Tepito is the most imfamous zone of Mexico City. Known for drugs, muggings, and violence amongst other criminal activity, it is also a busy street shopping and market district known for the prevalence of pirated, illegal goods. The following is my translation from an article which appeared on the Chilango website. The original in Spanish is here. My visits to the Lagunilla and Tepito stations as part of my Mexico City Metro Project can be found here and here.
“Come on in, mami! What are you looking for?”. These were the welcoming words when I arrived to the entry point of the “barrio bravo” (tough neighbourhood) at the intersection of the streets Jesús Carranza and Eje 1 Norte.
If you have never visited this ancestral cradle of commerce, the first time that you make it to Tepis, you can have an experience that is more cultural than economic.
Most people go in order to buy the latest pirated urban fashion: it’s the ideal place to get illegal merchandise or simply to drink a michelada on a lazy Sunday. For many others, it’s their territory, their workplace and because of that it must be respected.
There’s a reason why the area has gained the reputation of being one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of the city but many Mexico City residents are assiduous visitors and usually leave unharmed, without any incident. Here we’ll share with you our modest experience in the form of ten practical tips for visiting the “barrio bravo” without committing the sin of naivety.
1. Place yourself on a map
Tepito is an area rather than just a metro station. It includes parts of the neighbourhoods of Morelos and Peravillo. To one side are stalls on wheels as well as the permanent market. Nearby you will find the Lagunilla clothes market, the Granaditas shoes market and the furniture zone. Although they are close, don’t confuse Lagunilla, Tepito and Garibaldi. Before you go, look up the streets on google maps. You can even do a virtual tour to get a feel for the neighbourhood.
2. Go by metro
Although we’re bike enthusiasts, we haven’t found a good place to lock them up and taking them with you between the hundreds of stores and pedestrians is not a good idea. It’s not a good idea to go by car either. It’s not worth paying for parking when to find the most interesting things in the neighbourhood you need to go on foot. The closest metro station to go into the commercial area is Lagunilla on Line B. From there you can walk towards Tepito metro station along Eje 1 Norte and chose one of the feeder streets like Jesús Carranza, Tenochtitlan, Toltecas or Florida which will take you into the heart of the market.
3. What are you looking for?
It may be that you want to visit the area out of curiosity or to look for something that you want to buy. In any case, you need to know that Tepito continues to be the infamous “barrio bravo”. If you’re going to buy something, take the exact amount you’ll need. Maybe you can combine a visit to cultural sites with casual browsing. You’ll find clothes, watches, perfumes, sex toys, shoes, electronics, medicines, pepper spray and dozens of illegal items.
4. Work out a route
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can work out a route. If your visit is more a cultural, anthropological one, find out what are the sites of interest in order to work out your route. The most interesting places are the shrine to Santa Muerte (Alfarería 12), the building where Guadalupe Posada died (Jesús Carranza 6), the José María Velasco Gallery (Peralvillo 55), the House of Mexican Music and the Tepito-Lagunilla Cultural Centre (Francisco González Bocanegra 73 and 82).
5. The Golden Rule: not much money, no jewellery
Even though you may be going shopping, don’t wear your best threads. Dress simply, not too snobby, nor too trashy. Avoid wearing watches or flashy jewellery: beyond the obvious danger of being mugged, it’s possible you will be mistaken as a tepichulo (cool kid of Tepito) and you don’t want them thinking that you’re on the lookout for business opportunities. Only take the money you need: carrying notes in your socks is not such a bad idea when you don’t know exactly what you want to but but you want to have enough money.
6. Go with someone and at a reasonable hour
Go at a good time, not too late or too early – after 10am and before 4pm. Sundays are very busy and you will also be very close to the Lagunilla Flea Market. Things are more relaxed during the week. On Tuesdays the Tepito market takes a break. Try to go with a friend. If something ugly were to happen you’ll need a trusted witness.
7. Instagram can wait
There’s no doubt that you’ll find photogenic characters and scenes. Unless you’re with someone from the neighbourhood who knows the territory, avoid the temptation of taking out your iPhone to capture the folklore of the area, the urban scene and the street art. Taking photos is not prohibited but you need to know the moment to take them.
8. Speak with a neutral accent
If you have a very strong accent or pronunciation, say of a rich socialite, don’t try to imitate the sing-song low class expressions of the neighbourhood. Speak in a neutral way, strong and direct. If someone jokes around with you, don’t get annoyed. It’s better to laugh and to learn. Of course, if you’re from another country, there’s no point trying to hide it.
9. Watch out for cars!
Most streets are not pedestrian streets: When you least expect it a car will be brushing up behind you or trying to get by. Fuck! There are so many things to look at that it is easy to lose sense of space and time.
10. Be alert but not alarmed
Walk confidently looking to the front but don’t look too afraid. Avoid the backside of the stalls. Tepito has its reputation for a reason. Hundreds of thousands of people move through the area and even though every street has private and public security, there are still incidents which occur every day. Be alert to the groups of young people who could follow you or the famous motor scooters. If they try to mug you, don’t put up resistance.
Ready? Don’t be afraid, enjoy your walk!