Mexico offers visitors, vacationers and residents an extensive network of transport systems, both public and private, which make getting around Mexico efficient and affordable.
If you arriving in Mexico by airplane, read this section of the guide to Getting to Mexico for advice about ground transportation options upon your arrival.
Public transport in Mexico can be very inexpensive, but it can also be a bit daunting if you don’t speak any Spanish and are not accustomed to traveling on buses and metro systems.
Nonetheless, even taxis and private hire is affordable in Mexico; the only service which is readily apparent as being more expensive is car rental; especially in comparison to car rental prices in the USA.
Bus travel is an excellent way to get around Mexico, and we have a complete guide to help you learn about Mexico’s very professionally-run bus services and how to make use of them.
Mexico has a well-developed network of national airports and offers air passengers an ample choice of airlines, including low-cost carriers.
If you plan to travel across Mexico by any means other than flying, then you will need to be able to speak at least a few words of Spanish to get by, especially when using taxis, local public transport (local buses, metro) and national buses. Most car rental agencies at airports will have staff that can speak English, but agencies in smaller towns may require you to make your arrangements speaking Spanish. Also see Learning Spanish here on Mexperience.
With nearly two million square kilometers of land-space, Mexico covers a big territory and sometimes flying is the best and most effective way to get around.
The country has an extensive network of modern airports and a range of airlines to choose from, including low-cost carriers. Recent ‘Open Skies’ agreements have opened up new routes between US cities and Mexican provincial cities, giving passengers more choice and flexibility than ever before.
Since the early 1990s, Mexico has been investing heavily in road infrastructure. As a result, the country has an extensive network of high quality intercity roads connecting all principal towns and cities, and more roads are being built each year to connect otherwise remote areas of Mexico.
For example, getting from Mexico City to Oaxaca City used to be a major undertaking by road. Today, the journey may be done in less than six hours on a safe, modern intercity toll-road.
The development of Mexico’s road network has given rise to a very professionally run and managed national bus network. Traveling by executive or first class bus in Mexico is a “first world” experience in comparison to Greyhound in the USA and National Express in the UK, for example.
Mexico offers travelers three classes of service on the most popular routes and at least two classes of service on most routes. The “Executive” class buses are modern, comfortable buses configured with just 24 seats on board; First Class buses also offer comfort and efficiency with direct routes to most principal destinations across Mexico.
Local buses exist in every city and town. They are not regulated from a safety point of view, so don’t expect to see any signs restricting passenger numbers on them. Buses carry as many people as can be packed in—especially at rush hour. Don’t be shocked to see people hanging out of the doors during peak times—both front and back—this is a normal sight in Mexico!
They are very inexpensive to ride (take change with you)—pay when you board. If you want to get around during the day (off peak is after 10 am and before 4 pm in the bigger towns and cities) they are a way of experiencing a piece of the ‘real’ Mexico.
Not for the feint hearted, but independent travelers who are street-wise and know how to get themselves around a place will find the buses OK. Don’t step aboard dripping with your jewelry and wedges of cash! If you’re planning to use public transport of any kind to see a place, wear something casual, like jeans and a t-shirt, and try to blend in a bit. As with any busy populated environment, watch out for pick-pockets!
“Micros,” as they are known in Spanish, started life as VW Combis seating 9 people a few years ago, at a time when they were called Peseros (deriving from the word “peso,” in days when they used to cost just one peso to go from A to B on any given route). Today they have evolved into mini-buses, due to the volume of people relying on their services.
In Mexico City the green and white mini-buses no longer cost just one peso; the price varies on how far you’ll travel in the Federal District with an extra charge for journeys starting or ending in the adjacent State of Mexico, and for traveling after 10 p.m. Like buses, you pay when you get on. Prices are modest, and subsidized by the government.
The advice for traveling on Micros is the same as that for local buses.
Getting about by taxi cab is relatively inexpensive in Mexico. Taxis are either metered, not metered or charged by zones. In the latter, your price will vary depending on which zone you’re in and which zone you’re traveling to.
Two of Mexico’s cities—Mexico City and Monterrey—have Metro systems in operation. The Metro can be one of the most effective ways to travel across the cities, especially Mexico City.
Mexico City has three Metro Systems; two are rail-based, and one is a bus.
El Metro is the main rail-based mass-transport system in Mexico City. The trains run principally underground, although there are several stretches where the train runs over ground, too. Some four-and-a-half million people use Mexico City’s metro system each weekday. The system has twelve lines which crisscross the capital. The Metro connects most major areas of city together and, where the Metro doesn’t reach, Micros (see Local Buses, above), run frequent axis routes from the Metro stations.
The Tren Ligero (Light Train) is an extension of Mexico City’s Metro system. In years past, the line was a 1950s style Tranvia (Tram), which was upgraded to Tren Ligero status and connects the southern-most Metro terminal, Metro Taxqueña, with Xochimilco, one of the southernmost suburbs in the capital.
In 2006, Mexico City’s government began introducing a new Metrobus service. The service is a dedicated bus lane which runs along Avenida Insurgentes in Mexico City—a boulevard which is over 35 miles long and said to be the longest commercial boulevard in the world.
The boulevard has four lanes each side, with a dividing area in the middle. The fourth (outside) lane on each side has been cordoned-off and made into an exclusive Metrobus lane; stations have been built upon the central reservation at various points along the boulevard. The format has worked well and is being adopted in other Mexican cities, for example, in Acapulco.
Like the Metro, the Metrobus can be a very efficient way to traverse the busy and congested capital city but, like the rail Metro, the buses can get very full at peak times – see tips, below.
Airport Metro Bus
Line 4 of the Metrobus was introduced in the spring of 2012, a special Metro Bus that connects the downtown area of the city with the capital’s airport. The buses on this line are only two-thirds as long as the articulated ones that run on lines one, two and three, and the stops are like traditional bus stops, whereas the older Metrobus lines have stations accessible via turnstiles. Payment will also be made using electronic cards, but these will be read by a machine on the bus.
The new Metrobus line runs around the Historic Center of Mexico City in a circuit that goes from Buenavista train station to the San Lázaro station, which includes the Metro and the eastern interstate bus terminal, commonly known in Mexico as TAPO. From San Lázaro runs a non-stop extension to both airport terminals.
Paying for Your Metro Rides in Mexico City
On the rail-based Metro in Mexico City, you can use cash to buy small cardboard tickets which will allow you through the turnstiles, or you can use a Metro card.
For transport on the Metrobus and the Tren Ligero, you must use a Metro card, which can be topped-up with credit at machines or at the ticket counter (using cash payments). With your Metro card in credit, you simply press the card against the sensor on the turnstiles.
Advice about Traveling on Mexico City’s Metro Systems
Mexico City’s government runs a website about the Metro Systems in the capital, which includes information about the services, maps, etc., visit: http://www.metro.cdmx.gob.mx/
Monterrey, Mexico’s third largest city, also has rail and bus Metro systems. The rail system is small in comparison to Mexico City’s, with just two lines (crossing each other), and connecting the city’s major areas. It’s called the Metrorrey.
There are also three complimentary systems to the Metro which help people get about the city: The Metrobus, Metro Enlace and Transmetro.
Getting around Mexico by road can be efficient or frustrating, depending on where you are, what time of day, and what the date is. Some highways, especially those connecting Mexico City to Cuernavaca, Puebla, and Querétaro get hugely congested on public holidays. However, once you are out on the open road, driving in Mexico can be a real treat, and sometimes it’s the only way to see places and locations “off the beaten” track which are not well or infrequently served by public transport.
Car rental in Mexico is more expensive than the USA, and about on-par with European car rental costs.
If you want to travel independently by road in Mexico, but you don’t want to do the driving yourself, chauffeured services are available for an all-inclusive for daily rate, which will vary depending on the size of the car and the number of days you hire. Ask the local car rental agency for details.
Digital mapping has revolutionized map reading and today, excellent maps of Mexico can be found readily online with services like Google Maps, Apple Maps and Bing Maps.
However detailed, maps can only give you part of the story on a road trip in Mexico. Enter the Mexico Road Log, that offers detailed mapping and documented notes about what’s really on the road journey ahead. They are the ideal accompaniment to your maps (whether you are using printed maps, digital maps, or GPS) as they fill-in lots of gaps that will be missing on traditional charts, and proffer local tips and knowledge that you just won’t find elsewhere.
Away from planes, buses, and automobiles, getting around in Mexico by foot and/or cycle can be rewarding, challenging, or both. Here is our advice for walkers and cyclists in Mexico.
Major towns and cities have sidewalks and foot-bridges, although the condition of the sidewalks, in particular, can vary. Most sidewalks in Mexico are not suitable for wheelchairs, and even walking along them can sometimes be a bit of an obstacle course. That’s because tree-roots, loose foundations, and other ‘works’ cause the sidewalk to be raised or lowered.
The principal precaution when walking in Mexico’s town and cities is the traffic. Drivers in Mexico don’t always respect urbanized speed limits and won’t necessarily slow down. Add to this the fact that some streets are in disrepair or narrow (or both) and, losing concentration of your surroundings could cause a nasty accident.
Be especially aware at crossings. Yellow and white stripes indicate ‘pedestrian crossing’, but they are hardly respected. When the lights turn red, it’s a good idea to wait until the front row of cars has come to a stop before you cross as some drivers interpret the amber light as ‘go faster to avoid the red’. Power-cuts are quite frequent in Mexico and they affect traffic lights and crossings, too.
Colonial cities are best explored on foot. The historic centers of many colonial cities are cobbled, and this creates a natural way of keeping traffic speed down. However, there are many narrow streets and sharp (often blind) corners. Not all sidewalks are wide enough for everyone who wants to use them, so people end up walking along the roadways: be cautious at intersections and corner streets.
It’s not common to see many people long-distance cycling on Mexico’s roads and highways. The free highways are poorly lit at night and the road surfaces vary from good to very poor; the tolled highways don’t really lend themselves to cyclists. In any event, to traverse the mountain terrain which is ubiquitous across much of inland Mexico, you will need a great bike and have to be extremely fit.
Cycling in towns and cities is becoming more common. Mexico City has a network of cycle paths in various states of repair.
Some cities lend themselves well to cycling, others don’t. Usually, older colonial cities built up in the mountains, with their cobbled streets and narrow sidewalks and steep inclines don’t lend themselves well to cyclists. Cities by the coasts, on flatter ground and with flatter road surfaces, like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Campeche, Veracruz, and Acapulco are better.
If you plan to do a lot of biking in Mexico as a way of getting around, a mountain bike, with hard-wearing tires and strengthened suspension is advised. Bring a bike repair kit and a very good bike lock(s).
Adventure Travel Biking in Mexico
Cycling in the hills, valleys and mountains of Mexico’s Great Outdoors is a different proposition altogether. You are provided with properly equipped mountain bikes, helmets and are taken on known paths, tracks and cycle routes amidst Mexico’s fantastic natural landscapes.
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