It is more convenient to travel to Mexico by bus, car or plane. Passenger transport by train is almost non-existent. Except for the Chihuahua del Pacifico train line, which leaves each morning at both ends of the line, one from Los Mochis on the Pacific coast, opposite Baja California, and the other from Chihuahua to the east (just south of El Paso, Texas). They cross about halfway at the Divisadero and Barrancas Copper Canyon stations at an altitude of 2100 m (7000 ft).
As a result of a government programme to create infrastructure in the early 1990s, the best roads are toll roads. Toll roads can be relatively expensive (400-800 pesos is common for long journeys), but are much faster and better maintained. First-class buses usually run on toll roads (and the toll is of course included in the fare).
US car insurance is not valid in Mexico, and although Mexican car insurance is not compulsory, it is strongly recommended as any minor accident can land you in jail without it. MexiPass and AAA offer Mexican car insurance.
If you are travelling on Mexican roads, especially near the borders with the US and Guatemala, you are likely to encounter several checkpoints operated by the Mexican military to search for weapons and illegal drugs. If you are from the United States, you may not be used to this and it can be intimidating. However, for honest people, these checkpoints are rarely a problem. Just do what the soldiers tell you and treat them with respect. The best way to show respect when you enter a checkpoint is to turn down your music, take your sunglasses off your face and be prepared to roll down your window. They should also treat you with respect, which they usually do. If you are asked to unpack any part of your vehicle, do so without complaint. They have the right to let you unload completely so they can inspect your load.
Tourists are often warned not to drive on the roads at night. Although bandidos are rare in urban areas, caution is advised in rural areas. It is best to drive only during the day. Cattle, dogs and other animals may also appear unexpectedly on the road. So if you have to drive at night, be very careful. If possible, follow a bus or truck that appears to be driving safely.
The Secretariat of Communications and Transport has recently launched a new mapping tool, similar to those used in the United States, e.g. Mapquest. It is called Traza Tu Ruta and is very useful for finding out how to get to your destination via the roads in Mexico. It is in Spanish, but can be used with a basic knowledge of the language.
Foreign driving licences are recognised and recommended. Speeding tickets are common and to ensure your presence at the hearing, the officer may withhold your licence. You have the right to do this. However, be aware that police officers have been known to withhold driving licences until they receive a bribe.
At petrol stations, make sure the pump is set to zero before the attendant starts filling up so you don’t get charged more than you should. There is only one brand of petrol station (Pemex) and the prices are usually the same wherever you go, so don’t bother shopping around.
Good maps are priceless, and the maps of Mexico included in the “North American Road Atlas” books are more than useless. The maps by Guia Roji are particularly good.
Mexico is a big country and with the low-cost revolution that began in 2005 after the collapse of the CINTRA monopoly, new (low-cost) airlines have emerged and developed, offering competitive fares that rival long-distance bus travel. With the rise in fuel prices, the days of good business may be over, but prices remain reasonable compared to what they were when CINTRA operated Mexicana & Aeromexico as a monopoly before 2005. The main hubs of all or several airlines are in Mexico City, Toluca, Guadalajara, Cancun and/or Monterrey and additional point-to-point services are offered from several other cities.
The main airlines flying to different cities in Mexico are the following
- Aeromexico/Aeromexico Connect, +52 55 5133-4000 (MX), toll-free: +1-800-237-6639 (US). It is the “national” and “historic” airline with hubs in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. It is also a member of the SkyTeam alliance.
- Aeromar, +52 55 51-33-11-11, toll free: 01 800 237-6627 (MX).
- Interjet, +52 55 1102-55-55, toll-free number: 01800 01 12345 (MX). The centres are located in Mexico City and Toluca. A member of the One World Alliance, using the membership seat of the defunct Mexicana Airlines.
- Magnicharters, (DF)+52 55 5678-1000 & 5678-3600; (MTY) 81 2282-9620 & 2282-9621. The centres are located in Monterrey and Mexico City. They used to run only between Monterrey, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Cancun. They have since expanded to other Mexican and American cities.
- VivaAerobus. The centres are located in Monterrey, Mexico City and Guadalajara.
- Volaris, +52 55 1102-8000, toll-free number : 1 855 865-2747(US). Centres are located in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Toluca and Tijuana. Since the disappearance of Mexicana in 2010, they have expanded and taken over many of Mexicana’s (now defunct) airport routes and slots in Mexico and the US.
There are also small airlines that operate in certain areas, such as :
- AeroCalifia, +1 213 928-5692 (US), toll-free: 01 800 5603949 (MX). Operates scheduled regional flights between the Baja California peninsula, Chihuahua, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Sonora and Sinaloa in the northwestern part of the country using Embraer ERJ and Cessna small aircraft. They also offer charter and air taxi services.
- AeroToucan, +52 952 503-34-11, 109-51-68 (mobile). Flies between Oaxaca City, Huatulco and Puerto Escondido in the state of Oaxaca.
- Mayair. Operates regional flights from Cancun to Cozumel and Merida and from Villahermosa to Veracruz and Merida in the smaller Cessna facilities.
- TAR, +52 55 2629-5272. Centre in Querétaro with flagship cities in Guadalajara, Monterrey, Mérida, Puerto Vallarta and Toluca.
Mexicana Airlines had ceased operations in 2010, but technically it has not ceased completely as the company is proactively looking for a suitable investor/buyer to revive the business.
If you travel by bus, please make sure to take the express (first class) buses (directo, sin escalas, primera clase) if available. The first class buses (directo, sin escalas, primera clase) are usually direct lines and are the best option for most people. These buses are comfortable, have toilets and usually show films, which may or may not be in English with Spanish subtitles (or vice versa). Others may even offer a drink and a snack. First-class buses travel longer distances between cities and use toll highways when available. They may stop regularly (semi-directly) at certain bus stops along the route, otherwise they do not stop at all. Other buses such as the second class buses (economico, ordinario, local) are very similar to the first class buses but travel on secondary roads through towns and villages and stop anywhere on the road if desired. Second class bus routes are usually shorter and it takes much longer to travel long distances (such as from Cancun to Mexico City) with multiple stops and multiple changes, it is not worth the few pesos you save compared to first class buses. They are ideal for more local trips, such as between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, or to somewhere along the highway in between. In other places, they may be more frequent and available than first class, e.g. travelling from Veracruz (city) to Zempoala (town). Some of the second class buses may even be chicken buses (polleros) in rural areas, off the main roads. Executive (ejecutivo) and luxury (lujo) lines cost about 60% more than first class, can be faster, usually have larger seats, and departures are less frequent; they rival business class on an aeroplane and are a good option for older people or business travellers, or for overnight travel instead of a night in a hotel (or hostel). When buying tickets for the bus, the local practice is for the passenger to go to the terminal and buy the ticket for the next available bus to get to the desired destination on first and second class buses, except during peak periods such as Easter and Christmas. During peak periods, tickets can be booked one to two days in advance online or at the station. For second class buses, tickets can be purchased at the station within two hours before departure without prior reservation, or at the price paid to the driver when picked up at the roadside. With the advent of NAFTA, some bus companies now offer services from several US cities to several US states. The main bus companies offering such services are the following
- ABC (Baja California Buses). Baja California buses that travel across the Baja California peninsula and take Route 2/2D west of Sonora.
- ADO (Autobuses Del Oriente), +52 55 5133-5133, toll-free number: 01 800-009-9090 They operate the ADO, ADO GL, AU (Autobus Unidos), OCC (Omnibus Cristobal Colon) and Platino bus lines, as well as the Boletotal/Ticketbus.com reservation site. It is an important bus company in the east and southeast of the country, towards the Guatemalan border, in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz, Chiapas, Tamaulipas, Tabasco and the Yucatan Peninsula (Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche). They offer daily trips from Cancun and Merida to/from Belize City via Chetumal and connections with Tica Bus, Trans Galgos and King Quality in Tapachula for further travel to/from Central America.
- Autovias, HDP, La Linea, toll-free number: 800-622-22-22. Travels from Mexico DF to the neighbouring Mexican state and beyond to the states of Colima, Guerreo, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan and Queretaro.
- Costa Line AERS, +52 55 5336-5560, toll-free number: 01 800-0037-635. Serves mainly the state of Mexico, Morelos and Guerrero from Mexico City. They also operate the Turistar, Futura and AMS bus lines.
- ETN (Enlances Terrestre Nacionales), Turistar Lujo. They offer “luxury” or “executive” class seating with two seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other side, providing more legroom and the option to lie down. They are available in the following states: Aguascaliente, Baja California Norte, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico City DF, Michocoan, Morelos, Nayrit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca (Coast), Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Veracruz (Poza Rica, Tuxpan) and Zacatecas.
- Grupo Estrella Blanca (White Star), +52 55 5729-0807, toll-free number: 01 800-507-5500, operates the Elite, TNS (Transportes Norte de Sonora), Chihuahuanese, Pacifico, Oriente, TF (Tranporte Frontera), Estrella Blanca, Conexion, Rapidos de Cuauhtemoc, Valle de Guadiana and Americanosbus lines. As the largest bus company, it serves much of the north and northwest of the country, including the states of Aguascaliente, Baja California Norte, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Districto Federal (DF), Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico City, Michocoan, Morelos, Nayrit, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora and Zacatecas, all the way to the US border. They sell tickets for onward travel to the United States from the border with Greyhound Lines (and vice versa).
- Estrella de Oro (Gold Star), +52 55 5133-5133, toll-free number: 01 800-009-9090. Runs mainly between Mexico City and various locations in the states of Districto Federal (DF), Guerrero, Veracruz and Hidalgo. They are now a subsidiary of Grupo ADO, but also an independent company and brand.
- Estrella Roja (Red Star), +52 222 273-8300, toll free: 01 800-712-2284. Runs mainly between Mexico City and Puebla.
- Primera Plus, +52 477 710-0060, toll-free: 0800 375-75-87. Subsidiary of Grupo Flecha Amarilla, which also includes the ETN, Turistar Lujo, Coordinados, TTUR and Flecha Amarilla (2nd class) bus lines. They serve the states of Aguascaliente, Colima, Districto Federal (DF), Durango, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michocoan, Nayrit, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa and Zacatecas.
- Grupo Flecha Roja, Aguila, +52 55 5516 5153, toll-free number: 01 800 224-8452. Operates mainly between Mexico City and various locations in the northern part of the State of Mexico up to the State of Querétaro under the Flecha Roja brand and in the south-eastern part of the State of Mexico up to the States of Guerrero and Morelos under the Aguila brand.
- FYPSA, +52 951 516-2270. operates mainly between the Districto Federal (DF), the State of Mexico, the States of Oaxaca and Chiapas.
- Omnibus de Mexico, +52 55 5141-4300, toll free: 01 800-765-66-36. They serve most of central and northern Mexico, including the states of Aguascaliente, Colima, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michocoan, Nayrit, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Zacatecas, up to the US border.
- Pullman de Morelos, +52 55 5545-3505, toll-free number: 0800 624-03-60. Operates buses in and around Guerrero and Morelos. They operate the Ejecutivo Dorado (Golden Executive), Pullman de Lujo, Primera Clase, Primera Federal and Primera Local (2nd class).
- Grupo Senda. They serve a large part of the north-central part of the country such as the states of Aguascaliente, Colima, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michocoan, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas, all the way to the US border. From the border, the route continues to the southeastern and central states of the United States: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. They also operate the Turimex and Del Norte bus lines.
- Zina Bus, Excelencia, Excelencia Plus, +52 55 5278-4721. Runs from Mexico DF to the neighbouring states of Mexico, Guerreo and Michoacan.
No bus company has as large a national market share as Greyhound in the United States, but some have a larger market share in certain regions. There are more than 200 other bus companies and drivers’ unions operating buses not listed above. You will find them when you are there, or you can view (or add to) the articles specific to a region, city or town.
On the other hand, if you travel to a city, you will not find pleasant surprises. You will find one of the most chaotic public transport systems, full of the popular “peseros”. Peseros” are small buses whose colour codes vary depending on the city you are in. Usually, the route taken is written on a cardboard attached to the windscreen or with wet soap and then dried chalk on the windscreen, listing and not numbering the local settlements (neighbourhoods) and points of interest (Wal Mart, Costco, shopping malls, hospitals, universities, etc.) that are served by the route. Unlike many other countries, there are rarely bus stops and you must signal the bus to pick you up and drop you off where you want. You will rarely find a stop button in a pesero; just shout the word “baja!” and it will stop. Fares are cheap and range from about 5 to 8 pesos.
There are very few passenger trains in Mexico, with only a few lines running in places like Copper Canyon in the northern state of Chihuahua. This line is also known as the Chihuahua Pacific Railway between the coastal town of Tobolobampo in the state of Sinaloa and the city of Chihuahua through Copper Canyon. In the state of Jalisco, there are two lines connecting the state capital, Guadalajara, with the nearby tequila distilleries in the small town of Amatitlan by the Tequila Express and with the Jose Cuervo distilleries in the city of Tequila by the Jose Cuervo Express. The latter two, coming from Guadalajara, serve as part of a weekend day trip to the tequila distilleries and then as transport to these towns. In some parts of the country it is possible to board or ride (if you are an adventurer) in freight cars, as many migrants do who travel from Central America to the United States. The prospect of jumping into the wagon is dangerous because of the lack of fastenings, which can lead to falling, being run over by the wheels, being hit by an oncoming train (if you fall in the wrong place) or being robbed by bandits on the way.
Nevertheless, discussions have been held in recent years about expanding mass transit in several cities and high-speed passenger transport, but as of May 2015, no concrete plan has emerged. Currently, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey have metro and/or light rail services.
One of the positive aspects of the high oil price is that towing is becoming more common again in Mexico, especially in rural areas. In areas close to big cities, towing is likely to become more difficult and may not be advisable for safety reasons. In village areas, however, it will be very possible and most likely a pleasant experience. Indeed, it has always been difficult for villagers to afford petrol, and nowadays many resort to paying hitchhikers to afford the next ride into town. Baja California, the Sierra Tarahumara, Oaxaca and Chiapas all offer good opportunities for hitchhiking. Hitchhiking options vary by region. In Mexican culture, hitchhiking is often accepted and it is a common practice among young Mexicans going to the beach for the Easter holidays, although in some cases a financial contribution for petrol is expected as it is relatively expensive. If this is the case, make it clear that you have no money to offer before accepting the trip. If you are willing to pay, trucks often offer lifts for about half the price of a bus ticket. Of course, you can negotiate a better price. On the Yucatán Peninsula, hitchhiking is considered relatively safe and easy.