Updated: January 23rd, 2019
I found Mexico City to be a pretty straightforward place. You need to get somewhere? Call an Uber. You need directions? Ask anyone around you. You’re hungry? There’s food literally everywhere. On the sidewalk, on the corner, in the backs of trucks, everywhere. And even the food itself is simple. On every plate is a tortilla, some meat, something green, all topped with some kind of white liquid cheese squeezed from a bottle. It’s just the names that are different and for what reason, I have no idea.
I kept waiting for things to be difficult. Like have you ever tried to get anything done in Italy? Or tried to communicate with anyone in Paris? Or ordered food in Taiwan?
“I can tell this is a snout, but like, what kind?”
“Why is my soup in a bowl shaped like a toilet?”
“My food is still moving—is it okay to eat?”
But Mexico kept surprising me with its simplicity. A surprise that, no doubt, stemmed from my attempt to purchase bus tickets on Mexico’s ADO bus system.
While my plans mostly centered around Mexico City, I had also worked in a side trip to Oaxaca to celebrate Dia de Muertos—a side trip for which I’d need to purchase bus tickets. I went onto the ADO bus ticket website—fast forward one million years—and the tickets were mine! Oaxaca, here I come! Only I, too, am dead now and my bones are being dug up to use as fossil fuels for our Martian overlords. Needless to say, making sense of Mexico’s ADO bus system constituted the bulk of my Mexican travel planning. The process is the opposite of straightforward; I couldn’t find any useful information so I had to do all the research myself; and it took four attempts to actually get those tickets in my inbox. I’ve compiled all the information you’ll need (that I wish I’d had) to make sense of Mexico’s ADO bus system so that you can explore Mexico as it is now, before the dawning of the new millennium.
MEXICO’S ADO BUS SYSTEM
There are anywhere between 15-20 bus companies operating in Mexico—the one you choose will be based on your origin and destination. Knowing where you’re going in life is half the battle, no? The one I chose, on which this entire blog post is based, is Mexico’s ADO bus system which serves primarily Mexico City and everything south of there, on around into the Yucatan peninsula for beer bongs and booty-shaking contests. So… here ⇣
ADO stands for Autobuses de Oriente, “Buses of the East”, so that might help you remember. But if you don’t speak Spanish it might just confuse you even more… so maybe you should just stick to the map above that I made for my kindergarten readers.
As I mentioned last week, one of the 17 things that shocked me in Mexico was how nice these ADO buses are. Especially considering that one of the 17 things that shocked me in Belize was how they could even refer to their “buses” as transportation. When deciding to travel from Mexico City to Oaxaca, I had imagined something more along the lines of America’s Greyhound bus line (of which I have no personal experience but I’ve seen their filthy, disgusting terminals and I’m 100% prejudging them based on those) or the chicken buses of Belize I almost can’t believe I survived.
The ADO buses are air conditioned, comfortable and offer more legroom than someone 5’4” even knows what to do with, show movies (some of them with almost no words at all so in your face, language barrier!), have bathrooms, black-out curtains, and the nicest, most patient employees (you’ll see). The whole ADO bus system is organized, professional, safe, affordable, and an overall pleasant experience. If. You. Can. Figure. It. Out. Oh. My. God. In. Heaven.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ADO BUS SYSTEM
Before you even attempt to purchase ADO bus tickets, there are a few things you need to know (besides Spanish lolz). The majority of my frustration when trying to purchase tickets—things were thrown—stemmed from the fact that the ADO bus system uses hella abbreviations and with no explanation of what any of them stand for or any consistency in their usage. I’m going to list those for you now in hopes of avoiding all the broken lamps and frightened pets.
THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF BUSES
After choosing your origin, destination, and date (a whole ‘nother can of whoopass I’m about to open), you’re shown a list of that day’s trips and the buses you can choose from. Initiating meltdown sequence numero uno, beep boop beep.
- WTF is AU, OCC, ADO, ADOgl, ADO platino?
- I put in “Mexico City” as my origin so… WTF is Santa Martha Acatitla? Mexico DF? TAPO? GL?
- and OMFG these buses are expensive AF! (Hey Mexico, how ’bout them avocados? I can abbreviate too.)
I thought a bus was a bus but, as it turns out, there are more types of ADO buses than there are ways to mispronounce Teotihuacan. But while the list is long, the ones I consistently see the most are the ones in the picture above. Here are their descriptions in order of appearance in that picture because I still have questions.
ADO platino | The Nacho Bellgrande of Mexican buses. Only 27 fully reclining seats, a tray table, your own 12″ touch screen TV, free WIFI, electrical outlet + USB, air conditioning, bathrooms, a cafeteria (Say what now?), and a travel kit–whatever that is, but I want it!
AU | Air conditioning, the seats recline a little, it probably has wheels… don’t take this one. I’m Mexican bus spoiled now so I can say that. BTW, AU stands for Autobuses Unidos which means “the cheapest option–you’d be wise to choose something else”.
OCC | Entertainment system with 3 HD screens, air conditioning, 44 reclining seats, bathroom. OCC stands for Ómnibus Cristóbal Colón (or, the “Christopher Columbus bus”, or just “Christopher ColumBUS” – a pun that has made my whole entire year). In other news, I have no idea WTF the difference is between the OCC and the…
ADO | Entertainment system with 3 HD screens, air conditioning, 44 reclining seats, bathroom. I took an ADO bus on the way back from Oaxaca and it was perfectly fine. The bus was comfortable and clean, the entertainment was… entertaining, but by the last hour of our 6-hour journey the smell from the bathroom in the rear of the bus had wafted all the way up to the front where I sat. A little PP bonus?
Update: I chatted with someone at ADO to find out the difference between OCC and ADO and she said… there is none. It’s just a different brand. Same service, same quality, different name, almost a 100% price difference. You down with OCC?
ADO gl | Entertainment system with 5 HD screens, air conditioning, 40 reclining seats (like, I was literally in the lap of the abuela behind me), bathrooms, electrical connections, cafeteria (I do not remember this), and complimentary beverages. And it doesn’t say it on their site, but we totally got a travel kit too. There were earbuds inside and free drinks. GL stands for Gran Lujo, “Great Luxury”. Gran Lujo indeedio.
So now that my questions have been answered, the technical progression of quality would go: AU ⇢ ADO / OCC ⇢ ADO gl ⇢ ADO platino. Choose wisely… MWAHAHAH.
THE DIFFERENT MEXICO CITY BUS STATIONS
Besides the differences in the ADO buses, something else you should be familiar with before getting into bus ticket purchasing are the different bus stations (and corresponding terminals) in Mexico City. Initiating meltdown sequences numeros dos, tres, y cuatro, beep boop beep.
When choosing your origin/destination on the main ADO page, the option for Mexico City gives you an expand arrow because there are 21 million people who live here so of course there are buttloads of bus stations to choose from. Or are there? Hmm…
But allow me to back up even further. And I mean, we’re going so basic here you’re gonna be like, “HOW. IN THE HELL. DID YOU GET THIS FAR. WITHOUT KNOWING THIS?”
Mexico DF means… wait for it… “Mexico City”. Or at least it did until early 2016. DF stands for Distrito Federal (“Federal District”) and though the city is now officially known as CDMX, Ciudad de Mexico (“Mexico freaking City”), Mexico DF still shows up sometimes when you’re trying really hard to figure stuff out and you’re about at your wits end. (This information may seen irrelevant or trivial, but when you’re booking a mode of transportation that will be taking you, beyond your control, to yet another strange city in a country you’ve never been to in the first place, where the language is nothing like the one you learned from Sesame Street, you want to be 110% sure you’re making the right choices.)Now that we know Mexico DF just means Mexico City (*facepalm*), we know where to start our ticket search. According to the options on the drop-down menu, there are fifteen bus stations in Mexico City. ERRRRR! (That’s a buzzer sound.) There’s actually only eleven legit places you can board a bus, but one of those is an airport, a couple of them are just surface street stops, and one is a bus stop at a women’s prison and I don’t think you wanna get on any buses that stop there, if Netflix has taught me anything at all.
When trying to figure out where to start my bus trip, I tried looking these stations up on a map (pointless when you can’t decode the mystery names); I tried choosing the one closest to our hotel (pointless when you don’t know where they are); so finally I hopped on ADO’s live chat.
Me: “Do you have a map of where all the bus stations are located?”
Him: “Check Google Maps.”
But back to this list ⇡⇡⇡, here’s what you need to know about each bus station:
(Top to bottom, left to right)
1 | Mexico City airport, international arrivals
2 | Mexico City airport, domestic arrivals
3 | Airport, Terminal 1, Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de Mexico (WILL YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHY THESE ARE LABELED DIFFERENTLY? I hope you can finally appreciate my Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Shave and a Haircut-level frustration.) And for what it’s worth, Terminal 1 is not on Google Maps.
4 | Mexico Ciudad Azteca, This one has a wikipedia page.
5 | Mexico City Balbuena, small station that only serves ADO buses
6 | Mexico City Central North terminal, This one has its own website with moving bus graphics and errthang.
7 | Mexico City Taxqueña, the south/central bus terminal with some information here.
8 | Mexico Ixtapaluca, This one has a Facebook page with exactly 7 likes.
9 | Santa Martha Acatitla, the address is: Terminal Women’s Prison, 3097, Santa Martha Acatitla, Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico–need I say more?
10 – 13 | The source of my biggest headache: TAPO stands for Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente–or, Bus Terminal for Eastbound Passengers–and though they are listed four separate times, there is only one TAPO. TAPOs ADO, AU, OCC, Platino, GL, and Texcoco are literally just different gates at the TAPO station. TAPO is the biggest and main bus station in Mexico City and the only one you should really even concern yourself with.
14 | Terminal Ejecutiva Sur, the south terminal located in Coyoacán
15 | Tlalnepantla, This one is so far north it shouldn’t even be considered Mexico City.
As you can imagine, the inconsistency of the Mexico City bus station names and the inability to find accurate information all in one place almost drove me to dip (another Roger Rabbit reference for those in the know). Why are some labeled Mexico Ciudad while others are Mexico DF? Why are the TAPOs listed separately when really they are the same place? Is the women’s prison so popular they need their own bus route? Please advise.
Here is all of that information on a map I made myself because I had to ⇣⇣⇣
HOW TO BUY ADO BUS TICKETS
Now, I’m going to walk you through the process of buying ADO bus tickets so I can point out everything you’re doing wrong (in the eyes of the ADO bus ticketing system). Maybe, just maybe, it will only take you one try to get tickets to my four. Yes, it took me four separate attempts at buying tickets to make all the possible mistakes. Couldn’t they have just pointed out everything they knew I was going to do wrong up front? It worked for my college biology professor. It works for my husband any time he sees me fiddling around in the kitchen. It’s my belief that the ADO bus ticketing system likes you to think you’ve almost got it before throwing you an even curvier curve ball. You’ve played rigged carnival games before, you know the carny’s MO. An hour later you’ve earned just the tiniest, crappiest token for your troubles and a question you really don’t want to know the answer to: “How many f**king bus tickets have I bought?” The answer, by the way, is either zero or twelve.
WHERE TO BUY ADO BUS TICKETS
There are two ways to buy ADO bus tickets in advance: the ADO website and the ADO app. I’m almost positive you can buy tickets at an ADO terminal ticket window, but it’s my understanding certain buses and routes tend to sell out.
Which of the above methods you use to purchase your ADO bus tickets is not actually up to you as the two are mutually exclusive. But could you know this until you’ve completed the 10-step process? What do you think, amigo?
Use the website if: you will be paying with a Mexican credit card.
Use the mobile app if: you don’t have a Mexican credit card.
More on that in a minute…
THE TICKET BUYING PROCESS
Even if you’d told me beforehand that I had to buy my tickets on the app, I’d probably still go through the process on the website to get an idea of what all I need to do and in a format big enough even Ariana Grande could read it. (Girl is BLIND.) I’m going to use the website version anyway to show you how to do this.
Next, you’ll choose your bus and time (like in the picture at the beginning of this post) followed by your exact seat. Personally, I prefer a window seat one row back from a TV and as close to the front of the bus as possible because… baño stinko. After clicking on a seat you’ll get a popup box telling you to choose what kind of seat you want that looks like this ⇣⇣⇣
As you can see, these choices are about as straightforward as an episode of Lost. You’ve got Adult, Child, and Senior Citizen ticket prices–that’s normal–but then you’ve got a discounted price for purchasing in advance. I know what you’re thinking: “WHATTHEACTUALALSDKJWOIEUFSDL!?”
OF COURSE you are going to choose Compra Anticipada; it’s half the price. You’re probably also thinking, “In what world would someone choose a regular adult ticket when they could choose the same ticket for half as much?” And the answer is, in the world of the ADO bus system where logic is as fleeting as sands through an hourglass.
THE DIFFERENT ADO BUS TICKET OPTIONS
But what you don’t know at this point (because this is still your first attempt, not your third) is that this does all make sense; and it’s just that the choices are labeled very, very wrong. Allow me to translate ADO into English:
COMPRA ANTICIPADA ⇢ a discounted rate available only to Mexican residents. You know how they know you’re Mexican? Because these discounted tickets can only be paid for with a Mexican credit card. You know at what point you find this out? Right now because I’m telling you and at no other point in time. You’ll get through the entire process, enter your credit card number, and the only message you’ll get is that your credit card can’t be processed. So you’ll try another. And if you’re the kind of person with a third credit card, why are you even worrying about pinching pesos, damn.
So why do they call it Compra Anticipada? Because with a Mexican credit card is THE ONLY WAY TO PAY FOR YOUR BUS TICKETS IN ADVANCE. Starting over and choosing “Adulto” won’t make any difference because…
ADULTO ⇢ the regular, standard price for adults over the age of 12 who aren’t Mexican so they should just call it what it is–Gringo. To purchase these you must do so from the ADO mobile app, not the website. To purchase these, you must choose the “pay at terminal” option (where you will be allowed to use your non-Mexican credit card). From the mobile app. I repeat, you are not allowed to purchase your tickets in advance if you do not hold a Mexican credit card.
NIÑO ⇢ the price of a ticket for a child between the ages of 4 – 12. Kids 0-4 are free but they have to sit in your lap. I imagine the same rules apply in the above two circumstances, but don’t quote me on that as I’m not a crazy person who brings children on buses with me through Mexico.
INAPAM ⇢ This means you’re, literally, a card-carrying member of the National Institute of the Elderly. What do you think the entry requirements are? Shuffleboard prowess? Top-notch Bingo strategies? If “inability to effectively use a computer” is one, I’m a shoo-in! Bring on the discounts, whippersnappers!
CONCERNS YOU’LL HAVE DURING YOUR ADO BUS TRAVEL + MY ADVICE
If you thought the questions would end after you finally got your bus tickets in your hand, you are day of the dead wrong. As with a lot of aspects regarding international travel, the only way to get to the other side is most often through trial and error. And because everything I do is to help you (not because I’m just an idiot), I tried and erred so you don’t have to.
SHOULD YOU CHECK YOUR BAGS?
While waiting to board your bus you’ll see a large window with a line of people protruding from it. This is the counter where you check your bags, not where you buy tacos. Even though the signs all imply this service is optional, you’ll still panic. OMG SHOULD WE CHECK OUR BAGS? Everyone checked their bags! It says bags must be checked 45 minutes before our departure, but our bus leaves in 30 minutes! WHAT DO WE DO!?
This is to be expected. Remember how straightforward the ADO website was? That same pattern has flowed right out of cyberspace and into the real world of Mexico City bus terminals. And as someone who got robbed in Italy of her bags and the thousands of dollars worth of stuff inside, parting with my luggage is an absolute not-a-shot-in-hell-bucko.
- They’re going to make you anyway. (Seriously, I think the meaning of “optional” got lost in translation somewhere over Texas.) Anything larger than a backpack will need to go under the bus, and it doesn’t matter if your bus leaves in 45 minutes or 45 seconds.
- It’s secure. The luggage room is attended and located about five feet from where the buses pull up. Your tickets are checked, your bags are tagged to match, and the guy who checked your bags is also the guy who puts the bags on the bus. Yup, he pushed those suckers all of five feet. When you arrive at your destination, you can’t retrieve your bag without the matching tag stub. If it helps, you can hang back and board the bus last so you can see your bag get loaded onto the bus. (They already think you’re super weird at this point anyway. You’ll see…)
- It’s free. You may see signs that, when roughly translated, say something about how checking your bags is the most secure way to travel and that it will cost you $30 (30 pesos). Don’t be fooled by the Spanish you don’t really know in the first place. Checking your bags for your bus trip is totally free. Getting your bags shrink-wrapped in colorful cellophane the way they (and Kim Kardashian) do in Latin America will cost you $30.
- It’s one less thing to mess with. I’ve ridden trains and buses with my legs crossed on top of my full size suitcase and my backpack/coat/purse piled up from my lap to my chin because I was too petrified to part with my belongings on public transportation. Letting go of the things that slow you down both mentally and physically makes traveling the world so much more pleasant.
WILL YOU GET ON THE RIGHT BUS?
Yes. But what if you don’t speak Spanish or have even the slightest clue of what’s going on? Yes. But what if you’re at the wrong gate to begin with? Yes. And how do I know this? Because I tried getting on the wrong bus three whole times.
Boarding an ADO bus is not unlike boarding an airplane, if you haven’t gathered that already. You’ll check your bags, you’ll walk through a metal detector, and someone will personally go through your carry-on. They’ll check your ticket at two separate checkpoints and won’t let anyone pass who isn’t on that particular bus. Thank God! Particularly, Tezcatlipoca–the Aztec god of the nocturnal sky and embodiment of change through conflict!
You’re probably thinking I’m a complete imbecile. Like, how did I mess this up so many times? Well, the signage at the ADO gates is about as helpful as using a fire extinguisher to blow out your birthday candles. Though about 5 or 6 buses boarded from our gate during our time there, our particular bus was the only one listed on the screen. So naturally, when people started lining up in front of our gate, we joined them like the non-Spanish-speaking sheep that we are. Each instance was within a reasonable amount of time to board a bus, mind you. It was pretty hilarious by the fourth time the lady cop frisked me.
HOW EARLY CAN YOU BOARD YOUR BUS?
15 minutes before your departure and not a minute sooner. On the ticket itself it says to be sure to arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled departure time. So naturally we got there an hour and a half early. Forty-five minutes before our departure time people started lining up at our gate. I thought, “Oh, this is great! I can get a head start on my nap.” Nope. Same thing happened at 30 minutes. Uh-uh. Then again at 20. No ma’am. I resolved that I wouldn’t make my way toward the lady cop again until two minutes before my bus time–there’s no way that would be too early. But at 15 minutes prior I got the go-ahead nod from Mexican law enforcement.
WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE?
If I learned one thing during my time in Mexico, it’s that Mexicans are the nicest people and always willing to help. I asked for help from almost everyone in the ADO bus stations at one point or another. The metal detector guy, other people at the gate, the luggage handler, the bathroom attendant, the ticket-taker, even the SWAT guy behind the riot gear–all friendly, all helpful. If you’re lost or have a question about anything, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
SORTA RELATED THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO KEEP IN MIND
⇢ The ADO bus timetables are shown in 24-hour format. In America we call this “military time” whereas the rest of the world just calls it “time”.
⇢ The ADO bus ticket prices are shown in Mexican Pesos. Don’t let the dollar sign
fool you give you a heart attack.
⇢ If you go through the ticket buying process and, for one illogical reason or another, have to start over, you’ll notice the seat(s) you selected is/are no longer available. Don’t freak out–you didn’t buy anything (probably). The site holds the seat(s) you chose for 45 minutes before opening it/them back up again. So either choose a different seat or wait an hour if that was a seat you really wanted. At one point I think I held about half the seats on the bus.
⇢ At the TAPO in Mexico City, the restrooms out in the main part of the train station aren’t the nicest and you have to pay to use them. The restrooms in the ADO terminal are clean, spacious, and absolutely free.
⇢ But just a warning, there’s a urinal in the women’s room right when you enter. Don’t, upon first instinct, shield your eyes and run blindly back out into the terminal. You’ll just have to walk back in like some kind of lunatic.
⇢ If you have to catch an early bus, be sure to let your hotel know beforehand. While attempting to leave Oaxaca at about 5:00am, we found we were trapped in our hotel. Literally. There was a gate of iron bars locked tight across the entrance to the lobby and only pitch blackness on the other side. While I was off searching for a window to jump out of, I shit you not (I’m actually laughing so hard remembering that this was my actual plan), my husband pointed out the fact that we had a telephone in our room. By some miracle dialing zero got me an actual, albeit asleep, person. I tried my best to explain that I NEED TO GET OUT OH GOD only to get in return, “No entiendo…” uttered with about as much enthusiasm as Garfield the Cat on a Monday morning.
⇢ I recommend you bring the following on your epic bus journey:
- a travel pillow
- an eye mask, if traveling during the day
- ear plugs, regardless of when you travel — people chat, movies play, sleepers snore
- some snacks + drinks — Neither of my 6/7-hour bus rides made any stops.
- a book or something else to entertain yourself with
- or a deck of cards if there’s two of you
- a camera–There is so much cool stuff to see driving crossing Mexico! I saw a volcano erupt, yo!
- a healthy sense of wonder and excitement — Be the emoji with hearts for eyes you wish to see in the world.
⇢ If you have a question regarding ADO bus travel that I didn’t cover in this post, I suggest:
- checking the ADO Terms & Conditions (translation may be needed) where they outline a great deal
- hopping on to the ADO live chat which can be accessed through the link on the bottom right of their homepage (They use translators so you can type English to them.)
- asking it below in the comments section and I’ll see what I can do about answering it
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