(Updated on 17 June 2016 to add info about the big buses)
In past posts I’ve mentioned the combis – the white vans that are part of the bus system in this area. Here is a little more about the combi experience. Combis (comb-bees) are so named because they are a combination of car and bus. Then there are also “the big buses” as John and I have dubbed them, along with blue buses, green buses, red buses and orange buses.
Here is Elinore’s guide to combi and bus riding in the Banderas Bay area:
Save this link – it was my lifeline when I was trying to make sense of all this http://visit-vallarta.com/essentials/transportation/bus-routes-and-bus-fares/
The bus colors aren’t just random, they mean something (added 17 June 2016)- the colors indicate the routes.
From Sayulita into PV (Puerto Vallarta) is the “ATM” bus line. These are white with the ATM logo on the sides. Some are old rattletraps with plastic molded seats. Some are less old rattletraps with upholstered seats that have seen their share of use. There are newer buses running the route too – last week we rode one with air-conditioning! and a radio! That was a treat.
Once in PV there are blue, green and orange buses. The whole bus isn’t blue, but the hood and roof are.
A blue buses run the major routes in PV – the airport, hotels, WalMart, major shopping, Romantic Zone, malecon, etc.
The green city buses run into the neighborhoods, I think. The only one we ever rode was by mistake.
Orange buses run from PV along the south shore to Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan.
Red buses are inter-city, from PV to towns an hour or more away such as Mascota. They have an actual terminal and an actual posted schedule. Haven’t ridden one yet, but am interested in visiting Mascota just for a change of scenery…..someday :-).
There are also green and white Compostela buses. They don’t serve La Cruz, but I have taken one from the Mega in Bucerias back into Bucerias.
Know where the pickup locations are – There are some actual bus stops (paradas), marked by the blue bus sign where you stand until the next bus comes. Some even have benches to sit on while you wait – that’s a treat, doubly so if they are covered or shaded. Then there are all the stops in between, like wherever you happen to be standing. People tell us to look for a group of people who appear to be waiting for a bus and stand with them. Corners near stop lights are a likely location. Or, if you see a combi for your route coming – stand with your hand up and usually he’ll stop for you. Combis are more likely to stop in random places than the big buses.
Know your route – Because wherever you stand and wait for the combi, there will likely be several that are not the right route that come past first. The route is displayed on the front – newer vehicles have actual professional signs, older ones have shoe polish/white tape letters listing the route and sometimes the major stops. Mega Mart and WalMart are major stops here in the Banderas Bay area. You can always ask the driver too – “Pasa por WalMart? (Pah-sa pore WalMart)” means “Do you go by the WalMart?” Watch him very carefully for the answer, which may be just a grunt or a head nod.
When you are getting close to your stop, you say “Baja, por pavor (Bah-hz pore fah-vore)” loudly enough for the driver to hear. Which can be a challenge with open windows blowing air, traffic noise and cell phone conversations.
On the big bus, if you can manage it, move to the rear door to exit. There should be button to push that signals the driver to stop and let you off. Push it ahead of your stop to give him time to make lane changes or to slow down, and be prepared for the doors to open before any of that happens – hang on! While you can get off through the front door, it’s a courtesy to exit from the back so the driver can tend to the new passengers boarding in the front. If you are paying for multiple people, you should be the last in your group to board.
Know where to get off for your stop – and in some cases, the conditions you’ll be facing when you get there. One major stop that we use is next to an overpass, so the frontage road dips down. There was a water leak someplace and the combi stop was temporarily next to a very large puddle.
There are areas along the road where there is a frontage road of sorts. If your stop is on the other side that means you may be faced with crossing the single lane frontage road, then two lanes of major traffic in one direction, the median, two lanes in the other direction, and finally the one lane frontage road (two lanes at the WalMart!) on the other side. We call this game “highway frog”.
Speaking of WalMart, between the second major two-lane and the surprisingly wide two-lane frontage road is a hill. Normally you would go down the steps – except there aren’t any. So after highway frog, you get to play billy-goat and traverse the rain gutter down the slope. Update 17 June 2016 – no longer true. Soon after this post they opened a cross walk – you are let off near a set of steps, climb up to highway level and use the crosswalk across the highway. Much more civilized!
Know the fare and have the money ready to pay – Payment on big buses is when you get on the bus; on combis you pay when you exit. It amazes me that no matter what bill or coin the passenger has in hand, the driver is ready with the correct change (well usually – see next paragraph). In both cases, the drivers hate waiting while you fish through pockets or wallets for the fare – so be ready!
The fare is supposed to be 9 pesos (a little less than sixty cents) whether you ride a block or several miles. I have given the driver a 20 peso note and gotten 10 pesos back; in my money confusion given them 8 pesos without being chased down. I have seen people get off the combi and walk away without paying – maybe they paid when they got on, or were students. Or good-looking young women. For all I know there may be local fare and gringo fare.
Update 17 June 2016 – the ATM bus and combi fares vary based on where you boarded and where you disembark. Also, we have seen combis parked at some of the schools, and those kids tend not to pay, so we wonder if the drivers have a contract with the schools.
You may have noticed that all the points start with “know”. Unless you speak and understand spoken Spanish really, really well and can talk to the driver and/or fellow passengers for pointers, I suggest that before trying out the bus system in Mexico you speak with fellow ex-pats for local knowledge. Even better, tag along with someone who knows how it works and make careful observations.
Pointers from Elinore (Added 17 June 2016 – all prices listed are pesos)
Neither combis nor ATM buses are allowed to pick up new passengers after they cross the state line from Nayarit (home of La Cruz) into Jalisco (home of PV). But they can pick up passengers in Nayarit and drop them off in PV so both the combis and the ATM buses are options for making the trip.There are designated areas where ATM buses can pick up passengers in Jalisco so no combi on the return trip. Catch an ATM bus at Walmart or the airport (more below).
Blue bus fares are easy – $7.50 no matter how far you ride. Pay when you board.
ATM bus fares vary and are paid when you board – tell the driver where you are going and how many passengers you are paying for, for example “Dos a Bucerias, por favor” if your husband is treating you to lunch in the next town, or if you are alone just tell him your destination “Mega, por favor”.
Combi fares also vary and are paid when you exit. The most I’ve ever paid is 18 pesos, from La Cruz all the way into PV.
ATM bus and combi fares are not the same, often the combi is a peso or two higher especially for longer trips.
When disembarking a combi the usual process is:
- Gather up your things and plan your exit. Critical if you are in the back corner. Activity alerts those around you that they too need to be ready to put down their phones and move out of your way soon.
- You yell “Baja, por favor”. This should signal those around you that they need to start their shift. The driver will pull over at the next place that he can.
- After exiting, approach the passenger window and tell him where you boarded “De La Cruz” or “Dos de La Cruz”. Often exiting is accompanied by me muttering “Lo siento, muchas cosas” (I”m sorry, many things) as I whack my fellow passengers with my bags.
- Pay the man, collect your change, and thank him (“Gracias, amigo”).
Drivers can make change but don’t expect to break a 500 peso bill. Even a 200 peso note is pushing it. When riding alone, I try to have at most a 20 peso bill, 50 in a pinch. Anything larger gets you the stink eye. Best is a bunch of coins.
There are no transfers. Once you get off a bus, you will have to pay a new fare for the next bus.
There are no terminals, other than the red bus. At least, none that I’ve seen. So don’t expect to take a combi or ATM bus to its last stop then have a plethora of blue or orange buses to pick from.
The link at the start has great information including the corners in PV that are the “terminals” where you pick up the orange buses, or the bus to the botanical gardens. Extremely handy is a city map or smart phone app so you can tell when you are close enough disembark your bus and walk to the next point.
This is important! When leaving PV to head back to the north (Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, La Cruz) you can pick up the ATM bus in front of the Walmart that is across from the cruise ship terminal. So you find a blue bus with “Walmart” and “Sam’s Club” and various other stops and board it. Then the tricky part – as you ride along, some of the blue buses stop at the corner just before Sam’s/Walmart, in front of the casino. Others bypass this corner and stop at the first of three bus stops in front of Sam’s/Walmart. If your bus stops at the corner – it’s going to turn right and take you away from Walmart so get off the bus and cross the street. If it bypasses the corner get off in front of Sam’s/Walmart.
You can also take a blue bus all the way to the airport if you want (look for “Aeropuerto” on the route). I like the Walmart option because then I can run in and pee before the hour-long ride home. It also has a covered bench area which is nice after a long day in PV.
This is also important! There are three bus areas in front of Walmart. The first one is where the blue buses stop. You may be getting off here. The middle one is where the ATM and other buses pick up passengers. Whether you get off at the corner or the first stop, make your way to the middle stop and keep your eyes out for your next bus. Several routes use this stop, so be careful about boarding. I’ve never used the third bus stop.