Sometimes you’ll hear Mexico City referred to as chilangolandia, just as the US will be called gringolandia. To some these are offensive, and to others not so much, but probably avoid using them yourself. Gringo applies to anyone from the US, although it you look foreign the chances are someone will call you a gringo or güerito at some point.
The Mexico City Metro’s hora pico, or rush hour, goes from roughly 6am and 9am and 6pm and 9pm each day. Really just don’t bother trying to take it at this time – it’s not worth getting elbowed in the face by angry locals all competing for a spot in the sardine tin that is the metro during the hora pico. Have a coffee, eat a taco, just don’t go for the metro.
Mexican cuisine is some of the world’s best and it is heavily oriented towards street food dishes, such as tortas, tacos and tamales to name but a few. When visiting Mexico, you should absolutely make it a priority to try as much of the food on offer as possible, but try and stick to stalls that seem clean and busy. If the locals aren’t interested in eating at them, there’s a reason and probably not a good one.
If you don’t like these ingredients, you’ll have to grow to and quickly! Almost all Mexican foods are made up of various combinations of the above foods, plus cheese, meat and beans. Tacos, gorditas, tlayudas, the list goes on… Although, in Mexico City, quesadillas don’t come with cheese as standard, so make sure you mention that you want them con queso. Oh! And they add chili to everything in Mexico. Even fruit.
On a related culinary note, don’t trust anyone who says no pica (it’s not spicy) because this will either be an outright lie or they genuinely believe that it is no pica. However, as you can imagine, Mexican spice standards might be very different to that of your average travelling tourist. If you’re a fan of spice though, by all means test the waters and see if you can handle the heat.
While you should try the food, you definitely should not drink the tap water because it will make you very unwell. It’s not just in the obvious ways that you could ingest tap water though – keep an eye out for what your salad is washed in and think twice before accepting ice cubes. No matter how you try not to get ill though, the chances are you will get an upset tummy at one point or another on your trip to Mexico. Don’t fret about it, just avoid spicy street food for a while and drink plenty of rehydrating electrolytes.
While it might be one of the most readily available and popular Mexican beers outside Mexico (although, admittedly it’s not exactly unpopular in Mexico either) it is by no means the national beer. Beer isn’t even the national drink, tequila is! As for other classic stereotypes, not everyone rides around on donkeys and wears sombreros and ponchos. Nor do all men have meaty moustaches. There are a lot of cactuses though.
While tipping is more important in Mexico than, say, the UK, it’s far less important than in the US, for example. As a general rule, tip a minimum 10% to servers, waiters and anywhere they have to bring the bill to your table. Street food stalls generally don’t require tipping, nor do taxi drivers – that’s not to say that your tips won’t be welcomed though!
However, there does exist an unspoken ‘tourist tax’. If it’s apparent that you’re foreign, the chances are that prices will be silently bumped up for you. Whether that taco costs MXN$5 more than for the Mexican who bought one five minutes before, or if the taxi driver doubles your bill, it does happen so keep an eye out for suspiciously high prices.
On the subject of taxis, don’t hail them from the street. For one, they might be more inclined to charge you more or they might not be a genuine taxi driver. Mexico City is particularly infamous for carrying out express kidnappings in which you’re taken to various cashpoints and made to withdraw all your money over the course of the day. Alternatively, the taxi drivers can take you down unknown backstreets and you may end up being mugged. Honestly, just stick to Ubers.
Similarly, there are plenty of areas (as with any city) where you shouldn’t venture as a tourist. In Mexico City, these include Tepito and La Lagunilla in particular, as well as La Merced, which is known for prostitution. Here, a foreigner will stand out like a sore thumb and you’ll only make yourself the target of all kinds of unwanted attention. Don’t necessarily only stick to the beaten track, as it were, but just be aware of your surroundings.
Many tourists will hit up the big monuments, destinations and famous restaurants the second they arrive to the city and will pretty much not go anywhere else. While the tourist attractions are popular for a reason, there’s so, so much more to this enormous city than the historic centre and the zócalo. Head south and check out San Ángel, or go to Santa María Ribera in the north.
However, Mexico City is not Cancún. Many tourists associate Mexico with perpetually great weather, and that just isn’t always the case in the capital, although it might be more so on the coast. Don’t just pack shorts and sandals as, for a start, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb in the sea of skinny jean and jumper wearing Mexicans and you’ll also be cold. Yes, Mexico City does get cold. And it rains a lot from June to September.
This one is pretty straight forward, although it seems quite weird to many foreigners. Most places in Mexico have plumbing that just isn’t equipped to deal with toilet paper, so make sure to throw your used tissue in the bin that’s in the cubicle.
Be aware that there may well be an earthquake when you’re in Mexico City and that it’s not an uncommon occurrence. As a result, procedures are well drilled in to residents and there is a city wide alarm that will sound approximately 20 seconds before an earthquake is predicted to hit. If you hear it, get outside and congregate on the closest available meeting point. They look like this and can be found everywhere.
Ask three separate Mexicans for directions and you’ll get three wildly different answers – tread with caution when you follow the vague pointing and gesticulating of the first guy you ask. Mexicans just can’t seem to say no, when they don’t know how to get to the place that you’re talking about. Similarly, if they say it’s ‘only’ four blocks away, it’s probably on the other side of the city.
If you speak Spanish, and it was peninsular Spanish that you learnt, arriving in Mexico might be a bit of a shock to the system. First of all, the accent is different and has far more ‘s’ sounds than its peninsular counterpart. They also speak slower. However, the vocabulary is very different and can be very confusing. Some key words you need to know are mande (‘pardon?’), ahorita (literally, right now, but in practice anywhere from now to never), camion (‘bus’), con permiso (‘excuse me’, as in ‘can I get past you?’). Oh, and coger means ‘to fuck’ in Mexico, so don’t try to coger the bus.
Chingar is ubiquitous in Mexico. You’ll hear it bandied about between friends, shouted from car windows by angry drivers who are sick of being cut up for the umpteenth time that day and you’ll especially hear it at football games. Basically meaning ‘to fuck’, chingar is commonly used in expressions like chingue a su madre (go fuck yourself) and vete a la chingada (also, go fuck yourself). Other favourites include pendejo and hijo de su puta madre.
This one if self-explanatory.
Sip, don’t shot, people!