There’s nothing worse than making a social faux pas when you’re in a new place, yet everyone, no matter how well travelled they are, is entirely susceptible to doing just that at one point or another. So, if you want to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb in Mexico City or making yourself an easy target for pickpockets and general travel blunders, here are the top things all tourists should avoid doing in the Mexican capital.
It may come as a surprise to many, but Mexico City is not Cancún and if you wear sandals or flip flops on the street of the Mexican capital, people will think you took the wrong flight and are stumbling around wondering where you can find the beach. Sure, Mexican women (and men, for that matter) will be spotted wearing sandals, but it’s far more common to see closed shoes, trainers and pumps being worn by the locals. Plus, by doing that you avoid getting filthy feet after a day of traipsing round the sights.
If you value the jewellery you’ve brought with you to Mexico City, or you don’t want to get that expensive DSLR camera snatched, then use some common-sense methods to avoid flaunting them on the street. This applies doubly for neighbourhoods that are perhaps less well-traversed by tourists, and on public transport, which is a ripe hunting ground for pickpockets. This is absolutely not to say that you can’t wear nice earrings or carry a camera, but just be aware of your surroundings when doing so.
The unwritten rule (until now) for any tourist visiting Mexico City is that you should, under no circumstances, use the metro system during the hora pico, a.k.a. rush hour. The capital is a vast urban sprawl, across which millions of residents schlep daily to get to work and back home again in the evening, so basically, the hours of 7-10am and 5-9pm should be avoided like the plague if you’re in a rush to be somewhere or value your personal space.
Drinking on the street is technically illegal across Mexico and while you may see these rules being flouted in popular tourist destinations (think Puerto Vallarta or Cancún), in Mexico City you really ought to avoid this brazen behaviour. If you do decide to get drunk in public, don’t be surprised if you’re fined or called out for your actions by the authorities.
Use some common sense and leave your visa and passport in a safe place, because in the unlikely event that you lose your bag or are pickpocketed, you’ll find yourself embroiled in Mexican bureaucracy to get it back – losing a paper tourist visa necessitates a fine, whereas loss of a plastic residency visa can land you in immigration paperwork and payment hell. Instead, simply carry a colour photocopy and save yourself the hassle.
Catcalling is all too common in Mexico and you will probably, especially if you’re a woman, find yourself on the receiving end of comments as you walk through the city. Don’t be alarmed or surprised by this behaviour though, as it’s considered ‘normal’ here and happens often; however, that’s not to say you can’t get angry. Classic catcalls include the ubiquitous güera (blondie, which applies whether you’re blonde or not) and variations on bonita, guapa, mamacita.
Many people will complain about the so-called Moctezuma’s revenge that plagues them after eating Mexican street food, but the chances are that’s more to do with their lack of good hygiene practices than those of the food stall itself. The metro, the buses, the city – they’re havens for germs and if you don’t give your hands a good clean before eating with them, then the consequences are on you.
Sure, the cost of living in Mexico City is almost certainly cheaper than the place you’re travelling in from, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on your guard against getting overcharged for food and drinks. With that in mind, don’t eat right by the main tourist attractions, such as right on the Zocalo, or by Bellas Artes. The exceptions to this rule, in our opinion, include the Torre Latinoamericana and the café above the Sears in front of Bellas Artes – the views they offer is worth the price you pay for drinks!
You’re probably aware that Latin countries tend to dine late, and Mexico City is no exception to that rule. If you find yourself wandering into a restaurant at 6pm sharp for dinner, don’t be shocked to see you’re either alone or entirely in the company of other foreigners. Alternatively, do dine before nine if you like having entire restaurants to yourself.
It might be tempting to try and get rid of all those one peso coins the second the cashier gives you them, but honestly, change is a bizarre commodity in Mexico and you’ll need it to pay for buses (many of which only accept the exact amount), as well as tacos and even in corner shops. In short, cling on to your coins for as long as humanly possible!
OK, this is a tad hyperbolic, because Corona is definitely still a popular Mexican beer; however, it is not the only Mexican beer. Branch out and try something else, especially as you’re not at the beach and in need of the light refreshing taste of a Corona anyway. Dabble in Mexican craft ales, or go for a simple Victoria, León or even a Bohemia instead.
Mexico City is huge and people are in a rush. Don’t be that leisurely tourist who abruptly comes to a halt in the middle of the street just to take some quick (or not) snaps of the sights. Instead, have some self-awareness and make sure you aren’t blocking up the pavements with your unhurried behaviour before you pull out your camera.
Don’t be an ignorant tourist, and assume everyone will speak your language, whether that’s English or French. Instead, break out of your bubble of self-centredness and learn at least some basic phrases. Making an effort costs nothing.
Finally, Mexico City is often touted as a dangerous destination, but that’s really not true as long as you stick to the well-trodden areas and make sure you’re not strolling casually down back alleys looking confused and, therefore, like a target for thieves. Check out this guide to places you want to be wary of when in Mexico City and act accordingly.