I had been to Mexico a bunch as a kid but never very far south of the US border as we always visited by car. When it came time to book my plane ticket to South America, I quickly discovered some of the best priced flights passed through Mexico City and many of the cheapest tickets included ridiculously long 10+ hour layovers.
For the normal business traveler or packed tourists, that kind of layover is dreaded but for me, it was the perfect chance to finally see Mexico City. I flew in early in the morning and was able to see quite a few things in the city, eat amazing food, and make it back to the airport without much hassle and without speaking much Spanish.
Getting into the City
The first step is figuring out how to get into the city. Thankfully the international airport in Mexico City is very well designed and connected to the center of the city by both a bus and subway system.
To take the subway, a cheap option but it can sometimes get very crowded, head out of the international terminal and to the left. The airport metro station runs right to the airport and you can take the train to the center but you’ll need to change lines once. You can also take a bus from right outside the airport but traffic in Mexico City can be horrible and it might take a bit longer than the subway. If you’d prefer, there are also pre-paid taxis at the airport as well. You pay before you leave so there is no risk of being overcharged.
As a side note, if you need to store luggage before heading into the city, there are lockers available in Lounge A.
The best place to head for a short day long layover is the main plaza of Mexico City – Zocalo. The metro will drop you off right at the northeast corner of the plaza. This plaza is huge, one of the biggest in the world, and the very heart of the city. It has been a gathering point in the city since the rule of the Aztec. Around the plaza sit a number of places worth visiting – the Cathedral on the north side, the National Palace on the east, and the Templo Mayor on the northeast corner.
In the center of the Plaza flies the Mexican flag and there are often times events or even protests in the plaza. It is a great place to wander, grab a nice cafe breakfast, and people watch.
Museo del Templo Mayor
Since you are already in the plaza, head over of the Museo del Templo Mayor, one of the best and biggest museums in Mexico City. It has a nice combination of outdoor and indoor exhibits which will hopefully be a good thing if you’re visiting on a nice, clear day. The museum tells the history of Mexico from the very early tribes to the rise of the great Aztec empire and the eventual conquest by the Spanish.
There are thousands of things to see and you can easily spend most of your day in the museum if you are a history fan. The museum is free on Sundays and around 60 pesos every other day.
San Jacinto Plaza
If you’d like to pick up some souvenirs on your short visit, there is no place better to head than the San Jacinto Plaza in the San Angel neighborhood. Here is one of the cities best craft markets with beautiful and well made crafts and traditionally made art. You won’t find nearly as much of the touristy knick nacks as you would in the main city plaza.
This is also nice residential neighborhood and after you browse the market, hang out for a bit longer to just watch people going about their day. There are a number of restaurants and cafes around the park with outdoor seating.
Find Some Mexican Food!
Of course you can’t visit Mexico and not have some authentic Mexican food. Get ready of spicy, deliciousness! Trust me, if you are heading anywhere in South America besides Peru, you’ll be happy you indulged in the chilies before you got back on your plane.
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants around both plazas but I’d suggest trying some street food as well. Grab a taco or a tamale and make sure you order a drink as well; the spicy goodness will make you wish you had.
Couple Travel Tips
- You don’t want to be robbed on a layover. Imagine the headache of trying to replace a passport, credit card, or file a police report and having a flight your going to miss. That being said, Mexico City does have a lot of petty crime and you’ll need to be extra vigilant.
- If you have a sensitive stomach, you might want to skip the spicy food and opt for something like a Mexican hot chocolate instead. Remember that you will be stuck on a plane again in a few hours.
- Traffic can get ridiculous during rush hour in the city and if you don’t want to miss your flight, be sure you give yourself plenty of buffer time between leaving the city and needed to be back to the airport.