Category Archives: Mexico

Married With Maps in Mexico

Mexico City Transportation Guide

Mexico City is a bustling city of 20 million. It is the largest city in North America and attracts a huge number of tourists, expats, and temporary residents. Obviously, a huge city is going to need an approach to getting around easily. So we’ve created this Mexico City Transportation Guide to help you. Regardless of your travel preferences, we cover it all.

Walking

One of the more surprising aspects that I found about Mexico City, is just how walkable it is. With such a large population and urban sprawl, I was expecting much of the city to be difficult to get around. But mistaken we were.

Wide, expansive sidewalks line every street in the city. With a standardized grid layout, it is also easy enough to get from point A to point B with minimal difficulty. There are plenty of streets as well – particularly in Centro Historico – that are completely cut off to vehicular traffic on Sundays.

Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City

The massive plazas,  and numerous avenues, parks, and gardens make Mexico City extremely easy to traverse on foot. The majority of our ventures were taken on foot, and we find this to be a major plus when visiting any city because there is no better way to actually experience a city than to walk within it.

Art along Paseo de la Reforma

It is worth noting however, that despite its obvious European design influence that makes pedestrian life easy – the city is still huge. While walking is usually a good idea, sometimes, the sheer distance between places makes this approach unwise. So while, we recommend walking when you can – sometimes you’ll have to get around through another way.

Festive Skeltons on Paseo de la Reforma

Bikes

As we’ve mentioned before, we love using bikes when traveling. Getting out, and exploring a city on a bike is a wonderful way to get the same experiences you might get from walking, but at a tremendously expedited rate. The White Bikes in Cambodia provided us with an amazing experience.

Mexico City has several different options when it comes to bikes. You can rent bikes, or even use one of multiple bike sharing programs. Here, I’m just going to cover EcoBici.

Bike Problems

Unfortunately for us, we ran into a few issues with the bike sharing  program in Mexico City called EcoBici. It’s not fair to completely lay the blame on the system as we chose the wrong day and time to get bikes. To start with: The Mexico City Marathon was actively going on and we were trying to get the bikes on Paseo de la Reforma. None of the bike stations appeared to be working and we ran into issues.

EcoBici Stand

While we got a card, it didn’t want to actually give us a bike. Going to a kiosk didn’t help, as they were overwhelmed and we were short on time. We only tried to get a single one-day pass, which we never got refunded despite trying to contract them multiple times. Note – EcoBici has a reputation for difficult customer service.

EcoBici

Despite our issues, the program itself seems pretty good on the whole. Had we had more than a few days in the city, we would have made a point to get it to work for us – it was just unnecessary for the rest of our trip.

Info Kiosk for Ecobici

Currently, EcoBici has 444 stations with over 6,000 bicycles. The bikes are very recognizable, with a distinctive red and white paint job. You can see numerous residents utilizing them pretty much everywhere you go. The great thing, is that anyone can use them too – they’re not limited to locals only.

EcoBici Bikes

To use EcoBici as a tourist, you must purchase a card and register from one of a few locations:

  • Station Reader (Must be able to accept credit cards)
  • Kiosk
  • EcoBici Center

You must use a credit card to make the purchase and you can only use one card per bike. You can purchase a 7, 3, or single day use card. A single day card costs $90 MX pesos (~$5). The first 45 minutes are free, and extra charges will incur after that. If you really need to make a longer trip, simply swap out at another bike station.

Metro

Metro - Mexico City

Image courtesy of S●S▲-L●P►Z

The Mexico City Metro system is the second largest in North America behind New York City. Shortened to STC Metro, it is serviced by 195 stations and 12 lines across the city. Stations are both above and below ground.

The STC Metro is efficient, cheap, and accessible – however it can get very crowded during rush hour, and is advisable against using during this time.The first two trains are reserved for women and children, and the rest for the general public.

You need to use a Metro ticket, which you can purchase for MX $5.00 for a single day pass. You can buy multi-day passes depending upon your needs. A single day pass is good for unlimited rides for the day of purchase.

We didn’t use the Metro during our stay, though we considered it. For our purposes, it was ultimately easier to just use Uber.

Bus

There numerous buses throughout the city, and several different types to choose from. Cheap and efficient – they can also get very crowded and uncomfortable at times.

Metrobuses operate via platforms. They run circuitous routes that are pretty easily defined. These are typically red and white in coloring, though pink buses operate too – women only buses. We attempted to utilize them once, but had an issue with getting a ticket and did not spend long trying to fix it due to how busy it was.

Mexico City Bus

Image courtesy of So Cal Metro

Double-decker tourist buses also operate around the city. These are more expensive, but a ticket is purchased, you can hop on and off them all day as you please – moving from site to site. Their overall scope is more limited, but still hits a large portion of the city.

Longer haul buses can easily be taken out of Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte – North Central Autobus Station. The bus station is very large, with an expansive – though disappointing – food court. From here you can get a bus to farther out neighborhoods, cities, sites.

El Norte Station in Mexico City

We took a bus back from Teotihuacan to Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, and the bus was very nice. It was crowded at first – I had to sit on the floor even – but it quickly dispersed and made for a more comfortable ride.

On The Bus to Mexico City

We had one check-point while police officers early-on which is a relatively normal occurrence. They count how many passengers – tourists – are aboard, in the event of robberies or other criminal activity. It is not common, but incidents do occur in Mexico – usually at night though.

Taxi

There are several classes of taxi in Mexico City. The most recognizable are the pink-and-white taxis. These are the cheapest of the classes and also the most dangerous. Passengers should verify that the cab has a license plate, registration, and that the driver matches the photo. It is advised to not take these at night.

Pink and White Taxi

There is also the libre cabs. These are metered taxis and will generally not run you more than MX $30 – MX $40 for most rides. These are safer than the the others, but still warrant caution at off-times.

Radio Taxis are higher end than the other classes. They cost a bit more, but are secure. You call in a cab directly to your location via the phone. A dispatcher sends out a driver to pick you up and take you to your location. Safety is not a concern when using these.

You can order a taxi via:

Some Reliable Radio Taxis are:

  • Radio Maxi Seguridad
  • Sitio Parque Mexico
  • Taxi-Mex
  • Taxs Radio Union

We never used taxis personally as we utilized other methods to get around. If you opt for utilizing apps for taxis, then in my opinion you might as well use our preferred service – Uber.

Uber

As usual, Uber was our preferred and most used method of transportation after walking. The ease of use really can’t stated enough. Language barriers don’t really present an issue, and prices are cheap.

There was an issue when getting to Teotihuacan, but that was my own fault – careless mistake putting in the wrong address. We still got there, just slower and more expensive than it should have been.

We used Uber multiple times to get to a few neighborhoods when we wanted to save our legs from excessive walking. Most of our rides came out to under $5. Its immediacy, cost, and widespread use make it a must-use when visiting.

Sign up on Uber using our link to get a a discount on your next trip!

Air

Mexico City is serviced by air via Benito Juárez International Airport [MEX]. 30 domestic and international airlines operate out of the airport, typically handling 100,000 individuals per day. It serves as the primary hub for Aeroméxico, Mexico’s largest airliner. Over 100 destinations, on 3 continents can be reached directly via Mexico City.

Bri at Mexico City International Airport

The airport is a medium size with multiple lounges, food courts, and shopping areas. The airport does feel dated however, and is cramped while at full capacity. We also found the boarding process to be disorganized and little chaotic – though ultimately fine in the end.

Grand Lounge at Mexico City International Airport
Departures Terminal at Mexico City International Airport

Due to MEX’s inability to operate at a higher capacity, a new airport is currently under construction roughly 10 miles north of the airport, east of Ecatepec.

~K~

Chacmool at the National Anthropology Museum Mexico City

National Anthropology Museum Mexico City

The National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is an excellent way to discover the human history of Mexico. From the dawn of the human species until the modern day, it covers everything. It was for this reason – that it would inform our travels – that I insisted the museum be one of the first places we visit during our trip to Cuidad de Mexico.

Getting to the Museo Nacional Antropología

Chapultepec Park

The National Anthropology Museum is in the Chapultepec Park district of Mexico City. It is on the north side of the park, above Lago de Chapultepec and Paseo de la Reforma. Its location makes it an opportune destination for entire day’s outing – we combined our day with Chapultepec Castle.

Statue of a Runner

Need to Know:

  • Address: Av Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Gandhi S/N, Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
  • Hours: 9 am – 7 pm (Closed Mondays)
  • Entrance Fee: $70.00 MX pesos. (~$3.70 USD)

Finding Your Way

The museum is very large and has a large avenue leading to it. There are also signs throughout Chapultepec Park that will direct you where to go. Opposite the museum, is a large pole and demonstration ground. Here we witnessed an indigenous ceremony where drum and flute players hang by their feet upside down while spinning to the ground.

Musicians Dangle While Playing

Upon entering the front building you have three options:

  • Left: Gift Shop
  • Right: Special Exhibition
  • Center: Permanent Exhibition

You cannot have backpacks, bags, etc – luckily, the museum provides a “coat storage” for you just behind the gift shop. After that, you can proceed towards the right side of the entrance building where you can purchase your tickets and receive a map.

Entry Building

The Museum

Designed in 1960, the museum is – to say the least – huge. With 23 rooms, each covering a distinct aspect of Mexican heritage, culture, and history, the establishment is the most visited museum in Mexico.

The museum began in 1790 and expanded and moved numerous times over the following centuries. For a while, the collection was housed in Chapultepec Castle, before settling at the current location.

The current design is that of a horseshoe around a large central pond. The buildings are two stories with a courtyard accessible from the bottom floor.

Anthropology Museum Courtyard

Inform the Rest of Your Travels

As I stated above, a big reason I wanted to do the museum, and to do it early, was to inform the rest of our time in Mexico. Our plan was to visit Teotihuacan the following day and Templo Mayor sometime soon after. These massive archaeological sites, I thought, would be better appreciated if we knew about them beforehand. I was right.

Teotihuacan Scale Model

When we entered, the ticket master handed us a map, and circled a few key exhibits. As it was a little bit later in the day, we would not have the time to see the whole museum. You will need at least a whole day to see everything – however, you can still get a great experience even if you only see half. If you have the time and interest, you could spend a second day there too!

We spent around 4 hours in the museum. All the exhibits were kept in top shape, and were highly informative and interesting. One aspect that we particularly enjoyed was how the bottom floor exhibits had their own outdoor exhibit portions as well. These gardens gave fresh air and a more authentic presentation of the artifacts.

Cave Paintings

We put our focus on the Mayans, Olmecs, Aztecs, and Teotihuacan, as well as on the Oaxaca region. Though, we did still manage to see the majority of the museum. It does not disappoint at all.

Exhibition

Human Sacrifices With Jawbone Necklaces

These human sacrifices were found at Templo Mayor. Their hands were bound behind their backs, and were wearing necklaces made of human jawbones.


Temple Reconstruction

A reconstruction of an Aztec temple in one of the many outside exhibits. This is a part of the Tenochtitlan exhibit.

Statue of a God

A stone carving of an Aztec God.

Aztec Sun Calendar

Arguably one of the most recognizable artifacts from the Aztecs – the great stone sun calendar is a huge monolithic carving.

Scale Model of Templo Mayor

A scale model replica of the Templo Mayor complex. The ruins of the complex can be seen in Centro Historico.

Jaguar Statue

The Jaguar is an important animal in the mythologies of the Aztecs.

Stone carving

The Mesoamericans were highly skilled stone workers.

Textiles

Second-floor exhibits display more modern items. Here, we viewed the traditional dress and textiles of the region.

Skeletons

Death was a very important part of the cultures of Mexico and Central America.

Do Visit The National Anthropology Museum

Olmec Stone Head

I really don’t think I can emphasize enough, just how impressive the museum is. It’s excellently curated and should keep you occupied the entire time you are there. The displays are in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl – so don’t worry about understanding if you don’t speak Spanish.

Kyle and Bri
~K~

Rio Secreto : Playa del Carmen Mexico

There are numerous activities to enjoy while in Playa del Carmen. It has essentially been turned into a tourist playground of Mexico. Swimming, snorkeling, diving, ruins – you name it you can find a way to do it within close vicinity.

Where does Rio Secreto Operate?

Rio Secreto is situated directly across the street from the massive eco-park Xcarat. Whereas Xcarat has transformed into a massive waterpark, Rio Secreto retains more of its natural charm. We found Rio Secreto to be a great balance between campy fun, and authentic experience.

With that being said, Xcarat is a completely awesome experience, and I highly recommend it. I have been there many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it will be far more crowded and developed – though still loads of fun.

Benches at Rio Secreto

Rio Secreto Entry Sign

You can find it at:

Puerto Juárez, Km. 283.5, Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal, Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico

Ticket Booth at Rio Secreto

It’s hours and prices can differ by the season, and so you should check for you specific times at: www.riosecreto.com. However, it always operates at least:

Sunday – Monday: 9AM – 2PM

While we can’t say that Rio Secreto falls into the category of budget travel activities – it is still certainly on the cheaper side for the region. If you can, try to arrange for your own transportation to cut costs.

Parking lot of Rio Secreto

A Recent Discovery

Rio Secreto speaks to the mystery of Riviera Maya. It was only discovered in 2006 when a landowner was chasing after a lizard and accidentally discovered the opening to a cave. What he discovered was a vast underground river and cenote complex.

Researchers and explorers then entered the caves and began mapping what would turn out to be an immense system. It was quickly developed into an ecological preserve and attraction. Tourists are able to visit about 10% (don’t worry, it’s huge!) of the cave complex, while the other 90% is preserved. All proceeds go towards further protection and understanding of the cenotes and underground rivers.

I’m In! So What Is Rio Secreto?

Rio Secreto is Spanish for “Secret River”, and it is exactly that. The whole of the Yucatan is made of very porous limestone and has no surface rivers. However, it is filled with thousands of cenotes, which are sinkholes that open to underground rivers.

In the native Mexica cultures, most notably the Maya and Aztec, the cenotes were the openings to the underworld – Xibalba. And here, you get to enter the underworld and explore the flooded rooms and rivers beneath the surface.

The Experience

Our experience was pretty awesome. We were in Playa del Carmen for a family wedding, and we went with my parents, aunts, and uncles. It begins with the standard tourist fare type stuff. We checked in, had a video introduction that went over the basic history of the place, and then we were divided up into small groups for our guide.

Our Guide Starting the Tour

A roughly twenty minute bus ride deep into the jungle brought us to the main entrance to the caves where we were then given the run down.

Rio Secreto Bus

First thing, no sunscreen or lotion of any kind. This is important for the ecology of the river system. Lotions introduce chemicals to the environment and can damage the cave formations. Plus, you’re underground – so it’s totally unnecessary.

To ensure there are issues regarding this, you have to take a quick shower to rid your body of any chemicals and oils. The shower is water taken directly from the river which also gives you a quick feel for the temperature. It’s cold.

Equipment

No worries though, you are provided with a wetsuit. The water is around 72F, so it’s certainly chilly. And the tour lasts about an hour and half underground so you will most likely want it. If you have your own wetsuit, you might as well bring it. My aunt had one, and doubled up, which allowed her to stay quite warm.

As for us, we were still chilled at the end. Our issue lies in the fact that we’re both pretty thin. Because of this, the wetsuits didn’t fit perfectly and allowed for cold water to get in. But, it still works.

You are also provided with water shoes – a must. And of course, a helmet with lights – another must. If you wish, you can also take a walking stick. I did not, but was one of the only ones who did not. If you are not comfortable with your balance, you should take the stick. However, it can be very nice to traverse the caves without carrying anything.

You can put all your stuff in a locker, and all of this comes complimentary with your tour ticket. So you don’t need to worry about paying extra for storage or gear.

Changing Rooms

A Mayan Ritual For Safety

Once we were fitted, we were led into the jungle and brought to the first stop. A local man, who spoke Mayan (Nahuatl) gave us a traditional Mayan blessing. The blessing is meant to provide safety for those who enter the underworld.

In the blessing, we were taught how to say good day, or rather “good sun” in Mayan. I forget what it is now, sadly. But the meaning is important to the Mayans, as the sun was an important deity.

The man then burned sap from a local tree that gave off a sweet fragrance and signaled that we had been blessed. Now, we were ready to enter Xibalba.

Entering the Caves

A short walk further into the jungle, and we arrived at what appeared to be a small depression in the ground. However, once stepping into the hole, it becomes apparent that the cave is much more than it appears.

The path winds down until it meets a slowly flowing body of water. Stalactites and stalagmites stretch down and up respectively and create an enticing invitation to the wonders within. Our guide, instructed us to turn on our headlights and enter the water.

Into Xibalba

Our guide expertly took us into the caves and gave a thorough tour. He explained the hydrology and ecology of the region as well as it’s historical importance.

An interesting, yet important thing he showed us was our impact on the environment. By simply being there, we did contaminate the region. This was demonstrated by rubbing our noses to get naturally occurring oils from our skin, and touching the water. Immediately, the limestone particles repelled away from where we touched, and altering the chemical makeup of the cave system.

It was explained that we would only interact with a small portion – less than 10% – of the cave system. The money brought in from the tourism, would help protect the greater water system and further fund research and conservation. An unfortunate price to pay to protect the system.

As we swam, floated, and waded through the caves, a photography took many pictures. We did not get any though, as the price is expensive. Unfortunately, this means that we couldn’t get any pictures while in the caves themselves.

Rio Secreto

Courtesy: The Mayan Gate

A highlight of our cave experience was a moment of zen. We were instructed to lay back in the water, staring at the ceiling, in a circle. All the lights were then extinguished and we were left in complete darkness, with nothing but the sound of the water. We laid here here for several minutes before coming back to ourselves.

Back to the Surface for Food and Drink

At this point, we were all getting pretty cold. It was time to make our way back out. We exited via the way we came in, and the warmth of the jungle air was welcome. Upon exiting, we were given a taste of the local liquor, an anise flavored liquor to warm our bodies and spirits.

Rio Secreto Liquor

After changing back into our clothes, we then proceeded on to a complimentary lunch. It was nothing special, but better than I was expecting. Rice, beans, chicken, soup, tortillas, and a few sides were offered. While not amazing, it was hearty and satisfactory – and the hot sauce was certainly hot.

Buffet at Rio Secreto
Soup and Pasta

Once finished with our food, we pilled back into our van, and proceeded back to the entrance.  All in all, a great excursion. We would certainly recommend this for anyone in the region looking for a little adventure, history, or nature. It’s great for adults, families, and kids. And while not budget, it is certainly a cheaper alternative to the more expensive options in region.

~K~