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Backpacking Mexico by bus - 3 weeks in Mexico (2022)

Author Carina Klein
Carina
· 14 min read · 10 comments

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TL;DR

Backpack Mexico in 2022 with this three week itinerary for Mexico! From the best beaches in Oaxaca to the cutest colonial towns - Including everything you need to know about buses in Mexico.

If you’re like me and you like a jam-packed schedule but you’re also travelling on a budget, this backpacking Mexico itinerary is perfect for you. If you want to keep your backpacking Mexico budget small, travelling with night buses is a great option because you get the transfer and you save one night of accommodation.

Travelling by bus in Mexico

Buses are a convenient option to travel Mexico. But be warned: Distances are long and you oftentimes spend more than 10 hours on the bus travelling from one city to the next.

Mexican bus lines

ADO is by far the best choice when it comes to night buses. ADO and their sister companies OCC and AU have a well-developed network. Additionally, you can find all schedules online. The seats are extremely comfortable and every bus comes with a toilet.

If you opt for the premium buses (GL or Platino), the seats will recline very far and you have a footrest. In the back of the bus, you will find a separate men’s and women’s toilet. Every passenger gets a drink and headphones.

Which brings me to the one downside of ADO bus travel: If you don’t opt for the premium buses which have plugs for headphones, you will most likely be the victim of constant noisy Mexican movies.

What should I bring on an ADO bus?

Don’t forget to bring earplugs and a sleeping mask! And warm clothes because the AC means serious business!

Are ADO buses safe?

I never felt unsafe as a female solo traveller. You have to show your passport to enter the bus. A short video clip of every passenger is taken before the trip. The driver’s cabin is locked off from the main cabin so nobody can enter without effort.

The bus stations are mostly close to the centre, well lit and populated - even at night.

Concerning COVID: Every (Mexican) passenger wears their mask diligently. Sanitizer is readily available. In fact so readily that I once had to leave the bus for it to be sanitized midway.

Mexico bus tickets

Nowadays, you don’t have to go to the counter to buy your bus tickets. You can easily buy them online. If your foreign credit card is not accepted, you can also pay with PayPal.

Prices range from 100MXN (5$) for very short trips to 1000MXN (50$) for long overnight journeys. It’s not a bargain but it’s better for the environment than flying. Plus it’s definitely the cheaper option if you travel with luggage.

Pro tip: The earlier you book, the lower the price!

Picture of ADO night bus in Mexico
ADO night bus in Mexico

Backpacking Mexico budget

I did aim for a 30$ budget. Full disclosure: I didn’t make it. I pretty much ended up spending 40$ per day. Here’s what I paid:

  • accommodation: 10$ (hostel dorms)
  • food: 10$ (including eating out once per day)
  • transfers and activities: 20$

As I travelled quite fast, I did some kind of activity or had some kind of transfer almost every day. That seriously raised my daily budget but on the other hand, I got to see and do a lot of things in a very short time.

Mexico itinerary 3 weeks

Our first trip to Mexico lasted only two weeks and that was not nearly enough. So I decided to stay longer this time. Even in three weeks, you can only scratch the surface of this vast and diverse country.

Backpacking Mexico City

The vibrant capital of Mexico has a lot to offer. Find everything from food to culture!

Day 1-4 Mexico City

As you can see in our in-depth Mexico City guide, the Mexican capital really blew me away. Allow for at least four days to explore the historic centre, Roma Norte and La Condesa, Coyoacan and Xochimilco, Teotihuacan as well as the many museum and food options!

Picture of Torre Latinoamericana, Mexico City
Torre Latinoamericana, Mexico City

Backpacking Oaxaca

Don’t skip Oaxaca City on your way to Oaxaca’s beautiful beaches!

Day 5-6 Oaxaca City

Oaxaca is the undisputed food capital of Mexico and rightly so. The “city of seven moles” delivered on its promise of tasty food. Spend one day wandering the colourful streets - Barrio de Jalatlaco is one of the best areas to see street art if you ask us.

In Oaxaca, you don’t need fancy restaurants - just hit the markets.

  • Mercado 20 de Noviembre is great for meat
  • Mercado de La Merced is great for Tamales
  • Mercado Hidalgo is great for Quesadillas

Best day trips from Oaxaca

If you only do one day trip, we recommend Monte Alban. This Zapotec site is an easy bus ride away from the centre (we have indicated on the map where the bus leaves). Up on a hill, it amazes with 360° views. Additionally, it is significantly less crowded than other archaeological sites in Mexico.

Another popular day trip is Hierve el Agua. It’s best to reach it with a tour, especially if you only have a limited amount of time. The “petrified” waterfalls get mixed reviews. You can theoretically swim in them but the water is often uninviting and cold.

How to get from Mexico City to Oaxaca

ADO, ADO GL, ADO Platino, and AU buses run all throughout the day and night from various bus stations in Mexico City. It’s super easy.

Picture of Oaxaca City
Oaxaca City

Day 7-9 Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido used to be an off-the-beaten-path hippie town. These times are over. Nowadays it’s a hub for party hungry tourists and digital nomads. And the nightlife is exactly the charm of Puerto Escondido: Don’t miss a great night out in La Punta or Zicatela. The distances in Puerto Escondido are quite long so it’s often better to take a colectivo during the day and a taxi at night.

Of course, you can hit the beach during the day but with its strong waves and currents, it’s not really swimmable.

Best things to do in Puerto Escondido

Famous activities in the area are the Baby Turtle Release Centre at Playa Bacocho, bioluminescence tours at Laguna Manialtepec, as well as whale and dolphin watching tours.

How to get from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido

As of 2022, one ADO GL and one OCC night bus leave from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido. The price difference is minimal so you might as well treat yourself for the over 10-hour long trip.

Picture of Puerto Escondido nightlife
Puerto Escondido nightlife

Day 9-10 Mazunte

Mazunte has preserved a lot of Puerto Escondido’s former hippie charm. The sea is swimmable here but the nightlife is not as ample.

Best things to do in Mazunte

Besides hitting the beach, the only “real” activity in town is hiking to Punta Cometa for sunset. Additionally, you can try many things like yoga, meditation, or ecstatic dance. My highlight of the trip was the Temazcal ritual, especially as I didn’t make it to mushroom capital San Jose Del Pacifico...

How to get from Puerto Escondido to Mazunte

As this is not a night bus trip you will arrive on the same day you left. First, you have to take the local bus to the spot indicated on the map. From there, you can take a colectivo to Mazunte. Buses in the direction of Pochutla should leave every hour during the day.

Picture of Mazunte
Mazunte

Day 10-11 Huatulco

If you only come for the highlight of Huatulco, its seven bays, one full day is enough.

Best things to do in Huatulco

The standard boat tours are all pretty much the same: You get a snorkel stop at Chachacual and a lunch stop at Maguey. You can just book it in town and it shouldn’t cost you more than 15$ (2022). If you want to treat yourself, you can charter a private boat to see the other bays but in case you’re not travelling with a group that is probably not within your budget if you’re reading this article.

How to get from Mazunte to Huatulco

First, take the colectivo to Pochutla. It’s easier to backtrack to San Antonio because you will spend less time on a bumpy road. From here, regular minibuses leave to Huatulco/La Crucecita (start point indicated on map).

Picture of Chachacual Bay
Chachacual Bay

Backpacking Chiapas

Chiapas is Mexico’s cheapest state. Find cute colonial towns, amazing waterfalls, and Mayan ruins.

Day 12-13 San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas is a cute colonial town with a serious hippie vibe. You can spend a while getting lost in the colourful streets with a lot of street art. Three pedestrian streets lead from the main square to the Guadalupe church with its amazing view, the market, and the Arco del Carmen. Don’t miss the market, where the people from the surrounding villages come to buy and sell their daily goods. It’s super interesting to see them in their traditional attire - in contrast to the main square they don’t wear it for the tourists here. Go and get lost in the market, which spans over several blocks and even features a unique section like the candle isle. Don’t miss the Plaza de la Paz in the evening when it turns into an open-air market.

Best day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas

Of the many day trips you can do from the El Chiflon waterfall to the Lagunas de Montebello, the Sumidero Canyon is my favourite. You can not only see the steep cliffs but also admire wildlife on a boat tour through the canyon. The boat stops at Chiapa de Corzo where you should leave the touristy dock behind and enjoy your lunch at the local market.

How to get from Huatulco to San Cristobal de las Casas

Currently, three night-buses are going from Huatulco to San Cristobal de las Casas. One of them is an ADO GL.

Picture of Plaza de la Paz, San Cristobal de las Casas
Plaza de la Paz, San Cristobal de las Casas

Day 14 Palenque

Of course, you shouldn’t miss the ruins. You don’t have to join a tour as you can easily reach the ruins by colectivo (from the spot indicated on the map). The ruins in the middle of the jungle are well worth a visit!

Best day trips from Palenque

Of the many waterfalls in the Palenque area, Misol Ha and Agua Azul are the most noteworthy. Misol Ha is unique because you can walk behind the waterfall. Make sure to wear waterproof shoes. Follow the path to the end. You’ll find a guy in a cave entrance renting torches for 15MXN. Enter the cave and after one-minute walk, you’ll find an amazing waterfall in the cave.

Agua Azul is stunningly beautiful with its turquoise blue water that cascades down over a long stretch. Don’t expect it to be the most swimmable waterfall though. Actual pools are few and far between as the majority is not safe. Additionally, don’t expect it to be an untouched paradise as it’s packed with very aggressive vendors (in fact the most aggressive I’ve encountered in the whole country). It’s still totally worth a visit though!

How to get from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque

If you want to be safe, take the night bus. It will not take the direct route as it’s supposedly frequented by bandits and instead make a huge detour all the way to Tabasco.

If you’re looking for an adventure (and you want to save time and money), take a transfer. The transfers stop at two waterfalls on the way - Misol Ha and Agua Azul - so you don’t have to backtrack from Palenque.

Picture of Palenque ruins
Palenque ruins

Backpacking Yucatan

Yucatan is one of our favourite areas in Mexico. It shares all the beauty with Quintana Roo but without the crowds.

Day 15-16 Merida

Merida is the beautiful capital of Yucatan. With its many colourful buildings and yummy street food it’s a perfect little stop along the way (or much more if you have more time). Don’t forget to try a marquesita, a traditional waffle with cheese and nutella - which is much more delicious than it sounds.

How to get from Palenque to Merida

As you cannot fly in and out of Palenque, you have to take a bus. Why not take it to Yucatan’s capital Merida? Currently, two ADO night buses make the journey.

Picture of Merida at night
Merida at night

Day 16-17 Valladolid / Chichen Itza

Valladolid with its food court, monastery, and Cenote Zaci is one of our favourite towns in Mexico.

Best day trips from Valladolid

Valladolid is the perfect vantage point for your trip to Chichen Itza. Although this wonder of the world is naturally very touristy, it is worth the hype in our opinion. It’s so much more than just the instagram famous big pyramid and it’s easy to spend a couple of hours.

How to get from Merida to Valladolid and Chichen Itza

Buses from Merida to Valladolid run more than once per hour during the day. From Valladolid it’s super easy to grab a colectivo to Chichen Itza.

Picture of Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

Backpacking Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo with Cancun and Playa del Carmen is probably the most famous region in Mexico. There are still places that are a little more off-the-beaten-path than others and we show you how to find them.

Day 17-19 Holbox

Holbox is the perfect place to relax and wind down.

Best things to do in Holbox

There are many nice bars and cafes. If you’re feeling more active, you can check out the street art. Additionally, it’s a nice place to kayak - there’s even a bioluminescent lagoon.

It’s the perfect place to do yoga in the morning, hit the beach during the day, and go out at night.

A word of warning: If you’re looking for the instagram famous hammocks - they have been dismantled for conservation reasons.

How to get from Valladolid to Holbox

In contrast to what you read online, there are currently no overnight buses from Valladolid to Isla Holbox. If you take the first bus in the morning, you will arrive in Chiquila at noon. From here, you can catch the ferry, which runs every 30 minutes during the day. The two companies are virtually the same - trust us as we caught one on the way to the island and the other on the way back. There are no cars on Holbox and the only taxis come in the shape of golf carts. They are pretty expensive so be prepared to pay or walk.

Picture of Holbox beach
Holbox beach

Day 19-21 Tulum

Have you even been to Mexico if you didn’t go to instagramable Tulum? Probably. Of course, you can stay at the beach and find all the instagram hotspots. But there’s also a different side to Tulum. In the centre, you can still find affordable Hostels and authentic street food. The Tulum ruins are a sight to see.

Best day trips from Tulum

There are many cenotes in the area. If you’re on a budget and brave you can visit them by bicycle. You find many of them, like Gran Cenote, along the main highway. Go and explore them to your heart’s content.

How to get from Holbox to Tulum

There are three direct buses from Chiquila to Tulum.

Picture of Tulum beach
Tulum beach
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10 Comments

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kmf

04.03.2022, 23:45

Mexico is my happy place. But I’ve never gone backpacking. This is a great resource for that adventure.

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

08.03.2022, 17:21

I just read that you've been 27 times. That's amazing!

Paul (Paul Passing Through)

01.03.2022, 22:08

There is some great detail here for those looking to travel to some more off-the-beaten path places in Mexico. I'd love to visit Oaxaca someday to see the city and, of course, to try out the food!

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

08.03.2022, 17:15

Thank you. Oaxaca is amazing - the beautiful colorful houses as well as the food!

Stefan

01.03.2022, 12:36

Very comprehensive post with lots of great advice. The food in Oaxaca, those beaches left, right, and centre, the ruins in Palenque, the views from the Torre Latinoamericana. If anything, Mexico just moved higher up my list.

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

01.03.2022, 14:18

Mexico is unbelievably diverse! The food is a UNESCO heritage, you get gorgeous beaches, stunning nature as well as ancient culture.

Peggy

26.02.2022, 17:59

I would LOVE to do this! I would not have felt good about taking a bus before but this gives me all the inspiration! And so much better than driving. I'm linking our post about the Yucatan driving fiasco!

Peggy wants to share this link with you

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

01.03.2022, 14:16

I loved to read about your Yucatan adventure! Although self driving can be stress full ( and expensive) it gives you a lot more flexibility. I lack the courage to drive abroad...

kasia

23.02.2022, 23:29

We've been to Huatulco and it's such a gorgeous place. I love your itinerary and am saving it for later. I would love to explore more of Mexico!

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

24.02.2022, 08:09

Huatulco was such a pleasant surprise for me! I came for the bays but I could have stayed much longer...

Vanessa Shields

22.02.2022, 21:11

What an awesome itinerary! I never thought of traveling through Mexico by bus but it looks really nice. I’ve been to Mexico several times but have not had the chance to visit Mexico City, Oaxaca or Valladolid. I really want to explore these areas one day!

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

23.02.2022, 05:05

Mexico City, Oaxaca and Valladolid are well worth a visit. Especially if you're interested in the Mexican cuisine which is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity after all...

Wanderingkellers

22.02.2022, 20:47

Great post. For being so close to Mexico I have slent so little time exploring.

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

23.02.2022, 05:13

It's never too later ;)

Mitch - Very Tasty World

22.02.2022, 15:30

Have so enjoyed reading about your adventures in Mexico and are yearning to visit. Great practical advice about the buses (I think we'd be kinda keen to watch the Mexican movies!!) Oaxaca particularly appeals because of its foodie reputation - and the markets sound terrific.

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

22.02.2022, 10:32

Some movies were good, some were incredibly weird. And I watched Star Wars Rogue One twice...

Chalk and cheese travels

22.02.2022, 14:33

Never been to Mexico, have always wanted to. Now I really want to go, reading this really wants to make me pack a bag and head off somewhere. I will save this itinerary for layer reference

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

22.02.2022, 10:27

Honestly, it feels so good to be back on the road again. And longer than ever this time.

Lannie

22.02.2022, 13:48

Wowowoeow what an epic road trip! I’ve been to Mexico City and Oaxaca separately but I couldn’t get enough. I absolutely must do this road trip sometime!!

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

22.02.2022, 10:46

It was an epic trip for sure!