How to Travel Around Mexico by Bus for CHEAP
Updated November 2016
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Bus routes change, and information on the internet goes out of date.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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
Here’s a list of some more of the common bus companies and where they go, thanks again to the Mexperience website:
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.
(My guide to flying in Mexico is coming soon.)
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, especially for the north.
Like I said before, ask locals. Keep your eyes open –- sometimes independent bus stations are right next to the “official” bus station.
Cheap bus 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Thanks for reading, and please leave your tips below.
Posted on February 23, 2014, in Mexico, Travel, Travel in Mexico and tagged bus travel in mexico, cancun, cheap travel, cheap travel in mexico, chiapas, mexico bus, mexico city transportation, mexico colectivo, mexico travel, oaxaca, san cristobal de las casas. Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.