On our travels inland from the Mexico’s west coast to see the country’s beautiful colonial cities and ancient ruins, we have found it’s fun to do Mexico by bus!!
For cruisers, there’s nothing like getting off the boat and seeing something of the rest of Mexico. Renting a car makes sense if there are enough people to share the cost (or for families). However, it can get expensive for couples.
We have discovered that long distance buses in Mexico are terrific, and we’ve visited many places in Mexico by bus.
What to Expect on Buses in Mexico
Because there is no single company that provides all long distance bus services in Mexico, and because there is a lot of variation to the countryside and highways, buses in Mexico can be a bit unpredictable.
Some buses stop for meals, some stop at military checkpoints. Some buses offer free food or snacks, and some allow snack vendors to come on board the bus when it stops for passengers. Our Huatulco-to-Oaxaca bus stopped at a restaurant so everyone could sit down to order and eat a meal!
Sometimes there is TSA-style inspection outside the bus before boarding, including a pat-down for the men, and sometimes a fellow comes on board with a video camera to record everyone’s faces. You never really know what will happen.
Buses that cross a border (into the US, Guatemala or Belize) will involve checking out of Mexico and into the new country (passports and tourist visas required). They also include a change in currency that is easy to forget to plan for after you’ve been sailing the Mexican coast for a few months.
In our experience, the quoted arrival times are sometimes optimistic. An 8-hour bus ride may take 10, and there is no way of knowing ahead of time. All kinds of crazy things happen on the road, and the folks at the ticket counter will simply quote the time given on the computer.
Some Tips for Mexico Bus Travel
The buses in Mexico are often heavily air-conditioned, so having an airline blanket or some extra clothes handy is helpful.
Also, although lots of the buses stop at convenience stores or at terminals where you can jump out and buy a snack, packing some munchies for a long ride can really help too.
Having some TP handy is not a bad idea on long trips too, as the bathroom can run out if the bus is crowded.
Our favorite seats are in the front row to the right of the driver where you get more leg room and (on OCC buses) have a great view out the huge windshield. Also, we sometimes plan our seats to avoid getting trapped in the morning or afternoon sun if the trip is largely north/south.
Overall, we’ve found that long distance buses in Mexico can make for wild adventures. Our bus trip from Tapachula (Marina Chiapas) to San Cristobal de las Casas was so eventful it got its own write-up!
As one seasoned Mexico/Central American traveler once said to me, “I never get on a bus in Mexico or Central America with any expectations of when I will arrive or what will happen on the way.” That is a great way to approach the whole process — enjoy the ride.
Mexico Bus Schedules, Prices and Tickets
There are lots of long distance bus companies, and it can be confusing to figure out which Mexico buses go where. Here is an online source that lists many of the Mexican bus companies.
Following is a list of bus companies that serve the cruising spots where we have found it is easy to leave the boat and catch a bus inland. Prices are given only as guidelines and are from June 2013. In some cases there are cheaper options, but we’ve found that if we are going to sit on a bus for 6 hours or more, spending another $10 or so USD is well worth it to be comfortable.
It is possible to book and purchase tickets online, and we have done that a few times. If we don’t book online, we try to get to the terminal well ahead of time to ensure there are seats available and that we get the seats we want.
Some bus companies have websites in English, some don’t. These translations might help if you are struggling with one in Spanish:
boleto = ticket
sencillo = one-way
redondo = round-trip
mañana = morning
tarde = afternoon/evening
noche = night
madraguda = wee hours of morning
fecha de ida = date of departure
tiempo recorrido = travel time
Guaymas (San Carlos) to Phoenix, Arizona – We left our boat in Marina San Carlos
The Tufesa Bus Line (this is the link for Tufesa Bus Schedules) leaves from Guaymas and goes to 27th Ave. and McDowell in Phoenix. The “Especial” bus takes 10-11 hours and stops about 8 times, including 4-5 Mexican towns, a Mexican military checkpoint, the US border crossing and Tucson. The “Ejecutivo” overnight bus is a little more money (863 pesos or $69 USD) but takes just 8-9 hours and stops in only 2 Mexican towns plus the Mexican military checkpoint, US border and Tucson.
The “Ejecutivo” buses are luxurious with just 3 seats per row, two on one side and one on the other. They are supposed to have electricity and wi-fi, but may or may not. The “Especial” buses are okay, but not as nice (and in our experience much more crowded).
The bus depot in Phoenix is in an unsafe area. If you are there at night, stay close to the terminal. Taxi cabs come to meet the buses.
If you are heading to the airport to fly to Canada or elsewhere outside the US, you will still need about $25 US dollars to pay the cabbie to get you from the bus station to the airport (we’ve known folks who forgot about that). The cabbie can drive you to an ATM machine, or stash a few US dollars on the boat ahead of time…
Puerto Vallarta to Guanajuato (or Guadalajara or San Miguel de Allende) – We left our boat in Paradise Village Marina
Several bus companies go between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara (about a 5-6 hour trip). Only one has an express route between Puerto Vallarta and Guanajuato (10 hours), and this is also one of the most luxurious bus lines: Primera Plus. From there it is a 1.5 hour ride (108 pesos or $8.65 USD) to San Miguel de Allende.
There are several Primera Plus bus stops around Puerto Vallarta. The main bus terminal is on the block behind the big Corona bottling plant on the way into Puerto Vallarta from Nuevo Vallarta and La Cruz and takes a few minutes of walking to get there.
When we traveled to Guanajuato, our bus was a “directo” bus, going directly from Puerto Vallarta to Guanajuato with only one stop in León (it did not stop in Guadalajara). It left from the main bus terminal. We took a local ATM bus from Paradise Village to get to the Primera Plus bus terminal.
This ten hour bus trip (755 pesos or $60) was the easiest and most pleasant long distance bus trip we’ve taken in Mexico. The road was smooth, there were no speed bumps, and the only stop, in León, was about 45 minutes before our arrival in Guanajuato. We even had wifi on the bus while traveling through the larger towns (electricity was supposed to be available but wasn’t working).
The highway is good (smooth pavement) because it is a toll road (“cuota”). If we had driven a car, the tolls would have been about 750 pesos (~$60 USD) one way, which was the same price as one bus ticket.
Another bus company that serves Puerto Vallarta and these inland colonial cities is the ETN Bus Line. We were not able to find a route with them that was as direct as Primera Plus, but they go to many destinations and have fabulously comfortable buses.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo to Morelia – We left our boat anchored off of Las Gatas Beach, Marina Ixtapa works too!
We were very fortunate to travel to Morelia from Zihuatanejo with friends of ours in their car. However, the trip can be made by bus (about 4-5 hours). Parhikuni premier class (455 pesos or $36 USD) is slightly more expensive than Autovias, and likely a little nicer.
Huatulco to Oaxaca (or San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque) – We left our boat in Marina Chahué
ADO is the primary bus company in this area. Their premier brand is ADO-gl, and the overnight buses between Huatulco and Oaxaca use this service (358 pesos or $29). OCC is their second tier brand of buses, and they are the most common provider for the colonial cities in Oaxaca and Chiapas. If you can get on an ADO-gl bus for a leg of your inland trip, fabulous! Otherwise, OCC is where it’s at, and that’s the line that was going to Oaxaca when we made the trip.
The ADO bus terminal is at the far end of La Crucecita, easy walking distance or cab ride.
The trip to Oaxaca was grueling for us because of the many hours of sweeping turns on the way to Salina Cruz and then the many hours of switchbacks climbing the mountains to Oaxaca. We tried both day and night travel. It was difficult to sleep on the 8-hour overnight trip because of the motion of the bus. The 10-hour daytime trip (longer because there are more stops) was was full of beautiful views out the windows. An alternative is the six-hour “vomit comet” van ride (also a bit cheaper). Lots of people like this option.
The daytime bus stopped at a restaurant after passing Salina Cruz, and we all hopped off and ordered a meal and ate and then piled back onto the bus to continue traveling. This was a first for us! The bus also stopped for a military checkpoint where the luggage in the baggage compartment was searched.
Huatulco is a great jumping off point for a trip to San Cristobal de las Casas and from there to the Mayan ruins at Palenque. It is about the same distance by bus to get to San Cristobal de las Casas from Huatulco as it is from Tapachula (the city next to Marina Chiapas on the east side of the Tehuantepec). We made these trips from Tapachula instead of from Huatulco, so we don’t have first-hand experience on the buses into Chiapas from Huatulco.
Tapachula to San Cristobal de las Casas and on to Palenque – We left our boat in Marina Chiapas
Like Huatulco, ADO is the primary bus company in this area (here are the bus schedules and ticket info). OCC is their second tier brand and that is the line that goes to San Cristobal de las Casas. The “combi” vans to Tapachula from Marina Chiapas pass close to the ADO bus terminal. Tell the van driver you’re going to ADO, and you will be dropped off about a block from the ADO terminal. On the return trip from the ADO terminal, we always caught a cab to the “combi” terminal and boarded the van headed to Zona Naval.
The easiest trip to San Cristobal from Tapachula is via Tuxtla Guttierez (change buses there) because Tapachula-Tuxtla leg of the trip is on a highway and has no speed bumps. The 9-hour trip directly from Tapachula to San Cristobal crawls over the mountains (many lovely views and interesting small towns), and there are tons of speed bumps. The bus comes to a stop for most speed bumps and creeps over them one axel at a time. We also stopped about every 30-45 minutes during the trip either to let passengers on/off, or for military checkpoints.
Our 9-hour bus trip from Tapachula to San Cristobal (276 pesos or $22) was eventful enough to warrant a page of its own. We continued our trip by going from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque (312 pesos or $25). Then from Palenque to Comitán (250 pesos or $20). And finally from Comitán to Tapachula (206 pesos or $17), all on ADO (OCC) buses.
Tapachula to Antigua Guatemala – We left our boat in Marina Chiapas
Tica Bus connects southern Mexico to all of Central America. Bus schedules and ticket purchases here. It is possible to travel on their buses from Mexico City (or Tapachula) all the way to Panama City, Panama. They leave from the ADO bus terminal in Tapachula. Take a “combi” van from Marina Chiapas to Tapachula, tell the driver you are going to the ADO bus terminal and you will be dropped off a block from the terminal.
Our 8-hour bus ride ($19 USD) to Antigua was on a double decker bus. We traveled one way on the upper level (regular class) and one way on the lower level (first class). The view from the front row seats in the upper level can’t be beat (we weren’t lucky enough to get them on our trip). The first class seats on the lower level are nicer seats, and we were served a complimentary hot meal that was much like the old days of airplane travel.
The bus conductor escorted us through the entire border crossing process into Guatemala which involved getting off the bus, standing in line to check out of Mexico and then walking a ways to stand in line to check into Guatemala. There were money changers everywhere clutching wads of pesos and quetzals and hoping to change money for us. Like the Mexico side of the US/Mexico border, the Guatemala/Mexico border was a zoo-scene with vendors everywhere.
We didn’t know that we wouldn’t have a chance to change money once we got to Guatemala City, and upon arrival we hopped into a cab with only US dollars and Mexican pesos, neither of which made the cabbie very happy. He drove us to an ATM machine to get quetzals so we could pay him. Changing enough money for cab fare at the border would have made sense, despite the bad exchange rates those money changers were likely offering.
The 45 minute cab ride from Guatemala City to Antigua was about $45, more than twice as much as the day-long bus ride from Tapachula to Guatemala City (about $19).
Hopefully these tips will help you see Mexico by bus too!
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Volume 3 (right) provides all the info you need to get off the boat for an adventure-filled trip to Oaxaca.