If the mention of bus travel conjures up images of seedy Greyhound stations decorated with graffiti and filled with the scent of pungent food of indeterminable ethnic origins… well, you’re not alone.
In my experience, that’s the BEST case scenario.
Back home on Vancouver Island, most of the “bus stations” are nothing more than a ticket window on the side of a grey, desolate street. You purchase your ticket while trying to dodge giant drops of foul-smelling water running out of a poorly placed downspout. Oh, Canada.
Bus travel in Mexico is pretty much the opposite of that.
Mexico has an extensive network of bus companies, each offering service to different regions of the country. If you happen to develop an inexplicable bias toward one company, no worries, you can usually just opt for another!
Bus lines typically offer a selection of class levels, ranging from executive class (the most deluxe), first-class, and finally economy class. That last option makes a lot of stops, but that can be fun too!
Buses are one of my favorite ways to travel in Mexico because they are so safe, especially for solo travelers. Bus travel also happens to be super easy and affordable.
Download a podcast or put on a travel-inspired playlist and watch the scenery out the window! If a long bus journey sounds like a drag, check out one of these creative ways to amuse yourself along the way.
In this article, I’ve done my very best to spell out everything you could ever need to know about buses in Mexico (and probably more). I hope you find it helpful as you plan your next adventure!
- 1 BUS STATIONS IN MEXICO
- 2 LEVELS OF BUS SERVICE
- 3 BUS COMPANIES IN MEXICO
- 4 HOW TO MAKE RESERVATIONS FOR BUS TRAVEL IN MEXICO
- 5 UNDERSTANDING BUS LINGO
- 6 PROS AND CONS OF BUS TRAVEL IN MEXICO
BUS STATIONS IN MEXICO
The great thing about bus travel in Mexico is that there are bus stations in just about every town, regardless of the population size. In small towns, the stations may be more like a kiosk with a couple of plastic chairs, but in most cases, they are much larger.
In most of the country, bus stations host many bus lines, which means they are often massive. You’ll usually find convenience stores, coffee shops, and an assortment of fast food. You can also typically rely on finding clean bathrooms (though, most charge a 5 peso fee to enter).
Executive class bus tickets often include access to a private bus station lounge. Inside you’ll find complimentary beverages, snacks, private bathrooms, and a bag check service.
Travel Tip: The term for bus station in Spanish is “central de autobus” or “terminal de autobus.” When asking your taxi driver to take you to the bus station, say: “Me puede llevar al terminal de autobuses, por favor?”
Bus Stations in Mexico City
Because Mexico City is so large, it has three major bus terminals. The terminal you use will depend on which part of the country your trip originated. When you book your bus tickets, you will have to choose which terminal to leave from, so it’s essential to know each of their names.
Mexico City’s terminals are:
- Central del Sur (Terminal Taxqueña)
- Central del Autobuses Norte
- Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros Oriente (TAPO)
There is a 4th terminal called Terminal de Autobuses de Poniente (it is colloquially referred to Observatorio) but it is unlikely that you, as a visitor, would need to use this station.
TAPO is the largest and most central of Mexico City’s bus stations. It is located about 20 minutes from the popular Condesa neighborhood and 5 to 10 minutes from the Mexico City airport. Technically, TAPO is meant for passengers headed to the east (oriente) of Mexico. Still, there are some exceptions to that rule. I try to come and go from TAPO whenever possible because the location is so convenient, but, naturally, it depends on your travel plans!
Central del Sur, which is more commonly called Taxqueña, is located in the south of Mexico City. It’s about 30 minutes from Mexico City’s center (depending on traffic, of course). This station is similar to TAPO but smaller. It is right next to the Taxqueña metro station and also serves as a terminal for local buses. If you’re headed south of Mexico City (think Puebla, Cuernavaca, Taxco, etc.), you’ll likely leave from Taxqueña.
Central del Norte (Norte) is located in the north of Mexico City. This station offers service to destinations such as Guanajuato or San Luis Potosí, or really, anywhere north of Mexico City. Some buses leave from Norte and head in other directions, but these runs are limited.
LEVELS OF BUS SERVICE
The beautiful thing about bus travel in Mexico is that there are multiple levels of comfort to choose from. For short journeys, luxury may not be necessary for you, but for long haul trips, you’ll be glad to have the option! Here’s a look at what each level of service means.
Executive Class Buses
Executive class, or ejecutivo in Spanish, is the most luxurious option for bus travel. These buses carry fewer passengers meaning there is more space between seats and plenty of room to recline. Each seat is equipped with a personal entertainment center so you can watch movies along the trip. Executive class tickets usually include snacks and beverages, and some buses even have coffee stations. These buses also have bathrooms onboard. Executive class buses usually offer WiFi, but I’ve never found that it works particularly well.
Solo travelers will appreciate executive class buses because one side of the bus usually has a row of single seats, while the other side has two chairs to a row. I’ve traveled over half of Mexico by bus and never had any issues with other passengers, but a single seat still gives me peace of mind. Plus, I don’t have to worry about falling asleep on a stranger’s shoulder during the journey. Awkward.
First Class Buses
First-class buses (also referred to as primera) in Mexico aren’t quite as luxurious as executive class buses, but they’re still very comfortable. These coaches feature luxurious, reclining seats and on-board bathrooms. Some bus lines may include a bottle of water or soda with your ticket, while others don’t. You can also expect to find televisions onboard to keep you entertained throughout your journey.
Economy Class Buses
Economy class buses (known as economico) aren’t as luxurious as the other options, but they aren’t horrible either. The main downside to these buses is that they don’t have bathrooms onboard, and sometimes they don’t have air conditioning. These buses often make a lot of stops, which can turn even short journeys into day-long endeavors.
In some cases, like trips to small towns or rural destinations, economico buses will be your only option. They are a fun way to catch glimpses of towns and scenery you probably wouldn’t see otherwise. If you’re looking to save some money, this is an excellent way to travel, especially for short journeys.
BUS COMPANIES IN MEXICO
Mexico is covered by dozens of different bus companies, which vary according to the region you visit. Unfortunately, there isn’t a search engine that can help you plan routes that involve changing from one bus line to another (business opportunity anyone?!). In hopes of making your trip planning a little easier, I’ve highlighted some of Mexico’s most popular destinations along with the main bus lines that offer service within them.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a solid place to start.
- Mexico City
- Mexico City
- Quintana Roo
- Mexico City
- Quintana Roo
- Mexico City
- Quintana Roo
*AU and OCC are both part of the ADO bus franchise.
Click here for an even more complete list of the different bus companies and information on the regions they service.
HOW TO MAKE RESERVATIONS FOR BUS TRAVEL IN MEXICO
When it comes to making travel arrangements for buses in Mexico, you have a few options.
- Book online
- Purchase tickets in advance in person
- Purchase tickets when you arrive at the bus station
Now, I’m sure these seem pretty straight forward, but, like many things in Mexico, there’s a little more to it than first meets the eyes. Let me explain…
Travel Tip: When it comes time to choose a seat, I recommend sitting at the front of the bus. Not only is it potentially safer due to proximity to the driver, but it’s also further from the bathroom, which sometimes smells gross.
Naturally, this is my favorite way to book bus tickets because I can do it from my couch. There are a few options for how to do this: book directly through the bus company site, or book through a third party site.
The only issue with booking directly through the bus company site is that not all of them accept foreign credit cards. Some companies have a PayPal option, which is a great workaround, but not all of them.
There is a third party site called ClickBus, which enables you to book bus tickets with credit cards or using PayPal. I haven’t used this site yet, so I can’t officially vouch for it, but I do like to use it to research routes. The site isn’t currently available in English. Still, the logical layout makes it pretty easy to figure out how to make reservations.
Another site you could use is Busolinea. The site has an English option, but they don’t have a PayPal option, and I’m not sure if they accept foreign credit cards. If you’ve tried it, let me know!
Purchase tickets in advance, in person
This isn’t complicated, there are just lots of options on where to purchase bus tickets. If it’s convenient for you to buy tickets in person I recommend it because you can pay cash and you will have your ticket in hand.
Here is where to buy tickets:
- At the bus station
- At a ticket kiosk (usually found in high traffic areas such as the city center, malls, and grocery stores)
- In an Oxxo store
Travel Tip: Often you can save a percentage of the ticket price (even as much as 50%) by booking your bus ticket a few days in advance.
Purchase tickets the day of departure
If you’re opposed to planning (or you’re feeling spontaneous!), you can purchase your ticket at the bus terminal. Many people in Mexico don’t buy their tickets ahead, so unless you’re traveling during a holiday, your chances of getting a seat are excellent.
Most terminals accept credit cards, but some don’t. It’s always best to take cash unless you know for sure.
UNDERSTANDING BUS LINGO
The following are a few terms that will help you understand what type of bus ticket you’re booking. If you reserve in person, the ticket agent will usually explain the options. If you book online, you’ll likely see one of these phrases come up.
De paso – This means that the bus originated from a different terminal and will be stopping along its route to pick you up. De paso routes usually have multiple stops, meaning the journey can be longer than necessary. Also, it’s not uncommon for these buses to be late, if they’ve had a lot of passenger turnover.
Sin escalas – Sin escalas means “no stops.” These buses go from A to B without making any stops in the middle (unless it’s a long journey and a change of driver or a bathroom break is required).
Directo – The same as sin escalas, these buses don’t make any stops along the route.
Local – This means the bus you are booking is originating from this station rather than coming from somewhere else. That means it will likely leave right on time.
PROS AND CONS OF BUS TRAVEL IN MEXICO
Look, bus travel in Mexico isn’t perfect, but much of the time it’s a great way to get around. Naturally, there are a lot of factors to consider (as well as personal preference). I’ve done my best to break down the pros and cons of bus travel to help you decide if it’s right for you.
Price – When it comes to price, bus travel usually wins out over other transportation methods in Mexico. Even if you travel on the most deluxe coaches, bust travel is still often cheaper than flying or renting a car. Especially once you factor in costs like checked luggage, gas, and toll road fees.
Comfort – Buses in Mexico come in a range of class levels, making it possible to travel quite comfortably. You may not be willing to splurge for a first-class plane ticket, but a first-class bus ticket is likely within your budget. Additionally, you don’t have to be concerned about the stress of driving. Just relax into your comfortable seat and enjoy the scenery as you travel!
Safety – Bus travel offers a certain degree of security for solo travelers. For one thing, you’re surrounded by other people who are likely to have your back in the event of an incident. You don’t have to worry about breaking down alone and hoping someone nice helps you. Additionally, traveling by direct bus means there’s no concern about any sketchy characters boarding the bus along the route.
Luggage – Buses in Mexico don’t seem to limit the amount of luggage you bring with you. They also aren’t particularly concerned about what’s inside. Expect to be patted down for weapons, but you don’t need to worry about whether your shampoo bottle is too big or be concerned that your tweezers will cause a national state of emergency. And what’s more, you don’t have to pay to check your luggage on the bus!
Frequency – Of course, the frequency of departures depends on the route, but generally, you’ll never have to wait long for a bus. If you’re unsure about your travel itinerary, don’t fret. Most major destinations have buses coming and going every hour, while smaller destinations will have a few runs each day.
Availability – Buses are often the most convenient way to travel because they are everywhere. Many cities in Mexico don’t have a major airport, but you can rest assured that they have a bus station.
Travel Time – If you’re traveling a long distance, the bus can be a drag. As luxurious as they are, nobody really wants to spend 10 hours on a bus. With this in mind, flights may be preferable for longer journeys. Fortunately, Mexico has an assortment of national airlines offering flights throughout the country. It’s definitely worth comparing the prices and travel times to determine whether bus or air travel will be better.
Safety (Again) – I know, I know, this was a pro too. In many senses, bus travel is safer than car travel. However, if you happen to take a second class bus that makes frequent stops, it can be riskier as you never know who might get on board. Night buses are also vulnerable to bus jackings. These aren’t common, but they do happen. If you’re traveling to (or through) one of Mexico’s less secure regions, bus travel may not be ideal. Make sure you read up on the safety of your destination before you decide on your transportation method.
Who is bus travel best for?
As amazing as the bus travel in Mexico can be, it’s not the right transportation method for every traveler. Bus travel is best for travelers who have any or all of the following characteristics:
- Budget travelers
- Individuals with a flexible schedule
- Travelers who don’t want to plan ahead
- Travelers who are unwilling or unable to drive in Mexico
- Travelers visiting rural locations without proximity to an airport
I hope you found this article helpful rather than overwhelming. Because Mexico is SO BIG, there’s a lot to know about bus travel throughout the country. The good news is I think it might actually be less intimidating in practice than it may seem in this article.
If you have any questions at all about traveling Mexico, feel free to reach out to me over email or join my Facebook group for female travelers in Mexico! I’m always happy to help out any way I can!