From chaotic mega cities to small town zócalos; from lush mountain forests to barren deserts; from modern skyscrapers to pre-Hispanic pyramids built by the Mayans, Mexico has something for everyone. The images that Mexico brings up in our minds are always equally dramatic and colorful. As anyone who has traveled the beautiful land will tell you, the reality often lives up to the expectations. One of the best (and the most budget-friendly) ways to have these vivid images burned into your retinas for the rest of your life is to explore this spectacular country by bus.
Once the site of a pre-Colombian Maya city, Tulum’s turquoise waters and white sands are a sight to see. Pick your accommodation based on what vibe you are looking for, whether it is to soak up the tranquility of the beach in your private bungalow or to enjoy the eateries and little bars of the pueblo.
Top Sights: Although the world-famous beach and ruins tend to get most of the attention, Tulum boasts a large number of underground caves and tunnels filled with rainwater, also known as cenotes. Diving in the caves is great for spotting exotic fish and incredible underwater landscapes.
Potential Day Trip: Surrounded by two lagoons and a thick jungle, the Cobá ruins are an ideal day trip destination for anyone who wants to feel like they are in an Indiana Jones movie.
Insider Tip: Sopa de lima, a tangy chicken soup made with corn, tortilla strips and deliciously sour limes, is one of the tastiest regional dishes and definitely worth a try.
Bus Tip: Buses to the airports of Cancun and Playa del Carmen leave from Tulum’s pueblo on a daily basis.
San Cristóbal de Las Casas
Sitting in a mountainous highland valley surrounded by lush hills, the colonial city of San Cristóbal is the perfect place for a stopover. Considered the cultural capital of the state of Chiapas and surrounded by Tzeltal and Tzotzil Maya villages, San Cristóbal is one of the few places where traditional indigenous cultures exist side by side with mainstream Mexican culture.
Top Sights: Many of San Cristóbal’s attractions are located just north of the center of town, near the Templo de Santo Domingo and Templo de la Caridad churches. You can find anything from handmade shoes to rugs and jewelry at the crafts market held on the churchyard.
Potential Day Trip: Get to know the alternative lifestyle of the Zapatista rebels at the nearby village of Oventic. You will be entering an autonomous territory, so don’t forget to bring your passport.
Insider Tip: Chiapas is one of Mexico’s premier coffee regions and offers delicious, organic blends of coffee grown between the highland pine forests and the Lacandon jungle. Make sure you try some!
Bus Tip: There are several bus terminals in San Cristóbal with the biggest one being the OCC, which offers daily service to nearby cities and many 1st class and deluxe options.
One of the most important tourist attractions on the coast of the state of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido is a destination loved by surfers, international travelers and Mexican tourists alike. Although the present day Puerto is a far cry from the small fishing village that was virtually unknown until the early 70’s, the town has managed to keep much of its original appeal.
Top Sights: Most travelers come to Puerto Escondido for the beach. It may require some serious surfing skills to handle the waves at Playa Zicatela, but there are also plenty of low-impact water activities, such as snorkeling, turtle spotting and sportfishing.
Potential Day Trip: Take a five-minute taxi ride to the nearby Playa Carrizalillo. The calm, turquoise waters of this beach make it perfect for swimming and learning how to surf.
Insider Tip: Find a man called El Pantera at Playa Carrizalillo, and you might get to taste freshly shucked oysters drenched in hot sauce and lime juice.
Bus Tip: You must climb a relatively steep hill if you’re going from the town center to Central Camionera station by foot, so make sure you leave early.
Known as Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca City or simply just Oaxaca, this state capital has many names and lots of charm. Despite being located in one of the poorest states in Mexico, the city more than makes up for it with its beautiful colonial architecture, delicious regional food and endless hospitality.
Top Sights: The central zócalo of Oaxaca is a dynamic meeting place where people go to eat, drink and enjoy local festivals and events. The Benito Juarez market is perfect for wandering around and tasting local delicacies such as spicy grasshoppers and Oaxaca’s very own mole negro.
Potential Day Trip: Go visit a mezcal distillery. As the Oaxacan saying goes: “Para todo mal, mezcal, para todo bien, también” (For everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, too.)
Insider Tip: The state of Oaxaca has a very distinct cuisine and has been dubbed by many as the best food region in Mexico, so eat everything you can get your hands on.
Bus Tip: Out of all the bus stations in the city, Terminal ADO is the only one catering for 1st class travelers, while Terminal de Autobuses de Segunda Clase and Sur Bus Station provide 2nd class service.
A bustling metropolis and the birthplace of tequila and mariachi music, the historical Guadalajara is one of Mexico’s hidden gems. While the city might not be a well renowned tourist destination among international travelers, Guadalajara is a booming tech hub with aspirations to become a digital industry leader and the first smart city in the country.
Top Sights: Some impressive architectural sights, such as Church of Santa Monica, Guadalajara Cathedral and Government Place can be found around Plaza de Armas. Make a stop at Plaza de los Mariachis for some local live music.
Potential Day Trip: If a tequila tasting sounds too intense for you, check out the colonial neighborhoods of Tlaqupaque and Tonala which specialize in producing pottery, blown glass and other handcrafted goods.
Insider Tip: Indulge in tacos, birria, pozole and other delicacies Guadalajara has to offer.
Bus Tip: There are daily buses going to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City and Manzanillo.
Everyone seems to either love or hate Mexico City, and it’s easy to understand why. The city has managed to bounce back from its long time bad reputation in recent years. And, while the megalopolis can make even the most seasoned traveler’s heart skip a beat, diving into the city’s booming culture and culinary scenes offers immense rewards.
Top Sights: Museo Nacional de Antropología, Palacio de Bellas Artes and Museo Frida Kahlo are all worth a visit. If you want to observe the everyday life in Mexico City, visit the daily markets of San Juan, Sonora and La Merced.
Potential Day Trip: For a truly memorable experience, pay a visit to Isla de las Muñecas just south of Mexico City. The island is home to hundreds of dolls which hang from trees with their decapitated heads and severed limbs.
Insider Tip: Go watch a soccer game at the Estadio Azteca. Being surrounded by 100,000 screaming chilangos is by far the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Bus Tip: There are four different long-distance bus terminals in the city, all with service to different destinations. Make sure you go to the right one!
Be sure to check out our Quick Guide to Bus Travel in Mexico for more bus travel tips.
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Have you taken the bus in Mexico and have some tips you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Illustration by Kaisa Martiskainen