Since hopefully many of my readers are now actively researching an upcoming trip to Mexico City, I’ve prepared some detailed notes on how to get here.
If you can, fly business class. My flight down here was my first time flying business, and I had no idea flying could be fun. You’ll chuckle when, as soon as you sit down, you’re asked by the flight attendant “champagne or orange juice?” (Then, later, you’ll regret your decision to have some bubbly when the plane is delayed on the runway and you are forced to sit in your seat — squirming, sweating and panicking — while your bladder exceeds max capacity, forcing you to look pretty goofy when you scramble up from your seat and run down the aisle as soon as you hear the first crackle of the captain’s voice announcing a safe altitude.)
OK, OK, all painful bladder memories aside, flying business class is still flying, but you get more space and real silverware. And meals. But if you can’t fly business, at least most of you will be flying relatively short distances from either Texas, Nueva Mexico, Minnesota and Nueva York. And whereever Jason is stationed at. Did you know that Mexico City is closer to NYC than L.A.?
Anyhoodles, here we go:
1. You need a passport. Sorry about that.
2. After you’ve been on the plane awhile, the flight attendants will hand out the two forms you need to be legal in Mexico. You’ll get a customs card, and a tourist visa card. Fill out both carefully, but don’t worry if you screw up — the flight attendants have more. You don’t really need to declare anything, as long as you haven’t packed eight crates of bananas or 300 laptops.
3. Try to have a window seat so you can be equally awed by three things: the gorgeous snow-capped volcanoes outside the Ciudad de Mexico, the enormous size of the city, and the deep brown color of the smog.
4. Before you get your luggage, you’re going to go through migracion. I’m pretty sure your migracion gate is M1 (for visitors from the U.S.). Have your passport and tourist card ready (the customs card will be handy later.) Get in line. If you want to get through as quickly as possible PEE ON THE PLANE so you can hustle to migracion and get ahead of everyone else. Otherwise you may be waiting a good half hour. As you wait, men will come by and ask to look at your form, just to make sure you filled it out correctly. Then, once you’ve waited for your turn, you’ll be ushered up to a kiosk (if you’re family, you can go together). They will basically just stamp your passport and tear off a portion of your tourist visa to give to you. DON’T LOSE IT!
5. Next, you head to the luggage (equipaje) claim to grab your baggage, which has usually shown up by now because you’ve been waiting in migracion. This area is also customs (aka aduana). Before you try to exit through customs, head to the ATM in this area (it’s on the far side of the entrance you came through.) You’re gonna have to use pesos for your taxi into Mexico City, so withdrawal some “effectivo/dineros.” I get about $2,000 (about $200 U.S. dollars). (You may want to email or call your bank ahead of time to let them know you’ll be using ATMs in Mexico). You don’t need to use a money exchange place, ever, if your bank knows you’re south of the border.
6. Once you have your equipaje, you have to go get in the lines nearby for customs. This part is really weird. You get in line with your luggage, show the dude your customs form, and then press a button. If the light flashes green, you keep going and exit through the large frosted glass doors. If it flashes red, they will inspect your luggage. I’ve never seen the red screen; I’m not sure it exists. (UPDATE THREE MONTHS LATER: I got the red light. Doh.)
7. Once you’ve made it through aduana, turn RIGHT. Look for the little “taxi” symbols. You’ll walk down a long corridor, and little old men in uniforms may ask you if you need help with your luggage. It’s OK and safe to let them help you, just give them a couple U.S. dollars if they do.
8. As you immediately exit the corridor, just to your left are two yellow taxi booths. Taxi company is Sitio 300. These are official airport taxis. They cost more than most taxis, but you don’t have a lot of options. The booth on the right is for vans; the booth on the left is for cars. Go to that booth, and say “Necesitamos un taxi, por favor. Vamos a (insert neighborhood, or, of it’s a big famous hotel, the hotel). This is the correct form if there is more than one of you. If you’re traveling alone say “Necesito un taxi, por favor. Voy a (insert location). ”
9. The booth lady will hand you a form that has a green stamp on it. That green stamp has the price for the ride, usually around $150 to $200 pesos (about $15 to $20 bucks). If it’s more, don’t sweat it; just pay it. You pay her the fee, and you will not give cash to the driver, unless you choose to tip him. Then, she’ll give you a little card, and you take that and walk down the sidewalk. One of the worker people will flag you to your taxi.
10. Once you get in the taxi, you need to tell the driver where you are going — the neighborhood, and the street, and if possible, the cross street. “Buenos dias, senor, vamos a Polanco. Calle Sophocles numero 43…es circa de calle Homero (Calle — cah-YAY — means street, and most addresses are numero whatever.). If he later asks you for direccion, he means address.
Yay, so you’re here! Keep in mind that the drive from the airport into the city is not so pretty. Trust me, you’ll see lots of beautiful things once you get to your destination, like moi. And Char-Char.
If anyone else has any tips, or thinks I got it really wrong, free free to leave a comment…