Due to a government scheme in the early 1990s to create infrastructure, the best roads are toll roads. Toll roads can be relatively costly (M$400-800 is common on longer trips) but are much faster and better maintained. First-class buses generally travel by toll roads (and the toll is obviously included in the ticket price).
US vehicle insurance is not valid in Mexico, and while Mexican auto insurance is not required, it is highly recommended, as any minor accident could land you in jail without it. MexiPass and AAA offer Mexican auto insurance.
When traveling on Mexican roads, especially near the borders with the United States and Guatemala, one will probably encounter several checkpoints operated by the Mexican Army searching for illegal weapons and drugs. If you are coming from the United States, you may not be used to this, and it can be intimidating. However, these are rarely a problem for honest people. Simply do what the soldiers tell you to do, and treat them with respect. The best way to show respect when entering a checkpoint is to turn your music down, lift sunglasses from your face, and be prepared to roll your window down. They should treat you with respect as well, and they usually do. If you are asked to unpack any part of your vehicle, do so without complaint. It is their right to make you completely unload in order for them to inspect your cargo.
Tourists are often warned about travelling on roads at night. Although bandidos are rare in more metropolitan areas, err on the side of caution in more rural areas. The best bet is to drive during only daylight hours. Cattle, dogs, and other animals also can appear on the roadway unexpectedly, so if you do have to drive at night, be very cautious. If possible, follow a bus or truck that seems to be driving safely.
Foreign drivers’ licenses are recognized and recommended. Speeding tickets are common, and to ensure your presence at the hearing, the officer may choose to keep your license. He is within his rights to do so. Beware though, police officers are known to keep driver’s licenses until they are given a bribe.
At petrol (gas) stations, make sure the pump is zeroed out before the attendant begins pumping your gas so that you don’t end up paying more than you should. There is only one brand of gas station (Pemex) and prices are generally the same regardless of location, so don’t bother shopping around.
Good maps are invaluable and the Mexico maps included in “North American Road Atlas” books are worse than useless. The Guia Roji maps are particularly good.
Mexico is a large country, and with the low-cost revolution that started in 2005 following the break up of the CINTRA monopoly, new (budget) airlines had came in and expanded, offering competitive fares that rival bus travel over long distances. With increased fuel costs, the bargain days may be gone, but the prices are still more reasonable than when CINTRA operated Mexicana and Aeromexico, as a monopoly, before 2005. Major airlines hubs for all or several of the airlines are in Mexico City, Toluca, Guadalajara, Cancun and Monterrey. There are additional point to point services from several other cities.
The main airlines providing service to over 60 cities within Mexico are:
- Aeromexico/Aeromexico Connect, +52 55 5133-4000 (MX), toll-free: +1-800-237-6639 (US). Is the ‘national’ and ‘legacy’ carrier with hubs in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. They’re 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: 01800 01 12345 (MX). Hub in Mexico City & focus cities in Cancun, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Internationally they go out to Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the USA. Since 2015 they had tried to take over the spot in the One World Alliance left behind by Mexicana but were unsuccessful. They do have alliances with American Airlines, LATAM and Iberia all One World Alliance members.
- Magnicharters, +52 55 5678-1000, +52 55 5678-3600 (DF), +52 81 2282-9620, +52 2282-9621 (MTY). Hubs are in Monterrey & Mexico City. Used to operate only between Monterrey, Mexico City, Guadalajara & Cancun. They had since expanded to include additional Mexican and U.S. cities.
- VivaAerobus. Low-cost, Ryanair-like airline with hubs in Cancun, Monterrey, Mexico City & Guadalajara and new focus cities in Merida and Puebla. They expanded service to the USA after 2011.
- Volaris, +52 55 1102-8000, toll-free: +1 855 865-2747 (US). Hubs are in Mexico City, Tijuana and Guadalajara with focus cities in Cancun, Monterrey and Leon. They also have an additional hub in San Jose Costa Rica and a focus city in Los Angeles, outside of Mexico. Since the demise of Mexicana in 2010 they had expanded & taken over many of Mexicana’s routes and airport slots within Mexico & the U.S. They had since expanded services to more cities in the U.S., Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
There are also small airlines operating within certain areas such as:
- Calafia Airlines, +1 619 489-1439 (US), toll-free: 01 800 5603949 (MX). Operates scheduled flights between multiple cities in the Baja California Peninsula and from the Baja California Peninsula to Chihuahua, Jalisco, Sonora & Sinaloa states. They also connect the Baja California Peninsula to Leon (Guanajuato), Monterey (Nuevo Leon), Mexico City and San Luis Potosi, all in the smaller Embraer ERJ & Cessna aircraft. They also connect Palenque and Tuxtla Gutierrez (Chiapas) to Mexico City and Cancun. They also offer charters & air taxi services too.
- Aerotucán, +52 952 502-0840, toll-free: 01800 640-4148. Flies between Oaxaca City, Ciudad Ixtepec, Huatulco and Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca state with the Cessna Grand Caravan plane.
- Mayair, +52 987 872-3609 (MX), +1 414 755-2527 (US & CA), toll-free: 01800 962-9247. Operates regional flights from Cancun to Cozumel, Chetumal and Merida and from Villahermosa to Veracruz and Merida in the smaller Dornier 228 and the Fokker 50 aircraft.
- TAR, +52 55 2629-5272. Hub in Queretaro with focus cities in Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Puerto Vallarta to multiple destinations with Embraer ERJ145 jets nationwide and expanding.
If traveling by bus, be sure to take the express (first class) buses (directo, sin escalas, primera clase), if available. First class (directo, sin escalas, primera clase) buses are usually direct routes and are the best option for most. These buses are comfortable, have washrooms/toilets and will generally show movies, which may or may not be in English with Spanish subtitles (or vice versa). Others may even offer a drink and a little snack. First class buses travel over longer distances between cities use toll freeways where available. They may make scheduled stops (semi-directo) at specific bus stations en route otherwise they make no stops en-route (sin escalas). Other buses such as the second class (economico, ordinario, local) buses may be very similar to first class only they travel along secondary highways through cities, towns and villages and stop anywhere along the road on request. Second class bus routes are typically shorter and will take considerably longer to travel over longer distances (such as from Cancun to Mexico City) with multiple stops and multiple transfers, it is not worth the few pesos saved over first class buses. They are fine for more local travel, 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 more available than first class such as going to Zempoala (town) from Veracruz (city). Some of the second class buses may even be chicken buses (polleros) in rural, off the beaten track, places. Executive (Ejecutivo) and Luxury (Lujo) lines cost about 60% more than first class, are faster, usually have larger seats, and they have less frequent departures; they rival flying business class on a plane and are a good option for elderly or business travelers or overnight travel in lieu of a night’s stay at a hotel (or hostel).
When acquiring tickets for the bus, the local custom is that the passenger comes to the terminal and buys the ticket for next available bus going to the desired destination with first and deluxe class buses unless it is during busy travel times such as Easter and Christmas. During busy travel times tickets can be booked one or two days in advance online or at the station. With second class buses, tickets can be purchased at the station within 2 hours of a departure, no advance reservations prior, at the beginning of a route or the fare paid to the driver if picked up from along side of the road. With the advent of NAFTA, some bus companies are now offering service from cities in several US states. The major bus companies offering these kind of services are:
- (Autobuses de Baja California). Bus services up and down Hwy 1 in the Baja California Peninsula in both Baja California Norte y Sur states and along Hwy 2/2D to western Sonora
- ADO (Autobuses Del Oriente), +52 55 5133-5133, toll-free: 01 800-009-9090. They operate the ADO, ADO GL, AU (Autobus Unidos), OCC (Omnibus Cristobal Colon), Platino, Texcoco, Diamante, Estrella de Oro, Cuenca and Pluss bus lines and the ClickBus booking site (formerly Boletotal & Ticketbus). They are a major bus company in the eastern and southeastern part of the country towards the Guatemalan border in the states of Guerrero, Puebla, Veracruz, Chiapas, Tamaulipas, Tabasco, and the Yucatan Peninsula (Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche). Travel towards Guatemala via Tapachula or Tuxtla Guttierrez; to Belize through Chetumal and the United States border through Matamoros. They only offer cross border buses to Belize City from Cancun and Merida via Chetumal.
- Autobuses Coordinados de Nayrit (ACN), toll-free: 01800 026-73-73. They serve mainly in the western and northwestern states of Baja California Norte, Jalisco, Michocoan, Nayrit, Sinaloa and Sonora in Mexico and California (historically ‘Alta California’) in the U.S.
- Autovias, toll-free: 01 800-622-22-22. serving Colima, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Mexico DF, Estado Mexico and Queretaro. Other subsidiary brands include Allegra, La Linea and the Pegasso brands.
- Costa Line AERS, +52 55 5336-5560, toll-free: 01 800-0037-635. Serves mainly in Mexico state, Morelos and Guerrero from Mexico City. They also operate the Turistar, Futura and AMS bus lines.
- ETN (Enlances Terrestre Nacionales), Turistar Lujo. They offer a ‘deluxe’ or ‘executive’ class seating with 2 seats on one side of the aisle and one on the opposite side with more leg room and an ability to recline into a lying position. They go to Aguascaliente, Baja California Norte, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico, Mexico City DF, Michocoan, Morelos, Nayrit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca (coast), Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Veracruz (Poza Rica, Tuxpan) and Zacatecas states
- Grupo Estrella Blanca (White Star), +52 55 5729-0807, toll-free: 01 800-507-5500. They operate the Anahuac, Elite, TNS (Transportes Norte de Sonora), Chihuahuanese, Pacifico, TF (Tranporte Frontera), Estrella Blanca, Conexion, Rapidos de Cuauhtemoc, Valle de Guadiana and Autobus Americanos bus lines. As the largest bus company they serve much of the northern & northwestern part of the country such as Aguascaliente, Baja California Norte, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Districto Federal (DF), Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Estado de Mexico, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora and Zacatecas states, up to the US border. They sell tickets for onward travel to the United States from the border on Greyhound Lines (and vice versa).
- Estrella de Oro (Gold Star), +52 55 5133-5133, toll-free: 01 800-009-9090. operates mainly between Mexico City and various places in Districto Federal (DF), Guerrero, Veracruz and Hidalgo states. They are now a subsidiary of Grupo ADO but continue to operate as a separate company and brand.
- Estrella Roja (Red Star), +52 222 273-8300, toll-free: 01 800-712-2284. Travels mainly between Mexico City and Puebla.
- Primera Plus (Grupo Flecha Amarilla), +52 477 710-0060, toll-free: 0800 375-75-87. Subsidiary of Grupo Flecha Amarilla which also include ETN, Turistar Lujo, Servicios Coordinados, TTUR and Flecha Amarilla (second class service) bus lines. They serve Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Colima, Aguascalientes, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, México,D.F., Nayarit, Estado de Mexico, Hidalgo, Guerrero and Sinaloa states
- Grupo Flecha Roja, Aguila, +52 55 5516 5153, toll-free: 01 800 224-8452. Operates mainly between Mexico City and various places in northern part of Mexico state into Queretaro state on the Flecha Roja brand and to the southeastern part of Mexico State into Guerrero and Morelos states as Aguila.
- FYPSA, +52 951 516-2270. operates mainly between Districto Federal (DF), Mexico state, Oaxaca and Chiapas states.
- Omnibus de Mexico, +52 55 5141-4300, toll-free: 01 800-765-66-36. They serve much of the central and northern part of the country such as Aguascaliente, Colima, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michocoan, Nayrit, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Zacatecas states, up to the US border.
- Pullman de Morelos, +52 55 5545-3505, toll-free: 0800 624-03-60. Operates buses in/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 much of the north central part of the country such as Aguascaliente, Colima, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas states, up to the US border as. From the border they continue up to the southeastern and central U.S. states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee from Texas as Turimex Internacional. They also operate the and Del Norte and Coahuilenses bus lines in north central part of Mexico, south of Texas.
- TAP, toll-free: 0800-0011-827. Operates bus more or less along the Hwy 15 corridor between Tijuana and Guadalajara and other places off of the Hwy 15 corridor in Baja California Norte, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Sonora, Estado de Mexico and Mexico DF. They also operate the TAP Royal bus lines from the border to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Tuscon in the southwestern part of the U.S.
- Zina Bus, Excelencia, Excelencia Plus, +52 55 5278-4721. Goes from Mexico DF to the surrounding Mexico, Guerreo and Michoacan states. The company also operate Autobus Pegasso to Guanajuato and Querétaro as well as Estado de Mexico and Michoacán.
The above are major bus lines traversing much of the country with some crossing the border into the U.S. No bus company holds a large market share nationwide like Greyhound in the U.S. but some do have a greater market share in certain regions. There are over 200 other companies and drivers’ unions operating buses not listed in the above which you will find once there or see (or add to) the specific articles of a region, city or town.
On the other hand if traveling within a city, you won’t find a pleasant surprise. You will find one of the most chaotic public transport systems full of the popular “peseros”. “Peseros” are small buses with varying color codes depending on the city you are in. Usually the route taken is written on cardboard attached to the windshield or with wet and than dried soap or chalk on the windshield listing the local colonias (neighborhoods) and points of interest (Wal Mart, Costco, malls, hospitals, universities, etc.) the route serves and are not numbered. Unlike in many countries, bus stops are uncommon and you are expect to signal the bus to pick you up and drop you off wherever you want. You will rarely find a stop button in a pesero; just shout the word “baja!” for it to stop. Fares are cheap and vary from M$5-8 approximately.
The only available passenger train is the Chihuahua al Pacific Railway (CHEPE) operated by Ferromex between Los Mochis and the city of Chihuahua, through the Copper Canyon. In the state of Jalisco there are a couple of lines which travel from the state capital city of Guadalajara to the nearby tequila distilleries in the small town of Amatitlan on the Tequila Express and to the Jose Cuervo distilleries in the town of Tequila on the Jose Cuervo Express. The latter two from Guadalajara are tourist trains offering tours of the tequila distilleries, and not a form of transportation to get to those towns.
It may be possible to hop aboard or on top of freight cars in some parts of the country (if you happen to be an adventurer) as many migrants traveling from Central America to the USA are doing this. The prospect of hopping the freight is dangerous due to the lack of restraints which results in falling off, getting run over by the wheels, getting hit by an oncoming train (if fallen into the wrong spot), or being robbed by bandits along the way.
That being said, there have been talks of expanding suburban rail services in several cities and high-speed passenger services, but no plans have materialized as of May 2017. Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey have subway and/or light rail services.