I once told an LA filmmaker asking for advice on the best way to see Mexico City, that she should jump on the Turibus and take a ride around the city centre. She looked at me as if I was not only crazy but decidedly uncool too. Double-decker hop-on-hop-off buses are, it seems, not hip enough for Californian movie types.
Say what you like about city tour buses, however, I think they are a brilliant way to get a feel for a city. Even more so in a megacity like Mexico City. This is one of the world’s largest metropolises, covering some 1,485 km2 (573 sq mi) and home to more than 20 million people. Trying to make head or tail of it on your own could leave you with a massive headache. Or just very lost.
Here’s where Mexico City’s Turibus comes in. The company runs four different circuits around the city as well as a handful of themed routes.
The four main routes
- Circuito Centro – A central route that includes the Centro Histórico, the historic centre.
- Circuito Polanco Hipodromo Chapultepec – A central route that does not include the Centro Histórico.
- Circuito Sur – A route through the southern neighbourhoods of the city that includes the Frida Kahlo Museum.
- Circuito Basilica – A route that takes in some of the capital’s main churches.
The themed routes
- Turibus Nocturno – A nighttime ride through the city streets that departs from the Zócalo and runs from 9pm – 1am Friday and Saturday nights.
- Turibus Cantinas – A tour of three popular Mexican cantinas that runs on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Departures are from the office and shopping space, Reforma 222 at 7.30pm.
- Turibus Palacios – A Wednesday evening tour of the 20 plus palaces in the historical centre. Departs Reforma 222 at 8pm.
- Turibus Museos – Held on the last Wednesday of the month with departures at 10am and 6pm, this route takes in some of the capital’s most popular museums.
- Turibus Sabores Mexico – A food tour of Colonia Roma held on Wednesdays with departures from Reforma 222 at 12.30pm
- Turi Luchas – My personal favourite, this route takes guests to see the Lucha Libre, Mexico’s famous wrestling matches where fighters wear masks and go by the name of ‘Apocalypse’ or, my favourite, ‘Super Porky’. On Tuesdays and Fridays fights are held at Arena Mexico and on Saturdays you can watch them at Arena Coliseo. Departures are from Reforma 222 at 6pm on Tuesdays and at 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
The route that I recommend to all first-time visitors to Mexico City is the Circuito Centro, a circuit that takes in some of the capital’s best neighbourhoods including the historic centre, which is fascinating. My parents have tried the Circuito Sur but you spend a lot of time on the roads and if traffic is bad, which it often is, you could well end up spending most of your time stuck between cars. The themed routes come recommended, in particular the Turi Luchas, where you are joined on the top deck by a man in a mask…and maybe even a cape!
The Circuito Centro
The two main stops for this route are at the Zócalo, in the Centro Histórico, and at the Auditorio Nacional, on Paseo de la Reforma, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. However, there are 16 stops in total and you can jump on and off wherever you like. Below, I’ve listed in order the stops that I believe are worth getting off the bus for.
There’s no real reason to get off at this stop but I’ve included it here as it’s a good place to start! Originally built in 1952 as a venue for the Central American and Caribbean Games, it was later used for the gymnastics events at the 1968 Olympics. Today it is used as a music and arts venue. This stop is also a good one if you want to wander into Polanco, Mexico City’s chi-chi neighbourhood.
Fuente de la Cibeles
Stop number four after the Auditorio, is Fuente de la Cibeles in Colonia (neighbourhood) Roma. The Fountain of Cibeles is a bronze replica of the fountain located in the Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid that was built during the reign of Charles III. It was installed in Mexico as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. One of the main reasons that I recommend getting off here is to visit the restaurant Contramar, located just off the plaza on Durango. This is one of my favourite restaurants in Mexico City and a must for anyone visiting the capital. Open only for lunch, the restaurant is nothing flash but it serves amazing seafood and the people-watching is almost as good.
Hemiciclo A Juárez
This is stop number eight on the circuit, just before you arrive at the Zócalo. It’s worth getting off here to visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Palace of the Fine Arts. This stunning building is a main culture centre in the capital where events in music, dance, theatre, opera and literature have been performed. Painting, sculpture and photography exhibitions are also held here. The exterior of the building is mainly Neoclassical in style and the interior is Art Deco. It’s best known for its murals by some of Mexico’s most famous artists including Diego Rivera. An exhibition on the top floor details how the building was constructed.
If you get the chance, join in the daily guided tour of the theatre itself to see the incredible stage “curtain”. This is not some heavy piece of red velvet however, rather a foldable panel created out of nearly a million pieces of coloured Tiffany crystal. This screen, depicting the volcanos Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, is the only one of its type anywhere in the world. It weighs in at a whopping 24 tons! If you can’t catch the tour, the Ballet Folklorico Mexico performs on this stage every Wednesday and Sunday evening at 8.30pm. There’s also a Sunday morning performance at 9.30am.
Not far from here is one of our favourite spots for a sweet treat, Churreria El Moro, the best place to get hot chocolate and churros.
You’re half-way around the circuit now so if you haven’t hopped off already, do so now at this, stop number eight, the Zócalo. This is very much the heart of Mexico City and, even if you see nothing else of the capital, it’s well worth coming here. This, the “main square”, is also known by its formal name, Plaza de la Constitución and is one of the largest city squares in the world. It has been a gathering place for Mexicans since Aztec times when it was the main ceremonial centre of the capital Tenochtitlan. Since then it has witnessed the royal proclamations, military parades, Independence ceremonies and more. It has also been the setting for celebrations, for protests and, most recently, the opening scene in the James Bond movie, Spectre.
Just one block southwest of the Zócalo is the incredible Templo Mayor, the “Great Temple”, one of the main temples used by the Aztecs. Incredibly, it was only discovered in the 1970s. Like the rest of the capital of Tenochtitlan, it had been destroyed by the Spanish and buried underground. I would highly recommend going to see what has been excavated and for a look around the excellent museum.
Museo Nacional de Antropologia
The final stop on the Circuito Centro is at the Museum of Anthropology. Located on Paseo de la Reforma, this is one of Mexico City’s best museums and definitely worth a visit. If nothing else, you should pay your entrance ticket to see the incredible el paraguas, the single pillar that holds up the vast concrete “umbrella” ceiling. The museum houses significant archaeological and anthropological artefacts from pre-Columbian times including the Stone of the Sun, the Aztec calendar stone.
Taking the Turibus with Kids
I’ve taken the Turibus numerous times with the kids, the first time when my youngest was 2.5-years-old. When I’m with the kids we often stay on the bus for most of the circuit, stopping only to get off at the Zócalo. It’s a great child-friendly activity in Mexico City and there’s even an audio channel on the bus dedicated to children!
Information for Riding the Turibus
The main Turibus tours run every day from 9am to 9pm
- The easiest place to buy tickets is on the bus; you can pay in cash or with credit / debit cards
- Tickets for the main tours are MXN $140 adults Monday to Friday, MXN $165 on weekends and public holidays.
- Tickets for children cost MXN $70 Monday to Friday and MXN $85 at weekends and public holidays.
- The Centro Histórico gets very busy at the weekend, don’t be surprised if you have to wait for several buses to come before you can hop on one again.
- Buses are supposed to run at regular intervals but, this is Mexico City! The traffic often means that you will be waiting longer.
- At the ‘minor’ stops (i.e. not the Auditorio or Zócalo) signs for the Turibus can be hidden, look up lamposts to check! And make sure to keep an eye out for the bus as they do not always stop.
- Bring sunscreen, water and a hat if you plan to sit on the top deck.
- Everyone is given headphones with their ticket purchase and you can choose an audio commentary from eight languages.
- The best time to catch the bus is around 10am, after morning rush hour traffic.
- More information on the Turibus can be found on the official website.
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