Mexico City's Benito Juárez International Airport (www.aicm.com.mx) is something of a small city, where you can grab a bite, have an espresso (including Starbucks), and buy duty-free goods, clothes, books, gifts, and insurance, as well as exchange money and stay in a hotel. It was recently expanded -- filled with marble floors, upscale shops, and improved services -- and overall has become a much more welcoming airport. (One Japanese traveler, Hiroshi Nohara, liked it so much that he lived in one of the terminals for 117 days in late 2008.) International flights depart from the newer Terminal 2 and from the international section of Terminal 1; domestic flights are accommodated by the rest of Terminal 1.
Guarded baggage-storage areas are near Sala D (Gate D; tel. 55/5786-9048) near doors 5 and 10. The key-operated metal lockers measure about .5*.5*.5m (1 1/2*1 1/2*1 1/2 ft.) and cost 100 pesos daily. You may leave your items for up to a month.
The Mexico City Hotel and Motel Association offers a hotel-reservation service for its member hotels. Look for its booths before you leave the baggage-claim area, or near Gate A on the concourse. Representatives make the call according to your specifications for location and price. If they book a hotel, they require 1 night's payment and will give you a voucher to present at the hotel. Ask about hotels with special deals. Telephones (operated by Telmex using prepaid Ladatel cards, available at newsstands and gift shops within the airport) are all along the public concourse.
When departing, be sure to allow at least 45 to 60 minutes' travel time from the Zona Rosa or the zócalo (plaza) area to the airport -- add about 30 minutes more if you're traveling during rush hour or bad weather. Check in 3 hours before international flights and 2 hours before domestic flights. Note: Mexican airlines will usually not let you check in for a domestic flight if it's less than an hour before departure time.
Getting to the City from the Airport
Ignore those who approach you in the arrivals hall offering taxis; they are usually unlicensed and unauthorized. Authorized airport taxis, however, provide good, fast service. After exiting the baggage-claim area and before entering the public concourse (as well as near the far end of the terminal near Gate A), you'll see a booth marked TAXI. Staff members at these authorized taxi booths wear bright-yellow jackets or bibs emblazoned with TAXI AUTORIZADO (authorized taxi). Tell the ticket seller your hotel or destination; the price is based on a zone system. Expect to pay around 300 pesos for a boleto (ticket) to Polanco. Present your ticket outside to the driver. Taxi "assistants" who lift your luggage into the waiting taxi expect a tip for their trouble. Putting your luggage in the taxi is the driver's job.
The Metro, Mexico City's modern subway system, is cheap and faster than a taxi, but it seems to be gaining popularity among thieves who target tourists. If you take it from the airport, be forewarned: As a new arrival, you'll stand out. If you are carrying anything much larger than a briefcase, including a suitcase, don't even bother going to the station -- they won't let you on with it.
Here's how to find the Metro at the airport: As you come from your plane into the arrivals hall, turn left toward Gate A and walk through the long terminal, out the doors, and along a covered sidewalk. Soon you'll see the distinctive Metro logo that identifies the Terminal Aérea station, down a flight of stairs. The station is on Metro Línea 5 (Line 5). Follow the signs for trains to Pantitlán. At Pantitlán, change for Line 1 ("Observatorio"), which takes you to stations that are a few blocks south of the zócalo and La Alameda park: Pino Suárez, Isabel la Católica, Salto del Agua, and Balderas.
An Alternative to Benito Juárez
Toluca's Licenciado Adolfo López Mateos International Airport (TLC) lies just 52km (32 miles) southwest of Benito Juárez International Airport and has been a convenient alternative for Mexican nationals since it opened in 2002. In 2006 the airport started accommodating a limited amount of international traffic and now Continental (tel. 800/523-3273 in the U.S., or 01-800/900-5000 in Mexico), United (tel. 800/538-2929 in the U.S., 01-800/003-0777 in Mexico), and the Mexican airline Volaris (tel. 866/988-3527 in the U.S., or 01-800/122-8000 in Mexico) offer regular flights from the U.S. Volaris also offers a shuttle service that takes its customers to the Santa Fe financial district. Domestic flights to and from Toluca are often significantly cheaper than comparable flights through Benito Juárez.
To get to the Toluca airport by car from the Mexico City airport, merge onto Viaducto Miguel Alemán, take the exit to North Periférico, and merge onto Constituyentes. Then take the Mexico-Toluca highway. When you arrive in Toluca turn right on to Miguel Alemán Valdez and follow the signs to the airport. Depending on traffic, the drive could take up to 3 hours.
Taxi Safety Precautions in Mexico City
There has been a marked increase in violent crime against both residents and tourists using taxis for transportation in Mexico City, concentrated among users of Volkswagen Beetle and libre (those hailed off the street) taxis. Robberies of taxi passengers are sometimes violent, with beatings and even murders reported. Victims have included U.S. citizens. Many times the robberies involve taking passengers to an ATM, where they are forced to withdraw whatever limit their card or cards will allow.
If you plan to use a taxi from the airport or bus stations, use only an authorized cab with all the familiar markings: yellow car, white taxi light on the roof, and TRANSPORTACION TERRESTRE painted on the doors. Buy your ticket from the clearly marked taxi booth inside the airport or bus terminal -- nowhere else. After purchasing your ticket, go outside to the line of taxis, where an official taxi chief will direct you to the next taxi in line. Don't follow anyone else.
In Mexico City, do not hail a passing taxi on the street. Most hotels have official taxi drivers who are recognized and regulated by the terminal and city; they are considered safe taxis to use. These are known as authorized or sitio taxis. Hotels and restaurants can call the radio-dispatched taxis. Official Radio Taxis (tel. 55/5590-3325 or 55/5698-5192) are also considered safe. You can hire one of these taxis from your hotel; the driver will frequently act as your personal driver and escort you through your travels in the city. This is a particularly advisable option at night.
All official taxis, except the expensive "turismo" cars, are painted predominantly yellow, orange, or green; have white plastic roof signs bearing the word TAXI; have TAXI or SITIO painted on the doors; and are equipped with meters. Look for all these indications, not just one or two of them. Even then, be cautious. The safest cars to use are sedan taxis (luxury cars without markings) dispatched from four- and five-star hotels. They are the most expensive but worth it -- taxi crime in Mexico City is very real.
Do not use VW Beetle taxis, which are frequently involved in robberies of tourists and are nearly phased out of existence. Even though they are the least expensive taxis, you could be taking your life into your hands should you opt to use one. In any case, never get in a taxi that does not display a large 5*7-inch laminated license card with a picture of the driver on it; it's usually hanging from the door chain or glove box, or stuck behind the sun visor. If there is no license, or if the photo doesn't match the driver, don't get in. It's illegal for a taxi to operate without the license in view. No matter what vehicle you use for transportation, lock the doors as soon as you get in. Do not carry credit cards, your passport, or large sums of cash, or wear expensive jewelry when taking taxis.
Driving in Mexico City is as much a challenge and an adventure as driving in any major metropolis. Here are a few tips. First, ask the rental company whether your license-plate number permits you to drive in the city that day (break the rule and the fine can be well over 10,000 pesos). Traffic runs the course of the usual rush hours -- to avoid getting tangled in traffic, plan to travel before dawn. Park the car in a guarded lot whenever possible.
The chief thoroughfares for getting out of the city are Insurgentes Sur, which becomes Hwy. 95 to Taxco and Cuernavaca; Insurgentes Norte, which leads to Teotihuacán and Pachuca; Hwy. 57, the Periférico (loop around the city), which is also known as Bulevar Manuel Avila Camacho, to denote street addresses, and goes north and leads out of the city to Tula and Querétaro; Constituyentes, which leads west out of the city past Chapultepec Park and connects with Hwy. 15 to Toluca, Morelia, and Pátzcuaro (Reforma also connects with Hwy. 15); and Zaragoza, which leads east to Hwy. 150 to Puebla and Veracruz.
Mexico City has a bus terminal for each of the four points of the compass: north, east, south, and west. However, you can't necessarily tell which terminal serves which area of the country by looking at a map.
Some buses leave directly from the Benito Juárez airport. Departures are from a booth located outside Sala D (Gate D), and buses also park there. Tickets to Cuernavaca and Puebla each run about 200 pesos, with departures every 45 minutes. Other destinations include Querétaro, Pátzcuaro, and Toluca.
If you're in doubt about which station serves your destination, ask any taxi driver -- they know the stations and the routes they serve. All stations have restaurants, money-exchange booths or banks, post offices, luggage storage, and long-distance telephone booths where you can also send a fax.
Each station has a taxi system based on fixed-price tickets to various zones within the city, operated from a booth or kiosk in or near the entry foyer of the terminal. Locate your destination on a zone map or tell the seller where you want to go, and buy a boleto.
Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte -- Called "Terminal Norte," or "Central Norte," Avenida de los Cien (100) Metros (tel. 55/5133-2444 or 55/5587-1552), this is Mexico's largest bus station. It handles most buses coming from the U.S.-Mexico border. It also handles service to and from the Pacific Coast as far south as Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo; the Gulf Coast as far south as Tampico and Veracruz; and such cities as Guadalajara, San Luis Potosí, Durango, Zacatecas, Morelia, and Colima. You can also get to the pyramids of Teotihuacán and Tula from here. By calling the above number, you can purchase tickets over the phone by charging them to a credit card. The operators can also provide exact information about prices and schedules, but few speak English.
To get downtown from the Terminal Norte, you have a choice: The Metro has a station (Terminal de Autobuses del Norte, or TAN) right here, so it's easy to hop a train and connect to all points. Walk to the center of the terminal, go out the front door and down the steps, and go to the Metro station. This is Línea 5 (Line 5). Follow the signs that say DIRECCION PANTITLAN. For downtown, you can change trains at La Raza or Consulado. Be aware that if you change at La Raza, you'll have to walk for 10 to 15 minutes and will encounter stairs. The walk is through a marble-lined underground corridor, but it's a long way with heavy luggage. If you have heavy luggage, you most likely won't be allowed into the Metro in the first place.
Another way to get downtown is by trolleybus. The stop is on Avenida de los Cien Metros, in front of the terminal. The trolleybus runs down Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas, the Eje Central (Central Artery). Or try the Central Camionera Del Norte-Villa Olimpica buses, which go down Avenida Insurgentes, past the university. Just like the Metro, the trolley will not let you board if you are carrying anything larger than a small carry-on suitcase. Backpacks seem to be an exception, but not large ones with frames.
Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente -- This terminal is known as TAPO (tel. 55/5786-9341). Buses going east (Puebla, Amecameca, the Yucatán Peninsula, Veracruz, Xalapa, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and others) and Oaxaca buses, which pass through Puebla, arrive and depart from here.
To get to TAPO, take a Hipodromo-Pantitlán bus east along Alvarado, Hidalgo, or Donceles; if you take the Metro, go to the San Lázaro station on the eastern portion of Line 1 (DIRECCION PANTITL&AACUTE;N).
Terminal Central de Autobuses del Sur (Taxqueña) -- Mexico City's southern bus terminal is at Av. Taxqueña 1320 (tel. 55/5689-4987), right next to the Taxqueña Metro stop, the last stop on Line 2. The Central del Sur handles buses to and from Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Guadalajara, Huatulco, Puebla, Puerto Escondido, Taxco, Tepoztlán, Zihuatanejo, and intermediate points. The easiest way to get to or from the Central del Sur is on the Metro. To get downtown from the Taxqueña Metro station, look for signs that say DIRECCION CUATRO CAMINOS, or take a trolley bus on Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas.
Terminal Poniente de Autobuses -- The western bus terminal is conveniently located right next to the Observatorio Metro station, at Sur 122 and Tacubaya (tel. 55/5271-4519). This is the smallest terminal; it mainly serves the route between Mexico City and Toluca. It also handles buses to and from Ixtapan de la Sal, Valle de Bravo, Morelia, Uruapan, Querétaro, Colima, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Acapulco, and Guadalajara. In general, if the Terminal Norte also serves your destination, you'd be better off going there. It has more buses and better bus lines.