Mexico City… dare I ask what comes to mind when you think of this mega-city, with a population of close to 9 million people? If you are like many Americans who use Google, then I suspect that you have concerns directly related to the safety of travel. After all, when I enter “is m” into my Google search window, this is what Google thinks Boston residents are likely to be searching for:
A Google Prediction for “is m…”
Without commenting on how many repressed men/women in the New England area are apparently questioning their private activities, it is fascinating to see just how concerned Americans are about travel to Mexico. It makes sense given how frequently we see news about murders as part of the drug trade in Mexico, such as here, or here. However, Mexico City (also known as the Distrito Federal) has been consistently reported to be a very safe place for tourists. Interestingly, the Forbes article states that Mexico City “has a murder rate of 22 per 100,000 people, which is comparable to Philadelphia’s 21.5 per 100,000 and far below Detroit’s 54.58 per 100,000.”
Since Annalisa and I would not hesitate to visit the City of Brotherly Love (or the Motor City, for that matter), we figured that this would make for a great use of our Southwest Companion Pass and were eager for a weekend in Mexico City. The flights from Boston were uneventful, with a layover in San Antonio at an underwhelming Four Points property that I would not recommend. Our arrival into Mexico City gave us a sense of just how polluted the air was. Because of its unique geography (high elevation in a valley) and massive population, it has been described as one of the most polluted urban areas in the world.
A Hazy (But Beautiful) Welcome to Mexico City
Our introduction to the disorganization of this fabulous city took place as soon as we deplaned and tried to clear customs. Despite anticipating a longer queue than in airports in the United States, the lineup was phenomenally long. It snaked 7 times around, and was over 500 people deep when we arrived.
The Lineup at Customs in Mexico City
We initially had plans to explore Mexico City following our arrival into MEX at 1:50PM… sadly, our “tourist” view for the next 3 hours (!) of our lives was an alternating picture of this very sweaty guy’s back with and without his backpack. (Did I forget to mention that the customs hall at the Mexico City Airport did not have adequate air conditioning?). There were only 4 customs agents working the entire time that we were waiting, despite there being over 10 windows sitting unused. What was very inefficient and frustrating was that the Mexican citizen lineup was empty some of the time that we were waiting, and those agents just sat there and waited for more Mexican citizens to arrive instead of processing any of the non-Mexican citizens.
The Consequences of Limited A/C and 500+ People Waiting for 2.5 Hours
When we finally cleared customs, it was almost 5:00PM! Now we had to tackle the Mexico City Subway system during rush hour. One of the more challenging aspects of planning this trip was trying to figure out how to get from the airport to the closest subway. Of course, Google was of minimal help. In fact, during my searches of how to find the subway entrance, I read more about how confusing it was than any practical guide! Plus, all I kept reading about was how potentially unsafe the subway system was. I greatly respect companies such as Frommer’s (and have even met Arthur Frommer at a travel convention), but when they publish text that says “safety concerns have made [public transportation] less comfortable options for travelers,” I know that many travelers will choose to take taxis or rent a car and miss out on a true travel experience vital to the lives of the residents of Mexico City. Our experiences (including Annalisa, who is a Nervous Nellie by nature) were completely positive. If anything, we felt that we were more likely to lose our wallets on the Paris Metro System! To help guide you to Terminal Aerea, on Line 5, which is the closest subway station to MEX:
Landside Location of Terminal Aerea at Aeropuerto Internacional de Mexico
The majority of international flights will arrive at Terminal 1. Landside of Terminal 1 is highlighted by the red line above.
Once you exit customs, you can orient yourself by walking out the airport doors. You will want to turn left and walk towards the red star seen above. The red star is where a taxi stand is located, and is adjacent to the Terminal Aerea stop.
The walk to Terminal Aerea is poorly signed. The walk from international customs was not a short one (0.5 miles?). Follow the crowd walking on the sidewalk, and you will wrap around the taxi stand and see the downstairs entrance to the Metro on your left hand side.
Contrary to some online reports, there were no clear bans on bringing luggage onto the subway. However, during rush hour, it can get crowded, so your primary concern would be how cumbersome it may be.
The subway system does not provide you with a metro map, so consider printing out a map (below).
Despite how convoluted the map for the subway system appears, it truly was a relatively easy system to navigate. Like the subway systems of most major world cities, some transfer points can be confusing and you will likely catch the subway going the wrong way at least once. But that’s part of the experience! The Mexico City subway fare was a mere 5 pesos, which is the equivalent to about $0.30 USD. That is not a typo: it cost 30 cents a ride. Imagine getting from LGA or JFK into downtown Manhattan, or from LAX into downtown Los Angeles for 30 cents! Alternatively, we considered an Uber ride from the airport, but that priced out at 250 pesos and would not have been nearly the travel experience we wanted.
Subway System Map
One of the most memorable parts of the Mexico City subway experience was the proliferation of vendors hawking everything (and I mean everything). We saw toothpaste, chocolates, headphones, pens, bubble makers, and mixtape CDs being sold during our stay. If you ride the subway even a few times, the seller’s hollering “5 peso 5 peso 5 peso!” will be ringing in your ear!
Selling His Personal Mixtape (Playing at Max Volume on His Backpack Boombox)
A trip to a new city wouldn’t be completely without me completely embarrassing myself. Being in a rush, caught up in a crowd, and having failed Intro to Spanish more times than I care to share, I blew by the sign below:
If You Can Read This, You’re Smarter Than Me
During rush hour, the Mexico City subway system has a creative way to insure the well-being of women and children who are traveling in a system that carries over 5 million passengers a day (meaning that it gets very busy). In case you are too lazy to put the sign above into Google Translate, it reads: only women and children under 12 years of age. Despite being neither a woman, nor a child under 12 years of age, Annalisa and I ran blindly onto a subway car that was about to depart the station. After a few minutes, we both looked at each other and wondered why I was the only man on that car. Of course, we didn’t put 2 and 2 together until I crossed the bright orange barrier exiting the station upon our arrival at our destination, and saw the first subway car that men were allowed to ride on:
The Subway Car That Allowed Males During Rush Hour
Despite this awkward start to the trip, we absolutely loved the city. More to come, including a trip to Arena México and Teotihuacán!
About the author: Eric is a young professional living in Boston, MA with his wife, Annalisa. We try to balance work/life responsibilities with a desire to travel as much as possible. To make this work, we take weekend trips to domestic and international destinations, trying to maximize our $/points while seeing the best tourist attractions and local favorites. How much can you can pack into A Weekend In Mexico City?