WHY GO NOW?
Because the world's biggest city is also one of the wildest, yet simultaneously a place of immense grace and civility. Because summer in the capital is fresher than you would imagine, thanks to the 8,000ft altitude. And mostly because it's so darn cheap to get there.
It might be a long flight, but to compensate, the airport is located close to the city centre. You could get to the heart of the capital for about 10 pence on the Metro, or splash out on a taxi - which will take 10 minutes. The standard conveyance is a Volkswagen Beetle.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Since the Aztec era, the centre of the capital, and of Mexico, has been the huge Plaza de la Constitucion (1), known by everyone as the Zocalo. During the day, a Mexican flag the size of a tennis-court flies over the square. Just west is the old commercial centre, an area where you can happily spend most of your time. The Zona Rosa ("pink zone") (2) is a couple of miles south west - not especially pleasant miles to walk.
Prices in Mexico are entertainingly low. At the Hotel Habana (3) (Republica de Cuba, 00 52 5 518 1589), a double room costs pounds 10. Even the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico (4) (Calle 16 de Septiembre 82, 00 52 5 510 4040), a paean to Art Nouveau in one of the most stylish locations, costs 1,000 pesos (pounds 70) for a double room, including tax.
British Airways (0345 222111) will get you there four days each week non-stop from Heathrow. Don't buy direct: through discount agents such as Journey Latin America (0181-747 3108) you can travel on this flight for a fare of pounds 468. Cheaper flights will be available from the start of September. Indirect routes - such as Air France via Paris, Iberia via Madrid, KLM via Amsterdam or Continental via Houston or Newark - are slower but possibly cheaper, and allow connections from airports outside the London area.
TAKE A RIDE
Take care out there. After six visits, I am still not confident, when I step on to a bus, that it will go where it is supposed to. Apart from the fast and efficient underground railway, even for the average citizen the public transport "system" is complex and anarchic. And this is what the Foreign Office says about taxis: "Only use taxis from authorised ranks (sitios). Passengers using other taxis in Mexico City face a much greater risk of attack and robbery."
TAKE A HIKE
You could spend all day perambulating around the Zocalo (1) (main square), possibly the greatest public square in the world. Even if you are not staying there (see Beam Down), start gently with a wander around the atrium of the Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico (4) in the south-west corner. Occupying the north side of the square, the Catedral Metropolitana (5) is a bewildering mix of architectural styles and building work: a repair programme called the Correcion Geometrica is trying to straighten out seismic distortions.
Adjacent, the Templo Mayor (6) was the centre of the Aztec world, and the walk around its ruins gives a strong sense of the pre- Colombian life. The Palacio Nacional (7), another monumental edifice, takes up the eastern face of the Zocalo.
New arrivals can brush up on Mexican history with Diego Rivera's dramatic mural on the development of the nation.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Vendors of grilled and copiously salted corn cobs will find you before you find them. …