Destination guide: Ciudad de Mexico
Ciudad de Mexico was the birthplace of the Aztec culture and one of the main strongholds of the Spanish Conquest and is a must-see destination for anyone travelling to North America. One of Ciudad de Mexico’s main attractions is the Zocalo, which houses the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the ruins of a Tenochtitlan temple.
Nearby, you can also visit the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Theatre of the Insurgents with a mosaic mural by Diego Rivera and the floating gardens of Xochimilco, as well as many other tourist landmarks. Purchase your flights at LAN.com and get ready for an incredible vacaction in Ciudad de Mexico.
Ciudad de Mexico - Practical Information
The Distrito Federal (DF) comprises 16 delegaciones (boroughs), which are in turn subdivided into some 1800 colonias (neighborhoods). Though this vast urban expanse appears daunting, the main areas of interest to visitors are fairly well defined and easy to traverse.
Note that some major streets, like Avenida Insurgentes, keep the same name for many kilometers, but the names (and numbering) of many lesser streets switch every few blocks. Full addresses normally include the colonia. Often the easiest way to find an address is by asking for the nearest metro station.
Besides their regular names, many major streets are termed Eje (axis). The Eje system establishes a grid of priority roads across the city. The north–south Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas, running from Coyoacán in the south to Tenayuca in the north, passes just east of the downtown public park, Alameda Central. Major north–south roads west of the Eje Central are termed Eje 1 Poniente, Eje 2 Poniente etc, while roads to the east of Eje Central are labeled Oriente. The same logic applies to major east–west roads to the north and south of the Alameda Central and Zócalo – Rayón is Eje 1 Norte, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier is Eje 1 Sur.
Your dollar, euro or pound will go a long way in Mexico. Assuming the peso’s exchange rate against the US dollar remains fairly stable, you’ll find this is an affordable country to travel in. Midrange travelers can live well in most parts of the country on the equivalent of US$75 to US$125 per person per day. Between US$40 and US$70 will get you a pleasant, clean and comfortable room for two people, with private bathroom and fan or air-conditioning, and you have the rest to pay for food (a full lunch or dinner in a decent restaurant typically costs US$12 to US$20), admission fees, transportation, snacks, drinks and incidentals. Budget travelers staying in hostels can easily cover the cost of accommodations and two restaurant meals a day with US$40. Add in other costs and you’ll probably spend US$50 to US$70.
The main exceptions to this are the Caribbean coast, parts of Baja California and some Pacific resort towns, where rooms can easily cost 50% more than elsewhere. Extra expenses such as internal airfares, car rentals and shopping push your expenses up, but if you have someone to share expenses with, basic costs per person drop considerably. Double rooms often cost only a few dollars more than singles, and triple or family rooms only a few dollars more than doubles. Rental cars start at around US$50 to US$60 per day, plus fuel, and cost no more for four people than for one.
At the top end of the scale, Mexico has plenty of luxurious hotels and resorts that charge over US$150 for a room, and restaurants where you can pay US$40 or more per person. But you can also stay in smaller classy hotels for US$80 to US$120 a double and eat extremely well for US$40 to US$50 per day.
1L gas (petrol): M$8
1L bottled water: M$10
Bottle of Modelo beer: M$18
Street taco: M$8-10
Souvenir T-shirt: M$100-150
Every tourist must have an easily obtainable Mexican-government tourist permit. Some nationalities also need to obtain visas. The regulations sometimes change: it’s wise to confirm them with a Mexican embassy or consulate. The websites of some Mexican diplomatic offices, including the London consulate (http://portal.sre.gob.mx/conreinounido) and the Washington embassy (http://portal.sre.gob.mx/usa) give useful information on visas and similar matters. The rules are also summarized on the website of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM, National Migration Institute; www.inm.gob.mx).
Citizens of the US, Canada, EU countries, Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Norway and Switzerland are among those who do not need visas to enter Mexico as tourists. If the purpose of your visit is to work (even as a volunteer), report, study or participate in humanitarian aid or human-rights observation, you may well need a visa whatever your nationality. Visa procedures can take several weeks and you may be required to apply in your country of residence or citizenship.
Non-US citizens passing (even in transit) through the US on the way to or from Mexico should check well in advance on the US’s complicated visa and visa-waiver rules. Consult a US consulate or your travel agent or the US State Department (http://travel.state.gov) or Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov) websites.
Weights & Measures
Things that visitors are allowed to bring into Mexico duty-free include items for personal use such as the following: clothing; two cameras; two cell phones; a portable computer; a portable radio/CD or DVD player or digital music player; three surfboards or windsurfing boards; two musical instruments; one tent; four fishing rods; medicine for personal use, with prescription in the case of psychotropic drugs; 6L of wine and 3L of other alcoholic drinks (adults only); and 400 cigarettes (adults).
The normal routine when you enter Mexico is to complete a customs declaration form (which lists duty-free allowances), and then place it in a machine. If the machine shows a green light, you pass without inspection. If a red light shows, your baggage will be searched.
Stores are typically open from 9am to 8pm Monday to Saturday. In the south of the country and in small towns, some stores close between 2pm and 4pm, then stay open till 9pm. Some don’t open on Saturday afternoon. Stores in malls and coastal resort towns often open on Sunday too. Supermarkets and department stores usually open from 9am or 10am to 10pm every day.
Offices have similar Monday to Friday hours to stores, with a greater likelihood of the 2pm to 4pm lunch break. Offices with tourist-related business, including airline and car-rental offices, usually open on Saturday too, from at least 9am to 1pm.
Typical restaurant hours are 7am (9am in central Mexico) to midnight. If a restaurant has a closing day, it’s usually Sunday or Monday. Cafés typically open from 8am to 10pm.
Banks are normally open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday. In smaller towns they may close earlier or not open on Saturday. Casas de cambio (money-exchange offices) are usually open from 9am to 7pm daily, often with even longer hours in coastal resorts. Post offices typically open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday.
Local calls from fixed phones are cheap; international calls can be expensive, but with widely available discount cards they needn’t be. Calling from your hotel can be expensive as hotels charge what they like for this service. Quite a lot of hotels still have antiquated phone systems requiring outside calls to be made via the reception. Buying a Mexican SIM card or cell phone is generally much cheaper than roaming with your cell phone from home. Following are the most common ways to make calls in Mexico.
Internet phone services such as Skype (www.skype.com) can be the cheapest option if you have an account and an appropriate headset and microphone. You can use Skype at internet cafés with high-speed internet (that’s most of them), or on your laptop in places with wi-fi access.
Like other Mexican phone numbers, every Mexican cell phone (teléfono celular) has an area code (usually the code of the city it was bought in). The area code and the phone’s number total 10 digits. When calling a cell phone from a landline, you dial [tel] 044 before the 10 digits if the cell phone’s area code is the same as the area code you are dialing from, or [tel] 045 if the cell phone has a different area code. From cell phone to cell phone, just dial the 10-digit number. To call a Mexican cell phone from another country, dial your international access code, followed by the Mexican country code ([tel] 52), then 1, then the 10-digit number.
Mexico’s three main cell-phone companies – Telcel (www.telcel.com), IUSACell (www.iusacell.com.mx, in Spanish) and Movistar (www.movistar.com.mx) – all sell phones starting around M$400, including a charger and some call credit. Telcel is the most widespread network, with ubiquitous sales outlets and coverage almost everywhere with a population. Telcel top-up cards are widely available from newsstands and mini-marts. Topping up in larger amounts (M$200-plus) often brings extra free credit.
Roaming with your own cell phone from home in Mexico is possible if you have a GSM or 3G phone, but it is generally very expensive. Most cell phones from the US, Canada or Europe have to be unlocked before a Mexican SIM card (‘chip’) will work in them. Many Mexican cell-phone stores can do this for around M$300, but it’s often easier and little more expensive to buy a Mexican phone.
Bear in mind that once you are away from the place you bought the phone or SIM card, calls are more expensive and you’ll also pay to receive them – as do people you call.
Locutorios & Casetas de teléfono
These are call offices where an on-the-spot operator connects the call for you. Costs are often lower than those for public card phones. They often have a telephone symbol outside, or signs saying ‘Teléfono’, ‘Lada’ or ‘Larga Distancia.’ In Baja California casetas are known as cabinas.
Long-Distance Discount Cards
Available from kiosks and some mini-marts, usually in denominations of M$100, M$200 and M$500, tarjetas telefónicas de descuento (discount phone cards) offer substantial savings on long-distance and international calls when compared with public card phones and locutorios. To use them, you call a local or toll-free access number, then dial in the scratch-off code from the card, then dial the number you want in the normal way. You can use them from hotel rooms with direct outside lines, private phones and most public card phones.
Prefixes & Codes
To call a landline number in the town you’re in, simply dial the local number (eight digits in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, seven digits elsewhere). To call a landline number in another town in Mexico, dial the long-distance prefix [tel] 01, followed by the area code (two or three digits) and then the local number. For example, to call from Mexico City to Oaxaca, dial [tel] 01, then the Oaxaca area code [tel] 951, then the seven-digit local number. Area codes are listed under city and town headings throughout this book.
To make an international call, dial the international prefix [tel] 00, followed by the country code, area code and local number. For example, to call New York City from Mexico, dial [tel] 00, then the US country code [tel] 1, then the New York City area code [tel] 212, then the local number.
To call a Mexican landline number from another country, dial your international access code, then the Mexico country code [tel] 52, then the area code and number.
Public Card Phones
These are common in towns and cities, and you’ll usually find some at airports and bus stations. Easily the most common are those of the country’s main, almost monopolistic, phone operator, Telmex (www.telmex.com). To use a Telmex card phone you need a phone card known as a tarjeta Ladatel. These are cards you insert into the phone when you call and they are sold at kiosks and shops everywhere – look for the blue-and-yellow ‘Ladatel’ signs. The cards come in denominations of M$30, M$50 and M$100.
Calls from Telmex card phones cost M$1 per minute for local calls (M$3.12 to cell phones); M$4 per minute long distance within Mexico (M$6.12 to cells); M$5 per minute to the US (except Alaska and Hawaii) or Canada; M$10 per minute to Central America; and M$20 to M$25 per minute to the rest of the world.
Toll-Free & Operator Numbers
Toll-free numbers in Mexico ([tel] 800 followed by seven digits) always require the [tel] 01 prefix. You can call most of these numbers, and emergency numbers, from Telmex card phones without inserting a telephone card. US and Canadian toll-free numbers are [tel] 800 or [tel] 888 followed by seven digits. Some of these can be reached from Mexico (dial [tel] 001 before the 800), but you may have to pay a charge for the call. For a domestic operator in Mexico, dial [tel] 020; for an international operator, dial [tel] 090. For Mexican directory information, dial [tel] 040.
Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades
Two parallel flat blades above a large circular grounding pin