MexDFmagazine

News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.

Notes from the Road: InterCity Bus Travel in Mexico

By Darren M. Popik

(SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Guanajuato) — A few thoughts about riding the bus in Mexico.

First of all, the Central del Norte (north bus station) in Mexico City is not my favorite place. It’s crowded, dirty, and not at all like the pleasant experience of Terminal 2 at Mexico City International Airport.

But at least you can get there by Metro. I departed from the Condesa (Metro Patriotismo to Centro Medico, then up to La Raza, and one final change to the yellow line to the Autobuses del Norte station) at 5:58 am, and walked into the bus terminal at 6:40, with 20 minutes to spare until my 7 am departure on ETN.

At this hour of the day, the Omnibus de México ticket area was a horrible mass of humanity. ETN was fine, however. Also, I bought my ticket online ahead of time (saving 10%), so I only had to give them my name and confirmation number at the counter, and I was ready to go. So no wasted time.

Also, for those of you who love the current “security theater” that goes on at US airports, then the Central del Norte is the place for you!

Before going out to the bus, first I had to empty my pockets of metallic objects, phones, etc, just like at the airport, and put my bag on the x-ray belt.

Then, I was patted down.

Collected my stuff, and walked over to my bus. Soon as I was about to board, security theater continued, with another pat down, followed by the “wand” procedure. And this guy also searched my bags.

Come on — this is overkill. The only reason for this is for theatrical purposes, much like what goes on with the all-powerful TSA at US airports. (And by the way, this security theater operation doesn’t exist at all when you depart from San Miguel, returning to the D.F. So what does it really prove anyway?)

At any rate, the people in the security theater process were all friendly enough. I have no issues with any of them personally. It’s just silly, and a waste of time and resources. (Mexican bureaucracy really can drive you insane.)

On board the ETN bus to San Miguel. (Photo: Darren Popik)

On board the ETN bus to San Miguel. (Photo: Darren Popik)

Now, I’ve traveled with Primera Plus before — not to mention Omnibus and a number of other intercity bus lines which have served me well — but there’s one very good reason to choose ETN this day.

Because you can sit by yourself. ETN’s buses are configured with three seats across, rather than the four found on most other bus lines. So, in each row, one seat is an individual seat. It’s the perfect solution when I want to avoid strangers, and want extra space to myself.

When you travel with ETN (or Primera Plus for that matter), they give you a sandwich and drink as you board the bus. My one recommendation, however, is that for morning departures, they offer something other than Coke, Sprite, and orange soda. Orange juice would be nice, thanks.

The other reason to choose ETN is you don’t have to listen to a blaring loud movie on your trip. All seats are equipped with headphones, so you can listen if you want, or enjoy the silence, and sleep instead. (And some of ETN’s newer buses are now equipped with seat-back video monitors, with a selection of content available, much like a number of airlines have.)

ETN's on board snack: Ham and cheese sandwich, and drink. (Photo: Darren Popik)

ETN’s on board snack: Ham and cheese sandwich, and drink. (Photo: Darren Popik)

Also, ETN’s buses are equipped with WiFi these days. Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t get my smartphone to connect on this trip. (I have used it previously on other trips with ETN, so it just have just been some sort of glitch in the system this day.)

Primera Plus is also now offering WiFi, as is ADO. It’s becoming a common feature across the first-class bus lines in Mexico.

And anyone who’s traveled these first-class buses in Mexico will know that the very plush seats really recline – a lot.

Meanwhile, if you must ride a bus in the US and Canada, you’re still likely stuck with Greyhound. Last time I rode with them (four years ago), there was a fist fight amongst a couple of their low-class customers at the ticket counter, and once on board, I discovered that the uncomfortable seats were just the same as they’ve been for decades.

Which is to say, nothing special at all. I’d rather walk or hitch-hike than ride with Greyhound again.

Mexico really does have the U.S. beat when it comes to intercity bus travel. No comparison.

Twitter: @darrenchannel

7 comments on “Notes from the Road: InterCity Bus Travel in Mexico

  1. Dave Hansen
    July 27, 2013

    Now that sounds like money well-spent. As you say, I too would sooner hitchhike than take Greyhound here in Canada. There should be more choice but perhaps we just do not have the number of people in Alberta to warrant this? I doubt it but… Anyway, keep up the fantastic information!

  2. lazalaffs
    August 8, 2013

    In the US there are niw Greyhound alternatives in some major cities (e.g. Megabus and others) do a yahoo search for ground transportation and insert the departure and arrival cities. Lots of options. (PS I no longer use google search in protest to daily google calls soliciting business svcs. Is Google male-dominated? “no” does not mean “yes”.

  3. Henry
    October 27, 2013

    Your Mexico City Norte bus station information is helpful.
    On November 25, I will travel by from Mexico City Norte to Guanajuato.
    If I book by ETN bus ticket on ETN’s website 4 weeks ahead, is that too early?
    I don’t want ETN to lose my reservation.
    Also, am I correct that the ETN english-speaker website price is quoted in Pesos (not US Dollars)?
    Thank you.

    • MexDF magazine
      October 27, 2013

      Yes, their prices should be in Pesos, even when using the English site. I haven’t booked tickets that far ahead (four weeks), so I can’t say how far out you can book. I’ve booked most of my tickets just a few days ahead of time, or one week at most. In any case, ETN is a pretty reputable company, and I wouldn’t worry about any issue with your reservation. When you book, you’ll get a reservation number confirming your trip. — Darren.

  4. Mariapattison
    March 9, 2014

    Great info and well written. Thanks. Quick question… Does ETN have trips from San Miguel to Mex City airport? We couldn’t see a Destino that looked like it meant Mex City airport…(assuming Terminal Norte is not it.)

    • MexDF magazine
      March 9, 2014

      Last we checked, ETN only offers service from San Miguel to the north bus station in Mexico City. The cities that definitely do have bus service direct to the airport are Cuernavaca, Puebla, Toluca, and Queretaro, which is the closest to San Miguel.

      • Dave Hansen
        March 9, 2014

        Excellent instructions Darren. Keep up the awesome work!

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