Upon landing at the Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez, the International Airport Benito Juárez, in Mexico City, there will be a few things to get familiar with. Local travel, lodging, outlet adapters, internet access, a new monetary system, and a foreign health system are a few items to look at before traveling to Mexico.
Mexico City has a public metro operated by a private company, Sistema de Transporte Colectivo. The subway covers almost the whole city, providing access to a large array of locations. Tickets are only three pesos, or about 24 cents US, and it runs Monday thru Saturday 6 a.m. to 12 a.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m.
When traveling in the Federal District, the Xochimilco Light Rail provides access to 16 stops and two terminals, and boasts 20 busses with a capacity of 374 people each. Servicio de Transportes Electricos de D.F., which runs the light rail, also provides a trolley service, with 10 trollies in its fleet which operate in five minute intervals in the Federal District.
There are also taxis available across Mexico City called “peseros,” a minibus taxi service that goes along a designated route and picks up and drops off people throughout the city. Although convenient and effective, peseros are considered very dangerous and have been in many fatal accidents in the city.
Smaller, private taxis are also available for higher rates as well. When using a taxi in Mexico City, verifying the driver’s authenticity is key because of the high concentration of “pirate taxis” in the area where kidnappings and robberies occur. There is a free service available, as well as an iphone app that verifies a taxi’s authenticity, called Taxiaviso.
If using public transportation is not convenient, there are many rental car agencies available at the airport for daily or weekly rates. Driving in Mexico City is not recommended though, especially if you do not know the language. Millions of drivers converge on the streets of the city, weaving and swerving around to get to their destination. Parking will run about five US dollars for valet, and one to four US dollars for public parking. Without the knowledge of the language, you may end up finding your car towed from a no parking area.
For short stays in the city, there are many hotels available in the heart of town. Hotels range from internationally known chains, to smaller hotels that might need to be overlooked. When choosing a hotel, the well known chains are the way to go since they are trusted internationally for their safety and practicality. Staying at a hotel provides access to a concierge, who could call cabs and provide maps. Hotels would also provide internet access and office space.
For longer stays you can sublet an apartment for about $400 per month with utilities available, fully furnished, and some places even offer breakfasts! Some units have high speed internet available as well, which is a major plus for uploading files and articles.
If hotels and apartments don’t sound appealing, there are many hostels available ranging from $9-$15 per night throughout the city.
Unless the phone in your pocket is backed with an amazing international calling plan and unlimited data, then picking up another cell phone would be a wise choice.
The “Con Amigo Plus Todo” plan from Telcel is a good plan to use while in Mexico City. It is 3.98 pesos per minute up to 150 pesos in one month, then you can enjoy 1.98 pesos per minute calling. You get three friends to call free in Mexico, US, or Canada as well, which would be great when calling an editor or having your trusty driver or translator on speed dial.
There is a myriad of prepaid cell phones available at every mall or supermarket in Mexico City as well, and finding one that works best for you is key.
Electrical Outlets and Voltage:
Outlets and voltage in Mexico is almost identical to that of the United States and Canada. The 110-120 volt outlets are either two prong ungrounded, or three prong grounded outlets. If your electronic devices require a grounded outlet, but you find yourself without an outlet of that type, grab a Type-A adapter.
If you are staying in a large hotel chain, you will have access to high speed internet as well as office space. Some apartments that you can rent have internet available as well, but not all. If you decide to stay in a hostel, then you’ll need to find an internet cafe.
There are many Internet Cafes in Mexico City, and they range in price and services. Most provide internet access, scanning services, and outlets to charge your laptop or cell phone, all for one US dollar per hour. Many also serve coffee and beverages to make your wait a little less stressful. Although there are many of these internet cafes, the connection can be spotty and they operate on Windows 98, and we all know how frustrating that can be! So if you decided to stay in an affordable hostel, put those saved pesos towards a hot caffeinated beverage and relax for the hour it takes to upload some video.
If you get into a pesero, despite being warned, and you get into a car accident and need immediate medical attention, you may be in luck. There are eight hospitals in Mexico City, all surrounding the Federal District.
When finding the right medical care, be it from an accident or a crime, make sure to call the US Embassy. The embassy looks out for us US citizens south of the border and will help in any way they can to make sure that you get the best medical attention possible. Not only that, report crimes committed against you as well. If you are left injured and penniless, these are the people to turn to.
By now you have probably heard how easy it is to get your prescriptions, even those you don’t necessarily “need,” in Mexico. There are tons of pharmacies in Mexico City, and they’re pretty reasonably priced. You don’t even need a prescription for most medications, unless they are considered controlled substances or are tranquilizers. Then you will need a written prescription from a doctor.
If you find yourself with a broken camera lens or frame, or even with a broken computer charger, there are places to replace or even repair them. There are many camera and video shops in Mexico City that are established and have been in place for years. In such a densely populated area such as Mexico City, there are Wal Marts as well. Those thrifty little shops can provide most of what you’ll need, but if you fear going to the mega-retailer or don’t trust local shops, you can always order equipment online.
The current exchange rate from dollars to pesos is insane right now. One US dollar is equal to just over 12.5 pesos. So when you’re out on the town and are strapped for cash, a few Washingtons can go a long way. There are kiosks in the airport to exchange dollars to pesos, but they also charge a fee to provide that service. ATMs convert dollars to pesos for you when withdrawing money, but don’t expect any coins, ATMs in Mexico are the same as in the US. Also banks will exchange your dollars for pesos, leaving you feeling like a much richer person.
There are a ton of holidays celebrated in Mexico, just like in the US. So combining the two countries’ celebrations may end up providing a lot of binge drinking or great cultural coverage, either way you will have some fun. Keeping those dates in mind would be quite useful as well because many people take those days off of work, so if you’re trying to get ahold of someone on September 16, you’ll have no such luck.
If you’re a celiac, you may have some luck down south. Many dishes take advantage of corn rather than wheat, since the crop is so prevalent in the region. Although tacos sound super tasty, WATCH OUT! Make sure you eat meat products from an actual restaurant, unless you’re feeling lucky and want to roll the dice at the taco cart outside the hostel. Montezuma’s revenge is real, and can take you out for a long time. Eating from carts can be dangerous, mainly because of improper meat storage, when meat is kept too warm for too long causing bacteria to grow and fester before eating. Some say that the bacteria can be cooked out, which is correct, BUT many carts do not cook the meat thoroughly enough to kill the bacteria. Chicken, Pork, and Beef need to be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill food-born illness related bacteria, so don’t go ordering your slabs of mystery meat ‘rare.’
Weather can play a large role in whether or not you make it to that rural village to report on the impact of a new oil pipeline. Many roads are not as well maintained outside of the city as one would think. When getting a driver, ask about road conditions near the site you plan to visit, find a driver with a car that has four wheel drive if possible, and check the weather. Severe weather can occur between June and November due to hurricane season, causing high winds and possible flooding. Be cautious when traveling in rural areas at this time.
Staying in Mexico for a prolonged amount of time requires special permits. Tourist visas are cheap for trips lasting longer than three days, and under 72 hours it is free! But for those planning on staying for a few weeks or months to report must obtain a media visa. For journalistic trips longer than 90 days, the media outlet employing you must apply with the National Immigration Institute in Mexico