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Getting Around Mexico: Buses

Within Mexico, buses (long-distance buses are called camiones, rather than autobuses, in Mexican Spanish) are by far the most common and efficient form of public transport. There are an unbelievable number of them, run by a multitude of companies, and connecting even the smallest of villages. Long-distance services generally rely on very comfortable and dependable vehicles; remote villages are more commonly connected by what look like (and often are) recycled school buses from north of the border.

There are basically two classes of bus, first (primera) and second (segunda), though on major long-distance routes there's often little to differentiate the two. First-class vehicles have numbered, reserved seats, videos and air conditioning, though increasingly many second-class lines have all these, too. The main differences will be in the number of stops - second-class buses call at more places, and consequently take longer to get where they're going - and the fare, which is about ten percent higher on first-class services, and sometimes a lot more. You may be able to get a discount with a student card, though it's not, it must be said, especially likely. Most people choose first-class for any appreciably long distance, and second for short trips or if the destination is too small for first-class buses to stop, but you should certainly not be put off second-class if it seems more convenient - it may even prove less crowded. Air conditioning is not necessarily a boon - there's nothing more uncomfortable than a bus with sealed windows and a broken air-conditioner. The videos, by the way, are occasionally in English, and aren't necessarily tasteful family viewing - bad kung-fu movies are especially popular.

On important routes there are also deluxe or pullman buses, with names like Primera Plus or Turistar Plus and fares around thirty percent higher than those of first-class buses. They have few if any stops, and waitress service and free snacks and drinks over longer distances, extra-comfortable airline seating, and air conditioning that works - be sure to keep a sweater handy, as it can get very cold. They may also be emptier, which could mean more space to stretch out and sleep. Pullman services almost all have computerized reservation services and may accept credit cards in payment: these facilities are increasingly common with the larger regular bus lines, too.

Most towns of any size have a modern, centralized bus station, known as the Central Camionera or Central de Autobuses, often a long way from the town centre. Where there is no unified terminus you may find separate first- and second-class terminals, or individual ones for each company, sometimes little more than bus stops at the side of the road. In almost every bus station, there is some form of baggage deposit (left luggage) office - usually known as a guarder?a, consigna or simply equipaje, and costing about US$0.60/?0.40 per item per hour. Before leaving anything, make sure that the place will be open when you come to collect. If there's no formal facility, staff at the bus companies' baggage dispatching offices can often be persuaded to look after things for a short while.

Always check your route and arrival time, and whenever possible buy tickets from the bus station in advance to get the best (or any) seats; count on paying about US$4-6/?3-4 for every 100km covered. There is very rarely any problem getting a place on a bus from its point of origin or from really big towns. In smaller, mid-route places, however, you may have to wait for the bus to arrive (or at least to leave its last stop) before discovering if there are any seats - the increased prevalence of computerized ticketing is easing the problem. Often there are too few seats, and without fluent and loud Spanish you may lose out in the fight for the ticket clerk's attention. Alternatively, there's almost always a bus described as local, which means it originates from where you are (as opposed to a de paso bus, which started somewhere else), and tickets for these can be bought well in advance.

Weekends, holiday season, school holidays and fiestas can also overload services to certain destinations: again the only real answer is to buy tickets in advance, though you could also try the cheaper second-class lines, where they'll pack you in standing, or take whatever's going to the next town along the way and try for a local from there. A word with the driver and a small tip can also sometimes work wonders.

Terms to look out for on the timetable, besides local and de paso, include v?a corta (by the short route) and directo or expresso (direct/nonstop - in theory at least). Salida is departure, llegada arrival. A decent road map will be extremely helpful in working out which buses are going to pass through your destination.

The legendary craziness of Mexican bus drivers is nowadays a thing of the past, and many bus companies have installed warning lights and buzzers to indicate when the driver is exceeding the speed limit (though these are often ignored by the driver). Mechanical breakdown, in fact, is a far more common cause of delay than accidents. In recent years the government has been trying to improve the safety record through regular mechanical checks and also by keeping tabs on the drivers

Getting Around Mexico

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