First-class bus? Oh sure, friends said when we told them we’d be traveling between Mexico’s colonial towns in first-class buses.
We had our doubts too about what a “first-class” Mexico bus would be like. (No insult intended, but busing it on Greyhound here in Canada isn’t exactly an elegant experience.)
Turns out we needn’t have worried. The first-class buses in Mexico really are, well, first class!
Classes of Mexico bus
There are three classes of bus service in Mexico:
1. Deluxe (De Lujo) or Executive (Ejecutivo) Class:
These Mexico buses usually service longer (3+ hour trips), busier routes between cities (for example, from Mexico City to another destination). Expect few, if any, stops.
The luxury executive class buses (often Volvo or Mercedes) have just 24 seats. They’re air-conditioned come with seat belts, reclining seats with loads of leg room, individual movie screens, onboard toilets, snacks and WiFi. Seats can be reserved in advance.
2. First (Primera) Class:
These are very similar to executive class, with air-conditioning, comfortable seats, TV screens and toilets.
3. Second (Segunda) Class:
You might get a seat, you might not. There may be a toilet, or perhaps not. The bus may be air-conditioned, then again, it may not be. It might also make frequent stops.
If you’re lucky, the second-class bus will be as comfortable as a first-class bus. But no guarantees.
Our first-class Mexico bus experience
We bought the best possible tickets on two of the major Mexico bus lines – ETN and Primera Plus. We didn’t know about the difference between “deluxe” and “first-class” at the time of booking; we just knew we wanted the top class (which we thought was first-class).
We took ETN buses from Guadalajara to Guanajuato (you’ve got to check out the creepy but fascinating Mummy Museum there!), and then again from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende (where there’s a playful and fun toy museum).
From Morelia to Zihuatanejo, we rode with Primera Plus.
The ETN buses, in particular, exceeded our expectations. (We thought we had first-class ETN bus tickets, but it’s possible the buses were the higher category, i.e., deluxe or executive class buses.)
The seat rows were configured as 2-1, with the aisle running between the two seats on one side and the single seat on the other. Plushly covered in royal-blue, velvet-like fabric (fresh and clean), these big fat seats reclined a good huge distance back. A cushioned leg rest could be extended for your feet and legs.
Think of the old business class seats on airplanes (before some were converted into lie-flat beds) and you’ll have a good idea of the level of comfort.
The ETN buses even had faux hardwood floors!
All the buses we rode also had a personal TV screen in front of each seat, earphones and remote control handsets to choose your movies (most dubbed in Spanish).
The air-conditioning was just right too. (We’d brought along thick sweaters as we’d heard stories about how the buses are cooled to freezing temps. Another misconception.)
And no worries about icky toilets. The buses had separate men’s and women’s toilets at the back, with real running water for washing hands (and paper towels too).
Talk about service!
First-class Mexico bus tickets include food and drinks.
Before boarding our ETN buses, a uniformed attendant offered us sandwiches and our choice of drinks from a food cart.
On the Primera Plus bus from to Zihuatanejo, a smartly-dressed attendant roamed the aisle like a flight attendant, offering complimentary coffee and snacks.
The bus drivers, smartly dressed in uniforms, sat in enclosed cabins. They drove safely and within the speed limits.
Another surprise: Mexico bus terminals
We were also pleasantly surprised with the bus terminals.
We expected somewhat grotty places like the bus terminals we’ve seen here in Canada.
But no, the main bus terminal in Guadalajara (Mexico’s second largest city) has sliding glass doors, clean cafeterias, clean bathrooms with toilet paper and soap dispensers, long check-in counters and big TV-like arrival/departure screens.
It was a little amusing because, after passing through the main lobby, we immediately sat on blue leather chairs in the waiting room for our ETN bus. We didn’t realize that we were supposed to check in our baggage – like at an airport. So it was a bit of a scramble at the last minute to check our bags and then line up to get on the bus.
At another bus terminal in another colonial town, security guards even screened passengers with metal detectors before we could board the bus.
Bus lines in Mexico
Three of the major long-distance Mexican bus companies are ETN, Primera Plus and ADO.
1. ETN, Mexico:
ETN Turistar is known as one of the best luxury bus companies in Mexico (and as you know, we were impressed with them).
They service major cities along the Pacific Coast (for example, Puerto Vallarta); cities such as Guadalajara, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico; areas in northern and eastern Mexico; and cities like Oaxaca in the south.
ETN’s website is partly in English (helpful if you don’t speak Spanish) – see here.
2. Primera Plus, Mexico:
Primera Plus services Mexico City, Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende, San Luis Potosi, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and other places in the center of the country.
See their (Spanish) website here.
3. ADO, Mexico:
We didn’t travel on any ADO buses, but ADO is one of the biggest Mexico bus lines.
ADO has many connections from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende, the Yucatan Peninsula, Oaxaca and other destinations.
For a humorous but informative look on booking and taking the ADO bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca, check out this story.
For ADO’s website, see here.
Traveling by bus in Mexico: Bottom line?
Were we impressed? Yes. Would we travel by first-class bus in Mexico again? Absolutely.
One of our local Mexican guides jokingly explained: “The reason bus travel in Mexico is so good is because a former president from the 1980s owns many of the bus companies.”
Our tickets were something like $40 USD each for 4- to 5-hour rides ($10 for a 1-hour ride). And from the bus terminals, taxis were very inexpensive to get to our hotels.
Once in the colonial towns, we could walk everywhere (or take a taxi if needed).
To see Mexico, there’s no need to fly within the country or deal with the hassle of renting a car – the bus will get you most places in style and comfort.
3 Tips for booking your Mexico bus tickets
1. Ask your hotel for help:
We’d read that we didn’t have to worry about booking tickets weeks in advance.
The Mexico buses run frequently (and are on time). For example, the ETN bus from Guadalajara to Guanajuato goes up to eight times a day, starting at 5:30 am, with the last bus at 7:30 pm. We therefore decided we’d book our bus tickets once we were on the ground in Mexico.
Regrettably, we speak very little Spanish – not much more than “Dos cerveza por favor.” So we asked the respective hotels in each of the cities we visited to help book our tickets for the next onward bus journey. And they were very helpful in getting our tickets arranged.
We booked each bus a couple of days before the trip and had no problems getting tickets. We gave our credit card number and picked up the tickets from the bus terminal.
2. Book by phone:
Book by phone, if possible, and not over the Internet. You may pay a teeny bit more, but the price difference is nominal.
We were told that Mexico bus tickets booked by phone are fully refundable but web-bookings are non-refundable.
3. Try an online booking agency:
If you want to book online before your trip, you can try Busbud. This online bus search and booking service is a Canadian company.
As we’re Canadian, we wanted to let you know about them. But we don’t have any personal experience with using their services. You can see this detailed review of Busbud, however. (And if you end up using them, let us know how it worked out!)
Adios! And enjoy your Mexico trip…