Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)

Welcome to Mexico City or DF as the locals call it - The grand Distrito Federal and great Mexican Capital. So far, the biggest city I have ever visited. Ranking as one of the most populated cities in the world DF is a giant cosmopolitan and that's putting it lightly. Mexico City is a large and ever expanding city situated in a large and vast mountain bowl in central Mexico. This ridiculous vast capital city is a mega machine and can be compared on a scale to nothing in Europe. 

Mexico City (Distrito Federal) at a glance

✓ Language: Spanish

✓ Currency: Mexican Peso

  Street food: $1-$3 - Tacos, Huaraches and Quesadillas

✓ Restaurant food: $3-$5

✓ Drinking: $1 per Cerveza 

✓ Taxis: Book from the counter at the airport - Prearranged price

✓ Where to stay: Zona Rosa - Safe suburban district

✓ Must do: Visit Mexico City's many markets, try all of Mexico's favourite snack foods

All prices in US Dollar

Distrito Federal - The local name for Mexico City 

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)
The streets of central DF - Mexico City

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)
The first thing that you notice about Mexico City is the incredible number of people. As soon as you arrive you are suddenly aware of the population around you
Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)

The giant that is DF - Mexico City

Once you set foot into Mexico City its size hits you. This large city feels like a mega force and the sheer volume of people that inhabit the city and surrounding areas pack the subway, fill the highways and congest the streets. After setting foot on your first DF/Mexico City subway cart any previous perceptions of crowded and busy you may have once had instantly change. This giant city consumes you. It is huge. 

The subway was something we wanted to tackle, Jamie will compare almost anyway to the London Underground but when it comes to a city like this one is there really any comparison? The subway costs the equivalent of 25 cents for any journey you take. That's 5 Mexican pesos for 1 stop or 25 stops. Buy your tickets at the station and enter through the ticket barriers. The subway maps can be downloaded online and are easy to follow. 

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)
Central DF - Distrito Federal in the midday Mexican Heat

It gets hot, really hot on the subway - try to travel with a bottle of water just in case. Our train broke down once during our time in DF 

The excellent value per journey for the Mexico City/DF subway naturally makes the biggest London Underground fan reconsider the value of the London Oyster Card. Once you're on the subway, in carriages full to bursting, you begin to understand that you are one small insignificance in this mass of commuters, beggars, hustlers, families and the rest.

Trust the subway but be vigilant - The price makes it the cheapest and quickest ways to travel

Walking the streets of central Distrito Federal - Meixco City and the surrounding areas give you a similar feeling. Its almost impossible to escape the feeling of insignificance in this massive overpopulated city. Commuters pass, buskers busk and shoppers shop. Its very rare you come across other tourists in Mexico City, they are simple hidden in the mass of locals. 

If you allow it too Mexico City will swallow you whole as its reputation for crime proceeds itself. The subway seems safe, but we were always cautious. Although we fortunately didn't experience anything negative, there's trouble lurking around every corner don't let Mexico City swallow you up. My ultimate advice on subway travel and general travel around DF? Don't go looking for trouble. Like anywhere in Latin America its worth being cautious especially at night.

We didn't spend any time outside of our hostel at night due to warnings we had been given. On a second visit I would expect myself to be less cautious.

Mexico City - Distrito Federal
From above - Flying into the vast and overpopulated Mexico City

I did read somewhere that it often surprises people how safe DF/Mexico City feels. This may be the case and I know we certainly felt that way a lot of the time but whether a city has a reputation of crime or not you should always remember where you are. That's one thing we never forgot whilst exploring Mexico City and Mexico in general. Remember where you are, don't ever get too comfortable. Not just in Mexico and Latin America but the world over, savvy tourism means paying attention to your surroundings and this could not apply more for a large thriving city like Mexico City.

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Palacio de Bellas Artes - Kind of like Mexico but also kind of like Europe

There is incredible architecture and famous landmarks all over the city waiting to be photographed 

Exploring the Mexican Capital

Mexico City/DF is an odd one in terms of how it feels and what it looks like. There are areas across around the Zocalo which is the Central or main square of the city that are Latin, authentic and colonial. These areas feature everything you'd expect from the capital city of Mexico.

But there are areas with architecture so European looking that you suddenly feel lost in Italy or Spain. The photograph of Palacio de Bellas Artes above is a perfect example of this. It's easy to feel like you've left the Latin World. Mexico City boasts so much architecture and history in one place its easy to see how people spend weeks exploring their surroundings. 

The central Zocalo in DF is the perfect subway stop to start your city exploration from. It gets busy but its worth it. The Zocalo in Mexico City is also often referred to Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square). The Zocalo has always been a famous central zone for Mexicans dating back to pre-Aztec times.

The Zozalo is home to the National Palace among other landmark buildings. Around the Zocalo you can indulge in shopping, eateries, and many bars. We spent our time walking the streets and searching for the many famous markets that call DF their home.

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)
The commercial and business sectors of Mexico City
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Exploring the Mesoamerican capital Teotihuacan  

Teotihuacan from Mexico City

Getting to Teotihuacan

✓ Bus duration: 1 hour - Traffic dependent

✓ Bus station: The North Bus Station - Autobus del Norte

✓ Bus price: $4-$5

✓ Entrance fee: $3

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)
Exploring Teotihuacan - An absolute must visit from Mexico City

One of the things we knew we had to do was visit Teotihuacan. From DF you can visit the ancient Mesoamerican city, it's much older and much more significant than Chichen Itza which we got to visit from Merida once we left Cancun. You can grab a bus from the North bus station in Mexico City. Autobuses del Norte station is simple to get to - download a subway map and make your way on the subway, it involves a couple of changes but will really save you on taxi costs.

The ruins here are home to the largest pyramid structures outside of Egypt which enables you to understand the sheer scale of this ancient city and civilisation. 

Add Teotihuacan to your DF bucket list - its a must do from Mexico City

The pyramid of the sun I can really only describe as a masterpiece. Standing in its shadow you can imagine the intimidation the Spanish felt upon its discovery. Teotihuacan really gave me a profound appreciation for this period in history. You're essentially standing on and next to some of the oldest structures in  history. Pre-Christianity in Mexico, pre-religion  and before most things we understand about modern human civilisations in this part of the world. In my opinion no trip to Mexico City is complete without a visit to this spectacular site. 

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)
The large pyramids are some of the biggest outside of Ancient Egypt
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Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico City

Like Teotihuacan? Click here for more Mexican heritage at Monte Alban

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)
Make sure you bring your hiking boots if you plan on heading to the top of the pyramids

Running out of time in DF

There is so much to be explored in Mexico City not all of which can be done in 4 days and I'll definitely be returning for a longer period of time now I've had a taste for the markets and cuisine. When visiting take note of the market days for the many markets available including the gourmet food market (which we missed). 

The cathedral in the main Zocalo is an excellent place to start exploring the city as the subway station has a cathedral exit. Off the main tourist trail you can find bargain eateries with all the tacos your body can handle and for minimum pesos why not? Mexico City truly is bigger than I can describe and a mere four days spent there can hardly do a review justice but with so much to gain from visiting a city so large I know I'll be back soon. So I guess this is to be continued in a way. 

Mexico City survival guide

Book an airBnB ahead of your arrival but remember the city is huge so plan your route in advance and make sure you have a map. Mexico City is infamously dangerous and although we didn't experience any crime its important to research the neighbourhood of Mexico City you'll be staying in. 

Book your taxi from one of the kiosks at the airport - express kidnappings are not unheard of in Mexico and Central America. Flagging unmarked cabs isn't recommended. 

For the cheapest eats (they are all cheap generally) head to one of Mexico City's many markets where you can eat quesadillas, tacos and huaraches all day. Veggie options are limited so make sure you've been perfecting your Spanish food items before visiting. 

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