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 - Transportation
Mexico City has an inexpensive, easy-to-use metro and an equally cheap and practical bus system plying all the main routes. Taxis are plentiful.
Mexico City has made great efforts to encourage bicycle use, and though it still isn’t a common mode of transportation in the capital (except by delivery boys), cycling does seem to be catching on slowly. Bicycles can be a viable means to get around town and are often quicker and more pleasant than riding on overcrowded, recklessly driven buses. Bikes are loaned free from a module beside the Catedral Metropolitana. Otherwise, you can rent a bicycle from a module in front of the Museo de la Antropología.
A ciclovía (bicycle path) follows Av Chapultepec along a protected median from Bosque de Chapultepec to the Centro Histórico (though a detour through the streets of Colonia Roma is ignored by motorists). Another route runs along Paseo de la Reforma from the Auditorio Nacional to the Museo Rufino Tamayo. Follow the red stripe. A more extensive trail runs from Av Ejército Nacional in Polanco through the Bosque de Chapultepec, skirting the Periférico freeway from La Feria to Av San Antonio, with several steep bridges passing over the freeways. The trail then continues south to the Parque Ecológico de la Ciudad de México, for a total distance of 90km.
Bus, Pesero & Trolleybus
Mexico City’s thousands of buses and peseros (also called microbuses or combis) operate from around 5am until 8pm or 9pm daily; electric trolleybuses run until 11:30pm. Only a few routes run all night, notably those along Paseo de la Reforma and the metrobus along Av Insurgentes. This means you’ll get anywhere by bus and/or metro during the day but will probably have to take a few taxis after hours.
Peseros are generally gray-and-green minibuses operated by private firms. They follow fixed routes, often starting or ending at metro stations, and will stop at virtually any street corner. Route information is randomly displayed on cards attached to the windshield. Fares are M$2.50 for trips of up to 5km, M$3 for 5km to 12km and M$4 for more than 12km. Add 20% to all fares between 11pm and 6am. Municipally operated full-size orange buses (labeled ‘RTP’) and trolleybuses only pick up at bus stops; fares are M$2 regardless of distance traveled.
Women-only bus routes now run along Paseo de la Reforma and other key routes. The option was recently implemented in response to complaints from female riders that they are often molested on overcrowded buses. Look for the sign, ‘Exclusivo Damas.’
Along Av Insurgentes, a special metrobus plies a dedicated lane from metro Indios Verdes in the northern DF down to the southern end of San Ángel, near the national university (at the time of writing, construction was underway to extend the line 8.5km further south to Tlalpan). These 18m-long wheelchair-accessible Volvo vehicles stop at metro-style stations in the middle of the street, spaced at three- to four-block intervals. Access is by prepaid card, issued by machines at the entrance to the platforms, and rides cost M$3.50 (regardless of distance traveled). Rechargeable cards (M$8) are placed on a sensor device for entry. The metrobus runs round the clock, though frequency is reduced to every 20 minutes between midnight and 5am, when the fare increases to M$5.
Pesero routes ply practically every street that crisscrosses the Centro Histórico grid, while electric-powered trolleybuses follow a number of the key ejes (priority roads) throughout the rest of the city.
Autobuses del Sur & Autobuses del Norte (trolleybus) Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas between north and south bus terminals (stops at Plaza de las Tres Culturas; Plaza Garibaldi; Bellas Artes/Alameda; metro Hidalgo).
Metro Hidalgo-La Villa (bus) Paseo de la Reforma between Auditorio Nacional or metro Chapultepec and Basílica de Guadalupe (stops at Zona Rosa; Avenida Insurgentes; Alameda/metro Hidalgo; Plaza Garibaldi; Plaza de las Tres Culturas).
Metro Sevilla-P Masaryk (pesero) Between Colonia Roma and Polanco via Álvaro Obregón and Avenida Presidente Masaryk (stops at metro Niños Héroes; Avenida Insurgentes; metro Sevilla; Leibnitz).
Metro Tacubaya-Balderas-Escandón (pesero) Between Centro Histórico and Condesa, westbound via Puebla, eastbound via Durango (stops at Plaza San Juan; metro Balderas; metro Insurgentes; Parque España; Avenida Michoacán).
Car & Motorcycle
Touring Mexico City by car is strongly discouraged, unless you have a healthy reserve of stamina and patience. Even more than elsewhere in the country, traffic rules are seen as suggested behavior. Red lights may be run at will, no-turn signs are ignored and signals are seldom used.. Nevertheless, you may want to rent a car here for travel outside the city. Avoid parking on the street; most midrange and top-end hotels have guest garages.
To help combat pollution, Mexico City operates its ‘Hoy No Circula’ (Don’t Drive Today) program, banning many vehicles from being driven in the city between 5am and 10pm on one day each week. Exempted from the restriction are cars with a calcomanía de verificación (emissions verification sticker), obtained under the city’s vehicle-pollution assessment system.
The metro system offers the quickest way to get around Mexico City. Ridden by about 4.6 million passengers on an average weekday, it has 175 stations and more than 200km of track on 11 lines. Trains arrive every two to three minutes during rush hours. At M$3 a ride, it’s one of the world’s cheapest subways.
All lines operate from 5am to midnight weekdays, 6am to midnight Saturday and 7am to midnight Sunday. Platforms and cars can become alarmingly packed during rush hours (roughly 7:30am to 10am and 3pm to 8pm). At these times the forward cars are reserved for women and children, and men may not proceed beyond the ‘Solo Mujeres y Niños’gate. With such crowded conditions, it’s not surprising that pickpocketing occurs, so watch your belongings.
The metro is easy to use. Lines are color-coded and each station is identified by a unique logo. Signs reading ‘Dirección Pantitlán, ’ ‘Dirección Universidad’ and so on name the stations at the ends of the lines. Check a map for the direction you want. Buy a boleto (ticket), or several, at the taquilla (ticket window), feed it into the turnstile, and you’re on your way. When changing trains, look for ‘Correspondencia’ (Transfer) signs. Maps of the vicinity around each station are posted near the exits.
Mexico City has several classes of taxi. If you must hail a cab off the street, check that it has actual taxi license plates: numbers begin with the letters A or B. Check that the number on them matches the number painted on the bodywork. Also look for the carta de identificación (called the tarjetón), a postcard-sized ID that should be displayed visibly inside the cab, and ensure that the driver matches the photo. If the cab you’ve hailed does not pass these tests, get another.
To & From the Airport
The metro is convenient to the airport, though hauling luggage amid rush-hour crowds can be a Herculean task. Authorized taxis provide a painless, relatively inexpensive alternative.
The airport metro station is Terminal Aérea, on Línea 5 (yellow). It’s 200m from the terminal: leave by the exit at the end of Sala A (domestic arrivals) and continue past the taxi stand to the station.
Safe and reliable ‘Transporte Terrestre’ taxis, recognizable by their yellow doors and airplane logos, are controlled by a fixed-price ticket system.
To & From the Bus Terminals
The metro is the fastest and cheapest way to or from any bus terminal, but it’s tricky to maneuver through crowded stations and cars. Taxis are an easier option: all terminals have ticket booths for secure taxis autorizados, with fares set by zone (M$20 surcharge from 10pm to 6am). An agent at the exit will assign you a cab.
Metro Línea 5 (yellow) stops at Autobuses del Norte, just outside the terminal. To the center, follow signs for ‘Dirección Pantitlán’, then change at La Raza for Línea 3 (green) toward ‘Dirección Universidad’. (The La Raza connection is a six-minute hike through a ‘Tunnel of Science.’)
Terminal Oriente Tapo
This bus terminal is next door to metro station San Lázaro. To the center or Zona Rosa, take Línea 1 (pink) toward ‘Dirección Observatorio.’
Observatorio metro station, the eastern terminus of Línea 1 (pink), is a couple of minutes’ walk across a busy street (the pedestrian bridge has been closed until further notice). A taxi ticket to Colonia Roma costs M$70; to the Zócalo it’s M$98.
Terminal Sur is a two-minute walk from metro Tasqueña, the southern terminus of Línea 2, which stops at the Zócalo. For the Zona Rosa, transfer at Pino Suárez and take Línea 1 to Insurgentes (Dirección Observatorio). Going to the terminal, take the ‘Autobuses del Sur’ exit, which leads upstairs to a footbridge. Descend the last staircase on the left, then walk through a street market to reach the building.