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Mexico City Do’s and Don’ts: 10 Unwritten Rules That Every Chilango Knows

Your guide to cuisine, history, and etiquette in CDMX.

gold statue in mexico city, angel de la independencia
Hi, I'm Liam!

Liam Greenwell is a writer and teacher based in Mexico City. He is originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read more of his work at liamgreenwell.com and find him on Twitter @liam_greenwell.

These tips won’t make you into a chilango (a Mexico City local), but they’ll give you a head start. Your first step is to get off the tourist route in this massive urban capital and set your inhibitions aside. While local residents have places to be, they're often more than happy to help you find your way, locate the perfect street food spot, or even invite you to lunch. (Do corroborate any directions you receive, though; chilangos don't like to say "no" and may just point you in any direction our of politeness if they're unsure.)

So, if you’re not lucky enough to know a local, arm yourself with these tips that'll help you discover all the best parts of Mexico City in an authentic way.

1. Do order cheese on your quesadilla

quesadilla in mexico city
There's so much more to the quesadilla than you might expect.Fotograf: xhico / Shutterstock

This, unfortunately, *doesn’t* go without saying.

Even for those who don’t speak much Spanish, this tip should raise some questions. Can a quesadilla really fail to have cheese on it? Many Mexicans from other regions would be equally incredulous, but in Mexico City, the terminology is a little different.

At its core, a quesadilla in CDMX is simply an oblong tortilla, often made of blue corn masa, folded over with toppings inside. If you do want cheese, you’ll get fresh quesillo—almost like string cheese—instead of the overflowing yellow ooze you may expect. Then choose your filling, from vegetarian options like flor de calabaza (zucchini flower) or huitlacoche (corn smut) to meats like shredded beef. Taking a food tour can help you discover more ins and outs of Mexico City’s best gastronomic delights and how to enjoy them.

2. Don’t use taxis

taxi in mexico city
Use apps like Uber instead of taking a taxi in Mexico City.Fotograf: Kamira / Shutterstock

It’s not worth the hassle.

The numbers show that Mexico City is much safer for both tourists and locals now than at any point in the last several decades. Armed with common sense and general safety travel precautions, you shouldn’t face any problems when visiting. That said, the city’s cabs have a bad reputation, and there are still reports of robberies.

There’s another reason to avoid the city’s pink taxis, too, and it’s a financially motivated one. As a foreigner, it’s unlikely you’ll know the going rate for a trip between two spots within the city, and for those with limited Spanish, the necessary negotiation may not tilt in your favor. Stick to apps like Uber or Didi. Even better, take note of our next piece of advice.

3. Do use the metro (but beware of rush hour)

subway in mexico city
Public transportation is a breeze in Mexico City.Fotograf: NewData / Shutterstock

Move with the city and its locals.

The Mexico City transit network is extensive. It features various vehicles to get you from one place to another, from the gondola-style cablebús to clunking green peseros, crowded, small buses that traverse narrow back roads.

Then there’s the metro, which carries over 4.5 million passengers daily. Although the hora pico (rush hour) often means saying goodbye to your personal space, a ride on the metro is usually affordable, fast, and convenient.

Insider tip: The first couple of cars on each metro (and the front of most metrobús vehicles) are reserved for women, children, and disabled passengers.

4. Don’t (only) stay in Condesa and Roma

historic courtyard in mexico city
There's so much more to Mexico City than Condesa and Roma.Fotograf: Brester Irina / Shutterstock

Immerse yourself in new neighborhoods.

The colonias (neighborhoods) of Condesa and Roma have skyrocketed in popularity among tourists in the past couple of years, thanks to cafés, art galleries, and wine bars that cater to an upper-crust crowd. But digging into the other, more underrated areas of the city is worth it.

Del Valle and Narvarte both offer a local, relaxed feel. Head down to San Ángel, too, where many fail to venture beyond the Bazaar Sábado and into the beguiling cobblestone lanes that surround it. And despite its reputation, don’t discount Iztapalapa, which is home to some surprising street art.

Related: 10 Must-See Mexico City Neighborhoods and How To Visit

5. Do eat street food

street tacos in mexico city
Bring your appetite to Mexico City.Fotograf: Bran M / Shutterstock

Lead with your stomach when in Mexico City.

Some visitors touch down in Mexico City with the perception that street food is unhygienic. Let them believe it—this means more street tacos for you.

Here are some rough guidelines to avoid getting ill: Look for stands with high turnover, which means that ingredients aren’t sitting out in the open for long; verify that vendors sufficiently cook and heat up meat right before it’s put on your plate; and choose stands that keep sauces in clean, separate containers. That said, there’s no shame in being extra careful your first few days in the city, which may mean avoiding salsas and cold, pre-cut ingredients altogether. Whatever your risk level is, don’t write off street food entirely, though.

6. Don’t rely on credit cards

mexican pesos
Hit up that airport ATM before heading into town.Fotograf: Eve Orea / Shutterstock

Cash can be king in the country as a whole.

A caveat to start: Mexico City is a much less cash-centric city than it was even a few years ago, and many locals use their cards for nearly everything. That said, there are countless reasons to carry cash and a healthy stack of monedas (coins). To eat that delicious street food we just mentioned, you’ll need it—preferably in the smallest denominations possible (which you can get from ATMs by asking for withdrawals of amounts that aren’t divisible by 500 or as change from most chain convenience stores).

You’ll also want coins to give as tips to your guides or to some of the city’s skilled street performers doing death-defying stunts at red lights. Just beware of pickpockets and store your cards and small amounts of cash in separate places to be extra safe.

7. Do chug Electrolit

grocery store in mexico city
Electrolit is a wonderful tool for rehydration.Fotograf: JRomero04 / Shutterstock

A miracle cure for even the most brutal tequila hangover.

Available in every corner store and pharmacy in the whole country, Electrolit is a favorite remedy for sickness and general dehydration—but especially hangovers. Akin to Pedialyte or Gatorade, the high-carb drink and its iconic logo are seen clutched by partiers, early-morning business people, and schoolchildren alike in one of its dozen Mexican-influenced flavors, such as horchata, jamaica (hibiscus), and tamarind. If you’re not as lucky as you might hope at the street food game—or just downed too much tequila the night before—then Electrolit is your answer.

8. Don’t visit museums on Mondays

museum gallery in mexico city
Make Monday your day of rest.Fotograf: BondRocketImages / Shutterstock

Plan well to avoid disappointment in the capital, especially when it comes to museums.

An iconic mini-break to CDMX can be ruined with poor planning. Most Mexico City museums are closed every Monday. The world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology and the entire Chapultepec Park follow the pattern. Even some private museums close on Mondays, including the excellent Museo Anahuacalli).

If you find yourself in the city on a Monday with nothing to do, visit a branch of Cafebrería El Pendulo (a bookstore-café), take a guided walking tour, see a foreign film at the Cineteca Nacional de México, or drink the day away at one of the city’s great mezcal bars.

Related: 6 Must-See Museums in Mexico City and How to Visit

9. Do get to know the local markets

flower market in mexico city
You can find all sorts of goods at local markets, from flowers to fresh veggies to home goods.Fotograf: Ricard MC / Shutterstock

Fresh food at a one-stop neighborhood shop.

A tianguis is a weekly pop-up market that takes over a couple of blocks. There’s sure to be one in your neighborhood, no matter where you are in the city. Locals will know the exact day of the week and the location of the bazaar, so ask around and bring your shopping bags.

Expect to find fresh fruit and veggies from vendors who are quick to give you additional oranges or jicama slices if you make a purchase. There’s also plenty of clothing, home goods, potted plants, and prepared foods. Each week may be a little different, but the tianguis is always a reliable way to practice your Spanish vocabulary and support local vendors.

10. Don’t put the burden of speaking English on others

statue in mexico city square
Pick up a few Spanish phrases before visiting Mexico City—a little effort to speak the language goes a long way.Fotograf: carlos.araujo / Shutterstock

Travel respectfully.

The truth is that many visitors from wealthier parts of the world have flocked to Mexico City in recent years for one reason: It’s cheaper compared to their home countries. Whether or not this rings true for you, traveling necessitates humility and the realization that the locals in the place you’re visiting may not see your visit the same way you do.

Though it’s hardly a cure-all, one way to travel respectfully is to do your best to speak Spanish when you’re in CDMX. Even if you only know a few words or are embarrassed by your accent, making an effort does make a difference for many locals.

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