I’ve just completed my tenth round trip between Dallas and Guadalajara by bus.  At the end of each trip, tactful friends on both sides of the border question me about the experience with a combination of curiosity and skepticism.

Greyhound bus terminal, Dallas, TX

Tactless friends question my sanity.  After all, the driving distance – which varies depending upon the route taken – runs around 1,100 miles (about the same distance as driving from Dallas to Phoenix, Detroit, or Jacksonville).  By private auto the trip takes a bit over 20 hours.  By bus with occasional station stops it takes a little over 26 hours.

Greyhound bus terminal, Dallas, TX

There are otherwise some really good reasons to travel to Mexico by bus…

Mexico “gets” bus service.  There’s almost no passenger rail service in Mexico and outside of major population centers economics don’t lend themselves to air service a la Southwest Airlines.  The result is that Mexico – as in many other countries I’ve travelled – has refined bus travel to an art.  (See my related post on bus travel in Argentina.)

Border crossing, Laredo, TX (U.S. side)

It’s a rich experience.  Bus travel affords an opportunity to see the Mexico – and meet the Mexican people – inaccessible for air travelers.  Even after ten trips I still see something missed on an earlier trip, and I always make new acquaintances.  The route takes me through cities including Monterey, Saltillo, Zacatecas, and Aguascalientes, and since I’m not driving I have every chance to enjoy the views.

It’s comfortable.  In Mexico – as in much of the world outside of the U.S. – bus travel is the transportation of choice, and first class bus seating and service is on par with transatlantic airline business class.  Busses have their own dedicated lines for Customs and Immigration on both sides of the border, and often clear inspection more quickly than the long lines of passenger cars… particularly during rush hours.  There’s a restroom on the bus, and a rest stop with limited foodservice and more restrooms on an average of every 2-3 hours.

Rio Grande from the Lincoln-Juarez bridge, Laredo, TX

It’s convenient.  I book my trip with Greyhound and its Mexican affiliate Americanos, buy my ticket online with a credit card, and receive it by mail.  I’m even enrolled in Greyhound’s Road Rewards frequent traveler program… which earns me further travel discounts.

From Mexican Immigration & Customs, Nuevo Laredo

While air travel requires an hour of travel and car parking and another hour for security screening, I’m routinely on the bus in Dallas within an hour of leaving my home.  If you become bored with the passengers or the scenery, crack open that new novel you’ve been meaning to read or listen to your MP3 player.  I get lots of writing done on the bus.

Two bus drivers kibbitz while their busses await their turn for inspection.

Bus travel to and from Mexico is incredibly economical.  My round trip bus fare costs about one-third of the cheapest Dallas-to-Guadalajara airline ticket… and actually less than the cost of auto tolls alone for the same trip on Mexico’s excellent system of toll roads (the cuotas)… not to mention the cost of gasoline.

Outside the bus terminal, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Since there’s no overnight stay on the bus route – the bus changes drivers, but rolls right on through the night – there’s also no hotel expense.  While there’s a modest charge for extra luggage checked on trips originating in the States, there seems to be no such restriction for trips originating in Mexico.  Greyhound charges for ticket changes in the States, but a bus ticket in Mexico can be used at any time within 6 months of issue with no charge for schedule changes between the original ticket destinations.

Inside the bus on the Mexican side

It’s safer.  I view the risk of violence to Americans traveling in Mexico as grossly overstated by both the U.S. media and the State Department.  Particularly between dusk and dawn the risk of hitting stray livestock or pedestrians increases, and if you’re involved in a accident that causes injury or fatality you will go directly to jail until blame is sorted out… and much of what you’ve heard about Mexican jails is probably true.

 

There are two drawbacks to Greyhound/Americanos.  One is that while busses on the Mexican legs of the trip have spacious seats, plenty of leg room, and video, the Stateside busses are about as (un) comfortably cramped as traveling in airline economy class.  The other is that the trip on Greyhound/Americanos requires anywhere from 2 to 4 bus changes, and while I’ve never arrived late or missed a connection within the Mexican legs of the trip the same cannot be said for the Stateside legs.

Central Nueva bus terminal, Guadalajara, Mexico

For a bit more than the cost of Greyhound/Americanos, travelers can instead book with one of several Mexican bus lines that require no bus changes from U.S. destinations and depart from locations as far-flung as Florida, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Illinois.  These carriers cater to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, cost a bit more than the Greyhound option, and typically locate their U.S. terminals in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods.  Just a few are Omnibuses de Mexico, Turimex, El Tornado, and El Conejo.

Central Nueva bus terminal, Guadalajara, Mexico

Bottom line:  Bus travel to/from Mexico is not for everyone, but if you have a spirit of adventure that craves more than a sanitized Epcot Center experience, it’s something you should do… at least once!

Advertisements