The greater Mexico City metropolitan area is one of the world's largest and most populated, with an estimate of about 20 million people living in the region. It is shaped roughly like an oval of about 60 km by 40 km, built on the dry bed of Lake Texcoco, and surrounded on three sides by tall mountains and volcanoes such as the Ajusco, the Popocatepetl and the Ixtlacihuatl. Mexico City proper (with an estimated population of between 8 to 9 million) is in the Federal District (Spanish: Distrito Federal or D.F.), a federally-administered area (that is, not part of any Mexican state) which acts as the capital of Mexico. The rest of the metropolitan area extends beyond it into Mexico State, which surrounds D.F. on three sides. Legally and practically speaking, Mexico City is the same as the Federal District, and that is where most tourists will spend the majority of their time when visiting or staying in the city.
Mexico city is very decentralized, with both high-rise and low-rise buildings spread along several parts of the city, unlike US cities' skylines with all high-rise buildings clustered together in the downtown.
Mexico City is divided up into 16 delegaciones, similar to the boroughs of New York, which in turn are divided into "colonias" (neighborhoods), of which there are about 250. Knowing what colonia you're going to is essential to getting around, almost all locals will know where a given colonia is (but note that there are some colonias with duplicate or very similar names). As with many very large cities, the structure is relatively decentralized, with several parts of the city having their own miniature "downtown areas." However, the real downtown areas are Centro, the old city center, and Zona Rosa, the new business and entertainment district.
The city is located 2200 m above mean sea level. Some people have breathing difficulties at high places and have experienced difficulty when breathing. The altitude is equivalent to more than 7,200 ft. This is far higher than any metropolitan area in the United States. If you live closer to sea level, you may experience difficulty breathing due to altitude and pollution. Air quality has, however, been improved in the last few years.
Skyline of Reforma skyscrapers
Mexico City's night life is like all other aspects of the city; it is huge. There is an enormous selection of venues: clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, and variations and combinations thereof to choose from. There is incredible variation, from ultramodern lounges in Santa Fe and Reforma, to centuries-old dance halls in Centro and Roma. There are also pubs in Tlalpan and Coyoacán and clubs of every stripe in Insurgentes, Polanco, Condesa and the Zona Rosa.
Also, when going out, check the date, since this is an important indicator of how full places will generally be and how long you might have to wait to get in. Salaries are usually paid twice per month: the 30th/31st-1st and the 14th-15th. On or soon after these dates is when most Mexicans will go out, especially if payday coincides with a weekend. In the more expensive places, people might leave for Acapulco or vacations farther afield during the summer and long weekends. Mexican weekends, in the sense of when it is common to go out drinking, are Thursday night to Sunday morning and sometimes throughout Sunday.
The Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions about Mexico City
Where To Stay & Best Hotels in Mexico City - updated Sep 2023
SAVE up to 75% on Last Minute deals! Search for discount Mexico City hotels, motels, apartments, hostels, guest accommodations and vacation resorts. Book now and pay at the hotel. Instant email confirmation!