Mexico City Travel Guide
The idea of visiting one of the largest cities in the world might be daunting to think about, but Mexico City is a rich and welcoming place for solo female travelers.
There are endless incredible activities to enjoy, from learning about Aztec history or taking in art museums to eating your way through the local taco restaurants, shopping in the lively markets, or floating along the canals of Xochimilco.
This Mexico City travel guide will give you everything you need to plan your trip.
Mexico City Overview
With a population of over 21 million, Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world and the capital of Mexico. It’s also its own state.
What’s in a name?
Mexico City has a lot of names, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll probably hear them all thrown around. Here’s a quick overview of their evolution.
It was originally founded by the Mexica peoples, who called it Tenochtitlán. They referred to the valley surrounding Tenochtitlan as Mēxihco, a Nahuatl word that “Mexico” is derived from.
Legend says that after the Spanish arrived in 1521, they began referring to Tenotchitlán as “Mexico” because the former was too hard for them to pronounce.
Fast forward a few hundred years to Mexico’s independence in 1824. Mexico’s new constitution is signed, deeming Mexico City a city-state under the control of the federal government.
It became known as Mexico City, Federal District. Or, in Spanish, Mexico, Distrito Federal. Or, colloquially, DF (pronounced day-effay in Spanish).
In 2016, in a push for autonomy, Mexico City shed its federal district status. No longer fully controlled by the federal government, Mexico City was rebranded to Ciudad de Mexico or CDMX.
Still with me?
Tl; DR: You’ll hear people refer to Mexico City as any and all of the following in Spanish:
- México (context clues will indicate whether one is referring to the city or the country!)
- Mexico DF
I’ve noticed that many folks still call Mexico City “DF” in Spanish. It definitely rolls off the tongue more than CDMX. Besides, old habits die hard.
Mexico City Travel Basics
- Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) – this is the primary airport.
- Felipe Ángeles International Airport (NLU)
Time Zone: Mexico City is on Central Standard Time (CST) / UTC/GMT -6 hours. Mexico City does not observe daylight savings time
Elevation: 2,240 meters / 7,349 feet
Climate: Mexico City has a Subtropical highland climate characterized by low humidity and mild daily temperatures.
Currency: Mexican peso. Open a free multi-currency account to make exchanging money easier.
Tipping in Mexico City: Tipping is customary, but not in all the same situations as in the US. Plan to leave a tip of 10-20% in restaurants; do not tip taxi drivers. Read my guide to tipping in Mexico for more details.
Language: Spanish is the primary language, but many folks working in the tourism industry speak English (though I would still make an effort to speak Spanish if possible, as a gesture of good faith). Indigenous languages are spoken as well, including Nahuatl.
Locals are known as: Chilangos
Electricity: Mexico City uses standard Type A (two-prong) and Type B (three-prong) outlets. The standard voltage is 127V. Don’t count on having a three-pronged outlet anywhere you stay. Pack an adapter, just in case.
SIM Card: Pick up an Airalo eSIM, so you have access to data during your trip.
When is the Best Time to Visit Mexico City?
It’s always a good time to visit CDMX! As such a large city, there’s no shortage of fun activities to partake in all year round.
In terms of weather, the climate is quite mild all year round.
October through April is the dry season, which is appealing to many travelers. The winter months can be quite cool, with daily temperatures ranging from 5°C (41°F) to 22°C (72°F). December and January are the coldest months.
April and May are the warmest months in Mexico’s capital, with daily highs averaging 26°C (80°F). But lows during these months are around 10°C (50°F), so don’t forget to pack layers!
The rainy season lasts from May through September. And while the prospect of heavy rain might sound like a deterrent, showers are often isolated to the afternoons. The rain can definitely be inconvenient, but it’s not a dealbreaker for visiting the city.
Mexico City Location
Mexico City is located in the Valley of Mexico, on Mexico’s high central plateau. It’s situated toward the center of mainland Mexico, making it a convenient hub for visiting other areas of southern and central Mexico.
On this Mexico City map, you can see where it’s located in relation to the rest of Mexico:
Mexico City Transportation: Getting There & Around
Those arriving by air will most likely fly into the Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) in
Mexico City. It’s the largest airport in Mexico and an important travel hub for all of Latin America.
Solo travel tip: Plan to arrive during the day– or at least not late at night. This will make it easier and less stressful to find your way to your hotel or Airbnb safely.
Mexico City Airport Transportation
There is no shortage of transportation options from the Mexico City airport. The most popular methods are taxi and Uber.
Buy a ticket from the Taxi Seguro kiosk inside the airport terminal, and you’ll be matched with a taxi driver. You will need cash to pay for your ticket.
Uber is a little trickier. They may not be able to pick you up right at the arrivals terminal, so your driver may request that you go upstairs to the Departures area and meet at a particular gate.
If all of this sounds too complicated, book an airport transfer in advance and save yourself the headache!
Local public transportation
There are several local transportation options in Mexico City, including:
- Didi (another rideshare service)
Uber is typically the best way to move around since payments are handled through the app, and you don’t need to speak much Spanish along the way.
Mexico City’s metro is fast and inexpensive, but I don’t recommend it for solo female travelers because it can be uncomfortably crowded, and petty theft is a concern.
There is a metro line from the airport, too, but I don’t recommend it for solo female travelers. I’ve had dodgey experiences on the metro and I wouldn’t feel comfortable on there with all of my travel gear. It’s one thing to get pickpocketed when you just have your cash for the day, and another when you have all of your essentials with you. That said, it’s a personal choice! You can make the call on what’s right for you!
Where to Stay: Best Mexico City Neighborhoods
Polanco, sometimes referred to as the “Beverly Hills” of Mexico City, is an excellent choice for solo travelers looking for a safe and upscale experience.
Situated on the north side of the iconic Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec), this affluent neighborhood is a picturesque blend of stunning architecture and luxury shopping, offering a glimpse into the city’s sophisticated side.
Polanco’s walkable streets and proximity to some of Mexico City’s top attractions, including the vast Chapultepec Park and the renowned National Anthropology Museum, make it a wonderful base for your Mexico City trip.
La Condesa & Roma
Condesa and Roma, two neighboring districts in Mexico City, are perfect for solo travelers seeking a trendy, bohemian vibe. These areas are not only home to many Mexican television stars and musicians, but they’ve also gained popularity among foreign travelers and digital nomads, adding to their international appeal.
These neighborhoods are home to an array of chic shops and exquisite restaurants featuring everything from French cuisine to vegan specialties and authentic Mexican. And there are plenty of taco spots, too!
Their tree-lined streets and charming parks, like Parque Mexico and Parque España, are wonderful for wandering and people-watching. Additionally, their central location within the city makes Roma and Condesa a fantastic base for exploring Mexico City’s many attractions.
Paseo de la Reforma
Mexico City’s Reforma neighborhood offers solo travelers a vibrant and cosmopolitan experience. Paseo de la Reforma is an iconic boulevard that stretches across the city, the area that runs from Polanco to Centro Historico is the section I’m referring to here.
This stretch is adorned with popular landmarks, international embassies, and some of Mexico City’s best hotels, making it a hotspot for visitors seeking a blend of culture and luxury.
Reforma is not only safe and highly walkable, but it also brims with activities and sights, including museums, shopping opportunities, notable landmarks (including the Ángel de la Independencia), and a diverse range of restaurants.
The neighborhood comes alive at night with a bustling nightlife, ideal for those looking to explore the city’s evening offerings. The Zona Rosa borders Reforma and is an area known for fun nightclubs and gay bars.
For travelers seeking a sophisticated hotel experience in an area rich with things to see and do, Reforma stands out as a perfect choice.
Centro Histórico, the historic heart of Mexico City, is an intriguing neighborhood for solo travelers, especially those with a penchant for history and culture. During the day, it’s a treasure trove of historic landmarks and museums, offering endless opportunities for learning.
Mexico City’s main square, the Plaza de la Constitución, is the center of this neighborhood, with attractions like the National Palace and Templo Mayor located alongside it.
Accommodation options range from iconic hotels (notably, the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico) to a variety of budget hotels and hostels, making it an ideal spot for finding affordable stays.
For solo travelers seeking community, the hostels in Centro Historico are perfect for meeting fellow adventurers.
However, it’s worth noting that Centro Historico can feel a bit grittier at night, so be careful if you go out at night! Despite this, its central location and the fascinating blend of history and urban life make the historic center a compelling place to be!
Coyoacan, one of Mexico City’s oldest colonial neighborhoods, offers solo travelers a charming small-town feel amidst the vastness of the city. Renowned as the location of Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, Coyoacan exudes an old-world charm distinct from other parts of the city.
The neighborhood is dotted with historic buildings and haciendas that have been transformed into quaint apartments, unique restaurants, and commercial spaces. The beautiful central park and vibrant local markets are perfect for leisurely soaking in the local culture.
While it’s a bit removed from some of Mexico City’s main attractions, Coyoacan’s serene atmosphere provides a delightful contrast to the city’s bustling urban areas.
Best Things to Do in Mexico City
Obviously, there are too many things to list. Here’s a very broad overview of some of the main attractions and popular things to do in Mexico City.
- Palacio de Bellas Artes – This incredible building is an architectural marvel in the city center. After you’re done admiring the outside, head in to check out the art museum and architecture museums it holds.
- National Palace – The Palacio Nacional is famous for its Diego Rivera murals (and for being the seat of Mexico’s federal government). It’s free to visit and located right on the Zócalo.
- Templo Mayor – This archaeological site sits right on Mexico City’s Zocalo across from the Metropolitan Cathedral, and you can see parts of the ruins right from the street! It’s a really fascinating site and has an informative museum, too.
- Frida Kahlo Museum – Frida’s famous Blue House is located in Coyoacan and is a really cool museum dedicated to her life and work. Book tickets in advance.
- San Ángel Mercado de Sábado – This weekly street market features everything from souvenirs and art to food products. San Ángel is a cool neighborhood, too, so it’s worth making a day of the market experience!
- Chapultepec Castle & Park – Chapultepec Castle is a cool architectural monument and houses an interesting history museum. It is located within Chapultepec Park, a massive urban park that’s an attraction in it’s own right. Spend at least half a day browsing the museum and wandering through the park.
- National Museum of Anthropology – One of the most famous and important museums in Mexico. This is a must-visit spot for anyone interested in Mexico’s ancient civilizations.
- Lucha libre – Lucha libre is a fun and lively spectacle and there’s nothing like seeing it in Mexico City! Even if you’re not into wrestling, it’s an incredible performance art and I think it’s worth seeing at least once!
- Mercado de San Juan – The Mercado de San Juan is famous for it’s large and diverse selection of products. It’s a great place to try out authentic Mexican food.
- Xochimilco – Back when it was still Tenochtitlán, the city was built on islands within the lake Texcoco. Residents would move through the city on canals. Nowadays, Xochimilco is all that’s left of these canals. Hire a boat and cruise through the channels while you eat tasty snacks and get serenaded by mariachi bands! This is a really cool experience that you shouldn’t miss!
Can’t-Miss Mexico City Tours
Taking a guided tour is one of the best ways to make friends as a solo traveler, and it’s a fun way to experience Mexico City.
Here are some of the top Mexico City tours to add to your itinerary.
Is Mexico City Safe for Solo Travelers?
Mexico City is generally quite safe for travelers. Like any large city, some areas are rougher than others, but you are unlikely to visit those spots during your trip.
As travelers, we have a lot of privileges that many locals in Mexico do not, especially when it comes to the areas of the city we visit and travel through and the methods we use to do so. If you discuss Mexico City safety with Mexicans, you’ll likely get a different perspective than when you discuss it with extranjeros.
Bad things do happen in the city (and everywhere in the world), but we have the flexibility to mitigate a lot of risks. Sure, maybe there’s a chance that some of us are more of a “target” for petty crime because we stick out, but we also have the privilege of staying in nice neighborhoods, opting for private transportation, etc.
All this to say, Mexico City is a great destination for solo travelers. But always take standard safety precautions and follow these solo travel safety tips to protect yourself.
Read All of My Mexico City Travel Blogs
Here’s everything I’ve ever written about Mexico City!
Worried about altitude sickness in Mexico City? These tips will help you prevent or manage the symptoms so you can make the most of your trip.
Wondering what the best Mexico City airport transportation options are? This guide outlines all the safest ways to get from the Mexico City airport to your hotel or Airbnb. One of the most important logistical details of any trip is how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel when you arrive at your destination….
Curious about solo travel in Mexico? Read on to discover some of the best places in Mexico to travel alone, along with my best Mexico travel advice for an awesome trip!
Looking for a 5-star hotel in Mexico City? This round-up includes some of the best 5-star hotels CDMX has to offer. Whether you’re looking to splurge for a special occasion or simply prefer luxurious vacations, Mexico City has a solid selection of luxury hotels eagerly awaiting your stay. Each of the properties covered below is…
Keen to explore some of the archaeological sites in Mexico? Check out the best ruins in Mexico to help you decide which sites warrant a spot on your Mexico itinerary. Mexico was home to many fascinating pre-Colombian civilizations, and many of them left behind incredible ruins that are now open to the public. There are…
Trying to decide where to stay in Mexico City? Read on to discover a collection of beautiful, safe, and well-located Airbnbs in two of Mexico City’s most desirable neighborhoods.
Mexico City Travel FAQs
Will I get altitude sickness in Mexico City?
Maybe. Mexico City does have a very high altitude, so it’s possible that you’ll experience altitude sickness. I always recommend making your first day in the city a mellow one so your body has time to adjust to the environment. Drinking lots of water will help.
Can I drink the water in Mexico City?
Nope! Tap water in Mexico City is not safe to drink unless your hotel or Airbnb specifies that they have a purification filter in place (this isn’t super common). Plan to drink bottled water during your visit.
Can you get around in Mexico City without a car?
Yes! You do not need a car in Mexico City, and I wouldn’t recommend one anyway. Traffic is terrible, and it’s hard/expensive to park anywhere. Instead, use ride-share services like Uber or Didi or learn to navigate the local buses and metro. Don’t forget to buy an eSIM so you can use data to navigate!
How many days should I spend in Mexico City?
You could spend a lifetime in Mexico City and never see it all. To see the highlights, I’d spend a minimum of four to seven days in the city.
Should I get travel insurance for Mexico City?
Yes! I urge you always to buy travel insurance when you travel. Mexico has inexpensive healthcare for small ailments, but if anything major happens, you’ll be glad to be covered. I recommend SafetyWing, especially for long-term travelers.