to the aged, pregnant or disabled, all cars have clearly marked handicap seats.
Be aware that the Metro does not run between midnight and 5:00AM (6:00AM on Saturday, 7:00AM on Sunday). If your plans will take you beyond midnight, be sure to have alternate transport.
Some lines run through more tourist-related spots than others. Line number 5 (yellow) connects the Mexico City International Airport (Terminal Aerea station) with the rest of the Metro system. Line number 7 (orange) runs through many touristic spots such as the Chapultepec Forest (Auditorio Station) and the Polanco neighborhood (Polanco Station). Line number 9 runs near the Condesa neighborhood (Chilpancingo). Line number 2 (blue) runs through the Centro Historico (Allende, Zocalo and Bellas Artes stations) and reaches the South Bus Station (Tasquena). Line number 3 (green) runs near Coyoacan (Coyoacan and Miguel Angel de Quevedo stations) and also near the City University (Copilco and Ciudad Universitaria stations). Line number 1 (pink) also runs through many tourist spots, such as Centro Historico (Salto del Agua station), the Chapultepec Forest (Chapultepec Station), Condesa and Roma neighborhoods (Insurgentes and Sevilla stations) and the Northwest Bus Station (Observatorio station).
The following are a few Metro signs translated into English that will help you get you going through the Metro:
Taquilla-Ticket booth Entrada-Entrance Andenes-Train platforms Salida-Exit Correspondencia-Line Transfer
There are two kinds of buses. The first, are full-sized buses operated by the City Government known as RTP and cost $2.00 anywhere you go. Make sure to pay with exact change, they don't give change back. The second kind of buses are known as Microbuses or Peseros. These buses are private-run and come in small and bigger sizes. Peseros cost 2.50 pesos for shorter trips, 3 for 6-12 km trips and 4 pesos for 12+ km trips. Full-sized private buses are 3.50 pesos for shorter trips, and 4.50 for longer
Both type of buses usually stop at the same place. Riding RTP buses is probably a safer and more comfortable way than the private franchised and smaller microbuses who are known to have terrible driving habits.
Buses can be packed during rush hours, and you have to pay attention to your stops (buses make very short stops if there's just one person getting off, so be ready), but they are very practical when your route aligns with a large avenue. If it does not, be prepared to get down at a moment's notice, since you can get very, very lost in five minutes of ride. There's usually a button above or close to the rear door to signal that you're getting off; if there isn't one, it's not working, or you can't get to it, shouting Bajan! (pronounced BAH-han ) in a loud and desperate voice usually works.
Established in June 2005, the Metrobús operates in a confined lane along Insurgentes Avenue. Plans exist for additional routes. It costs 4.5 pesos to ride during the day, but a card must be bought in advance (11 pesos). After 11:30 or so, it's 5 pesos. There are stops approximately every 500m. Expect it to be crowded around the clock.
By trolley bus
Trolebuses http://www.ste.df.gob.mx/servicios/lineas.html are operated by the Electric Transport Services. There are 15 Trolley bus lines that spread around for more than 400 km. They usually do not get as crowded as regular buses, and they are quite comfortable and reliable. They can be a little slower than regular buses, since they are unable to change lanes as quickly. There is a flat fare of 2 pesos (around 20 cents USD), and bus drivers give no change.
By light rail
Tren Ligero http://www.ste.df.gob.mx/servicios/trenligero.html, operated by Electric Transport Services, consists of one single line that runs south of the City. Useful if you plan to visit Xochimilco or the Azteca stadium. Connects with the Metro system at the Taxqueña station (Line 2). The rate for a single ride is 2 pesos, and your Metro ticket is not valid to transfer into the Tren Ligero but tickets for the Tren Ligero are sold at most stations along the line.
The more than 250 thousand registered cabs are one of the most efficient ways to get around, especially outside of rush hours, and prices are low, a fixed fee of about 6 pesos to get into the cab, and about 0.7 pesos per quarter kilometer or 45 seconds thereafter, for the normal taxis (taxi libre). The night rates, supposedly between 11 at night and 6 in the morning, but this may vary with the cab driver's mood, are about 20% higher. Some taxis adjust their meters to run more quickly, but in general, cab fare is cheap, and it's usually easy to find a taxi. At night, and in areas where there are few taxis, cab drivers will often not use the meter, but rather quote you a price before you get in. This price will often be high, however, you can haggle. They will tell you that their price is good because they are safe. If you don't agree on the price, don't worry, another cab will come along.
Catching cabs in the street can be dangerous, since free-range cabs are not accountable to anyone. Taxi robberies, so-called express kidnappings, where the victim is robbed and then taken on a trip to various ATMs to max out their credit cards, do occur, but there are some general precautions that will minimize the risk:
Taxis have special license plates. The registration number starts with L for free-roaming taxis, and with S for site taxis (registered taxis based on a certain spot, called sitios ). Site taxis are safer.
The taxi license should be displayed inside the taxi, usually it is mounted somewhere above the windshield. Check that the photo of the driver on the license is of the actual driver. Make a point of looking at it.
Look for the meter. Without it they will be more likely to rip you off.
If you are nervous, take site taxis only. These may be a bit more expensive, but are well worth the expense.
If you are safety-conscious or require additional comfort, consider radio taxis, which can be called by phone, and are extremely reliable and safe, although a bit pricier than other taxis. Most restaurants, hotels, etc. have the number for radio taxis. Radio taxis will usually give you the price for the trip on the phone when you order them. Radio taxis charge more than regular taxis, but are available all night. Hotel taxis will be significantly more expensive than site or radio taxis.
As with absolutely everything else, risks are greater at night. At night radio taxis are recommended.
However, the risk of getting sun burn is lower at night.
The Turibus http://www.turibus.com.mx is a sightseeing double-decker hop-in hop-off bus that is a good alternative to see the city if you don't have too much time. The one-day ticket costs $120 pesos (around USD $11) and its route includes the Zona Rosa, Chapultepec Park, Polanco, Condesa, Roma and the Historic Center. There is a secondary route which just started in late May 2007, and runs from Fuente de la Cibeles in Condesa to Coyoacan and Xochimilco. Your ticket should be valid for both routes.
If you get lost
If you get absolutely lost and you are far away from your hotel, hop into a pesero (mini bus) or bus that takes you to a Metro station http://www.metro.df.gob.mx/red/index.htmlhttp://www.metro.df.gob.mx/red/index.html; most of them do. Look for the sign with the stylized metro M in the front window. From there and using the wall maps you can get back to a more familiar place. If you are in downtown area you are always close to a metro station, but the line stops at the Auditorio Nacional, so hotels in Santa Fe are only reachable by car.
The least advised way to visit the City due to the complicated road structure and the 3.5 million vehicles moving around the city. Traffic jams are almost omnipresent on weekdays, and driving from one end of the city to the other could take you between 2 to 4 hours at peak times. The condition of pavement in freeways such as Viaducto and Periferico is good, however in avenues, streets and roads varies from fair to poor since most streets have fissures, bumps and holes. Most are paved with asphalt and only until recently some have been paved using concrete. Because people tend to speed when traffic is not present, many avenues and streets are full of speed bumps and some of these are really high. Since the city grew without planned control, the street structure could look as a labyrinth. Driving can turn into a really challenging experience if you don't know precisely well where are you going. There is only one company that has been able to map the entire city, Guia Roji http://www.guiaroji.com.mx. Shortcuts are complicated and often involve about six to eight turns.
Street parking (Estacionamiento in Spanish) is scarce around the City and practically nonexistent in crowded areas. Where available expect to pay between $12 to $18 pesos an hour while most of hotels charge between $25 to $50 pesos an hour. Some areas of the city such as Zona Rosa, Chapultepec, Colonia Roma and Colonia Condesa have parking meters on the sidewalks which are about $10 pesos an hour and are free on weekends. It is possible to park in other streets without meters but is likely there will be a parking vendor (Franelero in Spanish) which are not authorized by the city, but will take care of your car. Expect to pay between $10 to $20 pesos to these fellows, some of them will charge at your arrival, the best advice is to pay if you want to see your car in good shape when you come back.
The visitor should take into consideration the following tips when driving: avenues have preference over streets and streets over closed streets. Continuous right turn even when traffic light red is allowed. Seat belts are mandatory for both front seats. If you're stopped by a police car, it is likely they will try to get money out from you. It is up to you if you accept to do so, the latest trend is to refuse giving them anything.
When to go
--Residential and shopping area north of the city
Travel in Mexico City is generally safe. Much of your travel within the city will be done via public transportation or walking. Mexico City is an immensely crowded place, and with any major metropolitan area, you can expect a few bad apples.
Plan ahead-know where you are going and how you will arrive. Mexico City is quite hospitable, and people who work for hotels and other hospitality-oriented businesses will help. This will help in avoiding confusion, becoming lost or stranded. Also, you can ask a local for advice to get somewhere, though you should speak good Spanish to do this. In the Polanco district, all policemen speak English, and so do many business people and younger children as it is very common to learn in school. However policeman in Mexico get paid a third of what New York City policeman get and some rely on bribe and corruption to make more money.
Catching cabs in the street can be dangerous, since free-range cabs are not accountable to anyone. Taxi robberies, so-called express kidnappings, where the victim is robbed and then taken on a trip to various ATMs to max out their credit cards, do occur.
Protect your personal information. There are many pickpockets in Mexico City. Purses and bulky, full pockets are quite attractive. Do not keep your passports, money, identification, and other important items hanging out for someone to steal. Use a money belt or place these items in a hotel safe, or tuck them away inside your clothes.
Do not show money in front of others, this generally attracts pickpockets.
The Mexico City Government recently opened a specialized prosecution office (Ministerio Público in Spanish) for foreigners that find themselves affected by robberies or other crime situations. It is located in Victoria Street 76, Centro Historico. Multilingual staff available.
As early as 10, 000 BC, people and animals lived around Lago de Texcoco, the lake that then covered much of the floor of the Valle de México. After 7500 BC the lake began to shrink, hunting became more difficult, and the inhabitants turned to agriculture. A federation of villages evolved around the lake by 200 BC, but the biggest one, Cuicuilco, was destroyed by a volcanic eruption that occurred around AD 100.
The next major influence in the area was Teotihuacán, 25km (16mi) northeast of the lake. For centuries Teotihuacán was the capital of an empire stretching to Guatemala and beyond, but it fell in the 7th century. Of several city-states in the region in the following centuries, the Toltec empire, based at Tula, 65km (40mi) north of modern Mexico City, was the most important. By the 13th century the Tula empire had fallen too, leaving a number of small statelets around the lake to spat over the Valle de México. The Aztecs emerged as the winners.
Wrecked during and after the Spanish conquest, the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán was rebuilt as a Spanish city. The native population of the Valle de México shrank drastically-to fewer than 100, 000 within a century of the conquest, by some estimates. But the city itself emerged by 1550 as the prosperous and elegant, if insanitary, capital of Nueva España. Broad, straight streets were laid out and buildings constructed to Spanish designs with local materials such as tezontle, a light-red volcanic rock that the Aztecs had used for their temples. Hospitals, schools, churches, palaces, parks and a university were built. But right up to the late 19th century the city suffered floods caused by the partial destruction in the 1520s of the Aztecs' canals. Lago de Texcoco often overflowed into the city, damaging buildings, bringing disease and forcing thousands of people away from their homes.
On October 30, 1810, some 80, 000 independence rebels had Mexico city at their mercy after defeating Spanish loyalist forces at Las Cruces, just west of the capital. But leader Miguel Hidalgo decided against advancing on the city-a mistake that cost Mexico 11 more years of fighting before independence was achieved.
Mexico City entered the modern age under the despotic Porfirio Díaz, who ruled Mexico for most of the period from 1877 to 1911 and attracted much foreign investment. He had railways built to the provinces and the USA. Industry grew, and by 1910 the city had 471, 000 inhabitants. A drainage canal and tunnel dried up much of the Lago de Texcoco, allowing further expansion.
After Díaz fell in 1911, the Mexican Revolution brought war and hunger to the city's streets. In the 1920s, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and other young artists were commissioned to decorate numerous public buildings with dramatic, large-scale murals conveying a new sense of Mexico's past and future.
By 1940, 1.7 million people lived in Mexico City, and factories and skyscrapers started shooting up left, right and center. The supply of housing, jobs and services couldn't keep up with the growth, and shantytowns were born on the city's fringes. Despite continued economic growth into the 1960s, political and social reform lagged behind. Student-led discontent came to a head as Mexico City prepared for the 1968 Olympic Games. Ten days before the games began, 5000 to 10, 000 people gathering in Tlatelolco, north of the city center, were encircled by troops and police. To this day, no one knows how many people died in the ensuing massacre, but the number is estimated to be in the several hundreds.
Mexico City kept growing at a frightening rate in the 1970s and began to develop some of the world's worst traffic and pollution problems, only slightly alleviated when the metro system opened in 1969 and then by attempts in the 1990s to limit traffic. Despite a devastating earthquake that killed over 10, 000 people in 1985, people have continued to pour into the city.
The poverty and overcrowding that always existed alongside the city's wealth were exacerbated by the recession of the mid-1990s, which left hordes of people living on marginal levels of basic subsistence. One effect of the crisis was a huge jump in crime. Subsequent recovery was very gradual.
In 1997, the Distrito Federal was granted political autonomy and elected its own mayor for the first time. The new administration was widely seen as honest and well-intentioned, and made the first serious efforts to combat police corruption, a major factor in high crime levels.
Today an estimated 600 newcomers arrive in the city daily. Though it has multiplied in area more than 10 times since 1940, it's still one of the world's most-crowded metropolitan areas.
In 2000, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a member of the left-leaning PRD, was elected mayor. Capitalinos generally approved of his populist initiatives, which included an ambitious makeover of the Centro Histórico. In 2005, the Fox administration attempted to have 'AMLO' removed from his post-and from political life-by prosecuting him on tenuous contempt-of-court charges. But the plan backfired: when the mayor handed the reins over to Alejandro Encinas, his chief cabinet minister, to launch a presidential campaign, he found himself more popular than ever. Encinas was succeeded in 2006 by Marcelo Ebrand of the leftist PND. Soon after the elections, he got married to a soap actress, amid controversy about their exorbitant wedding registry.
Articles and Stories about Mexico City
Quick Facts about Mexico City
Country Dialing Code
In case of emergency
Dial 066, the number for all emergencies, (fire, police). A little Spanish could help too.