The Ultimate Travel Guide to Mexico City: Explore the City of Colour Like a Local
Aug. 24, 2021
Aug. 24, 2021
Ciudad de México, a city with a long history dating back to ancient roots has transformed itself through a renaissance, to one booming of art, culture, and economic importance. It is the capital of Mexico, with a huge population of over 21 million residents, making it the most populous city in North America and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world!
Still thriving after 500 years, Mexico City was founded as Tenochtitlan in 1325, later being colonized by the Spanish in 1521. It has a rich and conflicting past, yet it was able to revolutionize into a lively and warm-spirited haven. It is known as the city of colour, with vibrant colours seen in the streets, the monuments, its ravish courtyards, plazas, and of course in its breathtaking street art. Locals say if life had a colour, the colour would be named “Mexico City”.
There is so much to do and see, with attractions at every corner, mouth-watering cuisine, a renowned art scene, and many thrilling historic sites (just to give you some perspective, one of Mexico city’s neighbourhoods, Xochimilco is an entire UNESCO World Heritage Site itself). This city will make you feel at home, with very welcoming locals and great hospitality, making this trip unforgettable. Keep reading this ultimate guide to learn more about Mexico City!
Bienvenido a Mexico City! The city awaits you with endless possibilities and exploration, but first, you have to get there from Mexico City International Airport, also known as Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez. We’ve got the best transportation options available to you from the airport, ones that will make you feel like a local just as you begin your journey!
A convenient and cheap option for travellers available 24/7. Found at both the domestic and international entrances of Terminal 1 and 2, you will find certified taxi stands authorized to serve the airport. The official taxis are distinguishable due to their colours being pink and white or red and gold. The permissible taxi companies are Nueva Imagen, Sitio 300, Confort, Porto Taxi, and Excelencia.
The airport has a special system in which you have to pay beforehand, due to instances of taxi companies inflating meter charges for tourists. To buy a ticket, head to taxi booths located outside the baggage claim area, you will see staff in brightly yellow-coloured jackets that can assist with any inquiries. They charge a flat rate based on the zone you’re travelling to, but getting to the city center will cost around 250 to 350 MXN (12.47 to 17.45 USD) with the trip taking roughly 20 minutes, based on traffic and route.
The metro is the perfect way to get a real local experience for cheap and for those travelling without a lot of luggage. Take a 10-minute walk from Terminal 1 to Terminal Aérea station, you will have to walk outside the airport as the station is not connected. On your walk pay attention to see the Metro logo that will direct you to the entrance of the station. Take line 5 and when you reach La Raza station, exit and take line 3 to get to the city center. Make sure to keep your belongings close throughout the trip just to be safe.
From Monday to Friday the metro runs from 5:00 to 00:00 and 7:00 to 00:00 on the weekends. The tickets are budget-friendly, with a one-way ticket costing 5 MXN (0.25 USD). The journey including the walk and the metro is around 50 minutes.
Operated by the government of Mexico City, the Metrobus is a convenient option as it serves lines from the airport directly to the downtown city center. These modern buses are comfortable and offer a lot of storage space if you're travelling heavy. Take the Metrobus line 4 where you can be dropped off at the major capital sites of interest, including the Bellas Artes or the Paseo de la Reforma Boulevard.
First, you have to purchase the Metrobus Smart Card that is available in the arrival hall of Terminal 1 and 2, they should be clearly marked, and make sure to top it with at least a one-way fare of 30 MXN (1.50 USD). If you’re in Terminal 1, exit doors 6 or 7 with the bus station directly in front of you. For Terminal 2, the Metrobus stop will be in front of door 3 on the lower level. They run from 4:30 to 00:00 every day.
Mexico City has so many things to offer for people of all different interests. From a peaceful walk in a beautiful park to visiting a bustling district with a thrilling nightlife, you choose what adventure you would want to see from the city! We have compiled some of the best activities you must try while on your visit here.
Known by the locals as Colonia Roma, this neighbourhood is one of Mexico City’s hottest and popular areas full of things to do. It is divided into two separate colonias, Roma Norte and Norma Sur.
Roma Norte has a European feel as it was originally planned to be an upper-class neighbourhood in the 1800s, during the porfiriato era. This area houses great boutiques, mezcal bars, stunning art galleries, and most notably some of the best restaurants in town. It is packed with action and is always lively.
Norma Sur is a more tranquil neighbourhood where life is laid-back and relaxed. Here you will find delicious family-owned food stands and vibrant markets that have everything you need. You can also explore its historic roots from artist lofts to old, deteriorated buildings.
These areas combined provide a trendy space where you can observe the local’s way of life. It is worth starting your day with breakfast here as you will not be disappointed, with Mexican delicacies being served at every corner, along with toothsome Colombian cuisine, and of course Cuban ice cream (we heavily recommend trying it!)
The neighbourhood of Nuevo Polanco was once a warehouse district that focused on industrial operations, now it has been transformed into a futuristic sphere, where remarkable architectural visions are being built, such as the Soumaya Museum.
Here lie over 60,000 extensive collections of Mexican and European art from the collection of the billionaire, Carlos Slim. This free museum displays the art created throughout the ages, featuring many notable artists such as Van Gough, Rodin, and Dali. A perfect activity for art-lovers, observe the rare artworks but also don’t forget to admire the structural beauty of the building as well!
Admission is free and this private museum is open from 10:30 to 17:00 every day of the week.
Located in the area of Alameda Central, known as the city’s lungs due to the bright presence of nature across the region, the Chapultepec Zoo is home to around 2000 animals ranging from 200 different species. It is praised for its success in sustaining endangered species such as the Mexican wolves and California condors.
Most notably they house the adorable giant pandas, which were gifted from China before the country altered their policies of gifting due to the panda’s increasing endangerment. The zoo does an amazing job of sustaining and increasing its population of pandas, in an attempt to help them recover from extinction.
This activity is perfect for families and animal lovers, a relaxing time to spend with children, and adore these wonderful creatures from a close distance. It is accessible by foot from many different districts in the city and its layout makes it easy to navigate throughout the whole zoo.
It has free admission and its open Tuesdays to Sundays from 09:00 to 16:00.
The neighbourhood of Condesa is one of the most fashionable districts in the city, having its own special culture of exquisite taste and style. Here you will find a crowd of local and foreign artists, students, and aspiring fashion designers, how luxurious!
Make sure to visit the many unique vintage clothing stores in the area, where some of the best pieces of fashion reside for a good price. You might find some hidden treasures in their boutiques, it's worth a try! The area is also known for its vast international cuisine, with restaurants serving food from Argentina to France. Heaven for foodies, make sure to prepare for an exciting taste of flavours all over the world. Lastly, if you are looking for a fun night out this is the place for you, with thrilling nightlife prominent across the whole area; you will never get bored here!
The Chapultepec Castle is a site with deep and rich history, with the site of the hill originally being a sacred place of the Aztecs. The castle itself was created in 1725, becoming one of the only two royal palaces located in North America (with Iturbide Palace which is also located in Mexico City).
It had many uses throughout time, including housing royal novelty Emperor Maximillian I and Empress Carlota, a military academy, the presidential residence, an observatory, and has officially become the National Museum of History since the 1940s.
It is free to walk up to the castle but to enter it costs 75 MXN (3.74 USD) for adults, and free for students and children under 13 years old. It’s open from 09:00 to 17:00 from Tuesdays to Sundays. Grab some of their famous corn while walking up for the full experience!
Parque México is a must-visit for everyone, it is considered to be one of the most attractive urban gardens. Not only will you find an abundance of flora and fauna, but also intricate Art Deco attractions scattered throughout the park, including the iconic ironwork clock tower with functioning bells.
There is much to do for everybody, from families to skateboarders. Feel free to have a peaceful picnic, spread out a blanket, and enjoy a tranquil lunch while viewing the charming scenery. Feed the ducks you see in ponds as you walk through the green wonderland. It is great with those with animals, as the nine hectares of space gives them a perfect opportunity to run around and enjoy the area. The Foro Lindberg, an area with five huge pillars creating a vast stage, is adored by skateboarders and dog walkers.
Located south of Mexico City lies a colourful and exciting borough called Xochimilco. Known as the “Venice of Mexico”, it is best known for its extensive canals that were left from the settlements of the Valley of Mexico.
These canals and the artificial islands in the region, called Chinampas, are the main attraction of the site. There are brightly coloured trajineras, or gondola-style wooden boats that can take you through these areas in which you can dance, have a drink, watch live mariachi performances, and enjoy the overall atmosphere. Grab some friends or go with other visitors to make this experience worthwhile. The more people the more fun!
This activity runs from 09:00 to 18:00 every day, with prices ranging from 400 to 500 MXN (19.95 to 24.49 USD) per hour.
In 1987, it was declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical roots, making it an unforgettable journey that is worth trying!
Mexico City is a food paradise for foodies of all tastes and preferences, it’s one of those cities where every step you take there will be a local restaurant, bar, and street food stands at every corner. Being surrounded by so many options can be intimidating at first, they are all exquisite, how do you choose? Well, if you are looking for all your favourite Mexican dishes in one spot, we have the best locations for you!
Head to mercados, local markets are known for their selection of produce and other groceries, but most especially for housing some of the best street food ever. They are the heart of Mexico’s culture, where the vibrant colours and spirit of the city come alive. The markets can be divided into upscale and traditional, both with their own unique charms and specialties.
The upscale markets are fancier and polished than traditional markets, as the name suggests. A perfect example of such a market is Mercado Roma, a newer market that opened in 2014, focusing on gourmet cuisine and experience. Here you will find artisanal and organic foods, coffee and beer bars, as well as Mexican and international restaurants.
Mercado Roma has one of the most iconic vendors in the whole city, Churreria El Moro, which serves delicious and authentic churros with hot chocolate. It’s located in front of the terrace at the back of Mercado Roma. We also recommend trying Pozole de Jose Guadalupe, serving amazing Mexican cuisine, including a special soup popular in Jalisco.
The market is open every day from 09:00 to 21:30 and the restaurants are open daily from 15:00 to 02:00.
The most authentic mercados experience can be found at traditional markets. These markets usually have a long history and are well-beloved by the locals, giving you the opportunity to not only immerse yourself in Mexican cuisine, but also in its roots.
Head to Mercado La Merced, one of the largest and most popular markets in the city. Built-in 1963, it was created to bring together the many market stalls scattered across the neighbourhood, building a passionate and harmonious community of food lovers in one spot! It has become a whole experience, with the market spanning numerous blocks, with every space filled with a vendor selling their individual, unique specialties.
It’s a lively and bustling market, with shopkeepers advertising their goods, delivery men hustling to complete orders, and locals browsing in and out of stores; how more local can this place get! If you find yourself lost within the busy crowd, don’t be afraid to ask for directions or help.
The building, Mercado de Comida is where the food court is situated, selling the best traditional Mexican dishes. We recommend trying Cocina Frida, which are known for their chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast dish of lightly fried tortillas and toppings such as salsa, chicken, beans, and scrambled eggs. In the area of Calle Rosario, you will find a variety of vendors lined up offering local favourites such as tlacoyos, tacos, and quesadillas, how delicious!
The market is open every day from 09:00 to 19:00.
There are so many different neighbourhoods in Mexico City, all with their own unique charms that make each street different from the other. Some are best for the history-lovers while others are suited for those wanting to immerse themselves in Mexican culture. We got the best neighbourhoods for your interests, along with recommended hotels and hostel options!
Coyoacán is a southern district, in which its name comes from Nahuatl (an Aztec language) meaning “the place of coyotes”. It’s a tranquil neighbourhood away from the big city, giving you an opportunity to relax in peace while visiting the local cafes, stores, markets, and restaurants. It’s a great place to observe the local’s way of living and be a part of their culture too.
This area is filled with Mexican culture, where praised intellectuals and great artists beloved by the nation lived, such as Frida Kahlo and Salvador Novo. It’s where the Spanish founded the first capital of New Spain after the collapse of Tenochtitlán, an important part of ancient indigenous culture.
This district houses the iconic Jardín Centenario, a beautiful public garden with the notable iconic coyote fountain in the center. Other attractions worth visiting nearby include the Frida Kahlo Museum and the Léon Trotsky’s Museum!
A historical colonial mansion that was turned into a bed and breakfast is a great way of beginning to enjoy Mexico’s cultural past. The space was designed with French-inspired details, from the architecture to its furniture, giving you a magical and unique space to have during your trip.
It includes a huge and beautiful garden, swimming pool, fountains, a gym, and a wine cellar with over 200 labels, alongside spacious and comfortable rooms. Its lavishness is recognized by many in the area, with the mansion sometimes being even used for films!
A stunning guest house with a home-away-from-home feel, the area is decorated with warm colours and Mexican art pieces, making it feel very welcoming and comfortable. Its location is surrounded by green scenery, sweeping trees, and growing vines across the outside walls, but its main attraction is being in downtown Coyoacán. The guest house is only a seven-minute walk to the two main central squares, Plaza Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario. The staff is very friendly and will gladly assist you with any questions or concerns!
The house has bright and spacious rooms with private bathrooms, free wifi, television, 24-hour security, a terrace, and offers single, double, and quadruple rooms.
The two neighbouring districts are known for their bohemian culture, where you will find an exciting and modern lifestyle among its people. There are many art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and bustling nightlife. It is often compared to New York’s SoHo. Condesa and Roma are perfect for those who want to be in the middle of Mexico’s action!
You will come across gorgeous street art, 100-year-old buildings, and iconic attractions such as Parque México. Many trendy places among the locals are also located here, such as Huset, Maximo Bistro, and Azul Condesa.
This hotel is situated in the stylish neighbourhood of Condesa, with a simple and minimalist aesthetic to put your eyes at ease. It is housed in a 1928 building, combining heritage with modern elegance, having all furniture custom-designed by Parisian designer India Mahdavi.
Amenities include air conditioning, an Audi house car, rain showers, free wifi, business and wellness centers, valet parking, and bicycles!
A family-owned hostel-home that is welcoming of everyone, it's great for travellers on a budget who want a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. This hostel promotes art, local buying, and community living, where travellers across the world come together in a safe space to share stories, food, ideas, and music. It prides itself on making visitors truly feel a part of Mexico and the Mexican identity, the owners and staff also enjoy revealing the city’s secrets, best locations, and ways to enjoy being in Mexico City!
Each dorm bed comes with a personal locker and a power socket to charge all your electricals. Free wifi, board games, showers, common rooms, and self-catering facilities are all included.
If you love being surrounded by luxurious shopping malls, renowned museums, big parks, and iconic sights, Polanco is for you. It has a posh style that combines Spanish colonial buildings with modern architecture, giving you a taste of both worlds. This is where architects plan and execute their visions, creating a futuristic dynamic that blends in with the culture. It is also considered to be one of the safest neighbourhoods in the city.
Many attractions and local-favourite spots are a short walk in Polanco, this is because the district is centrally-located, making it easy to travel to any sites you want to see. It houses many iconics sites such as Museo Nacional de Antropología, and Chapultepec Castle.
One of the top hotels in the area, Hyatt Regency is constantly praised not only because of its service but also due to its location. It offers walking distance to all the major attractions in the neighbourhood, alongside spectacular views of Polanco and Chapultepec Park that will make your mornings feel truly magical.
Its high-class elegance perfectly fits the vibe of the neighbourhood, with a chic interior design that will make you stunned. Amenities include free wifi, an on-site restaurant, pool, fitness center, laundry, and more!
This apartment-style hotel is a great way to be budget-friendly while in a luxurious district. Located in the famous area of Barrie de Polanco, this building features 24 designer apartments to give you an authentic local feel of the city. It is close to the Museum of Modern Art, the National Anthropology Museum, and less than a kilometer away from the Bosque de Chapultepec forest!
Here you will find complete amenities such as a cinema room, a gym, video game space, terrace, and a shared kitchen!
Mexico City is a great city to visit any time of the year. For those who are looking for warmer temperatures with a lot of sunshine, the best time to visit would be between March to May. During these months, the temperature varies from mid to high 70’s making it a perfect trip for sun-seekers. It is also one of the most popular seasons so make sure to book beforehand. To travellers who want to experience the most authentic trip and be a part of Mexico’s culture, September to November is the time for you. The weather might be a bit chillier, but many cultural events such as the Day of the Dead take place.
The official currency used in Mexico City is Mexican Pesos (MXN), however, the US Dollar is also widely accepted, with even most shops and restaurants displaying their prices in both MXN and USD. We recommend using a mix of US dollars and pesos, using the dollar to pay for big expenses such as accommodations and entrance fees, and pesos for smaller things such as tipping.
Tipping is widely appreciated in all services in the city. For restaurant servers the customary tip is 10-20 percent of the total bill, taxi drivers do not expect a tip, but it is recommended to tip 10 MXN if they personally help with the luggage, and bartenders accept 10-20 MXN per drink or 10-20 percent of the total bill. Tipping is appreciated in all major currencies such as Euros, US dollars, and Canadian Dollars, but the easiest to exchange for local workers are Mexican Pesos and US Dollars.
Metrocards are very useful in the city, because of their convenience you don’t have to worry about buying enough metro tickets for your stay or potentially losing them. Metrocards cost 15 MXN (0.75 USD), and you can top them up at the ticket windows in metro stations, make sure the window does not say ‘solo boletos’ as that is only for single ticket purchases. We recommend topping at least 20 MXN (1.00 USD) if you’re planning on using transportation systems a lot, the limit currently stands around 120 MXN (5.98 USD). You can only pay in cash. These Metrocards work on all forms of public transport in the city including the Metro, Ecobici, Trolebús, Metrobús, Cablebús, RTP buses, and Tren Ligero.
Mexico City uses two main types of plugs, type A and type B plugs. Type A plugs have two parallel pins while type B plugs have the same two parallel pins as well as a lower grounding pin.
Lokafy is a company based on connecting travellers all over the world with personalized tour guides that we call 'Lokafyers'. Our mission is to make travel personal, as many times tourists do not feel connected to the cities they are visiting and we want to change that, to make individuals feel a part of the culture like a local. We will only see the interconnectedness of all people once we see the beauty of the world through their eyes, and we'll understand the world better by getting to know the planet through the diversity of people and their own personal experiences.
With Lokafy, individuals pick a city they are visiting and are given a list of Lokafyers that can give them a local tour of their city. Different Lokafyers have different specialties; some are interested in food and know the best places to dine, while others may be more knowledgeable about historic and interesting heritage sites. Individuals can choose a Lokafyer that best suits their interests and are given tours catered to their interests.
We currently operate in more than 300 countries and are continuously growing. So if you are planning on a trip to Mexico City, or the next time you’re travelling, experience a personalized journey through Lokafy, making an unforgettable trip!
Originally Written: Nadim Kassymov, Gabrielle Goldson, and Dia Mukherjee
Edited: Vinita Malik
Aug. 24, 2021