Blog Archives

All about Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport

Tips and practical information for Mexico’s biggest and busiest airport

SONY DSC

If you fly to Mexico from abroad, there’s a good chance that you’ll arrive or transfer in Mexico City.

Benito Juarez International is by far the biggest and busiest airport in Mexico. Here you can take a connecting flight on one of Mexico’s discount airlines to practically any other part of the country. Or you can take a short subway or bus ride into Mexico City, where many great adventures begin. After exploring the city, continue onward in a bus or a rental car.

Like any major airport anywhere in the world, Benito Juarez International is big and confusing, but there’s nothing to be worried about. A little knowledge and preparation goes a long way. After a long flight, it’s no fun walking around in circles with your heavy baggage and nowhere to go, no pesos, and no Spanish skills.

At a minimum you should learn about public transportation routes and schedules, how to get money, and procedures for customs and immigration. Figuring these out for my recent trips to Russia and South Africa was enormously helpful, even though it required a lot of online research beforehand.

That research gave me some insight into what it’s like for first-time travelers to Mexico to arrive by plane in Mexico City. So, with that in mind, here’s what you need to know to successfully navigate the Benito Juarez International Airport.

Choose a good arrival time

The first step is to choose your flight carefully so you arrive while public transportation is still running. But if you don’t mind paying for a taxi to your hotel, then it really doesn’t matter what time you arrive. In this case, review the policies of your hotel for the earliest time you can check-in or if you must let them know before arriving late at night.

(I’ll write about getting hotels in Mexico in another post, but for now, if you’re still looking for a place to stay, check out all the options on websites like Booking.com)

If you want to use public transportation, don’t arrive before 6 AM or after 8 PM. Although the metro (subway) and the metrobus (local buses that run on a fixed route) do run later, usually until around 11 PM, it’s not a good idea to walk around Mexico City in the dark while dragging your baggage from the bus or metro stop to your hotel. Sure, downtown is reasonably safe (at least in the daytime), but there’s no need to tempt fate.

Also keep in mind that buses from the airport to other nearby cities stop running around 10 PM, and you may need up to an hour to get through immigration and customs, depending on how busy they are.

If you don’t mind sleeping on the plane, the best time to arrive is between 6 and 7 AM. You can take public transportation and beat Mexico City’s insane rush hour traffic, which really gets heavy after 7. Another good time to arrive is between 10 AM and 1 PM. You’ll miss rush hour when traveling into the city, and you’ll get to your hotel just in time for check-in.

If you arrive in the morning, make sure your hotel doesn’t charge for an early check-in. Check-in for most hotels is around 2 PM, but if the room is ready they’ll probably let you in early. If not, then leave your bags behind the front desk and go out for a long breakfast.

A second consideration when planning your flights is whether you’ll transfer in Mexico City for another destination in Mexico. You’ll clear immigration and also customs there before you fly to your next destination. This could take 10 minutes or an hour—or even longer on a busy Mexican holiday. Make sure you have enough time between flights.

There are two terminals at the Mexico City Airport, and depending on how busy it is, getting from one to the other could take around 30 minutes. They are too far apart to walk—you take a little train between them.

Which terminal your flight arrives at depends on which airline it is. So if both flights are on the same airline, you probably won’t have to change terminals. But if they are different airlines, include extra time when considering your layover.

Save your tourist card

Like for most countries, you’ll get the tourist/immigration and customs cards on the plane. They are in Spanish and English, so filling them out is easy. If you have any questions, ask the flight attendant.

You might find a few typos—for example, at the moment both the top and bottom parts say that it is the arrival card. The bottom part is actually the departure card, so fill in all the information except for the flight number.

no-hay-bronca-fmm-mex-imm-form

Immigration

Once the plane lands, all the passengers will be herded toward the immigration area, called migración in Mexico. Get in the line for foreigners, not for Mexican citizens.

You’ll give the tourist form to the immigration officer, who will stamp the bottom part, write the amount of time you are granted to be in the country (usually 180 days), and give it back to you. Save this card—you’ll need it to leave Mexico, and if you don’t have it you’ll be fined about $30 USD.

You’ll probably be asked about the purpose of your trip (tourism), how long you plan on staying, and where you’ll be staying (your hotel or other destination), but probably little else. It’s rare that they ask to see your return ticket (which can be common in other countries, like the U.S.), but regardless it’s good to have a printout of your return itinerary just in case.

Customs

The customs area is next to the baggage claim in both terminals. After getting your bags and waiting in line, you’ll hand the customs form to the officer and then push a button. Above the button you’ll see either a green or red light. The green light means that you can enter, and the red light means you’ll be searched.

The one time I pushed red I had the maximum allowable amount of liquor (three liters at the time, but this may change) in a duty-free shop bag and three more bottles in my luggage. As eager as I was to get out of the airport, I stood back patiently and answered all of the officer’s questions while she lined up the bottles on the metal counter. She got about halfway through my bag and let me go, no problem.

So take my advice—be as respectful and patient as possible. (This goes for all Mexican authorities.) DO NOT complain or tell them you’re in hurry, which will only annoy them and cause them to give you a hard time.

Terminal 1 or Terminal 2?

As I mentioned above, there are two terminals at the airport, which are far apart on opposite sides of the runways. It won’t be obvious which terminal you are in upon arrival, so if you need to make a connection, ask a flight attendant on the plane or an officer in the baggage claim.

The terminals are not divided by international and domestic; different airlines use different terminals. You can find the list here:

http://www.worldairportguides.com/mexico-city-mex/airlines.php

A train called the Autotrain travels between the terminals. Save your boarding pass to use it because they won’t let you on without one.

Changing money

Exchange rates in airports are typically terrible all over the world, but not so much in Mexico City. Don’t use the ones when you are still inside the baggage claim area, but wait until you clear customs.

At each currency exchange booth you’ll see two different numbers for U.S. dollars and other major currencies: buy and sell. The smaller the difference between them, the better the rate. For example, if “buy” is at 20.54 and “sell” is at 20.40, it’s a good deal. But if “buy” is at 22.00 and “sell” is at 18.00, the rate is worse.

It’s crucial to have an idea of the exchange rate before you arrive so you can compare rates at the different booths with the official rate. Before your trip, check exchange rates online, such as at this website: http://coinmill.com

Make some notes about how much your home currency is worth in pesos, so you aren’t trying to make rushed calculations after a long flight. Make a sheet with notes like this:

  • $10 USD = 200 pesos
  • $20 USD = 400 pesos
  • 100 pesos = $5 USD
  • 200 pesos = $10 USD

(These rates are only examples.)

By the way, exchanging money in downtown Mexico City is easy, so if the rates are bad at the airport, only get what you need for transportation and a meal.

Or, for a generally better exchange rate, withdraw from a bank ATM. Many are scattered throughout both terminals, including near the exit for the metrobus in Terminal 2. Look for ATMs with international credit exchange symbols on them, like Cirrus or Interac, and match those symbols to the ones on your card:

SONY DSC

Common banks in Mexico, all of which have ATMs in the airport, are Bancomer, Banamex, Banorte, Santander, HSBC, and Scotiabank.

For more about managing your money in Mexico and Latin America, please read this article.

Renting a car

Unless you’ll immediately drive to a nearby town or visit an unusual part of the city, I don’t recommend renting a car in Mexico City.

Driving around is a bad idea for three reasons: traffic, parking, and confusing road signs that make getting lost easy. Driving through the wrong neighborhood could get you carjacked or worse. Plus, you can get to all the major tourist spots by bus, metro or metrobus.

But if you want to rent a car, you can do it at the many booths near the taxi stands, although you can often get a better deal online. All the usual international companies are there, like Enterprise, Budget, etc.

If you reserve online, be aware that the insurance offered by third-party websites like expedia.com is not valid in Mexico. When you go to pick up the car, the price will double or even triple when they add insurance. To avoid this, arrange car rentals directly on company websites, and read all that boing fine print.

Picking up a car at a major airport can take a long time. First you get in line at the booth inside the airport and then take a shuttle to the car lot, where you fill out all the paperwork and wait for the car to be ready. Then, once it’s ready, you go around the car inspecting for previous damage, and finally sign the contract.

This means that you shouldn’t expect a fast process when picking up a car at the airport. Plan for the extra time. Fortunately, dropping the car off before departing usually only takes a few minutes.

Ground transportation

Besides renting a car, there are three better options to get into downtown Mexico City: a taxi, the metrobus, and the metro (subway).

Taxis take you anywhere; the metrobus is a good option in the daylight hours to get to the zócalo (central square) or elsewhere in the centro historico or nearby neighborhoods like Condesa or Zona Rosa; and the metro goes practically everywhere and is by far the cheapest and most confusing.

Also, if you’ll travel by land to another city in Mexico, many direct buses leave from both terminals.

Taxis

Using a taxi is the fastest, easiest, and most expensive option. For safety’s sake, do not flag down a taxi outside the terminals, but use a taxi stand inside the airport.

Ignore anyone who approaches you offering a taxi—go right to the stands. Many obvious ones are in both terminals and prices should be similar, if not the same. Confirm that you’ll be in a regular car (a sedan, the word in Spanish and English) and not a big passenger van, which costs more.

At the time of writing, getting downtown (the centro historico) costs about 230 pesos (about $12 USD). If you want to pay with a credit card, look for Mastercard, Visa or American Express stickers on the booth window. Or get some pesos first—don’t pay in U.S. dollars, as the exchange rate will be ridiculous.

SONY DSC

The price is determined by neighborhood, so have the full address of your hotel ready. You’ll pay at the stand and then receive a slip of paper to give to a person by the line of taxis waiting outside. Once in the taxi, tell the driver the specific address of where you’re going—again, having it written down is essential, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

The price of a taxi is the same no matter how many people use it, so try to share with any friends you make on your flight who are traveling to the same part of the city as you.

Metrobus

This is a good option if you’re going downtown and don’t mind dragging your luggage around. There’s plenty of space for it on the bus, although the buses tend to get quite crowded soon after leaving the airport.

The metrobus line for the airport is Line 4. Check out the map to find the stop closest to your hotel and if it’s within walking distance.

http://www.metrobus.cdmx.gob.mx/mapa_L4.html

The metrobus leaves from the ground floor in each terminal, close to where you exit customs. It leaves from Door 7 (Puerta 7) in Terminal 1 and Door 3 (Puerta 3) in Terminal 2. Look for the MB symbol on signs hanging from the ceiling. Once outside, look for MB symbol on a sign—that’s the bus stop—and wait in line for the big red bus. (Or are they green now?)

SONY DSC

To pay, buy a card from a machine inside each terminal near the door to the bus stop. The minimum is 40 pesos plus 10 for the card, so that’s 50. The machine accepts 20, 50 and 100 bills, but it doesn’t give change, so buy something from the convenience store OXXO if you only have big bills.

From either terminal it takes about 30 minutes to get downtown. If you don’t have hotel reservations, but plan on walking around looking for a hotel (there are many around the zócalo), get off at Bellas Artes—you can’t miss it.

SONY DSC

Metro (the subway)

The Mexico City metro is super cheap at 5 pesos per ride, and although it’s safe enough, it definitely isn’t a good idea for anyone who has never taken a subway before or has a lot of luggage. You need to be able to read the map, be comfortable with transfers, and keep an eye on your bags at all times.

The metro leaves from Terminal 1. Walk outside, turn left, and keep walking until you see the entrance. The name of the stop is Terminal Aérea, and it’s on an out-of-the-way line, so you’ll probably have to transfer at least once. Get a copy of the metro map beforehand and plan your route. Not all stations have maps posted and they aren’t always available when you buy tickets, although you can try asking for one.

Here is a link to a map for the metro: http://mexicometro.org/wp-content/uploads/Mexico-City-Metro-Map-October-2015.pdf

As you can see, the Terminal Aérea stop is on the yellow line (on the far right on the map), which doesn’t go downtown. Only a stop or two away, however, are transfers to the major lines that cross the city, including the pink line through downtown. To look for hotels in the historic center, get off on the Pino Suarez or Isabela la Catolica stops on the pink line, and ask someone to point you in the direction of the zócalo. You’ll pass many discount hotels on the walk there.

Tip: If you plan on frequently traveling by metro during your stay in Mexico City, buy many tickets at once so you don’t have to wait in line each time.

SONY DSC

Buses to nearby cities

Buses go from the airport to the nearby cities of Puebla, Cuernavaca, Querétaro, Toluca, and more. Most run between 6-7 AM until 10 PM.

To find the buses in either terminal, once you leave customs follow the signs for transporte foráneo (ground transportation) with a little bus icon next to it.

SONY DSC

In Terminal 1, take a left after you leave the customs area and follow the signs. You’ll take another left, go up a motorized ramp to the second floor, pass a food court, go down a hallway, and you’ll see desks for the different destinations.

In Terminal 2, finding the bus station is easier—take a right out of customs and just follow the signs straight on. It’s on the same floor and looks more like a typical bus station than the one in Terminal 1.

Yes, you can buy tickets online beforehand, but I don’t recommend this in case your flight is late. I have never seen a bus sell out, but if this happens the worst thing would be to wait for the next one.

For a summary page of the buses that leave from the Mexico City airport, you can consult this page on the airport website, which may not be up to date. You can check schedules on the bus company websites for four major destinations:

To Puebla: Estrella Roja

To Cuernavaca: Pullman Morelos

To Toluca: Caminante

To Querétaro: Primera Plus

Departing

Once you’ve been in Mexico City for a while, you’ll know whether there’s a metrobus or metro stop near your hotel that you can take back to the airport once it’s time to leave. If you want to take a taxi, have the hotel call one for you. Waving down taxis on the street in Mexico City isn’t safe.

Make sure you know which terminal your flight departs from (see above), and follow the standard advice for international flights—arrive at least three hours early.

The good news is that you can buy a beer from a convenience store near the departure gates and drink it in the waiting area for your flight—you don’t have to get overcharged at a restaurant.

Once again, be sure that you have the departure portion of the tourist card that was stamped when you arrived, or be prepared to pay the fine.

A final tip: Don’t buy tequila or other booze (mezcal, Kahlúa, or good Central American rum like Flor de Caña) at the duty free shop. It’s cheaper at an average grocery, liquor or convenience store in the city, but definitely not at a specialty shop in a tourist area. Put the bottles in your checked luggage, and check the requirements of your home country about how much you can bring back.

The same goes for souvenirs. Don’t wait for the airport. The best place for souvenirs in Mexico City, by the way, is the Ciudadela Market.

Finally, take a moment of appreciation for an airport in a major city that’s only 30 minutes from downtown. In fact, a new airport outside the city is already being built.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the prime real estate currently occupied by Benito Juarez International, but one can only hope that at least part of it will become a public park.

Advertisements

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.

%d bloggers like this: