Mexico City (CDMX- Ciudad de Mexico) is a modern hub where all of Mexico's diverse regions collide. From amazing art and history, to mouth-watering food and the many street markets, it's hard to find a dull moment in this city. We spent over a month in Ciudad de Mexico and here is everything you need to know:
- Main airport is Benito Juárez International Airport. It is a very busy, yet very organized airport. Immigration and customs are straight forward. Be sure to fill out your forms on the airplane to save time.
- Visa: Americans are not required to issue a visa in order to travel to Mexico, and in most cases you will get a stamp for 180 days of travel within the country.
- The airport has many ATMs by the taxi booths after clearing customs and getting your luggage.
- Getting from airport to your hotel/Airbnb: there are authorized taxi booths after customs so be sure to utilize those. Taxi's are relatively cheap. The ride from the airport to pretty much anywhere in the city should take around 30-45 minutes and cost about $200MXN ($9.5 USD). Uber (and even UberEats) is operating in Mexico City and is another convenient and cheap option.
- This city is big, both geographically and population wise (over 20M). It is easy and safe to walk around in most parts and at most times of day. Contrary to media reports and popular belief, we never felt unsafe. It is recommended of course to follow "Large City" procedures such as not being too "flashy" with expensive equipment and belongings (iPhones, jewelry, bags, cameras), especially in the subway/metro.
- Speaking of the Metro: it is a great and efficient way to getting around the city. If you ever used the metro in NYC, Paris or London you will find this system to be very similar. A ride is as cheap as $5MXN (25 cents).
- Alternatively, Ubers are between $2-$5 for rides ranging from 10-40 minutes.
- As always, it is highly recommended to get a data plan or alternatively, get a local SIM with a data plan, it is pretty affordable and helps a lot. Telcel has some great data plan options (around $8 per 1GB, or $24 for 4GB) and it is super easy to set up, just stop by any of their locations. Not difficult to find!
- SUPER PRO TIP: download an offline map of Mexico City on the Google Maps App. Click HERE for instructions. If you can't find the download button, just tap the menu button on your Google Maps app, choose the third option ("Offline Areas"), hit "Custom Area" and zoom out and scroll to the area in Mexico you would like to have available offline and hit Download. If you get a message that "the area isn't available offline", zoom out a bit. It should work. What does having an offline area mean? It means that you will be able to see where you are and navigate even without internet connection. Your GPS (that blue dot on the map) works even with Airplane mode turned on and cellular data turned off. Furthermore, you can find museums, restaurants, internet spots, bars, etc, in advance on Google maps and add flags known as "labels" (here is how). That way you will be able to navigate to those places even without internet. Still have a question? Get in touch and I will help. :)
- PRO TIP: Many restaurants are closed on Mondays!
Local currency: at the time of writing this the exchange rate for 1 USD is 21.3 MXN (Pesos). It is actually an amazing exchange rate for Americans and it makes this already cheaper city (compared to other large cities) even more affordable! Click here for current exchange rate.
Getting local currency: I find it best to withdraw money from the ATM. Usually best exchange rates. Be sure to inform your bank of your travel plans. Again, the airport has many ATMs by the taxi booths.
Like any other big city, credit cards are accepted (almost) everywhere and with no minimum charges or surcharges. Tips can also be charged to a card. For good service, we recommend tipping between 15%-20%.
Obviously, Spanish is really helpful in Mexico, as many people don't speak English and most restaurant menus are exclusively in Spanish. Don't you worry though, hotels, museums and many restaurant employees DO speak English. However, use this opportunity to learn/improve your Spanish. It doesn't have to be perfect (ours isn't)! Here are some tips that can help a lot:
- Take a few Spanish classes in advance (nothing fancy), an app would do. I highly recommend Babbel. You can also download classes and continue learning offline on the plane or anywhere else! With Babbel you do have to pay a little for a subscription but it is worth it. This app is really awesome and took my Spanish to the next level! If you are looking for a free option, Duolingo is also great.
- Download the Google Translate App and then be sure to download the offline Spanish dictionary in advance. You will be able to translate even without internet! Here is how.
- Be patient, positive and keep an open mind. Find the fun in miscommunication. It's bound to happen.
BEST AREAS TO EXPLORE AND STAY AT?
- Coyoacán - located downtown, this was the first neighborhood in Mexico City. If Frida Kahlo chose to stay here most of her life, then you know it must be the coolest place in town. This neighborhood has the most culture, colorful structures, street markets and picturesque parks in Mexico City.
- Roma - Roma (Norte and Sur) probably features the best and hippest restaurants + bars in all of Mexico City. Other than that, is however pretty quiet and has a mostly residential vibe.
- Zona Rosa - this is a small area in the Northern part of town that is close to many of the best museums, theaters and plazas. There are lots of restaurants and bars with a laid back vibe.
- Condesa - Similarly to Roma, this also a quiet residential neighborhood with lots of parks to grab a seat, sip a latte and relax in. Lots of nice restaurants, a bit more upscale then most of the city. Also known for its fancy nightlife and great shopping.
Where to stay
There are many awesome boutique hotels in Mexico City, here are some of our recommendations:
Located in Zona Rosa, this hotel features beautiful modern-industrial design, a heated pool, and a wonderful restaurant by chefs Joaquin Cardoso & Sofía Cortina.
Located by the beautiful Alameda Central Park, near many of CDMX's best museums and theaters, this hotel is super hip with very clean design. Chaya features many cool communal spaces such as an awesome rooftop. Delicious breakfast and coffee is served daily. Only 11 rooms.
Located in Roma Norte next to some of Mexico City's best restaurants and bars, this true "boutique" hotel features only three rooms! Each is uniquely designed. How about their indoor/outdoor suite with a king size bed that can be rolled out to the terrace so you could sleep under the stars??
This one is located between two great neighborhoods—Roma and Condesa. Its atmosphere, like its design, is very warm and welcoming.
AIRBNB - Like this one we stayed at.
We always recommend staying at an Airbnb (or even several in different neighborhoods if you plan to hangout for a while), as it enhances the experience 10x! Why, you ask?
- You are "forced" to get to know a city/neighborhood on a deeper level by living like a local, shopping for groceries and essentials, and interacting with neighbors.
- You are "pushed" to speak the language as you aren't in the "tourist bubble" that hotels create.
- You can cook! (or not).
- Most importantly, in most cases, it is so much cheaper!
Where to eat
Mog Bistro $$
One of the best Asian restaurants in the city. They have delicious sushi and Pad Thai and some awesome "poke" style bowls and dumplings. Saki and cocktails are also amazing. It is always extremely busy but it is a large space and waiting time is usually about 10 minutes.
This restaurant pays grand homage to David Bowie, who has his mural on the wall and the words "Cocina de Humo" (Kitchen of Smoke) right beside. Many of the dishes either feature a smokey taste (tastefully though) or a little smoke "pyrotechnic" during the presentation. The restaurant is as unique as Bowie himself and has some very cool looking and delicious tasting food and cocktails. Try their amazing beet carpaccio and (best we've had) Fish & Chips, and wash it off with some Cardamom Lemon Gin & Tonic. The zoodles pasta is also a great Vegetarian/Paleo option.
Mercado Roma $$
Every big city has to have a cool market that features funky food concepts, beer gardens, and gelato right? Well, New York City has Chelsea Market and Mexico City has Mercado Roma. Be sure to pay a visit!
Delicious Italian food that is a bit fancier than the traditional pizza & pasta. The 1/2 chicken was very tasty.
Traditional Oaxacan Mexican Kitchen. Very authentic in a modern setting and great service. Great Mole con Pollo, quesadillas and enchiladas. And of course, it wouldn't be completely without trying one of the mezcal cocktails.
Another traditional Mexican kitchen with a twist. Great tacos! These tacos are huge by the way (probably twice what you are used to). Laid back atmosphere. Perfect for a not too fancy but still cool taco and beer experience.
THE place for cheap great tacos (and other stuff). Great for lunch and extremely popular among locals. They even have tacos with hummus! Try their "agua del dia" which is usually delicious water infused with fresh ingredients such as pineapple and basil.
And lastly for dessert... A cool and refreshing gelato concept that infuses alcohol (mezcal, gin, whisky and more) into their mixtures. Their fun branding and graphics is only a plus. Check 'em out!
A great little coffee shop and bistro. Really good for breakfast and lunch. Try the chicken pesto sandwich and squash soup.
Cozy Italian joint with great service and even better food. Great pastas, delicious chicken breast and salmon.
This little gem is much more than a cafe. They have great food for both lunch and dinner and the service is great. Try the pescado empanizado (breaded fish) or the salmon! It is very new so the location on google map is a off, the restaurant is located on the south side of Calle Pdte. Carranza, between San Francisco Figuraco and Vallarta.
This is a beautiful outdoor restaurant with delicious food. Have a 1/2 bottle of wine and try their Poblano chicken mole or the breaded fish.
Best place for burgers, hotdogs and desserts. NOTE! They do not serve alcohol. You must try their BBQ sauce and their onion marmalade! Great service and very nice laid back atmosphere.
El Barbiquiú $$
A cool well-designed place that has traditional barbecue dishes with a modern twist. Try the half chicken with two sides. The salsas and the black beans are very good as well.
This is more of a hip neighborhood bar than a food joint, very cool Mezcal Cocktails.
This is a wonderful chef's restaurant experience. Great cocktails, and you must try the short ribs in curry sauce.
Great little place with traditional Mexican food with a twist. Super fresh ingredients, incredible salsas, amazing sandwiches and the best fish taco in town. Solid drinks too!
Owned by the same guys who own Bravo Lonchería and located right next door, this is a fun and laid back place for when the mood strikes for some simple Italian food (pizza, pasta, salads).
Another solid Italian place. Delicious pasta arrabbiata.
What to do
Located in Coyoacán, this is Frida and Diego's house-turned-museum. You already know that it is going to be beautiful because of the previous tenants so let me just give you some tips and info. DO buy your tickets online (you will be prompted to choose a date and time) and then show up about 20-30 minutes before your designated time. Facing the entrance you will notice two lines, one going east (right), and the other west (left). If you bought your tickets online your line is on the left but be sure to ask just in case. Talking about lines, unfortunately this museum is super popular and therefore extremely busy. Be patient though, it's definitely worth it if you are a Frida Kahlo and/or Diego Rivera fan. Cost: $130 MXN ($6 USD), it costs a few extra dollars at the museum if you want to take photos. :) Buy tickets (boletos) here.
ou must explore the San Angel area. It is beautiful and full of little boutiques and restaurants. The Bazaar Sábado (Saturday Market) is only open on Saturdays from 10am - 7pm. It is highly recommended to go on a Saturday as the whole area gets filled up with arts and crafts street markets, but even if you can't go on a Saturday it is still worth exploring the area.
Also located in San Angel, this is another version of a cool hybrid market with up-and-coming food concepts and indie designer shops. Similarly to NYC's Chelsea Market. It is a short walk from Bazaar del Sábado so why not combine the two on the same day?
Located in Coyoacán, this museum is super colorful and SUPER interesting.
With this one, you'll feel more like you're in Paris than Mexico City. From the beautiful architecture to the many classic pieces of art. Be sure to look out for any special expeditions. Free entrance on Sundays. NOTE: it costs a few dollars if you want to take photographs.
This is a MUST for anyone who visits Mexico City. Who doesn't want to explore a magical city that was somehow built thousands of years ago with no machines or technology??
So here is what you do:
First, DO wear tennis shoes, bring water, and wear sunscreen! You're going to be walking out in the sun a whole lot. To get out of CDMX, take an Uber or the Metro to the Autobúses de Norte station. You want to head over to Gate 8. You can buy round trip bus tickets there (costs 100 MXN = $5 USD). The bus ride is a little under an hour. When you arrive at Teotihuacan you will have to buy entrance tickets at the front gate (70 MXN = $3.5 USD) and then walk over to enter the city (it's about a 5 minutes walk). PRO TIP: if you go during the summer, try to get there by 10am (opening time) as it may get real hot real fast. You'll be smart to climb those pyramids before noon! Once you've had your fun getting closer to the Sun and the Moon, head out towards the exit to the left of the Pyramid of the Moon. Head over to the Museo Murales Teotihuacanos Beatriz de la Fuente. After this museum, exit right from the main entrance. This road will lead to all the restaurants available (about 10 minute walk). We chose the first restaurant on the left ("La Caterina"). The food was solid!