Make your life easier! Pack very lightly, don’t bring any valuables you can live without. Bring comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, and cover for when it gets cool at night or in the shade (the sun burns more, and the shade is colder, at about 2500 meters above sea level!).
SAFETY: If you have the option, come with a simpler-looking camera rather than a big fancy eye-catching one. Don’t be taking your valuable phone out and looking at it while you are walking (too easy to snatch and run). Always stand to one side, or wait until you are inside. And leave passports and jewelry (including wedding rings if they have significant diamonds) at home or in the hotel safe when you go on daytrips. I have never been held up in Mexico City, but petty crime (against Mexicans and foreigners alike) is common, and it is best not to look too tempting.
PICKPOCKETS: If you take public transport (which is wonderful and fast but also crowded), make sure to be careful of your backpacks and pockets!!. In the press of people getting on and off buses or subways trains, pickpockets are very skilled at pulling out your wallet or cell phone out of the front pocket.
MONEY: I do not recommend changing money before coming to Mexico City, unless your bank gives a great exchange rate. Normally the exchange rate is better in Mexico, and best is at the ATM machines. The airport is a good place to exchange money.
Don’t put all your cash in one pocket, put some small bills on one side, and the big bills on another. Avoid taking the whole big wad out in public.
Credit cards are widely accepted in high-end restaurants and stores (some places will refuse American Express), but for purchases in general, you need cash, pesos only.
Airport: Change money AFTER you go through customs, once you are in the public area of the airport. Don’t change a ton, say USD$300 per person or up to USD$500. The different exchange stations give varying exchange rates, you have to walk a bit to find the best rates. TERMINAL 1: Usually I have found the best rate at Casa de Cambio Tamibe or CI Banco, but not the ones directly in front of where you come out of customs. TERMINAL 2: Here, I have I found the best exchange rates to be at the exchange houses upstairs, in the departures area. If you can use ATM machines, they are widely available in the airport and throughout the city.
AIRPORT TRANSPORT: There are airport authorized taxis, they are available 24 hours, safe and easy to use. Uber is also widely used in Mexico City, and is an excellent option for airport pickup and in general for going around the city. If you use Uber at the airport, go out and see what door (Puerta) you are at, so you can request the driver at that door (the app will ask you to choose a door). It is quicker and easier if you ask the driver to meet you upstairs in the Departures section, than in the much busier Arrivals section.
For airport taxis (and taxi-vans): Look for the signs for “Taxis Autorizados”. There are various companies, with some variation in price. I prefer Nueva Imagen. Go to the attendant, give your hotel address and they charge you and give you a ticket, which you take to the taxi loading area and give to the driver. The driver will return the ticket stub to you. 2 important points:
Mexicans do not normally tip taxi drivers, unless they give you some extra service.
For UBER rides: Make sure the driver hits “Finalizar Viaje” (finalize trip) before you leave him, otherwise sometimes they don’t finalize and keep driving around and charge you for it.
NOTE ON TAXIS AND CRIME
There is definitely crime in Mexico and in Mexico City. In addition to being a biiiiiiiig city of 20 million, there is a systemic impunity and crime within all levels of society, and certain types of crimes now happen more often than in the past.
In taxis, there is hijacking. The driver is a “pirate”, not a registered taxi driver nor vehicle, and they keep you on the taxi until you go to an ATM machine and take out all the money you can from your cards, but then they leave you. If you have the bad luck to get on a pirate taxi, just cooperate quickly and get it over with.
So the idea is to avoid pirate taxis. There are the expensive executive cabs at every hotel, which cost double to triple of a street cab. There are taxi stands where authorized taxis line up to receive customers, these are called Sitios. There should be a sitio relatively near your hotel, but you will have to ask at nearby stores (not the hotel concierge) to find out. There are no sitios near the Zocalo in Centro Histórico, so Uber or a hotel taxi is the best option here. In general, Uber is a very good option throughout the city.
Despite the dangers, most people still take taxis off the street, and most street taxis are safe. You should always look at the license plate and number painted on side of car. The license should be a real plate, not a painted sign-like plate with “En Tramite” on it (means “in process of being issued”). The license number should start with the letter A or B, and the exact same number should be painted on the side of the taxi. The taximeter should be functioning.
There is also a taxi driver identity card/license (tarjeton) , which should be stuck on the back right-hand window. When you get in a real taxi, the worst that could happen is that he take you by a longer-than necessary way to increase the fee, or sometimes they have the taximeter jigged so it goes up faster. BUT, most taxi drivers are safe, hard-working people who know the city very well.