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Mexico City

Its rare to see so much good modern architecture, find so much good food, explore so much great history; all in one city. Oh, and the people and service is amazing not to mention the cost. A home run.

Drawback: There are more people in Bucharest or Sofia that speak English than you will find here.

Drawback: Immigration upon entry is close to chaos. The entire airport experience for departure is the worst I have ever experienced.

Posted by
4162 posts

Mexico City is probably my best "travel surprise" ever. I tagged along with my partner who was on a work trip, not knowing what to expect and having done much less research than what I normally do... and a full week there left me wanting more! I found it fascinating and vibrant, with none of the uniformity that is slowly creeping across many world capitals.
I would go back just for the food. Paris has good restaurants (and grocery stores) for just about every cuisine, but pickings are slim for Mexican.

Posted by
1486 posts

I've flown through the Mexico City airport several times, both domestic and international, and never found it to be a bad experience. I'm curious what was so bad about it.

Also, it would be good to learn about what were the highlights of your visit to CDMX.

Posted by
1204 posts

Returned from a week in Mexico City about 3 weeks ago and found it to be a pleasant surprise. Lots of history as well as modern. People are friendly and prices reasonable. Not as much English spoken as I expected but we got by. Our airport experience on arrival and departure was easy. Glad we went and encourage others to visit that have an interest in Mexican culture and history.

Posted by
13718 posts

Okay some of it was my ignorance, some of it maybe the Volaris Airlines, some of it no one in the airport service areas speaking functional English, if any at all, and part of it pretty rotten signage, part of it an old run down undersized airport that probably needs to be torn down and restarted from scratch.

On the flight I was given a immigration form to fill in. The form was in Spanish. Obvious I wasn't Mexican. I got up, found a flight attendant, disturbed her nap and got one in English.

Upon arrival we went to one of the immigration desks. Sour woman with little or no English pointed to a question I forgot to answer and slapped the form down in front of me. WELCOME! I answered the question and after four or five stamps on the form she tore off the bottom and handed it to me. No words, no explanation. Just a look of go already. I looked around at about 4 possible next steps and asked her where to go. No English.

I wandered through the room scoping out the groups of people at different unidentified lines of obvious different purposes. After asking 3 uniformed people the fourth spoke enough English to say no line and send me out the exit door.

The hotel sent a car. Great guy, great driver, great conversation. Enjoyed the ride to the hotel (outstanding hotel too).ry

On the return trip the driver couldnt even figure out where to drop us. Inadequate if any signage. Great guy, he parked, ran into the airport and came out 5 minutes later with Volaris international flights dont leave from the international gates. And took us to the right entry door.

Upon finding the Volaris "area" we were faced with 3 groupings of people approximating lines .. or not .. couldnt tell. Again, after asking 3 or 4 uniformed people we were directed to a 4th gathering hidden around the corner. A short wait to get to a ticket agent who asked were that slip of paper immigration had given us upon entering. "On the hotel night stand actually" was the reply. Nope. You need it. Cant board the plane without it. Go to immigration office and pay for a replacement. A quarter mile walk gets me to immigration where after filling out all sorts of paperwork and paying about $25 I get a new immigration paper. Very nice girl helped. Seriously, patient and kind. But all the paperwork was in Spanish so it took a while and google translator to get it done.

Back to the ticket agent where the crowd had grown to a mess. Not a line mind you. But a mass of humanity all clambering for the same thing. No assistance and no English. Twenty minutes later and I am in front of the ticket agent. Barely functional in English and only able to type with 2 fingers, and then with much effort, it takes another 15 minutes to check a bag.

Gate veinticinco he says and I turn to look for the signs to the gates. None obvious. I follow flight attendants up an escalator and down a corridor which looks like it belongs in the back of a warehouse.

Finally I find what looks like the entry to the gates guarded by two soldiers. I show them my passport and boarding pass. They tell me something in Spanish and block my path. I repeat. He repeats, I repeat. He repeats. I walk away confused. Then I spy a folding table with another crowd around it. I join in. It has a QR Code on a piece of paper. Its a PL form link. I log in and mess up and crash it 3 times before being sucessful. Everyone else is doing just as well.

Back to gate with QR code and without a passport check i get in.

Two out of three gate announcements are Spanish only. But I got if figured out and board the plane in mass of humanity #2.

Posted by
13718 posts

I grew up near the Mexican border so I do know some Spanish and that helped a little; and would have been a great help if they had tried, instead of barking. I should have known about the QR code in advance. My bad. The immigration form reminded me of traveling in the 1970's and I should have remembered that as well.

The lack of English is my problem. Its their country. More of an unexpected thing than to blame anyone.

Other issues to keep in mind include hard to find ATM's, and a lack of people understanding you when you ask where one is. I pulled out my card, faced the wall and pretended to put it in and push buttons. That usually worked. I say the city is beautiful. But that's they part tourist and people with money go to. Much of the city makes Soweto look good (I guess, actually, Soweto looks a lot better in recent years).

Will I go again? Yup, it was that good other than the airport.

Posted by
1204 posts

We used Google Translate on our phones - typed question in English and it displays in Spanish. The Mexican person would then do the reverse. I've been to South Africa and seen several townships. Nothing in Mexico City we saw was comparable with the dreadful townships. We did have the car window in our Uber broken out by a bottle thrown by an angry street (he was mad at our driver).

Posted by
374 posts

We spent a great week in Mexico City in 2019, with a side trip by bus to Puebla for two nights. I highly recommend both. Our only problem was finding our gate in the airport on the way home. We were sent all over the place before we got reliable info.

Posted by
13718 posts

KBK, I have only been to Soweto, but I saw worse in Mexico City. But, yes, I am being a bit antidotal.

Posted by
1204 posts

Understand. BTW the Uber window was broken out in Mexico City right by the Escultura "Minimalista" during a rainy afternoon rush hour.

Posted by
6877 posts

Also, it would be good to learn about what were the highlights of your
visit to CDMX.

Yes, please!!! ...could we have a real trip report? What did you do/ see, how long was your trip, favorites, etc? Did you try the grasshoppers (chapulines) on the menu (I know, more of an Oaxaca specialty but stilll..)? Favorite foods, restaurants, museums, sites, etc? I don't see the lack of English speaking as a drawback, it just means one has to learn some basic Spanish and the place is less of a Disneyfied/ commoditized atmosphere and more of a foreign destination (with all the "pains" that entails).

Posted by
13718 posts

I am miserable at trip reports.

Arrived on a Wednesday afternoon.
Stayed at the Marquis Reforma. A very nice hotel with pretty amazing service. Sort of on the high end, but it was my first time so I splurged (with some points I had). Location was perfect for a first visit.

That afternoon a walk of Zona Rosa just up the street. Sort of Bohemian Mexico City.
Ate there that evening and could kill myself for not writing down the name. Probably the best food on the trip, but the "concept" of the place was a bit unusual. PM for details .... remember this is sort of a Bohemian part of town.

Thursday, I am an architect, so I got a local architect to show me the old of the city. The old downtown, the Plaza, Cathedral, etc. Saw some interesting protests in front of where the President lives. Lots of military and machine guns. Fascinating actually.

Friday, San Francisco, lots fantastic modern architecture. Never saw so much so good packed together like that before. Then the University, then Frida's House and the Diego Rivera studio in Coyoacán. Again, remember I am an architect. Same architect helping me out. Dinner in an area called Polanco which was pretty amazing too. Probably where I will stay. Restaurant was Sylvestre and it, like all the food in the city was memorable.

Saturday, trip to Teotihuacan just outside of the city to see the pyramids and archeological site. This was a private tour set up by the hotel. Tired so just walked the Reforma and ate at a nice restaurant nearby. Again, I dont take a lot of notes when I travel.

Sunday, fun day at the airport.

I can do this as Mexico City is only 2 hours and about $300 RT from where I live.

Told you I was bad at this.

As for learning some basic Spanish and everything will be okay; I do speak basic Spanish (very, very basic) and everything WAS okay except at the airport where it was as much attitude as language.

Posted by
5262 posts

I've never had as bad a time at the airport as James did, but it can be very confusing. It doesn't help that the two terminals are far apart. I've had better experiences in the old terminal than the new one. Never heard of Volaris Airlines, maybe they end up with obscure faraway gates and less than stellar staff because they don't have the airport "clout" of Mexicana or United or other biggies. Some travelers to Heathrow have reported less than ideal conditions if not flying British Air.

The entry permit you get when you land is supposed to be kept on you and shown when you leave the country (vs. being left in your hotel room). Not to be unfair, but I'm a little surprised that an experienced traveler like James wouldn't have known about this. As for the language barrier, it does surprise me that more people working at the airport with international travelers wouldn't speak English. That was not my experience in multiple trips there. But, as James says, it's their country, and given most Americans' lack of foreign language skills we're in no position to criticize others. My last visit to Mexico was in 2017, and some Mexicans may have become less willing to go out of their way to help Americans after the, shall we say, fraught experiences our countries have had with each other since then.

Anyway, James, glad you had a good experience in the city itself. Keep going back (now that you know to hold onto the card). Try Oaxaca, my favorite Mexican city, for food, architecture, scenery, and a much more laid-back atmosphere. There may still be nonstops from Houston, and Oaxaca's airport is so small that you can't run into problems.

Posted by
13718 posts

Dick, I took the blame for the immigration card.

I should have known about the QR code in advance. My bad. The
immigration form reminded me of traveling in the 1970's and I should
have remembered that as well.

In the past three years I have been to 9 countries, some as obscure as Albania. All have dropped the paper forms. But I do remember them from my travels in the 1970's. And I walk or drive across the border a few times a year (prior to COVID); different rules there too. I just got too casual since it was so close to home.

I wasnt familiar with Volaris either. But they have 90 planes and have 300 flights a day between cities in Mexico, the U.S. and Central America so its not tiny.

Posted by
82 posts

For what it's worth, I just returned from Mexico, including a visit to Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Cancun.

Had a few days of an extended family trip to Cancun. We're not really 'all inclusive resort' type people, but it was good to be traveling again.

Visited Mexico City for 2 days after Cancun. What beautiful chaos after touristy Cancun. We stayed two blocks from Plaza de la Constitucion. One day we visited Teotihuacan with the pyramids of the Sun and Moon. We arrived early and pretty much had the place to ourselves, though we were not allowed to climb the pyramids. We also visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The next day included a visit to the Chapultepec Castle and its brilliant National Museum of History. They have the only existing captured battle flag from the Battle of the Alamo. As a San Antonio native I very much needed to see it. It's a bit humbling to see how small a part the Texas revolution plays in the epic history of Mexico. As a plus, near the captured flag, is one of Santa Anna's wooden legs. Later we visited the Palacio de Bellas Artes. We were disappointed not to be able to see the theater, but the murals, including paintings by Diego Rivera were a real treat.

We then joined a G-Adventures tour of Oaxaca for a week including Dia de los Muertos. Oaxaca is such a wonderful city, and during the holidays it was a lot of fun. We visited a small village named Teotitlan de Valle where we had a mole cooking lesson and demonstration followed by a wonderful lunch. We went to the small village's market to get ingredients and it was a hive of activity leading up to the holidays. We returned to visit the town's cemetery on November 2nd, which was very special. My understanding is that not many cemeteries were open to the public. The cemeteries in Oaxaca were closed, and parades were banned. Fortunately one of the largest churches in town was hosting wedding after wedding which generated a few impromptu parades.

I was impressed with how Mexico handled the pandemic. They are very diligent about mask wearing and check temperatures upon entry to any establishment. They have sanitizer dispensed at every entry as well. This was in Oaxaca and Mexico City, but NOT in Cancun. This was my first G-Adventures tour and I was impressed. Opening up to tourists for the holiday included a lot of unknowns, but everyone seemed to be happy we were there.

Arrival by plane in Cancun started with a bit of chaos and a 45 minute wait in a crowded room of tourists. We were told that tourism is at about 60%. The airport must be unpleasant when at full capacity. We received the stub from our immigration form with good instructions on the requirement to present it when leaving the country. Flying out of Cancun went smoothly.

We flew domestic into and out of Mexico city. There was some confusion as to where to check in and finding our gate wasn't as clear cut as we had hoped, but it was manageable.

The airport is Oaxaca was nice. We had diligently taken an online Covid test a day prior to flying, which we understood was a requirement. No one asked us for the results! When we presented our passports and immigration form at the airport prior to boarding we were told that the form indicated we were approved for 10 days in Mexico. We were not asked how long we were staying when we landed, so this was a surprise. After checking with a supervisor about our 14 days in the country, they decided they would let us leave.

Overall it was a wonderful vacation and our first international travel since Covid. We were able to get by with a little Spanish and Google Translate when required. I'd recommend Oaxaca and Mexico City to anyone thinking about traveling.

Posted by
8506 posts

Pre-drug war México was always my favorite country of all I've been to. Sooo much history of hundreds of pre-Columbian cultures, architecture, art, food, music, dance, textiles. Wonderful people and experiences. We stayed in hotels, homes, hamacs, took buses several times from Yucatan to the US border. Beautiful country, beautiful people.

Posted by
13718 posts

So, I returned. As bad as the airport seemed last time, it seems as bad this trip. Has to be among the worst in the world. The Volaris airline staff on the flights and in the MEX airport didn't speak English making the ordeal chaos for a flight to the US.

Would I do this again? Sure, its a great getaway.

Posted by
13718 posts

Just got thru immigration heading home to catch the flight to Europe.

Posted by
13718 posts

I thought I was having a tough year, but after the events of the last 30 days, I will never complain again. I have friends I talk to every day going through living hell; others I can't find. I feel a bit guilty ...

Posted by
5630 posts

I did Mexico City in 1980 and loved it. Good food, inexpensive, friendly people.

Loved the Pyramids of Teotihuacán, the Archaeological Museum, Chapultepec Castle and more.

Posted by
318 posts

For anyone else reading this who s also in to architecture, I’d recommend the Casa de Luis Barragan. He’s a Mexican architect and the house is fabulous (if you like that sort of thing, which I do). It looks like nothing from the outside, but typically for the style, is amazing once you go in. It’s not a bad walk from Zona Rosa either if you’re a walker.

Posted by
13718 posts

I actually went. I am an architect, so it had a lot of meaning for me.

Posted by
13718 posts

I actually went. I am an architect, so it had a lot of meaning for me. if you are not into architecture at that scale, you may not get it.

Posted by
9 posts

I just returned from CDMX yesterday (my first visit) and I agree the departure from Mexico City was the worst I've experienced. (Luckily we flew into Oaxaca, easy airport and a good experience.) We flew Volaris. I didn't have a problem with the flights themselves, they were on time and pretty comfortable. But I'd only consider flying Volaris again because they have direct flights from LA to small cities like Oaxaca. I'd probably use a larger carrier to fly into and out of CDMX next time.

First I could not check in online to save my life, either in the app, online, or on different devices. My travel companion could check in just fine though. When we arrived at the airport, I was able to check in at the counter, but they checked all my documents very thoroughly and gave me a strange receipt. The agent told us the gate number verbally but it wasn't on our boarding passes, on the app, or on the departures screen. We got to the gate and there was no agent. We asked around but no one spoke English (luckily I know some Spanish) but we were basically told to wait until the boarding time to find out if the gate was confirmed. Other American travelers were stressing out as well and we shared what little information we had received. Eventually some gate agents showed up and announced (in Spanish) that we were at the right gate. The flight never showed up on the departures screen, although all the other Volaris flights were listed.

Then right as our group was boarding my name was called on the loudspeaker and it turned out that the receipt the counter agent had given me was for a baggage search! I had been flagged to be fully searched (clothed thank god) and all my belongings were opened and checked, including my hat, my shoes, my sunglasses case, etc. I was told to drink some of my bottled water to prove it was water, and to turn on and use all my devices.

I was one of three people pulled aside for this search, and I observed that we all looked similar. I asked why I was being searched and an agent said the US sent a list of passengers to check. We must have physically matched a description they had received. It was nerve-wracking, especially because my travel companion had to board without me and didn't know what was happening. Of course I had nothing illegal on me and was eventually allowed to board after about 15 minutes. They were all very polite about it but the experience made me think twice about traveling to Mexico. I won't let it stop me though because I love the country, the people, and the food.