For this New Year’s, I was in Mexico City. After two weeks in the city, I can honestly say it is a place that I will keep coming back to. Just a 3-hour flight from Chicago and 5-hours from New York, CDMX has quickly become a popular weekend destination culture seekers like myself. The food is amazing, the people are friendly, and the public transportation is top-notch. In addition, it will have everything you want in an urban city, but with a Mexican twist on things.
In this in-depth Mexico City guide, I will go over when to visit, sights to visit, getting around, safety, lodging, and food.
1. Stay in La Condesa, Roma Norte, and Zona Rosa
There are several dozen neighborhoods in Mexico City. If you’re an American or expat, I highly recommend you stay in Condesa, Roma Norte, or Colonia Cuauhtémoc. These are the most chic neighborhoods. There are plenty of English speakers given the expat-centric nature of these neighborhoods. In addition, you are far enough from Centro to avoid most of the heavy traffic. In addition, you will find all your common amenities in these neighborhoods: yoga studios, high end gyms, ATMs, bars, and clubs.
I made the mistake of living in an Airbnb in Centro during my stay in Mexico City. You had people screaming at night, heavy traffic, and a congestion of people. Do not make the same mistake I did!
La Condesa is a neighborhood located south of the city center. You will find many English speakers, as most of its residents are wealthy locals or expats. The neighborhood is very nice, green, and chic with lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs. My yoga studio is actually in Condesa. I was pleasantly surprised, as it was comparable to any studio you would normally find in Chicago, New York, or L.A.
Colonia Roma is one of Mexico City’s most popular areas, mainly due to its hipster tendencies. It has restaurants, bars, and markets. If you choose this area, try to stay as close to the Mercado Roma as possible. As for food, I would visit one of the city’s most renowned ice cream parlors Helado Obscuro.
Zona Rosa is a neighborhood known for its shopping, nightlife, gay bars, and Korean and Japanese community. It is also the headquarters to many banks, financial institutions, and embassies. In fact, the U.S. Embassy is located right next to Zona Rosa at the Angel of Independence. The city’s largest shopping center, Reforma 222, is also located in Zona Rosa.
2. Eat the Street Food
Try to street food in Mexico City! The street food here rivals even the best in the world, Beijing, Shanghai, and Singapore. Tacos go for around 10 pesos each ($0.60 USD), and fruit salads are 30 pesos each ($1.50 USD). It is extremely affordable, and most taste even better than restaurant food! The best street food is along the Angel of Independence.
3. Use the Metro
Generally, when you are traveling around in Latin America, Uber will be your cheapest option. In Mexico City, the public transportation system (which includes the buses and metro) is excellent. Buses have their own “dedicated” street lanes and come every 2-3 minutes. The metro comes every 4-5 minutes and can get you across the city in a few minutes. During rush hour when traffic is most intense, public transportation will be much quicker than Uber.
However, let me give you a word of caution. Public transportation gets extremely crowded in the mornings and evenings around rush hour. You are shoulder-to-shoulder with other people. I would buy an anti-theft backpack to secure your belongings.
4. If Driving, Leave an Hour Early
The traffic in Mexico City is so bad that the government implemented Hoy No Circula, a program intended to improve the traffic congestion and air quality of Mexico City. Depending on the number of your license plate, you are restricted to driving on certain days of the week.
That being said, the traffic congestion in Mexico City is one of the worst in the world. During rush hour, it can take more than an hour to go 7 km. If you are adamant about taking an Uber, I would leave for your destination an hour early.
5. Buy an Anti-Theft Backpack or Purse
I would avoid backpacks and purses that are easily opened. Since Mexico City is extremely crowded, pick-pocketing is much easier. While you are not likely to encounter this in Condesa, Zona Rosa, or Roma, you will in Centro and in the buses or trains. I would buy an anti-theft backpack to secure your belongings.
6. Go in December and January
Mexico City is temperate all year around. In the summer, temperatures range from 60° to 82°F. In the winter, temperatures range from 45° to 70°F. That being said, you will get the best hotel, flight, and Airbnb rates in the winter.
7. Budget Ahead of Time, Mexico City Can Be Expensive
Mexico City can be really cheap. But some restaurants, amenities, and nightlife can cost as much as New York, L.A., and Chicago. For instance, if you want to go to the recommended restaurants in the expat areas of Zona Rosa and Condesa, you’ll need to shell out 300 pesos ($20 USD) for a meal. If you stay in any of the top-rated hotels, this could run you $200 USD a night. Drop-in yoga classes are 200 pesos ($12). However, some yoga studios, like Bikram Condesa, offer 10-day class passes for 400 pesos ($21 USD).
8. Museums Are Closed Mondays
Many of the museums in Mexico City close their doors on Mondays for maintenance, cleaning, and restoration activities. However, they are open Tuesdays to Sundays, so I would go then!
9. Check-Out the Many Markets
Visit the La Ciudadela Mercado. It is the most popular tourist market. You’ll find most things you want to bring back, but it is quite touristy. Everything here is between 100 to 200 pesos ($5 to $10 USD), from a local clothing to a huge blanket.
Next, I would check out the area East of Centro. The area is extremely crowded, busy, and filled with locals. However, the food here is amazing. You can find everything from souvenirs and cigarettes to purses and electronics.
Mercado Roma is the home to many artisanal restaurants and a popular hangout place for expats.
10. The Night Life Scene is Okay
Mexico City is supposed to have a huge night life scene. But when I went, the night life was tepid at best. When I went out Friday and Saturday, there were not as many people as I expected. The reggaeton bars in Centro were pretty empty. Even the clubs in Condesa and Zona Rosa were only ½ full.