If you need evidence of just how big Mexico City has become, consider that it is made up of several hundred colonias, or neighborhoods. Many of these, like Coyoacán and San Ángel, were once isolated villages before being swallowed up by the Distrito Federal, or federal district. (Like many Washingtonians call their city "D.C.," residents of Mexico City most often call it "D.F.")
The good news for travelers is that most of the notable sights are found in a handful of colonias, all accessible by subway or taxi. In the center is the Centro Histórico, where you'll find colonial-era buildings surrounding the square called the Zócalo. The Alameda Central is about seven blocks west.
Also to the west of the Centro Histórico is a cluster of neighborhoods surrounding the massive Parque de Chapultepec. North of the park is Polanco, a mostly residential neighborhood with exceptional shopping. To the southeast is La Condesa, a bohemian enclave that has morphed into one of the city's main dining destinations.
In the southern part of the city are Coyoacán and San Ángel. They sit side by side, which means many people visit them both in the same day.
WHEN TO GO
Temperatures in this high, central plateau city are consistently in the 70s year-round, with a spike into the low 80s in April. July is the rainiest month, and the smog is worst in wintertime, from December through February.
HOW TO GET THERE
Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez is the main airport for the entire country (52-55-24-82-2424; www.aicm.com.mx). Aeroméxico flies nonstop from JFK (800-237-6639; www.aeromexico.com); Continental has nonstops from both Newark and Houston (800-523-3273; www.continental.com); and American has direct flights from Miami, Dallas, and Chicago (800-433-7300; www.aa.com). The nine-mile journey to downtown is best accomplished by airport taxi. Take only the official ones—yellow with an airport symbol on the door—after prepaying at an airport booth. Prices range from about $19 to the Centro Histórico, to $23 to the Zona Rosa, to $25 to La Condesa and Polanco.
Mexico City has one of the cheapest, cleanest, and busiest subways in the world, and this is the best way to get around—except during the crowded peak hours of 7–9 am and 6–9 pm. Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful, but don't flag one of the swarms of green, white-roofed VW bugs: Some are rogues, and muggings and worse have been reported. Phone instead for a taxi de sitio, or have one called—all restaurants and hotels keep a number—or pick up one of the cabs marked with a "Sitio" sign at one of the city's many official taxi stands. Traffic can be a nightmare, so limit your daytime inter-colonia excursions. Consider investing in a car and driver, for the insider information as well as the convenience. Cultur (52-55-5564-0652) has excellent English-speaking drivers and tour guides.View Mexico Factsheet