Getting Around Mexico

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Getting Around Mexico

Travelling in Mexico is most practical by bus, car, or air. Passenger transport by train is almost nonexistent. Except the Chihuahua del Pacifico rail line which pull out every morning at both ends of the line, one from Los Mochis on the Pacific coast, across from Baja California, and the other from Chihuahua in the east (due south of El Paso, Texas). They cross each other roughly midways at Divisadero and Barrancas Copper Canyon stations at an altitude of 2100 m (7000 ft).

By car

Due to a government scheme in the early 1990s to create infrastructure, the best roads are toll roads. Toll roads can be relatively costly (400-800 pesos 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 traveling 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.

Car Rental Companies in Mexico are everywhere in the big cities and airports making it easy to get a rental car while traveling through Mexico. Some of the biggest car rental companie sin Mexico are Sixt rent a car, Avis, Hertz, and several other big brand car rental companies.

The Secretariat of Communication and Transport recently set up a new mapping tool similar to those in the U.S. like Mapquest, its name is Traza Tu Ruta and is very helpful to find how to get to your destination using Mexico's roads. It is in Spanish but can be used with basic knowledge of the language.

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.

By plane

Mexico is a large country and the low-cost revolution that started in 2005 means that fares are often ridiculously cheap if you book in advance. Note that now with the increases in fuel charges the bargain days are mostly gone and the airlines have had to raise prices to survive the recent recession. But, there are bargains to be found and you can keep abreast by signing on to a reliable notification service such as

By bus

If traveling by bus, be sure to take the express buses, if available (they are called directo). Other buses often stop at many smaller stations along the way, making the trip a lot longer. If you have experience with Greyhound buses in the US, you're in for a pleasant surprise. First class buses are usually direct routes and are the best option for most. These buses are comfortable, have washrooms and will generally show movies, which may or may not be English with Spanish subtitles. Second class buses may be very similar to 1st class just making more stops or in rural areas they may be essentially chicken buses (polleros). Executive and Luxury lines cost about 60% more than first class, may be faster, usually have larger seats, and they have less frequent departures; they are really only a good option for elderly or business travelers. With the advent of NAFTA, some bus companies are now offering service from US cities. The major bus companies offering these kind of services are Grupo Ado, Estekka de Ori (Estrella de Oro), Enlaces Terrestres Nacionales, White Star Group (Estrella Blanca), Red Star, and Primera Plus.

Travellers heading east (more or less) from Mexico City (TAPO bus terminal) can find ticket information on TicketBus. Other destinations can be found on individual companies' websites. .

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. Usually the route taken is written on cardboard attached to the windshield. 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 2 to 7 pesos approximately.

By train

Passenger trains are very limited in Mexico with only a few lines in operation in places like the Copper Canyon in the northern state of Chihuahua, that line is also known as the Chihuahua Pacific Railway since its final destination is the Pacific coastal city of Tobolobampo in the state of Sinaloa. In the state of Jalisco there is also a line which travels from the state capital city Guadalajara to its final destination in the small town of Tequila, this is why this line is called the Tequila Express. In the Yucatan Peninsula there is a line of passenger trains which runs from Villahermosa through Campeche, Merida, Playa del Carmen and its final destination being the city of Cancun, this train also runs through a few Mayan ruins including Chichen-Itza and this gives it its name of the Expreso Maya which is Spanish for Mayan Express. Mexico City and Monterrey have subway service, and it might be possible to hop aboard freight cars in some parts of the country (if you happen to be an adventurer).

By thumb

One upside of the high petroleum prices is that hitching is beginning to be more common in Mexico again, particularly the rural areas. In areas near big cities, hitching should be more difficult, and is not really advisable due to security reasons. However, in village areas, this will be really possible and most likely a nice experience. Since villagers have always had a hard time affording gas, and nowadays many are turning to picking up paying hitchhikers as a way to afford the next trip into town. Baja, the Sierra Tarahumara and Oaxaca and Chiapas all have good possibilities for the hitchhiker. Hitchhiking possibilities vary according to region.

Mexican culture is often accepting of hitchhiking and it's a common practice among Mexican youngsters going to the beach in Easter vacations, though in some cases a money contribution is expected for gas because of its relatively high prices. You should make it clear that you have no money to offer before accepting the ride, if this is the case. If you're willing to pay, trucks will often provide lifts for about half the price of a bus ticket. Of course you may be able to negotiate a better deal. Hitchhiking is considered fairly safe and easy in the Yucatan Peninsula. 

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