Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Mexico City - Distrito Federal (DF)

Welcome to Mexico City or DF/Distrito Federal, which is the local and old name for Mexico City. The grand Distrito Federal and great Mexican Capital is so far, the biggest city I have ever visited. Ranking as one of the most populated cities in the world. Mexico City 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 ridiculously 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

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 Distrito Federal, Mexico City

Once you set foot into Mexico City the 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 Mexico City subway cart any previous perceptions of crowded and busy you may have once had instantly change. This giant city consumes you. The Mexican capital is huge, this is one thing to understand when visiting Mexico City. 

The subway was something we wanted to tackle, Jamie will compare almost everything to the London Underground but when it comes to a city like Mexico City 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. There are separate carts for women, a great thing to remember for solo female travellers. 


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


✓ Temperature:
 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 Mexico City


Getting around Mexico City - Subway survival

The subway is excellent value per journey. The Mexico City subway cost per journey makes me reconsider the value of the London Oyster Card when travelling almost double the distance for a fraction of the price.

The Mexico City subway is the best and easiest way to get around this big city. 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. Tickets can be purchased at each station as mentioned.

✓ Mexico City Subway: Trust the subway but be vigilant - The price makes it the cheapest and quickest ways to travel

Along with the Subway, once you arrive in the central area of Mexico City by the Zocalo walking will get you the rest of the way. Although, walking the streets of central Distrito Federal and the surrounding areas you get similar feeling - small fish in a big pond.

Its almost impossible to escape the feeling of insignificance in this massive overpopulated city. Commuters pass, buskers busk and shoppers shop. Apart from in the Zocalo area I found it was very rare for you come across other tourists in Mexico City, they are simple hidden in the mass of locals.


Mexico City's reputation

If you allow it to 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 Distrito Federal? Don't go looking for trouble. Like anywhere in Latin America it's 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 because I've experienced the city before and would be more familiar with my surroundings.

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

Safety in Mexico City - Is Mexico City safe for backpackers?

I did read somewhere that it often surprises people how safe Mexico City feels on the surface. Many people often refer to tourism in Mexico City as surprisingly safer than they expected. This may be the case and I know we certainly felt that way a lot of the time but whilst travelling solo or not I reccommend that you always remember where you are. This goes for Mexico City, especially as a solo backpacker.

Safety is one thing we never forgot whilst exploring Mexico City and Mexico in general. Mexico City tourism is thriving and that's evident from the number of people you'll meet in the Zocalo, but that doesn't mean petty crime and larger scams aren't at play in the populous city.

Whilst exploring Mexico City 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. But to answer the key question - Is Mexico City safe for backpackers? Absolutely is my answer. The city is safe for backpackers. 

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

Exploring the Mexican Capital - Mexico City tourism 

Mexico City 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.

Mexico City has a large and vast centre and business district. Look for the large towering skyscraper buildings, its worth a walk around this area. Mexico City is famous for telecommunications and its

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 it's easy to see how people spend weeks exploring their surroundings. Visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes and spend some time exploring the surrounding park and area.  

The central Zocalo in Mexico City 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, shops and restaurants can be found close by along with kiosks to buy snacks and drinks for a long day of exploring. Budget eats are available all around the city, but naturally authentic Mexican street food is the cheapest option for budget tourism in Mexico.

The Zocalo is home to the National Palace among other landmark buildings along with artwork - the midday heat is hot so I wouldn't recommend hanging around in the open unshaded areas of the Zocalo for too long without a break. We spent our time in Mexico City exploring the central city streets and searching for the many famous markets that call Mexico City their home. Find the San Angel zone, this is where many churches and historical buildings can be found in Mexico City, its more relaxed than the business district and other areas we visited.

If you like getting lost in market exploration then Mexico City is the place for you. Food, cosmetics, electronics, crafts, clothing and more can be found underneath the sprawling market stalls. Markets are also a great way to get to know the locals.When visiting Mexico City take note of the market days for the many markets available including the gourmet food market which we missed due to bad planning.


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

Visiting Teotihuacan from Mexico City

One of the things we knew we had to do whilst in Mexico City was visit Teotihuacan. From DF you can visit the ancient Mesoamerican ruins easily on public transport. Teotihuacan is much older and much more significant than Chichen Itza which we got to visit from Merida, Mexico. You can grab a bus from the North Bus Station in Mexico City. Autobuses del Norte station (North Station) is simple to get to - download a subway map and make your way on the subway, it is likely to involve a couple of changes depending on your starting point but will really save you on taxi costs.

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

✓ Don't miss: Add Teotihuacan to your Mexico City bucket list - its a must do when in the Mexican capital

The pyramid of the sun at Teotihuacan can really only be described as an ancient 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 Mexico City

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. A four day trip to Mexico City can only include a few of the cities great must see's and we were able to tick off the Zocalo, business district, some markets and a trip to Teotihuacan.


The cathedral in the main Zocalo is an excellent place to start exploring Mexico City as the subway station has a cathedral exit. Off the main tourist trail you can find bargain eateries with all the tacos and empanadas 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 exploring can hardly do a review justice, but with so much to gain from visiting Mexico City I know I'll be back soon.


Mexico City basics - Survival guide

Sleeping in Mexico City

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 it's important to research the neighbourhood of Mexico City you'll be staying in. 

Taxis in Mexico City

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. 

Eating and Veggie options

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 Mexico City.


Click here for more Mexico



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4 comments

  1. I love Mexico City so much, I was there for a couple of months back when I lived in Mexico and reading your post made me remember how much I still miss it.
    You're so right, DF IS safe. My mom thought it was one of the most dangerous cities in the world lol and she's not the only one who thinks so. My boyfriend and I always went for walks at night and nothing ever happened, though at some places it gets very unsafe, but that's mostly not in the touristy zones. You should definitely return. After being there for about half a year, I still haven't seen everything! When you go back (and I really hope you will) you should visit the parks; parque de Chapultepec, parque Mexico (my fav) etc. Also neighourhoods like la Roma and Coyoacan are lovely but you might have been there already.

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    Replies
    1. Amazing! I'm quite envious of you having so much time to explore. I would've loved to have more time in Mexico City but I know I'll return. Thanks for the recommendations I'll make sure I keep them in mind for another visit! I agree, I'd heard a lot of negative opinions about the safety of DF but I really felt like there was little trouble during my stay. Like any city with a large population and tourist presence you can expect petty crime and scams but otherwise it felt safe.

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  2. What a great guide. I would love to visit and experience this incredible metropolis. I don't think one can understand how big a big city can be until you actually find yourself there! I would also die for the street food. I had a glimpse of how delicious it can be having tacos from a truck in the Bronx. And yes please, can I have more! Definitely wold love to visit there.

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  3. Very helpful summary, thank you for all your research! I LOOOOVE Mexico and can't wait to go back :)

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