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Taking Intercity Buses in Mexico

A Bus Ticket from Campeche to Merida in 1984

Americans do not like to take buses. That includes my brother, almost all of my friends and former co-workers. In Los Angeles, the private automobile is king—to the extent that public transportation is seen solely as for bums, crazies, and immigrants. In fact, intercity buses in the United States are mostly run by Greyhound Lines, a British company under the control of FirstGroup; and they do appear to be patronized mostly by bums, crazies, and immigrants.

In Latin America, it’s a different story altogether. If you have ever read Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas, you might think that it is possible to travel by rail through Latin America. Although there are a few exceptions—mostly tourist only trains in a few countries—most people in Latin America travel by bus. In many cases, these buses are far better than anything found in our country. In Argentina, I was able to get a good night’s sleep lying horizontally on seats that stretched out. These buses contained clean restrooms, stewards who served free meals, and (negligible) movies in Spanish.

I have traveled some 1,500 miles by bus in Mexico in the 1970s and 1980s. Almost all these buses were manufactured in Mexico and were every bit as good or better than Greyhound buses. This was especially true of First Class buses, which are theoretically direct to destination with few or no intermediate stops. Second Class buses can be hailed anywhere and can be rumbling rat-traps. I can think of the Unión de Camioneros de Yucatán (UCY) buses that I boarded in Uxmal enroute to Campeche in 1984 and 1992.  The windows were broken and the shocks were almost nonexistent, but they did get us to our destination. Some Second Class buses in Central Mexico, such as those of Flecha Amarilla were almost as good as First Class.

Model of an ADO Bus With 1980s Logo

The main First Class bus companies in Mexico include Autobuses de Oriente (ADO), Enlaces Terrestres Nacionales (ETN), Estrella de Oro, and Omnibuses de Mexico, as well as a few other carriers. Note that my ticket above assigns me to a particular seat (#16), and that for First Class buses, I usually reserved in advance by visiting the bus station the day before. With Second Class buses, you just hail them wherever, pay the ayudante (conductor), usually a young man, and take your seat, if you can find one.