Travel Tips for Mexico City
Mexico City gets a bit of a bad rap as a travel destination. There is a perception that Mexico City is not safe. My experience is that it is just like any other big city – watch where you are going, follow a couple of simple rules, and you’ll be fine.
Uber is the best and safest way to get around Mexico City. There are taxis but you are more likely to run into problems with shady drivers via taxi than with Uber. Our hotel concierge confirmed this. There is also a subway/train system that will take you pretty much anywhere in Mexico City and is incredibly cheap. We took the train on one occasion with a small group tour and did not have any problems. But I’ve heard that it can get incredibly crowded at times, to the point that it is a huge waste of time. That also negatively affects the safety factor. All of this leads back to Uber, which in addition to being safe is incredibly cheap as well compared to U.S. fares. Stick with Uber and you’ll be fine.
From the airport we used Blacklane private car service and had no issues whatsoever. It is more expensive but it was a nice welcome after a day of travel.
Again, use your head wisely traveler. We stayed in the Diana section of Reforma Avenue and walked around with no problems at all. We had a private guide for the Chapultepec Castle and Modern Art Museum area but it was clearly a very safe area to wander around in (and I highly recommend it by the way). If you are wanting to go to an area of Mexico City without a guide of some type then ask your hotel concierge or front desk person and get their opinion on it. There was a particular authentic Mexican market we had targeted and the concierge basically said no way – too dangerous. We were redirected to an excellent and equally authentic Mexican market that was much safer. We found everyone we dealt with to be incredibly helpful so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Areas that I consider to be safe to explore on your own would be: Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Plaza de la Constitucion also known as the Zocalo, Templo Mayor, Modern Art Museum and Chapultepec Castle park (see links above), and Teotihuacan pyramids. In addition to simply being very public places, there was also a police presence always visible. There are PLENTY of other safe areas in Mexico City. These are just the ones that are most popular and that most people ask about.
When you arrive in Mexico City you will go through customs. They will give you a small white piece of paper that they have stamped. DO NOT LOSE THIS PIECE OF PAPER. You will need this when you come back through customs on your way back to your home country. So put it somewhere safe (ie. carry-on bag, etc) so you’ll know where it is for your return trip home.
Do They Speak English There?
Very little, especially if you have experience in Europe where it is relatively easy to find someone that speaks English. The language barrier can be a bit of an issue so have a translator handy on your phone so you can get your general point across on what you are needing. This is another reason to use Uber. The driver knows exactly where you are going because you already entered it as your destination in the Uber app prior to being picked up.
At the time of this writing the current conversion rate is $1 U.S. = 19 pesos Mexican. So you go to the currency service and they will give you 19 pesos for every U.S. dollar you give them right? Wrong. They gotta make money too. So for example when we went a couple of weeks ago we received around 17.5 pesos for every U.S. dollar we exchanged. Just the rules of the business.
Where do you exchange currency? Once you go through baggage claim at Mexico City International Airport there are several currency exchange centers that will exchange your country’s currency for Mexican pesos. You will need some cash so not a bad idea to do this at the airport before you get started on your vacay.
One important thing to keep in mind on currency. The best way to get the biggest bang for your U.S. buck? Use your credit card. My AMEX card had a 19.5 pesos to $1 U.S. exchange rate which was excellent. One caveat: Make sure that the credit card you are going to use doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees because that would wash away any benefit on the better exchange rate.
Tipping in Mexico is similar to the U.S. but slightly lower. 10-20% is customary for restaurant service staff depending on how good the service was. As with any restaurant, check your bill to make sure gratuity is not already included. 10-15% of the bar tab is customary for bartenders. If a hotel bellhop helps you with your luggage all the way to the room then 25-50 pesos is customary, more if in a higher-end hotel. Also tip tour guides, especially private tour guides. A good rule of thumb is around 15-20% of the total bill for private tour guides. On Uber, a 10 pesos tip was always suggested and I always selected it and paid it.
So be sure and put Mexico City on your list of future destinations. It is definitely a safe place to visit, just mind your p’s and q’s and you’ll be fine.