If you don’t rent a car on a trip to México…and having seen the way you might be taking your life in your hands on crowded city streets and open highways when you are behind the wheel, I wouldn’t recommend it…you are probably going to have to take a bus.
There are somewhere between 15 and 20 bus companies operating in México these days. They range in quality from the top-notch ADO (Autobuses de Oriente) to cramped vans (collectivos) to vintage buses that might have been upscale in the 1970s.
If it gets us to our destination without breaking down, we don’t much care what amenities it has. We’re just as happy crammed into an un-air conditioned jalopey as the first class number with frigid air and bad movies on the TV.
In México, the bus company you use is determined by where you are going and where you are coming from. It is all pretty confusing at first.
If you are just traveling between major cities, you can probably assume the ADO bus will get you there. By the way, they have a great app…it’s only in Spanish, but even if you only have a basic knowledge of the language, you can navigate through it easily.
It takes some knowledge of Spanish to figure out the other lines. There’s no app to tell you which line goes where, but usually there’s a second class station near the ADO station and you can start there. Usually, you’ll find an employee – or a fellow backpacker – who speaks English and can help you sort things out.
A lesson we learned the hard way on one of our first trips was that boarding calls are often a series of destinations rattled off like the call of an auctioneer. Cities, bus bay numbers and times spill off the announcer’s tongue so fast that I’m sure even those fluent in Spanish can’t possibly understand every word.
Do not be afraid to approach the gate and ask the security guard if yours was among the ones called. Even if you don’t speak a single word, hold out your ticket. If your bus is not loading, you will understand “No”!
As I mentioned before, the roads are wild. Like everyone else on the road, buses will tailgate the vehicle in front of them. All 43 feet and 45,000 pounds of that bus will stay just inches from the back of a tiny motor bike. It’s almost too much to watch.
So far…we’ve been here about a week, the buses have served us well.
I prefer the good old fashioned chicken buses we rode in Costa Rica and Nicaragua where you’re jammed in tightly with the locals who tell you whatever you want to know about their country and make you feel at home. But the Mexican buses are reliable, they run on a predictable schedule and they even have an app.