Mexico City Travel Tips: 20 Dos and Don'ts No One Tells You

Make Mexico City Your Even Favorite-er City

These travel tips are part of our local, loco, (not) low-cal Mexico City blog, which includes our city guide, favorite local food, why bike, and report on pulque.

Mexico City is our favorite city to visit over and over again. And even though we think we know the city pretty well by now, every time we go we learn a few things that make it our even favorite-er city. These things we've learned are the Mexico City travel tips we're sharing below.

If you haven’t been before, these tips will probably make Mexico City your favorite city too. And if this ain’t your first rodeo a) You obviously have great taste in travel destinations, and b) Prepare to make your tastes even tastier.

Either way, these Mexico City travel tips will upgrade your perception of the DF CDMX.

Tips for your Trip

These Mexico City travel tips are split into four sections. Jump to directly to any one by clicking these shortcut links:

Kim on EcoBici on la Reforma
Follow these Mexico City travel tips and you'll be cruisin' like Kim through an awesome, hassle-free trip.

As Soon As You Arrive in Mexico City

 Get a cell phone SIM

You're going to need data in Mexico City to use Uber and the EcoBici shared bikes (see below), so get a SIM card immediately upon arriving. Dealing with a cell phone company is far from the most pleasant way to start your trip, but it'll make your trip more pleasant.

You can get a local SIM in the airport at the Telcel office in Terminal 1 or at an Oxxo or 7-11. They'll help you set it up. Here's what you need to get started:

  • A SIM card. This shouldn't cost more than 150 pesos. It should come with  and it should come with some "welcome credit."
  • A basic Amigo Sin Limite plan. Get the 50 peso one, which entitles you to 7 days of unlimited calling and messages to Mexico, USA, and Canada and 300 MB of data. This likely will be included with the cost of your SIM card.
  • An Internet Amigos plan for extra data. It costs 150 pesos for 1 GB.

Tip: By default, Telcel sets up your account so that if you add credit (una recarga in Spanish) it will automatically be used to buy the most expensive Amigos Sin Limite plan possible. To have more control over what you buy when you do a recarga, ask that they change your account accordingly.

More Tips: Read this more detailed guide to SIM cards in Mexico if you're still in doubt.

T-Mobile User?: Eric comments below that your phone will work just the same as in the US (and France, Germany, Japan, and other countries), for no extra charge.

Kim at a stall in Mexico City's San Juan market
You're going to need plenty of pesos for shopping at the markets… and everywhere else in Mexico City for that matter.

 Withdraw as many pesos as possible

In the interest of reducing the number of ATM trips you need to make and foreign withdrawal fees, take out as much cash as you can all at once. You're going to need it. Cash is still king in Mexico City and it will remain that way until business owners can no longer dodge taxes by taking it as payment.

Don't worry about withdrawing more than you need. As you'll soon discover in our final Mexico City travel tip below, you can actually make money off any pesos you haven't spent by the end of your trip!

Bank of America client?: Eric comments that you can make withdrawals from Scotiabank ATMs free of charge and with the prime rate so long as you refuse the insurance and say No to the proposed exchange rate at the last step of your withdrawal.

 Buy a plug-in mosquito repelling device

One of the few things that suck about Mexico City is the mosquitos. There aren't swarms like in the Amazon or Northern Canada, but they still have a remarkable ability to ruin your sleep.

Nothing 60 pesos ($3 USD) can't fix, though.

At the nearest convenience store or supermarket, pick up a little white plug-in device that uses blue tabs, put in a socket near your bed every night, and enjoy a blissful sleep.

We swear by the things. Our last two times in Mexico City, we "donated blood" for a couple nights, got fed up, got a mosquito repelling thing, and slept blissfully from then on.

Note: The things don't seem to exist on Amazon. We looked. Just get one when you arrive.

Chris riding EcoBici past a beetle in a Mexico City street
Riding Mexico City's EcoBici shared bikes may not always look cool, but it's a super handy and surprisingly safe way to get around.

 Sign up for EcoBici

Despite the popular belief that Mexican traffic is as loco as swallowing a habanero whole, Mexico City is actually a surprisingly bike-friendly city. Side roads are mostly empty, the roads are flat, and drivers are more likely to honk one of those custom Mexican sexy whistle horns at you than an angry one.

If you're comfortable biking, sign up for EcoBici, Mexico City's bike share program, as soon as possible.

To give you an idea of how handy it is, in our most recent week in town we did over 40 rides covering 150 km.

For everything you need to know to spice up your Mexico City trip with EcoBici, including its pros and cons, how to use it, where to use it, and whether it's safe for you or not, don't miss our guide.

Travel Tips for a Better Time in Mexico City

 Ask for samples at restaurants

If you're unsure of which sauce, mole, or pulque flavor to order at a restaurant, ask for samples. Just about every restaurant and bar will be happy to oblige. That way you'll make the right choice every time and experience more flavors. Plus it's free.

Mug of beer at Terraza Catedral rooftop bar
Terraza Catedral has draft beer and sweet rooftop views.

 Get on the rooftops

The Google search results for "Best rooftop bar in Mexico City" suck. The places that show up in the results are higher-end than they are high up, often covered, and have no views.

We know because we went up to each of them and generally came back down quickly and unimpressed.

But we found a few worth climbing the stairs up to (…or pushing the button in the elevator).

Mexico City Rooftop Bars:

  • Terraza Catedral, has 35 peso draft beers and views of the Zocalo. It's better than El Mayor's rooftop bar and restaurant three blocks down the way. On weekdays it's "open at 1 p.m." (not really; see tip below) to the public. On weekends it opens at 6 p.m. and there's a cover fee.
  • El Balcon del Zocalo's name is self-explanatory. It's ideal for a fancier welcome or goodbye dinner.
  • Pulqueria Insurgentes doesn't have a view, but its got a refreshingly airy and unpretentious rooftop. On Sundays, their pulque is buy-one-get-one-free, and on Mondays all alcoholic drinks are half-priced.

Save these bars' locations and those of 19 more of our favorite restaurants, cafés, and street food right to your phone's Google Maps by getting our free Mexico City treasures map, below.

Outdoor workout area near Insurgentes station in Mexico city
Chris sweating out space for more tacos at the Insurgentes outdoor calisthenics park.

 Burn off those buns (and tortillas)

Without a doubt, the best part about Mexico City is the food. The more food you eat, the better your trip will be. So how do you eat as much as humanly possible?

Working up an appetite with exercise.

Here are some fun (and mostly free) places to get your non-habanero-induced sweat on:

  • Hapi Fitness (first class 100 pesos): You'll be thinking "help-me" not "hapi" while doing a Hapi Fitness class, but we guarantee you'll be happy afterward. What's more, you'll emerge from the studio and find yourself right inside Dosis Cafe, where you can immediately reward yourself with a tasty pastry.
  • Park 54 (1st class free): Quick, dirty, and sweaty, Park 54's group circuit workouts will get you pumped and pump you up for a big day.
  • Gandhi Circuit in Chapultapec Park (Public, see Google Maps): This 1-km loop through the trees with a small workout area in the middle is a good spot for a breath huff-and-puff of fresh air.
  • Outdoor calisthenic parks (Public): You can find chin-up bars and other apparatus for doing bodyweight workouts right beside Insurgentes metro station, in Parque Espana, in front of Qi Fitness in Condesa, and in the Centro.

Chris walking into Pulqueria Duelistas
Pulquerias are worth venturing into even if you're not a fan of the taste of pulque itself.

 Venture into a pulqueria

Pulque is kombucha with attitude. It's a gut-friendly fermented drink with 3-to-8-percent alcohol that you can only find within a day's drive Mexico's high plains.

It's not necessarily taste-bud friendly, though. Raw pulque is an acquired taste whose appeal is hurt by the fact that people too often compare its texture to that of semen. But if you give it a chance, get a curado that's blended with fruits, and compare it to yogurt-mixed-with-beer instead of sperm, there's a good chance you'll enjoy it.

Even if you can't swallow the stuff, pulquerias are worth venturing into for their dive-y, old school atmosphere and for the chance to meet the curious characters who you'll be drinking beside.

As for which pulqueria to go to, as a general rule of thumb the farther the pulqueria is from tourist attractions, the better.

If you're interested in trying this "kombucha on steroids," make sure to check our guide to its up-and-down-and-up-again history, amazing nutritional benefits, and where to get it in Mexico City.

art deco blue building la roma 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 we explain in the neighborhood overview of our Mexico City first-timers' guide, it's the ideal area to base your stay. It's central, safe, cosmopolitan, and has tons of places for eating, shopping, exercising, and eating some more.

Condesa / Roma Norte has plenty of boutique hotels and hostels. If we were rich or it were our honeymoon, we'd stay at the Nima Local House or La Valise.

 Read these other blogs' Mexico City travel tips

Here are a couple other posts with not-obvious, original, and actually helpful Mexico City travel tips:

 Try these tips and tricks to change the way you travel

You're sure to find at least one idea that will change the way you travel in our list of our best travel tips and tricks. It has everything from advanced, experimental travel tips and tricks to practical but oft-overlooked ones to dumb advice we hear others give too often (and what to do instead).

What NOT to Do in Mexico City

Vendor and his basket of churros on a Mexico City street
Who knows where these churros have been and how long they've been out? But who cares?

✗ Don't be a wuss

Worried that your ice cubes might be made from tap water?

Suck it up and suck down your drink anyways.

Wondering where that food's been and how long it's been sitting out?

Tell your selfish yuppy gut bacteria they need to make some Mexican friends. It's good for all of you.

Concerned that you'll stick out like a sore thumb in a poorer neighborhood?

Hate to break it to you, but the people in those neighborhoods are too preoccupied with more important things to care about your presence.

Get over yourself and don't be a wuss.

✗ Don't look like a tourist

Even if you're a big, light-haired, fair-skinned guy like Chris you should at least try to look like a local resident instead of a tourist.

That means no flip-flops under any circumstances, and no shorts unless it's blisteringly hot outside.

Otherwise, it's so obvious you're a tourist that you may as well wear your national flag as a cape, paint your face in the same colors, and fan yourself with 500 peso bills.

✗ Don't pay for water

You know how full-serve gas station attendants try to upsell you on premium gas and you have to say, "No, just regular, please"? Well that's how it is with water at restaurants in Mexico City.

When you ask for water your waiter will default to bringing you an expensive bottle. But if you ask the right way, they'll begrudgingly give you a glass of filtered water for free.

Ask for "agua del filtro." Most likely, the server will pretend not to understand at first, so insist. Say, "Un vaso de agua del garrafon" (a glass from the jug). Repeat if necessary.

The waiter will eventually relent and bring you your water, saving you some pesos and saving the environment from another empty bottle.

Close up of torta from Fonda Chilaquil with line in background
There was only about a 20-minute line-up for the famous torta de chilaquiles from Fonda Chilaquil, not 1+ hour like we were warned.

✗ Don't wait in super long in lines

Here's a hot travel take: Anything you need to wait around in line with other tourists for is not worth doing.

For example, unless you're such a Frida fan that you've grown a unibrow in her honor, it's not worth it (unless you buy in advance, as per the tip below). Also, instead of waiting to blow your pesos with other hip gringos at Hotel Condesa's bar, get some pulque at Pulqueria Insurgentes. And rather than wait forever for a pastry from Rosetta go up the street to the much more spacious Cafe NIN, which has the exact same treats minus the line.

But when it comes to less-touristy attractions, don't be scared off by rumors of lineups. Three of our favorite food spots—Fonda Margarita, Esquina Chilaquil, and Tacos Don Juan—were said to have hour-plus long lines, but in all three cases we waited no more than twenty minutes. We suspect the locals exaggerate to keep annoying tourists away.

✗ Don't go anywhere when it's close to its opening or closing hours

Based on our experience, opening and closing hours are suggestions in Mexico City, not reality.

Inevitably, the person running the shop, restaurant, or bar will have an excuse to open later than advertised and close earlier.

Being naive to this reality (perhaps due to Chris' always-on-time Swiss ancestry) and slow learners, we went but had to come back another time to four different places during our trip: Helado Obscuro, Terraza Catedral, Minichelista, and Pulqueria La Nuclear.

Close up of Dorilokos and the guy who sells them
Right after we ordered these Dorilokos (Doritos mixed with an insane array of other unhealthy Mexican ingredients), some con artist thought we were loco enough to give him money.

✗ Don't trust strangers who approach you in perfect English

We were minding our own business eating some Dorilokos near the Anthropology Museum when a frazzled-looking white guy approached. In perfect English, he rambled on about how he was robbed in a taxi and was desperate to catch his flight. He asked for twenty to thirty dollars for a taxi, saying he would repay us later via PayPal.

We asked him to screw off. There was a fluent-English speaking tourist booth beside us whose job it is to help out people like him, so he was clearly a scammer.

A similar situation happened near Bellas Artes with a guy at one of those three-cups-one-ball sleight-of-hand games who asked us to "help him out for a sec."

Long story short, if you have the face of a sucker like we apparently do, there's a decent chance you'll be approached by indecent people trying to scam you. If they have suspiciously good English, be suspicious.

If you feel bad, do something nice for a stranger when you get home to make up for it.

✗ Don't take taxis

We don't know about you, but we prefer not to pay more money to expose ourselves to a higher risk of getting ripped off and getting lost. That's why we use Uber in Mexico City.

As an example, an official taxi from the airport to Roma Norte costs 220 pesos. Uber costs 130. Use those 90 pesos you save towards getting yourself a Mexican SIM card (see above) so you can use Uber.

Don't overlook other forms of transit, too. Biking, the bus, and the metro can be faster and are certainly cheaper. See our Mexico City Guide for more on getting around.

Before You Leave Mexico City

 Buy your souvenir mezcal or tequila in the city, not at the airport duty-free

The selection of booze in Mexico City's airport duty-free is expensive and only has brands you can buy in liquor stores back home.

Get a cheaper, better, more unique bottle in town. Bundle it up before packing it in your check-in luggage, pray it doesn't get smashed en route, then share it with your friends while exaggerating about how sought-after the particular brand it is.

 Make some money on the exchange rate

Mexico City airport currency exchange booths will pay you to take US dollars off their hands.

No joke.

For example, Chris exchanged 720 pesos to dollars at the end of our trip. According to the official exchange rate that day, those pesos should have been worth $36 USD. But they gave him $37. He made $1 profit, which is more than this blog earns him most days.

If you happen to have have $10K cash in your bank account, you can exploit this loophole to make hundreds of dollars.

el tacoton cdmx eat like a local in mexico city
We're dishing out huge portions of delicious tips like the guy at El Tacoton, one of our favorite local eats in Mexico City.

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Quick guide of Mexico City travel tips like what to get as soon as you arrive, what to ask for in restaurants, and what to avoid.

Read This Next:

These Mexico City travel tips are part of our Local, Loco, and (Not) Low-Cal Mexico City blog.

Discover a whole lot more tasty tips by completing the series:

Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we recommend. It costs you nothing, so we'd be crazy not to. Read our affiliate policy.

24 thoughts on “Mexico City Travel Tips: 20 Dos and Don'ts No One Tells You”

  1. Great tips for visiting Mexico city. I like how you promote visiting local places. You have a to be a bit extra cautious when visiting Mexico.

    • Thanks for the perspective Henry. I agree you have to be cautious when visiting Mexico, but honestly you have to be cautious in any foreign country. Even in Vancouver, where we are now, you can find yourself in trouble if you're naive and careless. As for CDMX specifically, based on our experience and that of our friends who've been there and lived there, I'd definitely say it's way, WAY safer than most people think. As safe as many American cities. But just like in those cities, you're right that you gotta be careful.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I'm planning a trip to Mexico City for the first time in February and I'm curious to hear why you think the Frida Khalo museum isn't worth it. I was planning to get tickets in advance to try to avoid the lines, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    • Hey Olivia. That's a really fair question. The reason I'd say it's overrated is because of the huge line that wastes so much precious CDMX time and because people go because other people go, even if they don't give a crap about art or Kahlo. They may as well go to one of the many other, but less popular, museum. But if you can avoid the line by getting a ticket and if you go in already with a true appreciation of Kahlo and desire to learn more, then by all means it's a good idea. Most people don't fit those criteria, though.

    • "The Blue House" is a marvelous 'don't miss' home that reflects so much of who Frieda Kahlo was. Colorful, decorated in this artist's very particular taste. One of the few city spots to which I often return..I am an artist. Much of my work – water color and photography, is of Mejico…

  3. Hi Chris,

    "Fair skinned, blonde haired" I see you poking fun at yourself. Really appreciate the post, been trying to collect as much information as possible. We're headed to CDMX mid February. I didn't see any mention of Xochilmilco canals or the ruins of Teotithuacan. Any recommendations? Priced a potential tour but more expensive than expecting. We are thinking maybe uber and tour ourselves. Vale la pena?

    Also, lucha libre, yes or no?

    Thanks – Mary

    • Hi Mary, Thanks for the questions!

      We share our brief takes on Xochimilco, Teotihuacan, and lucha libre in our "Quick and Dirty Mexico City Guide". Of the three, we'd recommend lucha libre the highest… even though we haven't done it. All our friends who have, even those who we wouldn't suspect would like it, gave us rave reviews.

      On the other two, in addition to what we write in the Quick and Dirty guide I'd say the biggest determinant of whether to go or not is how much time you have. We consider neither to be absolute "must dos" for trip of less than a week, especially since the time you lose going there and back is precious. And if you want to get out of town, it's possibly even worth considering a pueblo like Tepotzlan instead.

      Whatever you decide, have a fantastic trip. And if you discover tips of your own, or ones of ours you disagree with (politely of course), please come back to share it!

  4. "For example, unless you’re such a Frida fan that you’ve grown a unibrow in her honor, it’s not worth it."

    Are you seriously suggesting that Casa Azul isn't worth the wait? Instead of skipping the museum, I'd suggest planning your day better. There's tours that help you skip the line.

    • Fair enough, Julia. Sorry maybe for making you frown so much you almost have a unibrow yourself.

      I would bet that a good percentage of people waiting in line are waiting simple because everyone else said to go. They could either plan better like you say, or prioritize based on their own interests.

  5. Yeah, don't take a taxi! Much better to support this Uber exploiter company. by the way: a bus or metro would be even cheaper. But that is too local perhaps.

    • From taxi scammers to uber exploiters. What's next in the evolution? You're right, Momo, that we should mention buses and metro here. I'll update the post. Thanks!

  6. OMG This post had me absolutely cracking up! "Tell your yuppie gut to make some Mexican friends." LOL what an incredible line! I am heading to Mexico (but CDMX for only 2 days) and am so thankful I found this post! Great tips. We are going to the Frida Khalo house, but got skip the line tickets in advance, and though I'm not a huge fan of art and museums, do love her for all that she accomplished as a female Mexican artist. As a traveler watching the budget I definitely appreciate all the local and more affordable tips!

    • Hey Nina, Thanks. It's nice to hear at least some people appreciate my attempts at humor.

      Now that you mention it, I should mention the skip-the-line option for Frida. Thanks!

      If you come up with any other tips to add from your experience, let me know. If I like it, I'll add it and link to your site as a shout-out.

      Buen viaje!

  7. Any comments on airlines between cities in Mexico. I don't want to waste time taking 6 hour bus trips, but the airlines have lots of negative reviews. Thanks!

    • Sorry, Jaimee, but I've mostly bussed around Mexico so I don't have enough experience on the airlines to help out. Any other reader with tips, please chime in!

    • Hi Jaimee,
      I highly recommend flying with a Mexican airline. Just be aware of the extra costs for luggage (that's why I always travel only with hand luggage), especially with the cheaper airlines. I have tried many airlines like Volaris, Air Mexico, Aeromar, VivaAerobús and even small airplanes with only 12 passengers and they were all very reliable. Let me know if you have more questions. And enjoy Mexico!

  8. Great tips, guys (and gals). Thank!!

    Two more we can add from recent experience.

    1) Bank of America partners with ScotiaBank for ATM service in MX (and much of Latin America?) There are no fees for using a BoA ATM card at a Scotiabank AND you get prime exchange rate BUT a) you have to refuse the insurance and b) you have to say NO to their proposed excange rate (which is the last question the ATM asks you). Also there is seldom a Scotiabank location where you need it.

    Regarding Cell Phones, T-mobile is a German company, and therefore they are aware that there are other countries in the world besides the US. They have partners in MX, Japan, France and – not surprisingly – Germany (these we have used ourselves) plus MANY more countries. When you arrive in a country with a T-mobile partner, you receive a text from them welcoming you, and then magically, your phone works, calls, texts, data, the whole enchilada. It's almost like living in the 21st Century !!

  9. It’s a little concerning that you’re downplaying water safety precautions. “Don’t be a wuss. Suck it up and suck up the water?” I work in travel medicine and traveler’s diarrhea is the #1 sickness people get while visiting other countries. Not to mention other food and water borne illnesses like typhoid fever and Hepatitis A that can be difficult to treat in other countries. Most travelers who are new to the area should indeed be taking these precautions seriously. Contracting one of these illnesses can completely ruin one’s trip. Also, your verbiage and choice of words like “suck” and poking fun at unibrows is distasteful.

  10. I love your blogpost and loved Mexico City so much! It was actually nicer than I expected. I thought it would be hectic, dirty and loud, but it was such an amazing city. We stayed in Roma Norte, but this would not be my first choice for my next time, because it has a lively (gay) party scene. I would go to Condesa or Reforma next time. I also recommend getting a creditcard with pesos on it, because they do accept a card in many places. And my final advice: just go!

  11. We are planning a trip to Mexico next year, I wanted to check out your airbnb links but they don't seem to be working. Can you provide that info again??


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