Mexico City: not so scary

Last updated 12:58 28/05/2012

Hearing about the dangers of Mexico City (it's comforting that our travel insurance policy covers kidnapping anywhere in the world except Mexico and South America), BF and I bought some locks to foil any thieves or drug barons hoping to plant their wares in our bags.

As we piled 17 locks on to the counter, the man raised an eyebrow and said, "Beefing up security, are we?"

It's not embarrassing at all.

Our guide-book warned us only to catch authorised taxis (the drivers of the other kind will probably assault us and steal our stuff) and under no circumstances must we travel at night. Arriving at 9pm sent my paranoia-meter off the scale.

I looked drug-addled myself the way my eyes darted between bags to stop scoundrels pinching one. It turned out that driving in the dark is all good, and at 11 at night we were assured it was fine to go out searching for food.

After just a few hours it already felt friendlier than many "safe" places I've visited.

Throughout our stay the experience repeated itself. People were over-the-top welcoming: one man paid both our bus fares when we didn't have the right change, another studied a map for 10 minutes to figure out our best route.

What a beat-up!

Have you been somewhere the subject of unfair press?

Mexico City is touted as one of the world's roughest metropolises, its drug crime rate sky high.

It's an awful reality for many, but it seems to have little bearing on visitors. Violent crime is rare in tourist spots, though our host did warn us of a dog-napping ring in the upmarket suburbs of Condesa and Roma (it's more popular to own a pet here than have a child - the streets are teeming with four-legged friends).

Authorities are concerned at the bad rap their country's getting and are quick to assure travellers it's okay to visit.

I had similar perceptions about a trip to Eastern Europe last year, which were equally unfounded.

In fact of all the places I've visited, I've felt most safe in the ones I thought would be the dodgiest.

Do you think it's because they are safe or because they seem that way next to our horrid expectations?

I've met foreigners who've refused to visit our entire country following the Christchurch earthquake. Are we guilty of the same attitude toward other places?

I do have one genuine concern in Mexico City - its insane traffic!

It's so car reliant our host tells me she works 12 kilometres away and it takes her two hours to drive it, so bad are the traffic jams (and we think Auckland's roads are atrocious).

This city is not pedestrian friendly! Each time we want to cross we throw our lives to the tarseal as we zip between zooming cars on six-lane roads. Frustrated motorists don't slow down and wave to pedestrians here.

Cities are multifaceted places with many personalities.

A friend of mine was recently mugged at a Melbourne train station, there are assaults in New Zealand every weekend, and many parts of Europe are renowned for pickpocketing. Moral of the story?

Be careful everywhere! As long as you're sensible and keep an eye on your stuff she should be right bro.

I'm heading to South Africa in September - it'll be interesting to see how my presumptions about Johannesburg compare to the reality.

Where have your perceptions about a place been smashed? Or have your travel destinations lived up to your safety expectations exactly?

6 comments
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viffer   #1   01:24 pm May 28 2012

I'm pleased to say that everwhere we've been so far has proved to be safer than we were lead to believe. Probably the most unnecessarily wary we've been so far was on a day excursion on our own around Bintan, a couple of years back. Our driver dropped us of to shop on our own around the old markets in Tanjung Pinang, and as the only 'whiteys' we were feeling very self-conscious walking around. And then all of a sudden, this guy on the footpath started speaking to us. "Where are you from?" When we said, "New Zealand", he replied "Oh yes - I've been there!". So we talked for a few minutes, then wandered off to buy fabrics for my wife's quilting. That was interesting - no common language except numbers of fingers, and a calculator for the cost. Then I had to calculate the price in Singapore dollars, and estimate that the totals in $NZ. After the first couple of items, I gave up, as everything was much cheaper than Singapore, and WAY cheaper than NZ, so no need to barter.

When travelling abroad, the thing I found worst was beggars, especially the gypsy beggars / pickpockets in Europe around tourist attractions. It's so foreign to us that it was handy that the tour director on our first trip warned us and explained how things worked. What was also handy is that the hawkers at places like Pisa warned him of the presence of pickpockets.

Speaking of Pisa, it was the biggest disappointment of our visits on trips overseas. It was very hot, very crowded, and - apart from snapping some photos (not the cliched ones of holding up the tower!) - not especially worth a visit, except to say "Yup; we've been there..."

Phil   #2   01:52 pm May 28 2012

I'm delighted you had a good time. I've lived in Mexico City for nearly 30 years and no one believes me when I say it's less scary than living in a small town in the UK. You're right about the traffic though - there's a list somewhere that puts Mexico City number two (after Beijing) on the list of 'worst places in the world to commute'. I hope you found some excellent restaurants - the quality of food and service is second to none (especially for a top-end treat). Enjoy your travelling! Best wishes, Phil

frank ricard   #3   03:45 pm May 28 2012

don't drop your guard for 1 second. next thing your head will be swinging from a bridge somewhere.

Katouli   #4   09:48 pm May 28 2012

Enjoying your blog keep it up!

ash   #5   01:58 pm May 29 2012

I will be travelling to Mindanao later in the year. From what i've heard and read about it doesn't sound like the safest place either. I have apprehensions about going but it will be interesting to see if its reputation reflects its reality.

Youri   #6   10:50 pm May 29 2012

Keep up the good stories! I am Dutch and I lived in Mexico City for almost a full year. Never experienced any problems, I hauled taxis from the street almost every day and was never kidnapped, assaulted or killed ;) Awesome people there! Never believe a guidebook.

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