Surprisingly, Mexico City is one of Mexico's best-kept secrets. Travelers often flock to the country's famous coasts, but neglect the cities of its colorful interior. Perhaps they are intimidated by the size of the capital—it's one of the largest, most densely populated metropolises in the world—or …by rumors that it is chaotic, dirty, and dangerous. Yet intrepid visitors tend to return home enamored with “CDMX,” formerly known as the Distrito Federal. As journalist David Lida asserts: "Mexico City is the capital of the 21st century." After your first trip to this city, you'll see why it's only a matter of time before others discover the secret, too.
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When it comes to weather, it's almost always a good time to visit Mexico City. Temperatures remain fairly stable throughout the year, averaging in the mid-50s to low 70s. Mornings and evenings are cool, while midday can be quite warm—so plan ahead and bring light layers. September tends to be a rainy month, but this is also when Mexican Independence Day is celebrated. If you're interested in joining the festivities, don't let a little precipitation stop you!
Mexico City's Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX) is the primary point of arrival and departure for international flights. You can hire a taxi from the airport to your hotel for approximately 275 pesos, depending upon your destination. For a more affordable alternative, take the Metrobus, which departs from both airport terminals and stops at various points throughout the city center. You'll need to purchase a transit card for 10 pesos, then add 30 pesos for a single ride; you can make the purchase at an automated machine in the airport terminal.
Mexico City is massive, which can be overwhelming even to experienced visitors. AFAR’s partner, Context Travels offers visitors a private, historian- or architect-led introduction to downtown Mexico City from its roots as a center of government and ritual in the Aztec Empire to its commercial and cultural modern present. There are many convenient ways to get around, including the Metro, Metrobus, taxis, and the city's bike-share program, Ecobici. The Metro and the Metrobus are extensive and inexpensive. Taxis are also affordable, but be aware that the safer sitio taxis—which are recommended for tourists—tend to cost two to three times more than a metered, street-hailed taxi. If you're concerned about whether your taxi is legitimate, the free smartphone app TaxiAviso can cross-check the vehicle and driver before you board.
There is so much to experience in Mexico City—but whatever you do, don't skip the Zócalo. Here, in the lively main square of the city, you can relish centuries of history, grandiose architecture, and exceptional people-watching.
From street food to white-tablecloth restaurants, Mexico City has a meal for every palate and every budget. The culinary traditions on display here are vast in variety and origin: nearly every state in Mexico has its own distinct regional cuisine. Whether you're scarfing down tacos at a market stall or deciphering the ingredients on an artfully presented plate at one of the world's top-ranked restaurants, "local," "fresh," and "heritage" aren't just buzzwords here—they're the way of life. There's no single signature dish, but don't head home without trying chilaquiles for breakfast, tacos al pastor for comida (late lunch), and a hearty sopa, such as tortilla soup, for cena. Wash it down with a local beer (yes, there's a craft beer movement here), mezcal, or—if you're really brave—pulque, the fermented sap of the maguey plant.
One of the most endearing (and, at times, maddening) attributes of Mexico City is its ability to embrace cultural opposites, allowing them to coexist without significant conflict. The old, the new, and the scarcely imagined sit side by side here, and no one blinks an eye. The lowbrow and the highbrow are given equal space and respect. The more you can be curious about that balance—and the more you can achieve it yourself—the better you'll understand and enjoy Mexico City.
Mexico City residents—Chilangos—love to party, and there are many opportunities to do so throughout the year. The biggest celebration is Mexican Independence Day, which takes place in September. The Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe in December is a more somber celebration, but just as epic in scope. Mexico City's LGBT Pride Parade, held in late June or early July each year, is a raucous, welcoming, and well-attended party that draws LGBT visitors from all over Mexico and abroad.
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Julie Schwietert Collazo has been a bilingual freelance writer, editor, and translator for the past 10 years and loves (almost) every minute of it. She does, however, tell people that if she could have any other job, it would be a gig as a Mexico City evangelist. The Mexican capital is her former home and the first place she always wants to go when she gets on a plane. Read more at collazoprojects.com and Cuaderno Inedito.