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Getting Around Mexico: Transportation Tips

Mexico enjoys a convenient location for travelers from the United States and Canada, with nonstop flights from nearly every major hub in the United States to the top vacation destinations along Mexico’s coast, as well as the capital, Mexico City.

Mexico’s vast, diverse regions can present challenges for travelers looking to combine multiple destinations, but a thriving domestic airline scene and bus services that in many cases exceed those in the United States can help to make transportation relatively easy. Here are some of the best ways to arrive in Mexico and to get around once you’re here.

Flying to and Around Mexico

Mexico’s top beach destinations — including Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta — are especially well connected from many large cities in the United States and Canada, making travel relatively simple (although you’ll want to shop around: the best fares are often on connecting flights). For other destinations, it may be necessary to change planes in either the United States or Mexico.

Many connecting international and domestic flights within Mexico go through Mexico City. Aeromexico, the nation’s largest airline, operates its busiest hub here, with flights to nearly 20 destinations in the United States, plus additional cities in Central America, South America, Europe and Asia.

Considering Mexico’s vast size, the most efficient way to get from point to point within the country is often by plane. Airfares on some routes can be ridiculously high at times, however, so it’s a good idea to shop around and book ahead.

The rise of low-cost airlines — including Interjet, VivaAerobus and Volaris — has helped to bring airfares down on some of the most popular routes, although the amenities and services offered by the airlines can vary widely. The most common connecting cities are Mexico City and, to a lesser extent, Guadalajara.


Renting a Car in Mexico

In Mexico, mass transportation — including airlines and bus companies — is so well developed that it’s often the best way to get around. In some areas, however, you can make good time by renting a car, especially in tourist-friendly destinations like the state of Quintana Roo, where rental cars can give you the freedom to explore Cancun, the Riviera Maya and nearby tourist sites and activities.

In major cities and tourist destinations you’ll find many of the same big international car rental brands that operate everywhere else, as well as some Mexican brands. But be careful when looking at prices; basic rental rates in Mexico may seem very inexpensive, but you need to verify what type of insurance the rate includes and/or how much additional insurance costs.

Before you spend the additional cash on a rental car, research the specific destinations you’ll be visiting and see if it’s necessary or recommended. You may also save money by only renting a car for one or two days during your visit. Oasis Hotels and Resorts, for example, maintains a large fleet of Smart Cars at its Cancun hotels, so you can rent for one or two 24-hour periods during your visit, making it easy to zip around town and down the coast without paying for rental, gas and insurance for your entire trip.

If you’re planning to travel by car on an extended road trip, it’s a good idea to check with the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories to make sure you’ll be going through areas that are safe for individual road travel.


Mexico by Bus

Mexico has an extensive network of bus routes operated by several large companies. Unlike in the United States, long-distance bus service in Mexico is usually available in multiple classes of service. Each bus has a single class, so you can choose the price range and comfort level that suit you best.

The top-of-the-line service, which is often called de lujo (deluxe) or ejecutivo (executive), operates mostly on the most popular routes, with reclining seats, extensive legroom, onboard lavatories, and sometimes even drinks or snacks and movies. Primera clase (first class) bus service is similar, with comfortable seating and movies (important travel tip: bring earplugs if you don’t want to watch the movie). For a more affordable travel experience, segunda clase (second class ) buses tend to make more stops and aren’t as comfortable (some people may even be standing during parts of the trip).

Major long-distance bus lines in Mexico include ADO, Primera Plus and Estrella de Oro. A website called TicketBus sells tickets online for various bus companies around the country.

Resources: (Spanish only) (Spanish only) (Spanish only)

Mexico by Train

The days when passenger trains connected the entire country are, unfortunately, long gone. But a few noteworthy individual routes, designed specifically for tourists, can provide scenic and enjoyable ways to see several destinations.

El Chepe, a passenger service that runs through the legendary Copper Canyon, offers stunning views of some of northern Mexico’s most spectacular scenery. Most foreign travelers buy tickets on this train — which runs between Chihuahua and Los Mochis — as part of a package that includes hotel stays en route.

Another passenger rail service tailored for tourists is the Tequila Express, which operates between the city of Guadalajara and the Tequila Herradura distillery. Tequila is, in fact, only called tequila if it originates in this region of Mexico, so a trip here can be an informative and enjoyable ride into the history of one of Mexico’s most legendary spirits.

True fans of rail travel might also want to check out the urban rail networks that operate in three large cities: Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.

Resources: (Spanish only)

Mexico by Ferry and Boat

Along Mexico’s coastline, ferries and boats provide convenient transportation. These services are most extensive in the nation’s most popular tourism destinations, so they can be a good option for travelers who want to combine multiple places within one region.

On Mexico’s Caribbean coast, ferries link Cancun and other points on the mainland to nearby islands, including Isla Mujeres, Cozumel and Holbox. A company called Ultramar offers scheduled service to both Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, while local tour operators can arrange trips to farther-off Holbox.

On the Pacific coast, a company called Baja Ferries operates scheduled service between La Paz, on the Baja California peninsula, and Mazatlan, the popular beach resort, as well as Topolobampo, a port city on the Gulf of California. Since these are overnight trips, the ferries are equipped with restaurants, bars, shopping, lounges and private sleeping cabins — as well as space for transporting passenger vehicles.


Mexico by Motorcycle or Bicycle

Transportation of the two-wheeled variety can provide a unique way to enjoy Mexico’s natural beauty while feeling the wind in your hair.

Motorcycle enthusiasts can rent Harley-Davidson models from a company called EagleRider in Cozumel, or hop aboard a BMW, Suzuki or Kawasaki provided by Mexico Motorcycle Adventures, a Mexico City-based company that provides rentals as well as guided tours.

Travelers who prefer to provide their own natural power on the road can opt for a variety of bicycle tours. El Tour offers budget-priced, guided tours of the Pacific coast, with inexpensive accommodations and trips that last at least one week. Bicycle Tour Mexico also offers guides cycling tours of the western part of the country, with Tijuana and the Baja California peninsula included in its itineraries. Even in the bustling metropolis of Mexico City, you can enjoy a relaxed pace with Mexico Bike Tour; routes include a Chapultepec Reforma itinerary and an excursion to sites important in the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.


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–written by Mark Chesnut

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