Layover in Mexico City

Long layovers are common disadvantages of cheap airfares. I recently had two very long ones in Mexico City. There was a 16 hour layover on my way to Nicaragua, and I had another 12 hour layover on my way back to the US. Usually i don’t mind spending much time in an airport, especially modern ones like Benito Juarez. I even found a few spots where I could sleep. Long layovers are not a problem for me as long as there’s free Wi-Fi. Oh there’s free Wi-Fi in the Mexico City Airport— for about 15 minutes, which is barely enough to book a last minute flight or find a decent place to stay. You can get free Wi-Fi if you order food or drinks in some restaurants, but then it wouldn’t really be free now, would it? So staying at the airport for 16 hours is out of the question. I had to get out.

term2.jpgOne good thing about layovers in Mexico City? The Benito Juarez Airport is pretty close to the historic center. So a day of sightseeing is definitely doable. For a long layover, you could have a good night’s sleep along with some sightseeing. Citizens of a lot of countries do not need a visa to enter Mexico. If you are a citizen of a country that requires a visa to enter Mexico, you can still enter the country with a valid USA tourist visa. You can also enter the country if you have a residence permit/ visa for the USA, Canada, the UK, Japan, or any Schengen member country. If you have none of those, then you’re out of luck. Most people who have layovers pass through immigration, regardless of whether they plan to go out of the airport or not. Those who cannot enter the country are identified before boarding the flight to Mexico (an airport employee just told me this when I inquired about it). Upon disembarkation, they are gathered and escorted to a waiting area, and their passports and boarding passes are collected by the flight crew and given back to them before boarding. This is only allowed if the layover does not exceed 24 hours. If it does,  you will not be allowed to board the aircraft to Mexico, so you better make sure the layover is less than 24 hours before purchasing your airline tickets.

If you have the necessary visas/ documents to enter Mexico, they wouldn’t even ask you if you plan on just staying at the airport. Everyone is directed to the immigration area. So yeah, you’ll get a stamp on your passport even if you have no plans of leaving the airport lol. It’s pretty straightforward with no questions asked. Once you pass through immigration, this is where it gets confusing for some people. Everyone has to collect their baggage. They do not transfer baggage to connecting flights.So once you retrieve your baggage, you have to pass through customs and they will ask you to press a button. If the light turns green you’re free to go. If it turns red they have to inspect your bags. I asked if there was some sort of system that they use to determine whose bags should be checked, and the guy just said it’s all random. Do not be complacent when they check your bags though. Keep your eyes on your stuff at all times! My friend found out a few minutes later that his camera battery got stolen. And I met this guy whose spare phone went missing after passing through security. I’m not singling out Benito Juarez because I’m sure this happens in other airports. One simply has to be vigilant when other people are looking through your personal belongings!

After passing through customs, the exits are clearly marked if you want to get out of the airport. If you choose to stay, search for the carousel for baggage to be transferred to connecting flights. Even though I was heading out, i chose to leave my huge backpack since I have no use for most of my stuff. I’m just staying for a day in Mexico City anyway, I only needed one set of clothes plus my toiletries. A lot of people who were on layovers missed this carousel and proceeded upstairs with all their luggage. In terminal two, it’s on the same floor after customs, in an area to the right. After leaving your luggage, head up to the security screening area upstairs where your carry on baggage will be checked. Again, watch your stuff! It’s all routine after this. You have to pass through immigration, and then you can do some shopping if it’s early (shops close late at night). You can head  straight to your plane’s assigned gate and wait until boarding time— which was totally not an option for me.

So after leaving my huge backpack, i went straight to the exit. Taxis are out of the question since I was traveling on a budget, but there are lots of legit airport taxis waiting outside even at night if you choose to take a cab. My first thought was taking the Metro. One ticket only costs 5 Pesos, which is less than a quarter US dollar when you convert it. A budget traveler would be crazy not to take the metro. There’s a metro station about 5 minutes away by walking from the terminal 1 exit (Terminal Aerea Station), but if you have a long layover you probably took Aeromexico, and it lands at terminal 2 (unless your connection is with another airline). No worries, there’s also a subway station nearby, only a few blocks away (Pantitlan Station). It’s about 20-30 minutes away if you walk. My friends from Mexico City advised me not to do this though since I arrived late at night the first time. Although the Metro is relatively safe at night, the way going to Pantitlan Station is quite shady. There are still ways around this. You can always take a cab to the station but that would be an unnecessary expense. You can transfer instead to terminal 1 where it’s a shorter walk to the nearest Metro Station. There’s an air train connecting the 2 terminals and it’s free for all passengers. It closes at 11 PM though, so it’s not an option if you’re arriving really late. Also, the Metro only runs until 12 AM so it may be pushing it quite a bit if you insist on taking it if you arrive after 10 PM. Remember that you still have to pass through immigration and customs and that takes about an hour, depending on the number of passengers disembarking. It only took me about 30 minutes the first time, but it took more than an hour the second time. If you want to reach the historic center, this entails several transfers and it also takes about an hour. So for those arriving late at night but on a budget: if you want to go to the historic center, just take an Uber. the traffic in Mexico City is notorious, but it’s practically non existent after 11 PM from the airport to the historic center. I took this one time and it only cost me 4 USD.

For those arriving early, the Metro is safe and easy to figure out. I wouldn’t recommend it though if you plan to haul huge luggage. I’ve heard that they won’t allow you to bring huge bags inside. If you manage to get through, remember that a lot of people use the Metro and you have to make 2-5 transfers before you reach the historic center (depending on which part you’re headed). Even if you manage to find space for your bags, it’s not very courteous to bring huge bags knowing that the metro would be packed with people especially during peak hours. And when I say packed, I mean really packed. Like packed to the rafters packed. So do not be that kind of traveler. If you arrive during off peak hours then by all means take your huge bags with you and take the Metro. But if you arrive during rush hour, wait for the crowds to thin out, you’d save yourself and other people a lot of trouble.

I did not take the Metro from Terminal 1 , but it’s almost the same as taking one from terminal 2. It’s fairly easy to figure out by looking at the maps inside the stations. Or you can just  print out one of the many maps available online.

mexico-metro

You’re welcome. 🙂

The station near terminal 1 (Terminal Aerea) is on the yellow line. From here, one should head to the station near terminal 2 (Pantitlan Station). From there, take the Pink Line heading toward Observatorio. Get off at Pino Suarez and then transfer to the Blue Line toward Cuatro Caminos. Get off at Zocalo station or any station near your hotel/ hostel. it’s that simple!

There are lots of cheap places to stay at the historic center. Some areas get pretty deserted at night, so it’s best to choose a hostel in one of the more crowded areas. Though the historic center has become relatively safe these days, crimes still do occur. (this is according to my friend who lives in Mexico City)

If you arrive at night get a good night’s sleep and roam around in the morning. If you arrive in the afternoon, there’s plenty of time to do some sightseeing in the historic center and you can check out the night life afterward. The attractions are close to each other so you won’t waste much time walking from one attraction to the next. The first must visit site is the Zócalo (also known as the Plaza de la Constitución) , which would be familiar to anyone who has seen that James Bond movie Spectre. It’s a huge square surrounded by historic buildings. The National Palace is to the East, while the Catedral Metropolitana is to the north. Both are must see attractions. There are also a number of museums within walking distance. If the weather isn’t too hot or too cold, the Plaza de la Tres Culturas is only a 30 minute walk away. You could easily just stroll through the streets of the historic center, just marveling at the architecture with no definite destination. I would highly recommend going to the historic center on a long layover in Mexico City. It’s definitely doable for a layover over 8 hours. Less than that may be pushing it a bit.If you arrive during the daytime and you can leave your stuff at the airport, i guess you can still go for it. Take the Metro so you’ll be able to avoid the horrible traffic. It may be a little rushed, but spending even just a few hours in Mexico City would surely beat just sitting around and waiting for your flight at the airport.The best part is, you won’t even have to spend much money to do it.

 

 

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