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Bus Travel in Mexico
Mexico's national bus network is professionally run and offers an excellent way to travel across Mexico affordably.
This complete guide introduces you to Mexico's bus network and its features and services, and also shows you how to travel efficiently by bus, using the highly developed, nation-wide network of bus routes in Mexico.
Traveling by bus across Mexico can be quite a pleasant experience, exceeding many people's initial expectations. Mexico's executive class bus service is a world away from, for example, the 'Greyhound' services in the USA and 'National Express' bus services in the UK.
Since the early 1990's, Mexico has invested billions of dollars in new roads, including high-speed toll-roads which connect all of Mexico's major towns and cities.
In parallel with Mexico's investment in its road network, Mexico's bus companies invested heavily to create an extensive network of bus routes, offering passengers the opportunity to traverse the entire country by bus.
Although there are several classes of bus service in Mexico, the most popular among visitors (and those interested in traveling comfortably) are first and executive class which transport customers in comfort and safety, on high-specification, quiet, modern air-conditioned buses. These buses only travel on the toll-roads (where possible), and very seldom make intermediate stops, thus making the journey fast and efficient.
The bus companies which operate these first class services are extremely professional and the staff are always immaculately dressed in uniform and very courteous. The buses run on time and are direct—they do not stop en-route like many of the lower fare alternatives.
Different companies operate different routes (usually by region), although competition does exist and therefore prices are kept competitive.
If you have concerns about the comfort levels of bus travel, ride a first class or executive bus in Mexico. 6-8 hours is the optimal comfort travel time for these luxury buses; if your destination is further away than this and you enjoy your creature comforts, consider flying across Mexico instead.
Mexico doesn't have a national bus company, but there do exist several regional companies and one large bus company group. Together they provide extensive bus routes that cover every main town and city in Mexico.
Bus Stations in Mexico City
Mexico City has four main bus stations, located at the four cardinal "compass points"—North, South, East and West.
Terminal de Autobuses del Sur - This is the southern bus station; the adjacent metro station is called Taxqueña.
Terminal de Autobuses del Norte - This is the northern bus station; the adjacent metro station is called Autobuses del Norte.
Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros Oriente - This is the eastern bus terminal, most often referred to as TAPO. The adjacent metro station is called San Lazaro.
Terminal de Autobuses del Poniente - This is the western bus terminal; the adjacent metro station is called Observatorio.
Depending upon where you are going in Mexico, you will need to travel from the appropriate bus terminal. The Mexico Bus Routes Table indicates which station you need.
Bus stations in Mexico City are located in, or adjacent to, less than desirable neighborhoods. However, the bus terminal complexes are secure with local security guards policing the area; you just need to look out for possible pick-pockets and bag-snatchers (as in most stations, airports, etc.). See the section about Bus Travel Safety, below, for more details and safety tips.
Getting To and From Bus Stations
In Mexico City, it is best to get to and from the bus stations using secure taxis. If you are traveling very light and know the city, you may take a bus, micro-bus or the metro to the bus station, but for most travelers with luggage and/or valuables, a taxi is the best and safest way to get to and from the bus terminals, especially in Mexico City.
In the provincial towns and cities, you may take a local bus or micro-bus (sometimes called a pesero) to and from the bus station, although taxis are best if you have luggage and/or valuable equipment (cameras, laptops, etc).
Using Authorized Taxis From Bus Stations
All of Mexico's City's bus terminals operate "Authorized Taxis" in the same way that the airport does. Fares are fixed, based on what 'zone' you are traveling to. Go to the Authorized Taxi booth (Taxi Autorizado) and purchase your ticket. In Mexico City, you may find a man or woman in a green or yellow jacket offering to carry your bags to the taxi rank. Using the caddy service is optional, but allowing these people to help you with your luggage only costs a few pesos (usually around $10 pesos will suffice) and you'll find you get "priority service" at the rank, than if you simply carry your own bags there yourself.
In the provinces, some towns and cities operate "authorized" taxis; look inside the terminal for the Taxi Autorizado booth. If not, taxis will be lining up outside of the terminal building waiting for passengers.
Bus Stations Outside of Mexico City
Bus Stations outside of the capital vary. Some, like the one in the colonial city of Morelia, look and feel more like a modern airport than a bus station. However, most bus stations are older buildings, situated in the middle of town (which can be very convenient) and offer varying degrees of services and amenities. Bus stations are generally regarded as safe in Mexico City and very safe in the provinces; with the caveat to keep an eye on your pockets and belongings at all times.
Facilities at Bus Stations in Mexico
The layout of Mexico's bus stations is pretty standard whichever one you walk into. As you walk-in, you will find rows of counters split up into different sections. Above the counter is a sign advertising the bus company, on the walk behind the counter you will see a table with a list of the destinations that company operates, the class of service, and service times in 24-hour time format (referred to by some as 'military time'). Buses on the popular routes run all day and all night, seven days a week. Some buses have the schedules posted above the counter, alongside the company's advertising boards.
Toilets at Bus Stations
All bus stations have public toilets (restrooms) and charge between $3 and $5 for entry— you will need change. The toilets are not the most attractive you'll see, but they are kept generally clean and tidy.
Bus stations have small coffee shops as well as locally-run convenience stores selling a variety of foods, confectionery and tobacco. The foods on offer may not be very appetizing, so you may want to bring a pack lunch or simply buy pre-packaged foods from the convenience stores. Many bus stations also have stands selling magazines and newspapers, mostly Spanish-language media and publications. In some of the more tourist-focused cities, you'll also find stores selling curios, souvenirs and other travel keep-sakes.
WiFi at Bus Stations
Unlike Mexico's airports, which offer WiFi via Telmex's "Prodigy" internet service, Mexico's bus stations do not offer WiFi. Bus stations in Mexico don't really provide an ideal environment for working on a computer, except perhaps in the executive lounges available at some stations. Some executive-class buses now offer WiFi on board—see Executive Class Buses, further down the page.
Executive Waiting Lounges
Some bus stations have rooms which are reserved exclusively for travelers holding tickets to ride the executive class of bus service offered by some companies in Mexico. The lounges are a little quieter than the main bus station, although most feature a television which is on and turned up most of the time. Some also offer sodas, coffee and biscuits. Although they are more comfortable than the general bus station area, the executive lounges cannot be likened to executive airline lounges offered at many airports.
All executive-class services and most first-class services offer baggage check facilities. Most companies accept stowed bags 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Some bus stations have a baggage-hold service where, for a small fee, you may leave your bags in storage; this is useful if you arrive very early at the bus station and cannot check your bags right away. Your bag(s) will be tagged and you will be given the tag's counterfoil that you WILL need to reclaim your bag, so don't lose it. Keep all valuables including laptops, cameras, purses and wallets, medications, keys etc., on your person in your hand-luggage, just as you would on a plane.
ATMs at Bus Stations
Most bus stations now offer ATM services, provided by one of Mexico's major banks, e.g. Banamex, Bancomer, HSBC. Money exchange services are not as common at bus stations as they are at airports.
See Also Blog: Bus Stations Versus Airports
Mexico City is the principal "hub" for bus routes in Mexico. Its four main bus stations serve routes to destinations all over Mexico. Indeed, from Mexico City you can travel by bus to almost anywhere in Mexico. All roads in Mexico lead to Mexico City.
Check the Mexico Bus Routes Table for details about which bus companies travel to which destinations and from which terminal in Mexico City.
We recommend that if you travel by bus from the provinces TO Mexico City, you arrange your schedule so that you arrive in the capital during daylight hours. See the section below entitled "Bus Travel Safety" for more details.
If you are not in Mexico City, then you will find the intercity bus routes in Mexico are regionalized. Bigger cities (or major tourist centers) usually act as regional "hubs" from where buses depart and arrive. The regional hubs also serve as connecting points between smaller cities and small towns.
Mexico has more than 200 different bus companies operating from over 150 bus stations nation-wide. As a result the route permutations run into tens of thousands. By using the guidance below, coupled with the Mexico Bus Routes Table, you should be able to find a bus company which serves the region you want to travel in and look up its schedules online. You can find links to all major bus company web sites in Mexico on this guide (see below).
The principal "Regions" and the region's "Hub cities" are:
Pacific North-West: The hub cities are Mazatlan and Los Mochis. Buses from here serve destinations along the northern reaches of Mexico's Pacific Coast and also east to the colonial (inland) city of Chihuahua.
Central Western Region: Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, is the regional bus hub for all routes in the western areas of Mexico, including Toluca, Morelia, Patzcuaro as well as the north-western colonial cities of Aguascalientes and Leon. Guadalajara is also a hub for bus routes to the central Pacific Coast including Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo.
Southern Central: Oaxaca City, Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal de las Casas are the three principal 'hub' cities in the south of Mexico. They serve routes between each other and also to other important locations in the southern regions including the popular Pacific coastal resorts of Huatulco and Puerto Escondido.
Yucatan Region: In the Yucatan Peninsula, the colonial city of Merida and Cancun are the two principal 'hubs' for bus routes in the region. Frequent connections run between these two cities and, from them, you can get to most principal towns in the region. Note that bus services in the Yucatan region are not as frequent nor as extensively developed as in the rest of Mexico, so if you plan to explore the region beyond the major towns, you may be better off renting a car for your journey.
Southern Gulf Coast: Campeche, Villahermosa and Tabasco are the principal cities in the region and also the main bus 'hub' and connecting points for towns and cities in this region of Mexico. Buses from here also connect to Veracruz (north) and Merida (southeast).
Central Gulf Coast: The port city of Veracruz and the capital city of the state of Veracruz—Xalapa—are the principal cities from where all buses serving this region arrive and depart. Buses from Veracruz also connect to the colonial city of Puebla and travel north to Matamoros, on the border with the USA.
North, North-East: Chihuahua City and Monterrey (Mexico's third largest city) are the principal 'hubs' for all buses serving the northern region of Mexico, including buses to border cities. You can also get buses which travel to and from some principal US cities from Chihuahua and Monterrey.
The Baja Peninsula: Buses are not as frequent or as extensively developed on the Baja Peninsula as they are on the mainland. The main bus company is called Aguila, which runs services between Los Cabos, La Paz, and Todos Santos, as well as routes to Loreto.
Not all routes offer a selection of class of service, especially on shorter journeys. Longer journeys almost always offer a first or executive class option; shorter distances (less than 30 miles) may only offer an equivalent of second-class, but are usually adequate for the journey time. Here are the three main classes of service and what they offer:
Executive Class Buses
These are luxurious buses and offer the latest in bus technology and comfort. Inside, the passenger cabin is closed off from the driver's cockpit; windows are double-glazed, the cabin is air-conditioned and the suspension is excellent. You are offered a sandwich and a cold drink as you board, and some services offer complimentary coffee on board as well. A toilet is available, and TV screens also feature to play a film during the journey. Some companies also offer headphones to avoid forcing everyone to listen to the film (although in some cases you have no choice, so you may want to take your own headphones to listen to music via your MP3 player). Executive services also offer wide, reclining seats and leg supports—achieved by configuring the seat arrangement to just twenty-four or twenty-five seats on board in a 2+1 seat arrangement.
WiFi Services on Executive Class Buses
Some Executive Class bus services now offer WiFi services on-board. ETN's buses (see companies) now offer WiFi on some routes. The service is free and enables you to send/receive email, surf the net and make internet-based phone calls from the bus using a service like Skype. Service quality varies and, depending on where you are geographically, internet signals may not be available at certain points en-route as many of Mexico's highways traverse mountains and other wild terrains.
Blog Article: Internet Access on Mexico's Buses
First Class Buses
First Class buses offer many of the services offered on the executive service such as air-conditioning, on-board toilet and entertainment, although the seat configuration will be less generous, meaning that there will be less room for stretching out / sleeping. Some first-class buses are double-decked; if you travel on a double-deck service, try to get upstairs which proffers great views of Mexico's varied landscapes.
Second Class Buses
Second Class buses might (but usually don't) offer air-conditioning on the routes they operate, but will be less comfortable than first and executive buses, so unless your budget is really tight, try to avoid these for long journeys. Avoid second-class buses for overnight travel (see Safety, below). Another disadvantage of second class buses is that they take longer to arrive at their destination because they tend to be indirect, and some encounter very frequent stops, sometimes in small towns and villages. This can easily add several hours to your journey time and make you feel very tired at the end of your journey.
How Many Stops?
Buses in Mexico may travel direct to their destination, they may stop every few minutes, or something in-between.
Generally speaking, executive-class buses run non-stop to their destination; first class buses may make an intermediary stop at a major town or city en route; second class buses may stop everywhere. Here is the terminology:
"Sin Escalas" or "Directo" - Nonstop to the destination. Note that Directo, may include one or two stops at major towns or cities.
"Semi-Directo" - Will make a few stops on the way.
"Ordinario" - Will stop where passengers hail the bus from the street.
Notwithstanding the lower cost to travel by bus in comparison to air travel, it may sometimes make sense to take a bus even when a flight option is available.
If your journey begins in Mexico City, then there are various instances when taking the bus may be a better option for you. For example, on the Mexico City to Acapulco route: The flying time is about 50 minutes, but you need to get to the airport at least one hour before the flight departs, and you need to get to the airport in Mexico City (or even further away in Toluca if you are flying on a low-cost carrier) and then from the airport in Acapulco to your hotel; many hotels are closer to Acapulco town than the airport. The Acapulco airport is closer to the newly developed Diamante area of Acapulco than to the bay area. But if you are staying in the bay area, you will actually spend about over three hours getting to Acapulco by plane and be forced to pay for an expensive cab ride from the airport to the center of Acapulco.
Executive-class buses to Acapulco, with wide seats (only 24 seats aboard) are available for 50% or less of the normal flight cost. The bus leaves from the south side of Mexico City and takes about five hours. It drops you right in the middle of Acapulco (there is also service to the Diamante area of Accapulco if your hotel is situated there), and you'll save yourself a lot of money in taxi fares to and from the airport.
Another example would be taking a route from Mexico City to Cuernavaca or Puebla. Both of these cities have airports and you can fly, but a bus may be a better option for the same reasons as traveling to Acapulco by bus.
Bus stations are less attractive than airports, and it will be helpful if you speak some Spanish in order to undertake some bus travel in Mexico as the ground staff will not necessarily speak English. If you're traveling independently on a budget, the bus will certainly be a lower cost choice.
But even if you're not on a tight budget; if you're comfortable traveling around in new places and don't mind bus travel, it may be worth considering the bus as an alternative to flying.
See Blog: Bus Stations Versus Airports
Before the advent of internet bookings, you either needed to visit a travel agency or go to the bus station to buy your bus tickets in Mexico.
In recent times, Mexico's bus companies have been developing their own web sites and some are offering online booking facilities. However, their online systems are not as well developed as the airlines, and most only accept credit card payments from bank cards issued in Mexico.
However, the web sites are worth visiting to learn about the bus company, its services, and to see the bus schedules. Before now, the only way to find a bus schedule was to visit an affiliated travel agency, by visiting the bus station, or telephoning one of the sales offices run by the bus companies.
Making Advance Reservations
Virtually all bus companies offering long-distance routes offer computerized seat booking systems, linked to a national network. This means that you can pre-purchase tickets at any bus station for any routes operated by that bus company nationally. Executive-class and most first-class services offer seat-assignment too; you select the seat(s) you want from a map on the booking screen.
Although the bus companies' online systems are not good at accepting non-Mexican credit and debit cards, when you buy in person at the bus station, your foreign-issued cards will be welcomed. Most bus companies accept MasterCard and Visa and some also accept American Express at the sales counter.
Popular routes have buses leaving every couple of hours, usually all-day long and at least two or three buses traveling overnight. Other than at peak periods, which are Christmas and New Year, Easter and other school vacation periods, booking in advance is not essential if you are flexible and are willing to wait two to four hours at the bus station for the next service to depart.
Another "advance purchase" method is to go to the bus station a day or two before you intend to travel and purchase your tickets in advance that way; this is the best alternative if you are staying in the city you're departing from for a time beforehand.
All tickets are sold on a one-way fare basis; that is, there is no discount if you buy a return journey; however, you may want to pre-purchase return tickets at the same time to secure your seats in advance.
If you are overseas and feel you must book your tickets in advance before you arrive in Mexico, you may try to purchase your tickets over the phone. The larger bus companies (especially those offering executive services) have bi-lingual call centers with agents that speak Spanish and English. Some have US and Canadian Toll-Free numbers, but in most cases you will need to call a number in Mexico. Using Vonage or Skype, or some other alternative carrier service can make overseas calls more affordable.
Bus travel in Mexico is generally regarded as safe. There are some precautions which are worth observing, to avoid potential safety hazards, based on recent traveler's experiences.
Safety at Bus Stations
Bus stations in Mexico are safe places to be, even if the neighborhoods which surround them may be rough (this is particularly so in Mexico City). The stations are professionally managed and continuously patrolled by and/or security staff.
The key points to note about bus station safety are:
- Watch your personal belongings at all times; pick-pockets and bag snatchers operate in bus stations just as they do at the airports and the metro stations;
- Keep valuables (laptops, expensive cameras) secured and out of sight;
- Dress casually;
- Use taxis to get to and from bus terminals.
Safety at Bus Stations in Mexico City
Mexico City has four main Bus Terminals; one at each compass point of the city (see section above for details). Bus stations in the capital are situated in less than ideal areas, but this should not put you off traveling by bus to and from Mexico City; you simply need to take some precautions:
- Only take official taxis (Taxi Autorizado) from the bus station to your hotel or next destination in the city. Buy a ticket from one of the official taxi booths situated inside the terminal building. They charge by zone, like taxis from the Airport, but cost less than airport taxis;
- Bus Stations in Mexico City are generally regarded as secure and public security officials patrol them constantly. However, like airports, subways (underground/metro), and bus stations world-wide, they are prime hunting grounds for pick pocket and bag snatching gangs. Always stay alert and keep your pockets and property well guarded.
A popular way to travel by bus, especially on executive-class buses, is to travel overnight; the idea being that you sleep on the bus and arrive at your destination the next morning. Traveling by bus overnight may be a false time economy, unless you know that you and your traveling companions are good at sleeping inside a moving vehicle. Most people arrive at their destination needing a few hours of sleep.
There is an additional risk to taking an overnight bus. Many routes cross remote areas of Mexico and, on odd occasions, highway robberies occur. No one is usually hurt, but you may be relieved of all your worldly goods. The instances of highway robbery are rare, especially on executive-class and first-class buses which take high-speed toll roads insofar as the route permits.
We advise that you avoid second-class buses which travel overnight.
If you are traveling in the southern regions of Mexico, particularly in Chiapas between Tuxtla Gutierrez, San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque, note that you should not drive or take a bus overnight in this region. Roads are safe during the day, but the roads which connect these places pass through some of Mexico's most remote and rugged natural territories. You'll find more advice about night travel on the travel guides to these places here on Mexperience.
Here is a list of Mexico's principal bus companies with links to their web sites For a summary of the routes they operate by destination, see the Mexico Bus Routes Table.
Regions Covered: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City and south-eastern Mexico.
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Veracruz, Puebla, south and south-eastern Mexico, Yucatan region.
ADO Platino (the luxury brand of ADO, above).
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Veracruz, Oaxaca, some areas in Chiapas.
Regions Covered: Central and Southern Baja California.
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Michoacan State and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast (west of Mexico City), Colonial Heartland including San Miguel de Allende.
Cristobal Colon (OCC)
Regions Covered: Mexico City,Puebla, south and south-eastern Mexico
Regions Covered: Largest bus group includes companies called Elite, Flecha Roja, Futura, Turistar and Transportes Chihuahuenses; The buses cover many regions including Mexico City, west, north and north-west, colonial heartlands, southern and south-western Mexico. The only regions this group does not cover well are Baja, south-east Mexico and the Yucatan region.
Estrella de Oro
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Taxco, Acapulco, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo.
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Puebla, colonial heartland cities, some Pacific coastal destinations.
ETN (Enlaces Terrestres Nacionales)
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Michoacan State (west of Mexico City), north-west Mexico, colonial heartland cities, Guadalajara, and Puerto Vallarta
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Michoacan State (west of Mexico City), Manzanillo (Pacific Coast), colonial heartland cities.
Maya de Oro
Regions Covered: Mexico City, south-east and the Yucatan region.
Omnibus de Mexico
Regions Covered: Omnibus operates one of the most extensive bus networks in the country and has routes in about two-thirds of Mexico's states, principally those north, west and east of the capital. Omnubus does not operate in Mexico's southern states nor in the Yucatan or Baja regions. Principal routes include Mexico City, the Pacific, the Gulf Coast, the Colonial heartlands, and the north of the country.
Regions Covered: Mexico City, colonial heartland cities, Pacific destinations including Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta
Pullman de Morelos
Regions Covered: Mexico City and Cuernavaca
UNO (a luxury bus line owned and operated by ADO).
Regions Covered: Mexico City, Puebla, south-eastern Mexico, Veracruz state and Yucatan. This is an executive-class bus service only.
Staff at Mexico's bus stations and bus companies generally do not speak English, so you will need to be able to get-by in Spanish to travel by bus in Mexico. Here is a list of Spanish words related to bus-travel in Mexico:
See Also: Learning Spanish
Taquilla - Ticket Booth
Comprar Boleto(s) - Buying Ticket(s)
Horario - Schedule
Hora de Salida - Leaving Time
Hora de Llegada - Arrival Time
Destino - Destination
Ruta - Route
Pasajero(s) - Passenger(s)
Tarifa - Fare
Asiento(s) - Seat(s)
Ventanilla - Window Seat
Pasillo - Aisle Seat
Viaje Redondo - Round Trip
Viaje Sencillo - One Way Trip
Paradas or Escalas - Number of Stops
Clase Ejecutiva - Executive Class
Primera Clase - First Class
Segunda Clase - Second Class
At The Bus Station
Terminal de Autobuses - Bus Station
Anden - Platform (for boarding)
Equipaje - Baggage
Facturacion de Equipaje - Baggage Check-in
Guarderia de Equipaje - Baggage Storage
Baños Publicos - Public Restrooms
Taxi Autorizado - Authorized Taxi
Salida - Exit
On Board the Bus
Abordo - Aboard
Abordando - Boarding
Asiento - Seat
Baños - Restrooms
Ocupado - Occupied (restrooms)
Conductor - Driver
Monitor or Television - Monitor or Television
Audifonos - Headphones