15 Things to Know Before Heading to Mexico City

You read the Times’ proclamation. You snagged a bargain flight. You scouted the perfect boutique hotel. Now, what lies between you and a now-I-get-what-all-the-fuss-is-about tour of Mexico City are just a few minor details — fifteen to be exact — courtesy of a newly minted local.

Written by Hallie Davison

Cover Photography by Carlos Nuade




Just ask any Chilango, as the city’s residents are known: Uber has been a godsend. Whereas hailing a cab on the street used to be a sketchy if not dangerous undertaking, now getting from one side of the city to the other is as easy as reaching for your iPhone. For Americans, fares are a bargain. A twenty-minute ride is about $3.50. If you are Uber-averse, try Cabify. And of course, before any of this, sign up for an international calling, text and data plan (which can be done even on a daily basis). You won’t regret it.


Type-A Travelers Take Note: Less is More


Nothing here quite seems to go the way you planned, so why bother with planning too much? You might wander into a market and get lost in the stalls for hours. Or you might try to cross town during peak traffic and find yourself seriously waylaid. Set your sights on just a few priority destinations — and leave the rest to chance.


Geography 101


It bears repeating: this city is huge. Bigger than Los Angeles. So, if you come from a walk-able city like New York or Boston, you’ll want to recalibrate. Distances on Google maps are farther than they appear and your breath will not take you as far considering the elevation and pollution.


This Ain’t Cancun


The climate in Mexico City is generally mild. Temperatures year round will not drop below 50 degrees, nor rise about 80. That being said, a common refrain here is that in Mexico City, you can live all four seasons in one day. In the morning and at night, it is cool and breezy, perfect for a light jacket and scarf. But during the day, you might be strolling in a t-shirt and sunnies. During the summer, each afternoon brings a rain shower. Think layers.


Lunch Time


Lunch here is known as ‘comida’ (literal translation: food). It’s the biggest and most elaborate meal of the day. But restaurant patrons won’t dare sit down before 2pm. Most establishments don’t even open until 1pm. Embrace a when-in-Rome attitude and hold off until later (a late breakfast or snack at 11 helps), when the people-watching is at its prime. After all, you’re eating out not only for the food, but also for the atmosphere. And if you jump the gun, chances are you’ll only feel satisfied by the former.


Tostadas de Atún


Forget the chips and guacamole or the bottomless bowl of salsa you may have in your head; most Mexican meals open with a light entrada. Crispy tostadas, topped with hamachi tuna or a seafood ceviche are most popular. Those served at Contramar, home of the three-hour leisure lunch, are not to be missed.


Sip, Don't Shoot

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The tequila and mezcal you find in Mexico City is a step above (several, in fact) what you find stateside. Don’t bruise the nation’s ego by knocking these artisans spirits back as a shot. The more refined way to drink un tequilita is slowly with your accompaniment of choice: beer, soda water or sangrita, a delightful Clamato concoction. Mezcal should be served with orange slices flecked with chile dust. Order Bruxo (pronounced brew-ho) or Montelobos, and you’ll sound like you know what you’re doing.


Walking Shoes


The sidewalks here are shoddy and uneven. Ladies, best leave the heels (clogs including) behind. Of course, we’re in Latin America, so feel free to bust out the stilettos for the Saturday night scene. But for daytime gallivanting: flats, flats, flats.


Great Heights


Any multi-story office tower will grant a visitor breathtaking views of this sprawling megalopolis, but the Torre Latinoamericana offers the best. Skip the lines for the observation deck and head straight to the bar, Miralto, on the 41st floor. Order a tequila and take it all in.


Time Zone

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Mexico City is definitely for night owls — not so much the early birds. The whole city operates on a delayed schedule. So expect lunch at 3, dinner at 9, drinks at 11 and hitting the clubs at 1 (and certainly no earlier). Take advantage of those black-out shades. You can still rise at noon and not have missed a thing.


The Tipping Hand


If you’re paying with a credit card, a waiter or waitress will bring you a credit card reader with options to choose a percentage tip. Most diners choose somewhere between 10 and 15%. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can simply ask your waiter, “Cierra con el quince?” (Can you close with 15?) Outside of restaurants, it’s a good idea to keep some change in your pockets. Handing out a few peso coins to those that have helped you (or even those that are asking for help) is an advisable practice for not only tourists, but also residents of the city.


Contramar Alternatives


The city has a few big-name restaurants, the aforementioned Contramar being one of them. If you’ve been following the Mexico City beat, it’s likely popped up on your feeds. But if you’re looking to brag to friends that you’ve been to one of the city’s newest mariscos joints, try La Conchita (very photogenic), La Docena or Tres Galeones for superlative seafood.


Booking Barragán


There aren’t many places you need to book in advance, but Casa Barragán is one of them. The home of the famous Mexican architect is a hotspot and there’s limited availability for tours, so plan as far in advance as possible. Also recommended: booking a table at Maximo Bistrot and buying advance tickets to Frida’s Casa Azul.


Kidnapping. Not Really a Thing


Unless you are 1) running for political office here, 2) an outspoken activist or 3) affiliated with a drug cartel, please don’t give this a moment’s thought.


Skip Soumaya


Yes, that shimmering silver edifice is easy on the eyes, but that’s about it. Save your shekels for Museum Jumex next door. The exhibitions are world-class and the David Chipperfield building is a pleasure to behold. From an architectural perspective, other notable museums include: Museo Rufino Tamayo, Museo Nacional de Antropología, and Museo Chopo. 


Get a Guide- An Insta Guide


You’ll enjoy exploring la capital on your own, but there’s about 10,000 years of rich history that a knowledgeable guide can bring to life for you. Favorites include Journeys Beyond the Surface for history and Eat Mexico for food. If you prefer to self-guided option, why not start following a in-the-know sources before your trip? On Instagram, look for @lalonjaMX (a hip, pop-up market), @timeoutmexico (self-explanatory), @archipielagomx (a stylish restaurant and nightlife group), @abbyclawsonlow (former Kate Spade and Jack Spade art director living in Mexico City) or yours truly, @ahhyeahhd.

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By Published on Feb 10 2016
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