10 Things You Should Know About Mexico City

What are the first things to mind when you think about Mexico City? Is it busy, crowded, dirty, and unsafe? Okay, so it can be a busy, crowded, and overwhelming place, but I really think that Mexico City is an often misunderstood city, and there are a lot of stereotypes about it.

I once had those misconceptions about Mexico City as well, but I finally had to pay a visit after hearing all the buzz about what an amazing city it is (and well, a cheap flight from SFO didn’t hurt either). When I got there, I surprised by how beautiful and safe it was. I fell in love with it so much that I had to come back for a second visit, less than a year later.

Here are some of the things you should know about Mexico City:

1. It is safe 
One of the things I kept getting asked over and over when I told people I was going to Mexico City (especially as a solo female traveler) – “but is it SAFE?!” The answer to that is – yes, absolutely! The big misconception about Mexico City is that it is a crime-ridden city, full of drug violence and that kidnappings are abundant. This is farther from the truth – these tend to happen in the northern and Pacific states, closer to the border. While the US State Department recently issued a travel warning for many parts of Mexico, the Mexico City area was excluded. Mexico City doesn’t even make it in the top 50 cities with the highest homicide rates in the world – a list that includes US cities such as Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Baltimore.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t take precautions and keep your guard up. Pickpocketing is a legitimate concern here, so stay alert, watch out in crowded areas, and take caution with your valuables. As with any major cities, there are definitely bad neighborhoods that you should avoid (i.e. Tepito and La Lagunilla) – be sure not to accidentally stumble into these. Don’t take unofficial taxis – the official ones are pink and marked with “CDMX.” Also avoid hailing cabs on the street – use marked taxi stands or call one from a hotel or restaurant. Ubers are super cheap and readily available as well, which makes it a great option for getting around the city.

2. It stands at over 7000 feet above sea level
Mexico City stands at 7,382 feet (2200 meters) above sea level. That is 2000 feet higher than Denver. It is in a valley surrounded by volcanoes. It shouldn’t affect you too much, but if you are sensitive to high altitude, definitely carry some drugs. I wasn’t too bothered by it, but did find myself a little more out of breath than usual when climbing stairs and such. Did you also know that the city was built on a lake called Texcoco, and is has sunk more than 9 meters over the last 100 years?

3. There are a lot of amazing museums
With more than 150 museums, Mexico City is home to the most museums in the world. These museums exhibit anything from European art, Latin American culture, history, science, and more – literally something for everyone!

I will admit that I have not been able to check out as many museums as I have wanted to – but there’s always next time, right? Some of my favorites are the Frida Kahlo, Casa Luis Barragan, and the Capultepec Castle, which also serves as the National Museum of History. Some of the others I’ve been wanting to check out and hear great things about are the Museo Soumaya, Mueso Jumex, and Museo Nacional de Antropologia (Anthropology Museum).

TIP: Many museums are closed on Mondays.

4. It is HUGE
Mexico City is an enormous city, with over 20 million residents calling it home. It is the largest city in Latin America, the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the top 10 most populous cities in the world. It also has a huge economy – if Mexico City were its own country, it would have the fifth largest economy in Latin America.

5. There is a LOT of traffic
Because it is such a huge city, there is also a LOT of traffic – getting from one end of the city to another can often take over an hour, so be sure to allow for plenty of extra time for travel. I grew up in LA and am no stranger to crazy traffic jams, but the traffic in Mexico City was like LA on steroids. There is also plenty of smog here, but the city has taken big steps to reduce pollution in recent years – since 1991, carbon dioxide levels have dropped 74% and ozone levels have been reduced 57%.

6. It is very green
One common stereotype about Mexico City is that it is a grey, smoggy concrete jungle. One of the things that surprised me most about the city was how green it was, from the tree-lined boulevards, to the lush parks and green spaces scattered all over the city. Chapultepec Park, which is kind of like the Central Park of Mexico City, is known as one of the best urban parks in the world, and is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere.

7. It’s a pretty city
One of the biggest misconceptions that I had about Mexico was that it was dirty and busy. While many parts of the city are definitely busy, I was blown away by how pretty the city was, from the greenery mentioned above, well-manicured homes, colonial architecture, and beautiful facades. Walking through parts of the city reminded me of strolling through the streets of Paris and in Italy. I especially loved wandering the streets of Coyoacan, an artsy, bohemian neighborhood, and San Angel, with its pretty pastel facades and cobblestone streets.

8. There are 2000 year old pyramids an hour away
When you think of archaeological sites in Mexico, you probably think of Chichen Itza and Tulum. However, did you know that one of the world’s largest pyramids stands just an hour outside of Mexico City at Teotihuacan? In its heyday, the city of Teotihuacan was the largest city in the Western Hemisphere before the 1400s, spanning over 20 square kilometers and with a population of almost 200,000. There are many tours offered to this fascinating archaeological site, but you can also easily (and inexpensively) take a bus there, making it a great option for a day trip outside the city.

9. Some of the world’s best restaurants are here (but there’s just good food everywhere you look)
Mexico City is home to an up-and-coming foodie scene, with everything from world-renowned restaurants, to inexpensive street tacos, to anything and everything in between. Three of its restaurants ended up on a list of the world’s 50 best restaurants, including Enrique Olvera’s acclaimed Pujol, which was hands-down one of the best meals I’ve had in my life.

Mexico City also has a strong street food culture, with stands on almost every street corner with everything from Al Pastor tacos, tamales, corn, fresh fruit, and more. I’ve had some of the best tacos of my life on the streets of Mexico City. Worried about food poisoning? One of the best tips I’ve received is to seek out stands that have professionals eating at them, as these folks don’t have time to be sick.

Markets (mercados) are also a huge part of the everyday life and culture too, and you will find some of the most authentic food in the city in these markets – Mercado La Merced is the largest in Latin America, but there’s also the Mercado de Coyoacan, or for a hipster chic vibe, Mercado Roma is a popular spot.

10. It ain’t no Cancun (or Cabo. Or Puerto Vallarta).
If you’re expecting to Mexico City to be reminiscent of something like Cancun, you are going to be disappointed. For starters, it isn’t a tropical climate – because of the altitude, it is much milder, with temperatures maxing out around 80 degrees, and cooling way off at night. It is a great idea to dress in layers!

One thing I discovered about Mexico City is that English isn’t widely spoken here, so it is a good idea to know some basic Spanish phrases. While the locals will work with you, it will be much easier if you know a few useful phrases (and the effort will be much appreciated).

Have you been to Mexico City? What are some of the things that surprised you?

Want to know more about Mexico City? Check out all the things you should do, see, and eat in 3 days in Mexico City.

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  • The Curious Creature

    OMG perfect timing for me to read this post. I'm off on a press trip there next month!! Great tips and facts.


  • The Middle Age Wanderer

    Wow Mexico City has almost the same population of my whole country (Australia)! So I can understand why it's crowded. I didn't realise it was such a foodies destination. We love being able to experience great food while we travel so it's a great argument now to visit. Beautiful photos too.


  • Paige Marley

    I love that you broke it down into facts and tips that are extremely useful, thanks SO much for sharing!


  • Emily Fata

    Wow! Mexico City clearly has so much life and colour! These facts and tips are super useful, and it's made me all the more excited to visit Mexico in the coming years!


  • Andrea Mujica

    Wow! This is great! already knew that mexico city was an amazing place filled with color and this post just motivated me to want to go!


  • ispyprettyplaces

    This is really informative. I have to say I'm guilty of thinking the city isn't safe but thank you for putting me straight. There's actually a lot I didn't know about the city. The colours are beautiful (that was the one thing I did know before!). Great post.


  • jewels

    I really want to visit Mexico City. I have friends who have visited and loved it. I'm glad you are debunking the myth that it's unsafe. And that's awesome there are so many museums. I would love to visit Frida's house!


  • Unknown

    I have to go see the pyramids here one day! I read somewhere that they no longer let you climb them.


  • Kate and Kris

    Several people have said that Mexico city is one of their favourites. It certainly looks great in your blog. I'd go just for the food to be honest, and the history.



    Mexico city looks and sounds amazing..I want to go! I didnt realize it was so high ..the cooler temps are nice Im sure.I love all the pink buildings you captured!



  • Ryan

    Thanks for all the info about Mexico City. I learned a lot about the city in this short article you wrote. I've been holding back for some quite some time now. It's clearly time to visit.


  • Amy Poulton - Page Traveller

    Hey, I was just in Mexico City! Absolutely loved it. You left out one important one though – earthquakes! I was there for the two big ones recently, and really wish someone had prepared me a bit more. Most people just said "Oh, it's so unlikely there will be earthquakes while you're visiting," and then there were TWO HUGE ones. Even just to be on the safe side, you should learn how to evacuate and what to do in an earthquake.


  • Julianne

    Great to meet another Californian! We miss San Francisco – we moved to NYC five years ago. Anyway, I like that you pointed out that Mexico City area was excluded from the recent US State Department warning; so many people just hear Mexico and automatically assume all parts are unsafe. I've been hearing so many amazing things about the food scene in Mexico City, which is really making me want to go. Also, great tip about Mexico City's size — I had no idea that it was the largest city in Latin America! Great post & hope to read some more!


  • Lisanne

    I always LOVE your photos Caroline. I absolutely want to go to Mexico City now, it looks really pretty!


  • Cristina

    Yes yes yes! My former home; Mexico City, is one of my fav places in this world and it hurt me so bad to hear about these terrible earthquackes going on… Really hope it will end soon.
    But yes, you're right about all you say. Mexico is a misunderstood city. But maybe that's not a bad thing cuz we don't want it to become another Berlin, right? (where there are more tourists than locals) lol.


  • Mae-Gene

    I loved reading this post! I've heard Mexico City is a beautiful city to visit, but your post was so comprehensive it has me wanting to book a trip! The food looks amazing (I am partial to a good Carnita!) Thank you for sharing your advice and tips, it has definitely got me thinking I should visit (especially given the earthquakes – tourism would help them, and it's sad to think people will be put off now!)


  • Ania Ochocinski

    Thank you for writing and sharing such an informative and useful post about Mexico City! I had no idea the city has over 20 million inhabitants! I definitely would love to pay the city a visit one day (I have a friend who has family there and visits every year – she also always says great things).


  • Kristen

    What a great post! I seriously learned a lot in the few minutes that I read this. I always wondered about safety, so that's good to know! It looks like a unique and beautiful city that's definitely worth visiting.


  • Ruth Rieckehoff

    This is an excellent article about Mexico. Thank you so much for writing about your experiences and what you learned while there. My love affair with Mexico started when I moved to Southern California. We have visited Mexico City two times. We have stopped by many states and cross the border often to go to Baja. Like you said, I think Mexico City is not well understood. I mean, it is a city bigger than New York. Travel lovers should experience it at least once.


  • Agness of Fit Travelling

    I have learned a great deal about Mexico City from your post. It definitely seems worth visiting, When's the best time of the year to explore it?


    • Caroline

      You definitely should go sometime! The weather is pretty mild year round so any time, really…June-September is wet season so it pours for an hour each day, but even then, it wasn't too bad!


  • Anonymous

    As a solo female traveler going there in March, I'm glad to hear you felt safe. I didn't really have any hesitation about it, but the reaffirmation is always comforting 🙂 I'm saving this post, thanks!


  • While I'm Young blog

    I'm heading to Mexico City in two weeks time so it was great to read this! I'm especially nervous about being solo a lot of the time for safety reasons but this has eased my mind, thanks! Can you possibly recommend a sim card to get there?


    • Caroline

      caroline10/07/2017 4:44 PM
      You're going to have such an amazing time! I get free international data through T-mobile so I don't have much experience with Sim Cards -sorry!


  • Anonymous

    it is a beautiful city, but it can be dangerous and unsafe just as any big city. I live in Mexico, I've been here for two months, and I've heard from actual Mexicans that the city is very unsafe at times and in certain places. Also a cheap option for transportation are the buses. There are hundreds in the city I live in currently and they are only 3 pesos a ride.


  • Agness of eTramping

    I have learned a big deal about Mexico City from your post. Thanks a bunch for sharing such an enlightening post!


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