Mexico Travel Tips – Travel Cheap on Flights, Buses & Colectivos

Mexico Travel Tips – Travel Cheap on Flights, Buses & Colectivos

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Mexico is fast becoming a hub for digital nomads from the USA and Canada. And with the below Mexico travel tips for seeing the country, new digital nomads should be able to save a few bucks getting around.

Tired of the noise and traffic in CDMX? For less than $200 pesos ($10USD) you can hop a bus 3 hours away to the beautiful city of Puebla. Are you over the summertime heat in Playa del Carmen? For just $220 pesos ($11USD) you can fly to San Cristobal de las Casas, one of Mexico’s “pueblo magicos” (magic towns) where the temps are cool, even in the summertime.

Finding out the cheapest ways to travel the country can help you stretch your pesos and, hopefully, keep you in the country for a while longer. So, let’s go over some Mexico travel tips related to airlines, buses, colectivos, and taxis.

Mexico Travel Tips – Inexpensive Domestic Airlines

This is just one of the many reasons we have decided to make Mexico our base when we travel. The small domestic airlines are inexpensive. Like, really, really inexpensive. As I mentioned above, a plane ticket is only $11USD to fly 2-3 hours from Playa del Carmen to San Cristobal de las Casa.

mexico travel tips - $11 flights on volaris

Granted, that’s pre-tax. But for less than $40USD, carry-on included, you can be in a whole other part of the country. How far is $40USD going to get you in the States or Canada? Maybe an Uber across town…maybe.

Whenever we get the urge to travel or get tired of the expats in a certain city, we just up and relocate. Sometimes with as little as a few days’ notice. With these Mexico travel tips for cheap travel, why not?

Sadly, not a lot of new travelers know about these Mexico travel tips. They get to one city or part of the country and just stay there. Even if it’s not exactly what they’re looking for. There’s no need to stay in one place. With flights this cheap you can see the whole country, from the Caribbean to the Pacific and anywhere in between.

Usually for less than $50USD.

Let’s take a look at a few super-inexpensive domestic airlines, and where you can travel on them.

Volaris (Our Favorite Low-Cost Mexican Airline)

Volaris - Mexico City to Cancun $11.92 on Wednesday, October 19
Volaris – Mexico City to Cancun $11.92 on Wednesday, October 19

We’ve taken nearly 20 domestic flights within Mexico over the past few years, and the vast majority of those flights have been on Volaris. It’s a no-frills airline, to be sure, but we don’t care. We can get anywhere we want within Mexico, including carry-on bags and taxes, for around $40USD. That’s less than the cost of an Uber across town in the US.

The no-frills part of Volaris includes things like:

  • Having to pay to pick your seats (we’ve been separated once choosing the free seat option. Not a big deal).
  • There is no first-class option.
  • If you want legroom in an exit row, you’re gonna pay extra for it.
  • Everything costs money on the flights, all the way down to a tiny bottle of water.
  • Overhead compartment space is at a premium.
  • No points program for discounted flights or services.

If you’re a luxury traveler, this might be an issue for you. For us, though, the no-frills option is a great way to explore the county, on the cheap.

Below is a list of all of the destinations you can fly to within Mexico.

Whether you want to surf in Puerto Escondido, snorkel in Playa del Carmen, or eat some of the best food in the country in Oaxaca, you can get there on Volaris, for cheap. 

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I strongly suggest signing up for their newsletter. I get emails every week with promo codes of up to 90% for unpublished travel deals.

AeroMexico

AeroMexico - Mexico City to Cancun $59.98 on Wednesday, October 19
AeroMexico – Mexico City to Cancun $59.98 on Wednesday, October 19

While AeroMexico is considered a discount airline, it’s considerably more expensive than Volaris. And, it’s not a whole lot better, considering the extra cost. Like Volaris you have to pay to pick your seats, as well as for food and water once you’re onboard.

As far as I can tell, there are only a couple of reasons to choose AeroMexico over Volaris:

  • Points Program – If you’re a frequent flyer on AeroMexico, signing up for their points program can get you upgraded seats, free meals onboard, and reduced luggage fees.
  • More Destinations – Volaris will get you to most of the big cities and tourist destinations. AeroMexico, with 56 destinations in Mexico (more than twice the amount on Volaris), will get you pretty much anywhere in the country.

My first choice of cheap domestic airlines in Mexico is Volaris. If you need to get somewhere off of the beaten path, though, AeroMexico might be your best bet.

Viva Aerobus

Viva Aerobus – Mexico City to Cancun $57 on Wednesday, October 19

Viva Aerobus is another option for seeing the lesser-known cities in Mexico. Viva Aerobus offers many more destinations than Volaris, although not as many as AeroMexico. The prices are right about the same price as AeroMexico, with one small exception; they charge for even the smallest carry-on bags (not including small purses).

While the cost for a carry-on bag paid online is pretty low, around $10USD, that number could triple if they decide your “personal item” is too big or heavy. We had an instance flying Viva Aerobus once where my unpaid “personal item” (a very small backpack) was determined at the airport to be a carry-on bag, which was now going to cost me as much as my plane ticket.

Viva Aerobus may get you there in a pinch, but it’s the last of the three low-cost Mexican airlines I would choose. Mostly because the cost of luggage could make your flights considerably more expensive.

Mexico Travel Tips – Executive, 1st, & 2nd Class Bus Companies in Mexico

While the above discount airlines will get you to some of the larger cities in Mexico, there’s still a lot of Mexico outside of those cities to see. If you’re an adventurer who wants to see as much of Mexico as you can, you’re eventually going to find yourself on one of the city-to-city buses.

For the uninitiated, this might sound a little concerning. You may have visions of old-school chicken buses, crowded with people, produce, and even livestock. That’s not what we’re talking about here (we will be in a little lower in the colectivo section of this blog, though). 

Bus companies in Mexico are safe, comfortable, and in some cases, even luxurious. There are three main types of bus service in Mexico:

  • Executive Class (Ejecutivo Clase)
  • 1st Class (Primera Clase)
  • 2nd Class (Segunda Clase)

Let’s take a look at what each type offers, as well as some of the costs.

Executive Class Bus Companies in Mexico (Ejecutivo Clase)

This is, by far, the best way to travel within Mexico. Honestly, I would rather a 5-hour trip on an executive class bus than a 2-hour flight on a discount airline. It wouldn’t even be a decision I would have to ponder for too long.

Executive class buses are, unfortunately, not easy to come by. Especially if your travel plans are rigid. They are mostly used for long-distance travel, so for a trip of 2-3 hours, you may be stuck with a first-class bus (not the end of the world).

The benefits of taking an executive class bus company like Estrella de Oro are:

  • Onboard Wifi
  • Individual TVs
  • Onboard bathrooms
  • Large seats that fully recline
  • Temperature control
  • Unlimited baggage
  • In-seat power adapters
  • Complimentary drinks and snacks

Unlike some 1st class buses, and most 2nd class, executive class buses are always direct. They’re not cheap, though. A ticket for a 4-hour executive class bus ticket could cost you up to $100USD.

1st Class Bus Companies in Mexico (Primera Clase)

1st class buses in Mexico are much easier to find than executive class. You can find 1st class buses like ADO or ETN in nearly any medium-sized city. We’ve taken numerous 1st class buses in Mexico, and they’re a nice, inexpensive, way to travel the country.

The amenities on 1st class buses, though, are hit and miss. While some of the newer 1st class buses have Wifi, if you’re on an older 1st class bus, you might not. The same goes for TVs. 

Amenities you’ll find traveling on 1st class bus companies in Mexico, include:

  • Large reclining seats
  • Temperature control (AC or heat, depending where you are)
  • Free baggage on and under the bus
  • Onboard bathroom (notice that’s “bathroom”, not “bathrooms”)

1st class buses are considerably less expensive than executive class. They’re still not cheap, though. A two-hour trip from Mexico City to Puebla will cost you around $362 pesos ($18USD).

mexico travel tips - first class ado bus $362 pesos from CDMX to Puebla.

Unlike executive class buses, which are always direct, some 1st class buses may make stops in other cities. You won’t have to get off the bus, unless you want to, but it may add 30-45 minutes to your trip. Still, 1st class buses are a great way to get around the country.

2nd Class Bus Companies in Mexico (Segunda Clase)

mexico travel tips - second class bus

There are 100s of 2nd class bus companies in Mexico. There might even be 3-4 different ones in each city. It really doesn’t matter which 2nd class bus line you take, as they’re all pretty much the same:

  • Crowded
  • Hot (or cold depending on where you are)
  • Slow
  • Bumpy

It sounds miserable, and sometimes it is. It’s also the best, least expensive way to get around Mexico. I can get from Playa del Carmen to Tulum, on a 2nd class bus, for $57 pesos ($3USD). Totally worth the hour’s inconvenience, if you ask me.

Mexico travel tips - second class busfrom playa del carmen  to tulum $57 pesos.

Here are the amenities you’ll experience on a 2nd class bus in Mexico:

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

There are none. None. No wifi, no bathrooms, no charging station, and very little comfort. 

They’re still worth the price, though. They’ll get you safely to some of the smaller cities in Mexico, that you may not be able to get to any other way. We’ve taken 2nd class buses many times in the past, and we’ll most likely take them again in the future.

Mexico Travel Tips – Getting Around Cheap Using Colectivos

Colectivos aren’t for everyone. If you prefer traveling in luxury, colectivos are definitely not for you. We love them, though, and take them quite a bit.

Colectivos come in every size, shape, and color you can imagine. They can be a pick-up truck with seats in the back, a converted school bus, or any other large vehicle they can pack full of seats. No matter where you are in Mexico, no matter how small the town, chances are a colectivo will pass through it.

Natasha, in the middle of nowhere, waiting on the colectivo.

Even though there are 1000s of different colectivo routes in Mexico, they all basically work the same way:

  1. Find out the beginning and end of the colectivo route to get on. This will be your best bet to get a seat as most colectivos aren’t on a schedule, but leave when they’re full.
  2. If you’re not anywhere near the beginning or end of the route, stand anywhere on the route (like Natasha up there), and hope the colectivo isn’t full.
  3. Look for a small bus. There should be the name of the route painted on the windshield (the one we relied on most recently was the Puerto Morelos\Leona Vicario colectivo, which was painted large on the windshield for everyone to see).
  4. Once you spot your colectivo just hold your hand out to wave them down.
  5. Ask the driver “cuanto es” (pronounced “kuan-toe ace”) and pay them.

More Mexico Travel Tips
Colectivos are cheap AF.

The 40-minute trip between Puerto Morelos and Leona Vicario costs $8 pesos ($0.40USD). They’re slow, though, so don’t use one if you’re in a hurry. Normally the trip between those two cities is a 40-minute drive. In a colectivo, between the numerous pick-ups and drop-offs, it could take more than an hour.

If you’re a budget-minded traveler, colectivos are an awesome way to see the country.

Mexico Travel Tips – Know How the Taxis in Mexico Work

Fuck, I hate taxis. I absolutely despise them and if I never stepped foot in one again it’ll be too soon. It’s not just me, I’ve heard the same from numerous digital nomads and expats.

Now, to be fair, the above sentiment toward taxis is mostly just in tourist areas. Away from the tourists, taxis are fairly easy and scam free. Around tourists, though, forget about it. Just a couple of weeks ago I was stupid enough to get into a taxi in a tourist area after three different Ubers canceled.

Huge mistake as I fell for one of the very numerous taxi scams that are pulled on tourists. In this instance, it was the fast-spinning meter scam. There are other taxi scams, like the:

  • “I don’t have change for that large of a bill” scam.
  • “I’m going to take the long way” scam.
  • “I’m quoting you gringo prices” scam, or the
  • “My meter is broken, I’ll quote you a price” scam.

I’ve heard them all. Granted, the majority of taxi drivers are honest people. The few that aren’t, though, ruin it for everyone and puts me on edge every time I need a taxi.

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The best way not to fall for one of these scams is to research the hell out of how taxis work in the particular city you’re going to be in.

The best way to research the way taxis work in the particular city you are moving to is to join an expat Facebook group in that city, and post the question there. While you may not get an exact answer, you should be able to find out that a trip from the beach to your hotel should only cost $50 pesos, not the $500 pesos the driver is quoting.

Me, trying to figure out how taxis work in Oaxaca

Another Mexico travel tip with regards to taxis is that each city may have numerous types of taxis, with varying prices. The types of taxis in one city could include:

  • Regular Taxis – These are the kind that you wave down anywhere in the city and they take you anywhere in the city. These may charge you by using a meter to calculate the distance, or there may be a flat rate depending on where you are and where you’re going. Find out beforehand so you know what the costs should be.
  • Radio Taxis – These taxis are dispatched from a radio room. You call\text the radio room, tell them where you are and where you’re going. Then they take care of quoting you the price and routing a taxi to you. Radio taxis are a little more expensive than regular taxis but more convenient.
  • Route Taxis – These taxis only go between certain routes. For instance, the beach route or the inland route. If you hop in a beach route taxi and ask to be taken somewhere inland, you may be paying a lot more money than just taking a regular or radio taxi.
  • Sitio Taxis – These taxis pay an extra fee for the privilege of being able to park and wait in prime pick-up locations. This includes grocery stores, tourist attractions, shopping malls, bus stations, etc. Sitios will always cost a little more than a regular taxi, but not by a whole lot.

As digital nomads without a car, we rely quite a bit on taxis. Not knowing how taxis worked in the town I was moving to has definitely cost me more time and money than it should have.

Uber in Mexico

If there’s Uber in a Mexican town I’m living in, that’s my preferred method of transport. I don’t need to carry cash, I don’t need to haggle or negotiate the cost, and I don’t have to worry about waving down a taxi or colectivo on the street.

The problem is that Uber is in very few towns in Mexico. In the past few years, I’ve probably lived in ten different Mexican cities, and only two have had Uber; Mexico City and Progreso. If your plan is to rely on Uber during your stay in Mexico, chances are that may not be an option.

Use These Mexico Travel Tips to Save Money and Extend your Trip

We love Mexico, and we come back here every year for at least 6 months. In my opinion, this is the place to test out the digital nomad lifestyle, especially if you’re from North America. It’s close, it’s cheap, and the people are amazing. 

Using the above-mentioned Mexico travel tips for getting around the country, I’m confident you’ll have a safe, inexpensive, and fun-filled trip while you’re here. If you have any specific questions about traveling within Mexico, feel free to reach out in the comments, and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.


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