As more of Latin America becomes appealing to travelers, Mexico City has had to respond to a growing problem: the size of its main airport, Benito Juarez International Airport. The airport handles more than 24 million passengers each year and is Latin America's second-busiest airport, after Sao Paulo. That said, the airport was hardly equipped to handle the volume of passengers that flow through on a daily basis, resulting in delays, pileups and headaches. As Mexico City and Central America open up as leisure destinations to the North American market and beyond, President Enrique Pena Nieto has put forth plans to address the problem with the construction of the new International Airport of Mexico City.
The Current Problem
Currently operational saturation of Benito Juarez significantly restricts its ability to grow and become more competitive. This not only impacts the flow of passengers, but also affects the movement of goods. Although Mexico City has a strategic location for connecting passenger flow between North America, Europe and Asia, the current airport is not able to compete with the best infrastructure of other airports on the continent, the Mexico Tourism Board says.
The Mexican Institute of Transportation estimates that in 2015, Benito Juarez could have up to 18 planes waiting for takeoff, implying 20-minute delays on average. Benito Juarez has reached its technical limits of operation and can only serve 32 million passengers a year.
The new airport will be located six miles from the existing airport. On the ground it will fit six runways, with the capacity to support the entire demand for the airport area. In the first phase, three parallel tracks will open, with a capacity for more than 50 million passengers annually. The second phase will unveil the final runways and increase the airport capacity to 120 million passengers per year.
President Pena Nieto says that the new airport will bring economic, social and environmental benefits.
"Only the construction will have a significant economic impact across the country, and will also be a great source of employment for the families of the Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Mexico," the president said in a statement. "It is estimated that the construction process directly or indirectly will employ more than 160,000 people."
"No doubt, another great benefit of the airport will be the impetus to tourism in Mexico," he continues. "There will be more airlines, a wider choice of flights, times and locations, and therefore will be able to receive more tourists."
Mexico City Rising
Over the past year, Travel Agent has visited Mexico City several times and can attest to the growth of this destination as a city that is ready for North Americans. "People are calling me about Mexico and not asking about security. They are just going," Hope Smith, owner of Born to Travel, said at a roundtable conducted by Travel Agent at Tianguis Turistico, held last May. "My business to Mexico City especially has increased. I can't believe how many people are going."
Mitch Toren, chief vacation engineer, Trip Guy, added at the same roundtable, "Mexico is our largest growth market. Two years ago Mexico was off the table before you could even pitch it. We see much less resistance now."
When staying in Mexico City, there are a wealth of hotel options. For over-the-top luxury, we suggest checking into the St. Regis Mexico City. The St. Regis Mexico City sits right on the Paseo de la Reforma, the veritable “Champs-Elysees” of Mexico City. Within walking distance to the hotel are the neighborhoods Polanco and Condesa, which are likened to the Fifth Avenue and SoHo of Mexico City. The hotel is also about a 25-minute drive from the heart of Mexico’s Downtown Centro Historico, where travelers can find gorgeous Spanish architecture, ancient pre-Hispanic ruins, museums, galleries, restaurants and fine arts.
Another wonderful hotel option is Downtown, one of the many Grupo Habita boutique hotels in Mexico. The historic 17th-century palace-turned-hotel is smack-dab in the center of Mexico City’s Centro Historico. Make a right out of the building and you walk directly into the city’s gorgeous Zocalo, or central plaza, home to the cathedral, the National Palace and the Federal District buildings. Inside the palace guests can wind their way from room to room on the mezzanine level to discover different shops, including two Mexican restaurants, one tapas restaurant, an artisanal Mexican chocolate shop, a mescal bar, art galleries, a jewelry shop and more.
A third option is Hotel Habita. The intimate boutique hotel sits directly on Avenida Presidente Masaryk, the 5th Avenue of Mexico City. We stayed in room #45, a deluxe king room with a bath tub and private terrace. All rooms have access to the BMW house car, minibar, in-house music channels, MALIN + GOETZ bathroom amenities, TV and DVD player. Services include laundry, fax, free high-speed Internet, business center and 24-hour room service. The hotel evokes a very cosmopolitan-chic vibe, with modern, clean lines and stark whites contrasted against natural earth tones. During the day it plays host to locals who will dine in the lobby restaurant. (Be sure to check out the gorgeous breakfast spread, with fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, breads and spreads - fresh, healthy and delicious!) On the fifth floor guests will find the pool and deck, where we sat back and relaxed for some sun and a few cold Modelos. There is also a fitness center, treatment room and sauna on the fifth floor.
As for activities, a trip to Mexico City is incomplete without a visit to Pujol, which is heralded as the number one restaurant in Mexico. The intimate Pujol is in the upscale Polanco neighborhood. Diners are treated to an eight-course tasting menu which changes regularly based on what is in season. It is best to make reservations months in advance as the tiny restaurant fills up quickly. This is also a two-and-a-half-hour affair, so make sure you carve out plenty of time to savor every morsel.
Want something a little more low-brow? Wander the streets of Mexico's trendy Coyoacan neighborhood to sample tacos, churros, quesadillas, tortas and fruit juices.
Continue your trip the next day with a visit to Mexico’s cultural downtown. Here you will find dozens of museums. Explore the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which is Mexico City’s fine art museum. On the second and third floors of the lobby you will find stunning murals that depict important moments in Mexico’s early 20th-century history. The museum is currently celebrating its 80th year. Mexico City is home to more than 1,500 art galleries and museums, making it a great destination for culture vultures.