Most travel around Mexico is predominately by bus. From deluxe business class to second class you can find transportation to virtually any destination in Mexico, down to the smallest villages.
Between major cities the premier mode of transportation is Business class, or Ejecutivo. With luxurious accommodations rivaling first class air travel transportation is available on these vehicles for a fraction of the cost of even coach class airfare.
Ejecutivo busses are all air conditioned with wide seats that recline to at least 45 degrees, some even lay flat. Entertainment is offered on business class busses through television screens every few rows playing movies with either English or Spanish subtitles. Most companies have attendants on board and offer food and beverages. All Ejecutivo class busses have toilet facilities onboard.
Ejecutivo service is the equivalent of express between major cities and on long routes. These busses travel with limited stops from terminal to terminal. However, this is obviously a slower way to travel than by air. With travel time from Mexico City to the resorts of the Yucatan taking 24 hours, as an example, you should dress comfortably and you’ll probably want to bring a good book.
First class buss service, or Primero, offers most of the same services as Ejecutivo. The main difference is the seat configurations. While Ejecutivo busses are usually limited to 32 seats, in rows of 2+1, Primero service has many more seats giving less room for passengers and the seats don’t recline as far. If you have ever ridden on Greyhound in the United States, this is the level of accommodation you will find on Primero service.
For shorter trips, those of only a few hours, a first class bus may be a perfect option.
For local trips, with many stops at nearby towns and villages, service is offered as Second class, or Segundo. Some busses in this class offer air conditioning but with frequent stops it will take far longer to reach your destination. In many parts of Mexico a Segundo bus may be a very old school bus imported from the US and put into commercial use. Unless this is the only service available, or your budget is extremely tight, Segundo should probably be avoided. On the other hand, Segundo does offer an excellent opportunity to mingle with local residents and practice your Spanish.
All major cities, and most smaller ones, have one or more bus terminals, called centrales camioneras. You can purchase tickets and you will catch your bus at this station. There are several different bus lines and they may have separate terminals. If you have the opportunity you may wish to check out the different lines and stations, not all companies will be the same as others in different classes. What one company might consider first class, another might consider second as far as accommodations are concerned.
Another consideration is that few of the employees of the bus companies will speak English. Be prepared to ask for what you want in Spanish. Most phrasebooks will cover the basics needed for bus transportation.
Amazingly to European and American considerations private companies provide all of these services. Mexico has put together an exceptional system of mass transit available to riders of any means with little to no government involvement. For those of us used to enormous subsidies going to mediocre services this is truly a wonder.
If you have the time consider traveling Mexico by bus. It can be a relaxing addition to your vacation and afford the opportunity to see parts of the country you can only imagine by air. And the chance to meet and get to know members of the local population is unmatched.