25 Travel Tips for Mexico City – Especially for first-time visitors | Mexico City Dos and Don’ts

People may wrongly associate Mexico as a land full of cartels and tacos. If I’m being completely honest, I had my hesitations as I was on the plane to Mexico City. However, don’t let the reactionary news and media headlines scare you. I learned that Mexico City was full of beautiful cultural landmarks, wonderful people, and mouthwatering food. As someone who has had the privilege of exploring this incredible city firsthand, I’ve gathered some invaluable tips for first-time travelers to Mexico City.

Discover the best travel tips for Mexico City - especially if you are visiting it for the first time
Discover the best travel tips for Mexico City – especially if you are visiting it for the first time

This blog post is all about the best travel tips for Mexico City. These Mexico travel tips range from safety concerns to the best ways of getting around and packing tips. The list of Mexico City dos and don’ts is designed to keep you well-prepped for an enjoyable holiday in this bustling city – especially if you are headed there for the first time.

Quick links for your visit to Mexico City (CDMX)

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Handy travel tips for Mexico City (CDMX)

I have sorted these Mexico City tips in an order that you will require if you are planning a trip here. The first few tips is all about preparation for your visit to Mexico City, followed by suggestions that you can use during your travel. These even include the Mexico City dos and don’ts – which if you are a first time visitor will definitely need. So, let’s get started.

1. Pick a good neighbourhood for your stay in Mexico City

Mexico City is known to have some not-so-great neighbourhoods. Ensuring that you pick your stay in one of the safe localities. There were three of them that I had found when I was researching for tips for traveling to Mexico City. These are Condesa, Roma and Coyoacan. These three places are well equipped for the tourists with good restaurants and hotels.

2. Best way to get to Mexico city | Tips for traveling to Mexico City

Take a flight - one of the many tips for traveling to Mexico City
Take a flight – one of the many tips for traveling to Mexico City

The best way to reach Mexico City from is by air. Mexico City International Airport is the largest airport in Latin America and serves as a major hub for international flights. If you are flying in from USA, you can opt for the various low-cost budget airlines. The Mexico City airport is located approximately 8 km from the city center.

While you can always drive in from USA, it is far quicker and easier to just fly in. The formalities too, are straightforward.

3. Fill your FMM card online and do not lose it – one of the most important Mexico City tips for first-time visitors.

As I was about to arrive in Mexico, I was given an FMM card to fill out.  When I visited, this was given on the plane or right before entering immigration. However, now it is no longer given on flights and you have to fill one online. You can do so through this link.

This is a tourist card for all foreign citizens and is an important document. It is proof that you are a tourist with a valid passport and will only stay for not more than 180 days in Mexico City. After it’s stamped at immigration, don’t throw it away! Keep it safe till you depart.

In case you lose it, you have to pay a fine of USD 40. So ensure you have it safe with you till you depart Mexico City.

4. Get a local SIM card

Always good to get a local Sim Card in Mexico City
Always good to get a local Sim Card in Mexico City Image Credits: Pixabay

I was in Mexico City was a short duration and hence did not buy one. However, it does get a little restrictive without one as there is not much of Public Wi-Fi available in the city. You need an internet connection if you are going to use an Uber service.

If you are going to Mexico City for the first time, I would recommend buying a local SIM card at the airport. The prices are standard and you are in lesser danger of being fleeced. Also, the staff at the counters there are kind enough to help you with setting up the SIM and explaining the benefits in English.

There are plenty of operators and you can pick the one that works the best for you in terms of plan. Telcel is the one that is highly recommended for its plan and coverage in Mexico. Go for a data plan – you can always use WhatsApp or Google to make your voice calls.

Since, public WiFi was pretty scarce for me, especially in residential areas and without the SIM card, I managed with a little difficulty. Whenever I got access, I downloaded offline maps to help me not get lost.

5. Make sure to know at least basic Spanish – one of the most valuable Mexico City travel tips

When I was there, most of the locals couldn’t speak English well, with the exception of the younger people. While you are in the city, a few basic phrases like Como Estas, Gracias and Por Favor will go a long way in warming up the locals to you.

I would also, recommend downloading one of the language apps like Duo Lingo or even using Google Translate when you are in Mexico City. Trust me, you will be thanking me when you have it handy while ordering food in one of the local cafes or even when you are using an Uber.

6. Use pesos and cash everywhere

Many may assume that the US dollar is the de facto currency in Mexico. Instead, pesos are used as currency. You can either get them at an ATM in the city or through Currency Exchange International before you leave the United States, if you reside there. And withdraw a lot of cash at one go as it can get horribly expensive when you try to do a local currency exchange. I have heard that the locals charge a very high exchange rate.

Mexico City Travel Tips - Withdraw Pesos in small denominations
Mexico City Travel Tips – Withdraw Pesos in small denominations Image Credit : Pixabay

Cash is what is accepted across Mexico City. You might find very little use for your plastic cards. Whether it is for tips in Mexico City or buying street food or even shopping, you will need hard currency.

Another tip that I would like to include in this section of Mexico City dos and don’ts is to keep smaller bills of Pesos. It will definitely save you from the headache of getting change- especially with the street-side vendors.

7. Book tickets in advance

Museums like Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul usually sell out every day, so make sure you’re prepared. Always buy the tickets from the official ticket counter at the Mexican attractions. Even better, book them online through Viator or GetYourGuide. That way, you can avoid the long queues as well.

8. There are plenty of free things to do in Mexico City

There are just so many attractions in Mexico City that you can visit. While most of them involve an entrance fee, there are plenty of free ones too, that you should consider adding to your itinerary. Here are just six of these free attractions in the city that I recommend you include in your list.

The Soumaya Museum

Visit Soumaya museum
Visit Soumaya museum

This museum was created by Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world, and named on behalf of Soumaya Dimit, his ex-wife who passed away in 1999. It has a whopping 66,000 pieces of artwork from 30 centuries so if you’re picky about your art, I’m sure there is something there for you to marvel at. More specifically, it features Salvador Dali, Diego Rivera, Vincent van Gogh, sculptures from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, and 19th + 20th century Mexican art. I remember that when I walked in, I was struck by the large murals that adorned the front walls while my feet echoed under the marble floors.

Yet the outside is just as interesting as the inside. It’s decked out with thousands of silver hexagons, making it an impressionable site.

However, Carlos Slim is known to be a controversial person in Mexico. He’s been accused of exacerbating income inequality in Mexico and stifling market competition, particularly in the copper wire and telecommunications industry. His controversy is comparable to Jeff Bezos’ monopoly over Amazon so be careful with praising him over this museum.

You may assume that a museum like this must cost $30 USD to enter. But thankfully, you are wrong. This museum is FREE for everyone!

Chapultepec Park

Chapultepec gardens - one of the largest gardens in the world
Chapultepec gardens – one of the largest gardens in the world Image Credits: Pixabay

Known to be one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere that’s double the size of New York City’s Central Park, it has many monuments and memorials that you can conveniently walkthrough.

While I was there, I visited the Ninos Heroes Monument. This statue signifies Mexican folklore, where legend has it that these six children died defending Mexico City in the Battle of Chapultepec on September 13, 1847. As you’ll learn throughout your trip, Mexicans are very patriotic people. While most Americans aren’t aware of the Mexican-American War, Mexicans know about it very well and will passionately tell you about how bravely Mexico fought. If you’d like to read a book inspired by it, be sure to read A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande on the flight to Mexico City. Though this book will unfortunately reveal that there was much infighting occurring inside Mexico, even when it was fighting against the Americans.

I also saw the artificial Chapultepec Lake. There are many activities you can choose to do on the lake, like rent a boat anywhere from 60 to 120 MXN per hour. This park is close to the National Museum of Anthropology so it should be a convenient walk.

Palacio Nacional

Palacio Nacional - an iconic building in Mexico City
Palacio Nacional – an iconic building in Mexico City Image by Julio Lopez from Pixabay

This is a historic government building that is not just known for its Aztec roots but is famous for its stunning murals by Diego Rivera, one of Mexico’s most renowned artists. The murals depict Mexico’s history from pre-Columbian times to the Mexican Revolution and are considered some of Rivera’s most important works. The building also, has the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada  – one of the most important libraries in the country.

Visiting this place is free from 9 am to 5 pm and you are sure to find your Instagrammable frames against the work of Diego Rivera.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Palacio de Bellas Artes
Palacio de Bellas Artes

This stunning landmark of Mexico City is free to visit on Sundays. Otherwise, it is a paid attraction. I highly recommend visiting this place for its stunning architecture and colorful murals painted by some renowned artists including Diego Rivera.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Shrouded with legends, this is one place that is a part of almost all Mexico City first-timers itinerary. Not only is it the 2nd most visited Basilica after St. Peter’s in Vatican City but a magnificent structure by itself. The church with its impressive domes and gorgeous architecture is a place that can be visited for free on any day.

Catch an Aztec performance in the Zocalo

Walk around this main square of Mexico City and you will almost always manage to catch one of the vibrant local performances including an Aztec Dance. The vibrant neighborhood has plenty of shops and cafes for you to enjoy. Plus you get the first glimpse of the other attractions of the city like the Templo Mayor and Catedral Metropolitana.

9. Don’t take the city taxis

One of the most important tips for visiting Mexico City is to rely on Uber over the local cabs. The local taxis in the city are known to be more expensive than Uber and if you are a first-timer in Mexico City, you will definitely end up getting overcharged. Moreover, personally, I found myself feeling a lot more safer in an Uber.

The Mexico City metro is another inexpensive option for moving around the city. You can take one of the Metro cards but just make sure you keep your belongings close to it. Avoid the rush hour as much as possible.

10. Traffic can be really backed up around rush hour

Just like in the United States, people want to get home from work as soon as possible. Keep this in mind before you head off for a cocktail class… I know from personal experience.

In general, traffic in Mexico City can get really crazy. One of the important travel tips for Mexico City is to keep a little buffer in your itinerary. This includes waiting time to get a cab on Uber as well as the actual time to travel. And this is not just during rush hours!

11. Walk around the neighborhoods

One of the murals that I caught while walking through Mexico City
One of the murals that I caught while walking through Mexico City

There were plenty of murals for me to take pictures of and look at while I was walking around residential areas. There are plenty of walking tours that you can look at that will help you explore the various neighborhoods and attractions better.

However, it may be best to avoid Doctores, Tepito, Iztapalapa, and Ciudad Neza since they have safety issues. The other one of the Mexico City safety tips is to avoid walking after it is dark – even for short distances.

12. Be mindful of crossing the streets

Unlike in many Western countries, cars in Mexico City do not have to yield to pedestrians. Make sure to cross the street when there are no cars in sight.

13. Hire a bike if you can

Mexico City Tips - Consider hiring an ebike to move around the city
Mexico City Tips – Consider hiring an ebike to move around the city Image Credits: Pixabay

There are many ebike services available in Mexico City and they are fairly economical. So if you are comfortable with riding two-wheelers, this might be a good option to move around the city. Ecobici is one of the most popular and highly rated operators that you can consider. You can even book these ebike tours online like this one.

14. Don’t drink tap water

Given the weather in Mexico City, you will need to keep consuming a lot of water. However, one of the most important tips for Mexico City is to avoid drinking plain tap water. It is definitely not safe and you will see that even the locals avoid consuming the same directly.

When I stayed, my Couchsurfing host had a huge tub of filtered water that I was able to drink from. However, if you’re staying solo or will be camping in rural areas, I’d recommend bringing a Lifestraw or similar filter so it can filter all the nasty bacteria out.  

Bottled water is available in Mexico City but if you are looking for a sustainable and environmentally safe way of handling your drinking water, I would recommend carrying a filter-based flask like Lifestraw.

15. Go for the street food

Drinking tap water definitely comes under the list of what not do to in Mexico City. However, Mexico City street food is safe and a big yes for things to do in Mexico City. The place is a foodie’s paradise and you will find a large variety of things that will appeal to your palate. In general, the food is safe and fresh.

Go for a walking food tour to get the best of the street food. This will also, help you address your safety concerns if any. Else, just pick the place with a good crowd. As they say, safety comes in numbers.

Also, remember to wash or sanitize your hands before eating. I would also, refrain from the ice in the drinks.

16. Avoid flashing your belongings

Crowded places do have a lot of pickpockets. For this reason, keep a handle on your expensive items and keep your documents and money safe. If possible, divide them between your pockets. You can even use an anti-theft waist pouch. Personally, I think this is not just a Mexico City travel tip. I would recommend practicing this in any new place that you visit. 

17. Set coins aside for public toilets

Save coins for the Mexico City public restrooms
Save coins for the Mexico City public restrooms Image Credits: Pixabay

When I had to do my business in Chapultepec Park, I was surprised to find out that I had to pay 5 pesos to use it. Most public bathrooms in the United States don’t have a charge fee so if you’re coming from there, make sure to save your coins. Also, remember to take toilet paper. If you forget, make sure you ask the caretaker for some as it is not kept inside the washrooms.

On the plus side, most of these public toilets are clean.

18. M on the Public toilets is for women

This is one of those Mexico City tips that is going to help you avoid embarrassment. If you come across the letter M on the public restrooms, it means mujeres – basically ladies or women in Spanish. So, as gentlemen, you can safely give this a miss and ladies – just enter the same confidently.

19. Throw your toilet paper in the trash can

Avoid flushing down your toilet paper. You will in fact, see this sign in many restaurants and hotels. This is a common problem in many Latin American countries. A lot of buildings in Mexico are quite old and its pipes cannot handle toilet paper.

This is one of the most valuable tips for Mexico City for first-timers – especially if you do not want to experience an overflow in your toilets. A friend who had stayed in an AirBnB had a terrible experience and it did not leave great feelings about her own visit to the city.

20. Carry your earplugs

You might find it funny to see this in the list of travel tips for Mexico City. But here is a fact – Mexico is one of the noisiest countries in the world. And if you are from the quieter parts of the world, the noise levels in Mexico City might really irk you – especially when you are attempting to have a quiet snooze time.

When I stayed at my host’s apartment, I was surprised to hear a man announcing loudly in the morning that he was selling spare metal parts. If you prefer to sleep in and not hear noises like that, bring earplugs.

21. What not to wear in Mexico City

Apparently, shorts aren’t as popular to wear in Mexico as they are in the United States. In fact, this is one of my hilarious culture shock tales. When my Uber driver saw me in my short shorts, he looked like he was about to have a heart attack. It isn’t like shorts or crop tops are not worn by tourists, but you do tend to stand out if you do.

The general trend is a little conservative with long pants or jeans favored by the locals. Even in these, ripped jeans are not so common.

Also, avoid flip-flops or sandals – even from a practical standpoint of walking around the city.

22. Bring diarrhea medication

This is a tip applicable to most countries but especially since Mexico is known for its street food, it’d be good to have these in handy just in case the food doesn’t sit well in your stomach.

23. Get used to seeing guards with guns

When I saw a guard by the gate of the apartment complex, which he was required to open at his discretion, it was much different than my apartment which looks more like a house and is guarded only by my cat. 

You will find guards everywhere – around malls, key landmarks and even squares. However, there is nothing to be alarmed about. Just get used to them.

24. Respect traditions

If you try to desecrate an important monument, you will pay for it. A tourist who climbed the Temple of Kukulcan in Yucatan without permission was booed relentlessly and doused with water by the locals. Although this temple wasn’t in Mexico City, don’t think the locals won’t notice if you act disrespectfully.

25. Stick to local shopping centers

Tourist areas in Mexico City are known to be pricier so if you’re looking to save money, shop in more local areas. 

Well, that is it from my end for now. I am sure you are feeling a lot more confident – and even excited about visiting Mexico City with these handy tips. Hope you have a great time.

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Mexico city travel tips
Travel tips mexico city
Mexico city tips

This post has been contributed by my guest author – Paige. Paige has been an avid traveler since she went on her first choir trip to six countries at the age of 12. She has traveled by herself across ten European and Latin American countries, actively seeking a unique, local experience over the typical tourist attractions. Her website Petite Paige’s Wayfaring Ways was created in November 2022 in order to show people how they, too, can get the same kind of experiences Paige has gotten thus far. Her readers tune in from countries like Hungary, Slovakia, Germany, Canada, Argentina, and South Africa

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