Posted 19/01/2024 | 19th January, 2024
Are you planning your first trip to Mexico City? Well, you’ve likely read a million-and-one articles about the best things to do in Mexico City and countless pieces about safety in the Mexican capital.
You’ll be delighted to learn that visiting Mexico City isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s a hive of activity ideal for those looking to soak in a new culture, enjoy outstanding architecture, and eat some of the best food in the world!
So, here are my best tips for Mexico City (and a bunch of things I wish I had known before my first visit) – which should help you have the safest and most enjoyable trip possible!
14 Tips for Mexico City (Everything I Wish I Knew)
Here is everything I wish I knew before heading to Mexico City and a handful of tips to help you have the most spectacular trip!
It is Overwhelming!
I arrived in Mexico City with the naive attitude that three years of living in London had set me up for the hustle and bustle of Mexico City.
I was wrong.
Mexico City is unlike any city I’ve ever visited. And unless you just resign yourself to the leafy affluent areas of La Condesa and Roma, it will be at least a little bit overwhelming.
You’ve likely come off a long flight, fighting with altitude (more on that further down), and probably don’t speak fluent Spanish.
In a city of nearly twenty-two million, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by this magical capital’s sights, smells, and chaos.
Allow yourself a few day’s grace to slip into the rhythm of this crazy city. You’re not going to see this all in a couple of days (there’s so much to do here you likely couldn’t cover it in a lifetime!)
Some tips I found to combat that overwhelming feeling:
⭐ Make a plan for the day and stick to it. Wandering into neighbourhoods you are not familiar with isn’t going to help with any nervous feelings.
⭐Schedule outdoor time. Take advantage of the many parks in Mexico City – getting away from the traffic and crowds can help reduce stress.
⭐Book scheduled tours. If you find navigating the city a little too much, book a group tour. This removes all the hassle and helps you meet other like-minded people.
⭐Embrace it! Eat from the street food stand and drink at the local coffee shop. You will find people are much more approachable and friendly than you think.
Choose the Best Area to Stay – Mexico City Travel Tips
Choosing the right area to stay in Mexico City can make your trip. I’ve stayed in San Rafael, Juarez and La Condesa.
I didn’t feel unsafe in any of these areas but felt considerably more comfortable in La Condesa. It’s a leafy, suburban area with plenty of bars and restaurants.
I recommend staying in La Condesa or Roma Norte for your first visit to Mexico City. These areas have many great hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs. While you certainly shouldn’t reserve all your time for these areas, but these are the easiest places to stay in Mexico City, especially on your first visit.
Altitude in Mexico City
Mexico City sits at 2,240 meters – which is well above the 15,000-meter point where altitude begins to affect us.
I noticed some side effects (possibly exacerbated by the long flight), including blocked sinuses, a little dizziness, and fatigue.
Other side effects of altitude include sickness, nausea, headache, and loss of appetite.
To treat altitude sickness, keep well hydrated and avoid alcohol, smoking, and strenuous activities. Of course, if symptoms persist, then you will need to consult a medical professional.
In most cases, the side effects of altitude are not extreme, but they are something to be aware of when heading to Mexico City.
Getting To/From the Airport
I recommend using Uber when getting to and from the Airport and/or the North bus terminal.
Although it’s possible via public transport, it’s really not worth it if you don’t know the city well and are carrying all your belongings.
Uber is very affordable and plentiful. We only every waited five minutes for a driver.
Be prepared for Mexico City traffic, though; it’s wild! Journeys will typically take much longer than Google Maps predicts – so if you’re heading for a bus or a flight, set off in plenty of time.
Use The Metro – Mexico City Travel Tips
One of the best money-saving tips of Mexico City: to get around the city, use the Metro!
I was initially intimidated by the Metro, but it is straightforward.
You first need to purchase a metro card. These can be bought from any station using the machines. The machines are only in Spanish but are self-explanatory and work the same as every other metro around the world.
Mexico City Travel Tip: regardless of how many people are in your group, you only need to buy one card. Simply pass the card to the next party member once you have tapped through the barrier.
All journeys on the Mexico City metro cost $5 MXN regardless of where you are going. It is an incredibly cheap and efficient way to explore this incredible city.
I would avoid the metro during peak times (when it is unbearably busy) and late at night (it can feel quite intimidating, especially if travelling alone)
Getting to Grips with the Language
You don’t need to speak fluent Spanish to have a fantastic time in Mexico City. However, one of the most important tips for Mexico City is to learn a little Spanish.
If you show a little willingness, people will be more likely to help you and be patient. If you attempt no Spanish at all, you may receive a (deserved!) hostile reaction.
Learning some numbers is also hugely beneficial, which will help you better understand prices in restaurants and shops.
Download Google Translate to work offline, which will also help you understand documents, including menus.
Probably the most important of the Mexico City travel tips: you absolutely cannot drink the water in Mexico City. Under no circumstances should you drink the tap water.
However, you will be happy to know that filtered and bottled water is highly accessible. If you’re staying for longer than a couple of days, I recommend purchasing one of the enormous 20L bottles that can be found on almost every street corner.
Also, in restaurants, its perfectly reasonable to ask for filtered water, and most of the time, they will give you this for free rather than charging for expensive bottled water.
ATMs and Money Withdrawal – Top Mexico City Travel Tips
Debit card is widely accepted throughout Mexico City, with the exception of smaller food vendors.
For UK travellers, using a travel card such as Monzo, Revolut, or Starling is the most cost-efficient way to spend, as they typically offer excellent conversion rates with no fees.
These cards also typically allow up to £200 worth of monthly withdrawals without fees. We always decline the conversion rate offered at the ATM and use our bank’s – it is always significantly better.
This is based on my own experience with UK-based bank cards. Of course, you should always check the terms and conditions of your specific card.
The ATM will apply its fee, which varies depending on your chosen bank. We found BanBajio to be the most economical, with a cost of only $23 MXN on a $4000 MXN withdrawal.
Regardless of the fees, having a small amount of cash on you is always worth it. You may encounter a restaurant, cafe or bar that doesn’t accept card or need some change to use a bathroom. You don’t want to be caught short at these times.
Tipping in Mexico City
You will be expected to tip in most places in Mexico City.
If you’re from the US, this is likely second nature to you. Whereas in the UK, this is very unusual.
Very few places where the tip was automatically added to the bill. However, the staff will ask how much you would like to tip when paying by card. 10% is generally well received and feels reasonable for good service.
There was one occasion when the service was very bad, and we opted not to leave a tip. The reaction from the waiter was so cold and frosty that it would have been easier to pay the 10% and avoid the confrontation!
There are also often singers who will come into bars, restaurants, and buses to play a few songs. They will expect a small tip before they leave.
Mondays in Mexico City
You should be aware that many attractions close every Monday in Mexico City.
Almost all museums are closed (including the Anthropology Museum & the Frida Kahlo Museum), and some restaurants and cafes do not open, or close their doors early.
Fear not, though; you won’t struggle to find somewhere to eat in Mexico City! Just be sure to check the opening times before setting off.
Vía la RecreActiva!
Each Sunday morning, most of the main roads through the city close to allow runners, cyclists and skaters to enjoy the streets of Mexico City.
This is an amazing opportunity to enjoy the streets of Mexico without dodging the traffic or inhaling the fumes! Even if you don’t fancy an intense workout, I recommend heading out and enjoying the atmosphere; it’s fantastic!
SIM card – Mexico City Travel Tips
The simplest method is to use an E-SIM. Many operators work in Mexico (and plenty that covers the whole of Central America, too). You won’t need a huge amount of data as the city has great WiFi coverage. However, it’s very handy to have for maps, Uber, translation, or just catching up with friends!
If you’re coming from the UK (or potentially elsewhere in Europe), I recommend setting this up before you leave. Our UK SIM cards had no coverage in Mexico, so we couldn’t pay the exorbitant data roaming fees, even if we wanted to!
However, if you’re like me and have a phone from the dark ages that won’t accept an E-SIM, I recommend an OXXO SIM.
My Spanish is pretty bad, so I was nervous about the prospect of purchasing this card and recharging every month. However, it was very, very easy.
You can purchase and recharge in any OXXO store (there are more than 15,000 nationwide, so you won’t struggle to find one). When recharging, you just need your mobile number, which is texted to you upon activating the card.
An OXXO SIM with 6GB of data valid for 30 days costs $200 MXN.
Wifi in Mexico City
Interestingly, there was public wifi almost everywhere in Mexico City.
Not only in cafes and restaurants, but in public parks and on the main streets, which was fabulous! Just make sure you use a VPN to keep your details protected.
This isn’t just a Mexico City tip but a must for all international travel.
Travel Insurance is a huge expense. In fact, Travel insurance was my second-highest purchase for my current trip around Latin America (just marginally cheaper than my one-way flight). However, its importance cannot be overstated.
Ensure the cover is comprehensive with excellent medical coverage to give you and your family peace of mind.
Mexico City Travel Tips – Roundup
So there you have it, everything I wish I knew before heading to Mexico City.
The key takeaways are never to drink tap water, use the metro during the day and Uber at night, purchase an E-SIM to keep connected and learn a little basic Spanish.
Most importantly, have fun! This is a fantastic city filled with wonderful people; you can truly have the time of your life.