Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the hemisphere. So it makes sense that this sprawling metropolis requires a rather extensive mass transit system, as well as other diverse ways to get around town. During my most recent visit to search for ideas for my Latin America travel blog LatinFlyer.com, I sampled several different options for moving around various parts of Mexico's capital. Uber and Cabify are among the trendiest and most modern ways to summon a ride, but I'm more interested in unique, authentically defeño ways to travel. Here are five amazing and unique ways to travel around Mexico City.
1. Mexico City Metro: The Metro de la Ciudad de México, reportedly the second-largest metro system in North America after the New York City Subway, opened in 1969. That means that you can enjoy lots of interesting, mid-century design elements, including a very sensible signage system that identifies each stop not only by name but by a unique symbol (the station for Coyoacán, the Nahuatl word for "place of coyotes," for example, shows a stylized coyote). Today, there are 195 stations and 12 lines, 10 of which are served by rubber-tired cars -- that means there's a lot less screeching than on metro lines in other cities (including New York City, where I live). Some trains also have cars reserved only for women. The Mexico City Metro is a lively and efficient way to get around much of the city (a general safety tip, as in most cities: Don't flaunt your valuables). Inside the trains, you can find wandering vendors selling everything from candy to music CDs to nail clippers, while some stations are home to a wide variety of small shops, as well as temporary art exhibitions and even Aztec ruins.
2. BiciGratis: For such a huge metropolis, Mexico City is surprisingly friendly for cyclists. Dedicated bike lanes and bicycle-only areas make for safe travel conditions in many of the most tourist-popular parts of the city. The best option for most foreign visitors is also the cheapest: BiciGratis is completely free. Just sign a form and leave your government-issued photo ID (they ask for a passport if you're foreign, but they accept a driver's license, which I feel more comfortable leaving). There are a stations in various neighborhoods; on our most recent visit, we borrowed bicycles on the grand Paseo de la Reforma boulevard, and cycled all the way to the Centro Histórico and back. The downside of BiciGratis: You must return the bike to the same place where you borrowed it within three hours. (Another option is EcoBici, which allows you to borrow and drop off in any location, but you need to pay a fee, and you can only use it for a 45-minute period before returning, although you can immediately pick up another bike. It's technically designed more for Mexico City residents, but we've used EcoBici as well.)
3. BiciTaxi in the Centro Historico: These rather futuristic-looking modes of transportation are essentially three-wheeled bicycles, with the driver and two-passenger rear seat covered by an aerodynamic, bright green plastic frame that makes the BiciTaxi look a bit like a cross between a bullet train and a tricycle. Agree on the fare before you board. It's an eco-friendly and fun way to get around Mexico City's historic downtown.
4. Trajinera in Xochimilco: The neighborhood called Xochimilco is known for its pre-Hispanic canals and islands, which today provide a festive diversion for locals and tourists alike. Climb aboard a dreamily decorated trajinera -- one of the colorful, hand-painted boats that ply the waters -- and you'll be transported back in time. While boats may vary slightly in size, vibrant decoration and name (many are named after women or girls related to the boat owner), the layout is fairly consistent: two rows of inward facing, wooden seating, with a long wood table running down the center of the boat. You can pay by the hour and bring food on board or buy it from a floating vendor, and perhaps hire a floating band to serenade you with a song or two.
5. BiciTaxi in Xochimilco: The BiciTaxis in Mexico's City historic downtown may be more futuristic, but the bouncier, humbler version in Xochimilco are just as much fun. A decidedly home-made variety of transport, the BiciTaxis in Xochimilco consist of a bicycle attached to a small cab that holds between two and four people. It's bumpy and not particularly comfortable, but it's memorable and efficient, and an ideal way to get between the Xochimilco Tren Ligero light rail station and the embarcaderos where the trajinera boats dock.