By Mario González-Román Original Print Publication: May, 2008
According to the Mexican Communications Ministry’s website, Mexico’s highways cover over 356,000 kilometers. Even more impressive is the vast network of bus lines that covers most of these roads; you can get just about anywhere by bus in Mexico. In many countries bus travel is the second or third option, after flying or taking a train, but in Mexico it’s often the first choice. In fact, executive and first class buses in Mexico are more comfortable than most airliners, offering movies, hot drinks, sandwiches, and seats that fold nearly flat for sleeping.
Comfortable and safe though they may be, as always you should take some basic precautions when traveling by bus. Some good numbers to carry with you in case you get in a serious jam are those of the PFP (Federal Preventative Police) headquarters: +01 (800) 440 3690 (toll free), (55) 5484 0490 (switchboard), or *112 (Telcel mobile).
- Take a safe taxi to the terminal, as most cities’ bus stations are located in the poorer parts of town. Use your neighborhood Sitio taxi, or in Mexico City call 5516 6020.
- Before you leave home, place most of your cash and credit cards in the bag you intend to stow in the locked compartment under the bus. This way, if there is a stick-up on board, most of your money will still be safe. Hide these items well so that in case of a luggage inspection by soldiers or police, no one will be tempted to make off with your belongings.
- When you hand over your bag to be stowed, make sure it goes in—and stays in—the baggage compartment until it is closed and locked.
- Divide the cash you bring on board into two parts. Most of the money should be placed in your carry-on: put the rest in your pocket. Most hold-ups happen fast; time is a factor to the robbers. Usually, they will take only what you have on you. Should a robbery occur, you can give them something, but not everything.
- Not all stations sell good food. I recommend you prepare your own lunch to eat on board. Smoking is normally not permitted on buses, but don’t be surprised to find exceptions—even by the driver. He may also play music to entertain himself. Luckily for your safety and peace of mind, most buses have a device in the engine that will not allow drivers to speed.
- For long trips, bring a warm blanket and a pillow. A mini flashlight is good to have if you are traveling at night, and it can be very useful in the event your bus breaks down on the road.
- Be sure to carry some toilet paper: don’t learn the hard way! I also recommend a mini first-aid kit with aspirin, bandages, bottled water, and Maalox or Pepto-Bismol for digestive disorders.
Mexico is a great country to travel by bus, and I have never had any problems worth mentioning. I hope that these tips don’t stop you from using this great form of transportation. Instead, take note and enjoy your travel in a safer manner. Bon Voyage!
Mario González-Román is a private security consultant who worked for 28 years as the Foreign Service national Senior Advisor for Security at the US Embassy in Mexico City. His website is www.securitycornermexico.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.