Mexico City. Photo by Canva

In 2022, I made the decision to move to Mexico City, however, upon arriving in the city, I felt incredibly overwhelmed. Suddenly, I’d swapped out the small towns of Wales for a city which had significantly more people than my whole country. People stared at me when I walked, everyone warned me to never go anywhere alone, and I kept getting insanely overcharged for food.

But over one year later, México City has become my safe space. After spending a while based in one of the ‘most dangerous areas’ in the city before moving into a place closer to new friends, I still love it there: the life, the pace, the energy, the people. And now I know how to navigate it a bit better, I don’t feel so lost.

Still, there’s a lot of things I’d have liked to know before visiting, and subsequently basing myself, in the city. If I’d had this guide when I arrived, there’s no chance I would have spent my first month so disorientated and wide-eyed. So, here are 10 things to know before you visit Mexico City.

1. Relax

CDMX Museums. Photo by Amy Aed
CDMX Museums. Photo by Amy Aed

This might sound ridiculous — at least until you arrive — but the very first thing you should do upon arriving in the city is just relax. I struggled with this, and when I was suddenly thrown into the chaos and couldn’t figure out the bus system to my new home, I burst into tears until a passerby paid my fare (because the locals are incredibly caring).

Prior to arriving, everyone had told me that México City was dangerous and that if I weren’t careful, awful things would happen. However, the scaremongering was completely unnecessary and only resulted in my first few days being spent in fear. How ridiculous when Mexico is such a nice country, and the people typically just want to help!

Had I chilled out from the beginning, I would have felt less as though I’d made a horrible decision by exploring the city by myself, and more excited to see what this wonderful place had to offer.

2. Adjusting to the Altitude

Temple sites outside CDMX. Photo by Amy Aed
Temple sites outside CDMX. Photo by Amy Aed

The first thing that shook me about Mexico City is that it sits at an altitude of about 7,382 feet (2,250 meters) above sea level, and as such, you can feel super out of breath or get a headache when you first arrive (I definitely did). The best way to deal with it is simply by drinking plenty of water, resting, and taking it easy as your body adjusts. 

3. Is Mexico City Safe?

One of the biggest concerns that most people have about Mexico City is in regards to safety — and yet, it is a super safe place to be. Stick to more tourist-friendly areas such as Polanco, Condesa, and Rome, and avoid solitary places after dark to be sure, but in general, you should be fine. 

For women, however, it can be a bit more difficult. I recommend sitting in the women-only areas in public transport and to always travel through official ride-sharing apps rather than hailing on the street. If someone offers to walk you home and you aren’t sure of their intentions, always refuse — I personally have been burnt with that one more than a few times.

Read More: A Realist’s Guide to Living in Mexico City

4. Public Transport in Mexico City

Small towns outside CDMX. Photo by Amy Aed
Small towns outside CDMX. Photo by Amy Aed

Whilst ride-sharing is my primary form of transport around the city, public transport here is also really good. The Metro is one of the most efficient ways to get around, though it can become uncomfortably crowded during peak hours (imagine having to use your elbows to push yourself out of closing doors whilst thousands of people run around you). 

The Metrobus and general local buses are also super easy to use — just make sure you have cash on you — and walking is always a good call (during the day).

Planning a last-minute trip to Mexico?

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5. Currency and Costs

Whilst cards are widely accepted, it’s always a good idea to carry Mexican pesos in the form of cash. Along with that, be sure to take out larger sums of money when you withdraw from banks due to the annoying ATM fees (I personally spent about $15 a week on ATM fees for the first month I was there).

The city is super budget-friendly, especially if you shop small and go to locally-owned places. Believe me, the street tacos are a million times better than the stuff you get in the restaurants.

Just make sure to familiarise yourself with prices as soon as you can. Personally, during my first week in México City, I spent 120 pesos for one taco, and then 1,200 pesos for groceries. These are not normal prices. It took me a while to learn to buy my groceries from the local market and to avoid the overtly touristy cafes with English menus.

Read More: How to Make Haggling a Cultural Experience

6. Mexico City is a Foodie’s Paradise

CDMX tacos! Photo by Amy Aed
CDMX tacos! Photo by Amy Aed

The food in Mexico, as you already surely know, is absolutely insane. The street food is some of the best in the world, especially the tacos, tamales, and champurrado, and there’s seemingly an endless amount of good stuff to try. Just make sure that you avoid the tap water and only get the bottled stuff to wash down your tortas.

Read More: ‘Tis The Season For Tamales

7. Language

Spanish is the official language of Mexico, and whilst you’ll find English speakers in touristy areas and among younger people, learning some basic Spanish phrases can really help improve the whole experience. Mexicans are super supportive of foreigners trying their language, so there’s really nothing to lose.

8. What to Wear in Mexico City

This might seem like a strange point, but it’s one that I’d have liked to know before arriving. Because despite the fact that Mexico City has a temperate climate, the evenings can be surprisingly cold. As such, make sure to pack a few jumpers, layer up, and even bring a raincoat if travelling between May and October.

9. Attend Local Events

Day of the Dead in Mexico City. Photo by Amy Aed
Day of the Dead in Mexico City. Photo by Amy Aed

My first few days in the city were, as expected, the most difficult. I had no contacts in the city, I knew nothing about the best places to go or the places to avoid, and my southern Spain Spanish didn’t quite cover the Mexican slang that I was suddenly exposed to. I felt pretty lost and confused, honestly.

But then I started attending local events – namely Couchsurfing events – and slowly began to create a community of likeminded people who I loved to spend time with. We exchanged languages and coffee dates and by the end of the year, I had a group of close friends that I still talk to every week.

As such, I cannot recommend enough just how valuable it is to attend local events — it’s the best way to really throw yourself into the culture.

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10. You’ll Be Okay

Finally, you’ll manage to figure it all out by the end. It can feel overwhelming to arrive in such a big city in the beginning but over time you will get used to navigating the money, the food, and the people.

And then once you figure it out, México City might just capture your heart the same way it did mine.

Read More:

Author Bio: Amy Aed is a freelance adventurer that loves to write raw, off-the-beaten-track guides to gorgeous places.

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