More than 60 Mexican cities have airports with scheduled passenger services. Flying can be good value on longer journeys.
Aeroméxico (including its subsidiary, Aeroméxico Connect) has the biggest network, but Interjet, TAR Aerolíneas, Volaris and VivaAerobus also serve many cities, often with lower fares. VivaAerobus offers some particularly low fares, but its website may not accept all foreign credit or bank cards.
Volaris and Interjet serve some international destinations. Mexico's regional airlines tend to have a decent safety record.
Airlines in Mexico
Baja California, Pacific Coast, Guadalajara, Monterrey, León, Chihuahua, Puerto Vallarta
Aéreo Servicios Guerrero
9 cities in Baja and the Pacific Coast
25 cities nationwide, excluding Baja
44 cities nationwide; most flights from Mexico City and Monterrey
34 cities nationwide
16 destinations nationwide, including Riviera Maya coastal resorts
Yucatán Peninsula, Veracruz
25 cities nationwide, excluding Baja
32 cities nationwide
41 cities nationwide
Cycling is not a common way to tour Mexico. The size of the country, poor road surfaces, careless motorists and other road hazards are deterrents. If you’re up for the challenge, take the mountainous topography and hot climate into account when planning your route. All cities have bicycle stores: a decent mountain bike suitable for a few weeks’ touring costs around M$5000.
Consider the bring-your-own-bike tours of southern Mexico and the central volcano country offered by the fun and friendly ¡El Tour (www.bikemexico.com) or else join an Exodus Travels (www.exodus.co.uk) tour of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Bicycle culture is on the up in Mexican cities, however. Most of them are flat enough to make cycling an option and there is a growing number of designated bicycle lanes in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puebla, Monterrey and some other large cities. Mexico City offers free bike rental. There are bicycle-sharing schemes in Guadalajara (www.mibici.net), Mexico City (www.ecobici.cdmx.gob.mx) and Puebla (www.bicipuebla.com). They work in the same way as other global bike-shares. You can hire decent road and mountain bikes in several other towns for M$300 to M$700 per day. Seek out less-traffic-infested routes and you should enjoy it. Mass Sunday rides are a growing phenomenon, particularly in Mexico City.
Vehicle and passenger ferries connecting Baja California with the Mexican mainland sail between Santa Rosalía and Guaymas (one-way seat/cabin M$930/1030, car M$3200); La Paz and Mazatlán (one-way seat M$1240, three weekly); and La Paz and Topolobampo (one-way seat M$1100, car M$2200).
Mexico has a good road network and comfortable, frequent, reasonably priced bus services connect all cities. Most cities and towns have one main bus terminal from which all long-distance buses operate. It may be called the Terminal de Autobuses, Central de Autobuses, Central Camionera or La Central (not to be confused with el centro, the city center!).
Bus stations in major cities tend to be generally clean, safe and highly functional.
- Buses do occasionally get held up and robbed. Traveling by day and on deluxe or 1st-class buses, which use toll highways where possible, minimizes this risk.
- Baggage is safe if stowed in the baggage hold – get a receipt for it when you hand it over. Keep your most valuable possessions in the cabin with you.
- Air-conditioned buses can get cold, so wear long pants or a skirt and take a sweater or jacket and maybe a blanket on board. Eye-masks and earplugs can be handy if you don’t want to watch videos the entire trip!
Mexico's buses (called camiones, unlike in other Spanish-speaking countries) have three classes.
Deluxe & Executive
De lujo services, primera plus and the even more comfortable ejecutivo (executive) buses run mainly on the busier intercity routes. They are swift and comfortable, with reclining seats, plenty of legroom, air-conditioning, movies on (individual) video screens, few or no stops, toilets on board (sometimes separate ones for men and women) and often drinks, snacks and even wi-fi. They use toll roads wherever available.
Primera (1a) clase buses have a comfortable numbered seat for each passenger. All sizable towns are served by 1st-class buses. Standards of comfort are adequate at the very least. The buses have air-conditioning and a toilet, and they stop infrequently. They show movies on TV screens. They also use toll roads where possible.
Segunda (2a) clase or ‘económico’ buses serve small towns and villages and provide cheaper, slower travel on some intercity routes. A few are almost as quick, comfortable and direct as 1st-class buses. Others are old, slow and shabby. Few have toilets. These buses tend to take non-toll roads and will stop anywhere to pick up passengers, so if you board midroute you might make some of the trip standing. In remoter areas, they are often the only buses available.
Mexico has hundreds of bus companies. Many of the major ones belong to the four large groups that dominate bus transportation in different parts of the country. Their websites have schedule information.
All major cities along the Pacific coast, central, northern and eastern Mexico and destinations as far south as Oaxaca. Also Tuscon, El Paso and San Diego.
Connects Mexico City with numerous cities in the Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero and Veracruz.
Grupo Estrella Blanca
Mexico City and the center, north and west of Mexico. Major cities such as Guadalajara, Tijuana, Puebla, Monterrey, Puerto Vallarta, Ciudad Juárez.
Destinations around the center of the country include Mexico City, Guadalajara, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, San Luis Potosí and San Miguel de Allende.
For 1st-class, deluxe and executive buses, buy your ticket in the bus terminal before the trip; it may also be possible to purchase tickets online, depending on the bus company, and have the ticket emailed to you. For trips of up to four or five hours on routes with frequent service, you can usually just go to the bus terminal, buy a ticket and head out without much delay. For longer trips, or routes with infrequent service, or for any trip at busy holiday times, it’s best to buy a ticket a day or more in advance. You can usually select your seat when you buy your ticket. Try to avoid the back of the bus, which is where the toilets are located and also tends to give a bumpier ride.
Many 2nd-class services have no ticket office; you just pay your fare to the conductor.
In some cities you can buy bus tickets from downtown agencies to avoid an extra trip to the bus terminal.
How Many Stops?
It’s useful to understand the difference between the types of bus service on offer.
Sin escalas Nonstop.
Directo Very few stops.
Ordinario Stops wherever passengers want to get on or off the bus. Deluxe and 1st-class buses are never ordinario.
Express Nonstop on short- to medium-length trips and very few stops on long trips.
Local Bus that starts its journey at the bus station you’re in and usually leaves on time. Local service is preferable to de paso.
De paso Bus that started its journey somewhere else. You may have to wait until it arrives before any tickets are sold, and if it’s full, you have to wait for the next one.
Vía corta Short route.
Vía cuota By toll road.
Viaje redondo Round trip.
Car & Motorcycle
Having a vehicle in Mexico gives you a whole lot of flexibility and freedom, and with a little adaptation to local road conditions is no more difficult than in most other countries.
To drive a motor vehicle in Mexico, you need a valid driver’s license from your home country.
All gasolina (gasoline) and diesel fuel in Mexico is sold by the government’s monopoly, Pemex (Petróleos Mexicanos). Most towns, even small ones, have a Pemex station, and stations are pretty common on most major roads. In remote areas, fill up whenever you can. Gasoline is all sin plomo (unleaded). There are two varieties:
Magna (87 octane) Roughly equivalent to US regular unleaded, costing about M$15.99 per liter (US$3.40 per US gallon).
Premium (91 octane and lower in sulfur content) Roughly equivalent to US super unleaded, costing about M$17.79.
Diesel fuel is widely available at around M$20.59 per liter. Regular Mexican diesel has a higher sulfur content than US diesel, but a bajo azufre (low sulfur) variety has started to become available in Mexico City and some nearby areas. Gas stations have pump attendants (who appreciate a tip of around M$5).
It is essential to have Mexican liability insurance. If you are involved in an accident in Mexico, you can be jailed and have your vehicle impounded while responsibility is assessed. If you are to blame for an accident causing injury or death, you may be detained until you guarantee restitution to the victims and payment of any fines. Adequate Mexican insurance coverage is the only real protection: it is regarded as a guarantee that restitution will be paid.
Mexican law recognizes only Mexican motor insurance (seguro), so a US or Canadian policy, even if it provides coverage, is not acceptable to Mexican officialdom. You can buy Mexican motor insurance online through the long-established Sanborn’s (www.sanbornsinsurance.com) and other companies. Mexican insurance is also sold in border towns in the US and at some border points. At the busiest border crossings there are insurance offices open 24 hours a day.
Short-term insurance is about US$18 a day for full coverage on a car worth under US$10,000. For periods longer than two weeks, it’s often cheaper to get a semi-annual or annual policy. Liability-only insurance costs around half the full coverage cost.
Auto rental in Mexico can be expensive by US or European standards, but is not difficult to organize. Many major international rental firms have offices throughout the country.
Renters must provide a valid driver’s license (your home license is OK), passport and major credit card, and are usually required to be at least 21 years of age (sometimes 25, or if you’re aged 21 to 24 you may have to pay a surcharge). Read the small print of the rental agreement. In addition to the basic rental rate, there will be tax and insurance costs. Comprehensive insurance can more than double the basic cost quoted in some online bookings – you’ll usually have the option of liability-only insurance at a lower rate. Ask exactly what the insurance options cover: theft and damage insurance may only cover a percentage of costs, or the insurance might not be valid for travel on rough country tracks. It’s best to have plenty of liability coverage.
Rental rates typically start around M$600 to M$700 per day, including unlimited kilometers, basic insurance and tax. In some beach resorts you may pay as little as M$500. If you rent by the week or month, per-day costs come down. The extra charge for drop-off in another city, when available, is usually about M$10 per kilometer.
Motorbikes or scooters can be rented in a few tourist centers. You’re usually required to have a driver’s license and a credit card. Many renters do not offer any insurance, however.
Road Conditions & Hazards
- Mexico’s highways are serviceable and fairly fast when traffic is not heavy. There are more than 6000km of toll highways (autopistas), which are generally good, four-lane roads. Tolls cost around M$2.50 per kilometer.
- Driving at night is best avoided, since unlit vehicles, hard-to-see speed bumps, rocks, pedestrians and animals on the roads are common, and drunk drivers are more numerous – and general highway security is better by day.
- Some hijackings, holdups and illegal roadblocks connected with drug-gang activities occur, mainly in the north. The northeastern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León are especially notorious – particularly the Tampico–Matamoros road and Hwys 101 and 180 in Tamaulipas, which are particularly renowned for armed robberies and carjackings. In this part of the country especially, it is best to stick to toll highways, avoid driving after dark, and keep doors locked and windows closed when driving through cities. Check travel warnings and seek local advice. If you do become a victim, do not try to resist.
- There are also some perfectly genuine military and police roadblocks, which are generally looking for illegal weapons, drugs, migrants or contraband. They are unlikely to give tourists a hard time and are no cause for alarm.
- It's best to leave vehicles in secure lock-up parking lots overnight. These are fairly common in cities, and hotels can tell you where they are if they don't have their own secure parking.
- About 13 out of every 100,000 Mexicans die in road accidents each year – more than double the rate of most Western countries. Driving under the influence of alcohol and non-use of seat belts are more prevalent here, but otherwise Mexicans seem to drive as cautiously and sensibly as people anywhere. Traffic density, poor surfaces, speed bumps, animals, bicycles and pedestrians all help to keep speeds down.
- Be wary of Alto (Stop) signs, topes (speed bumps) and potholes in the road (quite often on motorways, too). They are often not where you’d expect them and missing one can cost you in traffic fines or car damage. ‘Tope’ or ‘Vibradores’ signs warn you of many speed bumps – the deadly ones are the unmarked ones with no warning signs!
- There is always the chance that you will be pulled over by traffic police. If this happens, stay calm and polite. If you don’t think you have committed an infraction, you don’t have to pay a bribe, and acting dumb may eventually make the cop give up. You can also ask to see the officer’s identification, the documentation about the law you have supposedly broken, ask to speak to a superior, and note the officer’s name, badge number, vehicle number and department (federal, state or municipal). If you're told that it's cheaper to pay a ticket on the spot, make it clear that you want to pay any fines at a police station and get a receipt; bribe-seekers are likely to let you go at this point. If you then wish to make a complaint, head for a state tourist office.
- Drive on the right-hand side of the road.
- Speed limits range between 80km/h and 120km/h on open highways (less when highways pass through built-up areas), and between 30km/h and 50km/h in towns and cities.
- One-way streets are the rule in cities.
- Legal blood-alcohol limits for drivers range from 0.5g/L to 0.8g/L – roughly two or three beers or tequilas.
- Antipollution rules in Mexico City ban most vehicles from the city’s roads on one day each week.
The Green Angels
The Mexican tourism secretariat, Sectur, maintains a network of Ángeles Verdes (Green Angels) – bilingual mechanics in green uniforms and green trucks who patrol 60,000km of major highways and toll roads throughout the country daily from 8am to 6pm looking for tourists in trouble. They can give you directions, make minor repairs, change tires, provide fuel and oil and arrange towing and other assistance if necessary. Service is free, and parts, gasoline and oil are provided at cost. If you have access to a telephone, you can call the hotline by dialling 078.
Colectivos, Combis & Other Vehicles
In some areas a variety of small vehicles provide alternatives to buses. Taxis colectivos (shared taxis, usually carrying four passengers who each pay a quarter of the full cab fare), Volkswagen minibuses (combis) and more comfortable passenger-carrying vans, such as Chevrolet Suburbans or Nissan Urvans, operate services between some towns. Fares are typically a little less than 1st-class buses. Microbuses or ‘micros’ are small, typically fairly new, 2nd-class buses with around 25 seats, usually running short routes between nearby towns. More primitive are passenger-carrying camionetas (pickups) and camiones (trucks), with fares similar to 2nd-class bus fares. Standing in the back of a lurching truck full of campesinos (land workers) and their machetes and animals is always an experience to remember!
Taxis are common in towns and cities, and surprisingly economical. City rides cost around M$20 to M$25 per kilometer. If a taxi has a meter, you can ask the driver if it’s working (‘¿Funciona el taxímetro?’). If the taxi doesn’t have a functioning meter, establish the price of the ride before getting in (this may involve a bit of haggling).
Many airports and some big bus terminals have a system of authorized ticket-taxis – you buy a fixed-price ticket to your destination from a special taquilla (ticket window) and then hand it to the driver instead of paying cash. This saves haggling and major rip-offs, but fares are usually higher than you could get on the street.
Renting a taxi for a day-long out-of-town jaunt generally costs something similar to a cheap rental car – around M$600 to M$700.
Uber has become increasingly popular, as well as a similar app-based service, Cabify.
The spectacular Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico, running through the Sierra Madre Occidental between Los Mochis and Chihuahua, is one of the highlights of travel in Mexico and the country's only remaining passenger train.
Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey all have metro (subway, underground railway) systems. Mexico City’s, in particular, is a quick, cheap and useful way of getting around. With 195 stations and over four million passengers every weekday, it’s the world’s third-busiest subway, so avoid using it in rush hour.
Generally known as camiones, local buses are usually the cheapest way to get around cities and out to nearby towns and villages. They run frequently, and fares in cities are just a few pesos. In many cities, fleets of small, modern microbuses have replaced the noisy, dirty older buses.
Buses usually halt only at fixed paradas (bus stops), though in some places you can hold your hand out to stop one at any street corner.
Colectivo, Combi, Minibus & Pesero
These are all names for vehicles that function as something between a taxi and a bus, running along fixed urban routes usually displayed on the windshield. They’re cheaper than taxis and quicker than buses. They will pick you up or drop you off on any corner along their route – to stop one, go to the curb and wave your hand. Tell the driver where you want to go. Usually you pay at the end of the trip and the fare (a little higher than a bus fare) depends on how far you go.