I love Mexico City! It’s a place that I will keep going back to – it’s a huge city and you’ll never see everything you want on just one trip. Visiting Mexico City takes some planning. While with smaller cities, I tend to wing it, with Mexico City I did do research ahead of time to make sure I didn’t miss out on some of the top things to do. I wrote about all of them in my Mexico City itinerary. In this article, I’m sharing Mexico City travel tips for first-time visitors, so make sure you read the other post (itinerary) as well so you know where to go and what to see.
In this introductory Mexico City guide, I’m going to go over when to visit Mexico City, how to get there and away, transportation there, getting a SIM card, health and safety, packing tips, currency, budget, lodging advice, local food, top areas to visit, tour companies to consider, top experiences to try, yoga retreats available, and lastly what to buy and where to shop. Whew! It’s going to be long and I hope these Mexico City travel tips will help you on your upcoming trip.
Remember to read my Mexico City itinerary post so you know what to do and where to eat during your time there. It covers from the time you wake up each day until you go to bed and has the day trip to the pyramids in there, too. PS: my what to wear and where to stay posts are coming soon!
20 Mexico City Journey Tips
1. Consider the weather when you book
You might think that Mexico City is very hot but actually it only peaks at around 80 degrees in it’s hottest summer months. In the winter, it is warm in the day but goes down to around 50 at night. If you want a sunny and very hot vacation, then you might like the summer. If you want some refreshing cool air at night then come in the winter. There are tourists all year-round but at top attractions like Frida Kahlo or the pyramids, you’ll find fewer crowds in the winter.
2. Think about if you want to go during Día de Muertos
Many people want to make sure they visit Mexico City during the “day of the dead” festival. This is a beautiful site to see (I’ve seen it in Merida, not Mexico City). It’s on November 1st and 2nd. But, keep in mind that lodging will get booked up, places might be more expensive, and there will be more crowds at this time. For a little more information on the pros and cons, check out this helpful blog post.
3. Get a SIM card
Just walk into an OXXO (similar to a 7-11) and buy a SIM card there. It’s easy and I think just a few dollars (it’s been a while since I bought mine). You can add credit from your phone. It’s a very simple process and doesn’t require any ID’s and paperwork. Having the internet on your phone is key to use the maps while you wander around. Mexico City is huge!
4. Use Uber and the metro
With your SIM, you can book Ubers and use Metro maps to get around. Uber is very reliable and affordable. It is usually around $3 for a 10-15 minute ride somewhere in the city. If there is traffic at rush hour or you are downtown, you might want to take the metro. It’s a very well-designed metro. When they hosted the Olympics, they built this metro and since people visiting wouldn’t be able to speak Spanish, they used very easy to figure out colors and symbols.
Uber will take you just about anywhere including the airport (no issues with safety there) and to and from the Teotihuacan pyramids about an hour outside of town. When we needed an Uber back to town, there were no issues getting one from the pyramids.
The metros are very safe but there are reports of harassment on them. To help stop this, they made a women’s only compartment. This is a good option for solo female travelers.
5. Get pesos from the ATM rather than exchanging money
Paying with USD in Mexico will always mean paying more. Some places even have two menus – one in English with USD and one in Spanish with pesos and the USD one is always more. Get pesos from the ATM when you arrive. You’ll be charged a $3 or so fee, but it’s almost always going to be a better deal than exchanging pesos at the airport currency exchange booth. I recommend taking out about 3,000 MXN to start which is $156.
6. Make sure you have travel insurance
Mexico City has very good health care and if you are injured, you can feel in safe hands being treated here. There medical care isn’t as cheap as you might be thinking, though. You absolutely do not want to pay out of pocket here for medical expenses in a hospital. On the other hand, if you need medicine like antibiotics or run out of birth control, you can get this very cheap at a pharmacy without a prescription.
7. Keep pick-pocketing in mind when you choose your purse
I would avoid little backpacks or purses that don’t probably close when traveling in Mexico City. Like any city, there are pickpocketers around (in some areas more than others). While you’re not likely to encounter this in places like Condesa or Roma, you could downtown and in the metro. Just keep an eye on your purse and avoid any of the “no-go” areas. If you want a cute but impenetrable purse, check out this anti-theft purse review.
8. Dress for the weather – Layers are key!
I mentioned that it gets cold in the evenings from around October to March. We’re talking around 50 degrees but in old drafty Airbnbs and with the breeze it feels even colder. Bring a sweater and jacket. Bring boots! If you come in the summer, you still want to bring a light jacket for the evenings. Check out my full Mexico City packing list (coming next week, sorry).
9. Think about your daily budget ahead of time – it’s not that cheap of a city!
I know what you’re thinking – Mexico is cheap! But, this is Mexico City and it’s going to eat away at the money in your pocket. If you want to go to the top recommended restaurants, you’re talking $20 for a main dish. Museums aren’t free and can be around $10 to enter. Drinks are similar to the USA, around $5 for a glass of wine in a restaurant. You’ll be paying for your hotel, too, and if you stay somewhere nice like a top-rated boutique hotel this could be up to $400 bucks. At the same time, you can stay in $20 hostels or a $50 cute Airbnb.
If you had to budget for a day (on a budget), I would put aside $20 for a hostel, $10 for food if you are eating just street food, $10 for Ubers for the day (around 3 Uber rides), $10 for beer, and $20 for activities/entrance fees. So that is around $70 for the day.
If you’re mid-range, you might be getting a $50 Airbnb, getting around 5 Ubers for the day ($15), eating better food ($40) and drinking a bottle of wine ($20), doing sightseeing ($20). That puts you at maybe around $145 per day. If you are splitting costs with a friend it can save a lot of money!
If you want to go luxury, you can and there are so many amazing hotels in Mexico City that cost a bundle thanks to the amazing architecture and luxuries! You can eat the best world-ranked restaurants and pay $100 for dinner. You can hire private cars instead of Uber. It’s totally up to you!
10. Book an Airbnb in Roma or Condesa
I’m all about Airbnb. I love staying in people’s apartments. I did a huge search before going and have saved the best top-rated cutest Airbnb’s and have a list of them in this post on where to stay in Mexico City (coming next week). That post also has the top boutique hotels, the best hostels, and the most amazing 5-star hotels. When I travel, lodging is a bit part of the experience for me. It wasn’t when I was young, but these days I like to be more comfortable. The first Airbnb I stayed at was $80 per night (in the photo above). The second I stayed at was $180 per night (and was actually a boutique hotel that was also listed on Airbnb at a lower rate).
- Click here to view the first Airbnb listing (the cute one above)
- Click here to view the second Airbnb listing (luxury one below)
When you search on Airbnb thousands of houses will come up, so search by area. Check Roma specifically then check Condesa. These are cool trendy areas with a lot of the best food and bars. Because they are trendy, it often means the Airbnb’s are also trendy and well-designed. It’s a great area to be in.
If you book an Airbnb, you can sign up with a new account using my link and get $40-$52 off your booking. That is a night free for some of the cheaper listings! You can also just sign up now and use the credit on a later trip to anywhere.
11. Eat all the street food you see
Don’t be afraid of street food! Mexico City is a very clean city. If you have preconceived notions of what it will be like in Mexico, I think you’ll be surprised to know it’s cleaner here than in NYC! There are people all over the city picking up any litter and making sure it looks pristine. The food stalls on the street seemed very hygienic to me (but do keep in mind I lived in India for five years). A street taco goes from around 20 cents to 50 cents. I just grabbed them as snacks throughout the day – and not just tacos, literally anything someone was selling that had a line of locals, I was buying. Try it all because when else will you get such an authentic affordable time to do so?
12. Make sure to hit up the top museums & the main park
When you have a day to hang out, go to the Bosque de Chapultepec. This is where most of the big museums are located like the Modern Art Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the National Museum of History (which is in the castle on top). The park is bigger than Central Park and the top where the castle is offers amazing views. You can museum hop all day and grab street food in the park.
There are other museums outside of here which are mostly houses: Luis Barragan, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky to name a few. Some do need appointments to enter and all are best to buy tickets online to avoid a long wait.
13. Don’t miss the views of the Bella Artes
One of my favorite views of the city was from the cafe inside the Sears downtown (on the 8th floor). You’ll see the Bella Artes across from you while you drink coffee and look down into the central square. It’s a really nice break. This is where you’ll do a lot of shopping (most markets are near here) so a good place to take a break.
14. Get a Lime scooter
Maybe you’re already using Lime scooters everywhere, but if you’re not then it’s time to start! I loved scootering around Mexico City. The sidewalks are great and most roads have an in-between section with huge walkways. These are going to be around $4 for a ride that would be just $3 in an Uber but it’s so much more fun and you can “pause” them when you see somewhere you want to stop. Just download the app and scan the scooter to start going. Make sure you get one that is charged! If it shows up on the map, it’s charged.
15. Spend time in the parks to see the epic dog-walkers
So, I mentioned that between the roads are walkways and in those, you’ll see dog-walkers that are the coolest people ever. They will be walking 20 dogs at a time. Not just any dogs but little poof poof ones mixed with pit bulls and Labradors, it’s just the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Some even ride their bikes and have 10 dogs running on each side with them!
16. Take a food tour
Mexico City is THE place to take a food tour. I cannot recommend the Curious Mexican enough. Her tour was fantastic and combined street food I’ve never heard of in tiny corners of markets around the city with trendy cafes like Lalo for the best chilaquiles of your life.
17. Consider this yoga retreat
Many people want to go to Tulum or Puerto Escondido for a yoga retreat, but the benefit of doing one in Mexico City is that it’s about 1/4 of the price and then you are in a cool city to explore during downtime. The top ranked reteat is this 4 Day Detox to Retox Yoga Retreat for 3,247 MXN ($168). It has nearly 60 5-star reviews. With just the accommodation and meals being included, you already have saved a ton of money but you’re also getting your yoga classes and a daily wellness class. This isn’t a place that says you can’t drink or party, it’s a place that teaches balance. You can use your cell phone but don’t be obsessed, party but do yoga the next day and have a green juice! If you need help with balance, this is for you.
18. Hit up the right markets
First up is La Ciudadela Mercado which is the most popular tourist market (pictured above). You’ll find most things you want to buy here but it is quite touristy and for some reason everything is 200 pesos from a huge blanket to a tiny trinket.
You can visit La Flor de Jamaica to see a local flower, fruit, and veg market. Artesenias San Juan is an artisan market that is very small and hit or miss but prices are lower than the main tourist market. Casa Fusion Mercado was my favorite. It has local artisans kind of like an Etsy shop: very trendy cool things that aren’t as touristy.
19. Research restaurants
Because Mexico City is so big, it has hundreds of recommended restaurants. I think it’s important in such a foodie city to actually read reviews and think about where you’re going to eat rather than just popping into a random place. There are so many good ones that you’ll want to try – don’t risk trying a random mediocre restaurant. The food here is amazing!
20. Don’t forget the nightlife
Mexico City has a huge nightlife scene. It has cool hipster bars and cute hideaways like Jules Basement or speakeasies like Hanky Panky, where you need have someone let you in (and they have the best mixologists in the city!) You should definitely go out at least a couple of nights! Mexico City is so cosmopolitan and chill, you’re going to love it.
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