How to Travel Around Mexico by Bus for CHEAP

Updated May 2017

toluca bus

Bus Travel in Mexico

It may be a bus, a passenger van, a covered pickup truck, or a colectivo (shared) taxi.

It may be easy and forgettable, or a great adventure. It may be bumpy and drafty, or more comfortable than first class on American Airlines.

Local buses go (and stop) everywhere, and round-the-clock long-distance buses connect every corner of long banana-shaped Mexico.

Outside the city’s main bus station, in many parts of Mexico alternative, “unofficial” (cheaper) buses leave from independent stations or offices somewhere deep in the city.

These buses often cost less than half the cheapest option at an “official” bus station. And they aren’t so bad. Really.

Tip: Some cheap buses are perfectly nice, and some are pretty rough. I’ve experienced breakdowns, screaming babies, and live cargo like chickens. Once the entire back half of the bus was filled with cut roses, a pleasant surprise.

So, these buses that leave from independent bus stations are typically much cheaper than the first-class bus, though they may take much longer because of indirect routes and making many stops. So when comparing options, don’t only look at the price, but also ask about travel times.

Bus routes change, and information on the internet goes out of date. Your best resource is to ask a local: a friend, someone at your hotel, or the driver of the bus you arrived on.

comitan colectivos

Bus stations

For long-distance travel, rather than an overpriced, inefficient semi-monopoly like Greyhound in the U.S., Mexico has around 10+ major bus companies and countless smaller ones that that go everywhere. Most of the big companies have websites where you can check schedules or buy tickets.

Here’s a list of some main destinations in Mexico and the bus companies that go there:

http://www.mexperience.com/guide/essentials/transport/mexico-bus-distances-table.php

These buses usually leave from the main bus station in town. Usually there’s only one, and in cities they are rarely downtown. You’ll have to take a taxi or a local bus to get there.

To get into the city center from the bus station, your best and safest option is to take a “safe taxi” (taxi seguro). You pay for the taxi at a stand, the price depending on which colonia (neighborhood) you are going to. “Centro” means downtown—if you don’t speak Spanish, many safe taxi stands have the prices posted.

Being an enormous metropolis, Mexico City has four bus stations, all connected by the labyrinthine metro (subway) system. There’s a bus station for the east, north, west, and south:

Tapo, aka Oriente, for destinations east, like Puebla and Veracruz, though it’s actually in the center of the city, so it takes some time for the buses to fight through traffic to get to the highway. Go to the San Lorenzo metro station.

Norte, north, for Monterrey and all points north (surprise). The buses to the Teotihuacan ruins leave from here too. Go to the Autobuses del Norte metro station.

Observetorio, aka Poniente, west, for Guadalajara and everything between and beyond: Morelia, Toluca, Leon, Puerto Vallarta.

Sur, south, for Cuernavaca, Taxco, but not points very south—buses for Oaxaca and beyond pass through Puebla, so they leave from Tapo. Go to the Taxqueña metro station.

Buses leave from the Mexico City airport for nearby cities too. There’s a little station in both terminals. These buses are more expensive than a bus from a station, but you will save time. Other large airports in Mexico have limited bus service as well—look for Mexico Aeropuerto or something similar in their list of destinations.

If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry, though they may not be available in English, most bus websites are easy to use.

Here’s a sample from ADO, the most common first-class bus in the Yucatan Peninsula (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Chichen Itza). Put in the departure and arrival cities and the date:

ADO 1

Once you know the schedule, I recommend you go to the bus station to buy the tickets in person. Two or three days before your trip is probably enough time, or if it’s not high season or a major Mexican holiday, you can probably just show up 20 minutes before the departure to buy your tickets. And if the bus leaves regularly, such as every hour, just show up whenever you want and buy tickets for the next one.

ado cancun airport

Tip: When searching for Mexico City on bus websites, don’t only look for “Cuidad de Mexico,” but also simply “Mexico” or “Distrito Federal.” You should see many options because of the many bus stations in the city. 

Check out bus company websites. Here are some I’ve used:

ADO

ETN

Caminante

Primera Plus

Omnibus

Estrella Blanca

Estrella Roja

Flecha Roja

Here’s a list of some more of the common bus companies and where they go, thanks again to the Mexperience website:

http://www.mexperience.com/guide/essentials/transport/mexico-bus-travel.php – 9

The cheapest buses that leave from a bus station are, in my experience, always reasonably fast and direct, clean and comfortable.

The first or primera class of the most expensive lines (ADO, Caminante) are more comfortable than airplanes, with big reclining seats and free food. But you will pay!

Tips: Always buy the seats closest to the front of the bus, for two reasons. First, you will be the first one to get on and off. Second, if the bathroom is smells terrible, either because it is malfunctioning or you-know-why, you want to be as far away from it as possible. Another essential for bus rides is to always bring a sweater or blanket, as they often crank the air-conditioning. Earplugs are a good idea too for those really loud movies dubbed in Spanish.

First class bus vs. flights

Before taking a first-class bus to a distant destination, check for flights. Domestic flights can be cheaper than first-class buses, especially with anticipation (more than a month).

For example, never travel from Mexico City to somewhere far away like San Cristobal de las Casas, the Oaxaca coast, or Cancun by first class bus. Get a flight—it will take only an hour, rather than 18.

Or, to the Oaxaca coast or Chiapas, you can spend a fraction of the price on a second-class bus (see below).

Sample prices, Nov. 2016 Mexico City to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

Second-class bus, 13+ hours:

Viajes Aury, 400 pesos (details below)

First-class bus, 12 hours:

ADO: 1,300 pesos, with anticipation 800

1-hour flight (to the airport in Tuxtla Gutierrez):

Interjet, 800 – 2,600 pesos, depending on when you fly and how early you buy the tickets. With a promotion or another airline, it could be even cheaper.

This is just a sample. Expect prices to change, and change usually means prices go up — at least for buses. In the past few years, flights both international and domestic have been getting cheaper and cheaper.

(Click the links for my guides to flying in Mexico and the Mexico City airport.)

fypsa df oaxaca bus station

Third-class, independent bus companies and stations

I don’t care about reclining seats, movies on flat-screens, or snacks. I want cheap, and I don’t mind riding in a bus with loud music, broken windows, too slow or fast, too hot or cold, overbooked — but of course I don’t love the breakdowns..

In many parts of Mexico, buses beat-up to various degrees leave from somewhere other than the bus station. These are the cheapest options by far.

They might go all night, so you’ll save on a hotel room too.

Bring warm clothes—often they crank the air conditioner. You might spend the day in shorts and flip-flops on the beach, but once evening falls and the overnight bus leaves, bundle up. It could get colder than a forgotten chimichanga at the bottom of a Taco Bell bag on a Michigan winter night.

I don’t know third-class buses for all of Mexico. I mostly use them when I travel south, so I left some suggestions below. Please give us your suggestions in the comments.

Like I said before, ask locals. Keep your eyes open—sometimes independent bus stations are right next to the “official” bus station.

Cheap bus from Mexico City to Monterrey and other places in the north

There is a little bus yard in the historic center of Mexico City roughly halfway between the zocalo (central square) and Garibaldi, the famous mariachi plaza. Last time I asked (summer 2017) it was 500 pesos to Monterrey.

Look for the buses across the street from Arena Coliseo, a spot to see Lucha Libre (Mexican-style wrestling). The address is 71 Republica de Peru.

Cheap bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca City and the Oaxaca coast

In Mexico City there is a line called FYPSA. It is near the Blvd. Pto. Aereo metro stop, about a ten-minute walk from the station.

It’s confusing and busy outside the metro stop, so ask directions. At the moment there are no reservations so show up at least an hour early.

http://www.oaxaca-mio.com/autobus/destinos.htm

In Oaxaca city there is an entire terminal for second-class buses next to the Central Abastos, a huge market about 15 minutes from the center of town. Here you can travel all over Oaxaca and to nearby states for cheap.

Cheap bus from Mexico City to Chiapas

Earlier I mentioned Viajes Aury and its 350-peso fare direct from Mexico City to San Cristobal. Several companies, like Viajes Aury and Cristobal Colon, have buses that leave from La Merced market in Mexico City.

The last time I used one was in 2014, and the price was 350 pesos, 400 in high season. They leave in the late afternoon, between 5-7 pm. Show up early so you make sure you get a seat, or buy tickets a day or two days in advance.

The buses also stop in Puebla (on the highway, not in town) and much later in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas. After San Cristobal they usually continue on to Comitan and the Guatemalan border, but confirm this when you buy the tickets.

Go to the Candelaria metro station in Mexico City. It’s a  10-minute walk through the tianguis, street markets in the enormous Merced market. The bus offices are on the other side of a small park in front of an old church. You’ll probably never find it, so ask for directions for camiones para Chiapas, buses to Chiapas, and keep vigilant because La Merced isn’t the safest place in Mexico City.

chiapas bus cards

In San Cristobal de las Casas, the second-class bus companies are much easier to find, all leaving from the main road in front of the bus station. Besides buses, you can find colectivos (passenger vans) here to travel all over Chiapas for cheaper than any bus.

Cheap Buses in Cancun and the Yucatan

If you want to go to Cancun straight from Mexico City for cheap and you have the time, go to San Cristobal de las Casas, then Palenque. Enjoy both places, which are two of my favorite towns in Mexico.

From Palenque you can go direct to Cancun. The buses are easy to find near the bus station in Palenque. If I remember correctly, tickets for those in 2013 were cheap, 200 or 300 pesos.

They will take you to the highway about an hour from Palenque to catch a bus coming from Villahermosa with spare seats. Be patient—you’ll get there. You’ll want to pack light on this trip so you can keep the bag in front of you if necessary.

On the way to Cancun the bus probably stops in Tulum and Playa del Carmen. If you want off, keep your eyes open because no one will tell you when you get there.

Of course, if you want to go straight to Cancun from Mexico City, you should absolutely fly, which will save you time and money.

But with some stops in Chiapas, the cost of transport to Cancun from Mexico City can be less than 1,000, and you’ll see the highlights of the south. Also, by traveling at night you’ll save on hotels, though many websites and travel writers warn against traveling in Mexico at night by bus.

I don’t endorse it, but I do it all the time.

SONY DSC

To travel around the Yucatan, when you go to the bus station in Cancun or elsewhere to buy tickets, they assume you want first class and will sell you ADO. Ask if you want the second-class bus. Several companies go all over the Yucatan for cheaper than ADO, but ask how long they take — they may not be direct.

Besides buses, typically the cheapest short-distance transportation in the Yucatan (and many places in Mexico) are colectivos, passenger vans that run all the time and squeeze in as many people as possible.

Local buses and the street

Every city in Mexico has a local bus system that operates under roughly the same principle—different companies do different routes, with the same prices and buses (or passenger vans) that look a little different.

Simply wave at a local bus if you want it. Most have the routes written on the front window, which are usually the names 0f places they pass like schools, malls or factories, or a final destination like the name of a town. If you know local geography, you can figure out whether the bus is direct or not. Some buses may zigzag all over the city before you get to the zoo, and in that case you are probably better off paying for a taxi, especially if you are in a group.

When you want to get off, you can usually do it anywhere. Push the button or pull the string, or yell ¡baja!

oaxaca truck

If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll probably need some help. Ask someone at the hotel for directions to where you want to go, the name of the bus, and which side of the street to wait on. If they don’t know, ask at a restaurant. Or better yet, ask another traveler who has done it recently.

Don’t follow a guidebook. Routes change way too quickly.

If you can’t find out the price beforehand, bring a pocketful of coins. Most cities have one price for all local buses, though in some cases longer routes may cost something different. Always bring extra change for the way home, or if you hear a higher price than what you expected. Paying with a bill larger than 100 may be impossible as the drivers won’t have change.

General bus tips

Again, the most important tip: Don’t commit to the bus for a long distance trip before comparing with flights from Mexico’s independent airlines, which often have big discounts: Aeromexico, Interjet, Aerobus, and Volaris.

For regular bus travel, always pack light. It’s nice to have your bag under your feet or above your head, rather than out of sight above or below the bus.

But don’t freak out if someone decides to put your bag in one of those places. It’s probably safe, with the worst thing that can happen a good soaking if it rains. Bring a smaller bag with valuables onto the bus, or wrap up everything in waterproof bags inside your bag.

If possible, however, don’t travel with valuables. Like, nothing. When I do an extended trip, I don’t bring anything that can’t be lost or stolen, besides the passport and credit cards of course.

Bring warm clothes on the bus at all times of the day, even in hot weather. First-class buses in particular tend to crank the air conditioning, especially at night.

Get a seat the closest to the front as possible. You will be the first off when the trip is done, and also you want to be as far away from the bathroom as possible in case it gets to stinking.

And finally, if you don’t take the bus in Mexico, you don’t know Mexico. Taking a local bus to a nearby destination might give you an experience as fun as the destination itself.

But in Mexico City, take the metro and avoid buses as much as possible, unless you have a local friend to show you around. Local buses might have enormous lines and get stuck in traffic. The metro can also get mind-bogglingly crowded, but it’s really cheap, unaffected by traffic, and reasonably safe—although keep your bags close and your wallet in your front pocket.

SONY DSC

Thanks for reading, and please leave your tips below.

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About Ted Campbell

U.S.-Canadian writer, translator and university teacher in Mexico. Travel stories and practical tips on my blog No Hay Bronca: nohaybronca.wordpress.com Twitter: @NoHayBroncaBlog // Contact: nohaybroncablog (at) gmail.com

Posted on February 23, 2014, in Mexico, Travel, Travel in Mexico and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. Hey ted, I’m a bit late on this but hopefully you still read the comments here? 🙂

    I’ll be in Mexico City and trying to get to Yucatan for cheap, then to the Guatemala border to board one of the Ticabus autocars all the way south to costa rica. I would love to know how exactly can I find the colectivos, or if there are any, from one place to the other? Just ask the locals?

    Any tips on cheap bus travel from Mex. city to Yucatan – does your trip idea through Chiapas still work? It sounds nice but i’m a bit afraid of getting lost somewhere (don’t speak much Spanish)

    • Yes, the way I describe traveling south on cheap buses still works, but flying is probably cheaper, especially to Cancun.

      If you are going to Guatemala then you will cross the border in Chiapas, not the Yucatan. There you would go to Belize first, and if you are trying to travel cheap you should skip Belize. It’s pricier than Guatemala and the last time I went there it was $20 USD just to enter the country.

      Colectivos depart from downtown Cancun right across from the bus terminal and from Playa del Carmen about three blocks from the bus terminal. And yes, ask locals how to find any other ones.

      Have a great trip!

      • Hey Ted, thanks for the reply.

        You are right, my bus to Guatemala and beyond leaves from Tapachula (Chiapas) if I’m not mistaken (which I hope I am not). Considering there will be only about one week from the day I leave Mexico City and the departure time I have thought some more about it and decided that sadly I’d better make a choice and enjoy it rather than try to do it all.

        So I will go to San Cristobal and from there “explore” the area – probably go to Palenque! and not venture into the Yucatan I think… I believe Palenque and Chiapas will allow me to see Maya ruins and jungle too!

        The reason I do not wish to fly at all is because I’ve done this whole trip with the idea of remaining on land (or boats). I’ve made it here from the Yukon territory and I’ll keep my feet on the ground! Plus I love bus travels and seeing the countryside go by, and hate airports and their surroundings.

        I will for sure peruse your travel advice some more! Thanks so much!

        GP

      • It’s my pleasure to help. Chiapas is one of my favorite regions in Mexico — in fact I have a guidebook for San Cris and Palenque (look to the right of the screen).
        The colectivos in San Cris are easy to find, next to the bus station. You’ll go to Comitan first and then transfer there for Tapachula. You can also take colectivos to Palenque, with a stop in Ocosingo on the way.

  2. Hey…great info on your page. Really helped me when i was in Mexico. I will be back there in a few days. I will be in Monterrey for some time so i wanted to know of any buses running from there to CDMX. I don’t mind what level of comfortability it is or how long the journey will be. Any help/info appreciated.

    • Hi Luke, ETN is one bus that makes the trip: https://venta.etn.com.mx/
      12 hours, 1,200 pesos — but if you go to the bus station in Monterrey you’ll find a lot of other options.
      Also, like I say in the article, take a look at flights. You could probably find one cheaper, and it will save you a lot of time. Good luck.

  3. Hello Ted!
    Thanks heaps for this info… I was particularly interested to learn that there are direct busses from Oaxaca to the Guatemala border… I remember having to wait over an hour in Comitan for a mini bus… right on the highway…
    My girlfriend ad I are planning to go from Leon to Oaxaca first. Would you know if we have to go into Mexico City or if we can avoid this?
    Thanks in advance!
    Jurgen

    • Hi Jurgen,
      As far as I know, there are not direct buses from Oaxaca to the Guatemalan border — you would have to go to Comitan again and take a colectivo.
      From Leon to Oaxaca, yes you would have to go to Mexico City, although if you have a lot of time and patience, you probably could travel down the coast starting in Zihuatanejo.
      Thanks for commenting.

      • Hi Ted,
        Thanks for your quick reply!!

        this is from your website (https://nohaybronca.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/how-to-travel-around-mexico-by-bus-for-cheap/) (I shortenend the text a bit, but…):

        Oaxaca City and coast

        In Oaxaca city there is an entire terminal for second-class buses next to the Central Abastos, a huge market about 15 minutes from the center of town. Here you can travel all over Oaxaca and to Chiapas for cheap.
        Chiapas
        Earlier I mentioned Viajes Aury and its 350-peso fare direct to San Cristobal.

        The buses also stop in Puebla (on the highway, not in town) and much later Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas. After San Cristobal they continue on to Comitan and the Guatemalan border.

        so, NOW I am puzzled 🙂

      • I meant from Mexico City all the way to Comitan, not from Oaxaca. There are several companies, so some might go to the border and some might stop in Comitan.

  4. Hey, nice website and good Infos.
    If you don’t have the standard Latin America size, take a flight. Travelled from San cristobal near mazunte with overnight bus… It isn’t very comfy with 1,92m for sure.

    We couldn’t buy our bus tickets online, as our foreign credit card was not accepted. Don’t know why. Getting money with the card was not a problem anywhere.

  5. Hi there. Great Blog!! We want to travel from Puebla to Yucatan as cheap as possible. Can you tell us how to get there? Keep up the good work

  6. I am currently in Cancun right now trying to figure out the best bus route to Puerto Vallarta. Any advice and or tips on the best way to take this trip, and the cheapest, would be greatly appreciated, Im doing all the research I can because I am a single, 27 year old, traveling solo with very little cash and/or valuables. I want to have a safe but fun adventure! Salude!!

  7. Great blog! We are flying in and out of Mexico City, and have ten days to cruise around on buses. Looking for an itinerary that includes beautiful villages,a good natural vibe, and yummy food…any suggestions? Thx….Steve n Mindy.

    • Let’s see…Puebla for good food, and it’s a beautiful city too. The prettiest village nearby is Taxco (maybe in all of Mexico too). Other nice small towns with good natural vibes are Ixtapan de la Sal or Valle de Bravo.
      Thanks for the comment and have a nice trip! Any more questions, write me here.

  8. Hi my name is Gabriel we going in vacation in cancun next month in. January 2016 I would like to go to hot spring ..thermal weater….how can I found those place from cancun,,.?any advices?

    • There are hot springs all over Mexico, but I don’t think there are any on the Yucatan peninsula. You can go to cenotes instead – caves with clear, fresh water.

  9. HI TC, Thank you very much for this blog and all these advices, we are two couples of friends travelling there during christmas hollidays from th 27th to the 3rd. we’ll land in puebla on the 27th and we want to see the maximum of mexico without expanding a lot of money. I checked for fly tickets from mexico to cancun for this period (29th december to january 1st) and it’s minimum 360 $CAD, we paid 475 from Quebec city to puebla so that’s kind of expensive for us. What are in your opinion the best option that we have to choose to visite real mexico, relaxe, enjoy and don’t spend too much money for approximatively 7 days in Mexico? thanks again very much for your blog it’s a real Bible for travelling in mexico 🙂

    • Thanks a lot for your kind words about my blog. About your trip – Puebla is really nice, and it’s easy to get to Mexico City from there. A little farther away in the opposite direction is Oaxaca City, also very nice, and from there you could take a bus to the coast and some beautiful beaches like Zipolite, Mazunte or Puerto Escondido. Visiting all those places would be 7 days, easy. Any questions, write me here again.

  10. HiI just wanted to thank you for posting this article! My friend and I are going to Cancun in June 2015 because of sundance vacations incentives program. We are not interested in Cancun and really would like to go to yucatan for the pyramids, Tolantongo Caves in San Cristobal, Cardonal, Hidalgo,Ixmiquilpan, Mexico because I really want to go to the hot springs and finally to
    Guanajuato because we heard its really pretty. We were wondering how to get to each place by second class bus because we don’t have a lot of money and we don’t know a lot of Spanish 😥 the trip to cancun is 4 days 3 nights and we will try to extend it to a week because we have to be back in cancun to return home. If possible we’d like to leave from Mexico City airport instead of going back to cancun. Thank you ^_^

    • Hi Amanda, If you want to go farther north (around Mexico City) after Cancun, I would definitely fly. The bus would be way too long, and even combinations of second-class buses would probably be more expensive.
      Look at prices of flights for a few weeks and wait for a deal. You should be able to fly from Cancun to Mexico City for $100 USD or less on one of Mexico’s airlines: volaris, aerobus, or interjet. They all have websites in English.
      Thanks for the comment and have a great trip!

  11. Yes traveling can be very inexpensive if you are choosing bus as your mode of transportation, also if you can find a place that is cheap in terms of money then it will help you more to reduce your travel expenses.

  12. Great info on this blog! I’m actually going to cancun from Orange County (near LA). Wanted to know if you knew if any cheap buses (not ADO or equivalent) to Mexico City or nearby towns around there. From there I will definitely use your blog as a guide to make my way to cancun. My schedule is flexible up to a month or so. Will be leaving around March 10, 2014. Thanks in advance!

    • I would look into flights from Tijuana. I saw one recently advertized for about 100 USD. The airline is volaris – look at volaris.com

      I’m sure there are cheap buses from Tijuana but that will be a long trip!

      • Yep sounds like the only way to find a bus will be going to tijuana which I don’t mind at all. Been there at least over 150 trips now. Don’t know why I haven’t moved there yet. Saw the $100 flight to Guad. Will probably fly there because I heard that every time you drive into a state from northern mexico, military do a thorough search of the bus & your luggage. Things also seem to get pretty interesting when you head further south. Thanks for the quick reply TC. Much appreciated

  13. I think bus is a best and cheapest way of transportation 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.

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