Many of my friends in the travel business are fixated on buses. Long buses. Short buses. Articulating buses that drive up and down the Alcan Highway. I never really "got" it -- until we landed in Guadalajara, Mexico, in December.
Alaska Airlines has a comprehensive list of destinations in Mexico -- and we used our companion pass and some miles to take the family to the old colonial city of Guanajuato. Founded in 1554 by the Spanish -- and governed by the Jesuits -- the city is in the middle of an extraordinary patch of silver mines. But there's no airport.
Upon landing in Guadalajara, we took a 30-minute taxi ride to the brand new bus station "Central de Autobuses de Guadalajara Central Nueva". On arrival, we checked in at ETN, one of the luxurious inter-city bus lines that traverse the Mexican countryside.
Like no bus you've seen
The bus station itself features seven or eight separate terminals -- each company has its own set of counters. They are clean, open spaces with cafes and business centers. The check-in counters are staffed with helpful staff -- few of which speak any English.
We purchased our tickets online for about $25 per person between Guadalajara and Guanajuato (a four-hour ride). You get a 10 percent discount for purchasing online. But don't forget to print out your tickets, which are contained in an attachment in your confirmation email. Since the entire website is in Spanish, I missed that part … and we almost missed our bus as a result. Thankfully, one of the ETN supervisors spoke English and had me email the PDF attachment to his office printer there at the station. Whew.
This is like no bus you've ever seen -- unless you tour with a rock band in one of their tricked-out coaches. As you get aboard, an attendant hands you a light snack (roll with ham and cheese), plus the drink of your choice (Coke, Sprite, water).
All seats are assigned. The ETN buses are three-across. The seats are plush and recline to about 65 degrees. Not quite flat -- but they are quite comfortable and there's plenty of room between the seats. All the windows have the shades pulled so you can watch the movies on the overhead TVs or listen to music on the headphones they provide.
Free wireless Internet
One big plus is the free wireless Internet provided on the coaches. Also, there are men's and women's bathrooms at the rear of the coach.
Once the bus pulls out of the station, the driver closes a door between the cockpit and the cabin, and you don't see him again until he pulls into the next station. The bus rumbles along between 50 and 60 mph, but you really don't want to go any faster on most Mexican roads. So site back and check your email, or watch the movie.
We took three bus rides during our visit: Guadalajara-Guanajuato and return, then another four-hour ride from Guadalajara to Manzanillo. The coaches all were washed and polished on the outside and clean on the inside.
ETN doesn't go everywhere in Mexico. But there are several other lines, including Primera Plus -- which features an English website and phone support. However, Primera Plus buses are four across, so they're not quite as luxurious as the ETN coaches.
Given the cost of air travel and car rental in Mexico, the luxury buses are an excellent option. We plan to use them again to visit other destinations throughout the country.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com or follow him on Twitter for breaking travel news.