Staying healthy in the Big City: Tips on eating, exercise, and emergencies

By Carole Reedy

Although many people don’t know exactly what role Monteczuma played in the history of Mexico, it’s almost certain they know about his revenge, the bane of many tourists. While visiting México City, one of the biggest cities in the world, take a few easy precautions to avoid this debilitating illness and others that can hinder even the intrepid traveler.

Eating Without Fear México is a city of color, delectable smells, music, laughter, and joy. Anyone who’s visited knows it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the street. But if you want to enjoy the rest of your vacation, follow two simple rules:

  1. Drink only bottled water.
  2. Stay away from street food.

The water rule is one that most travelers already understand, the second is a bit more complicated. You’ll see many people eating from the vendors on the street. Why can’t you? First, your body is likely not accustomed to the bacteria of the country or the food on the street–especially the meat, which sits all day at temperatures not sufficient to destroy dangerous bacteria. There’s no running water at the puestos, thus putting into question the sanitary conditions of food preparation and clean-up.

But don’t despair! There are plenty more delights in DF, which offers an abundance of food for all tastes. Fresh fruits and vegetables, the best in the world, from all parts of México, are plentiful here in the city. Ethnic restaurants abound. Keep in mind that Mexico’s famous salsas are prepared for the fire-tolerant local stomach…and then proceed with care, enjoying the range of fabulous salsas the city has to offer.

Eating in restaurants for every meal can cut into your sightseeing time and your budget. For eating on your own, here are some ideas as you wander the city: Stop at juice bars such as the one located right next to Hotel Canada, on 5 de mayo and Isabel La Catolica in Centro Historico. Every vegetable and fruit juice combination you can imagine is available. And they have wonderful tortas (sandwiches on a bun)- a personal favorite is the Poblana: beef (style milanesa, but not breaded) with Oaxaca cheese and poblano pepper.

Superama grocery stores, scattered throughout the city sell food to go, including sushi, hummus, fine cheeses, and fresh fruits and vegetables (wash them with your bottled water first, or better yet, disinfect them). You can buy a bottle of wine (individual sizes are also available) for your room or a picnic.

OXXO, 7/11, Super Express and other convenience stores can be found on nearly every corner of the city. There you can purchase your bottled water, many varieties of yogurt, favorite candies, chips, and beer sold by the can or bottle. One friend swears she never gets sick in México because sheshe drinks beer instead of water, And your mom was right: wash your hands often and carry hand sanitizer. Many doctors say this is Rule #1 for good heath.

Maintaining Your Exercise Routine…With its abundance of parks, there’s no better city for keeping active.

On foot… Wherever you stay, there will be a park nearby. The largest and most beautiful is Chapultepec Park, located at the far end of Paseo de la Reforma. It’s the Central Park of México, and ideal if you are staying in the Polanco, Roma, Condesa, or Cuauhtémoc areas.

Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez near the airport and baseball stadium (Foro Sol) is good for biking also, with 5K of track. Viveros de Coyoacan for those staying in the Coyoacan and San Ángel colonias. Bosque de Tlapan, in the south, behind Villa Olympica. Desierto de los Leones, also in the south part of the city.

Keep in mind that México City has an altitude of 7300 feet. And pollution levels can be high (check the newspapers or internet daily for the pollution levels). You may need to adjust your normal routine to accommodate both the altitude and contamination. Wherever you walk or run, watch for cobblestone streets, holes in the sidewalks, and construction areas.

On Wheels… México City is a haven for bikers, with or without your own bike. Sundays are truly days of rest in México City. From 8 am to 2 pm, the main street of Paseo de Reforma is closed to traffic to accommodate bikers from Chapultepec Park to Juarez and then to the Bellas Artes. There are booths along the way where you can rent or borrow bikes. Exercise classes are held at the Ángel Monument, at Reforma and Rio Tiber, while people of all ages are biking, skateboarding, walking, skating, and even pushing baby buggies down lovely Reforma Avenue. After your journey down Reforma, take a stroll in Sullivan Park, just 2 blocks north of Reforma at the Monument de la Madre,where each Sunday easel artists sell their paintings. Classical music fills the air, and often children’s workshops are being held.

You’ll see racks of small red bikes all over the city, a marvelous program for people who need bikes for short distances or periods of time. Just sign up for the program, which allows you to pick up a bike at one location and drop it off at another. As this article is being written, more and more lanes of traffic are being designated for bicycles all over the city.

On Skates… From December 1 to January 7 an ice rink in the Zócalo is open from morning till night, free of charge. Skates are also available at no cost. The Government of the Federal District (DF) is responsible for these wonderful free programs. The Zócalo is also host to snowman-making workshops, toboggans, and the giant ornaments decorating the surrounding buildings. It’s a spectacular, not-to-bemissed, location during the Christmas holidays.

Yoga… Keep up with your yoga practice at several locations scattered throughout the city. Check Tiempo Libre (the magazine, published every Thursday, that lists cultural events for the week, available for 9 pesos in kiosks all over the city) for listings of yoga workshops (and other activities).

In Case of Emergency: Fingers crossed you’ll have a happy, healthy vacation, but should you need medical care, don’t worry- the best care in the country is right here!

Minor Injuries or illnesses: Scattered around México City is a chain of pharmacies called Farmacias Similares, which distribute generic drugs and offer the services of a doctor on site. Just pop in for medical advice and treatment from the doctor on call. The cost is a mere 20 pesos for a basic visit ($1.50 USD).

Most pharmacies in the city are open 24 hours. Many medications do not require prescriptions but some do, such as antibiotics and pain-killers.

For more severe illness or injury, locate a doctor by consulting the concierge at your hotel. In case of hospitalization, a visit to one of the city’s prestigious private hospitals is recommended Hospitals such as ABC (with two locations, one in Santa Fe area), Medica Sur, and one of the Angeles Hospitals are a few of the best. Medical care in México is relatively inexpensive compared to the US.

Emergency numbers to have on hand while visiting México City:

  • EMERGENCY FOR POLICE, AMBULANCE AND FIRE; 060
  • RED CROSS HOSPITAL: 5580 0077
  • Ambulance: 5557 5757
  • TOURIST SAFETY: 5250 0123 1-800 5903 9200
  • ABC HOSPITAL EMERGENCY: 5230 8161 // SWITCHBOARD: 5230 8000

Carole Reedy is a resident of Mexico City and happy to answer any questions you may have. Email her at carolina_reedy@yahoo.com

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