Border Free Travels x Salt & Wind Travel
October 24-28, 2018
Mexico City FAQs & Information
Bienvenidos on the Border Free Travels x Salt & Wind Mexico City trip!
We cannot wait to share this corner of Mexico with you. Maybe you've already read a few Mexican history books or perhaps you just booked your flight. Either way we wanted to provide you some background on where we’re heading and answer some FAQs.
Mexico City is, and has always been, the center of the Mexican universe. Dating back thousands of years, this corner of Mexico has been of great importance and many believe that the spirits of the past (both good and evil) are still active in the city’s streets. To understand that sentiment, it’s helpful to understand a bit about the region’s history.
Early Mexico City
As far back as 200 BC, the area of modern day Mexico City (known as Valle de México) was inhabited. There was a loose collection of farming villages centered around a system of lakes, the most significant of which was Lago de Texcoco. A maize-based economy developed and the city known as Teotihuacán flourished until it became the capital of an empire that extended to Guatemala. Over time, the empire because unsustainable and fell in the 8th century at which time power in the region was divided.
It’s believed the Aztecs (aka Mexica) arrived in the Valle de México around the 13th century. Legend says that the Aztec tribespeople saw an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake (yes, that would be the very image found on the present-day Mexican flag) and they took it as a sign to settle the area. On that land, they built the sophisticated city-state of Tenochtitlán, which, by the 16th century, spanned most of what we know as modern-day Mexico.
The Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519 and demolished Tenochtitlán so extensively that only a few Aztec ruins remain. Affected by disease, the population shrank from 1.5 million to under 100,000 in less than 100 years. From it emerged the capital of Nueva España, which became ground zero for Mexico’s gilded age during the 18th century.
The 19th century brought a literal cry for independence from the Spaniards. The famous “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores” happened in Dolores (present-day Dolores Hidalgo in Guanajuato) in the early morning of 16 September 1810. Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of his church and gave the pronunciation that triggered the Mexican War of Independence. The culmination of the war resulted in the end of the rule of Spain in 1821.
Less than a century later was the the Mexican Revolution, (1910–20), a long and bloody struggle among several factions in constantly shifting alliances. It ultimately resulted in the end of the 30-year dictatorship in Mexico and the establishment of Mexico as a constitutional republic.
Modern Mexico City
The 20th century was an era of modernization and growth in Mexico City and the population in the metro area grew to an estimated 22 million people. These days Mexico City (aka the Federal District or Distrito Federal) is the political, culinary, and cultural capital of Mexico.
Since the start of the 21st century, money has been poured into revitalizing Mexico City’s centro histórico (the historic 668-block area in downtown). More than 1,500 buildings in the centro histórico are classified as historic or artistic monuments and the area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many public spaces have been revamped, the city’s culinary scene is world-renowned, and, from design to fashion, it’s clear that there’s a full-on cultural renaissance in Mexico City.
Defining The Distrito Federal
The Distrito Federal has 16 delegaciones (aka boroughs) and they’re made up of roughly 1,800 colonias (aka neighborhoods). Much like New York city, each colonia in modern day Mexico City has its own identity. From chichi Polanco to artsy Condesa to the impressive centro histórico, we’re excited to show you the corners of Mexico City that we find most interesting.
Mexico City’s history can be read many ways but, to us, it’s most legible in food! If history can be understood through food, then arguably no city in the Americas wears its past so proudly on its sleeve as Mexico City.
Mexico City has some great ‘local’ food, but much like Los Angeles, the city’s culinary strength is in its diversity. A microcosm of Mexican food, you can find regional food from pretty much every corner of Mexico represented in Mexico City. In fact, Mexico City’s culinary scene in Mexico City is so celebrated that the the street food in the Mexican capital is recognized as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
From five star high end restaurants to family eateries to street food stalls on every block in the city, Mexico City is a food paradise and it’s the city’s culinary diversity that excites us. During the course of our trip to Mexico City, we’ll show you a cross-section of the city’s food scene as we eat food from all over the country and at all levels of dining. One day we’ll be eating street food, another at a world-renowned spot, but they all are an intrinsic part of the local food culture.
Read Before You Go
Need some additional intel? Read these articles for a deeper dive into Mexico City:
Cook Before You Go
Here are a few Mexican recipes to get your tastebuds ready!
Watch Before You Go
Feel like binge watching a show or three? Here are a few that focus on Mexico City!
Amores Perros (2000) - This is famed filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s gritty debut feature film and it’s set in Mexico City.
Frida (2002) - This 2002 Hollywood biopic stars Salma Hayek as the flamboyant Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Much of the film was shot in Kahlo’s iconic Casa Azul, or Blue House, the spacious, colourful building where she was born and died.
The Noble Family (2013) - Aka Nosotros Los Nobles, this film focuses on three spoilt children whose father decides to teach them a valuable lesson about the real world by cutting off their pocket money.
Güeros (2014) - This feature traces a mischievous youth who is sent to stay with his brother in Mexico City.
Spectre (2015) - This 2015 Bond movie has a lavish opening sequence set in Mexico City during a Day of the Dead parade.
Ingobernable (2017) - Kate del Castillo stars in Ingobernable (Ungovernable), a sometimes melodramatic political drama that was released on Netflix in March 2017.
Coco (2017) - Learn all about Dia De Los Muertos traditions in this award-winning animated film.
Made In Mexico (2018) - We’re not usually into reality TV but this Netflix show perfectly depicts life of upper class Mexico City residents.
Contact Your Hosts
Your hosts for this trip are Aida Mollenkamp of Salt & Wind and Kristen Kellogg of Border Free Travels. The easiest way to contact them is via the WhatsApp group, to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to call us at +1 (323) 539-8081.
We use a WhatsApp group as a means to stay in touch while we’re abroad. Please download it to your phone if you don’t have it already and we'll invite you all before departure. If you do not want to be included in this group, let us know and we will arrange an alternate form of contact.
Forms For Waivers & Emergency Contact
Just a heads up that we have a general liability waiver, a photography waiver, and an Emergency Contact form that we will send you before the trip. These forms need to be signed and returned to us before we can travel together.
Required Travel Insurance
Please note that we require you to purchase travel insurance and need you to provide us with proof of insurance before we depart. There are generally five main categories of travel insurance: trip cancellation and interruption, medical, evacuation, baggage, and flight insurance. Additional policies can be added to cover specifics, like identity theft or political evacuation.
These five main types are often sold in some combination as a package. We merely require you have travel insurance but don't ask for a specific type. However, we recommend "comprehensive insurance" which usually includes the five main types (and often covers things like expenses if your trip is delayed, if you miss your flight, or if your tour company changes your itinerary).
Now that most major credit cards provide basic travel insurance on travel-related purchases so we suggest you first contact your credit card company to inquire about specifics. Otherwise, you can get insurance at various places online. Here are a few places to start:
Allergies & Pollution
Mexico City has a pollution problem and it can be an irritant, especially for anyone with sensitive eyes or a history of allergies. Be sure to pack eye drops or allergy medicines or anything else that may help you deal with pollution.
Mexico City is located at 7,349 feet (almost 2,000 feet higher than Denver!) so altitude sickness is a real possibility. Travelers going by plane from sea level to high elevations may suddenly experience shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches,nausea, and other symptoms resembling flu. This condition, called acute mountain sickness (AMS), is the most common type of altitude sickness. The best ways to deal with it are to stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, and rest.
Aside from worrying about tap water, this is probably the biggest fear people have when coming to Mexico City. The city sits in a seismic zone, and the effects of strong tremors are amplified by the soft soil of the former lakebed, but earthquakes don’t happen that often, and they’re rarely as bad as the one that struck on September 19, 2017. Even so, we recommend that you keep your hotel key, wallet, phone charger, and a pair of shoes near your door so that, in case of emergency, you can easily leave your hotel.
We will have a First Aid kit with us at all times but please be sure to pack any specific medications (prescription or OTC) you may need.
This region of Mexico should be thought of like Chicago: safe so long as you stay aware and don’t wander into the wrong parts of town or seek out trouble. As you would in any big city, do your best to stay aware of your pockets and bags when we’re in more crowded areas. Also, you shouldn’t walk with your cell phones out, if only so you don’t trip on any uneven ground!
The water in Mexico City is potable; however, there are concerns after the 2017 earthquake that there is contamination in some parts of the city. Personally, we bathe, wash our faces, brush on teeth with Mexico City tap water without a problem but you can make the call for yourself. Note that all of the restaurants we will go to will have clean ice and water in their establishments, but when it comes to everyday drinking water or water at street food stalls, we recommend you stick to bottled water.
The hotels for this trip have been carefully chosen to bring you an authentic experience that melds the best of classic Mexico and modern comfort based on a combination of amenities, character, and location. Because the properties we stay in are often centuries-old buildings that have been renovated and turned into hotels, it is common for the rooms to vary in size and style. All rooms have private baths. Single room availability is limited.
Here are a few of our go-to apps when we travel:
Google Maps - using the “offline” function makes it easy to use a map without using data
Google Translate - just download the languages you want to go between and you’re all set!
MyTaxi - most restaurants and hotels can call you a taxi or you can use this app
Rappi - We don’t anticipate you’ll be hungry after all the food you’ll be tasting with us, but incase you are Rappi is like the local Uber Eats
Uber - Uber is the most prevalent rideshare service in Mexico City
Most of your major expenses on this trip will be covered by Salt & Wind; however, you may want to have pesos on hand for an occasional snack or some impromptu shopping.
We recommend you pull out pesos at ATMs once you land in Mexico City as opposed to using a currency exchange service at the stateside airport. Keep in mind your bank will most likely charge you a fee each time you use the ATM so it’s best to pull out the max amount each time you visit an ATM. However, you can use credit cards most places so you shouldn’t need more than US$ 50 of cash at any given time.
Many US cell phones can operate in Mexico as they would in the United States. Check with your service provider before leaving home for information about international calling and data plans, and on making and receiving international calls. Data and roaming charges may apply and can be an expensive unexpected surprise so plan ahead!
CONCLUSION OF THE TRIP
On the last day of the trip, Salt & Wind x Border Free Travels will host a mid-morning brunch at the Hotel Stara Hamburgo, but you can book your departure for anytime on that day.
Please note that you are responsible to get yourself from the hotel to the airport and on to your next point of travel. If you’re flying out of Mexico City, please be sure to arrive at the airport 3 hours before your international flight. Account for holiday traffic as this is a busy weekend in Mexico City due to the Formula 1 Race being in town.
Just a reminder to let your credit cards know that you will be traveling abroad. Also, keep in mind that many places in Mexico will not accept American Express so it is best to always have another type of credit card (ie Visa or Mastercard) in addition to American Express.
Many cell phone plans work exactly as they would in the United States so you may not need to use any international calling code.
52 is Mexico’s country code, followed by an area code and local number. The number of digits in the area code and local number may vary. To place an international call to Mexico, dial + or the international access code of the country from which you're calling (e.g. 011 from the US) - 52 - area code - local number.
To place an international call from Mexico, dial + or 00 (Mexico’s international access code) - country code of the country to which you're calling (e.g. 1 for the US) - area code - local number. For example, to call the US, dial 00 -1 - area code - local number.
To place a call within Mexico, drop the country code 52 and dial area code - local number. The area code is always used when placing calls within Mexico. For additional information on placing international phone calls, visit www.countrycallingcodes.com.
DOs AND DONTs
So long as you conduct yourself as you do stateside, you should be fine. That said, here are some specific tips:
Learn a few words of Spanish. Locals really appreciate the effort!
Greet people. Say "Buenos Dias" (or "Buenas Noches" in the evening).
Thank shop owners and waiters. Saying "Gracias"when leaving is considered great manners.
Wander the city and explore. All these cities are best understood through exploration.
Be street smart (keep your cell phone and purse close) as you would in any large city.
Keep a form of I.D. on you (a photo of your passport is adequate) at all times but do not walk around the city with your actual passport on you!
Be careful when crossing the street as crosswalks and lights are often ignored by motorists.
Be a jerk. Do drugs. Start fights. Display public drunkenness. Urinate in public. Jump in fountains. Climbing on monuments. You get it.
If you have a delay or emergency on the day your trip starts and need to contact us, please contact us via WhatsApp, email your hosts at email@example.com, or call the Salt & Wind office at +1 (323) 539-8081. If you’re unable to meet the group the first night, feel free to head to Hotel Stara Hamburgo on your own. A taxi ride from the Mexico City airport takes around 30 minutes and costs about US $20.
Dial 9-1-1 in case of any emergency.
Gratuities for almost all are services during your trip are included in the price. While we've thought about including Host tips as part of the overall trip cost, we acknowledge that gratuities are customary in the industry as a way to recognize excellent service on a more personal level. We offer specific Host tip recommendations because our guests have consistently asked for them.
The exact amount is up to you, but our recommended gratuity for this trip is US $150 per guest. This amount can be covered via cash (preferred) or PayPal. To learn more about PayPal and how to sign up, visit www.paypal.com.
Here is a link to the most updated itinerary for the trip.
If unforeseen circumstances require a change in the trip itinerary, Salt & Wind will make every effort to select alternative accommodations of the same quality and to keep the activity modifications minimal.
JEWELRY AND VALUABLES
In general, we always leave the high-end jewelry at home when we travel for fear of losing it. There are safes in most of your hotels; however, we recommend you leave the really good stuff behind.
When taking any flight, there is the possibility of lost luggage. Salt & Wind believes that it's a great idea to take a small carry-on bag with enough clothing and supplies to last a day or two. Also be sure to bring with you any personal gear you deem indispensable on the trip. This way, in the event of lost luggage you won't have to spend time replacing essential items and miss activities while you wait for your bags to catch up. Please note that Salt & Wind does not assume responsibility
Be sure to check the luggage weight limit and the rules/weight for cabin luggage with the airline as it can vary from carrier to carrier. Oh, and make sure to leave a little room in your luggage to fit a few gifts you may get (hint, hint)!
Our dinners feature specialties that highlight Mexico City’s specialties like moles, tacos, tamales, sauces, cocktails, tequila, and wines ranging from lush reds to bright mineral whites. Fresh, local food is a way of life here, so although food may take longer to be made—and therefore take longer to be served—it's absolutely worth the wait.
All breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are included in the trip price. Because dining is an event unto itself in Mexico, our restaurants encourage you to slow down and enjoy a leisurely paced meal. Be aware that speciality diet meals (ie vegetarian/vegan, gluten-free and low carb) dishes are not always available. If you have special dietary requirements, please indicate them upon arrival. One alcoholic beverages in included at both lunch and dinner, unless otherwise noted.
MEXICO CITY TRANSPORT TIPS
The neighborhood where we’re staying in Mexico City is very walkable but you can also use the metro, buses, Ubers, or taxi.
The standard unit of currency in Mexico is the peso. At the time of writing this, 18.86 pesos = 1 USD. For the most up-to-date exchange rate, visit www.xe.com (Universal Currency Converter). You'll want to bring along money and credit cards for any extra purchases on your trip (we don’t rec using traveler’s checks as they’re pretty obsolete these days). Please see advice about ATMs and credit cards above.
Voltages and frequencies are the same as they are in the United States.
Your passport must be valid for 6 months after our travel dates and, of course, make sure to bring it along! Also, you may want to keep a copy of your passport on your phone (just for the trip length) or a physical photocopy in case you lose your passport.
When traveling, there is always a possibility of theft. While you're enjoying the sights, remember to stay alert and always be aware of your immediate surroundings, especially in crowded locations and tourist areas. The best rule of thumb is to carry only the cash you need for the day, along with a copy of your passport on your phone (leave your hard copy passport at the hotel!), and leave the rest in a locked safe in your room. For more safety tips, refer to the Country Specific Information page on the US State Department's website at travel.state.gov
Spa treatments are not included in the trip price; however, our concierge can help you book treatments as desired. Advance reservations are recommended. Also, be sure to review the spa's cancellation policy to avoid any unexpected charges on your credit card.
As with any trip abroad, you may want to register with the U.S. government’s STEP program. This ensures the US government knows your travel plans, which is usefully in case of emergency.
Always tell the driver if you’re going to pay by credit card and ask for a fare estimate when you get in a cab. By asking for an estimate, you’ll be prepared if a cab is pricier.
Note: To you use a taxi in Mexico, you can have the hotel or restaurant call one for you. Otherwise, we highly recommend you download MyTaxi app, which is useful in a ton of countries, by the way.
Mexico follows daylight savings and generally a 12-hour clock is used (as it is in the United States). Mexico City is on Central Time so it is 1 hour behind New York City and 2 hours ahead of Los Angeles.
Almost all your tips (aside from tips for the trip hosts) are covered on a Salt & Wind trip. However, if you go out on your own, know that we tend to tip between 10% and 15% in Mexico and give 20% for exceptional service.
As of right now the forecast is for perfect Fall weather during our trip with temperatures ranging from 50°F to 70°F. Mexico City’s high elevation (over 7,000 feet above sea level!), makes for warm to hot days and cooler nights. We will be there at the end of the rainy season so it is common to have brief rain showers every afternoon.
WHAT TO PACK
Here is an article on What To Pack for Mexico City but below are additional tips.
For The Weather
We planned our Mexico trip during the months when the weather is typically mild so you'll likely be able to wear light layers during the day. However, it will be the end of rainy season so there is a chance of brief rain showers in the afternoon. Be sure to bring at least 1 lightweight jacket, 1 Fall coat, 1 sweater, a raincoat, an umbrella, and a scarf.
While you can do resort chic in Tulum or boho babe in the Valle De Guadalupe, Mexico City is distinct. The capital is more like New York in that jeans and a tee are the norm for most ladies (and dressing up for a nice meal or a social event is not out of the question).
Add to it that Mexico City is at high elevation (so the weather is cooler and more temperate than other tourism spots in Mexico), and well, you'll want to dress more like you're in San Francisco than San Miguel de Allende.
For The Style
It’s worth noting that Mexico City has embraced a more casual style as of late, so you can wear jeans, walkable flats (preferably not running shoes), and a nice top almost everywhere. "Sophisticated-casual" attire is appropriate at the restaurants on this trip. For men we recommend collared shirts and slacks. For women we suggest dresses, skirts or dressy pants. Nice jeans are fine, but please do not wear shorts or sneakers to dinner.
Please be sure to pack comfortable shoes! We will be walking a few miles each day in Mexico City so plan accordingly. Keep in mind that in the city the ground can sometimes be uneven or unpaved so please leave your stilettos at home!
Formal vs Informal
We liken dressing in Mexico City to how you would dress in Boston and New England. So, while you can wear hoodies and sneakers during daytime sightseeing, you’ll want to dress slightly nicer at night (unless you’re just going to a quick cafe for a bite in which case you can stay casual).
All the hotels we'll stay in will have free wifi and we will travel with a few hotspot devices on us at all times so that you can use wifi instead of roaming on the local cell network!