Mexico City (AKA CDMX) is one of the most populous cities in the world, and also one of the most beautiful! It’s the capital of Mexico, and you can see why so many travelers are drawn here every year.
We traveled in September 2019 to see it, and below is a list of the things we learned. Some of these are more obvious than others, some are a surprise! These should help you decide if you want to visit CDMX and prepare you for your trip.
People often think of Denver, Colorado as being a high elevation city, so much so that it’s called “the Mile High City”. Well, Denver’s elevation is around 5130 feet (1560 meters). To compare, Mexico City’s elevation is about 7,350 feet (2240 meters)!
If you’re prone to altitude sickness, this is something to be aware of. If you’re not, just remember that you have less oxygen in Mexico City so you will get tired and out of breath faster if you’re not used to being at a high altitude.
The Weather Gets Kinda Cold
Most people think of Mexico as being hot all the time. In reality, CDMX has a completely different climate than the beachy areas in Mexico. This is partially due to its high elevation. It rarely gets above 80 degrees Fahrenheit/26.7 degrees Celcius, even during the summer.
Traffic is Insane
CDMX is one of the worst cities for traffic in the entire world. Consider taking Ubers when you visit, they are generally under $3 USD each. You can also take the bus but they are quite crowded – approximate cost 10-20 pesos (under $1 USD) per ticket.
Street Vendors Approach Cars
This is something I only saw in Belize, but you will have street vendors approaching people in cars sitting in traffic. They are selling water bottles, candy, tamales, roses, and anything you can think of.
If you’re not interested, just give them a cursory nod and say “No, gracais” (No, thank you). They’re out there all day on their feet trying to make a living – the least you can do is be polite.
Buses Follow No Rules
In CDMX, the buses rule the streets. They can park facing the wrong direction, drive-in special lanes just for them, turn down one-way streets, and do all sorts of things you may not be expecting. So if you’re thinking things like – “No, he can’t park that bus here” – you’re probably wrong.
Sunday Morning Street Closures
Paseo de la Reforma is a wide avenue that runs diagonally across the heart of the city. On Sunday mornings, this street closes to vehicle traffic so people can walk and bike around. This generally happens from 8 AM-2 PM and is part of a government initiative called Muevete en Bici. The idea is to promote a healthy and active lifestyle for residents of Mexico City.
World-Class Museums Are Everywhere
Mexico City has over 150 museums! You could literally spend half a year here just visiting one museum a day. Some of the most famous spots are Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, the National Anthropology Museum, the MUAC, the National Art Museum, the Soumaya Museum, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Museo Jumex.
Street Art is Everywhere
You may be surprised to see a ton of street art and murals done by local painters around Mexico City. During our trip, we also saw a lot of murals advertising the movie Joker, designed to look like street art. Also, GREAT for photo ops.
There’s A Giant Park in the Middle
Chapultepec Park is smack dab in the middle of Mexico City and is shockingly big. It’s so big there’s a castle, a zoo, and several museums inside it!
This park clocks in at 1,656 acres and is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere. It’s the second-largest city park in Latin America after the Santiago Metro Park in Chile. To give you some scale, NYC’s Central Park is only a “measly” 840 acres.
Similar Stores Cluster Together
Need a bridal gown? There’s one street with a bunch of bridal shops (La Calle de las Novias y Ceremonias). Need flowers? Visit the flower street at Mercado Jamaica. This makes shopping for something specific so much easier!
Quesadillas Don’t Have Cheese
In the USA, quesadillas almost always come with cheese. In Mexico City, and Mexico in general, this is not normal. You can ask for it “con queso”, or with cheese – but it’s generally not assumed.
“No Spicy” Is Not A Thing
“No pica” means not spicy but remember that if you’re not used to eating spicy food, even the “least spicy” dish might be too much in Mexico. Have a bottle of water handy!
When in Doubt, Tip
It’s good to keep loose change with you at all times because you will want to tip most people you come in contact with. The guy bagging your groceries, the food delivery driver, the usher at a show, etc. A small tip is okay.
Extreme PDA Is A Thing
In some more “uptight” countries (like Thailand) public displays of affection are frowned upon. This does not seem to the case in Mexico City. Lovers generally aren’t shy about their relationship status. We spotted a few couples on top of each other at the park, and nobody seemed bothered. Live and let live!
The “Gringo Tax”
It seems to be common for vendors and salespeople to charge foreigners more and locals less. This is called the “gringo tax” – a gringo is someone who is not from the area. We can’t speak for the local prices, but just make sure you’re not getting taken for a ride.
Military + Police Presence
In the USA, policemen are generally kept out of the public eye, and military spottings are rare outside of their bases. In Mexico City, you will see policemen and military members everywhere. They are armed but don’t be alarmed – they’re just ready should anything bad happen.
Loose Cigarettes for Sale
Walking by any newsstand you can easily buy a loose cigarette or two – no packs needed. Smoking is pretty common in Mexico City and it’s pretty easy to pick up your favorite cigarette.
If you loved this list, check out our other Mexico content below! Also, see the things you should know about visiting Belize!