Mexico City (Ciudad de México) is the capital and largest city of Mexico. It is the country’s most important economic, industrial, and cultural center. Greater Mexico City with its 18 million inhabitants is the most populous city in the country. Mexico City is the third largest city in the world, after Tokyo and New York City
The city lies in the Valley of Mexico on the southern end of the in the Anahuac Plateau, at an altitude of 2,240 meters above sea level. The city lies on the dry bed of Texcoco Lake, surrounded by the Ajusco, the Popocatepetl and the Ixtlacihuatl volcanoes.
Aztecs made the original settlement in 1325 on an island in the Lake Texcoco but it was almost completely destroyed in a siege in 1521. Later Mexico City was rebuilt on the ruins of the Aztec city Tenochtitlan and was remodeled according to Spanish standards.
The city is divided into 16 boroughs (delegaciones) and further into 350 neighborhoods (colonias). Numerous neighborhoods suffer from overcrowding and poverty. The centro Historico and the Zona Rosa are popular tourist destinations.
The huge metropolis swallowed some older surrounding towns like Coyoacán, San Angel and Tlalpan, which still preserve some of their old charm.
The huge city has world-class museums, galleries, green parks, colonial palaces, elegant architecture and ancient ruins, but it also faces great pollution, poverty, over-crowdedness, congestion and crime. It is a vibrant, fascinating and frenzied city, but despite its problems Mexico City is a modern, cosmopolitan and hugely attractive city, loved by Mexicans and tourists alike.
Mexico City lies at a high altitude (2,240 meters above sea level) and thus experiences a moderate climate compared to the lower-lying regions of Mexico. It experiences pleasant summers and mild winters, there is little variation in temperature throughout the year. Annual average is 18°C. May is the warmest month, January the coldest. Mexico is a rainy city; most rainfall is expected in summer, particularly in July, the lowest rainfall is in February. Wintertime temperatures always stay around 10°C although winter nights can be cool. Even in May, the hottest month, temperatures rarely rise above 27°C.
January average temperature 11.6 deg Celsius, 8 mm rainfall February average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 5 mm rainfall March average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 11 mm rainfall April average temperature 16.7 deg Celsius, 19 mm rainfall May average temperature 16.7 deg Celsius, 49 mm rainfall June average temperature 16.7 deg Celsius, 106 mm rainfall July average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 128 mm rainfall August average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 121 mm rainfall September average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 110 mm rainfall October average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 44 mm rainfall November average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 15 mm rainfall December average temperature 11.6 deg Celsius, 6 mm rainfall
Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez, the city’s only passenger airport, lies 6km east of the Zócalo. It is the largest airport in Latin America, transporting 25 million passengers per year. It has frequent services connecting to US, Canada and Europe.
Metro: The station is located next to the domestic flights terminal. This is a cheap way of reaching the city, but not very convenient if you have a lot of luggage. Pick pockets may operate occasionally and, because the airport is located in an unsafe neighborhood, it is not safe to wander around. Taxi: Airport Taxi service Transportacion Terrestre is reliable. Tickets should be bought at the counters inside the airport. Tickets may range from USD$15 – 25, depending on your destination. Do not use the unofficial taxis.
The bus network connects the entire country. There are 4 bus stations in the city. Traveling by bus in Mexico is comfortable.
Public transportation includes metro, buses, trolley buses and minibuses (peseros or colectivos). It is cheap and efficient, making the giant Mexico City surprisingly easily to navigate.
The best way of getting around the city, metro is fast and easy to use. Services run from 6:00 am to midnight. www.metro.df.gob.mx/
Peseros are smaller than buses but also more comfortable and faster. They are slightly more expensive, have fixed routes but can be stopped anywhere.
There are many different taxis available but note that there has been an increase in violent crimes among taxi passengers. Do not hail a cab on the street. Do not use unmetered taxis. Official hotel taxis and radio taxis are more expensive but also safer.
Driving in the city is not advisable under any circumstances. Traffic is congested and driving is difficult and stressful. It is essential to park your car in a secure parking lot. Renting a car for use in the city is impractical. Private vehicles are subject to strictly enforced law Hoy No Circula, which means a car cannot operate on designated weekdays due to smog alerts. The day is determined by the last number on your car’s number plate.
Visit the historic remnants of the Toltec city of Tula to explore the colorful and interesting history of Mexico. The best known are the giant basalt statues situated atop the Templo Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Temple of the Morning Star). They are known as Atlantes and represents Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent god) as the morning star dressed as a Toltec warrior.
THE FLOATING GARDENS OF XOCHIMILCO
The floating gardens of Xochimilco are located 20 km south of the city’s main square, El Zocalo. The gardens are 700 years old and are undoubtedly worth seeing. The ancient floating gardens are a vast network of water canals and flower gardens and still operate as they did in Aztec times. Here the pre-Hispanic inhabitants constructed small islands where vegetables, fruits and flowers were grown.
The area is today extremely popular with the locals who come here to unwind. Some 180 km of canals still remain and it is possible to rent one of the numerous ‘trajineras’ or colorful boats. On Sundays the gardens tend to get very crowded, mariachis, vendors and visitors all flock here and the mood is definitely ‘fiesta’. For a quieter experience, visit Xochimilco during the week.
Address: Calle Agusto Rodín 241 Open: weekends 9:00 am - 2:00 pm; 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm, on Sundays shows held at 4:00 pm.
Bullfighting, introduced by the Spanish, is very popular in Mexico. The main bullfighting season runs from November to March. The fights are held at Plaza México, the largest bullring in the world, seating 48,000 spectators. The tickets can be bought at the ticket booths on location.
Rancho Del Charro
Address: Av Constituyentes 500, Bosque de Chapultepec Phone: 5277 8706 Access: underground rail - Constituyentes
Mexican rodeo (charreadas) is held at Rancho del Charro in Chapultepec Park, most Sundays at noon.
El Zocalo is the heart of the city and the second largest square in the world, only after Moscow’s Red Square. It lies in the middle of the historic city center and also serves as the city’s center of government and religion. The Square is dominated by the Presidential Palace, a magnificent colonial building adorned with murals, and the majestic Baroque Metropolitan Cathedral on the north side – the largest and oldest cathedral in Latin America. Next to the basilica are the remnants of the Templo Mayor, the main pyramid of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán.
The square is always lively, it is filled with people, vendors, performers, tourists and locals. Many public festivals, celebrations, as well as rallies and demonstration take place on this majestic square. A ceremonial raising and lowering of the flag is performed every morning at 6:00 am and every evening at 6:00 pm by the presidential guards.
BASÍLICA DE GUADALUPE
Address: Paseo Zumarraga, Atrio de América Phone: 55/5577-6022 Open: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm Access: metro (Basílica; La Villa)
According to a legend an indigenous Christian convert had a vision of the Virgin Mary and the church was built at the site. The church has been extremely popular ever since, and the miraculous story was used by the missionaries to convert millions of indigenous people from what was once the Aztec Empire. Our Lady of Guadalupe has become the patron saint of Mexico since 1737. Today many pilgrims visit the church, some even crawling on their knees. Many worshippers come year-round, but most come on December 12 to participate in the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Phone: 55 9158 1245 Open: 10:00am-5:00pm
The National Palace houses the offices of Mexico’s president, the National Archives and the Federal Treasury. It stands on the site of what was once Moctezuma’s castle.
The building is adorned with majestic murals by Diego Riviera, painted between 1929 and 1935. They portray the history of Mexican civilization, from its Aztec beginnings to the post-revolutionary period. At the entrance hangs the bell rung by Migual Hidalgo who declared Mexican independence from Spain in 1810. Every year on September 15 the President repeats the historic words and thousands of people gather to listen to the speech.
MUSEO NACIONAL DE ANTROPOLOGÍA
Address: Paseo de la Reforma Phone: (55) 5553 6381. Web: www.mna.inah.gob.mx Open: Tuesday – Saturday: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm, Sunday: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm.
The National Anthropology Museum is situated in the Chapultepec Park. It is a huge museum, one of the best of its kind in Mexico, and indeed in the world.
The museum features an enormous collection dedicated to the various cultures that formed the Mesoamerican civilization: Pre-Classic, Toltec, Maya, Aztec, Teotihuacán, Oaxaca, Gulf Coast and Northwestern and Western Mexico. Among the must-sees are the Aztec calendar stones, or sun stones, the stone heads of Tabasco and the replica of a Mayan tomb.
Today the suburb of Mexico City, Coyoacán was once a city in its own right. The name is derived from Nahuatl and means ‘the place of coyotes’. This area is the oldest part of Mexico City; its tree-lined avenues are lined with beautiful 16 th to 19 th century buildings.
Among the areas many notable features is the Museum of Frida Kahlo, housed in her family home. She is an important Mexican painter, married to Diego Riviera, himself an important revolutionary painter. The museum features paintings by both artists, two rooms preserved as they were lived in, and a collection of folk art and costumes worn by Kahlo. The area of Coyoacán features also The Museo Casa de León Trotsky, where the revolutionary spent the last years of his life.
Address: Avenida Río Churubusco 410 Open: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Open: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Access: car: 45-minute ride by motorway; bus: 1 hour, buses leave from North Bus station every half hour.
Teotihuacán, or ‘the place of gods’, is situated 50 km north of Mexico City. It is believed the site dates from 300-600 BC. It is not known who its inhabitants were but it is known that Teotihuacán was the religious center of Mesoamerica. Teotihuacán was a planned city of over 2,000 structures. It was home to over 100,000 people and was at the time the largest city in the Americas, and also in the ancient world.
The city was a ceremonial center as well as a powerful political city with a great strategic position. The city’s main structures are the ‘Pyramid of the Sun’, ‘The Pyramid of the Moon’ and the Ciudadela (Citadel) all connected by a broad avenue called Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead).
Mexico City offers a colorful array of dining opportunities with over 15,000 restaurants and eateries. As well as every type of international cuisine there are delicacies from all regions of Mexico, and the local favorites such as Vips, Toks and Sanborns.
You can find anything from simple tacos stands, to family eateries to luxurious restaurants. There are representatives of virtually all cuisines in this mega city.
Local delicacies include the Tortilla Soup, Chilies Rellenos, and Cochinita Pibil.
Fish food is supplied daily in better restaurants.
The main meal is usually eaten between 2 and 4:00 pm, sometimes combined with a business meeting or a family affair.
Dinner is eaten rather late, around 9:00 pm, consisting of a lighter dish or just a dessert.
If you are looking for budget meals try a set-menu at one of the ‘comida corrida’ restaurants. They offer good and generally safe food at low prices.
Tortilla or tacos stands also offer budget snacks. To be on the safe side eat at one with lots of customers. Tamales can be bought on the streets or in specialized shops.
In the shopping malls you can find many international franchises mixed with local chains, offering an interesting mix of meals.
Date: November 1-2 Location: throughout the country
The Day of the Dead is Mexico’s most characteristic fiesta, celebrated with much gusto. This ancient tradition has survived from pre-Colombian times and is still celebrated in Mexico and other Latin countries. On this special day the living remember their departed relatives. They are remembered lovingly and happily and people build altars in their homes and visit graveyards where they bring flowers, food and other gifts.
Shops are full of special items for the Day of the Dead. These include all sorts of skeletons, horrifying dolls, crosses adorned with silk flowers, candles and votive lights. Flowers such as marigold and cockscomb symbolize death.
Special food such as skulls and coffins are made of sugar, chocolate and amaranth seeds and ‘pan de muerto’ (sweet rolls topped with bone-shaped decorations) are produced and offered to the dead.
DAY OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
Day: December 12 Location: the Basílica of Guadalupe
Another important Mexican festival is the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and a major religious icon. The day is celebrated with groups of indigenous dancers and musicians in colorful costumes, playing and dancing in front of the basilica. Thousands make a pilgrimage from all around the country on this most important date on the Mexican calendar. Some pilgrims arrive on bicycles from their towns, other come on their hand and knees. The celebration lasts for two days. There are also dancers and musicians, offering their art to the patron saint. Celebrations are held all over the country.
Date: September 15-16 Location: Zocalo and elsewhere
The celebration commemorates the start of the Mexican war for independence from the Spanish. The event is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The day before the celebration the main square of Mexico City, the Zocalo, fills up with thousands of people who come to listen to the President recite the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores) from the balcony of the National Palace. After the speech the city explodes with celebrations, street parties and fireworks. The next day a military parade travels from the Zocalo to the Angel monument at the Paseo de la Reforma.
The annual festival is regarded as one of Latin America’s most vibrant art and cultural festivals. The two-week-long event features a rich program, ranging from opera, theatre, pop and jazz concerts, to art exhibits, dance productions and gourmet food. There are over a million visitors each year and the money goes to the restoration of historic and architectural marvels in the Historic center of Mexico City.
Date: March 4-7 Location: Xochimilco
The annual festival held in Xochimilco honors the Aztec goddess of flowers Xochipilli and the goddess of dance Maculxochitl to ensure a good harvest. Each year a young woman is crowned La Flor Mas Bella del Ejido (the most beautiful flower of Ejido) who then presides over colorful parades of boats decorated with flowers sailing along the Xochimilco canals. The festival lasts four days and includes canoe races and horticulture contests.
SEMANA SANTA / HOLY WEEK
Date: April 4-11 Location: nationwide
The Holy Week (Semana santa) starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. This week-long religious celebration includes reenactments of the events that led to the Christ’s crucifixion. Celebrations are held all over the country, the most notable are those in Mexico City, Pátzcuaro, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, San Cristobal de las Casas and Taxco.
Mexico City is a vibrant and lively city throughout the day and well on into the night. The norm is to start the evening quite late. Nightlife kicks off around 10:00 pm, at the earliest.
Clubs and bars stay open until 2:00 am or 4:00am.
There is an incredible variety of entertainment available: from small salsa clubs, to trendy nightclubs, concerts, crowded discos, as well as folk dance, opera, ballet and philharmonic orchestras.
Do not miss the Garibaldi Plaza, a few blocks to the north of the city center, where mariachi bands play tunes for a fee, and the whole square explodes in a cacophony of sound and activity. This makes it a favorite target for pick pockets so stay alert.
The hottest dance clubs can generally be found in the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods. Centro Histórico is a well known for a large number of trendy spots all within easy walking distance. Condesa neighborhood has a high density of hip night clubs. Zona Rosa is a popular tourist spot as the music here is oriented more toward the English-speaking crowd.
Most clubs operate only from Thursday through Sunday.
Casinos are illegal in Mexico.
Mexico has a superb performing arts scene. Opera, ballet, theatre, dance, as well as symphonic, rock and pop concerts are found throughout the year.
For current events take a look in one of the free magazines found throughout the city: Donde, Tiempo Libre, and Concierge.
The popular areas are full of pickpockets so keep your eyes on your wallet.
The area of Lake Texcoco was already settled in 10,000 BC. Over time the lake shrunk, villages sprang up and agriculture developed. Along the lakeshore a wide network of canals were built to ensure better transportation and communication. Remnants of those can still be seen today in Xochimilco.
25 km to the northeast of the lake, an empire emerged, with Teotihuacán as its capital and spread to an area beyond what is today, Guatemala. In the 7 th century it was in decline. The area was later dominated by the Toltecs with a capital at Tula, some 60 km from the present-day Mexico City. By the 13 th century the Toltec empire declined too and the area was taken over by the Aztec tribe. They built Tenochtitlán on a small island in the lake Texcoco. In order for the city to expand the Aztecs had to build artificial islands and canals. They also built dams that brought freshwater from the rivers to the salt lake.
The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519 and the city of Tenochtitlán was conquered in 1521. After a 79-day siege the Aztec city lay in ruins. On the same spot a new Spanish capital was built in 1524. It became the political and cultural center of Mexico, and the capital of viceroyalty of New Spain. The city was powerful and prosperous. Numerous buildings were erected, designed according to Spanish tastes. The Metropolitan Cathedral and the Basilica of Guadalupe date from this period. The streets were broadened into wide boulevards, the university was built, and churches, parks and hospitals emerged. Until the 19 th century the city faced great flooding problems, all due to the destruction of the Aztec canals in the 1520’s. Lake Texcoco often flooded the city, damaging buildings and bringing disease.
In 1810 the War of Independence broke out. It was eventually achieved in 1824, and Augustin de Iturbide became the first ruler of the Mexican Empire. In 1823 he abdicated and Mexico became a republic.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
During the latter part of the 19 th century and the early 20 th century Mexico was in the hands of the despot Porfirio Díaz who brought an influx of foreign investment into the country. A railway was built connecting it to the rural parts of the country, as well as the USA. The Lake was drained to enable further expansion of the city.
Diaz was overthrown in 1911 and the Mexican revolution brought war to the streets. During this era many dramatic murals were commissioned by such artists as Diego Riviera, David Alvaro Siqueiros, and others. Public buildings adorned with large-scale murals became a means of communicating Mexico’s proud and rich history to the masses, in order to heighten national awareness and pride.
The city’s importance grew and at the same time attracted a massive influx of immigrants. The city grew enormously during the late 20 th century; in 1950 it had already 3 million inhabitants. 50 years later, in 2000, the estimated population of the metropolitan area was 18 million. During the 1940s factories and skyscrapers began to emerge everywhere in the city. The influx of people was too big and shanty towns started to emerge on the outskirts of the city. The 1960s saw constant economic growth but not in social improvements. This led to discontent, culminating in the gathering of 10,000 people in Tlatelcoco in the wake of the 1968 Olympic Games, hosted in the city. The demonstrators were encircled by troops and police. The situation took a turn for the worse and a massacre followed in which hundreds of students died.
In the 1970s Mexico City continued to expand at an alarming rate, and problems of pollution and severe traffic congestion started to emerge. In 1985 an earthquake of magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale struck the city killing over 10,000 people. Between 50,000 and 90,000 people found themselves homeless.
During the 1990s Mexico City continued to develop as an important economic and cultural center. The tallest structure of Latin America, the Torre Mayor was erected. In mid-1990s the poverty worsened due to the recession. Crime levels rose considerably and were slow to decrease.
In 1997 the people of Mexico City were for the first time able to elect a mayor of the Distrito Federal, as the area was granted political autonomy (previously appointed by the president of Mexico).
Today the city continues to grow and is one of the worlds most densely populated areas. Plans have been made to preserve and renovate the old historic center.
Mexicans are warm, compassionate, emotive and friendly. They respect authority and hierarchy and are a very class-conscious society.
In formal situations men greet by shaking hands and a women by patting on the right shoulder or arm. In friends and family circles, women kiss on one cheek men hug briefly.
Mexicans have a very close personal space, when talking, they tend to stand quite close to one another and touch each other on the arm or back. Even though your personal space may be different, you should not move away, as this could be regarded as an insult and bad etiquette. A prolonged grasp of the hand during the handshake can also be quite common – try not to break the handshake too quickly as this could also be considered as rude.
Sometimes Mexicans do not make eye contact; this is a sign of respect and should not be taken as an affront.
Machismo: Macho attitudes are incorporated in Mexican males almost from birth, and machismo plays a pervasive role in shaping Mexican culture.
When invited to a Mexican home bring a simple gift such as sweets or flowers. Do not bring marigolds as they symbolize death. Red flowers also have a negative connotation.
When invited to a party it is considered inappropriate to arrive on time. In most places it is acceptable to be 30 minutes late. Only men give toasts.
Mexico City has a high crime rate and the risk of being mugged or robbed is high.
Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home and do not display valuable items in public. Be particularly cautious on public transport, at stations and in major tourist areas.
Crowded public transport is a pick pocket’s paradise. Be cautious while waiting, as well as when riding in a bus, metro, tram, etc. Avoid public transport at night.
It can not be stressed enough: take only the authorized taxi services: use only ‘sitio’ (stationed cabs), at all times and especially at night. There have been numerous reports of muggings and rapes by unlicensed taxi drivers. Do not hail a cab on the street. Get a cab from a taxi rank or hotel. Always check the driver’s photo license.
Radio taxi service available 24 hours can be reached on these numbers: 5516-6020 to 34, 5571-9344, 5571-3600.
Women traveling alone should be extremely cautious, as they are likely to be a target of rape as well as other violent crimes.
Be vigilant when drawing cash from an ATM, or when exchanging currency at an exchange office. Use ATMs at hotels or elsewhere with good security.
Be ware of the so-called ‘express kidnappings’ where a victim is taken to the ATM, forced to withdraw cash and then released.
Police records show that crime increases on payday, the 1 st and 15 th of each month.
Be wary or people pretending to be police officers who want to fine or arrest you for no apparent reason. They can ask you for your passport and steal it from you or “fine” you or blatantly ask for a bribe. If you find yourself in such a situation, ask the ‘policeman’ for identification, name, badge number and patrol number.
Avoid all demonstrations as they have a history of becoming violent.
Stay away from the following dangerous areas: Buenos Aires, Doctores, Tepito, and Morelos.
When driving in a car, always keep your windows closed and doors locked. Keep purses, suitcases and other valuables hidden under a seat or in the trunk. If possible avoid traffic lights even if it means choosing a longer route. Respect the ‘No Circula’ restriction. Park your car in paid parking lots rather than on the street. Do not leave anything valuable in your car.
Coastal areas of Mexico are prone to hurricanes in the period between June and November.
Mexico City is prone to earthquakes. If you experience one while visiting the city, stay calm. If you are in a building hide under a solid structure. If on street stay away from high buildings and look out for falling debris, shattered glass, etc. If you are driving stop the car somewhere safe.
The volcano Popo in the vicinity of Mexico City is still active.
Mexico City has a high level of air pollution. If you suffer from respiratory problems minimize walking along busy streets. The air pollution problem has been tackled and it is better than it was. Nevertheless, the worst air quality is expected between mid- November and January, whereas the best air quality is between September and October.
The city is located at a high elevation so it might take a few days to acclimatize.
April and May are the hottest months but due to the city’s high altitude it is never too hot. Between May and October is the rainy season. Frequent heavy rain can be expected any time of day, yet there can be long periods of sunshine, sometimes even days.
December and January are the coldest months with lots of smog and heavy air pollution.
The best time to visit is October when the rain season ends. Visiting at this time can also encompass the truly remarkable Day of the Dead Festival.