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How to move around by public transport in Mexico City (CDMX)

How to move around by public transport in Mexico City (CDMX)

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Moving around Mexico City by public transport is an art that locals have learnt by heart: buses, trolebuses (trams) metrobus, metro, microbuses… join a huge number of taxis, uber, cabify and such and over 5 million cars (just simple private cars). So, moving around efficiently is not impossible but Google Maps won’t help too much with that.

But how to do that? You will find below all the options and plenty tips to know what to (and how) use to choose the best option for you:

Mega-guide to move around in mexico city by public transport:

Extra: Can you move around CDMX by bike? Options

Extra 2: Traveling alone (as a woman) in Mexico City

How the cdmx metro works

The underground trains at Mexico City have been running for more than 50 years under and over the streets of the city, and are a great option to move around town. It has 195 stations and this is how it works:

  • To get in the metro you must buy a single ticket (at the booths inside the stations) or use the prepaid card (which costs 15 pesos at the machines inside the stations and you can top up any time and share with your friends to pay for their rides). Any case, each ride is 5 pesos no matter how many lines you use to get to your destination and you must pay for it in cash (none option allows cards).
  • Not every access to the stations have a ticket booth with a person (the only place to get a single ticket) but most have machines to top up the prepaid cards, which you can also top up at metrobus stations (same machines).
  • The metro lines are commonly known by the number (or letter) and its color, but you will find some stations where the signage doesn’t match the color of the line it heads to, so be sure to know where the line heads to, destinations are always right.
  • Each station has its name and an icon, which always has a meaning connecting the station with the place or its history (for example, Zocalo is the eagle with the snake)
  • Platforms do not have seats, places to lean on or signage with the line stops. There is always security which can help you with info on the line (in Spanish)
  • You will see some yellow and black arrows on the floor that mark where the trains open their doors. You are supposed to be waiting on the sides to get in but some people just don’t care (specially at peak times).
  • Only a few lines have a PA system that tells you which is the next station. So you need to take a look out to know which stations you are passing by and compare with the maps of the line that you can find over the seats inside each wagon (each line has its own wagons, so no confusion possible).
  • You won’t find lifts or escalators in many stations. And even if there are lifts, most of them are exclusive to elders and mums that carry an special authorization card. So don’t count on them to take your luggage or backpack.
  • Trains go over crowded at peak times (weekdays at 6PM, for example) But if you are a woman, you should check this info to travel alone through public transport ;-)
  • There is free wifi in most stations. Take into account that the line is not secured, but since many cell phones allow you to create your own VPN, it’s a handy option.
  • There are peddlers going in and out the wagons all the time (with the exception of peak times, when there is no room for moving around) and they sell almost anything. But if you want to have something to eat, better head to the small shops and convenience stores inside the stations (not at every station but at those with transfer there are usually different food options).
  • Beware which door you use when getting inside the stations, some entries are exclusive for an specific line or direction. If that’s the case, you will find it written on top of the door (in Spanish).
  • Metro stations are open from 5:00 to 00:00 from Monday to Friday, saturdays they open one hour later and sundays and bank holidays open at 7:00. Closing time is the same every day.
  • And, at last, most lines go underground but some, such as line 2, run at street level or over it.

And, which stations should you visit? There are some funky stations with music (karaoke included) and some stone walls with traditional carvings, exhibits and much more. But if you are looking for a nice pic to show on the Instagram, check:

  • The ones with muras, such as the ones at Insurgentes (line 1), Bellas Artes (line 8), Garibaldi (line 8) or Auditorio (line 7)
  • The archaeological ones, such as the mammooth one at line 4 (Talismán station) or the Ehécatl pyramid at Pino Suárez (line 2)
  • The museum stations, such as the Tunnel of Science at La Raza (lines 3 – 5) the Museum of Metro at Mixcoac (line 12) or the Museum of Radio at Parque de los Venados (line 12).
  • And wif you are looking for modern desing or nice lights, the ones at Isabel La Católica (line 1), Polanco (line 7) or Barranca del Muerto (line 7)

And, is there any recommendation on knowing which line to use? Many travelers use Google Maps, but it has proven weak on comparing with other options (and it doesn’t always calculate the times ok) so I go with Citymapper, which also tells you where you can find the closest bikes, microbuses or metrobús, without pushing you to uber all the time.

vagones para mujeres ciudad de mexico

women traveling alone in mexico city: reserved spaces at public transport

Security is a key point when you travel alone. If you are going to move by public transport in Mexico City, you will find reserved paces for women (all the time, not just for peak times) at Metro and Metrobús (the first waggons or seats.) At these waggons only women, kids up to 12 years old and authorized people can get in (elders and people with accesibility problems with a valid autorization card for example).

Pros? That with the exception of peak times, it’s quite easy to find a seat. And they check them all the time so unauthorized men don’t go in (and they take them out if they are).

Also, there are 52 public bus routes that are exclusive for women (I don’t know where they go through, haven’t seen them.) They are pink, they say “servicio para mujeres” on the front and they are called “Atenea”. They cost the same as the public bus.

And, for last, there used to be an “uber for women” but it ran out of office. There IS and app of the city which provides with data from the taxi drivers through the traffic plate and has a panic button. But I don’t know if it works in English.

metrobus cdmx

how the metrobús works

The Metrobús is a bus that uses an exclusive lane and, thus, avoids traffic jams and other traffic issues. It is one of the fastest ways to move around and also the most expensive among the public ones (the truly public ones).

These are some facts and tips you should know:

  • You can only get on it with a prepaid card (you can get them at the machines at every station or at the metro system) topped up with cash (you cannot pay with credit card).
  • Most stations don’t have booths, they just have machines, police and (sometimes) people from the metrobus system. If the area runs out of light and they have people from the metrobus, you can pay to them to get in. If there is only police, they will let you in but take no money.
  • You can change from one metrobus line to a different one in the first 2 hours since you boarded the first, as long as it is the same direction and not back. The card calculates it automatically, just as long as you don’t top up your card or check your balance at the machines.
  • You can share your prepaid card with other people, but only one person can transfer for free. So if you are going to use it a lot, get different cards for each of you.
  • It costs 6 pesos to ride, but the one that takes you to the airport costs 30 pesos and has room for your luggage. If it connects you directly with your hotel, it’s a cheap and confortable option, otherwise, you better get a taxi or cabify.
  • The first section of the bus is women-only, check this section.
  • When riding as a tourist, you won’t probably go to the end of the line, so just mind the direction of the bus and your stop. PA system is almost never audible and it is usually hard to see which stop  you are at.
  • At peak times (6-9 am and 6-8 pm) it can be way too crowded. Avoid standing next to the doors, the open to the inside and you can get kicked.
  • It runs from Monday to Friday from 4:30 to 00:00 but it starts at 5:00 on weekends and bank holidays.

*The money you top up are valid for metro, bus, trolebus and metrobus, no matter where you topped up, you just need to have the money each ticket costs.

Tourist buses in Mexico city, worth for moving around?

So if it is that cheap to use the public transport in CDMX, why would you want to use the tourist bus? Well, it’s true that it is more expansive, but you don’t have to think about where or how to go, they take you. If you are not planning to go outside the main touristic route, it is a great option and you will always have a seat. Plus the city is so big that you will find different routes to different areas.

Cons? They are valid only on the day of activation (if you start at 6PM, you will only use it up to 8PM). Price is  way more expensive than a regular metro ride and they can get a bit crowded on weekends. You can book them through Civitatis.

Pros? Routes, audioguides and free wifi sum up.

How is it to move around in the trolebus (cdmx trams)

The Trolebús service is what you would call tram, trolley car, streetcar, or similar (a bus connected to the power lines) and, while it has its own lanes it is a bit slower than the metrobus because it shares it with other transport (but it is also cheaper).

There are two types:

  • Regular ones, which cost 2 pesos for ride (theory says you can pay with the prepaid card but some don’t have it yet) which you pay to the driver at the front door.
  • And the blue ones, which are electric trams and cost 4 pesos (these should all be using the prepaid card already).

They ha a wider timetable, running from 4:00 to 1:26 on weekdays and a bit less on weekends, but since you are traveling as a tourist, you won’t need that.

They do have regular stops with a seat for waiting at certain stops.

estaciones artisticas metro ciudad de mexico

About buses and microbuses in mexico

First things first, you should know that there are public buses run by the city called RTP (they called them M1 for some time, but they are back to RTP) and which are big ones as the ones you can find in Madrid, Barcelona, London, etc. And then you have smaller ones that are run by private companies and locals call micros, peseros or combis.

And, why should you know the difference? There are 5 main reasons:

  • Private buses are more expensive (from 6 to 7 pesos, depending on the distance) than the public ones (2 pesos the regular one and 5 the ecologic-zero emisions ones)
  • Private ones are paid for by cash and public ones are being added to the prepaid card system (you can still pay with cash).
  • Private ones have many more routes (over 2300) and are more frequent than the public ones, but RTP have night routes and buses only for women
  • Private ones stop where they want (or where you ask them to) and public ones have “official” stops.
  • Private ones have been reported to be less safe (according to locals) than public ones, but if you are moving through the city center, you should be safe at both, just beware of pickpocketers.

And now that you know this, how do they work? Well, you go through the front door, pay to the driver (if it’s a private car, tell them where you are going so they can charge you by the distance). Once you get to your stop, you call the stop and get down through the back door.

Alternatives to public transport: Taxis, Uber, Cabify or Didi. Which is safer?

A few years ago, the safest way to use a taxi in Mexico City was to take a “taxi de sitio”. These are taxis with controlled stops and which have been verified. You don’t stop these on the streets, you have to either call them (restaurants and hotels can do this for you) or go to a “sitio” (their official stop). But they are more expensive than the other taxis. BUT if you stop a taxi on the street, you might end up in a pirate taxi (not paying taxes is the less dangerous thing with them, you might get lost, robbed or else) or paying three times the cost (unless you truly know Mexico City streets. Plus, I haven’t seen a taxi that allows payment with credit cards yet.

So many mexicans recommend using alternatives like Uber, Cabify and others, being priorities: 1) their own car, 2) Uber or Cabify, 3) a “taxi de sitio” and 4) if nothing else available, a regular taxi.

If I had to choose between Uber and Cabify I would take Cabify for how they treat and verify the drivers, but don’t expect the high end cars you would find in Spain, as most of their services are “economy” or “lite”. Having said this, Cabify is not as popular among regular users for an incident they had a few years ago in Pueba with a driver who collaborated with a crime (supposedly not knowing he was) and, while it works great, they don’t have as many drivers as Uber. But it has some pros like less “dynamic” pricing (Uber can charge you up to 5x the price if you get in a traffic jam) and you can get discounts for your first trips (try adding the promo LETICIAP2550 for up to a 50% discount on your first 2 trips.)

And regarding Didi, what I’ve been told is that you will only find there those drivers that had an issue at any of the other two platforms (an accident, bad reviews for being rude or not showing up, etc.) and that’s why it’s usually the cheapest one. I haven’t tried it but that’s all I know.

Bikes at CDMX

It might sound like a suicide mission to drive a bike between all of the above options, but Mexico City has some bike options worth checking out. And it’s becoming so popular that there are a few apps for renting bikes all around town (or almost). But there are two great options for tourists to highlight:

  • Ecobici. This is a service from the city that has different stations all around the main roads (not AT the main roads but near, you can find them at Citymapper). They work with a year “membership”, but as a tourist you can get a 1 or 3 day pass for between 100 and 210 pesos, which allows you to use any bike for 45 minutes for free (you can take as many bikes a day you need, as long as each is only used for 45 minutes and only one at a time). You can get access at the machines next to the bikes (where you pick and return the bikes). The system is available only at day hours.
  • Bicigratis. This is not from the city but an NGO program aiming to get people to use more bikes and less cars. They provide free bikes for 2 hours in exchange for an official ID (passport should work). They are closed on Mondays,  open from 10:30 to 18:00 (last pick-up is at 16:45) and you can only return the bike where you picked it up. But you will find pick up points at Reforma, Coyoacan, Polanco and next to the Cathedral at the Zocalo.

There are also bike guided tours, such as this one in Civitatis. But also this night tour, this street food one or this one in Chapultepec via Getyourguide.

So, now that you know how to get a bike, what should you know about riding a bike in CDMX?

  • You cannot use the exclusive Metrobús lane
  • You cannot use the sidewalks (unless you are under 12 years old)
  • You cannot go against the traffic
  • You must respect traffic lights and show if you are stopping or turning
  • You must use reflectors and lights (helmets are not mandatory but recommended)
  • There are dedicated bike lanes, but if not you can use the tram and bus ones that are on the right of the streets. There are some bike priority lanes but you will find cars there.
  • Pedestrian streets are forbidden too.

And, for last, every Sunday there are dedicated routes you can use all around the city (summing up to 55 km of bike lanes that close to traffic in the morning). And four times a year there are some theme bike rides from 19:00 to 23:00 (Día de Muertos tends to be a mayor one).

1 Comments and Questions

1 November, 2022 at 9:16 pm

The first time I was in Mexico City was quite difficult for me to move around the city. Unfortunately there are not so many signs to orientate international tourist who are not Spanish speakers. However, my second time I had a better experience since I knew already how it works there. Thanks for the great review!

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