Last Updated on November 11, 2023 by Janine
Wondering how to use the ADO bus line to travel through Mexico? Read on because I’m covering everything (and I mean eeeeverything) you need to know about Mexico’s ADO bus!
If you’re wondering whether traveling through Mexico by bus is a good idea, I’m here to tell you that it absolutely is.
I lived in Mexico for about four years and have visited over half of the states in the country. I reached almost all of them (except those in Baja) by bus.
Mexico’s bus systems are prolific, affordable, and safe! And, once you learn the basics, arranging bus travel is super simple. There are multiple ADO departures each day in most cities, making it easy to plan your trips, even at the last minute.
ADO is one of Mexico’s largest bus companies and one of the best-regarded. It operates in southern Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula. If you’re traveling within Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Yucatan state, or any others in between, ADO is the bus company you will use.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through absolutely everything you could ever want to know (and then some) about how to navigate the ADO bus in Mexico.
(After this article, you will be!)
Once you’re on the ground in Mexico, knowing how to pronounce ADO correctly will serve you well. Later in this article, I’ll share some key bus-related vocabulary, but for now, let’s start with this…
In Spanish, ADO is pronounced, “Ah-Day-Oh.”
Use this pronunciation, and locals will know what you’re talking about. If you use the English phonetic pronunciation, you’ll get nowhere.
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Where Does ADO Travel?
While ADO serves many of Mexico’s most popular destinations, it does NOT travel throughout the entire country.
ADO stands for Autobuses de Oriente, which translates to “Buses of the East.” ADO serves Mexico’s East Coast, southern Mexico, and the Yucatan peninsula.
If you’re planning to travel North of Mexico City, you’ll have to use a different bus company. The company you use will depend on where you are going.
For long trips, you may even have to switch bus lines part of the way through. Use the website Busbud to help plan your route and determine which bus lines serve your destination.
Did you just realize that ADO doesn’t go where you’re hoping to travel? I’ve written extensively about Mexico’s bus systems here, so check that article out for further assistance.
Are ADO Buses Safe?
ADO buses are one of the safest ways to travel in Mexico. Passenger carry-on bags are searched, and every passenger must travel through a metal detector before boarding, so you can rest easy knowing that nobody will be bringing weapons on board. (Not that one need be particularly concerned about this anyway… but the metal detector does offer peace of mind, I suppose).
Most importantly, ADO buses travel on toll roads whenever possible. Toll roads are the safest routes in Mexico since they are regularly patrolled and generally are in good repair.
Generally, there is no cause for concern, but there is a small possibility of petty theft on buses, especially on really touristic routes such as those in the Riviera Maya. It’s unlikely, but I have heard of things being stolen inside the cabin.
With this in mind, don’t leave any valuables (like your laptop or passport) in an unattended bag. I never put my purse in the overhead bin. Instead, I like to carry it with me in my seat so I can keep a close eye on it.
Concerned about petty theft? Travel with an anti-theft purse!
ADO Service Levels
ADO offers various classes of bus service, and they also have a couple of partner companies under their brand umbrella that offer more economical service options: AU and OCC.
Each service level provides different amenities and has different price points. It’s worth understanding the differences so you can decide which option will be most comfortable for your trip.
Generally, the higher the level of service, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more efficient the journey. Economy buses tend to make lots of stops, which draws the trip out a lot.
For long trips (5 hours or more), go with the most premium service you can afford. Platino is fantastic, but GL would be perfectly comfortable too. If you want to save money for shorter trips, an economy bus would be comfortable enough.
Traveling soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance for Mexico. Insurance gives you peace of mind knowing you can get the help you need if anything goes wrong. SafetyWing is the provider that I recommend.
Platino is the most premium of the ADO bus service levels. These first-class buses are equipped with just 27 seats, providing each passenger with plenty of personal space. Each seat also offers a personal entertainment system, a USB charging port, an electrical outlet, and a tray table.
The cabin is equipped with a men’s and a women’s restroom, air conditioning, and a coffee station. Passengers are also provided with a “travel kit” upon boarding, containing a sandwich, snacks, and a bottle of water or soda.
When you travel with Platino, you get to wait in a special departure lounge at the bus station. These lounges usually offer complimentary WiFi, a coffee station, televisions, and a restroom just for Platino and GL passengers.
Platino buses are the most costly of all the service levels, and they don’t run as frequently as the others. If you have a long journey ahead of you, you can’t go wrong with Platino, but I’d opt for a GL bus if the departure time was more favorable.
GL stands for “gran lujo” or “great luxury.” These buses hold 40 passengers. While there is no individual media center, GL buses have televisions throughout the cabin that broadcast a movie during travel.
Each seat is equipped with an audio jack so you can listen to the film if you want to. Seats also have a USB port and an electrical outlet for charging devices.
The cabin is air-conditioned and equipped with a men’s and women’s restroom. Passengers receive a complimentary beverage (water, juice, or soda) upon boarding.
GL passengers typically have access to the same premium departure lounge as the Platino passengers.
GL operates on a much more frequent schedule than Platino but offers a comparable level of service for less money. I almost always book GL unless there happens to be a Platino leaving at a convenient time.
ADO Primera Clase
Primera Clase, or First Class, is the most basic of ADO’s service levels. These buses hold 44 passengers.
The cabin is air-conditioned, and the seats each feature a USB port and an electrical outlet. There are television screens throughout the cabin, but they do not have individual audio connections– the sound is broadcast through cabin speakers, which can be annoying, depending on the film.
The biggest downside to the Primera Clase buses (in my opinion) is that they offer just one onboard restroom. This may not seem like a big sacrifice, but sharing one bathroom with 43 other passengers is not a recipe for a good time in my experience. Especially if you end up sitting next to it (#beenthere!).
Primera Clase has a much lower price point than GL and Platino, but I don’t recommend it if you’re traveling for more than a couple of hours.
You’ve already suffered enough in life. Book GL or Platino whenever possible.
OCC stands for Ómnibus Cristóbal Colón, and it is a brand owned under the ADO umbrella. OCC offers a very similar level of service to ADO’s Primera Clase buses.
Their air-conditioned cabins have 44 seats, each with an electrical outlet (no USB ports on these buses, sadly). There are televisions throughout the cabin, but no individual audio ports, so pack earplugs if you don’t want to listen to it!
OCC buses only have one restroom.
AU stands for Autobuses Unidos and is also part of the ADO brand. These economy buses each have 49 seats in an air-conditioned cabin.
They do not have bathrooms onboard. As a result, AU buses typically stop a few times on journeys over 2 hours to ensure passengers have a break. While this is appreciated, it also adds a lot of travel time.
AU travels between Mexico City and the southeastern states of Mexico, stopping in most cities along the way.
If you’re looking to save money or traveling only a short distance, AU is a good option, but it may not be the most comfortable, and it’s definitely not the fastest way to go.
Traveling on a budget? Check out my guide to backpacking through Mexico!
How to Buy ADO Bus Tickets
You have so many options for purchasing ADO bus tickets that it might be a bit overwhelming. You can’t go wrong. Just choose the method that is most convenient for you.
Buying ADO bus tickets through their website
One way to book ADO bus tickets is on their website. ADO’s website is in Spanish, but the booking process is pretty straightforward, so you should be able to navigate it even if you don’t speak Spanish. Keep Google Translate open in a separate tab, just in case!
Struggle alert: Inputting your departure point and your destination can be a bit finicky on the ADO website, especially in cities where there are multiple options. For instance, in Mexico City, you can choose from Mexico City, Mexico City TAPO, Mexico City Norte, etc, and it’s tough to know which option is best if you’re unfamiliar with the city. If you find yourself overwhelmed, just book tickets in person so the agent can guide you through the process.
The ADO website doesn’t accept foreign credit cards, so choose PayPal as your payment method.
Don’t have PayPal?
Select the “efectivo” (cash) payment option. Then you can reserve the tickets online, but you’ll have to go to one of the businesses listed below to complete your cash payment. Once your transaction has been completed, ADO will email you the tickets.
The businesses where you can complete the payment include:
- Circle K
- Farmacias Benavides
- Sam’s Club
- Farmacias del Ahorro
Before choosing this payment method, make sure one of these businesses is nearby!
You usually receive a discount If you buy your ADO bus tickets online at least a day ahead of your trip.
Note: There is also an ADO mobile app (called ADO móvil) that you can use to book tickets. The ADO website is notoriously buggy and terrible, but some travelers have better luck with the app (though it is also notoriously buggy).
If you can’t get either of these options to work, Busbud is the best way to book your bus ticket online.
Booking through Busbud
Busbud is a ticket aggregator that enables you to buy ADO bus tickets online. It does charge a small fee on top of the ticket price, so you pay a tiny bit more (seriously, only a tiny bit) than you would by booking directly through ADO, but Busbud has some major advantages.
- The website is in English.
- Busbud enables you to book tickets for routes that require you to switch bus operators. For instance, if you are trying to travel from Veracruz to Queretaro, ADO buses don’t go all the way. You’ll have to switch to a different bus company at some point, but Busbud enables you to book that entire trip in one go instead of reserving each leg through a different provider.
- You can pay for bus tickets using a foreign credit card!
With all this in mind, if you prefer to book bus tickets online, definitely book through Busbud.
Where to buy ADO bus tickets in person
If you prefer to purchase bus tickets in person, you still have plenty of options.
- Oxxo: You’ll find this convenience store in every city in Mexico. You can purchase bus tickets at the counter. You may pay a small commission to Oxxo on top of the price of your ticket, but it won’t be anything too extravagant.
- ADO satellite office: ADO often has satellite offices or kiosks inside airports, malls, or in the downtown core of cities. These offices make it easy to purchase tickets without going all the way to the bus station.
- ClickBus kiosk: ClickBus kiosks are another great way to purchase ADO bus tickets in person without going all the way to the bus station. Like the ADO satellites, these kiosks are often found in shopping malls, busy downtown areas (usually around a city’s zócalo), or airport terminals. These kiosks can sell you tickets for any of their partner bus lines, so if your trip requires multiple carriers, ClickBus can likely help you book the whole trip.
- Bus Station: Of course, you can always purchase your bus tickets at the bus station. I always prefer to book ahead for peace of mind, but if your schedule is flexible, you can show up shortly before the bus departs to purchase your ticket.
Related Reading: Tips for Managing Money in Mexico
Bus Stations in Mexico
Bus stations in Mexico are set up kind of like airports. Each bus line has its own ticket window, and buses depart from numbered (or lettered) gates.
At large bus stations, such as those in Mexico City or Puebla, your taxi driver may ask you which bus company you’re traveling with to determine where within the bus station to drop you off. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may be able to catch the ADO bus from the Mexico City airport.
In Mexico City, there are bus stations in different areas of the city. ADO doesn’t travel out of all of them, so you need to know which one you will depart from. In most other cities in Mexico, there is only one bus station.
Boarding the ADO bus
When it comes time to board your ADO bus, the process is simple. Your bus’s departure platform will be listed on your ticket. Sometimes it’s a letter, and sometimes it’s a number.
Boarding usually begins about 10 minutes before departure.
Usually, there is an announcement over the PA system in the bus station, but often these are hard to hear (especially if your Spanish is spotty). In some bus stations, there are digital screens (like in airports) showing which buses are currently boarding.
Failing that, keep an eye on the platform and head outside about 5 minutes before your scheduled departure. The buses each show their destinations on a screen in the front window, so it should be easy to tell which one is yours. If in doubt, ask a fellow traveler, or peep someone’s ticket.
Before boarding the bus, you must pass through a metal detector. Then, you will be asked to present your bus ticket and a piece of ID. Once the driver is satisfied that your name matches, you’re free to board. If you have a large piece of luggage with you, you’ll be directed to place it in the cargo compartment of the bus before you board.
Checking Your Bags with ADO
When you travel with ADO, you will have to place large pieces of luggage in the cargo compartment under the bus. This is perfectly secure. There is no luggage limit on ADO and no restrictions on the weight of your bag. You can check as many bags as you like for no additional cost.
If you are traveling ADO GL or Platino, you can usually check your bags about 30 minutes before boarding your bus. If there’s no bag check counter inside the bus station, you’ll check your bags as you board.
Line up next to the bus and pass your bag to the attendant to have it stored in the cargo hold. They will attach a tag to your luggage and tear off a piece of it for you to keep (kind of like a coat check tag). You will have to present this ticket to collect your bag at the end of your journey.
Once your bag is safely stowed in the cargo compartment, go ahead and find your seat onboard.
Bus Vocabulary to Know
A common hangup when it comes to learning Spanish is not having the vocabulary you need for the situation you currently find yourself in.
I’ve definitely been there, and let me tell you, the bus ticket agent doesn’t care who is comiendo manzanas. Thanks for nothing, Duolingo!
This is my attempt to combat awkward situations like that.
Here are some handy words and phrases you should know when traveling by bus in Mexico.
- Central de autobuses – Bus station
- Con anticipación – In advance
- Directo – Direct
- De paso – Buses that travel “de paso” make stops along the route, as opposed to direct buses, which don’t
- Parada – Bus stop
- Boleto – Ticket
- Destino – Destination
- Sala – Salon or lounge; this refers to the waiting room
- Asiento – Seat
- Fecha – Date
- Nombre – Name
- Apellido – Last Name
- Llegada – Arrival
- Abordar – To board (verb)
- Abordando – Boarding
- Origen – Origin
- Saliendo – Leaving
- Salida – Exit
- Viaje – Trip
- Conductor – Driver
Want to learn some more helpful Spanish phrases? Download this free printable phrase sheet before your trip!
What to Pack on an ADO Bus
The following are a few items I recommend traveling with when taking the ADO bus. If you need more assistance packing for Mexico, click here to grab my detailed Mexico packing checklist!
- Travel insurance: You should never leave home without travel insurance. Policies cover everything from trip interruption to unexpected illness and injury. There are even policies that cover the costs associated with testing positive for Covid-19. I recommend SafetyWing insurance policies.
- Face masks: Masks are required in enclosed spaces throughout Mexico, so make sure you pack a comfortable one (or two) for your bus journey.
- Tissues: Restrooms are not always well-stocked in Mexico, so it’s wise to carry some spare tissues in case you need them.
- Hand sanitizer: It’s worth keeping a little bottle of hand sanitizer gel (or a pack of wet wipes, but the gel is smaller) in your bag just in case bathrooms don’t have soap. It’s also wise to sanitize your snacks before eating to avoid any GI issues. You likely buy this at OXXO at the bus station if you don’t remember to pack it.
- Pepto Bismol tablets: A bus journey is one of the worst times for Moctezuma’s revenge to strike. I always stash a few chewable Pepto tablets in my purse just in case my stomach starts to rumble.
- Water bottle: Depending on the service level you select, you may receive complimentary beverages when you board your bus. But it’s always wise to bring your own, just in case. I recommend a LifeStraw bottle; the built-in filter lets you drink water straight from the tap.
- Headphones: Some ADO buses have personal entertainment systems, but you will need headphones to listen to the content. Usually, they offer complimentary earbuds, but the sound quality is terrible. Bring your own set if you want to listen to anything during the trip (you will need wired ones).
- Audible: I’m a big reader, but reading in moving vehicles makes me motion sick. If you’re the same way, audiobooks are a great workaround! An Audible subscription is a super affordable way to access all kinds of great reads (…listens?)!
- A sweater: Most buses are heavily air-conditioned, so pack a warm layer, just in case!
- Anti-theft purse: While the chance of having anything stolen is low, an anti-theft purse offers great peace of mind. With locking zippers and scan-proof fabric, you don’t have to worry about anyone snagging your personal items or information. I have a Travelon Hobo crossbody, but there are many other anti-theft purse styles to choose from!
Related Reading: The Ultimate Mexico Packing List for Female Travelers
Popular ADO Bus Routes
As you saw on the map above, ADO serves many cities throughout Southern Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula. The route options are seemingly endless. These are a few popular routes in those regions where you may find yourself traveling by ADO.
ADO from Mexico City to Oaxaca
Oaxaca City is about 6 hours from Mexico City driving. The ADO bus is a super easy and safe way to get there. You can depart from Mexico City’s TAPO bus station and arrive at the Oaxaca bus terminal. The trip takes about 7 hours on ADO.
There are ADO buses to Oaxaca from other Mexico City bus stations, but TAPO is the main one, and it’s likely to be most central for you. It is the closest to the Mexico City airport, Centro Historico, and the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, where many travelers stay.
Other bus stations in Mexico City include Terminal Norte or Ejecutiva del Sur, among others.
Cancun to Merida
ADO is a fantastic way to get from Cancun to Merida. You can hop on a bus right at the airport (or from the bus station in downtown Cancun, if that’s more convenient) and ADO will have you in Merida in 4 to 4.5 hours.
Sure, it’s not as quick as driving, but it’s cheaper, easier, and safer than a rental car. If you decide you need a car to get around in Merida, just rent one when you get there!
Cancun to Tulum or Playa del Carmen
ADO is the safest and most cost-effective way to get to Tulum from the Cancun airport. You can board the bus right at the airport, and it will drop you at the bus station in downtown Tulum.
The tickets cost about $15 USD, and the journey takes about 2 hours. You can buy tickets online in advance or purchase them at the airport once you get through customs.
If you’re headed to Playa del Carmen, the process is the same.
Related Reading: How to Get to Tulum or Playa del Carmen from the Cancun Airport
Taking the ADO Bus: FAQs
Skimmed the article? Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about traveling with ADO.
Is it safe to take ADO buses?
Absolutely! While you should be cautious about petty theft, generally, there’s nothing to worry about when traveling on the bus.
Is it safe to take the bus at night in Mexico?
Probably, but it’s not recommended. While buses do take care to travel safe routes, night travel in Mexico poses many risks. Animals may unexpectedly cross the road and cause collisions, bus drivers may fall asleep at the wheel, impaired drivers could cause accidents, and more. If possible, avoid traveling on night buses.
I took many night buses back in the day, but I don’t anymore for the reasons listed above.
Is ADO Covid-safe?
In general, ADO seems to be trying to protect passengers against the spread of COVID-19, but it’s not perfect. Many passengers wear their masks haphazardly, and there is no social distancing protocol onboard the bus. It’s up to you to decide whether you feel comfortable in this environment. For more info on the current COVID situation in Mexico, click here.
Are there toilets on ADO buses?
Yes! ADO buses typically have toilets onboard, so there’s no need to worry about bathroom breaks. The only exception (in my experience) is ADO airport shuttles, which are sometimes smaller vans. However, if, for some reason, the bus doesn’t have a functional restroom, the driver will make a planned stop so passengers can use a bathroom.
Do I need to book ADO bus tickets in advance?
It usually isn’t necessary to book ADO bus tickets in advance (unless you’re traveling on holidays), but booking online with Busbud may save you some time and confusion, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. In most cases, there will be several different buses departing for your destination each day, so if one fills up you can just catch the next one.
However, it can provide tremendous peace of mind to make your arrangements ahead of time, so you don’t waste time sitting around the bus station. There’s usually an advance purchase discount when you buy ADO bus tickets online, too.
That said, you may have trouble finding the ADO bus schedule more than a month in advance. Generally, I recommend that you buy bus tickets a day or two ahead of time.
If you’re planning your trip months out, use the current month’s calendar to predict future bus schedules. The info may not be completely accurate, but it will give you an idea of how many buses run along your selected route each day.
Is my luggage safe on an ADO bus?
Your checked luggage is very safe on ADO. There’s a slight chance that someone could steal from your bags in the cabin since they’re not locked away. I’ve never had an issue personally, but I’ve heard tales of pickpockets on popular tourist routes, such as Cancun to Tulum.
To be safe, keep your most precious items (passport, phone, etc.) in your seat with you, not in the overhead compartment.
Additionally, paying for a GL or Platino ticket probably cushions you from the likelihood of pickpockets onboard. I suspect that most petty thieves aren’t going to splurge for a 500+ peso bus ticket.
Continue Planning Your Trip!
Mexico Guide Books
This Mexico phrasebook will help you communicate, even if your Spanish skills are lacking.
This Mexico travel guide is packed with all the info you could ever need.
I use a combination of Booking, Airbnb, and VRBO to find accommodation throughout Mexico.
Some cities in Mexico have more listings on VRBO than Airbnb (or vice versa), so it’s best to check both to find the perfect place!
Rental cars add tons of flexibility to your travel plans. If you opt to rent one, I recommend using Discover Cars to find the best rates!
Skyscanner is my favorite tool for finding the best deals on airfare.
Never leave home without travel insurance.
SafetyWing offers super-affordable policies that cover things like medical expenses, trip interruption, and lost luggage. They even offer coverage for some expenses related to COVID-19. Their policies are particularly great for long-term travelers, making them a great option for Mexico.
There’s no question that knowing basic Spanish is wildly beneficial in Mexico. It helps you stay aware of your surroundings, solve problems, and make friends!
RocketSpanish has a well-structured program that will take you from bumbling to conversational in just a few modules. Start your free trial today!
Still have questions?
Join my Female Travelers in Mexico Facebook group, a supportive community of fellow Mexico travel enthusiasts, where you can find answers to all your travel questions!