By: Jim Bamboulis
From 15,000 feet up in the air, as we approach the airport, the first word comes to mind when I first gaze upon this city is, heavy.
Heavy, because I can’t imagine what all of this development along with 22 million people weighs. Weird thought, right?
The second word that comes to mind is, shit. Oddly enough, I thought about where all the shit that these millions of people extract from their bodies goes everyday?
Another weird thought, right? Yes.
But think about it.
A third thought. More of a question. More normal. How am I going to navigate through this blob and see the 3 major sites on my itinerary? After all, many friends who had been to Mexico City before told me to avoid public transit. That the best (and safest) way to get around was by taxi. And to make sure that the taxi was reputable.
Ok. I know that adventures can be had with cabs but I wanted to see how a wider population lives and breathes in this city….and to prove to my concerned friends that traveling within Mexico City, by public transit, was another way to go.
Heads up – A taxi won’t cost much. Even in glamorous and infamous Mexico City traffic, a cab ride from the airport (which is pretty much at the centre of the city) to Zocalo (which is one of the main and largest squares in the Latin world) will cost you around 195 Pesos (about $20 Canadian). And while a reputable taxi offers reliability and safety, the subway offers a wider glimpse into the local experience.
Mexico City has 12 subway lines, 195 stations sprawling over 225 km (140 miles). It’s the largest subway system in Latin America. You won’t have a problem finding and getting on the subway in this town and going wherever you need to go. It’s also very cost-efficient.
Heads up – Getting from point A to point B will cost you 5 Pesos which is equivalent to about 50 cents Canadian. Yup, 50 cents!! Considering the Toronto subway system costs an outrageous $3 for 2 1/2 subway lines, Mexico City offers convenience at a low price. Now, you should exercise caution no matter where you are. And of course, Mexico City is no exception. Although the subway system itself is pretty easy to navigate, you have to keep your eyes open and turn on your street-smarts. Do that, and it will be a fun, safe adventure.
Tip – If you plan on taking the subway from the airport, getting to the subway station itself is a bit of an adventure in and of itself. If you’re arriving from Terminal 1 at Benito Juarez International airport, you will have to walk all the way to the end of the terminal, to Puerta 1. When you exit from Puerta 1, make a left turn and walk along a concave walkway. When you get to the end of that, make another quick left and you should see a sign directing you into the subway station. It’s easy to miss it, but when in doubt ask someone official and they will guide you along.
The subway station you will find outside Terminal 1 is called Terminal Aerea. It’s on the yellow line (Line 5).
Heads up – When you enter the station and buy your ticket, you will have to go through a metal detector before getting on to the platform. Your bags also go through a security check. I was shocked to see this initially, then reminded myself that yes, this is a big city with big city threats. Taking these measures is probably the smartest thing to do. Once that business was taken care of, it was a matter of getting to Zocalo. To me, this is the ideal starting point. Take the subway towards Pantitlan station, transfer to the dark pink line (Line 1), get off at Pino Suarez and then take the blue line (Line 2 towards Cuatro Caminos) up one station to Zocalo.
The whole trip should take you about 20-25 minutes. Take in the experience. Enjoy it. When you get to street level, you’ll be immersed with an energy only a city like Mexico City can provide. People, history and a wide open space.
One of the largest squares in the World, Constitution Square aka Zocalo is lined with important buildings including the National Palace on the east side. However for me, the main feature of the Zocalo is the Cathedral on the north side. Historically and culturally significant, it is the largest cathedral in the Americas. Beautiful inside and out, grand and majestic, I spent a couple of hours here absorbing the atmosphere of colonial Mexico.
And in this city, walking is recommended. Plenty of distractions along the way no matter where you decide to go. Including The Monument of the Revolution, my second site.
Located west of Zocalo, it’s about a 15-20 minute subway ride and depending on what route you zig zag through, an hour walk.
There are 3 main streets that head west from Zocalo. 5 de Mayo on the far NW side, 16 de Septiembre on the SW side and Av. Francisco I. Madero which runs parallel to the entrance of the Cathedral entrance.
I took the latter. Madero (which turns into Juarez street) allows you to see beautiful old churches, the Palace of Fine Arts, Museum of National Architecture and Alameda Central, the oldest public park in Mexico City. It features fountains, flowers and the Hemiciclo a Juarez, a monument celebrating Benito Juarez, one of Mexico’s most beloved Presidents.Walking further west, I get to Paseo de la Reforma, one of the city’s major arteries. Crossing the street (no easy task considering pedestrians are considered target practice any time they’re near a major road), I manage to get to De La Republica, a beautiful open street that leads you straight to the Monument of the Revolution, built to commemorate Mexico’s 1910 revolution.
This area in general was once considered to be one of the seediest in the City. This plaza in particular was neglected and abandoned on-and-off for several years until recently when some investment bucks were poured in. The result: visitors and locals alike have returned and now enjoy the space.
And speaking of revolution, it’s only fitting that my third and final site to see before heading out would be another symbol of the revolution and one of the quintessential symbols of Mexico City itself.
The Angel of Independence.
Walking southwest along Reforma, you can’t miss the almost 120 foot Corinthian-style capital column in the middle of a roundabout topped with a 22 foot high statue of the Greek Goddess Nike, symbolizing victory and freedom.
Hopefully one day there will be a separate walkway built for pedestrians to get to what is one of the most important symbols of the country but until then, do your best to cross the street and get to this column because it’s well worth it.
You can climb this column (equivalent to a 12 story building), walk around it and see the bronze sculptures illustrating War, Peace, Law and Justice or simply sit on one of steps and watch the world go by.
These were my 3 chosen sites. There are plenty more to see in this deeply historic, proud and ever-evolving metropolis that is Mexico City.