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Survival Guide to Mexico-City

Relaxed laid-back atmosphere, sounds of Mexican music from every bar, people walking around, sitting outside of bars under the palms and enjoying their coffee, beer or tequila – this is how you probably imagine Mexico if you’ve never been here. But once you visit Mexico-City, you experience it from a slightly different side: a lot of traffic, many cars & highways, a bit dirty streets with ruined pathways with very few people walking. ¡Bienvenidos a Cuidad Mexico!

Mexico-City with its 20 million urban population cannot be claimed as the safest city in the world. Attracting many people from other parts of the country, it becomes a bit dangerous for international visitors. Most of all, because of robberies: in some areas people can stop you or your car and clean up your pockets holding a gun or a knife at your neck. In some cases, you just can be fooled with higher prices or less change given back or suffer from pick-pocketing. 

Mexico City View from Top
View of Mexico City from Torre Latinoamericana

Many European and North American tourists are a bit scared of Mexico-City and try to avoid this destination. In January 2016, we not only spent in the city 3 days and survived, but knew a bit more about some basic safety guidance!  This is why the best thing not only to survive, but also to enjoy Mexico-City is to follow some survival rules we listed below:

1. Get along with local friends

This is the best way to explore the city. Your friends who live in Mexico-City definitely know the following and many more safety tips and moreover, they have much better feeling what’s ok and what’s not. Additionally, most probably your friends will have a car so the question of a save transportation won’t be so crucial. Last but not least: only with local friends you can fully explore the city’s best sides. 

Side note: we are really thankful to our friends who helped us enjoy the city so much! If you read this, you know who we mean :)

2. Get along by car

Typical Mexican Road, spotted in Toluca
Typical Mexican Road, spotted in Toluca

Public transport in Mexico-City is not as convenient as it could be for a city with 20 million citizens. Additionally, the Metro (local underground) can be a bit dangerous especially in the areas around the stations located a bit apart from the city centre. Usually such stations are surrounded by small self-made markets which you need to pass through to get inside. According to safety guidance, foreigners should better avoid these areas.

The main argument for using a car is an outstanding road infrastructure with a plenty of highways within the city which enable pretty smooth drive: once we’ve been driving through the city at least 15 minutes long not facing any traffic light. 

The argument against is the world famous traffic jams. It could happen, however this truly belongs to a Mexico-City culture. In case you stuck: sit back, relax & enjoy the city though the car window. 

3. Keep your belongings save

While going by car, put all your belongings in the trunk: in Mexican cars it’s the most safe area which you cannot open from outside. So if someone stops your car and asks for some valuable stuff, you just give them what’s inside of the car, but not the most valuable thinks from the trunk. For this one, follow the next tip. 

4. Take a fake wallet

No matter, if you travel by car or go walking, a fake wallet can save you from losing a lot of money. Take a cheap wallet, put there some money (for example, 50-100 pesos) and some fake or unnecessary cards. Keep your real wallet or money in a safer area (special pocket, some hidden area in the car or a trunk). Once someone stops you and asks for a wallet, you have something to please them. 

Note: not giving anything can turn very bad. In case of troubles, don’t argue a lot – you don’t know what’s in these guys’ mind. Giving them anything (like a fake wallet) will save you some time: they’ll run away and you will drive further.

Additionally, you can even get a fake purse for your car with some chewing gum, sunglasses, a book and further stuff to imitate a true one.

5. Ignore traffic lights in empty areas

In most countries this can cost you a few hundred euros or even your driver licence. In Mexico-City stopping at red might cost you your wallet or even your life. This is why, once you drive in a dark area with a very few cars and people on the street, reduce your speed before the junction checking the traffic from other sides, and slowly drive further if no other cars are coming.

6. Use save taxi

If you do not want to drive on your own, it’s absolutely not a problem. You can drive by taxi everywhere and feel pretty safe (as taxi drivers follow most of these rules). Important thing by taking a cab is to make sure the cab is safe, which is barely possible to identify catching it from the street. This is why our advise is to use Uber: it’s the most safe taxi you can get in Mexico-City, it costs pretty cheap and you even do not need to pay with cash. If you do not have a local roaming, you can order Uber from your hotel and from many free wifi spots in the city (for example, Starbucks).

If you still do not have an Uber account, you can get a free ride entering a promo code: leoz43.

7. Walk in save districts

It’s not true that you may not walk in Mexico-City at all. You can walk and feel pretty save, especially if you know in which districts. From what we’ve experienced, we can recommend you some nice walking areas where you can feel pretty safe. First of all, it’s an old town district between Zocalo and Alameda Central: it’s crowded, touristy but relative secure. Additionally, we very liked areas between Avendia Michoacan and Avenida Amsterdam, Polanco and very authentic San Angel

Note: try to avoid following areas – Tepito, Lagunilla, Iztapalapa, Nezahualcoyotl. These areas are known by a higher criminal level.

8. Walk during the daylight

That’s an obvious tip, but if you decided to explore the city by walking, try to do it during the daylight. Also avoid empty back side streets and paths where possible. Also try to avoid getting cash from ATM in empty or dark areas.

9. Do not show off

Keep your expensive jewellery, bags, sunglasses and clothes at home or in the hotel – no need to show people in Mexico-City all your status symbols in order to not provoke them. The same with a rental car: try to pick an average car in a decent color so you reduce the chance to be stopped on the street while driving. Don’t carry a lot of cash with you: take only as much money as you need for a day, and keep the rest in the hotel safe of at home.

10. Don’t drink like Mexicans

Mexican Sombrero
Don’t drink with these guys

Drinks&Trips wouldn’t be authentic if we had no drinking tips here. One local person I met offered me to drink tequila in a Mexican style: mixed with soda and lemonade half-half (not half tequila, but just a normal 50cl tequila topped with soda and lemonade).

Don’t do this: first, it’s not tasty; second, it’s a bit outdated; third, for your stomach, enjoy some drinks you used to. local cervezas, margaritas, micheladas or even a pure tequila will never be a miss. We will tell you much more about which drinks to enjoy during your trip in Mexico.

These survival tips based only on our own experiences. If we didn’t mention something important, let us know in the comments here and we add your tips to the article!

Gracias & stay safe!

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