What Should I Consider When Traveling to Mexico City?

Diana Bocco

Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, is a vibrant city of 8,720,916 inhabitants (in 2005) over an area of 1,479 km². A popular tourist center, and the main artery of Mexico's business, Mexico City is a great starting point for your vacation. Mexico City has the largest airport in Latin America, with traffic that surpasses 24 million passengers every year. The city also has a great public transportation system, including an extensive metro system, an impressive bus and microbus route, and four major bus stations.

Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and the hub of the country's business sector and government.
Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and the hub of the country's business sector and government.

Mexico City was originally an Aztec settlement known as Tenochtitlan. Established in 1325, it became a major focal point of the Aztec empire and a phenomenal example of architecture and massive planning. Dams and aqueducts allowed fresh water into the city, and surrounded by a natural fortress of small islands, it took Hernan Cortes almost two years to conquer Tenochtitlan. In the battle, however, most of the original city was destroyed and all its natural treasures either lost or stolen. The last remains of the original civilization can be seen far south of Mexico City, where a system of artificially-created canals still stand as proof of the magnificent culture of the Aztecs.

A passport is needed to cross the US-Mexico border.
A passport is needed to cross the US-Mexico border.

If you are visiting Mexico City, also known as the Distrito Federal (DF), or Federal District, for the first time, there are a few landmarks that you should not miss. The Constitution Square, known in Spanish as the Zócalo, is the arterial center of the city, and a good example of Spanish-era architecture. Not far away, the Avenida de los Insurgentes extends for 18 miles (28.8km), making it one of the longest avenues in the world. Well within the confines of the city, you can find the Chapultepec Park, the National Museum of Anthropology, the Palacio Nacional, and the house of Leon Trotsky. With over 160 museums and 100 art galleries, Mexico City occupies the fourth place in the world for its number of museums, closing in to New York and London.

Mexico City is an elegant city that often requires stylish dressing to enter restaurants and theaters, but accepts informal dress anywhere else. Especially in summer, beach wear is common around the city, and suits are not expected anywhere. Pollution is a big concern in Mexico City, and it keeps many tourists away from the area. Street crime, such as petty theft, is also widespread, especially in highly touristic areas. Common sense should prevail here. Always walk in well-lighted areas, stay in groups, and do not carry too much cash on you.

A visa is required to enter Mexico as a tourist, but this can be obtained on the spot at border crossings, airports, and most airlines. Visas are valid for 90 days and cannot be extended. While there are no mandatory immunizations, booster shots against hepatitis and typhoid are recommended, as both are frequent in Mexico City. As with anywhere in Mexico, visitors should be careful with the water and with eating from roadside stands.

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