Getting Around Mexico City: Guide to Public Transportation

The Metro Transport System, Mexico City, Mexico

Matt Mawson / Getty Images 

Mexico City's extensive public transport system may seem overwhelming at first, but it is a fast and cheap way to get around once you get the hang of it. For a city with a population of over 20 million, efficient public transport is essential, and the Metro alone transports around 5 million people every day, the ninth-highest ridership of any metro system in the world.

The Metro began operation 50 years ago and is now in need of some repairs. Many of the trains themselves are old and grimy, while some stations lack modern amenities and can be dangerous at night. The newer and nicer Metrobús, a fixed-route bus network, opened in 2005. Wi-Fi was introduced across the country in 2018. Using these two systems, you will be able to move easily between all the city's main attractions.

How to Ride the Mexico City Metro

The Metro is a mostly-underground system of trains made up of 12 color-coded lines covering over 120 miles of track. The network map is relatively simple and the stations are well-signposted, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding your way even if you don't speak Spanish. However, there are no announcements on the train or on the platform, so you need to keep track of where you want to get off.

  • Fares: All fares cost 5 pesos, or around 25 cents, and are cash only. You can buy a paper ticket at the ticket booth inside the station or a smart card (tarjeta) for 10 pesos. The card can be recharged with up to 120 pesos at a time and can be used for multiple people traveling together. Then, you will need to tap the card or feed your ticket into the barrier to enter. You do not need to tap again to exit.
  • Routes and Hours: The 12 Metro lines criss-cross the city, but in the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods you are likely to be closer to the Metrobús. The Metro operates until midnight every day, starting at 5 a.m. on weekdays, 6 a.m. on Saturdays and 7 a.m. on Sundays and public holidays.
  • Service Alerts: Metro trains run every couple of minutes, but there can be delays during peak hour. You can receive notifications through the Moovit app or the Metro CDMX Twitter account.
  • Transfers: Transfers between lines within a station are free. If you leave the station you will need to tap on again or use another paper ticket to transfer to new train or the Metrobús.
  • Accessibility: Accessibility in the Metro system is limited. Most stations have escalators and some have lifts. There are reserved seats in every carriage for people with impaired mobility. Guide dogs are permitted to enter the Metro. You can find a list of stations with elevadores (elevator) and other aids on the Mexico City government website.

You can plan your route using Google Maps or the Metro website.

Riding the Metrobús

The Metrobús is a rapid transit system with dedicated bus lanes that moves over 1 million people per day. The addition of the Metrobús to Mexico City's public transport network has significantly improved traffic congestion and has also helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade.

The stations are mostly located in the middle of Mexico City's main thoroughfares, including Avenida de los Insurgentes and Paseo de la Reforma, although some are found curbside.

  • Fares: Rides are charged at a flat rate of 6 pesos, which must be paid for by tapping your smart card at the barrier. There are machines where you can buy or top-up a card at every station. (Again, the machines are cash only.) You do not need to tap again to exit.
  • Hours: The Metrobús system operates until around midnight daily. Opening hours vary by line and can be found on the website.
  • Transfers: Transfers between Metrobús lines within two hours of beginning your trip and traveling in the same direction are free.
  • Accessibility: The Metrobús is more accessible than the Metro for many people with impaired mobility, with ramps from the sidewalk to the station platform, space for wheelchairs inside and audio announcements. You can find more accessibility information on the Metrobús website.

Local Buses

Mexico City has an extensive bus network that connects the outer suburbs to the Metro and runs through underserved inner-city neighborhoods. The most common vehicles are the small, green micros, which cost 5 or 6 pesos depending on how far you're traveling. There are also trolley buses and modern electric buses, as well as vans known as combis.

The buses can be tricky to navigate if you are not familiar with the city, as many have no official route or timetable information available. Some allow riders to get on and off wherever they need to, while others use formal bus stops. If you're unsure, you should confirm the destination with the driver. Although buses often run around the clock, it is not recommended to use them late at night due to safety concerns.

There are also two light rail lines—the Surburbano and Tren Ligero—and a cable car in outer Mexico City, but tourists are unlikely to come across them.

Bikes, E-Bikes, and Scooters

Ecobici public bike sharing stations can be found throughout the roughly triangle-shaped area from Polanco in the west across to the historic center in the east and south to Coyoacán. There are over 6,800 bicycles available, with a small number of these part of the new electric bike system.

To use an Ecobici, you will need to sign up online with a credit or debit card. Then, download the official app that maps all the kiosks and available bikes. A day pass costs around US $5, with longer memberships available. The first 45 minutes are free and each subsequent hour costs around $2. Not returning the bike within 24 hours will incur a $300 fine.

Ecobicis can be a fun and fast way to get around where there are bike paths or wide streets, but if you haven't biked in a big city before, it can be dangerous. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, the Paseo de la Reforma that runs from Chapultepec park to the historic center of Mexico City is closed to cars, making it the perfect time to test out your cycling skills.

Uber's electric bike system, JUMP, has recently started popping up around the city, as have electric scooters from Lime, Grin, and Bird. These can all be accessed through their respective apps. The scooters especially have already become notorious for high rates of injuries, so we suggest sticking to bike lanes.

Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps

Avoid hailing a taxi off the street in Mexico City if possible, as they can be unregistered and therefore unsafe. Instead, call a radio taxi (hotels and restaurants should be able to give you a number or call for you) or at least use a sitio, a streetside booth where each trip is paid for and recorded. You should also be able to find a registered taxi booth inside major intercity bus stations.

Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Didi have made getting around Mexico City much easier for both tourists and locals, especially at night and for rides to and from the airport. They are generally safer and cheaper than taxis, although incidents can still occur, so make sure to check the name, plates, and route of your driver before getting in.

Renting a Car

Renting a car in Mexico City is a challenge best left to the most experienced urban drivers. The heavy traffic, navigation difficulties, and risk of collision are all significant obstacles, as is the chance of interactions with corrupt cops hoping to make a quick buck.

Unless you're planning to make a road trip well off the beaten path, Uber and the comfortable intercity bus network are a much better choices.

Tips for Getting Around Mexico City

Mexico City is an enormous city and the traffic is notoriously bad. You can make the most of your trip using public transport if you keep a couple of things in mind.

  • Check out the Metro museums. At certain stations, including Mixcoac, Zapata, La Raza, Bellas Artes and Viveros, you can find museum-like exhibitions and art displays inside, covering everything from science to nature to cartoons. There are also impressive murals by Guillermo Ceniceros at Copilco and Tacubaya.
  • Avoid moving around the city during rush hour. Although Mexico City's transit systems are almost always busy, the roads, buses and subway are especially crowded from around 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Try to stick to walking or biking, or allow double the time you expect the trip to take.
  • Be smart about your belongings on public transport and in the street. Like in most big cities, pickpocketing does happen.
  • Do not use the Metro after dark, especially if you are travelling alone. The Metrobús is usually OK until it stops running around midnight, but the Metro and the surrounding areas can be hotspots of crime at night. Better to order an Uber, just to be safe.
  • Make the most of the women-only carriages. Both the Metro and Metrobús have separate carriages at the front of the train or bus that are restricted to women and children under 12 years old and are usually monitored by police during busy times.
  • If you have a choice, go with the Metrobús. It may be a little slower, but it's usually a safer and more pleasant experience.
  • Be prepared for rain June through September. During Mexico City's wet season, the afternoon commute can even more chaotic than usual, with some Metro stations getting very crowded and sometimes even flooding. Allow extra time to get to your destination or stay in.
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