Whenever I tell folks where I live in Mexico City, they’re always surprised.
Centro? Isn’t it dangerous?
Why did you decide to live there?
And fair enough — Centro (aka. “downtown”) Mexico City is not a place most foreigners choose to shack up.
In fact, I’d say about 90% of Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians, etc. that I’ve met live in one of three neighbourhoods: Roma, Condesa or Polanco.
A handful more will live in Juarez, Del Valle, Narvarte or Santa Fe .
You won’t find too many non-Mexicans from Western countries.
So, I figured I’d tell y’all what it’s like living in the Centro neighbourhood of Mexico City: the pros, the cons, the quirks, the reasons I decided to settle here.
All that lovely stuff.
Let’s get started.
Why Did I Decide To Live In Centro?
What compelled me to live in Centro?
Well, it wasn’t my initial plan.
When I returned to Mexico City in May, I focused my apartment hunting on the neighbourhoods of Juarez and Cuauhtémoc. I’d always felt those hoods were a good match for me. Plenty of action; bars, cafes, restaurants, but not too hipster or expat-saturated like Roma or Condesa.
Unfortunately, my search came up short.
Some apartments were overpriced, others were unfurnished (in retrospect, this wouldn’t have been a big issue, but at the time I wanted furnished), others required a co-signer, which I didn’t have, and many more simply didn’t get back to me when I called or emailed for a viewing.
Running out of time, but still stubborn about not wanting to live in Roma or Condesa, where it’s rather easy to find an apartment, I decided to head over to the decidedly more gritty Centro to try my luck.
After walking around and seeing plenty of buildings that were too dilapidated (even by my standards), I found an apartment complex down a tiny side street that didn’t look too bad.
I asked the doorman if anyone was renting, and he passed me a few phone numbers.
Later that week, I arranged a viewing with an apartment. 24-hour security at reception, a furnished one-bedroom, utilities and maintenance included, a month-to-month contract.
Suited me just fine.
I negotiated the price down to 8000 pesos a month ($400 USD), and we shook hands.
Just like that, I was living in Centro!
There are a few reasons I decided to pull the trigger on my current apartment:
It’s approximately 40% cheaper than the same apartment would be in Roma/Condesa
I’m two bus stops or about a 15 minute walk from the “hip” Colonia Roma, with plenty of bars and restaurants. If I’m too lazy to walk or bus, it’s a $2.00 USD taxi.
It’s in a “safe” part of Centro — close to the border of gentrified Colonia Juarez
The main driver behind my decision was savings.
Although I can afford to live in Condesa or Roma, the advantages of doing so simply don’t justify the extra cost — these two neighbourhoods are obscenely overpriced, in my opinion.
The money I save by living in Centro is directed into savings and international travel, which are more important to me than living in closer proximity to a higher density of bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
***If you want to know how to rent an apartment in Latin America, read this post.
***If you’re visiting Mexico City short-term, or any other Latin American City for that matter, just use Airbnb.
What Is It Like Living In Centro?
It’s essentially the beating heart of the city, so there’s a lot of action, and anything you need, you can get. There are tons of shops near me, ranging from bakeries, to restaurants, to groceries stores, electronic stores, banks, plumbing shops, office supply stores, etc.
While some parts of Centro can be noisy, my tiny little side street doesn’t see much action, so I sleep easy.
A welcomed change from when I lived on a main avenue in Colonia Roma.
There are a few little parks nearby, local markets, public transportation…all you need to get through your day.
Outside of the historic centre, there aren’t many foreigners around, so I do get a couple more stares than I would in other neighbourhoods, but nothing malicious.
Things look a bit more “run down” here than in more affluent areas. Building and sidewalks are cracked up, there are a few homeless people, more trash on the ground…
It doesn’t bother me all too much, but some folks will be put off by this.
In short, it’s like living in any lively neighbourhood of any lively city. You don’t need a car in Centro; everything you need is within walking distance. Apart from the historic buildings, it doesn’t quite offer the same aesthetic charm as Roma, Condesa or Polanco, but if you’re cool with something a bit less polished, it might work for you.
The main advantage of living in Mexico City’s Centro is the lower cost of living. Like I mentioned earlier, you’ll pay only about half of what you would for the same type of apartment in a more popular neighbourhood.
Not only that, but restaurants, cafes, juice and taco stands will also be cheaper around here. You’ll save more at every turn.
Aside from that, logistics. You’ll have everything you need close by. This is a very population dense area, so you won’t have to drive or taxi to a supermarket like you might in other areas of the city.
Also, if you’re into culture and history, there is no better place to be than downtown. You’ve got the presidential palace, Templo Mayor (the main temple of the ancient Mexica peoples), the metropolitan cathedral, Bellas Artes, loads of museums, cantinas, etc. If you love Mexican history and culture, there is no better place to live in the city.
Furthermore, there are plenty of solid nightlife options around here. Most people don’t realize this. You sort of have to know where to look to find them.
Safety is the main disadvantage of living in Centro of Mexico City.
During the day it’s fine, but when night falls, you need to be vigilant.
While living in Roma, I never thought twice about stepping out at 11pm or later to go to the corner store. Here in Centro, I do.
Needless to say, casual evening strolls around here aren’t a thing I take part in.
Another negative is aesthetic. Centro isn’t quite as pretty as other parts of the city. There’s more trash on the street and the buildings aren’t as well maintained.
The other thing is crowds. If you’re around the historic area of Centro, there are A LOT of people. Particularly on Saturdays and Sundays. If you don’t like crowds you’ll want to avoid the historic centre on weekends.
Final Thoughts On Centro, Mexico City?
Is Centro a good place for a tourist or expat to stay while in Mexico City?
Well, based on the opinion of other travellers or expats I’ve taken around here, I’m going to say no.
I’ve toured some friends and blog readers around my hood, and, to be honest, none of them have been too fond of the area. They feel far more comfortable in more pedestrian-friendly, bar and restaurant-dense Roma or Condesa.
And that’s OK!
I suppose I’m a bit of an outlier in the sense that I’ve always been fascinated by the downtown areas of major Latin American cities. I relish in the vibe, energy and history, even if these places aren’t the prettiest or safest in town.
If you’re new to Mexico City, I suggest cutting your teeth in Roma, Condesa, Juarez, Cuauhtémoc or Polanco.
Once you become more familiar with the city and its people, you may find that the more affordable and more “Mexican” Centro may be a good fit for you.
I found that it was for me.
Hope this helps!
As always, thanks for listening.