Make Mexico City Your Even Favorite-er City
Mexico City holds a special place in our hearts as a city we keep coming back to. Even though we consider ourselves pretty familiar with the city, each time we visit, we discover something new that makes it even more lovable. These are the Mexico City travel tips we’ve picked up along the way, and we’re excited to share them with you.
If you’re new to Mexico City, these tips will undoubtedly make it your favorite city too. And if you’re a seasoned traveler, get ready to elevate your experience to new heights.
As Soon As You Arrive in Mexico City
✓ Get a cell phone SIM
Having data is essential in Mexico City, especially if you plan on using Uber and the EcoBici shared bikes (more on that later). So, make it a priority to get a SIM card as soon as you arrive. Dealing with a cellphone company may not be the best way to kickstart your trip, but trust us, it’s worth it.
You can purchase a local SIM card at the Telcel office in Terminal 1 of the airport, or at an Oxxo or 7-11 convenience store. They will assist you in setting it up. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A SIM card, which should cost around 150 pesos. It usually comes with some “welcome credit.”
- The basic Amigo Sin Limite plan is recommended. Opt for the 50 peso option, which gives you 7 days of unlimited calling and messaging to Mexico, USA, and Canada, along with 300 MB of data. This plan is typically included in the cost of your SIM card.
- For extra data, you can purchase an Internet Amigos plan for 150 pesos, which gets you 1 GB.
Tip: By default, Telcel will set up your account to automatically purchase the most expensive Amigos Sin Limite plan whenever you add credit (una recarga in Spanish). To have more control over your purchases, request that they change your account accordingly.
More Tips: If you’re still uncertain about SIM cards in Mexico, check out our comprehensive guide for more details.
T-Mobile User?: According to Eric’s comment below, T-Mobile users enjoy the same service as in the US (as well as in France, Germany, Japan, and other countries) at no extra charge.
✓ Withdraw as many pesos as possible
To minimize the number of ATM trips and foreign withdrawal fees, it’s best to withdraw as much cash as you can in one go. You’ll need it during your time in Mexico City, as cash is still widely used and accepted. This trend will continue until businesses can no longer avoid taxes by accepting cash.
Don’t worry about withdrawing more than you need. As we’ll explain in our final Mexico City travel tip, you can actually make money by exchanging any unspent pesos at the end of your trip!
Bank of America client?: Eric suggests making free withdrawals from Scotiabank ATMs, using the prime rate, as long as you decline the insurance and reject the proposed exchange rate during the last step of your transaction.
✓ Buy a plug-in mosquito repelling device
One downside of Mexico City is the presence of mosquitos. Although these pests don’t swarm the city like they do in the Amazon or Northern Canada, they can still disrupt your sleep.
But fear not, there’s a simple solution that costs only 60 pesos ($3 USD). Head to the nearest convenience store or supermarket and pick up a small white plug-in device that uses blue tabs. Place it near your bed every night, and enjoy a peaceful sleep free from mosquitos.
We can vouch for these devices. During our last two trips to Mexico City, we initially endured a few restless nights while being “donated blood” by mosquitos. Fed up, we decided to give the mosquito repelling device a go, and from then on, we enjoyed uninterrupted sleep.
Note: These devices don’t seem to be available on Amazon, so remember to get one as soon as you arrive in the city.
✓ Sign up for EcoBici
Contrary to popular belief, Mexico City is remarkably bike-friendly, despite its reputation for crazy traffic. Side roads are usually empty, the terrain is flat, and drivers are more likely to give you a playful honk with their Mexican sexy whistle horns than an angry one.
If you’re comfortable riding a bike, we strongly recommend signing up for EcoBici, Mexico City’s bike-share program, as soon as possible. To give you an idea of its usefulness, during our most recent week in the city, we completed over 40 rides, covering a total of 150 km.
For a complete guide on how to spice up your Mexico City trip with EcoBici, including its pros and cons, how to use it, where to find stations, and safety tips, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide.
Travel Tips for a Better Time in Mexico City
✓ Ask for samples at restaurants
When dining at a Mexican restaurant and unsure about which sauce, mole, or pulque flavor to choose, don’t hesitate to ask for samples. Most restaurants and bars will be more than happy to accommodate your request. This way, you’ll always make the right choice, enhance your culinary experience, and the best part is, it’s absolutely free!
✓ Get on the rooftops
If you search for “Best rooftop bar in Mexico City” on Google, you’ll likely be disappointed with the results. Many of the places that show up are more high-end than high up, often covered, and offer no breathtaking views.
We’ve explored extensively and can confirm that most of these spots left us unimpressed. However, we did discover a few hidden gems that are absolutely worth the climb (or elevator ride).
Here are some rooftop bars in Mexico City that won’t disappoint:
- Terraza Catedral: Enjoy draft beers for 35 pesos while taking in the views of the Zocalo. We find it better than El Mayor’s rooftop bar and restaurant just three blocks away. On weekdays, it’s “open at 1 p.m.” (not really; check our tip below), and on weekends, there may be a cover fee after 6 p.m.
- El Balcon del Zocalo: The name says it all. This rooftop is ideal for a fancier welcome or farewell dinner.
- Pulqueria Insurgentes: Although it lacks a view, this rooftop has a refreshing and unpretentious atmosphere. On Sundays, their pulque is buy one, get one free, and on Mondays, all alcoholic drinks are half-priced.
To keep these rooftop locations, along with 19 more of our favorite restaurants, cafes, and street food spots handy, save them to your phone’s Google Maps by downloading our free Mexico City Treasures Map.
✓ Burn off those buns (and tortillas)
The food in Mexico City is undeniably one of its highlights. The more you eat, the better your trip will be. So, how do you maximize your gastronomic adventures?
By working up an appetite through exercise!
Here are some fun (and mostly free) spots to get your sweat on and prepare for the feasting ahead:
- Hapi Fitness (first class costs 100 pesos): You’ll be thinking “help me” instead of “hapi” during a Hapi Fitness class, but we guarantee you’ll be feeling content afterward. As an added bonus, the studio is conveniently located beside Dosis Cafe, where you can reward yourself with a delicious pastry immediately after your workout.
- Park 54 (first class is free): For a quick, intense, and sweaty workout, Park 54’s group circuit training sessions will get your heart pumping and set the tone for an energetic day.
- Gandhi Circuit in Chapultapec Park (public, see Google Maps): This 1-km loop through the trees, complete with a small workout area, offers a fresh burst of air and an opportunity to catch your breath.
You can also find outdoor calisthenic parks near the Insurgentes metro station, in Parque Espana, in front of Qi Fitness in Condesa, and in the Centro. These parks provide chin-up bars and other equipment for bodyweight workouts.
✓ Venture into a pulqueria
Pulque is like kombucha with a hint of attitude. It’s a fermented drink with a low alcohol content (around 3 to 8 percent) that’s unique to Mexico’s high plains, within a day’s drive from Mexico City.
Raw pulque has an acquired taste, which is unfortunately often compared to its texture resembling semen. However, when given a chance and consumed as a curado (blended with fruits), it can be likened to yogurt mixed with beer. Give it a go, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Even if pulque isn’t your thing, we highly recommend venturing into a pulqueria for its dive-y, old-school atmosphere and the chance to meet interesting characters while enjoying a drink.
As a general rule, the farther a pulqueria is from tourist areas, the better the experience.
If you’re interested in trying this “kombucha on steroids,” check out our guide, which delves into pulque’s fascinating history, its nutritional benefits, and where to find it in Mexico City.
Stay in Condesa / Roma Norte and these art-deco buildings will be a common sight.
✓ At least stay in the Condesa / Roma Norte area
As outlined in our Mexico City first-timers’ guide, the Condesa / Roma Norte area is the perfect base for your stay. It’s centrally located, safe, cosmopolitan, and offers plenty of options for dining, shopping, exercising, and indulging in the city’s culinary delights.
This neighborhood is dotted with charming boutique hotels and hostels. If you’re in the mood for a more luxurious experience (or it’s your honeymoon), we recommend Nima Local House or La Valise.
✓ Read these other blogs’ Mexico City travel tips
For more unconventional, original, and genuinely useful Mexico City travel tips, we suggest checking out these posts:
- “What not to Do in Mexico City: Advice from a Local” by Northern Lauren
- “17 Things to Know Before You Go to Mexico City” by Explore Parts Unknown
✓ Try these tips and tricks to change the way you travel
In our curated list of the best travel tips and tricks, you’re bound to find at least one idea that will revolutionize the way you explore the world. We’ve included everything from advanced and experimental advice to practical, oft-overlooked suggestions, as well as debunking common misconceptions and providing alternatives.
What NOT to Do in Mexico City
✗ Don’t be a wuss
Worried about the tap water used in your ice cubes? Don’t let that stop you from enjoying your drink.
Wondering how long the food has been sitting out? Embrace new flavors and let your adventurous side take over.
Concerned about standing out in a less affluent neighborhood? Rest assured, the locals are preoccupied with more important matters to notice your presence.
It’s time to overcome your apprehensions and embrace the full Mexico City experience. Don’t be a wuss!
✗ Don’t look like a tourist
Even if you don’t blend in with the locals, it’s worth making an effort to appear like a resident rather than a tourist.
Avoid wearing flip-flops under any circumstances, and save shorts for scorching hot days. By following these simple guidelines, you’ll reduce the chances of standing out like a sore thumb. Otherwise, you might as well paint your face with your national flag and fan yourself with 500 peso bills!
✗ Don’t pay for water
Don’t fall into the tourist trap of paying for water at restaurants in Mexico City. By asking for it the right way, you can get a glass of filtered water for free.
Request “agua del filtro” and persist if the server pretends not to understand at first. Say, “Un vaso de agua del garrafon” (a glass from the jug). The server will eventually relent and bring you your water, saving you some pesos and reducing plastic waste.
✗ Don’t wait in super long lines
Here’s a valuable tip: If there’s a long line of tourists waiting for something, it’s likely not worth the hassle. For instance, unless you’re a die-hard Frida Kahlo fan, it may not be worth waiting (unless you purchase tickets in advance, as we suggest below). Instead, head to Pulqueria Insurgentes for some pulque, or explore less crowded venues like Cafe NIN, which offers similar treats without the long lines.
However, don’t let rumors of long lineups discourage you from visiting lesser-known attractions. We’ve experienced this firsthand, where food spots like Fonda Margarita, Esquina Chilaquil, and Tacos Don Juan were said to have hour-long lines, but we never waited for more than twenty minutes. Locals tend to exaggerate to keep hordes of tourists away.
✗ Don’t go anywhere near opening or closing hours
In Mexico City, opening and closing hours are often mere suggestions rather than strict rules.
More often than not, the person responsible for opening or closing a shop, restaurant, or bar will have an excuse for starting later or shutting down earlier than advertised.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself coming back another time due to a place not being open as promised. We learned this lesson the hard way, having to revisit Helado Obscuro, Terraza Catedral, Minichelista, and Pulqueria La Nuclear during our trip.
✗ Don’t trust strangers who approach you in perfect English
While enjoying some Dorilokos near the Anthropology Museum, we encountered a disheveled-looking man who approached us. He spoke perfect English and claimed to have been robbed in a taxi, desperately needing money to catch his flight. He requested $20 to $30, promising to repay us later via PayPal.
We were quick to dismiss his plea, as a tourist assistance booth manned by fluent English speakers was conveniently located nearby. It was clear that he was attempting to scam us.
A similar situation unfolded near Bellas Artes, where a man involved in a three-cups-one-ball sleight-of-hand game asked us to “help him out for a sec.”
If you happen to have a trusting face like ours and encounter people like them, be cautious. Approach strangers with suspiciously good English with skepticism. If you feel guilty, do something kind for a stranger when you return home to offset any negative feelings.
✗ Don’t take taxis
Why pay more for a higher risk of being ripped off or getting lost when you have a better alternative? In Mexico City, we highly recommend using Uber instead of traditional taxis.
For instance, a taxi from the airport to Roma Norte costs around 220 pesos, whereas an Uber ride will only set you back about 130 pesos. Use the extra 90 pesos you save to purchase a Mexican SIM card (as we mentioned earlier) and enjoy the convenience of Uber throughout your trip.
Don’t overlook other forms of transportation either. Biking, taking the bus, or using the metro can be faster and more cost-effective. Check out our Mexico City Guide for more tips on getting around.
Before You Leave Mexico City
✓ Buy your souvenir mezcal or tequila in the city, not at the airport duty-free
The duty-free shops at Mexico City’s airport offer an expensive selection of booze, most of which can be found in liquor stores back home. Save money and discover a wider range of options by purchasing your preferred mezcal or tequila in the city.
Ensure your bottle is securely packaged in your checked luggage, and pray that it survives the journey without breaking. Once you return home, share your treasure with friends while embellishing the story of how you obtained this sought-after brand.
✓ Make money on the exchange rate
Believe it or not, currency exchange booths at Mexico City airport will pay you to take US dollars off their hands.
For example, when Chris exchanged 720 pesos for dollars at the end of our trip, the official exchange rate suggested he should receive $36 USD. However, he received $37, making a $1 profit (more than what this blog typically earns in a day!).
If you happen to have $10,000 in cash and a bank account, you can exploit this loophole to make hundreds of dollars.
We’re serving up a heap of tasty tips, just like at El Tacoton, one of our favorite local eateries in Mexico City.
Read This Next
These Mexico City travel tips are part of our blog series, “Local, Loco, and (Not) Low-Cal Mexico City.”
Discover more delicious tips by checking out the complete series: