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Riding the buses » Mexico, Travel itinerary » How I travelled to colonial towns south of Mexico City by bus

How I travelled to colonial towns south of Mexico City by bus

Travel in Mexico is something I do most years and I’m not talking about lounging on one of its many beaches. I go for the history, the arts, the food, and the people. Mexico oozes culture: #6 in the whole world for the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

South of Mexico City

Last winter I spent four weeks ‘riding the buses’ to outstanding colonial centres south of Mexico City. My route was Mexico City, Puebla, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Cuernavaca, Taxco and back to Mexico City for my flight home. I did it on my own and with almost zero knowledge of Spanish, although it is helpful to know these four words: Asiento: seat; Nombre: name; Destino: destination; Hora: time.

Mexico has an excellent bus system. Each ticket counter would have destinations clearly posted and I would choose my seat by pointing to an image on a computer screen. Luggage was always stowed securely in the undercarriage of the bus and I would need to show the  luggage tag in order to retrieve the luggage at the end of the trip. Security precautions varied, with Mexico City’s being the most stringent.

At each station there was an authorized taxi stand where I would get an official taxi to my hotel for a fixed fare (Taxi Autorizado). Have the name, address and telephone # of your hotel written on a paper and consider getting directions to a smaller property in Spanish (B&Bs usually email this information to you when you make the booking).

Arrival Mexico City airport

Bus from Terminal 2 Mexico City airport (Riding the buses)

Bus from Terminal 2, Mexico City airport

My flight got into Mexico City well after midnight and since I was going by bus to Puebla the next morning I stayed at a hotel close to the airport. The hotel (Doubletree Hilton Airport Hotel) provided free shuttle service from and back to the airport and I must say that I was relieved to see the driver waiting for me at the prearranged gate.

The following day the shuttle took me to the rather modest Estrella Roya bus terminal located at the ground (arrivals) level of the airport’s Terminal 2. Security procedure: baggage checked, picture taken, name verified with official ID, pat down.

If your flight arrives at Terminal 1 and you are going to get the bus right away, then go upstairs to the bus ticket counter (over a catwalk at the end of the food court) and back downstairs to the bus departure area.

The ticket to Puebla cost MXN $260 (about US$18) one-way and took about 2 hours, passing the Popocatepetl volcano along the way.


Puebla is a very prosperous place and one of the most important Spanish colonial cities in the country. Few foreign tourists seem to know about it, though. At its centre is a marvelous zócalo and when I visited on Valentine’s Day it was filled with young couples making out. So it is a romantic city too.

Puebla (Riding the buses)

Puebla (Riding the buses)

There are more than 70 fine churches here and lovely buildings decorated with colourful tiles. Probably it is best known for the battle against the French that was fought and won here on May 5th 1862–so significant an achievement that the 5th of May/Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday.

Spend a few days feasting on Puebla’s world-famous cuisine (mole poblano, chalupas, chiles en nogada), admiring the hardwearing Talavera tiles and ceramics, visiting the world’s largest pyramid at nearby Cholula (really).

Puebla to Veracruz

Puebla’s main bus station is expansive and offers many services. After purchasing my ADO ticket to Veracruz (MXN $408), I found my gate in the departure area (passengers only), went through security, and waited until a bus with a “Veracruz” sign on it pulled up. The trip took about 3½ hours.


I went to Veracruz—a lively port with a strong Cuban influence—primarily because I had never been to the Gulf coast before. Veracruz is warm and wet but without a real beach, although boys were jumping off the pier into the rather polluted water far below just like kids do along the Malecón in Havana.

Veracruz (Riding the buses)

Veracruz (Riding the buses)

I missed Carnaval (carnival) by a couple of days and based on the pre-festival parades I suspect it is a lively and slightly scandalous affair. There were lots of people about, families gathered at outdoor markets and enjoying the fine weather and food at restaurants along the pier. Police rode around on motorcycles, lights flashing, each with an automatic weapon strung over their back. Cars, even taxis, gave way to pedestrians. The streets themselves were spotless, swept and washed down each morning.

My hotel, the Gran Hotel Diligencias, was right downtown on Independence Avenue and across from the zócalo where musicians and dancing couples entertained onlookers after the sun came down. Next door was the El Gran Café del Portal where they make a show of coffee service by dramatically pouring steaming milk from a kettle held high above the table.

I joined the Spanish-speaking tourists on a hop-on hop-off bus; the seats were just simple wooden benches soldered onto a platform.

Veracruz is a gritty rather than pretty place, welcoming and fun.

Veracruz to Oaxaca

The Veracruz bus station was a very busy place and I was glad that I had purchased my ongoing ticket in advance so that I didn’t have to stand in the long lineup the morning of my travel. Since the 1st class bus to Oaxaca only went at night I opted for a lower grade but it also travelled on the toll highway and only made a couple of stops. It was an 8-hour trip and I just about froze because of the air-conditioning. Loud movies were played non-stop. In other words, bring socks, a sweater and earphones in your daypack.


The city of Oaxaca (pronounced “wa-HAH-ka”) is located 550 km southeast of Mexico City in a valley surrounded by the Sierra Madre de Sur. It is Mexico at its best!

Oaxaca (Riding the buses)

Oaxaca (Riding the buses)

Oaxaca was once the centre of the Mixtec and Zapotec civilizations and its indigenous heritage is very much in evidence. Two archaeological sites (Monte Albán and Mitla) and indigenous markets (such as the Sunday one at Tlacolula) are nearby.

The Spanish arrived in 1533 and they left behind ornate buildings, the finest baroque church in the Western world and incredibly charming walkways and plazas, many of them restored. The best way to explore the colonial centre is on foot, starting with the lively zócalo.

Oaxaca to Cuernavaca

To get to Cuernavaca, I took a luxury bus from Oaxaca to the Central de Autobuses Oriente in Mexico City (6 hours) and from there a taxi to the southern bus terminal (Central de Autobuses del Sur) where I caught a bus south to Cuernavaca (1 hour).

A protest had closed down the highway outside Oaxaca so the bus took a back route for the first while and the poverty (and perhaps the reason for the protest) was quite revealing.

You can also fly from Oaxaca to Mexico City.


Wealthy people (many foreigners included) have been coming to Cuernavaca for ages, supposedly because of its perfect spring-like weather, making it one of Mexico’s best-known colonial cities. With their buckets of money they built these magnificent and massive properties behind very high walls that crowded out the locals. I stayed in one of those places, which is now a hotel (Hotel Casa Colonial) and felt a little guilty for doing it.

Brady's home and garden, Cuenavaca (Riding the buses)

One of those rich foreigners was Robert Brady and his house and garden, across the street from where I was staying, is now a museum. He was an awesome collector of art and if you’ve ever wondered what to do with all the stuff you keep bringing home from trips then this place will stir your imagination.

There are many Spanish schools in Cuernavaca.

Cuernavaca to Taxco

This was my fourth visit to Taxco so I decided to do it as a daytrip out of Cuernavaca. (Alternatively, you can do Cuernavaca as a daytrip from Mexico City or Taxco.) It was all easy, with the local bus station in Cuernavaca being just a block from my hotel.The fare was MXN $80 each way and the trip took less than 2 hours.

The bus station in Taxco is a open, friendly sort of place, although the security guard was not thrilled when I took a photo of it. It’s a very steep walk from the station up to the charming zócalo so seriously consider hopping in one of the little white VW taxis.


Taxco (Riding the buses)

Taxco (Riding the buses)

You’ll know when you’re approaching Taxco (tass-ko) because ahead of you you’ll see white stucco buildings with red-tiled roofs perched on a hill. It is a fanciful place. The streets are steep and narrow and lined with shops selling works of silver. I spent most of the day finding out more about the town’s silver history. I also took a taxi up to the Cristo Monumental for a view of the whole area.

Taxco back to Cuernavaca and then to Mexico City

The lure of Mexico City (Riding the buses)

The lure of Mexico City (Riding the buses)

I stayed in Mexico City for a few days, taking a hotel right downtown (Holiday Inn Mexico Zocalo) by the zócalo so that I could walk to all the sites in the historic district. Mexico City is a favourite of mine. It’s a cultural treasure, a Spanish city built on top of the old Aztec capital, ‘the place where the gods were created’. There are more museums here than any city in the world, and many are simply outstanding. There are Diego’s murals covering government buildings, Frieda’s blue house, and on and on. The downtown area has been beautified and is stunning!

I will return to Mexico next week, this time travelling by bus to colonial towns north of Mexico City, with 8 nights in the capital itself. Can’t wait.

You may also be interested in:
How I travelled around the Yucatan by bus

By Sylvia Fanjoy

Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2015

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4 Responses to "How I travelled to colonial towns south of Mexico City by bus"

  1. Kate says:

    I am inspired by your travel blog and love its title “Riding the Buses. ” Thank you for posting your itinerary. I am making plans to travel solo from the airport in Mexico City to Puebla by bus and then on to Oaxaca with day trips from those two anchor locations. Thanks for the link to Do you have other information about how to travel small using public transit and inexpensive lodging? Again, it gives me confidence to read your blog.

    1. Sylvia Fanjoy says:

      Oh Kate, your post so inspired me for I have been in a bit of a funk and just getting out of it. You are travelling to two of my favourite colonial towns in Mexico. Just the best. I would choose to stay within walking distance of the central plaza, which should be easier in Oaxaca. You probably know that many of the less expensive properties featured on Trip Advisor do not have direct links from the Trip Advisor site; so you need to enter the name of the property in the search engine on your own. But the reward can be significant because they are often the best properties, intimate, friendly and offered at a very reasonable rate. And don’t hesitate to ask the properties for assistance, perhaps recommending an English speaking guide for a day, which for me has almost always been money well spent.

      I love Puebla, particularly for its attitude, which is a bit superior because it shines. The new Mexico.

      Oaxaca — you will love it. It will embrace you.

      I am considering a return to San Cristobal de las Casas in February, which is south of where you are travelling–close to the Guatemalan border. Not sure if I will take a plane to the closest airport or ride the buses and go through Oaxaca one again. I am favouring the latter.

      Have a wonderful trip and let us all know how it works out.

      Kind regards,

      – Sylvia

  2. AHamer says:

    Hi there,
    Great post – you went to a few destinations I hadn’t considered! May I ask for the names of the specific bus companies you used? Am planning a trip in a month, and transport is my biggest concern at this point.

    1. Sylvia Fanjoy says:

      Hi Alyssa. I have found the “Mexperience” website to be very helpful in sorting out bus travel in Mexico:
      You can take a direct bus from the Mexico City airport to Puebla but otherwise you need to go to the appropriate bus station in Mexico City (for Oaxaca it is Terminal de Autobuses del Oriente or TAPO, Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza 200, Colonia 10 de Mayo). The bus line to Oaxaca, for example, is ADO. Here is the website:

      These colonial towns are really exceptional. Thanks for writing.

      Kind regards,

      – Sylvia Fanjoy

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