A Beginner’s Guide to Using the Mexico City Metro
I LOVE the Mexico City metro (a.k.a. the Mexican subway) and I love navigating the subterranean stations and tunnels to get me where I need to be, 365 days a year. And so do 1.6 billion other people. Seriously, using the Mexico City metro will give you a true insight into daily life in the capital, but it is also hectic as fuck. I swear it sometimes feels like the entire Mexico City population is in your carriage during rush hour.
Even so, and such is my love of the five pesos per journey metro, I’ll actively not go to things if they’re out of the way of a metro station. (Although, if we’re being honest, I love an excuse to cancel plans, so it’s fine.) However, while I am well-versed in the ways of getting around Mexico City using the public transport system, many visitors to the Mexican capital are really, really not. For that reason, and to stop me wanting to scream at bewildered tourists who are in the wrong carriages or faffing around at the ticket barriers, I’ve put together this user’s guide to navigating the Mexico City metro system.
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO USING THE MEXICO CITY METRO
The great thing for travellers who want to know how to get around Mexico City and try their hand at using one of the world’s most overcrowded metro systems is that you can use both paper tickets or a pre-pay swipe card, akin to the Oyster card in London.
Buying Your Ticket/ Pre-Pay Card
To buy your tickets for the metro de México, you need to make your way to a taquilla (ticket window) in any metro station and, if you want paper tickets, simply specify the number and hand over the cash. Yep, it’s cash only.
E.g. ‘Dos, por favor.’/ ‘Two, please.’
If you want to buy a swipe card (which I recommend even though it costs 10 pesos, because those paper tickets are fiddly and easily lost), you instead need to first buy the card (‘quiero comprar una tarjeta’) and then top it up. To top up, head to the window (make sure it DOESN’T say ‘solo boletos’ in the window, which means paper tickets only), and specify the amount of money you want to put on, before handing over the cash and the card. If you also want to use the MetroBus, you’ll need to buy a pre-pay card anyway.
E.g. ‘Treinta pesos, por favor.’/ ‘Thirty pesos, please.’
And that’s how to buy tickets for the Mexico metro, which is incidentally one of the few places you’ll ever see Mexicans in an orderly queue.
But how much money should I top up? Well, I would say that if you’re hopping around the various sights and know you’re going to use the metro at least a few times, budget enough for four journeys per day (20 pesos). There is an upper top-up limit though, which I think currently stands at 120 pesos, so do keep that in mind.
Ticket and Pre-Pay Card Prices
From an external perspective, public transportation in Mexico, and especially Mexico City’s metro, is incredibly cheap. Each ticket, whether paper or pre-pay card, costs just 5 pesos per journey. Yes, you read that right, it doesn’t matter if you’re going one stop or twenty, you’ll only have to pay 5 pesos per metro trip. This includes changing lines at the main stations. (An interesting point to note, though, is that while the price seems miniscule from an external perspective, public transportation in Mexico City is actually one of the most expensive systems in the world, once you take into account the average wage of the population of Mexico City.)
Using Your Ticket/ Pre-Pay Card
To get past the barriers in the metro station, you need to either insert your paper ticket into the barrier (it will be sucked in and you won’t get it back), or tap your pre-pay card on the indicated swipe zone. You can easily do this through a purse or wallet, so there’s no need to faff around getting it out. The display (unless broken) will show you how much credit you have left on the card and if you’re having trouble, there are always police officers at the barriers who can help you out.
When exiting the station, you simply go through the barriers that are marked salida (exit) (they usually also have green tick sign LED lights on them, to let you know you’re going through the right barrier). You do not need to swipe the Mexico City metro card again to exit.
There are 12 lines on the Mexico City metro, each of which has its own colour and number/letter. This makes the Mexico City metro lines really easy to navigate, because you can just look out for the colour-coded signs in the stations, instead of flailing about looking for names or numbers. You can also do the same for the individual stops, which all have their own logos, as well as names. (Fun fact: this was because a lot of the Mexico City population was illiterate when the first metro line was inaugurated.)
Here’s a full list of the lines you’ll come across when using the Mexico City metro, including their number/letter and colour, plus their start and end stations.
Line 1 (Pink): Observatorio (West) + Pantitlán (East)
Line 2 (Blue): Cuatro Caminos (West) + Tasqueña (South)
Line 3 (Olive): Indios Verdes (North) + Universidad (South)
Line 4 (Pale Blue): Martín Carrera (North) + Santa Anita (South)
Line 5 (Yellow): Politécnico (North) + Pantitlán (East)
Line 6 (Red): El Rosario (West) + Martín Carrera (East)
Line 7 (Orange): El Rosario (North) + Barranca del Muerto (South)
Line 8 (Green): Garibaldi (North) + Constitución de 1917 (South)
Line 9 (Brown): Tacubaya (West) + Pantitlán (East)
Line A (Purple): Pantitlán (North) + La Paz (South)
Line B (Grey/Green): Ciudad Azteca (North) + Buenavista (South)
Line 12 (Gold): Mixcoac (West) + Tláhuac (East)
In my opinion, if you’re a casual visitor to Mexico City, the main line you’ll be using is the Blue Line (which stops at many of the historic centre’s main sights), as well as the Pink Line and possibly Olive Line. Lines you’re unlikely to need (unless you’re heading extremely north or south to some of the city’s more underrated destinations) are the Red, Grey/Green and Pale Blue lines, as well as the Orange, Brown and Purple Lines. You might need the Green line and the Yellow line is great because it features stops at both the Mexico City Airport and the northernmost Mexico City bus station, the Terminal del Norte.
The Mexico City metro has 195 stations, each with its own individual logo, as well as corresponding name and colour.
Mexico City metro stations are easy to identify on the street, and they all look like the picture below. Most stations will have entry points on all four corners of the intersection that they’re found beneath, but some of the larger stations, that cross two or even three lines, sometimes have a TON of entrances placed all over the place. Make sure you look carefully at the street names printed underneath each exit sign when leaving the metro station, so you know exactly where you’re going to emerge, blinking and disorientated, into the sunlight.
Of the 195 stations in the CDMX metro, there are 24 main stations, by which I mean, they fall on two or more lines and are where you’ll need to change. The main ones that travellers to Mexico City are likely to use are as follows:
La Raza (Olive and Yellow) The change at La Raza, which can be necessary if you’re taking the metro to either the airport or north bus terminal, is the longest in the whole Mexico City transportation system (a good 15-minute walk between lines).
Garibaldi (Green and Grey/Green) This is a change you might need if you want to visit the Santa María la Ribera neighbourhood.
Hidalgo (Blue and Olive), Bellas Artes (Blue and Green), Salto del Agua (Pink and Green), Balderas (Pink and Olive), Centro Médico (Olive and Brown), Pino Suárez (Pink and Blue) These transfer stations all centre around the historic heart of Mexico City and the Roma-Condesa area.
How to Change Lines
As mentioned above, there are 24 stations that cross multiple lines in the Mexico City metro system and some of them make changing lanes easier than others. La Raza, for example, has a notoriously fucking awful change (read: 15 minutes of walking to get from the Olive to the Yellow line). However, they’ve accounted for that by adding in a so-called Science Tunnel, which has a blacked-out section with stars painted on the roof and science exhibits lining the walls.
La Raza aside though, most line changes are quick and easy. When you get off at a main station, you need to look for signs that direct you to the line you wanna swap to and head to wherever they’re pointing.
In Mexico City, that’s actually super easy as each line has its own colour. Look for the signs that match the colour of the line you want, then, as you get closer, make sure you’re headed to the right side of the platform.
You need to know the end station of the line you want to figure out the direction to travel in. Each platform will be labelled with the name of the final stop on that line. For example, if you’re going north on the Olive Line, all the platforms will be labelled ‘Indios Verdes’ (a.k.a. the most northern stop on that line). Also, andenes means platforms.
I recommend acquainting yourself with where you want to go, which line you’ll need to take (plus the colour and end stations of that line) before you even venture into the metro station itself. This is because, while there are Mexico City metro maps dotted around the stations, it can be hard to find them or just too crowded at peak time to stop and take a look. I swear by this Mexico metro map app which works offline, for those times when I just can’t remember which station I’m looking for.
All metro stations are open from 5am to midnight on weekdays, 6am to midnight on Saturdays and 7am to midnight on Sundays and holidays.
The metro in the Mexican capital is a lawless place, with very few unwritten rules, so here are some other snippets of information that will be useful if you want to use this particular form of transport when travelling in Mexico.
- You’re going to want to shuffle towards the door a few stops before your destination, otherwise you run the risk of being pinned in the carriage by a surge of angry Mexicans going about their daily business. So, figure out both where you are and how many stops you have until your destination by using the maps that are stuck above the windows on every carriage. Alternatively, if you speak Spanish, ask someone.
- The doors open automatically, so don’t worry about having to push a button.
- Coming from London, where standing still on the left of the escalator is a crime punishable by audible tuts? Yeah, don’t expect that here. People stand where they please and they’re brazen about it. I personally advise standing on the right-hand side of the escalator, just to be polite, but I think those are my British sensibilities talking, and there’s no guarantee anyone else will be doing the same thing.
- Similarly, while there are signs that indicate which side you need to be walking on, or which stairs are for exiting metro users only, people tend to just go wherever they want. Again, follow the signs as much as possible but don’t lose sleep if you accidentally go the wrong way.
- When entering the metro carriage, let other people get off first. Some stations now have markings on the floor to (literally) keep you in line. Follow them, don’t be that ignorant tourist who thinks the rules don’t apply to them. There are enough locals who take that opinion.
- If you’re a man, or identify as such, stay out of the women and children’s carriages. I don’t care if they look less crowded, they’re not designated for you and they exist for a reason, so whether you agree with that or not, at least respect it. This, in my eyes, is the one true cardinal sin of the metro in Mexico City: men in the women and children’s wagons.
- If you don’t want to piss off everyone in your immediate vicinity, you need to read my post about How NOT To Piss People Off on the Mexico City Metro.
Compared to buses in the Mexican capital, and even taxis, using the Mexico City metro is (in my opinion) one of the safer modes of transport. The biggest threat faced by users of the Mexico City metro are pickpockets and, especially (but not only) if you’re a woman, sexual harassment, such as groping and being flashed at. I’d like to take a second to say that I’ve been lucky enough to never experience either of those things personally, but they definitely do happen, so be aware.
Open mugging and robbery is unlikely on the metro, given that it’s an enclosed space and I’ve never even felt afraid of that happening on the metro, whereas I definitely have on the city buses, for example. The only time I’ve been freaked out on a metro was when some ‘performers’ got on with, umm, a t-shirt full of broken glass. Read more about that here.
And can you use your phone on the metro? Well, you can (I’ll get into that later) and you are certainly safe to whip it out, but take the normal precautions. If you’re in a completely empty carriage late at night, maybe keep your expensive belongings under wraps. If it’s moderately full up and during the day, I feel safe using my phone. I do, however, always travel with it tucked in my bra, rather than in my bag or pockets. The risk of the train suddenly filling up and there being the opportunity to pickpocket me is too great and I’d rather avoid that happening.
To me, the danger with the metro lies outside the stations, so always be careful to stow your valuables and be aware when leaving a metro station, especially early in the morning or late at night.
Anyone who’s ever lived in a city, travelled to a city, or heard word of a city that has a major metro, subway, or tube service crisscrossing beneath its hectic streets knows that travelling underground can be either a delightfully convenient experience, or a literal living hell. Here are some insider tips from yours truly to make navigating the Mexico City metro a smoother experience.
- THERE ARE NO ANNOUNCEMENTS ABOUT UPCOMING STATIONS (except on the Gold Line)! You just have to know when and where to get off.
- Similarly, there are no times displayed on the platform. You just turn up and wait for the metro to arrive, although most tend to come way before that five-minute limit when people start getting tetchy. Except on the Gold Line, which is the newest, the nicest and the best air-conditioned line, but definitely the slowest too.
- You can use your phone on the metro, both in terms of safety and in terms of actually getting signal. As someone who’d only really travelled on the tube before arriving in Mexico, I found it bizarre that people could still chatter on their phones on the Mexico City metro.
- Don’t travel during the Mexico City rush hour, a.k.a. the hora pico. You will immediately regret it. (The rush hour tends to fall between 7am-10am and 6pm-9pm, but it can also spill over on either side of those times too.)
- In a morning, traffic tends to be heavier heading north to south, and vice versa in the evening. This is because most people live in the north but work in the south.
- There are elevators and escalators in all (as far as I know) stations, but if you’re travelling with a disability, you will want to make sure the metro station you intend to use is user friendly for your particular set of needs. I know, for example, that the Polanco station (and basically most of the stops on the Orange Line) is very deep underground and so there are a ton of escalators and stairs to navigate, which could prove tricky for some visitors.
- There’s a Mexico City metro museum (Museo Metro) at the Mixcoac station, if you want to learn more about this overcrowded, underfunded, crazy subterranean system.
- If you’re tall, the likelihood is you’ll have to shove your armpit in the faces of tiny Mexicans on the daily. Sorry.
- If you’re short…well, you’ll fit right in.
- Using the Mexico City metro when it rains is the worst. First of all, each carriage starts to smell like one giant wet dog, it gets incredibly crowded as people flee from the streets to the subterranean tunnels below ground and it becomes interminably slow. Some stations even fucking flood.
Do you think the metro system is the best way to get around Mexico City, or would you recommend another form of Mexico City public transportation? Leave any other tips for how to get around in Mexico City metropolitan area in the comments!
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