Mexico City comes with an unenviable reputation for overcrowding, grime and crime, and to some extent this is deserved. Certainly there is pollution. The whole urban area sits in a low mountain bowl that deflects smog-clearing winds away from the city, allowing a thick blanket of haze to build up throughout the day. Conditions are particularly bad in winter, when there is no rain, and pollution levels (reported daily in the English-language newspaper, The News, wthenews.com.mx) tend to peak in the early afternoon. In response, the Hoy No Circula (“Don’t drive today”) law prohibits car use from 5am to 10pm for one day in the working week for vehicles over six years old, the day depending on the car’s numberplate. Nonetheless, those prone to respiratory problems may have some difficulty on arrival, due to the city’s air quality and altitude.
The capital is where the Mexican extremes of wealth and poverty are most apparent, with shiny, valet-parked SUVs vying for space with pavement vendors and beggars. Such financial disparity fuels theft, but just take the same precautions you would in any large city; there is no need to feel particularly paranoid. Keep your valuables – especially credit or debit cards – in the hotel safe (even cheap hotels often have somewhere secure; muggers who catch you with an ATM card may keep hold of you till they have extracted enough cash with it), don’t flash large wads of money around and keep an eye on your camera and other valuables in busy market areas. At night, avoid the barrio known as Doctores (around the Metro station of the same name, so called because the streets are named after doctors), and the area around Lagunilla market, both centres of the street drug trade, and therefore opportunist crime. Note that mugging is not the only danger – abduction for ransom is increasingly common too.
Taxis have a bad reputation and, though drivers are mostly helpful and courteous, there are reports of people being robbed or abducted (often in stolen taxis). If possible, get your hotel to call you a cab (more expensive), or call one yourself. If you do have to hail a cab in the street, always take one whose registration, on both the numberplate and the side of the vehicle, begins with an L (for “libre” – to be hailed while driving around), and which has the driver’s identification prominently displayed. Better still, find a taxi rank and take a sitio taxi that can be traced to that rank (with a number beginning in R, S or T, and again with the driver’s ID prominently displayed). Do not take taxis from the airport or bus terminals other than prepaid ones, and avoid taking those waiting outside tourist spots.