My friends Alison and Carol of Cheaptravelmadeeasy.com went to Mexico City last year (2008) for a vacation from their lives here by Lake Chapala. In this guest article, Alison gives excellent tips for how to take care of yourself in any city in the world. She also comes to surprising conclusions about safety for women travelers in Mexico City! — Rosana
Last year, my partner and I decided to take a trip to Mexico City.
“You’ll go with a tour group, right?” folks asked us. They should know us better than that.
We never go anywhere with a tour group – it’s too constricting and too expensive. When we travel by ourselves, we can get to see exactly what we like, when we like, how we like.
“But surely it’s too dangerous to be by yourselves, especially two women?” was the question we heard over and over, even from our favorite Mexicophiles. And since we’re talking about last year, they weren’t referring to swine flu. They were referring to the fact that over the years Mexico City has garnered a reputation as being a high-crime city, and unsafe for individual tourists.
We’ve traveled all over the world and know how to look after ourselves. We never put anything in our back pockets. We never carry purses that could be easily grabbed from our shoulders. We never stand in the middle of the street poring over maps, looking like lost tourists. If we’re out at night, we don’t walk down any deserted streets, even if it means going out of our way. We always look like we know exactly what we’re doing and where we’re going even when we’re clueless.
Although we travel on a budget, we never stay on a street that seems seedy or in a hostel or guesthouse that feels unsafe in any way. If there’s no lock on the door, we won’t stay there. So we felt pretty confident in our ability to stay safe in Mexico City. Was that confidence warranted?
Definitely. Surprisingly, we felt safer in Mexico City than we have in many other parts of the world (especially the USA). We took the bus from Guadalajara to Mexico City, and then used the metro to get from the bus station to our hotel. Right away we were impressed with the Mexico City metro system. It is ultra clean, very modern, well-signed and easy to navigate. It took us to our destination, near the Zocolo, a small, inexpensive, well-appointed hotel that was on a well-lit, well-traversed main street.
Because of problems in the past, the city has done a great deal to combat crime on public transportation and in the metro. In the major stations there are signs everywhere that violence against women is unacceptable. Some even have a police post especially designated for victims of sexual assault. Although this was slightly unnerving, there were other things that made us feel very positive. There are armed guards on every platform who stand on elevated boxes so they can see everything. One fascinating thing is that the front two cars of the trains are designated for women and children only. Although it felt a little weird – like being in Saudi Arabia — this definitely made us feel very safe.
And it’s not just on the underground. When we weren’t using the underground, we used the small microbuses that are ubiquitous throughout the city. One night we were trying to get back to our hotel. Microbus after microbus rolled by, each one jammed to the gills. Just when we were wondering what we should do, an enormous bus drove up, with a large sign that said it was for women and children only. Forget feeling weird – it felt great!
We were in the city when a massive Peace march took place — Mexicans all over the country demonstrated against the kidnappings and violence that have resulted from the drug wars. Hundreds of thousands of white-clad people poured into the Zocolo, heard speeches, sang songs and lit candles. Later they quietly dispersed with not a single incident of violence reported. The next morning, the street had been swept completely clean and we marveled once again at how clean, quiet and serene Mexico City had turned out to be.