Ins and outs

Getting there

Benito Juárez International Airport
, www.aicm.com.mx
, has two terminals and modern facilities. It has domestic connections with all major towns in Mexico.

There are four long-distance bus terminals: Norte (North), Sur (South), Oriente (East) and Poniente (West), divided, more or less, according to the regions they serve. All have good facilities and metro connections. Buses to some locations around Mexico City - Puebla, Cuernavaca, Pachuca and Toluca included - depart directly from the airport.

Getting around

Mexico City's metro system is straightforward, cheap and the most convenient form of public transport. Although crowded, it is certainly no more hectic than London's Underground system. It is also less polluting than the alternatives, buses and taxis, which are frequently stuck in congested traffic. One exception is the handy metrobús, which traverses an exclusive bus lane the length of Insurgentes, a major north-south artery . The Centro Histórico is best explored on foot and, if this is your first visit to Mexico City, it is recommended you get a hotel in this area. You'll be at the heart of the action and a short walk from all the major sights.

Orientation

A relentless and continually expanding urban sprawl of nearly 2000 neighbourhoods, Mexico City's scope is bewildering. It would take many months to explore it entirely, but most visitors will not need to venture beyond a few main areas. The
Centro Histórico
is where all the major sights are concentrated; the
Zócalo
is a good place to start. Several blocks west lies the
Alameda
, a tree-lined park and important landmark. Further west still lies the
Plaza de la República
and the Monumento a la Revolución, a useful orientation point. Southwest of here lies the
Zona Rosa
, Mexico City's once glorious entertainment district, now increasingly tacky. South of the Zona Rosa are the twin hip districts of
Roma
and
Condesa
, quiet and residential, but also home to burgeoning restaurant and party scenes. West of the Zona Rosa, the verdant
Bosque de Chapultepec
is home to the world-class Museo Nacional de Antropología. To the north is the upmarket
Polanco
district. On the southern fringes of the city lie the moneyed neighbourhoods of
San Angel
and
Coyoacán
, the
University City
and the old Aztec canals of
Xochimilco
. To the north,
Basílica de Guadalupe
is the country's most important religious shrine.

You will find, as you explore the city, that you use two thoroughfares more than any others. The most famous is
Paseo de la Reforma
, a wide, shaded boulevard that runs south from the Basílica de Guadalupe, past the Centro Histórico, through the Zona Rosa and on towards the Bosque de Chapultepec. The other thoroughfare is
Avenida Insurgentes
, a diagonal north-south artery about 35 km long. It passes straight through the Zona Rosa and into neighbouring districts Roma and Condesa. Reforma and Insurgentes bisect at a
glorieta
(roundabout) with a statue of Cuauhtémoc, the last of the Aztec emperors. Other important thoroughfares are: the
Eje Central
(
Lázaro Cárdenas
), which runs south-north via the Alameda, Bellas Artes and Torre Latinoamericana, through Tlatelolco and past the Terminal del Norte (North Bus Terminal); the
Calzada de Tlalpan
, which runs north-south from near the centre, past the Terminal del Sur (South Bus Terminal) and out of the city towards Cuernavaca; the
Circuito Interior
, which encircles the city about 5 km from the centre; the
Periférico
which does the same thing further out; and the
Viaducto Miguel Alemán
crossing from the east, near the airport, and joining the Periférico in the west.

Best time to visit

Spring is the hottest time of year, but the high altitude means the climate is generally mild, except for a few days in mid-winter when it can get quite cold. Even in summer the temperature at night is rarely above 13°C and in winter there can be frosts. The average annual rainfall is 660 mm and most of it falls May-October, usually in the late afternoon.

Tourist information

www.mexicocity.gob.mx
 is a very comprehensive website.

For up-to-date cultural listings, track down the Spanish-language
Tiempo Libre
, www.tiempolibre.com.mx, on sale all over the city every Thursday. The
Secretaría de Cultura
, www.cultura.df.gob.mx, has good details on city culture.

Safety and pollution

As with any large city there are grounds for caution at times. Take care in Bosque de Chapultepec, Mercado Merced, the Zona Rosa and major touristy areas, where robberies have occurred. Take care in the centre at night, and at quiet times, when you are advised to travel by taxi. As ever, crowded buses and metro trains are a favourite haunt of pickpockets. The heinous taxi murders of the 1990s are less of an issue these days, but it's still safest to use registered
sitio
taxis . The vast majority of visitors to Mexico City have a trouble-free experience, so don't believe the bad hype. Most violent crime is confined to impoverished neighbourhoods that you'll never see.

Pollution, however, is an issue. The city lies in the Valley of Mexico, a huge basin roughly 110 km long by 30 km wide. Encircling this valley is a chain of mountains that trap the air within the basin. About one in five of Mexico's population share this enclosed area with half the country's manufacturing employment breathing in much of the nation's industrial smog (worst from December to February). Common ailments that creep up over hours or days are a burning sensation in the eyes (contact lens wearers take note) and nose, and a sore throat. Local authorities advise citizens not to smoke or take outdoor exercise. Newspapers provide information on air quality, with warnings and advice.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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