ADO Buses 101: How To Explore Mexico by Bus
There’s something magical about boarding a bus and traversing a foreign country by land rather than air. So, you’re in for a treat if you’re thinking about taking ADO buses during your Mexico trip.
ADO is a respected and reputable bus company that operates in the Yucatan Peninsula, a portion of the east coast, and southern Mexico. The buses are clean, well maintained, and have plenty of room for luggage.
I’ve spent over a year traveling through Mexico, taking ADO buses wherever the option was available.
Whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran of using public bus transportation, I’ll let you in on the must-know details for a smooth ADO trip.
Accessibility Note: Unfortunately, ADO buses aren’t wheelchair accessible. If you’re a wheelchair user who can climb three large steps with assistance, I recommend booking your ticket early so you can secure a front-row seat.
ADO has been operating in Mexico since 1939.
They launched their first route out of Mexico City, traveling the 10.5-hour route to Veracruz.
ADO soon expanded to Puebla, Merida, and the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. Nowadays, they also serve southeastern destinations like Oaxaca and Chiapas.
Nailing ADO’s Pronunciation
ADO is an acronym for “Autobuses de Oriente” (Buses of the east).
If you’re digging up your long-lost high school Spanish, don’t do what I did and pronounce ADO as if it were a single word (Ah-dough).
Instead, Mexicans pronounce it as letters of the alphabet:
- A (Ah)
- D (Day)
- O (Oh)
I hope this saves you from the strange stares I received until the three-syllable pronunciation became second nature to me.
Where Do ADO Buses Operate?
ADO buses operate in the Yucatan peninsula, east coast, and southern Mexico.
Some examples of these regions include:
- Mexico City
Sadly, ADO isn’t a one-size-fits-all bus company for people doing an in-depth trip around Mexico. So, if you’re traveling to destinations in the north, including the Baja California peninsula, you’ll need to rely on other bus companies (of which there are plenty).
Distance to Popular ADO Destinations
Below is an example of a few of the many popular routes that ADO runs.
Keep in mind that the times can vary, particularly where you catch the bus. For example, catching a bus from the Cancun airport results in a faster arrival time to southern destinations like Tulum than taking the ADO Tulum bus from downtown Cancun.
|Cancun Airport - Playa del Carmen||1 hour, 10 minutes|
|Cancun Airport - Tulum||2.5 hours|
|Playa del Carmen - Tulum||1 hour, 10 minutes|
|Tulum - Bacalar||2 hours, 50 minutes|
|Chetumal - Mahahaul||2 hours, 25 minutes|
|Merida - Tulum||3 hours, 50 minutes|
|Mexico CIty - Oaxaca||6.5 hours|
|Mexico City - Puebla||2 hours|
ADO at Airports
ADO is primarily a long-distance bus company, meaning you won’t find these massive buses cruising around streets in small towns (you’ll need to take the colectivo vans for that).
That said, a notable exception is the ADO buses operating at airports, which can often take you to the nearest downtown bus station.
ADO Airport Services
Below is a chart indicating the airports that ADO serves and the destinations you can visit from them.
|Cancun||Downtown Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Merida|
|Merida||Downtown Merida, Valladolid, Campeche, Cancun airport, Cancun downtown|
|Chetumal||Chetumal downtown, Bacalar, Limones, Mahahaul|
|Veracruz||Acayucan, Coatzacoalcos, Cordoba, Jose Cardel, Jaltipan de Morelos, La Tinaja, Minatitlan, Orizaba, Xalapa Enriquez|
|Villahermosa||Palenque, Tuxtla Gutierrez, practically any major town in Tabasco and Veracruz|
The Cancun airport is a popular arrival and departure point, so I’ll elaborate on it.
It’s possible to hop on an ADO bus at the Cancun International Airport and take the approximately 20-minute journey to downtown Cancun.
However, Cancun’s beachfront Hotel Zone is about a 15-minute drive from the downtown ADO bus terminal. So, I recommend taking an Uber or airport taxi from the Cancun airport to the Hotel Zone. It’ll save time, and the extra money spent will be minimal.
Otherwise, taking an ADO bus from the Cancun airport to the downtown terminal is a great option if you need to switch buses to go elsewhere in Mexico.
The ADO buses serve all terminals at the Cancun airport. So, you’ll simply need to exit the terminal and follow the signs to arrive at the nearest ADO parking lot.
Aside from downtown Cancun, the ADO buses at the Cancun airport also serve destinations such as Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Regardless of the airport you arrive at, I recommend purchasing your ADO bus ticket in person; you won’t get refunded for a pre-purchased ticket if your flight is delayed.
All airports have an ADO ticket counter in the exit area where you can snag a spot on the next departing bus.
Safety on ADO Buses
ADO is a very safe way to travel through Mexico.
For starters, they operate in areas that the U.S. Department of State (DOS) largely sees as safe. In other words, you won’t be traversing through “do not travel” states such as Sinaloa, Colima, and Michoacan.
Nevertheless, it’s wise to check the DOS’ Mexico travel advisory for up-to-date details on the safety status of Mexico’s states before you travel.
As a solo female traveler in Mexico, it’s never bothered me to ride the ADO buses at night. But unless I have pre-arranged transportation set up at my arrival bus station, I avoid it—getting into an unknown taxi is far riskier than an evening ADO bus ride, in my opinion.
Other aspects that make ADO buses safe include:
- People must have a ticket to board
- Buses undergo regular maintenance checks
- They take toll roads versus side streets, where possible
- Drivers can’t go over the speed limit, or else a beeping noise will sound on the bus
A Note on Police Checks
It’s common to encounter police checks on ADO bus routes (I’ve experienced too many to count).
In some cases, the police will wave the bus on, while other times, they do a partial or full check.
There’s no need to worry about such checks as long as you aren’t carrying drugs and have your passport.
More often than not, the police will ask your driver to open the luggage compartment so that their dogs can give the bags a sniff. In rarer cases, they may come onboard and ask to see everyone’s ID.
Tips for Staying Safe
Mexicans are warm, friendly people who often dress nicer for bus trips than Americans for grocery shopping. I’ve never worried about my physical safety traveling on ADO buses (and I almost always travel as a solo female).
But being mindful of your personal belongings is important, given that the occasional ill-intentioned person takes the bus.
So, below are some tips that you can take or leave, per your risk tolerance:
- Put a lock on luggage you store under the bus
- Don’t put personal belongings in the overhead bin
- Don’t put bags with valuables on the ground by your feet
- Don’t put any valuables in luggage you store under the bus
- Put your passport, credit cards, and some cash in a money belt
Locks can prevent people from stealing items from your bag beneath the bus. But perhaps more importantly, it prevents people from using your bag to transfer illegal items, landing you in hot water if you encounter a police check.
Personally, I keep my valuables in a day backpack and hold the bag on my lap for the duration of my ADO trip.
ADO buses have a significantly lower theft rate than the crowded, short-distance public transportation that picks anyone up off the street in Mexico. But I still like to play it safe.
ADO Bus Classes
ADO offers several different bus classes. The class of bus you’ll have access to depends on your destination, budget, and preferred schedule.
I usually opt for the cheapest ADO bus that works with my schedule. I honestly can’t say anything bad about the dozens of ADO buses I’ve taken, regardless of their class. They’ve all been clean, had friendly drivers, and ran (mostly) on time.
Nevertheless, below is a run-down of what you can expect from ADO’s bus classes, from least to most expensive.
Primera Clase means “first class” in English. If you’ve never been aboard another ADO brand, you’ll be plenty impressed by the amenities it offers. They include:
- Group TV
- Air conditioning
- One bathroom
- Personal USB charging ports
ADO Conecta is a version of ADO’s Primera Clase. ADO uses these buses for shorter-distance destinations when they have few travelers.
Admittedly, ADO Conectas aren’t as comfy as the other buses listed here, given that they’re a large sprinter van. You also won’t have a restroom on board.
GL (Grand Lujo)
The Grand Lujo (Great Luxury) ADO buses are mid-range buses that feel like an upscale bus experience. These buses have fewer seats than Primera Clase and offer more leg room.
Some of GL’s amenities include:
- Personal TV
- Free drink
- USB ports
- Two bathrooms
Platino is ADO’s top-of-the-line brand. It only has 27 seats onboard compared to Primera Clase’s 44 seats and GL’s 40 seats. They also have rows with two seats on one side and one on the other.
Some of Platino’s amenities include:
- Free drink
- Reclinable seats
- USB charging port
- Two bathrooms
- Goodie bag with snacks
- Personal TV with movie and music selection
ADO’s Partner Buses
ADO works with several other bus companies, allowing you to arrive at more destinations with a single ticket. Some of their partners include:
- Estrella de Oro
- OCC (Ómnibus Cristóbal Colón)
- AU (Autobuses Unidos)
How To Purchase ADO Bus Tickets
You can purchase ADO bus tickets online or in person. I’ve done a mixture of both, depending on if I want a particular ADO bus schedule or to leave my time in a destination open-ended.
I’ve never had availability issues with ADO buses except for the buses to Bacalar (definitely book that trip in advance) and one time when traveling from Tulum to Playa del Carmen. Even then, I was able to purchase a ticket in person for the same day; it was just later than I wanted.
Buying an ADO Ticket Online
ADO’s online ticket system is relatively easy to navigate, although you might struggle a little if you don’t read Spanish. They don’t offer an English translation option on their website, so you’ll need to click “English” when Google asks you in what language you want to view the website.
Unfortunately, it often doesn’t fully translate the website. So, below is some Spanish vocab you might encounter:
- Ida: One-way
- Ida y vuelta: Round-trip
- Desde donde viajas: Where are you traveling from
- Hacia donde viajas: Where are you traveling to
- Fecha: Date
- Ver detalle: See details
- Quedan “X” asientos: “X” seats remaining
- Viaje local: Bus trip begins in that destination
- Viaje de paso: Bus began in a different destination
- Ver mapa: See map
- IVA: Tax
- Correo electrónico: Email address
Note that ADO shows all of its prices in pesos, and it uses military time to display the hours of departure and arrival. So, that 01:00 time you see is one o’clock in the morning, not afternoon.
Once you select your preferred time, ADO’s online system will allow you to choose your seat. Then, you’ll need to fill out each passenger’s name and the email address where you want your tickets to be sent.
Make sure to write your name as seen on your passport.
The next step will show you the total amount, which includes an added “asistencia total,” a type of insurance. I always uncheck this box to get the price back to the original amount; it’s up to you whether you want to add it.
You’ll then need to input your payment details. ADO accepts the following payment methods:
- American Express
Once you pay, you should immediately receive an email with a PDF attachment containing your ticket(s).
There’s no need to print this PDF. Instead, have the document ready on your phone when boarding, and they’ll scan it from there.
Buying an ADO Ticket in Person
Whether you don’t want to jump through the Spanish hoop of booking your ADO ticket online or you’re winging your plans, buying a bus ticket in person is almost always a great choice.
As mentioned earlier, from my experience, the buses to Bacalar fill up in advance due to limited departures.
Aside from that, you might have more trouble snagging the next available bus if you’re traveling around holidays or peak weekend times.
But for the most part, booking an ADO ticket in person is simple, and you can do it for the next available departure or any future date.
Most ADO bus stations accept credit cards, although the machines don’t always work. So, I always like to have some pesos on me.
The ticket agent will give you a printed ticket, and you’ll be good to go.
Viaje de Paso vs. Viaje Local Tickets
Embarking on ADO travel means your bus will either be viaje de paso (de paso for short) or viaje local.
Viaje local buses almost always depart on time because they start at the terminal where you’ll be.
In contrast, viaje de paso ADO buses will be coming from a different bus station, either within the same city or from a different destination. So, it’s normal for these buses to arrive a little late, depending on traffic.
Bus Stops en Route
If you’re booking your trip online, you can click on “ver mapa” when browsing through the bus schedules to see if your bus will make any stops on the way to your destination.
These stops are usually brief (5 to 10 minutes) and always occur at a bus station. But they can sometimes last longer, depending on the route.
Personally, I don’t mind taking buses with stops for three reasons:
- I can use a real bathroom.
- It’s an opportunity to grab some snacks.
- Sightseeing in a new destination.
Admittedly, the sightseeing can be hit-or-miss. But ADO bus stations are often located in the center of towns or cities, so it’s fun to wind through the streets around historical centers that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
Tips for Picking the Perfect Seat
I’m a window seat kind of gal. But I know plenty of people who gravitate towards aisle seats, especially those with long legs.
Regardless of whether you want a window or aisle seat, below are some items to help you choose the best spot on the bus:
- What time of day and direction will you be traveling? Try to choose the side of the bus where the sun won’t be rising or setting in your eyes, if applicable.
- If you purchase your ticket in person, ask to see the screen to select your seat. Ventana means window in Spanish, and pasillo means aisle.
- Stay away from seats near the bathroom. People sometimes form lines outside of it, and although ADO does a good job with cleanliness, stinky smells happen.
Finally, if you’re a solo traveler taking a GL bus, book your ticket in advance to have a higher chance of snagging a single-row seat.
Watching Out for Hidden Fees
Luckily, taking ADO buses in Mexico doesn’t require draining the average person’s bank account, nor do you have to worry about as many potential fees and add-ons as booking a flight.
For example, ADO doesn’t charge luggage fees.
But the one fee you do need to be mindful of is that asistencia total insurance fee.
This fee costs a few dollars at most, so it’s not the end of the world. But you can purchase one or more tacos with the amount it costs, and the headache of filing a claim if you need to use the insurance probably isn’t worth the money you’d lose on your bus ticket.
The area to uncheck this asistencia total box is pretty obvious on ADO’s online booking website.
But if you don’t want this insurance and you’re purchasing your ticket in person, be sure to have the ticket agent remove the fee. From my experience, they automatically include it otherwise.
Navigating ADO Bus Terminals
ADO’s bus terminals range in size, amenities, and modernness, depending on the city.
But you can expect all of them to have a ticket counter, and I’ve never come across an ADO bus station that doesn’t have at least one snack stand. Many also have ATMs.
There’s usually a restroom (almost always for a small fee) and a decent amount of seats while waiting for your bus.
Depending on how updated the terminal is, you also might encounter TV screens displaying upcoming departures.
While the buses at most ADO terminals park in designated parking spots, some may have more make-shift parking areas. Take, for instance, this parking situation at the small one-room bus terminal in Bacalar:
You can expect several taxis to be waiting outside of the bus terminals. But I never recommend using these cabs; calling a taxi is always safest.
The Low-down on Luggage
There isn’t a weight, size, or quantity restriction for carrying luggage on the ADO buses.
GL and Platino customers are usually able to check their bags about 30 minutes in advance at the bus station. If you’re riding a Primera Clase bus, you’ll check your bag when you get on the bus.
In addition to unlimited checked bags, ADO also offers unlimited carry-ons.
There are decently sized overhead bins on all buses, and I’ve never seen an issue with there not being enough space.
Since I travel with a large and well-packed (read: bursting at the seams) day backpack, I’ve been encouraged by the luggage staff to store my backpack under the bus. But since it has my valuables, I insist on bringing it on board and holding it on my lap.
I’ve gotten doubtful looks, but they’ve always allowed it.
The bottom line is that ADO travel with lots of luggage is easy and fee-free. If you have a lot of luggage, giving the luggage staff a small tip is a nice gesture.
I’ve had situations where the ADO staff tag the bags with a number corresponding to the ticket they give me and other times when they don’t. Of the times they’ve tagged my bags, I’ve found they usually don’t verify them in my arrival destination.
So, expect a free-for-all experience picking up the luggage you store under the bus (except if you travel on a GL or Platino bus).
And, again, make sure not to keep your valuables in bags you put under the bus.
Must-knows for Boarding Your Bus
You’ll need a physical or electronic ticket (via the PDF document they emailed with an online purchase) to board your bus.
If you have an electronic ticket, set your phone brightness to high. Otherwise, the scanner will have difficulty reading the QR code, and you’ll hold up the line.
Finding Your Seat
All ADO tickets come with assigned seating. In almost all cases, people respect it.
However, sometimes assigned seating goes out the window. I’ve found this to be the case on ADO Primera Clase buses that end up becoming Conecta buses; since the Conecta buses are smaller, the seat assignments don’t align.
I recommend going to your assigned seat; 95% of the time, that’s the correct thing to do. But if people start sitting anywhere, keep your cool and follow suit.
As a final note on seating, it’s okay to move seats once the bus departs as long as you’re not on a bus that makes stops. Otherwise, you could get kicked out of your self-assigned seat when your bus stops at the next terminal.
Communicating With the Staff
You should arrive at the ADO bus station expecting the staff not to speak English.
But the reality is I’ve seen many ticket attendants and bus drivers know enough English to instruct tourists where to sit and how many minutes the bus will be at any given stop, if applicable.
If you don’t speak Spanish, I recommend downloading the Google Translate app just in case.
FAQs About ADO Buses
Below are some common questions people have about taking the ADO buses. If I’ve missed any, leave a message in the comments section, and I’ll be happy to help.
Is it safe to take the ADO bus at night?
In my opinion, it’s safe to take the ADO bus at night. The way I look at it, if a route is too dangerous with cartel activity, I doubt ADO would risk its staff, customers, and vehicles.
Road safety is another factor to consider when deciding whether to take an ADO bus at night. If you’re traveling in the Yucatan, you don’t have to worry about mountains and steep drop-offs. But many eastern and southern Mexico routes have these.
So, there might be less chance of getting into an accident during the day on mountainous routes (though I don’t have statistics to back this up).
How far in advance should I book my ADO ticket?
Booking your ticket two to three days in advance should be plenty to secure a seat on most ADO buses, including routes like Bacalar, which tend to sell out early. But it’s often possible to purchase tickets on the spot for the next departure.
Can you take food and drinks on ADO buses?
Food and drinks are allowed on ADO buses. GL and Platino buses provide drinks, and Platino offers a complimentary snack bag upon boarding.
Many people on routes with stops get off the bus and make quick runs to load up on more snacks.
How early should I arrive at the ADO bus station?
Primera Clase ADO buses often board about five minutes in advance. If you book a GL or Platino bus, you can typically start checking your luggage 30 minutes in advance, and boarding usually starts about 15 minutes before departure.
Are You Ready To Explore Mexico by Bus?
I’m a huge advocate of taking buses around Mexico. I’ve met some great people on my ADO buses and have seen scenery that would’ve been impossible to enjoy by plane.
If you have questions about traveling with ADO, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.