Mexico City and Guadalajara are two of the most important cities in Mexico and the corridor that connects them is very well-traveled. Considering they are more than 500 km apart, it is not exactly quick to get from one city to the other. Whether you prefer to fly, ride the bus or drive, there are many options leaving every hour of the day.
Mexico City is one of the world’s great cities and I have been visiting yearly since 2005. I have taken all sorts of transportation, some formal and some informal, with varying levels of efficiency. No matter how you plan on getting there, I have made all the mistakes and want to show you how to avoid falling into the same traps. The traffic is no joke and you need to plan for it.
The capital of Mexico is a very large and complex place. There are numerous long-distance bus terminals, a consistently over-booked airport (a nightmare political impasse to build the next one), and a couple of different driving routes. When planning to travel to Mexico City one must pay attention to the final destination within the city. The route that you choose to take will be influenced by the highways available as you try to minimize high traffic areas. The periférico toll highway (sky bridge) is much faster than taking the surface streets.
The traffic in Mexico City is pretty crazy. There are certain times that are best avoided if at all possible. Being on the road at rush hour is a pain but national holidays and three day weekends are particularly excruciating. The Sunday after Holy Week (Semana Santa) is notorious for causing major delays. Avoid peak traffic times by traveling at night. My favorite bus leaves Guadalajara at midnight arriving at 6 am.
Both Guadalajara and Mexico City have a number of long distance bus terminals. Travelers need to be aware of the arrival terminal and the geographic relationship to their final destination. Choosing the wrong bus terminal or the wrong approach to the city could set you back several hours due to crosstown traffic.
The new periférico sky bridge highway system has improved the accessibility to the interstate highway system tremendously. However, there is a toll system that does not accept cash. Drivers must buy a fast pass transponder and make payment at an OXXO (Mexico’s ubiquitous convenience store) or with a credit card in advance. In many cases, planning ahead will save you time and money.
One thing to keep in mind is the shorthand use of abbreviations for Mexico City. MEX is the airport code. CDMX stands for Ciudad de México and has replaced Distrito Federal (DF). CDMX has a landmass of 573 square miles, a population of close to 9 M, and is the 32nd federal entity (similar to a state). In 2016 CDMX officially replaced DF but colloquially they are still used interchangeably. MEX and CDMX are not the same thing and should not be used interchangeably.
Flying From Guadalajara (The Miguel Hidalgo International Airport – GDL) to Mexico City (The Benito Juarez International Airport – MEX)
The first thing that comes to mind while contemplating how to get from Guadalajara to Mexico City is flying on a commercial airliner. There are many flights offered 24 hours a day. The flight itself takes just over an hour compared to six hours on the bus. However, you need to remember that both airports are on the outskirts of the city and one must allocate at least an hour to get to the airport plus more time to document luggage and get through security.
It is important to plan ahead. Guadalajara to Mexico City is a busy route, especially for business travelers. Flights early Monday morning and late Friday night tend to be expensive. Semana Santa and Christmas are prohibitively expensive, and every three day weekend will impact the price of tickets.
If you have some flexibility in your travel plans there are some amazing deals to be found.
The airport in Mexico City is stretched well beyond its capacity and is synonymous with delays. Not only is the airport enormous but incredibly high volume. Most of the seats at the gates will be taken and it may be a challenge to find a charging station. If you have a connection in Mexico City be prepared to read a map and walk. The airport is massive.
The airport in Guadalajara has grown into a decent hub of international air travel. There aren’t a lot of flights to other continents but you can get to most major cities in the US and just about every corner of Mexico. Just like the airport in Mexico City, Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are crowded and the security line can get a little backed up but overall it is efficient.
One thing that drives me nuts about the Guadalajara airport is the mosquito problem. All year long but particularly during the rainy season of June to September the mosquitos are problematic. Those little blood suckers are present throughout the entire airport but a real problem in the baggage claim area. Sometimes I feel like I am dancing by myself trying to kill mosquitos that are attacking from behind. Considering the dengue problem in Jalisco you would think they would get that situation under control.
Taking the bus from Guadalajara to Mexico City
This has been my preferred method for traveling between Guadalajara and Mexico City for many years. There is a midnight bus that runs from Plaza del Sol in Guadalajara to the Monumento de la Revolución in Mexico City. The timing and the location of the bus stop couldn’t be better for me.
There is almost no traffic because the bus is traveling at night and hits the Mexico City Metropolitan Area around 5 a.m.
Plaza del Sol is in the city of Zapopan but right next to where it meets the city of Guadalajara and way closer than the Central Nueva on the far side of Tlaquepaque. When you get to Mexico City the bus drops off in front of the Casa Blanca Hotel in the Monumento de la Revolución traffic circle. The hotel is centrally located pretty much on Av. Paseo de la Reforma, just blocks from Av. Insurgentes and a couple minutes from the Alameda Central park and museum district.
Bus Stations in Guadalajara
If those schedules and locations don’t work for you there are plenty of options. In Guadalajara you can get a bus to Mexico City at the small bus stations but they will only have a couple of options. The Central Nueva bus station in Tlaquepaque (almost Tonalá) has hundreds of departures a day from a dozen different bus companies. You can get a luxury bus or you can get an economical bus. I have always gotten a decent rest on the Primera Plus and ETN.
The line 3 of the Guadalajara Metro System was built to connect the Central Nueva bus station to Guadalajara, Zapopan, and even Tesistan. However, the train isn’t operational. I am betting that line 3 will be operational before the beginning of 2021 but you never know.
Bus Stations in Mexico City
Mexico City is huge. There are bus stations all over the place and most of them connect to the metro system which can get you anywhere in the city. The two best bus stations to connect Guadalajara to Mexico City are the westside station or the northside station. Those two stations are the closest to the highway that leads to Guadalajara. If you go to the eastside or southside stations you must cross Mexico City on a large bus which takes time.
One of the most popular stations is the Observatorio Bus Station (Central Camionera Poniente). The Observatorio Station is in the Alvaro Obregon neighborhood close to Av. Constituyentes and the highway that leads to Guadalajara. It is just a short way from the museums in Chapultepec Park and the hip neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma.
Driving From Guadalajara to Mexico city
When traveling by myself I prefer to take the bus. When traveling with the family, I prefer to drive from Guadalajara to Mexico City. I like having the car when we are there because the child seat is safely anchored in. Originally it was my father-in-law that would drive. It is only in the last few years that I have taken over driving responsibilities as I learned the route and the city a little better.
There are two routes that you can take to approach Mexico City. Leaving Guadalajara eastbound on the 15D toll highway you drive 400 kilometers to Atlacomulco in Mexico State. This is where you have to decide if you are going to enter the city from the north or the south.
The northern route enters Mexico City on the 57D toll highway through the pueblo mágico of Tepotzotlán and Ciudad Satélite. I highly recommend stopping to see the baroque cathedral and viceroy museum in Tepotzotlán. Enrique Krauze, one of Mexico’s most distinguished historians, describes the San Francisco Javier Temple as one of the most important baroque era churches in Mexico.
The southern route goes down by Toluca and enters the city through the pine forest mountain pass of La Marquesa. Driving the southern route is kind of a trip because most people don’t associate Mexico with a pine forest at 9,000 feet above sea level. The area is spectacularly beautiful and there are plenty of country-style restaurants lining the road.
I prefer to take the southern route because of the lamb barbacoa restaurants on the outskirts of Toluca. Mexico State style barbacoa is lamb cooked in agave leaves in an underground oven. We always stop at Barbacoa El Rosario because it is the perfect place to break up the trip and the food is excellent. Barbacoa El Rosario is five hours from Guadalajara and one hour from Mexico City. There are clean bathrooms and easy parking, and you don’t have to get off the freeway. It is the perfect rest stop on a six-hour drive.
The Mexico City Toll Highway Fast Pass (Tag Televía)
As you are entering Mexico City from the south the fastest way around is using the second story periférico highway. However, the periférico is a toll highway that does not accept cash. You must purchase a fast pass transponder at an OXXO or a pharmacy and load money onto the account. This is a different fast pass than is used on the toll freeway from Guadalajara to Mexico State.
If you do not purchase the fast pass transponder you can always take Av. Constituyentes but make sure to tell Google Maps to avoid the toll road which will be her first choice because it is the fastest route. Without the fast pass, you will be driving around in circles and then backtracking to Av. Constituyentes when you figure out your error. It can set you back hours. Trust me.
Writing this article makes me want to visit Mexico City. I love that place. I keep a running list of restaurants, coffee shops and museums that I want to visit. There is never enough time to see everything because the place is so big.
The best piece of advice that I can give you is to think about Mexico City like a collection of towns. The Centro Historico, Coyoacan, La Condesa, Santa Fe, and San Angel could all be their own destination. If you are only going to spend a weekend try not to spend all your time traveling. Stay in one spot and enjoy that neighborhood.
In Mexico City, you need to accept that you will never have time to see it all so take it easy and enjoy what is close by.