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I'm back, and Mexican buses part III

I'm back from my whirlwind trip to the two Laredos, Monterrey and Zacatecas. I'll blog the fun stuff in the next couple of days, but first I'll do a brief followup to my previous posts on bus travel between Texas and Mexico.

The bottom line about bus strategies seems to be that you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

Going south I took my friend David's advice and bought a ticket to Laredo with the intention of walking across and catching an ejecutivo-class overnight bus to Zacatecas. But Greyhound managed to lose my bag in San Antonio (don't ask me how, as my bag should never have left the bus, but the baggage handlers in Laredo say it happens all the time). After much fumbling around on the part of Greyhound it did show up, three buses and six hours later, which made me miss the southbound overnight connections. I ended up spending the night in Laredo and breaking up my trip in Monterrey, about which more later.

Walking across into Mexico was easy and a pleasantly dramatic way to move from one country to another. It made me think of a half-remembered Graham Greene story involving the bridge that I must look up. The hardest part was trying to find an official on the Mexican side who would issue me a tourist card. Mexico is happy to have anyone enter its border zone, no questions asked, and the checkpoints further inland are spotty enough that you could easily end up days and hundreds of miles later discovering yourself to be an illegal alien, just because you didn't know to look for the obscure little Migración office when you first arrived.

Nuevo Laredo is hardly paradise but not especially scary; the red light district must be out of sight somewhere. A cab to the bus station cost me US$5 just as Lonely Planet said. There I caught an ejecutivo to Monterrey and it was as advertised, clean and comfortable with more legroom than flying coach.

Coming back north I tried the other strategy and booked an overnight ticket straight through from Zacatecas to Austin on Autobuses Americanos, one of the lines operating in both Mexico and the US. The bus was only first class, not ejecutivo, so no extra legroom, and it was packed full of families returning from Christmas with the relatives. I was squeezed in between a family of seven and a plus-sized grandma. That made for pleasant conversation and plenty of entertainment from the kids, but not exactly comfort. The bathroom was used so heavily that halfway through the trip the driver advised us to reserve it only for emergencies.

The worst part about the through ticket, though, was crossing the border back into the US. We spent three hours in a long line of buses waiting to get through customs, not as bad as the seven to ten hours I've heard of, but frustrating anyway. I kept thinking that in that time I could have walked across (there's never that much delay for pedestrians), had a nice meal, and caught the next bus north from Laredo -- assuming there were seats to be had. But it was because I didn't want to be at the mercy of Greyhound again that I chose a through bus in the first place.

The next time you hear Bush talk about increased funding for border security, laugh. The multi-hour backlog in Laredo was due to short resources and inefficient management at the border crossing. The facility was large enough to handle heavy traffic but configured for manual inspection of buses and luggage, and trying to work in a misconfigured space meant the buses had to make maneuvers like backing up through a crowd of people. There was only one airport-style scanner for our luggage but the real bottleneck was the inspection of the buses themselves. That required a large mysterious scanner or sniffer mounted on a truck which would slowly drive by each unloaded bus. There was only one such bus-scanner for the whole border station so each bus in series had to unload and get sniffed. Had there been more than one, and had the physical arrangement permitted buses to unload in parallel with other buses getting scanned, the process would have run several times faster.

(That wasn't the only misfeature of the border crossing, by the way. It also had the worst toilet facilities I saw during my trip. After sitting on the bridge for hours, we hundreds of bus passengers were greeted with a row of three overflowing port-a-potties and nowhere to wash our hands. I'd have expected better in Bangladesh.)

So anyway: there's no good and reliable way to travel by bus between Texas and Mexico. The best strategy seems to be to get to the border however you can and cross on your own, using ejecutivos on the Mexico side when possible; but even then fate in a form as simple as an incompetent baggage clerk can completely undo your plans.

travel 2005.01.02 link

Comments

Welcome back to Texas. Your account of the border crossing makes me especially glad to be ringing in the new year in Boulder!

Ellen [helliemae cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.01.04
Turns out I decided to go to Los Dos Laredos and Moneterrey around the same time you did! I drove and had an excellent experience - zero wait Southbound and about 5 minutes at bridge I going North. I'd love to go on to Zacatecas on my next trip with more time....

Matt Cohen • 2005.01.04
Hey, I took the Americanos bus from Austin down to Monterrey for New Year's as well. Nine hours from city to city, southbound, so not too bad. I was pleased with the service and the bus. Not luxurious, but certainly not torturous either. I downloaded an audiobook for my iPod and passed the trip nicely. Here's a tip: you can get your tourist card well in advance of the bus trip by stopping by the Mexican consulate in downtown Austin. That might save you time on your next trip, Prentiss.

I saw Texas license plates all over Monterrey while I was there. An insurance rider from Bravo Insurance (1-800-442-7286, they'll email you a .pdf proof-of-insurance) runs around $11/day. Next time, I'm thinking I'll try driving down. A rideshare posting on Craigslist will help save on gas costs.

Mark Barr [mark punkto barr cxe NO_SPAMgmail punkto com] • 2005.02.16
Hey Mark! I thought so. The mexican consulate in town issues visas. That was always my worry to take the time at the border and the bus leaves without you. If anyone is going down to Monterrey in the coming weeks and wants some company, I'd love to go. Let's go.

Garret [garretgray74 cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.04.21
I'm going down to Monterrey for some financially-procured female companionship in Late May. Does anyone know if I can get a bus in Laredo? Alternatively, anyone know if I can rent a van for the purposes of starting my own Bangbus?

Matthew Lawson [mklhouston cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.04.29
Some more useful information: I'm spending a couple weeks in Guanajuato this summer, and am planning on driving my own car down. The Mx. consulate in Austin is able to issue tourist visas (which you will need if going more than 21km into the country) as well as the permit sticker for my car. A half hour spent at the consolate this morning (there were only two other people in line), and now I've got the visa and auto permit, both good for six months. When it comes time to drive down south, this will make the border crossing so much easier, I think. The consolate's hours are 8am-1pm, Monday through Friday.

Mark Barr [mark punkto barr cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.05.19
Wow, I love your site! I actually used your research on Mexican bus companies. I took Americanos from Austin to Monterrey (then one to Zacatecas) after Christmas. While my bus stopped for a brief time at the border in the middle of the night, no one told us anything (that we needed to get off to get visas). Rather, a few men boarded the bus asking for tips for baggage handling. I was half asleep and dazed. After they got their tips, the bus took off. I was so confused as I thought we'd go through a formal border check...guess not!

Anyways, when I got back to the border, I was hassled by the Mexican border patrol for not getting a visa (as were 2 other people on my bus).

I thought I was in trouble with the Mexican border patrol. Then I encountered the US border patrol who gave me the third degree, pulled me off the bus, interrogated me, pulled me into a building and interrogated me there (gosh, I look *so* suspicious!)...geez.

But, now I know we can get the tourist card in Austin..yeah! :) That will save some headache if I take the busses again!

Maris U [mumsawas cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.06.18
Torreon to Nuevo Laredo. Walk the bridge. Catch the Greyhound bus north to San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, etc.

My favorite leave time is 11 pm from Torreon on Transportes del Norte.

This "directo" bus get to Nuevo Laredo at 6 am. I taxi to the bridge, which is 5 or 6 USD. Walk the bridge, grab a Burger King coffee and hop on the next Greyhound north.

I like to buy the Greyhound ticket ONLINE. There's a Greyhound bus heading north at 6;30 am and another at 7 am.

Once I got lucky and caught the earlier 6 a.m. bus....I was in San Antonio by 8:45. Super!!

The Autobuses Americanos bus takes about 3 hours to clear at the border. You can taxi to bridge and walk across and continue the 6 blocks to the Greyhound on foot and be at San Antonio instead of waiting for all those Homeland Security checks.

Marynell

Marynell [mnellyoung cxe sbcglobal punkto net] • 2005.06.29
Tried to use the Austin visa service about a year ago, Confused and disorganized and still had to stop in Migracion to dot the i's and cross the t's on the car papers. An online service is also available but its hopeless even if you speak some Spanish. Maybe things have changed by now.

CK ROBB • 2005.07.17
First of all, thanks to everyone for sharing their experiences on this forum, it really helps. I never been to mexico before, and planning to visit in the end of september, by bus.
All i need to know is, whether both (US & mexican) Immigration stop and check you, while leaving USA and entering Mexico? or just mexican. Actually, being a british citizen, i require an exit stamp on my passport while exiting from the country. For some reason, i am under a impression that US Immigration don't do that if you are leaving USA in a bus. Am i right?

rizwan [rizwan6973 cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2005.08.26
I've made at least 6 trips into Mexico. Walked the bridge to Progreso (just south of Weslaco, TX)and there was no hassle at all, drove my car over at the same location last week (10-05) and virtually no inquiries or delays and have taken various bus combinations into cities such as Durango, Saltillo, Mazatlan and Oaxaca. Each time we parked our car at Laredo (the same guy has been watching over our car for the past 10 years) and then we take the first leg into Monterrey then go from there. Found out the hard way that the only way to go is by executivo or primera classe autobus. Anything below that is smelly and just short of riding with the chickens. Also found out that in Mexico that there are MANY, MANY bus stations and not all accommodate the executive type buses. So if you are on a second class bus and must make a bus change your destination bus station will dictate the choices of bus classes that are available to you. I have always traveled traveled very light with backpacks and small handheld bags and checked nothing. And except for a couple of bus break down experiences and very long hours on the bus, I have had wonderful trips and will do it again and again. I LOVE MEXICO. Bus travel offers a cultural glimpse you can't get on an airplane. Plus it's a very inexpensive way to travel.

Pam [ontrack123 cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.10.05
I am planning to go to monterrey dec 22-26 '05, but when i went to consulate and banjercito in austin, i was told that people line up at 4 am for tickets for the 8 am opening time. Thus, I can't imagine what crossing the border at Laredo or Columbia might be like. Does anyone know? Is this the worst time to even think about a road trip from Austin to Monterrey??? thanks,

cay evans [catssup cxe satx punkto rr punkto com] • 2005.12.13
Use Turimex when you travel by bus from Texas to Mexico. Is much better than Americanos / Greyhound. www.gruposenda.com

luinu [lnunez cxe writeme punkto com] • 2005.12.19
is it possible to show up at the bus station in nuevo laredo and buy a ticket to mexico and leave that night? or do you have to buy in advance? we'll be leaving the 28th of dec... please email response as well!thanks a lot, hippo

hippo [x_aurens_x cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.12.22
am planning to travel from Austin to Saltillo and then on to Zacatecas around 12/29. here's my plan: car to Laredo, cross the border on foot, spend the night in N.L., bus to Saltillo the next day. two questions: does anyone know about bus service from N.L. to Saltillo and then from Saltillo to Zacatecas? and how long should we plan for each of these stretches? thanks. also, feel free to tell me if any part of our plan sounds ill-advised.

eric p [epeabody cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2005.12.22
I am from eastern Pa. and have a couple of buses.In 04 we toke a bus load of Amish and Mennonites to Chapla,Mex. to WYWAM Mission for a building project.We stopped at the border and got our visas and a permit for the bus,I had got ins. from a ins. broker before leaving home,then after bribing the customs guy because they sent a dishwasher along we were on are way .was a very interesting trip. So in 05 we wanted to do it again but they told us the law changed you can't get a bus permit very easy anymore.We wound up chartering a bus from Autobuses El Conejo Inc. in Larado and leting our bus setting at there place.They toke us to Chappala and picked us up 10 days later but it cost us 5000.00 .There drivers were good and the bus was nice,but would have been more fun taking our own bus,and cheeper. Does anybody know if there is a way we can get a permit for the bus ?? we are planning on taking 2 buses this year.1 leaving Pa. on Feb.4 the next one Feb 18th. Thanks

Leonard Horst [mrmelard cxe dejazzed punkto com] • 2006.01.24
I agree with some: Turimex would be your best bet.

A friend of mine has been going and coming back from Monterrey every weekend for the last 2 years. He used to ride on Americanos because they would exchange 5 used tickets for a new one (had they offered miles like commercial airlines...), but they don't do that anymore. So, anyway, he says Turimex is the best one around. We're in Dallas, and I can say that they're growing a lot: They now offer Guadalajara and in-between stops from Dallas (bypassing Monterrey), and 4 buses scheduled to Monterrey everyday.

You can buy the ticket online at www.gruposenda.com, or buy it directly at the office (which is around US$10 cheaper.) It goes all the way stopping at its offices (only if there's anyone to pick up) in Garland, Dallas, Waco, Austin, (San Marcos to eat something,) San Antonio, Laredo, Monterrey, Allende, and Linares (that's the 9:00 pm bus from Dallas to Monterrey-Linares.) You can find the phone number on Google with [turimex san antonio] or some query of that sort.

If you haven't before, you should definitely check out Turimex.

Daniel Díaz [yosoy cxe danieldiaz punkto org] • 2006.02.03
I just completed a semi-successful bus trip from austin through mexico and into guatemala this january and am about to embark on another next week. here's a recap of how I did the first trip...and some questions that i'd like to find answers to before leaving again...

jan. 2006 trip:
I used Turimex, first ticket from Austin to Queretaro--(which is the furthest south destination you can get to direct from Austin on Turimex) The 1-way ticket was $72. Tickets are bought, and you catch the bus at the El Dorado Meat market on Airport Blvd, (a couple of blocks west of IH-35). The only bus going to Queretaro leaves at 10pm.
It stopped in San Marcos for food, in San Antonio to pick up additional passengers, and we crossed in Nuevo Laredo. It makes a handful of stops before getting to Queretaro, I was sleeping most of the time, but I know we stopped in Monterrey and San Luis Potosi.
I had the same difficulties as Maris at the border. Even though all the passengers in the buses on either side of ours got out and did paperwork and had their baggage checked, border officials only came on the bus, collected the $2 fee from Mexican citizens, and then passed our bus on. It was in the wee hours of the morning, and I was literally the only gringa onboard. The driver never allocated time to get off and to do paperwork, and when I inquired about getting a tourist card, he said it was no big deal...psych.

From Austin to Queretaro took 18 hours and 30 minutes, (I arrived around 4:30)
In Queretaro, you must go to Mexico City next to get further south. I couldn't find a way around it, and would have preferred going straight to Oaxaca, if anyone knows of a line going from Queretaro to Oaxaca, please post! I used Omnibus de Mexico-a 3 hour trip ($15) to Mexico City's NORTE terminal. Buses leave every 30 minutes from Queretaro to Norte--super easy connection. There are 4 bus stations in Mexico City, all connected by the metro subway system. Norte is very nice, and I caught the first bus to Oaxaca (there aren't many buses from norte to Oaxaca--the majority leave from TAPO (east) or the south station.)

I took an ADO primera class bus from Mexico Norte to Oaxaca (US $32) and a 6 hour trip.

I stayed in Oaxaca for a few days...it is definitely one of my favorite cities in Mexico now! If you're there, stay at the Hotel Chocolate Posada, above the local chocolate factory..(515-5760/mina 212) a 3-bed room ran at $200 pesos.

Oaxaca to Tapachula I took the Cristobal Colon primera class bus ($28US). I'm not sure how long it took, but it was awhile. We left around 6pm and arrived the next afternoon.

Tapachula is close to the border of Mexico and Guatemala. This is where I stopped to deal with my lack of a tourist card so that I could get out of the country. I went to the local immigration office, and they said it was a pretty big deal that I had been in Mexico for so long (5 days) without one. According to them, buses always stop at the border, and people never make it as far south as I had without their cards. After a hearty warning that they could arrest me if they wanted to, they let me submit a plea to the Regional I.N.M. director of Chiapas to be let legally out of the country. He granted it within 2 hours, but I received a $50 ticket that had to be paid before getting further clearance...then they gave me a letter to give to border officials as I was exiting, and told me to be out of the country within 48 hours.
The entire procedure was very unorganized...and they defininitely did not have a structured procedure for dealing with people without tourist cards. Needless to say, I already picked up my card from the austin consulate before leaving again for my trip next week..and suggest you all do the same...

FYI, the Mexico Consulate's office in Austin isn't on 6th street anymore, the Mexican Immigration website still lists.
It moved to the SW corner of 8th and Brazos (apparently years ago?) They close early, at 1pm, and are open from Monday through Friday. Their phone number is: (512) 478-2866.
Go to window number one, which is specifically for tourist cards, all you need to bring is a passport.

I hope this helps some of you out!

I'm still confused on the actual procedure of what is supposed to happen when crossing the Texas/Mexico border. This last trip was the first I had crossed via a bus, and I'm curious as to the step-by-step details. I've only walked or flown across otherwise, and walking have never even gotten a tourist card.
Anyway, if anyone feels like posting the details of the perfect and legal border crossing via bus, It'd be much appreciated!

Prentiss...thank you so much for providing this forum! It has been a great resource for my adventuras!

meridith kohut [soyunasirena cxe aol punkto com] • 2006.03.07
UPDATE: In May 2006 I took another trip and found a bus line out of Austin that I really like. See the details here.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.06.03
My understanding was the US citizens do not require a tourist visa for Mexico. Why is then everyone getting one?

Jain [jainsid cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2006.06.15
You don't need a tourist visa for Mexico but you do need a tourist card. That's an easier process that involves showing ID, filling out a short form and paying $20 USD at the border.

On my last trip I tried getting the tourist card in advance at the consulate in Austin but it wasted effort, as I had to get processed at the border anyway. I may post about that another time.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.06.15
Just one question to add here. Do the buses get stopped and inspected both southbound and northbound on the immigration checkpoint outside of Laredo. If they do how long does that additional inspection take?

xmtrading • 2006.06.30
XM, I've never heard of an INS stop southbound in Texas. People seem to be able to walk or drive out of the US without controls.

Northbound there are two stops on the US side. The first is at the border and takes maybe half an hour once you reach the checkpoint, but at peak travel season you can wait for hours in traffic trying to get that far. The second one is about 15 miles north of Laredo, long after you've gotten onto US soil. Most people don't realize it, but there's an officially designated zone along the Texas-Mexico border beyond which everyone is required to show ID to proceed. This second stop doesn't require you to get off the bus and doesn't take much time, just long enough for an agent to walk through the bus and check everybody out. On my last trip I was sound asleep by that point and the Highway Patrol dude wasn't happy that he had trouble waking me.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.07.01
Wow, its great to hear the many experiences of Mexico. I owned & operated a Motorcoach Tour Co. for 16 years in San Antonio, Pharr, Tx & Monterrey Mx. We specialized in Mexico By Motorcoach Tours taking 1000s of people from all over the world into Mexico. Sept 11, 2001 events wiped out my business. But if anyone as ??s Feel free to email me @ masdata00@yahoo.com. I still do guide service in Monterrey & copper canyon areas. Viva Mexico!!!

Monterrey Mike Sarabia [masdata00 cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2006.07.27
I'm trying to find a written schedule for any of the mexican bus lines going from San Antonio, Tx to Houston, Tx. None of these (Turimex, Americanos, Tornado) seem to have web sites. Any help would be appreciated

jt thornton [jtthedj830 cxe aol punkto com] • 2006.10.22
hillarious stuff...but wait! i thought gw was securing the homeland...am planning a trip thru mex and central america by bus...glad i came across this before i go lol

marcus [m cxe voiceofguyana punkto com] • 2006.10.23
hillarious stuff...but wait! i thought gw was securing the homeland...am planning a trip thru mex and central america by bus...glad i came across this before i go lol

marcus [m cxe voiceofguyana punkto com] • 2006.10.24
I'm surprised that after all this time people keep coming to this blog for info about bus travel to Mexico. I'm starting to give some idle thought to what a site devoted just to that topic would be like.

If you think that might be interesting, please help me out: Take this short survey on what you'd like to see in a Mexican bus travel site.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.12.12
WANTED PASSENGER . I am leaving very early on Dec 26.2006 from Wimbelrley to 135 thru san Antonio then laredo via the Columbia Bridge and onto Saltillo (for the night)and then San Miguel Allende on Dec 27.2006 .
An honest rider who wants to share gas and read the map would be great. references etc. please.
some luggage ok> goes on top.
I will pay the tolls on toll road.

sueki [sueki_2008 cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2006.12.21
I am planning on leaving Ontario , Canada for Mazatlan at the end of the year for 3 months. I would like to travel by bus. Any help appreciated.

Howard737 [williamson737 cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2007.07.19
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