A guest post by Linda Kamau who has travelled from Nairobi to watch the Formula 1 Gran Premio De Mexico for two years in a row (2018 and 2019).
Getting there: For both trips, I have flown Emirates via Dubai and the USA. A ticket bought early will cost you between $1,200 – $1,500, but if you buy later, it may cost up to $2,500.
For both trips I have gone a week or two early and flown to Cancun then later got into Mexico City the weekend of the Grand Prix, flying on Interjet or JetBlue. In 2018 I did Nairobi – Dubai – New York – Mexico and in 2019, I did Nairobi – Dubai – Florida – Mexico. Using either of the flight legs will take a total of about 30 hours to get to Mexico.
For the visa, if you hold a valid US, UK or Japan visa then you do not need to apply for a Mexican visa. For both trips, I have not had to apply for a Mexican visa, as I hold five-year visas for both the UK and US.
As I always say, if you are transiting through JFK or Heathrow, ensure your flight connection is not less than 2 hours as the immigration queues can get quite long which might cause you to miss your flight.
Arriving at Benito Juárez International Airport, you are welcomed with images of F1 drivers just after baggage pickup. This is a circuit loved by many so there are a lot of people arriving for the race weekend, and immigration can take longer to clear.
An important thing to note, you have to fill in a landing card and once the immigration officer has stamped your passport, they give it back to you with a small part of the landing card that you will need to show when exiting the country. Losing it will cost you 300 Pesos, equivalent to $35.
Getting Around: Uber and Lyft are your friends here. They are way more affordable than regular taxis and can take cash too (Uber cash exists here). Mexico City is big, really big and it is not advisable to just walk around.
The local currency is called the Peso. The exchange rate versus the dollar averages at $1 = 18.10 pesos. Credit cards work but there is a general rule, to not withdraw money from just any ATM. If you have to withdraw, do it at an ATM in the bank. ATM fraud is rampant in Mexico.
Where to Stay: Due to how big the city is, traffic can be crazy. Therefore it is advisable to stay close to the race track (the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez circuit) which is also close to the airport and can save you time for both going for the race and arriving and leaving Mexico city. In 2018, I used booking.com and stayed at Camino Real ($400 for 3 nights). But in 2019, because I was booking late, the same hotel now cost an arm and a leg. So I took a less expensive one – Hotel Hollywood Villas. The cost was $200 for 3 nights, and it was a ten-minute walk to the track.
What to Eat: Tacos, tacos and more tacos. Every corner you turn to, there is a restaurant selling tacos, other Mexican dishes and Tequila. I believe this is taken any time of day as there is no rule to Tequila, Mexicans just love their Tequila. I enjoy Mexican food so I did not get close to any McDonald’s or any other international restaurants, but they are in plenty.
Staying in Touch: As is my rule, immediately I land in a new country, I find the next SIM card store. Data/connectivity comes first even before that vital shower after a long trip. In Mexico, it’s advisable to get Telcel, it’s the largest network and very reliable. It will cost you about 20 pesos with 50 pesos airtime which totals to 70 pesos ($4). You can recharge at a store or you can do that online if you understand the Spanish on the Telcel web page.
Shopping & Sight-Seeing: In the city, you can go see Our Lady of Guadalupe, the largest Cathedral after the one in the Vatican. It’s quite a tourist attraction but also a great marvel of architecture.
With Mexico being so far away from Kenya, it would make sense to add in a vacation and see more of the coastal side. I have spent time in Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen and if I were to choose I would go back to Playa Del Carmen. It’s calm, less touristy and you are close to both the beach and city life. There is also the Chitchen Iza (pyramid ruins) and all the Cenotes (naturally occurring sinkholes) in the islands.
I did sample the nightlife in Mexico City with local friends I made after the 2018 GP. We are now F1 buddies, and we sync our trips and plan to attend the newly-added Grand Prix in Miami in 2021. We spent a night dancing salsa at a Cuban joint called Mama Rumba. It was fascinating to watch both the old and young dance – salsa is for all and so is the club.
Race Day: The race is at 1:10 p.m. but that is quite late for Kenya as it’s an 8- hour time difference – so adjust your body clock. It can get quite humid even though October is the rainy season in Mexico. It sometimes rains for an hour and then quickly goes back to being humid.
In 2018 I got a seat at the Grada 4 Grandstand; this is in the area where the cars make their second turn and you have a great view of most of the circuit including the Grandstand. The 2018 race saw Lewis Hamilton clinch his fifth title in Mexico and he did some spins in his Mercedes for the crowds after. Grada 4 gives you that thrill and also you get to enjoy the after-party as you can hear and see the DJ.
Race Tickets: For my first visit, I had bought my ticket on the F1 website which cost $460 for the 3-day package. On practice day I went to pick my ticket from the ticket station at the Circuit. It is advisable to attend on all the three days, as you get to familiarize yourself with the location of the track and especially which gate you will use to go in and which side of the circuit you will be sitting on during the race.
In 2019, my Mexican friends bought the tickets and we got to sit on the side where you see the cars as they start the race just before turn 1. It was nice to watch home crowd cheering Sergio Perez ‘Checo’ and he delivered his best race for his fans after a tight fight with Daniel Ricciardo.
In both of these Mexican Grand Prix races, Mercedes were not the favourites even though in 2018 Hamilton just needed to finish top-six to clinch the title, which he did. Ferrari’s strategy got the better of them again in 2019 and Hamilton took advantage and went on to win the race getting him closer to his sixth driver’s championship.
Also, see this other 2019 F1 race trip report – A Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan.