Mexico City Overview
- Cosmopolitan clamour
- City Life
- Monuments, mescal and mariachi
Mexico City, erstwhile heart of the vast Aztec empire, once stood in the middle of a lake. These days the water is gone, replaced by a churning sea of humanity – with more than 19 million inhabitants, the city is one of the largest and most dynamic on earth.
People come to Mexico City from all over the country, in search of economic freedom, a happening urban lifestyle, or just an old-fashioned good time. As a result, the city is a melting pot of the various cultures and languages of rural Mexico. In its vast ruins and astounding museums you find evidence of the Aztec past, but walk in its markets and streets today and you still get a sense that this is not just another overdeveloped former European colony – Mexico City has a culture and a flavour all of its own. With a vibrant arts scene and an amazing creative energy, you’ll find plenty of interest in its galleries, fashion boutiques, and the mariachi music that echoes down the city streets. The capital’s restaurants proudly continue the rich culinary traditions of the country that brought the world chocolate, corn and the tomato, and, whether it’s the Day of the Dead or just another Saturday night in the city, you’ll discover that no one knows how to party like the Mexicans – and not a piñata in sight.
Marvellously Mexico City
From 1956 to 2003, Mexico City had a love affair with the VW Beetle, affectionately known as the vocho. Production of the old-style version may have stopped, but there are tens of thousands of the curvy cars still roaming the city streets, most of them taxis. Look out for the distinctive green-and-white-coloured cabs, as much a symbol of the city as tacos or tequila.
- It’s best not to flag cabs in the street – some are unlicensed and you do hear the occasional horror story. Have your hotel arrange a taxi for you where possible, or call Taximex (+52 55 5634 9912). If you do flag one down, look for a green or red mark along the bottom of the number-plate that denotes a licensed car. You’ll find taxi ranks outside many of the major museums and tourist spots but, be warned, overcharging is something of a habit.
- Tipping culture
- Tips or propinas are a big part of Mexican culture and the norm is between 10 and 15 per cent for restaurant and bar staff. Hotel porters will also expect something. People earn a living off tips at airports, bus stations and taxi ranks by acting as unofficial porters and it’s usual to give them a few pesos in return for their assistance.
- Siesta and fiesta
- There are no hard and fast rules but shops generally keep long hours, from around 9am to 8pm, although impromptu siestas do occur. Lunch is usually 2pm or 3pm, and dinner similarly late, at about 9pm–10pm. Bars fill up as midnight approaches and clubs shortly afterwards.
- Packing tips
- An umbrella will serve you well in any season: rain is a daily event in June, and at other times you can use your brolly to stave off the sun’s unrelenting rays.
- Recommended reads
- The Years with Laura Diaz by Carlos Fuentes is a meaty novel offering insight into the complex politics of 20th-century Mexico. The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz de Castillo is fascinating account by one of Cortes’ conquistadors of his impressions of the Aztec culture and the bloody war that followed their arrival. A Visit to Don Otavio by Sybille Bedford – witty travel writing from one of the greats, and a portrait of Mexico in the late Forties.
- Mexican cuisine is founded on corn, used to make tortillas, the small cornflour pancakes that are the Mexican equivalent of bread. Other food staples like chilli, tomato and chocolate also hail from Mexico and you can expect to find them throughout the country. The typical Mexico-City meal will feature tacos, crunchy corn tortillas usually served with meat, chicken or nopales (prickly pear stems), and bottle-loads of delicious chilli sauces. Also worth trying are chiles rellenos (stuffed mild peppers), and frijoles (black beans often cooked with pork). Another classic is tamales (cornmeal usually stuffed with meat or fish and steamed inside corn husks).
- Mexican pesos (MXN). One peso is around 5p/10¢.
- Time zone
- GMT -6 hours
- Dialling codes
- Country code: +52; Mexico City: 55 – you’ll still need to use this when dialling within Mexico City. If you need to call a mobile number, dial a 1 after the country code. Mexican dialling codes are notoriously complex and even the locals don’t always know what to ring – if in doubt, ask your hotel for help.
- Do go/don't go
- June is the rainy season, although in between showers it can still get very hot as the humidity increases, so it’s not the ideal time to go. Mexico City enjoys a warm climate throughout the rest of the year but winter can be the most pleasant time to visit.
Don't go home without...
A bottle of tequila: with more than 600 brands of the potent agave spirit from around 100 distilleries in Mexico, you’ll be spoiled for choice. 'Worms' are strictly for tourists.