The chances are, if you are spending any length of time in Mexico of more than a few days, you’re probably going to be going between cities at some point to see all there is to (reasonably) see. Feeling a little lost on your options? Allow us to bring a bit of clarity to your intra-Mexican travel experience!
Is it safe to travel in Mexico?
In general, it is not more or less safe to travel in Mexico than it is to stay put. When it comes to getting from point A to point B, you’ll want to use the same cautions you normally would (watching your belongings closely, keeping a low profile, following your gut instincts and using common sense). Any specific concerns to be aware of, we’ll highlight in each section so you can be on guard and off on your next adventure!
Driving in Mexico
Driving while in Mexico is an option if you want to have control over exactly when and where you go. American citizens are especially lucky as US driver’s licenses are valid in Mexico, but be warned – there will be a host of bureaucracy and red tape to go through if you want to drive your car beyond the border. Driving your US vehicle into Mexico will require a “temporary vehicle import permit” (which of course includes a fee), to be filed with Mexican customs. You will also need Mexican car insurance, Mexican liability insurance is recommended, and you need to ensure that all of your registration is 100% up to date, lest you risk fines and having your vehicle impounded.
Safety: Plus, taking your fancy American car into Mexico isn’t the best idea for safety reasons either. Banditry on the road is a risk all drivers face, especially when in cars which are obviously foreign. The basic tips are these: Don’t drive at night, don’t stop for people who are trying to flag you down (even if they’re indicating a problem with your vehicle. Wait until you’re in a safe and ideally, populated place to inspect the car yourself). Stay on major toll highways as best you can, even if they’re a bit more expensive, as there is more of a police presence.
Rental Cars: If you want to avoid the stress and headaches involved with the paperwork of using your own car in Mexico, consider the rental option so that you can still see everything you want to see on your own terms without the same level of liability. Make sure the car you are renting has up-to-date insurance, that you are licensed to drive within Mexico, and that you fully understand the rules of the road in case there are major differences to your own home country.
Needless to say, check with your relevant consulate before you attempt to drive in Mexico to ensure that you are able to drive safely, legally, and with all relevant paperwork accounted for.
Bus Transit in Mexico
Getting around by bus is a one of the most common Mexico transportation options for both travelers and locals, and you will find no shortage of choices for both short and long-distance transfers. The bus is what you take for Mexico public transport.
Colectivos and Combis
Colectivos are a general term for a small bus, overstuffed van or taxi, or any large vehicle to transport passengers short distances. They are typically used within a large city or for transport between nearby towns. Colectivos have fixed routes but will pick up and drop off passengers anywhere along said route, as long as you get the driver’s attention. You will pay the driver based on the distance you traveled – you can find them in town squares or at central transport hubs, but don’t use them if you’re in a hurry. Colectivos make many stops and usually only leave when they’re totally full.
Long Distance: Luxury, First Class, Second Class
Traveling for many hours will require a much more formal and established bus company, of which the options are plentiful. Buses (camiones, as they are called in Mexico) are provided by dozens of companies, and can generally be divided into three classes depending on your travel needs and desires.
Luxury and first class buses are very similar in terms of travel style (operating between major cities and hubs), but can be very different in terms of amenities. Both will stop infrequently so that you can reach your destination faster, and they will use major toll roads as much as possible for safety. While both classes will have toilets and air conditioning, the luxury buses tend to be just that – luxury. With comfortable, spacious seats, snacks on board, and individual movie screens, they provide the most comfortable service. First class will still be a quality ride in a relatively new vehicle, but with fewer creature comforts and provisions.
Second class buses can be quite the mixed-bag. You might get a nice, new bus similar to the first class, or an older one in questionable condition (these are much more common). They function a bit more like the aforementioned colectivos: they operate mainly for smaller towns and less popular routes, and they will stop anywhere to pick up passengers. They might have A/C, will probably not have toilets, and you might have to stand if you get picked up somewhere mid-route.
Safety: The luxury and first class options are generally your safest bets because they operate on those major toll roads, decreasing your chances of being subject to banditry. Remember not to take night buses, and if you are carrying luggage, keep it on the seat with you or make sure it is stowed under the bus so that other travelers do not have access.
Tickets and Reservations: For the major companies, it’s always recommended to purchase tickets online a day or two in advance to guarantee a seat. Otherwise, and especially if it is a popular route or a holiday, purchase your ticket at the bus terminal as early as you can on the day of travel. This does not typically apply to second class buses, where you can only pay to the driver upon entering. If you’re unsure where to start in the world of choosing a Mexican bus company, start with these major operators:
Grupo Estrella Blanca: www.estrellablanca.com.mx
ETN Turistar: www.etn.com.mx
Grupo ADO: www.ado.com.mx
Primera Plus: www.primeraplus.com.mx
Air Travel in Mexico
If you need to make an exceptionally long journey, you may want to consider going by plane as your best option. Many popular routes between major cities (Cancun to Mexico City, for example) are both insanely long bus rides (15 hours in this example) and actually cheaper to fly due to frequency of use. Mexico is full of well-serviced domestic airports for exactly this purpose. The biggest operator is AeroMexico, but Volaris, Interjet, and Viva Aerobus are all reputable budget airlines as well. In general, as long as you are flying between major hubs for reasonably long distances, flying will be a quicker, cheaper, and safer option for you.
Taxis in Mexico
Taxies are an okay option for inner-city travel. If you do choose to use a taxi to get from A to B, remember to ensure the meter is running properly, and if it isn’t, set a price with the driver before you get in. In addition, always call a taxi ahead of time from a reputable company – never hail a cab off the street lest it be an illegal taxi looking to rob you, or worse. Your best bet might be to use Uber, which is widespread and trusted throughout Mexico.
An inner city taxi ride will typically cost 20-25 M$ per kilometer with a 16 M$ starting rate. If you choose to use a taxi for the day to sightsee to your liking (as some people do), the cost will be comparable to renting a car for the day.
Alternative: Private Car Transfer
It is entirely possible that public transportation is not your style, and that you don’t feel like driving in Mexico (who could blame you?). In that case, there is a newer option emerging on the transport scene which many travelers have started taking advantage of, which is private car transfers. In this concept, a local professional driver picks you up directly from your accommodation anywhere in your origin city and drives you directly to your destination hotel, rental, etc, allowing you to avoid the hassle of timetables, bus stations, and dragging your luggage to and fro.
Companies like the transfer service Daytrip even allow you the option of stopping at popular sightseeing locations along the way. It’s an excellent choice for relaxed, comfortable, and private transport if you’re going between cities in the same region of Mexico. You can visit the website mydaytrip.com for more information or to book your next transfer!