Everything you need to know about bus travel in Mexico! Long-distance bus are great for getting around Mexico—it’s easier than flying.
When my friends from the US come to Mexico to visit me & I tell them we’re going to take the bus, they’re a little wary to say the least. I explain that bus travel in Mexico isn’t anything like their grandma’s Greyhound service.
After reading this post, you’ll know:
- The ins & outs of first class bus travel in Mexico
- How to book a ticket on different bus lines
- Helpful tips for the smoothest journey possible
- & more!
Get ready to become OBSESSED with bus travel in Mexico.
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Is is safe to travel by bus in Mexico?
Safety is an understandable concern for travelers coming to Mexico, and given the way this country is portrayed in the media, I understand why you (or your well-meaning loved ones) might worry.
Traveling by bus is one of the safest ways to travel in Mexico. Even as a woman traveling solo, I feel secure taking buses in Mexico.
To start, every seat on first class (primera clase) and luxury buses is equipped with a seatbelt. I put mine on at the start of the journey & only unbuckle when I need to get up to use the restroom.
The major bus lines in Mexico employ knowledgeable drivers. It’s much safer to ride with someone who knows the way than mess with driving yourself—especially if you don’t have experience on the roads in Mexico. For long journeys, the drivers switch out at regular intervals so as not to get overtired.
The only way I will be on the road at night in Mexico is if I’m traveling by bus. The bus is equipped with a radio & there are protocols in place if it breaks down unlike if something happens to your car on a dark, desolate Mexican highway. If a trip is going to take me through “hot” states with known criminal activity, I feel a lot better knowing that I’m in a big bus with lots of traveling companions (safety in numbers).
First Class Bus Travel in Mexico
Just go ahead and set aside whatever you think you know about traveling by bus. First class bus travel in Mexico is head and shoulders above any bus experience I’ve had in the United States, and it’s also significantly better than my bus travel experiences in Europe.
In addition to being a safe travel option, here are a few more reasons why I love first class bus travel in Mexico:
Bus travel in Mexico is comfortable
When I tell my friends from the US that we’re going to take the bus, they’re expecting that we’re going to be roughing it. They’re shocked when they board the bus and find reclining seats with leg rests. Buses in Mexico are air-conditioned and have their own bathrooms.
Many bus lines even offer passengers in-journey entertainment whether that’s televisions strategically placed throughout the cabin or individual screens for every seat. Granted, the movies and shows are mostly in Spanish, but if that’s okay for you, you can use this handy little audio transmitter to listen with your Airpods or other wireless headphones.
Bus travel in Mexico is so comfortable that, on multiple occasions, I’ve been able to get a full night’s rest on an overnight journey. My go-to travel accessories for falling asleep anywhere is this light blocking sleep mask and these foam ear plugs.
Bus travel in Mexico is convenient
The extensive network of buses in Mexico can get you basically anywhere in the country. I’ve managed to get to remote mountain villages and tiny off-the-beaten-path beach towns all using the Mexican bus network.
More often than not, bus terminals are centrally located. Where it might be a long taxi or Uber ride from the airport to your accommodation, the bus station is usually pretty close to the popular tourist areas.
Traveling by bus is so much more relaxed than traveling by plane. If, like me, you haaaate getting to the airport hours before your flight only to spend way too much money on bottled water & twiddle your thumbs at the gate, then you’re going to looooove the fact that you only need to get to the bus station 30 minutes MAX before the departure time.
Bus travel in Mexico is affordable
Even budget airlines like VivaAerobus and Volaris aren’t all that budget-friendly when they charge you for a simple carry-on. When you travel by bus, two pieces of luggage are included in the price of your ticket in addition to the carry-on that take with you onboard (more on luggage protocol in the FAQs section below).
The price of a bus ticket is much less than renting a car in Mexico. Don’t forget to figure in the cost of gas, highway tolls and parking—none of which you have to deal with when you simply take the bus.
When to Travel By Bus in Mexico
When it comes to traveling within Mexico, my rule of thumb is any trip less than 5 hours I’m definitely taking the bus. I’d much rather take the bus than deal with arriving hours early to the airport and having to go through extensive security prior to a flight.
I won’t rule out a journey longer than five hours either—for New Year’s two year back, I opted for an overnight bus from Querétaro to Puerto Vallarta when plane tickets were too costly & even after the 11-hour journey, I arrived feeling well-rested.
Luxury Bus Lines in Mexico
If you think first class bus travel in Mexico is great, just wait until you experience luxury class. Sometimes called executive class (clase ejecutiva), luxury class (clase de lujo) is the most comfortable bus travel in Mexico available. You could compare it to business class on an airplane.
For the most part, luxury class is only offered for longer distance trips. The buses for these journeys (3-4 hours minimum) feature wider than normal seats that recline back to a nearly complete bed position. Generally, there are maximum 25 seats on board, and if you’re traveling solo, you can choose one of the seats in the single-seat row.
While these aren’t the only luxury bus lines in Mexico, the following companies are regarded as the major players:
- Estrella de Oro’s Diamante Service
- ADO’s Platino & UNO lines
For more luxury bus line options, search the specific part of Mexico where you’re traveling (i.e. Central Mexico) as bus companies are organized regionally.
Must-know Spanish Vocabulary for Traveling by Bus in Mexico
This next section has some helpful Spanish vocabulary for traveling by bus in Mexico. Knowing these words and phrases will save you some headaches and make your trip a whole lot smoother.
When you’re searching for information about the bus station or asking a taxi driver to take you there, remember that bus stations in Mexico are called the Central de Autobús or Terminal de Autobús. English speakers will often make the mistake of calling it an Estación de Autobús, and while Mexicans will most likely understand you, calling it the central or terminal will avoid any confusion.
In the following section, you’ll learn how to purchase bus tickets online in Mexico, but before you get there, here are a few Spanish words that you’re sure to encounter on a Mexican bus company’s website:
- Origen: Origen
- Destino: Destination
- Salida: Departure date
- Ida: One-way
- Ida y Vuelta: Roundtrip
- Escala: Stopover
- Directo or sin escala: Direct or without stops
- Asiento: Seat
- Disponible: Available
- Ocupado: Occupied
- Equipaje: Luggage
How to Buy Bus Tickets in Mexico
It’s possible to purchase your tickets at the bus station—many Mexicans prefer to do it this way. The only time I opt to buy my ticket at the counter is when I’m flying into Mexico City and catching a bus from the airport back to Queretaro.
Since I don’t know if my flight is going to get in on time or how long immigration will take, I hate to buy it ahead of time and miss the bus (although if you do purchase your ticket in advance & miss your bus, it never hurts to approach the counter to ask for help before you go through the process of buying a whole other ticket).
The times that I avoid buying tickets in person are when I’m traveling on holidays or Sunday nights. Since these are such popular travel times, the buses are often sold-out & if you don’t purchase a ticket in advance, you could find yourself waiting around for hours.
Purchasing Tickets at the Bus Station
Purchasing your ticket at a Mexican bus station is fairly straightforward. Each bus line has its own specific counter, and there’s usually a sign or screen with the destinations and departure times listed.
When you get up to the counter & tell the ticketing agent where you want to go and when, they will flip their computer screen around and ask you to select your seat. Refer back to the vocabulary section of this post to see the words “available” and “occupied” in Spanish.
Either before or after your select your seat, the agent will ask for you personal information. If you don’t speak much Spanish, it’s easiest to just hand over your passport so you don’t need to spell out your name.
You can pay for your bus ticket in cash or with a credit card. I’ve never had an issue paying with a foreign credit card at the bus station in Mexico .
Purchasing Tickets Online
While the exact process of purchasing bus tickets online will vary slightly depending on the specific bus line, the following overview will give you a good idea of what to expect. To better illustrate the process, I included screenshots from the Primera Plus website.
The first step is selecting the bus terminal you’re departing from (origen), your destination (destino) & the date of your journey (salida). If you’re purchasing a roundtrip ticket, you can also select the date of your return (regreso).
Note about selecting origen & destino: While smaller cities in Mexico usually only have one bus station, bigger cities can have several…For example, Guadalajara has two and Mexico City has four. It’s important to open up Maps and see where you’re getting into or leaving from. If you’re traveling to/from the CDMX airport, check out this post with important info about the bus terminals at the Mexico City Airport.
With your search information entered, you can click “buscar” to bring up the ticket options for your travel date.
On the next page, you will see when the departure and arrival time of every bus on your selected travel day. You’ll also see how long the journey is expected to take, the number of available seats, if the route has any stops a long the way & the price. To choose a specific bus/departure time, click “elegir.”
The next page will show you a representation of the bus and ask you to select your seat.
With your seat selected, the following page will ask you to enter your passenger information including an email address where they can send your ticket. Depending on the bus company/journey, there may be an option to add cobertura adicional (additional insurance coverage). I never do this, but it’s of course up to you.
The final page will ask for your payment information. Purchasing bus tickets is the only time I’ve had trouble using my credit card in Mexico—Mexican bus company websites don’t seem to like foreign credit cards. If you have the same issue, just use my workaround and opt to pay using PayPal.
NOTE: I prefer booking directly through the company website, but if you really want to use your credit card, a third-party website like BusBud could be a good option.
Once your payment goes through, you can download your tickets right then or access them in your email. You’ll need to show them on your phone (printing them isn’t necessary) in order to board the bus on your travel day.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bus Travel in Mexico
Now that you know now how to purchase a bus ticket online or at the bus station in Mexico, this next section answers some of the most frequently asked questions about bus travel in Mexico. If you have a question not addressed in this post, please leave a comment below so I can answer it.
What are bus stations in Mexico like?
I already went over this in the Spanish vocabulary for bus travel in Mexico section, but it’s worth mentioning here again: Bus stations in Mexico are called the Central de Autobús or Terminal de Autobús. If you ask about the “Estación de Autobús,” Mexicans will most likely understand you, but calling it the central or terminal will avoid any potential confusion.
Bus stations in Mexico are busy, noisy places. Be sure to keep an eye on your personal belongings & listen to loudspeaker announcements for updates about your trip. Even if you don’t understand everything being said, you can pay attention for the name of your destination.
Unlike an airport, it generally costs money to use the bathroom at a bus station in Mexico. Some of the restrooms have a turnstile that you must feed money into before you can enter. The cost to use the bathroom is usually $5 or 6 MXN, so make sure you have change on hand.
In addition to bathrooms, ticket counters and waiting areas, bus stations in Mexico usually have at least a few food options. It’s a good place to purchase snacks and water for your trip. Prior to the pandemic, first class and luxury bus lines in Mexico used to give passengers a small snack bag for the journey, but as far as I know, that’s not a service they’ve reinstated.
Another feature you’re sure to find in most every Mexican bus station is an ATM. Because cash is king in Mexico, you should always have pesos on you. If you forgot to get some before your trip, you can pull out some prior to boarding. I prefer getting pesos prior to departure versus on arrival in a new city just in case someone is stalking the ATMs to follow a person who just withdrew cash out into the street (better safe than sorry).
How early should you arrive for the bus?
Ah yes, the age-old question of what is the last possible minute I can get there and still catch my ride??
I can confidently tell you that arriving to the bus station 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time is sufficient.
For some buses, you may be required to check your bag in ahead of time like you do at the airport. This usually happens in the 10-15 minutes before your bus is set to depart. Other times, you will hand your bag off right before you board so it can be stowed under the bus.
You also might have to go through some type of security (metal detector, personal bag revision, wand, etc.) If your bus is taking you directly to an airport, these type of security revisions are more common.
Is there anything I need to know about luggage procedures?
Anything bigger than a small backpack, laptop bag, briefcase or purse will need to go under the bus. The overhead bins in the passenger cabin are much smaller than those on an airplane, so even “carry-on approved” luggage won’t fit up there, and there isn’t room to put anything under the seat in front of you.
My go-to travel backpack has to go under the bus.
With luggage limitations in mind, I recommend having a small bag or daypack that you can store your most important/fragile items in to have with you during the journey so they’re not jostling around under the bus.
Prior to boarding the bus, you will either drop your luggage at the counter or hand it off to an attendant. Either way, the employee who takes your bag will ask for your seat number to write down on your luggage tag. You can just show ticket.
Keep track of your luggage tag as you will need to show it to claim your bag! It’s standard to tip the attendant who loads your bag onto the bus for you. I usually give $10 MXN (another reason to have change on hand).
When you reach your final destination, everyone gets off the bus and immediately lines up to collect their luggage. After you hand over your luggage tag, it’s helpful to also point out your bag (knowing how to describe your bag in Spanish will speed up this process).
Have another $10 MXN ready to go for the employee who gives your luggage. It’s good to have it in hand so you don’t have to go digging around when there’s a long line behind you.
What are my transportation options from the bus station?
To reach my final destination, I usually either call a rideshare service like Uber or use an authorized taxi. Uber is safe to use in Mexico as are authorized taxis—you purchase a ticket at a stand then queue for the taxi. Authorized taxis have fixed rates for different zones.
If it’s your first time in a new city, I recommend asking your Airbnb host or hotel concierge for the best/easiest/cheapest way to get to your accommodation. They can give you the best route to take.
Final Thoughts About Bus Travel in Mexico
Bus travel in Mexico is safe, affordable, convenient and comfortable. It’s one of the most underrated ways to travel around Mexico.
If you have any questions about bus travel in Mexico, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.
Is this going to be your first trip to Mexico? Check out this post with must-know tips for traveling around Mexico including how to stay healthy!