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Getting around in Mexico

Within Mexico, air travel is quite expensive, but is a highly recommended and convenient alternative to arduous bus journeys. The privatization and takeover of an airline company has smoothened inland air traffic. Smaller air carriers have taken over many of the domestic routes earlier run by the larger airlines. These new airlines are highly unpredictable and follow a flighty timetable, pun intended. They are also being replaced constantly by new air services and are not quite dependable. There is a Departure Tax of approximately US$6.2 for domestic air travel. The tax has to be paid in the country itself, and cannot be paid in advance.

Once inside Mexico, buses are a convenient and inexpensive way to travel. Bus routes are comprehensive and connect even remote villages. The highways are streamlined though the inland roads are definitely not the best. There are some luxury-coaches, which are comfortable, air-conditioned and reasonably rapid. The difference in fares between first and second class is just about 10% and it is well worth going the whole mile. The Executive Class or “Servicio Ejecutivo” promises the best service.

Mexico’s major cities and towns are well connected. Mexico City is at a special vantage point with four major bus terminals located in each part of the city. Inter-city buses leave for different destinations from different terminals so you need to know where to catch your bus.

Villages and small towns are notorious for their local buses which can be like a “chicken and pigs express.” Traveling in one of these rickety old contraptions can be a stomach churning experience, especially given the road conditions.

It is a good idea to drive through Mexico if you want to soak in every drop of rural and native culture. Roads and highways are reasonably well maintained today, and road travel is remarkably advanced as compare to some decades ago. The private sector has taken charge of highway development - most Mexican cities are now connected by four-lane freeways. The new, streamlined super-ways are safe, convenient and well maintained, though they are expensive to use. Toll taxes are collected at many a point and may be as high as US$8-10.

Mexico City is linked to Guadalajara and to Acapulco, the three most popular destinations, by two mega-highways. The first- the Mexico City – Guadalajara Highway, links the two largest cities by a four and a half hour drive. The toll tax one –way is about $200 new pesos. The colonial cities of Morella and Guanajuato are en route. The second highway connects Mexico City and Acapulco in a three and a half hour drive. Toll taxes mount to approximately $238 new pesos (US$40).

In Mexico City, you need to be aware of the car timetable, since there are restrictions on the use of cars as an anti-pollution method. Check for the exact days in the week that you can drive your car, depending on the last digit of the license plate.

Car rental services are limited and highly priced, but most major rental agencies operate in the country. You need a valid driving license and must be above 21 years of age. Car rental agencies normally ask you to sign two charge slips, one for renting the car and the other to cover damages. It is compulsory to take auto insurance in Mexico; rental agencies deduct as much as 5% of the vehicle’s value as part of insurance. Agencies offer package rates for reserving vehicles for a longer period, but these rates are also high – from US$60-90 per day.

Taxis are moderately priced and it is best to negotiate the fare before you embark on your journey. The government regulates the point-to-point fares and you can also check up on how much to pay with your hotel desk. The taxi rates in inland cities are cheaper than at beach resorts.

Both private cabs and jitneys (multiple passenger cabs making 3-4 stops) are available from the airport. Though both are economical, the jitneys are naturally cheaper than the taxis. Fares are prominently displayed at the airport terminal. Remember that you may be paying more for your return trip to the airport.

Gas stations in Mexico sell two grades of gas. The blue pumps sell “Nova” or leaded gas (81 octane) while the green pumps sell “Magna Sin” or unleaded fuel. There are no self-service stations and it is usual to tip the attendant one or two pesos.

The Green Angels (Los Angeles Verdes) is a government operated highway patrol, which operates on designated routes. It is a free service except for spare parts and gas. The mechanics speak English. The pick-up tricks can be contacted 24-hours a day on a hotline by calling (91) 800-90392.

Some tips:

- Adhere to traffic rules scrupulously

- Since traffic and roads are unfamiliar, avoid driving at night.

- Speed breakers and pothole abound; watch out for them.

- Do slow down near railway crossings

- Lock your cars

- Be careful where you park; drivers of illegally parked vehicles are severely dealt with

- Drinking and driving is absolutely out

- Remember that the unit of distance is kilometers

There are car and passenger ferries to connect the Mexican mainland with Baja California and with the Caribbean islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. The ferry services are privately operated. There are three classes; Salon, Tourist and Cabin class. Reservations can be made up to two months in advance.

Train travel within Mexico can either be a highly unsafe experience or just about comfortable. Trains are cheaper and slower than buses. The service is definitely below international standards. The government is privatizing Mexican railways so passenger services have been curtailed. But the Copper Canyon Railway between Chihuahua and Los Mochis is functional and follows a vividly picturesque route.

Mexico City is well connected by railway. The station, Estacion Central de Buenavista is two kilometers from Central Park. Its best to make advance reservations by calling (5) 547-8655.

First Class (Primera Especial) rail travel is definitely more comfortable than Second Class (Segunda Clase). You will have the luxury of clean bathrooms, air-conditioned coaches, reclining seats and free packed meals. Some trains have dining cars, bars and sleeping cars for First Class. Overnight trains have special sleeping chambers for which you pay extra. Ticket offices are erratic in their service but normally open two hours before the train’s departure.

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