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Local, Loco, (Not) Low-Cal Mexico City Guide, Part 2
Make Mexico City Your Even Favorite-er City
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
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:
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.
✓ 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!
✓ 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.
✓ 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.
✓ 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.
✓ 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
breathhuff-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.
✓ 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.
✓ Enter the Future Forest before it’s a thing of the past
Part art display, part environmentalist exhibit, and complete LSD trip, the Future Forest is a made from tons of plastic that Mexican binners and their families and Danish artists recovered from a city dump. We particularly enjoyed the creative names for the new plant species they invented and created out of plastic, like Flora Aquabottle maximus for gigantic dandelion seed-like flowers made of clear plastic bottles.
Until they take the exhibit down, you can find the Future Forest (free entrance) in Chapultepec Park’s Botanical Garden, across the road from the Anthropology Museum.
✓ Stay with our (and soon to be your) amigo
If you’ve never tried Airbnb, Ricardo is perfect host for your first time.
(Oh, and earn yourself and your favorite travel bloggers some free credit by booking through this link).
And if you’re an Airbnb veteran, he’s the type of host you scan through all the listings looking for.
If anything Ricardo is too friendly and helpful. We felt bad for turning down some of his invitations. Plus he’s a restauranteur, so he knows everything there is to know about where to eat and what’s going on in the city.
His apartment is in the perfect location for exploring all of Mexico City, right on Plaza Cibeles. It’s spacious, clean, comfortable, and affordable.
Cross your fingers and click here to see if it’s available.
✓ At least stay in the Condesa / Roma Norte area
If the above Airbnbs aren’t your cup of tea, at least stay near them in the Condesa / Roma Norte part of town.
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.
✓ 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:
- 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
What NOT to Do in Mexico City
✗ 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.
✗ 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. 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.
✗ 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.
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 have tons of cash in your bank account, you can exploit this loophole to make hundreds of dollars. Read this post on how.
Mexico City Edible Treasures Map
Find of 22 our favorite Mexico restaurants, cafes, bars, and street food directly on Google Maps when you’re traveling, even offline!
It’s free and super easy—just two taps!
More Local, Loco, and (Not) Local Mexico City Tips
These Mexico City travel tips were just Part 2 of our 5-Part Local, Loco, and (Not) Low-Cal Mexico City series.
Discover a whole lot more tasty tips by completing the series: