Mexico City Solo Trip - Tours
June 12, 2024 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Are tours necessary for all sites and activities in Mexico City?

I'm going to Mexico City for the first time this summer as a solo traveler who doesn't speak Spanish (except for a few words and phrases).

Which sites should absolutely be booked with a tour guide? What are sites/experiences that can be done without a tour guide? I've signed up for a walking tour and two experiences (painting & embroidery) and would like to see markets, Teotihuacan, Templo Mayor Museum, etc.

thanks!
posted by dtp to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (8 answers total)
 
I'm pretty sure the signs in the Templo Mayor are in English and Spanish. It's a major tourist site, you will have no problem just showing up. The same goes for many major sites which also have signs in English and are frequently visited by non-Spanish speakers.

If you want a guide for a market tour for other reasons, go for it, but you really don't need a guide for language reasons. You can easily walk around and buy things without speaking any Spanish at all.

There are many, many people walking around Mexico City every day who don't speak Spanish. You'll be fine. For me, the best part of Mexico City is not any of the tourist sites, but just wandering around and experiencing the city.
posted by ssg at 11:32 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Most of the museums have signage that is at least partially translated, but often the older or smaller signs aren't. You can use the Google translate app to translate text, just use the camera function, hold it up to the sign and give it a second and it will translate.

For Teotihuacán, I wouldn't say a tour is *necessary,* but might enrich your experience. It's been a while, but if I remember correctly, there is little interpretive signage on the archaelogical site itself. We went into the museum and then wandered around, but didn't necessarily have a great sense of what we were seeing.

For the markets, again, no tour is necessary but you might enjoy one of the food tours etc if you're going to be intimidated ordering street food.

The only tour I did on a recent visit was Xochimilco, because I wanted to go with a group. That one included a guided portion followed by a getting- drunk- with- strangers portion, both of which I found enjoyable. You can also do a kayak eco tour of Xochimilco if that's more up your alley. You definitely *can* do Xochimilco by yourself, but the boats are rented at a total cost, so it's almost as expensive to do it yourself and arguably much less fun.
posted by ambulanceambiance at 2:33 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I've been to Mexico City twice in the past couple of years. If you're the type of person that wants context for museum-going, I'd recommend a guide. I think every single museum I have visited in Mexico City (and I've visited a lot!) have little to no English signage, even world-famous ones like Museo de AntropologĂ­a. Some signs in Templo Mayor are in English, but a lot is just in Spanish. In general the "main" signs that put a particular exhibit or room in context are in English, but all the explanatory text found throughout is just in Spanish. Sure, you can use your phone to translate it, but what a drag!

Guides for other places are at your discretion and I wouldn't say a guide is "necessary" anywhere except La Merced, and that's just for safety reasons more than anything.
posted by rhymedirective at 6:27 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Mexico City is really friendly and English is widely spoken at most tourist sites, so logistics are going to be pretty easy. You'll only need a guide if you'd like an in-depth tour. Safety is no more an issue than any other big city, and generally the streets are lively and filled with families.

One really useful nuance is that the whole transit system has been designed assuming users may be illiterate -- so everything is signed with pictograms and doesn't require Spanish to use (though you'll want a good map on your phone just in case). Uber is also widely used, easy, and safe.

Teotihuacan is reachable by regular public bus from the north bus station (instructions here: https://thewholeworldornothing.com/how-to-get-to-teotihuacan/) and going that way may be easier than the big tour buses which cost more, take longer, and have mandatory souvenir market stops. As a major tourist site, it has frequent and reliable service.

So, I suppose, it all turns on your travel preferences, and guides can be fun ways to meet folks, but you certainly don't need one purely on logistics or safety -- I hope you find DF to be really engaging and illuminating!
posted by SandCounty at 9:06 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Mexico City is one of the most heavily touristed places in Mexico, you definitely don't need anyone. However, Mexico is also a very affordable place to book private tours. The median per capita income is something like 500 MXN pesos (~US$25) per day. I have booked short tours with folks to try them out and then negotiated longer ones. Driving in Mexico is not for the faint of heart, you can get a driver/tour guide all day for MXN 4000, which is a lot less than you'd pay for that kind of service in a wealthier country. Get some recommendations if you can.
posted by wnissen at 10:48 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


(Disclaimer: I went as half of a couple, not solo; and I speak (mediocre) Spanish, but) for me the two places where I wished I had a tour guide were:

-Centro, especially around the Zocalo and Catedral Metropolitana. This area is extremely bustling and crowded and was a bit overwhelming to navigate on a first go-round on our own. If you're like me and the biggest city you've been to is NYC, Mexico City is on a whole other level. It also would have been nice to have more of an in-depth orientation to the Cathedral itself and its architectural features.

-Teotihuacan. We did the sunrise hot air balloon thing which was beyond worth it - a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience - but then had no guide for the site itself. It's huge, and having a guide would have helped us maximize our ability to see the whole site. While very little of the history is known, a knowledgeable guide could have at least pointed out, again, some of the most interesting architectural features or talked about the research taking place to better understand the people who lived there.

Otherwise, DIYing everything was really easy. Most of the museum signage was bilingual at all the museums we visited, and we visited a bunch, although the further you get into some of the exhibits the more the English language signage degrades or is nonexistent (eg we found this to be the case at the Anthropology Museum in Chapultepec). But I agree that the google translate app will serve you just fine.
posted by capricorn at 9:52 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


A little off-point, but I went to Mexico City a few months ago, not solo, and we had a lot of fun on bike tours with Bikes and Munchies. I think this would be fun as a solo option. One of the rides was a street food tour with about ~8 stops at different street food stands and it was great. You obviously don't need a guide to eat street food, but they took us to several places that I would not have tried on my own and they were great.
posted by Mid at 1:01 PM on June 15


I go to Mexico a lot and found a safe great hostel 10 years ago next to the Zocalo and made friends with a lady who has since become a tour guide. She's really funny and easy going. Message me if you want her contact.
posted by tarvuz at 1:42 PM on June 16


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