TRAVEL Q&A

Mexico City's Safety Zones

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2006

Q. We're going to Mexico City and have reserved a hotel in the Zocalo. With the current political unrest, is the city safe?

Emily Robinson, Alexandria

A. For years, Mexico City has been singled out for its security concerns, and the situation is stickier with the continuing protests over the disputed presidential election. However, there are still several safe havens in Mexico's capital -- so hang onto that plane ticket. "They should not cancel their trip," says Mario Gonzalez-Roman, a Mexico-based security expert who runs SecurityCornerMexico.com and contributes to SolutionsAbroad.com, which assists Mexico-bound expats and tourists. "The protesters are located here, but there is no violence in Mexico City. Just be careful -- not because of safety but because of traffic congestion." (Officially, the U.S. State Department urges Americans to avoid political demonstrations and warns travelers about high levels of crime in Mexico City; for info, http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_970.html .)

In Mexico City, thousands of protesters have taken up residence along Reforma Avenue. To date, the protest has been peaceful, but the circumstances are changing daily. Lena Vandenbosch, content manager at SolutionsAbroad.com, suggests avoiding the historical center and sticking to such strife-free neighborhoods as Polanco, known for its anthropology and Mexican art museums and bistros; San Angel, which has an arts market, bars and cafes; and Coyoacan, Frida Kahlo's old haunt with more museums and a weekend market. You might also want to switch your accommodations in Zocalo Plaza, where many protesters are congregating. Vandenbosch recommends La Condesa, a European-style enclave with parks, cafes and the Condesa df (011-52-55-5241-2600, http://www.condesadf.com/ ), a hipster hotel with a rooftop sushi bar and rooms from $165 a night.

Vandenbosch reminds travelers to avoid walking around after dark, to leave your diamonds at home and to take only taxis reserved by phone. Gonzalez-Roman adds that visitors using public transportation should avoid rush hour, which due to the protests is more crammed than usual. For security updates and advice: http://www.solutionsabroad.com/a_security-mexico.asp or http://www.securitycornermexico.com/ .

I have a 10-hour layover in San Francisco. Are there any sightseeing buses I can take from the airport?

Elisabeth Courtner ,Silver Spring

Tour buses do not depart directly from San Francisco International, but Bay Area Rapid Transit travels from the airport to many sights in San Francisco. SFO's Web site ( http://www.flysfo.com/ ) lists the top BART stops for visitors and a link to the train's Web site.

However, to make the most of your layover, Tim Zahler, a spokesman for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau (415-391-2000, http://www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/ ), suggests a full-day loop that starts and ends at the airport. His itinerary: Grab BART to Powell Station (about 35 minutes), then take the F Line to the Ferry Building. Head to Fisherman's Wharf for a cruise and the Buena Vista Cafe, where the first Irish coffee was served in America. Next, hop on a cable car to the Cable Car Bar and walk through Chinatown, to Union Station, and back to Powell Station. If you have time left, visit the airport's aquarium, aviation museum or art exhibits.

I am planning a family trip to Japan. Our 83-year-old mother can't walk far. Can we rent or buy a wheelchair there?

Carey Terasaki, Reno, Nev.

In Japan, it's often easier to find a Hello Kitty phone than a wheelchair. "In Japan, there's not a whole lot of setup for people with disabilities," says Howard McCoy, president of Accessible Journeys (800-846-4537, http://www.disabilitytravel.com/ ), which organizes land packages for disabled travelers. "It would be hard to get a rental, or even possible."

At major airports like Narita, your airline can arrange handicap assistance for your mother. However, once curbside, the wheelchair is no longer yours (airports do not rent wheelchairs, says McCoy). An easier option is to buy a wheelchair in the States; McCoy says a new manual chair that is lightweight and collapsible costs about $150. The airline can stash the wheelchair during your flight, and a tour bus or cab can store it in the trunk (you might have to request a van, though).

If your mother needs the wheelchair in the guest room, request a larger room when booking. According to the Japan National Tourist Organization's Web site: "Most major urban hotels will also have wheelchair accessible rooms and public areas, though smaller 'business hotels' and more traditional Japanese-style inns may not be accessible." And at the end of your trip, McCoy suggests donating your wheelchair to a school, hospital or other place in need. For a list of accessible places in Japan: Accessible Japan, http://www.wakakoma.org/aj .

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include name and home town.


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