“ Sightseeing Type: Tours „
Normal busses don't exist in Mexico City. Instead we are shuttled from place to place by the underground Metro or in rickety mini busses, owned and operated by individuals, but which roughly follow a common route. If you do happen to see a big red bus in Mexico, it means only one thing: the Turibus.
"I'm not a tourist, I live here," is not just a slogan on a badge my mother once owned, it's the truth. I have been in Mexico for over a year now, and Mexico City for 11 months. However, when my mother came to visit she ended up with a free ticket for the Turibus and, unable to use it during her stay, left it for me. Last weekend, with nothing better to do, I decided to hop aboard and see the city from a visitor's eyes.
The Mexico City Turibus has various routes, including a southern one and a night-time one, but the most popular is the Centro Historico, or Historic Centre tour, and this is the one I hopped onto. The tour follows a continuous loop, so you can start at any of the stops. You can also hop on and off for as long as you want, as many times as you want for the duration of your ticket (one or two days). Various tickets are available, with different prices for children, and a weekday rate that is cheaper than the weekend one. At the moment, expect to pay about £6 - £7 for a one-day adult ticket. This is perhaps reasonable for a capital city, but is very expensive for Mexico (by comparison it costs 10p to take the Metro, regardless of distance), and takes advantage of the fact that the only people who (normally) use the service are from overseas.
The route starts at the Auditorio National according to the leaflet, but really starts wherever you decide to join the tour. It covers various neighbourhoods of the city, traverses the major thoroughfares and will take you to pretty much all the attractions any guide book would recommend. There are 21 stops in total, and the tour takes about 2 ½ hours at weekends, more during the week when the streets are blocked with commuter traffic. That's before you even think about getting off to explore the sites you pass.
Stop 1 is the National Auditorium, which is not really somewhere I would have considered going as a tourist, unless I had tickets to one of their evening shows. However, it does also have a small art gallery and, during December, boasts a tiny but very fun fake ice rink. The Modern Art Museum / Tamayo Museum (2) come next and this is also the place to hop off to explore Chapultepec, a vast park in the middle of the city, which has, among other things, a Zoo, a botanical garden, a castle (where they filmed 'Romeo and Juliet'), a boating lake and lots of trails to follow. The museums are also worth a look. For more details on any of these places, see one of my earlier reviews.
Condesa (3) is the 'posh' neighbourhood and the place to go for a nice if expensive meal, or a little boutique shopping. It's also where I live, and therefore an area I know well. It is not uncommon to hear English voices here as a lot of ex-pats live locally (it reminds us of cosmopolitan Europe and/or we're the only ones who can afford to). A few minutes further on is Plaza Madrid (4) where you can switch to the south route which will take you to Coyoacan and San Angel, two oft visited neighbourhoods about 30 mins to the south. This stop is still in Condesa, so the aforementioned shops and eateries are still close at hand.
The LAMM Cultural Centre (5) is your next stop, located in the Roma neighbourhood, but there's little near here to visit, and though the architecture is interesting in places, you can admire this from your seat on the bus. If you do disembark, I would recommend heading to Los Bisquets de Obregon on Alvaro Obregon street, to try a previously-reviewed continued obsession of mine. The Monument of the Independence (6) is on Reforma, one of the busiest streets in the city, though there's little locally in terms of tourist attractions, and the best place to take a photo of the Angel of Independence is, once again, from the comfort of your top-deck seat. Reforma 222 (7) is a shopping mall further along the street, but as shopping malls go, it's quite fun. It's brand new and has many restaurants and cafes, plus a big cinema, a walk-in dentists and shops from C&A to Zara and everything in between.
The bus next stops at the Juarez Monument (8) before continuing on to the Zócalo (9). This is where many people start their tour, so there's usually a queue waiting, and the bus will also sit here for a few minutes to fill up before it continues its journey. The Zócalo is a key place to get off to explore most of the historic centre: the cathedral, national palace, Templo Mayor and a bunch of restaurants are close by, but unless you set off early, it may be better to return another day to make the most of what's on offer, as the tour's not even half-way through yet. Most attractions are free on Sundays, which is worth remembering.
The Plaza Manuel Tolsa (10) and the Franz Mayer Museum (11) take you back towards the west of the down town area, and if you can't or don't want to walk from the Zócalo, are better stops for exploring the Fine Arts Palace and Alameda park. Plaza San Fernando (12), the Monument of the Revolution (13) and the cross section of Reforma and Insurgentes (14) begin to take you out of the area, back towards Chapultepec. You'll pass the Monument of the Independence (15) again and continue up Reforma to the 'Silver River' (16) before arriving at the famed Archaeological Museum (17). Again, this is something that warrants a decent chunk of time, so may not be a side trip you wish to make from this bus tour, but at least you'll see where it is, and how to get there.
Arquimides and Campos Elises (18) are streets in Polanco, one of the most exclusive and expensive parts of the city. This is the place where they have a Tiffany and Co, a branch of Gucci and so on. Great for window shopping, less good for actual buying. These places have door men and security guards, and are some of the few places in the city where salesmen don't call out to you, trying to get you to step inside.
Where Masaryk and Moliere (19) cross further up is still Polanco but a little more affordable for shopaholics since it's near the Antara shopping mall which has a good food court, some large wallet-friendly department stores, and, at Christmas, even a Hershey's 'factory'. From here the bus heads to the Fuente de Tlaloc (20) near where a plane crashed in suspicious circumstances last summer (though it was on the route before then...and that's not why they stop there). This is the far end of Chapultepec (a park so massive it's hard to describe), and from here the bus makes its final stop at the Children's museum and fairground (21) also located in the park.
From having done this tour, exactly as described, I would say that while it covers absolutely everything you would want to see in the centre, it also takes you to additional places that, to me, are less interesting, and slightly strange inclusions on a tourist bus trip. Certainly, there are maybe only 4 or 5 stops where any noticeable number of people were getting on or off, indicating that the other passengers agreed with me.
Included in your ticket price is an audio tour, available in a variety of languages. The quality of the English version was good - read and written, or at least translated and edited, by a native speaker. It was interesting as it mixed little known facts with bits of history for each of the stops, and the places passed in between, and the time flew by. Headphones are provided, and are yours to take away with you, unlike in some European countries where they are attached to the seats, and you don't know whose sweaty ears were in them right before you boarded. Some of the seats' headphone jacks were not working, and others worked for some languages only, but this had been clearly labelled on the bus I was on.
You buy your tickets on the bus, and each one has both a driver and a ticket seller, so you're not held up while people faff around trying to sort out the right change. For some strange reason you get both a normal paper ticket and a wristband. I honestly don't know why they think both are needed, but you had to keep showing the two every time you got back on and, on one additional occasion, to a ticket inspector who boarded the bus just before we arrived at the Zócalo.
The bus is as comfortable as moulded plastic seats can be. There is not a lot of room, and I think larger travellers might feel uneasy as when I was travelling every seat on the top deck was taken, so there was no chance of spilling over into an additional seat. While it is appealing to sit on the open top level in the warm, Mexican sunshine, be warned that the city has a defined rainy season which, year by year, is getting longer. Well used to spotting this, I moved inside a few minutes before the drops started to fall, but people who were slower to notice the clouds found themselves having to stand as all the inside seats were quickly taken. If you're choosing to sit upstairs, sun cream is essential as though you may not feel it as you sail along the streets, you will burn if you're pale and pasty. I loved the stickers they had next to the seats: in addition to telling you not to smoke, they told you not to stand up by showing a drawing with a man being attacked by a tree, all in a circle with a line through, as is the international sign for 'Don't!'. They also, rather bizarrely, had an umbrella with a line through it. I'm not sure if they meant don't use them, or don't sit upstairs if it's raining. As for the trees, well that one was a good warning. I remained seated the entire time, and still got driven into overhanging branches on more than one occasion. Such is life in this much-greener-than-you'd-ever-imagine city.
My first complaint is about the schedule of the service. The busses are advertised as stopping every 20 - 30 minutes, but you have no way of knowing if you have just missed one, or if one will be pulling up in a second. I waited 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to get on the bus initially, and when I stopped off in the Zócalo, had to wait 30 minutes to get back onto a different one. I also know of one occasion when it was over 90 minutes before a bus arrived at the Auditorio Nacional one Thursday afternoon - I was waiting for my mother to return from a different trip, and got chatting to a couple who were waiting for the Turibus. Needless to say, they waited and waited. The only place to find Turibus ground staff is at the Zócalo, so I would recommend starting your tour here, so at least you have someone to whinge to if no bus shows up. They should also be able to give you an indication of when one is due.
Another issue I have is that the busses do not always stop where advertised. The 'stops' are clearly marked with cloth pendants hanging from lamp posts, and include the stop number, but the Condesa stop, for example, is about 50m from where this pendant is. That may not sound much, but it's sufficiently distant (in this case, across a busy intersection) that you might think the bus would circle round and pick you up. Not so, as we discovered as we ran dangerously across the busy crossing to flag down a bus when it looked like it wasn't coming our way. It would not be hard for the company to reposition the pendants, but they won't bother even though they clearly know some are misleading: our busses ticket seller confirmed as much when we finally got on board.
While the bus tour is not all that cheap, there is simply no way the average tourist would be able to navigate the hideousness that is Mexico City's public transport to reach all the areas of the tour in one day without a friendly local to help them (thus the reason neither my mother nor my sister took this tour - they had their own personal guide instead). And, while there are a lot of things to see and do, most people do not consider Mexico City a must-do destination. A lot of our tourists here are passing through, perhaps staying a night or two before connecting with a flight to one of the beaches, so time is of the essence. For these reasons, I would recommend this tour as a way to tick off many of the 'must-sees' in the city. Even if you have only one day, the variety of the tour, from the business district to cosmopolitan Condesa, to the old historic centre will give you a flavour of the city and let you leave feeling like you did at least see some of it in your short time here.
The Turibus allegedly runs regularly from 9am until 9pm daily.
For prices and current promotions (children often travel free) see the official website: www.turibus.com.mx