Mexico is a popular destination for backpackers as well as short-term travelers. Some of us like to book an all-inclusive stay at a resort, while others prefer to travel more spontaneously. Both options are good and there are a lot of cool places to see in this magnificent country.
Mexico is an easy country to travel by land. There are a lot of options and they’re all easy to use.
Follow this guide to find out more about the different options for public transportation in Mexico.
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Many international flights arrive in Mexico City or Cancun. From here you can book a connecting flight to the smaller airports.
It is pretty easy to take national flights within the country. Most cities have an airport nearby and you can fly almost anywhere inside Mexico.
Since the country is pretty huge, air travel is a well-used method of transport when backpacking Mexico.
At the same time, we do most parts of our travels over land. That’s what this article is all about 🙂
Mexico has a lot of different bus companies, which all offer different services and prices.
Overall, most busses in Mexico are clean and comfortable. Some of them even offer wifi and charging sockets. Travelers who are backpacking Mexico usually travel by bus.
Do you like a little comfort? Or do you just want to get from A to B as cheap as possible? We will discuss the options here and give you as much information as we can!
ADO - The Comfortable Public Transportation in Mexico
ADO is the best-known bus agency in Mexico and it’s pretty popular among travelers as well as locals.
The ADO buses are very punctual, comfortable and clean. As a result, they are your best choice for public transportation in Mexico. They serve the entire country.
I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like ADO. The only thing that might keep you away from this company when backpacking Mexico is the fact that trips can get expensive. So a lot of budget travelers use other buses to keep things budget-friendly.
If it’s your first time traveling to Mexico, I definitely recommend taking the ADO buses. ADO offers regular buses which already are kinda first-class, but they also have the Platinum buses and Grand Luxe buses.
Buying ADO ticket
The best option to book your bus in advance is by going to the bus terminal a few days before your actual travel date.
You can also buy your ticket through a travel agency. Don’t be surprised if they charge you a few pesos extra.
Prices can vary depending on your time of travel.
Buying your tickets online or at the ticket counter can also make a difference. We saw prices for bus trips online and the trip appeared to be more expensive when we went to the ticket counter.
Make sure to check what bus you’re booking. Because the Grand Luxe buses are more expensive
For booking your trip online, you need to be the holder of a Mexican bankcard.
If you want to buy your ticket last-minute, the bus might already be full and you’ll have to wait for the next bus.
A few ADO tips
- For long rides, seats are numbered. Sit in the seat that is assigned to you
- For short rides, people don’t sit in the assigned seat. Confusing!
- Your luggage will get tagged and you get your luggage tag
- Some buses have wifi and power sockets
- ADO buses have movies with a lot of noise
- Buses are often air-conditioned, bring a sweater
Regional Buses - First Class Buses
Mexico counts a lot of different bus companies, aside from ADO, which serve the different regions in Mexico.
These buses are a great option for public transportation in Mexico. If you’re staying in a hostel or hotel, staff will usually be able to tell you which companies to take in that area.
Buses other than ADO are a little cheaper and they’re a perfect fit for budget travelers when backpacking Mexico.
Shuttles are mini busses that can transport up to 15 people and their luggage at once.
They are very easy to use.
The best way to book shuttles is a hostel or a travel agency in the town you’re visiting. Prices vary between different companies and sometimes you can bargain on the price.
They’re not always the cheapest option of public transportation in Mexico, but they are convenient and comfortable.
We like them a lot for border-crossing trips or to travel to places where buses won’t go.
If you want a local travel experience, they might not be the best choice, since you’ll probably only meet other tourists on these buses.
Just like shuttles, Collectivos are also small mini busses.
They usually cover shorter distances, like trips through a larger city.
It is the most used form of public transportation in Mexico used by locals for travel within a city.
Prices vary between 5 and 15 Mexican pesos, depending on the city you’re in. We have never been ripped off when taking a collectivo, but I always ask for the price before we enter our first collectivo in a new city. Prices are the same for the entire city and every collectivo will charge you the same price.
The buses ride mainly on bigger streets and you can hail them down by standing at the side of the street. You just wave when you see one passing by.
Most collectivos have a driver and an assistant. The assistant is there to get you into the van and receive the money. Just ask the assistant if the bus is going to your destination and he will confirm or deny. Then ask for the price to make sure you won’t pay too much.
Sometimes there will be a lot of people inside the minibus and even when you think they can’t fit any more people, … they can! Prepare to get close to locals and have a good laugh.
We found that locals are usually happy to help you if you don’t really know where you should get off. If you want to exit the collectivo, you just yell ‘stop’, ‘pare’, ‘aqui’ or ‘baja’. Almost anything will do! They don’t have set bus stops and they will stop anywhere you want to get off.
In some areas, collectivos also run between cities. This is mostly the case for rural areas where no large buses serve the area.
We traveled between cities in Chiapas after we were misled by a tour company and we immediately found out why no buses served the area. Read the full story of an unexpected roadblock in Mexico here!
Taxi’s in Mexico
We’re not really fans of using taxis, but sometimes there is no other way.
Taxis tend to be expensive and we recommend discussing the price before you get into the taxi. If you’re already at your destination, there’s no way of discussing the price and chances are good that you’ll get ripped off.
It’s a good idea to ask a local about the taxi price to a certain destination before you start hailing one down. This way, you know what locals pay for the trip. As a tourist, you’ll probably pay a little more, but you can tell if it’s just too expensive.
Taxis in Mexico don’t usually use a meter and the driver chooses the price to take you somewhere. In some places, there are posters with the taxi fare, so discussions aren’t possible. Sometimes taxis charge more for taking your luggage or backpack. This isn’t really the way it works, but there isn’t much you can do about it.
When hailing down a taxi in the street, you can always choose to let the driver take off without you if you think he’s charging too much. When you’re taking a taxi from the airport to a hotel, this isn’t always possible. You just have to take the taxi that is first in line, no matter which price he charges you.
But even then, you can always walk away. We found that taxi drivers at airports aren’t shy of lying to you. They will tell you that there is no bus terminal or that there are no buses leaving at the time. They might just be trying to get you into their car. We’ve been tricked a few times before we were able to get a bus from the airport to the city.
Night Buses in Mexico
Night buses are a decent way to travel with public transportation in Mexico when you’re on a budget. It’s convenient and cheap since you’re saving on a night in a hotel.
We do recommend taking first-class buses for overnight journeys. The buses that ride at night are actually the same that travel by day, so they’re not really sleeper buses. But they’re still pretty comfortable. Seats can be reclined and the driver will turn off the lights. There won’t be any movies with a lot of noise as there are on day trips.
Night buses are safe to take, even though you should always secure your carry-on gear. It’s safe to sleep on night buses. We usually put our bags between our legs or find another way to keep in touch with our valuables. We never lost anything in Mexican night buses so far.
Some people sleep better on night buses than other people. It can be annoying if you can’t catch sleep, like me.
If you’re not a good bus sleeper, you might need a few hours of sleep during the next day. Still, it is a cheap and comfortable way to cover distance while saving on a hotel room: perfect for backpacking Mexico!
Safety - Public Transportation in Mexico
First class buses are very safe and secure, nothing to worry about.
Shuttles, collectivos, and taxis are also safe, but as a traveler, you should always keep an eye on your stuff.
Make sure your luggage is on board before you relax. We always check this, but we saw other people only starting to worry about their backpack once we were well on our way. Make sure everything is with you before the bus leaves. The same thing counts for getting off. Always check your seat for things you might have forgotten.
We’ve read that night bus travel in remote or poor areas of Mexico is not advised. We haven’t taken these specific buses. If you doubt the safety of the area by night, always check with your hostel or host to see what the current situation is. If you fear night buses might not be safe, don’t do it. Feeling safe is just too important when backpacking Mexico!
Mexican bus terminals are guarded by armed men and they are safe places to be. The area surrounding the bus terminal can sometimes be dodgy, but you’re safe inside the terminal. Bus terminals can also be a safe place to hide from the city if you need some time to relax. They have guards, wifi, little shops, luggage storage, power sockets, and more facilities.
Public Transportation in Mexico - Tips
- Take enough drinks and snacks
- Bring your music player and headset or be forced watch the movies dubbed in Spanish
- Air Conditioning can be very cold. Wear long trousers and take a warm sweater.
There are quit a few options to get from A to B in Mexico. We tried the most of them and I must admit that I am a big fan of the ADO bus. A little bit more expensive but very comfortable to cover long distances.
For border crossings we almost always use a shuttle. This mini bus is organized by a tour operator but it can still get a little confusing from time to time with all the switches you have to make to get to your destination. Overall the easiest way to cross a border in my opinion.
If you have any questions or if you want to add something, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Happy travels and be safe!