Traveling around Mexico is surprisingly easy and surprisingly cheap. All you have to do is learn how to use the bus system. I’ve got you covered in this article about all things Mexican buses! Happy traveling!
Buses in Mexico run like clockwork. They are always on time and you can always count on them as a means of transportation. There are a range of buses: there are those that take you to a city 30 minutes away and those that will take you from one side of the country to another. Buses are considered “first class” travel whereas colectivos are considered second class because they offer less “perks” and a more simple ride.
For longer journeys, I prefer the bus. However, colectivos offer a great alternative for those looking to spend very little money.
Once you figure out where you want to go, check the ADO bus schedule. Most likely, ADO has a bus that meets your needs. If not, check out ETN’s bus schedule, Futura’s bus schedule, or Fletcha Roja’s schedule. Still can’t find a bus? Check out this bus schedule with the routes of every Mexican bus company.
As of July 2018, foreign credit cards are not accepted when purchasing online bus tickets. So, that means you have to go the bus station and purchase your ticket there. Whichever bus company you’re using, you must physically go to their ticket counter. I suggest you arrive at the bus station 30 minutes before the departure time. That gives you time to find the correct ticket counter, make your purchase, and get yourself to the gate. You can pay for your ticket with a foreign credit card or with cash.
If you’re traveling for more than three hours, here are some things you can expect:
- If you take a “first class” bus like ADO or ETN, there will be a bathroom on board
- Your chairs will recline at least somewhat. Bus lines like TuriStar or ADO gl have seats the recline fully into a bed.
- Night buses offer an excellent opportunity for catching up on sleep. I usually take the night bus if my trips is over 8 hours long.
- There will be a TV that plays movies (almost always in Spanish), so bring some earplugs or headphones if you want to tune out
- There will be air conditioning
- Usually you’ll receive a small “meal”–sandwich, dried fruit, drink, etc.
- The bus will stop several times. When the bus makes its stop, you can buy snacks and sometimes even a sandwich.
- Your bus may get stopped by immigration. Don’t worry, just show them your passport 🙂
If you’re traveling for less than three hours, here are some things you can expect:
- There may not be a bathroom on board. Make sure you ask…”hay bano?”
- If there is no bathroom on board, the bus will make at least one stop. Use this opportunity.
- When the bus makes its stop, you can buy snacks, drinks, and sometimes even a sandwich.
- You may have to change buses i.e. if you’re going from Cancun to Tulum, you have to switch buses in Playa del Carmen.
- There may or may not be air con so try and pick a seat by the window when you purchase your ticket.
Here are some tips and little known tricks about riding the bus in Mexico:
- Bring earplugs
- When you purchase your ticket, you can pick your seat. Look for a row that has two seats available. Hop on the bus and spread out across your row. Hello sleep/ lots of space
- You can store luggage under the bus. Just hand it to the person putting bags under the bus and make sure you keep the ticket he/she gives you (you must show them your ticket in order to get your bag back)
- Keep your valuables stored in your luggage under the bus–cash, credit cards, etc. Bring 200 pesos on board and roll with that. If you do bring some valuables on board (like a phone or computer), make sure you have eyes on them at all times. If you go sleep, sleep with those items tucked in somewhere on you.
- Always have water
Colectivos (cheaper, Smaller buses)
Not to be confused with combis (inexpensive inner city transportation), colectivos offer an alternative to taking the bus to your next Mexican destination. In comparison to the first class bus, colectivos are cheaper and faster. However, be prepared to sacrifice the bathroom, personal space, and interstate travel offered to you by one of the bigger bus companies.
There are a few ways you can find a colectivo, and I’m afraid the internet is not one of them. Your first option is to ask the locals. Colectivos are the main means of transportation for most Mexicans, so, in general, they know if there’s a colectivo heading to your next stop, and they can tell you where to go so you can flag one down.
Your other option is going to a bus storefront. Every major city has a large bus station outside of town and bus store fronts inside of town. In smaller cities and towns, only storefronts exist. These storefronts or mini “stations” deal mostly with regional travel. For example, the ADO storefront in Bacalar, Quintana Roo can’t get you to Mexico City but it can get you to the bus station in Chetumal, Quintana Roo where you can find a bus going to Mexico City.
So, head to a bus storefront and ask if there is a colectivo…”hay colectivo?” The person working the storefront will be able to tell you yes or no, what time the colectivo will pass by, and where you need to go.
Want an example? I needed to go from Bacalar to Chetumal so I walked to the ADO storefront in Bacalar. I asked the lady working the desk, “is there a bus to Chetumal?” She replied, “Yes but not until 2:00PM” (it was 11:00AM when I asked). When she saw the look of disappointment on my face she said, “There’s a colectivo that passes by here every 10-15 minutes. Walk across the highway and wait on the other side.” I did just that and voila–I promptly made it to Chetumal!
This one is easy. When you get on the colectivo, tell your driver where you want to go. He’ll drop you at your location and tell you how much you owe for the ride. Sometimes, if you’re going somewhere quite far, you’ll pay ahead of time but that is rare.
Here’s what you can expect on a colectivo ride:
1. There are no bathrooms on board
2. On trips under an hour or two, you’re not stopping for the bathroom. Anything over two or three hours, you’ll stop at least once for the bathroom
3. The colectivo makes frequent stops because it’s constantly picking people up and letting them off
4. Occasionally the people that get on the colectivo are smelly and/or drunk
5. Wear pants if you’re weird about germs. The seats can feel a bit sweaty sometimes
6. You don’t have a seat choice. You sit where there’s space. But, the best seat is up front with the driver (although this option isn’t always offered by the driver)
7. Colectivos are an experience–don’t be afraid and enjoy!