Bus Travel Tips Oaxaca....Oaxaca city to the beach.
The main mode of intercity transportation in the State of Oaxaca is not exactly a bus, but a Sprinter van with too many seats in it. The locals call them ‘suburbans’. They hold about 16 passengers and the words like ‘luxury’ that are painted on the outside do NOT accurately describe the conditions inside. But, on most roads in Oaxaca the trip in a bigger bus is just torture. The roads are extremely narrow, steep and curvy and they have to drive at a donkey’s pace. You see some full-size buses laboring along but they are all charter buses full of people that wish they weren’t in there for a LOT longer than you will in a van.
The route most frequently traveled by tourists runs from Oaxaca city, up and over the mountains, and down to the beaches. There are dozens and dozens of departures daily carrying locals and gringos alike. Between the 3 or 4 companies that operate them there are departures on this route in both directions every couple of minutes all day long. End to end this route is about 250km (155 miles) but takes a little over 6 hours. 40km/hour average? This should give you a clue as to how sickeningly curvy this road is.
This brings us to our first travel tip. Don’t sit all the way in the back. Even cast iron guts are thoroughly tested in the back seats. Inevitably, someone barfs.
The next tip? Don’t sit all the way in the front, either. The drivers on this route go round trip every single day, 51 weeks/year. For at least 12 hours/day, 7 days/week these guys are behind the wheel. They are tired, in a hurry to get their route done and often drunk or jacked up on speed because their life sucks. They pass on curves, take serious chances and always have the hammer down. The dozens of log trucks that haul logs out of the mountains to sawmills in the valley provide formidable resistance when met head on. Look for a middle seat.
The curves I mentioned earlier are mostly dangling off the side of the mountain. The road sits atop precipices that range from hundreds to thousands of feet in height. Yes, these buses launch fairly frequently. There are never any survivors to describe it and investigation is just not a popular activity in Mexico. But, having seen the decrepit state of the tires on many of these vehicles I suspect that blown tires are a leading cause of these launches...right up there with sleeping driver, drunk driver and surprise! A landslide took half the road overnight. I always give the van a walk-around before boarding. That’s our last travel tip for riding the bus. If the tires are bald and have metal sticking out, maybe wait a few minutes for the next one.
The good news? Most of them make it and the ride is dirt cheap. Personally I’d rather pay a little more for a ticket so that it could have new tires and brakes and stuff but, that’s probably not how the extra money would be spent anyway and money is tight in Oaxaca. The locals certainly appreciate that this trip only costs about $8 one way, almost an average day’s pay.
I wish I could recommend one bus company over the other but they’re all essentially the same. All have their own little depots in Oaxaca City Center and most buses terminate at Pochutla, the main hub and commercial center for that part of the coast. From there local taxis, transportes and collectivos will take you to all the various beaches. There will be blog posts about all of those very special methods individually.
A couple of the bus companies have service all the way to some of the beaches a couple of times a day. Lineas Unidas has service all the way up the coast highway to Puerto Escondido on the North end of and also service to Huatulco in the South. Atlantida has service once or twice a day to the most popular beaches in between; Zipolite, San Augustinillo and Mazunte.
None of them have a bathroom in the van but in all of them you can just holler. Even if you don’t speak Spanish the driver will know that you need to get out and rid your body of something, somehow. If you’re pounding beers he might get annoyed at the frequency unless you share. But, stop he will and pee you will. And you can pee absolutely anywhere in Oaxaca. One of the freedoms I love the most.
All the freedom in Oaxaca, which is really just a simple lack of government intervention in our lives, is, however, also what makes it possible for tires to be bald and drivers to be drunk. And, while all of this may sound unacceptable to the average American, I’ll take it. Oaxaca is a free and wild place meant for grownups…like America was for a short time near the beginning, or so I hear.
If you’re now scared to get on the bus and you rent a car (also a blog post coming), pay attention and drive like there are drunks on the road. If you are gonna jump on the bus and you don’t like the looks of the bus or the driver? Don’t get in it. Take the next one. It’s your choice. There are no officials doing inspections and there damn sure isn’t anybody to sue when that sonofabitch takes a very brief flight.