Omnibus Mexicanos From Texas to San Miguel de Allende

I wrote earlier about taking Omnibus Mexicanos north to Texas, and promised I’d write about the return trip when I felt better about it. It’s time. I’ve had a massage and a lot of rest. It wasn’t an easy trip. Like the trip up, the major problem was at the border. Last time it took us six hours going through U.S. Customs. I wrote that taking a “direct” bus that crosses the border wasn’t such a good idea, that it would be better to get off and take a cab or walk over to the Laredo bus terminal. I should listen to my own counsel.

On this recent return trip, I considered various options of getting to Laredo from San Antonio, crossing the border on foot or by taxi, and then taking wonderful executive class ETN southward. I asked a friend whose husband owns jukeboxes and ATMs in various bars across Texas if she was going to make a collection run to Laredo. “I hadn’t planned on one, but, hey,” she said, “you speak good Spanish. Maybe you can talk to this guy named El Cocodrilo about why there was only $28 in his jukebox after two weeks instead of $500.”  I started looking at bus schedules again.

“Maybe going back won’t be so hard,” I reasoned. “U.S. Customs can’t be that stringent about people leaving the country.” I’d heard about Transportes San Miguel, a line that offers cross-the-border service between San Miguel de Allende and Texas. But I could not find any information on how to get in contact with them. Search engines came up with reviews of their service, but not phone numbers. Evidently the majority of their clientele does not book over the internet. Maybe doesn’t book at all, but just shows up.

I went back to the Omnibus Mexicanos terminal in the 400 Block of Broadway in San Antonio. The schedule posted on the internet indicated I’d have to change buses in Queretaro to get back to San Miguel, with quite a layover time. But the girl at the counter told me there was a new service, a bus that left at 1:00 a.m. that went directly to San Miguel. It wouldn’t even stop in Nuevo Laredo, she assured me, but would cross the border and go directly to San Felipe, Dolores Hidalgo (two towns close to San Miguel de Allende) and end up in SMA. There aren’t that many people going this time of year. The bus should be almost empty. Would I like to try that? “Sure,” I said, and  bought a ticket for $77. That was Tuesday afternoon and I showed up Wednesday night – or, actually Thursday morning. I had a few panic attacks about mistaking the date, since my ticket definitely said Wednesday, but it was definitely Thursday that the bus would leave.

At 1:30 a.m., I was among three passengers remaining in the terminal. Fifty or more other people had boarded buses headed to Zamora, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and, finally, I was told to board a bus that had just pulled in. It was labeled “DURANGO,” a direction ninety degrees off the course I’d expected to be headed. Everything would be ok, they assured me. I’d change in Nuevo Laredo. “But…” I began. Never mind. I boarded an overflowing bus, finding a window seat beside a woman who was inexplicably seated on the aisle. Oh, it was her walker that occupied the seat I needed.

I won’t go into graphic detail. I changed buses five times on the trip. The first time was before we even got to Laredo. It was at the twenty-minute coffee stop they make in the middle of that three-hour trip.  I ended up climbing over the lady with the walker three times.  There were five of us on the bus I changed to, headed to Mexico City. At least it was a course correction. The next was at the bus terminal in Laredo, where we found that U.S. Customs had closed the border hasta el amanecer. Until dawn. We sat with about thirty other buses (where did they all come from?) for four hours.

It was full daylight before we crossed the bridge.  A uniformed Mexican official boarded the bus and asked to see our documents. I presented my passport and FM2 card. “Where’s the piece of paper you got when you left Mexico?” he asked. I had no piece of paper. The official who had scanned my documents when I left Mexico had said nothing about getting a piece of paper. The man guarding the entrance back into the country was unsympathetic. “You have to have a piece of paper. How can we keep track of you if you’re not in the system?”  Well, I’d sort of wondered that myself  ten days before. This card business was new. Before I’d had a little paperback book that was dutifully stamped each time I crossed the border.  But who was I to pose questions at 7:30 in the morning after a thirteen-hour bus ride north? Guys in uniforms are supposed to know what they’re doing. (OK, that’s a whole area of discussion we won’t address here.)

“Are you going to let me back in?” I asked plaintively. It wasn’t even in Spanish. I was ready to grovel. He softened and said, “Por supuesto.” Of course. “But get that piece of paper next time. You have to have it.

Next stop, customs. I was lucky. I hit the green light. The bus driver greeted me on the other side of the building and escorted me back to my bus, lost in a sea of vehicles.

We  stopped for another hour at the terminal in Nuevo Laredo, and again at another customs stop. And I know I changed buses yet again somewhere out in the middle of nowhere where I and my two much-handled bags, my pillow and blankie, my bag of fruit and nuts and a giant handbag were handed over to another capable crew of Omnibus Mexicanos drivers.

The buses were clean and comfortable, the drivers were all well groomed, exceedingly polite, to the point of being gallant. But I was feeling frayed. After one change, I’d been told I’d need to transfer in San Luis Potosi. After another change, I was told the transfer would be in Queretaro. It wasn’t until we stopped for a thirty-minute breakfast somewhere at the crest of a hill near Saltillo, and I engaged the current crop of drivers in a confusing conversation, that I found that I was indeed on a bus headed directly for San Miguel de Allende. I would not have to change again. How do you say Hallelujah in Spanish?

I arrived in San Miguel at 6:30 Thursday evening.  I was the last passenger left on the bus. Their  “new service” evidently hasn’t caught on too well.  Still has a few rough edges, I’d say.

More about bus travel in Mexico:
Wonderful trip on ETN

18 responses to “Omnibus Mexicanos From Texas to San Miguel de Allende

  1. Have been taking TSM for the past 5 years. Their seats are smaller than the larger lines like Omnibus MX and last time I was so cramped I actually measured 9″ between the front of my seat cushion where my legs rest and the back of the seat in front of me. Plus, it seems like I always end up with the seat in front of me being occupied by someone who most adores the horizontal position. Wow! Nice and tight that is! Being 6’1″ it’s not the best ride for me but it is the best price to be found. Under $100 one way, plus senior discounts. During the holidays and school’s out season they usually have an English speaker at the ticket counter 1-2 hours before departure but this has been only this year and can be discontinued at any time.

    You normally go to the station at least a couple of days before the trip (earlier the better, especially for holidays) and you pay and they only take greenbacks for the ticket, no checks, no credit cards. No computer – if you lose your paper ticket – you buy another one.) Forget online, someone hacked this place’s website a few years ago and rather than track them down to secure it back, they just let it go to the hackers. The phone and the TV in the lobby is the only online presence they have, which is actually true for most of the companies that ride all the way into the interior of MX. For this run “the web” has not “arrived” yet like it has for the major interior carriers. Also note that the better the line, usually the less frequently they even answer their single phone line (true for all of them I have queried).

    The TSM ride stops every 4-6 hours for large restaurant/store/gas station, quick snack/drink/icecream, clean toilet facility (better have some pesos and peso coins (4 or 5 pesos per PP) for the banos and snacks south of Laredo). There is a bus bano for passenger use. (On my very first run down to San Miguel years ago, all my fears were stricken as our bus pulled off the Cuota (toll road) and onto a dirt road at about 3AM. Never thought we were going to reach where ever the hell we might be headed. I thought to myself, well “this is it, the end” but as I watched the driver he walked behind some rocks to take care of some business. Apparently the onboard restroom was too stinky for him.) El bano gets bad toward the end of the ride but not unbearable. (Beats the Guatemala bus ride I had from Flores to Antigua last year where the entire contents of the toilet coated me when I opened to the RR door due to a wind current created from a failed toilet seal – talk about stench!) Well long story short with TSM we were back on the Cuota in no time like nothing had happened. I was the only one who woke up! Gringo indoctrination it was! The moonlit mountains of Monterey lulled me back to sleep soon enough.

    Now on this bus and of course in MX only Spanish is spoken so if you no comprende and aren’t “in the know” you don’t understand when headed South to get out at the guard hut right after you cross the bridge and get your tourist card (FMM) and passport stamped. You don’t pay at this shack but if you manage to make it in and back out of the total of Mexico without paying and getting your stamp on the FMM – as you head toward Nuevo Laredo going North about 20KM south of the border you will get shaken down for the 305 pesos you didn’t pay. You are supposed to take your FMM to a bank within the interior and pay soon after you arrive but I have always just waited to pay at the final guard station heading North. The last time North the agent was nasty with me, yelling Spanish obscenities but years before, no problem.

    South or North you wait 2-4 hours at la linea de frontera (maybe 6hrs on the weekend) to get through customs.

    You will be stopped 20KM or in inland MX both in and out bound for a passport check, perhaps at least one stop with machine gun guards walking bus center where you as the only gringo will be asked for papers. Your entire bus might even be asked to all exit the bus, unload all the bags onboard, carrying all your inside and outside (undercarriage) luggage yourself well away from the bus. You are asked to step away from the baggage while it and the bus is sniffed by dogs (like happened to me last Jul ’14). Best to slump down during police road blocks so they don’t see the obvious Gringo. Seats are also narrow and my luck of the draw says no one under 270lbs has ever been my seat-mate. (Still waiting for Salma Hayek’s sister; odds have to be improving; any trip now!) The ride normally takes 18-22 hours, you sleep over night and will be tapped on the shoulder if asleep or pretending, asked to show papers if and when you are boarded by either the army or the Federales.

    Coming across the border South you will be asked to roll your luggage a around several buses and into a large white building where everything you brought (including hand baggage and rolled luggage from under the bus) has to be passed through the xray machine. Then you press a red lite and get red/green to have a full inspection or not. I ALWAYS get the red light and then have to look carefully to find my bus because everyone has always moved on. Being polite usually puts you behind all the nationals on your ride, so be nice, smile and accept your end of the line spot and people on the bus will be nice to and have respect for you. On the northbound trip, you do basically the same except you are under a giant car port on the US side instead of a building like on the MX side as you go through US Customs. It was 30 degrees there one night a year ago, record low, so dress accordingly while standing outside.

    In San Miguel de Allende the bus takes you to the big pink building near the roundabout toward Queretaro on the edge of town where the Office Depot or the old Gigante grocery store was previously. As a Gringo you will get asked $7 for the $3 cab ride or you can haul your bags down to the main street (about 10 min walk) and wait for a overcrowded city bus that will ride you down the mountain and dump you 2 blocks from downtown for a fee of 5 pesos each. No US money accepted.

    Find some pesos before you leave for MX or pay double prices till you switch to pesos, and in all places your bus stops on the way down, they only take pesos. (Can’t use the bano at the MX stops or buy snacks without pesos!)

    The bus leaves Dallas at noon, 2, 4, 5 or other ticket-purchase announcement time depending on the season, calculating typical border wait times measured to departure times to come up with when they think it’s a good time to leave. So don’t assume they leave at a specific time because they did yesterday. And they will pull out of the old car garage bus station often a minute or two early, so if if anything be on time.

    Going South, no rice, meats, maybe cheese but it depends on guard. Going north, leave all open food in the trash, you can’t bring it over so headed north, eat up! Going North you will also stand out as the only Gringo on a bus and the only Gringo often in the whole of all the buildings. Time before last I was brow beaten with a high pressure questioning like, what are you doing here, why are you on this bus, bla, bla,bla. I answered all their stupid questions (what do YOU take pictures of? Who do YOU work for? Do you work for a news organization?) Still, you encounter ego problems where ever you go. Be nice as you can stand to be and you usually come out OK.

    Speaking of ego problems, going north in July once the TDPS flagged our bus to go through “full inspection” in the stalls between Laredo and San Antonio. They made us all stay in the bus while they did a complete vehicle inspection with the engine dead and no air. We sweated and almost fainted. People panting, it was not pretty. At the next stop I checked the inspection sticker and it was a TX issued one. I wrote Gov Rick Perry and my Texas State Senator and asked what part of the Texas Vehicle Inspection system did they believe had failed our state, because I and 50 Mexican nationals had been shaken-down by 2 officers who appeared to be just passing some fun time watching us sweat rather than accepting that the inspection sticker was valid. Still waiting for my replies from them. Good news is, haven’t been run through that line since.

    If you are afraid of all this routine I ask where are your cajones? You must be a Gringo like me because MX nationals do it every day of the week. See how the other half lives. The bus is not for the faint of heart but for sure after you have done it, you’ll never be the same again. For the non-woozies out there who make it across – welcome to the club!

    • Don, thanks for an incredibly detailed account! As I read your experience, some things rang a bell. “Oh!” I thought, “I remember THAT!” but frankly a lot of the time I didn’t know what was happening, and I just smiled a lot and people took care of me. Gender and age privilege, I suppose. I speak Spanish reasonably well, but, sigh, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I was also on Omnibus de Mexico. Seems like we changed buses about five times, sometimes out in the middle of nowhere on the trip back from San Antonio. But the drivers looked spiffy in their white starched shirts and seemed to know what they’re doing. Taking that particular RT bus trip was sort of like seeing the movie Platoon. Glad I did it. Never want to again.

  2. here is san miguel bus line website as well: leaves daily at 4pm from OK & TX, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and points in the middle… Direct service to GTO

    • Thanks, Marcela. I had trouble clicking on your link. It went to Ooops, page not found. But when I typed it in manually as the page came up. Take note, there is no “.com” — it is .mx.
      This is VERY helpful information. As I look at their website, I see that their offices and pick up stations are no where near the normal bus stations. For instance, the office in San Miguel is listed up at Plaza Real de Conde. That is way away from the main bus terminal. And the buses look nice, as well. I have to admit, I was thinking you were referring to a completely different bus line, one that I wasn’t too impressed with. Thanks for sticking with us!

  3. Thanks, Jessica and Marcela. Sorry it’s taken me a while to acknowledge your contributions here. And thanks “find dentist miami,” I’m kickin’ in here. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  4. These are actually enormous ideas in on the topic of blogging.
    You have touched some nice points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

  5. The phone number to San Miguel bus line is 1877-846-2022 or 214-946-200. I used them over christmas and didn’t have any issues….

  6. Jessica Mendoza

    I have used SMA everytime I go to Mexico..I love them it takes me 21 hours compared to the other bus lines that take me 28 hours to get home. LOVE IT…try them..

  7. Hi Marcela, No I haven’t tried Transportes SM. If you do, please post something about your experience here. Inquiring minds want to know!

  8. hello everyone, did you all give Transportes SM a try? how was you experience?

  9. Good lord! And I’m planning on taking a bus down early next summer. Perhaps they’ll have the kinks worked out by then?

    You must have been exhausted!

    Jackie in Louisville

  10. Sounds like a hellish trip to me!!! I’m not a big fan of public transportation and the only bus I’ve ever taken in Mexico was ETN to Guanajuato..After 1 1/4 hours I was more than ready to get off the bus.
    You have my sympathies

  11. Here is information on Transportes San Miguel that I cut and pasted off the San Miguel de Allende Civil List today. I wish I’d had this last week! Thanks to Amy Cox, a “straight shooter” from Texas. And at last I have phone number for what sounds like a really good bus line. — Susan

    Beginning of post:

    I have decided to respond to the whole CL because I see that this info is
    requested quite often. I am a former full timer in SMA, living in Dallas
    now, my hometown. There is a “non-stop” bus from Dallas to SMA, Transportes SMA. Let me stress, this is the only bus that I, or my family, would ever take from Dallas to SMA. It leaves Dallas around 5pm, of course times can vary, and usually pulls into SMA around 2pm. The charge from Dallas to SMA is approx. $99.00, fees subject to change.

    They have always been very flexible with baggage, sometimes weighing it, but once they do, they don’t seem to do anything about it. I have seen people bring large plastic/rubber trash bins and plastic buns from Walmart, taped shut, of course along with your usual suitcases and such.

    I usually make a reservation, and you pay when you get there. The garage is south of downtown Dallas, nothing fancy, and is sufficient with a bathroom and a 7/Eleven across the street for last minute snacks. The bus will make stops in Austin and San Antonio if there are passengers.

    We always bring a small cooler for drinks and food, but the bus will make stops along the way, both in Texas and once in Mexico. We also always bring a pillow and perhaps a small blanket. We are not Spanish speakers, knowing just enough to get by, yet we have always felt at ease while on the bus. I usually drive my new Suburban, yet over the years, my kids have often preferred to take the bus, they think it is “cool” and more fun than driving with Mom, even though the SUV has 5 TV screens in it and they can watch movies or play video games along the way!!! Figure that one out????

    There have been varying experiences while crossing the border, and a stop is made for those that need to get a turista visa. You might try to be
    charged for this turista visa, but do not pay, as it is no longer required.
    Also, on a few occasions, a “person of authority” has board the bus and
    requested a “donation” in order to cross. This, we have discovered, is so
    that the luggage is not pulled off of the bus and gone through and
    inspected. This is fairly unusual, but I have given a few dollars along
    with the rest of the passengers and off we go, with no luggage or bags
    having been removed from the bus. Basically, a bribe to leave everything
    alone!!!!! Nothing to worry about, just wanted to make a note of that just
    in case this situation might present itself to another first time passenger.

    The stops that are made in Mexico, I feel, are all safe, and are at
    locations that I normally stop at myself when I make my 3 to 4 times a year drive myself. There are 2 drivers and this route is all that they drive and believe me, they know what they are doing. They keep in contact with Dallas and SMA via cell phones, and make this trip 365 days a year. The return fee from SMA to Dallas is slightly less, around $90 last time the kids took the bus. I have let them take this bus by themselves over the years, always feeling that they have been placed on the best bus possible to make the trip. Checking fares today, it is more than $700 to fly RT from Dallas to SMA, that is why we take the bus or drive on most trips.

    The bus is received at the SMA station up near the old Gigante, again not a fancy office, but it works for all. Transportes SMA has 2 buses, and I know that near the holidays, they sometimes use both buses on the same day, that is why it is always a good idea to make a reservation. The Dallas phone number is 214-946-2022 and a Spanish speaker will answer, probably later in the day. There may not be an English speaker available, so do the best you can to make a reservation, they try their best to help.

    I am a former leisure travel agent with Neiman Marcus travel, and therefore have a great deal of experience in trying to help people with their travel plans and to give as much info as I can. Please contact me is someone should have any questions. I am a “straight shooter” as we say here in Texas and I give info exactly as it is, not just my opinion. I hope I have been of some help and please excuse the long message, just wanted to try and give all info at once.

    > Blessings to the animals and their keepers.
    > Amy Cox
    > The Paws Cause

    • BTW, TSM and San Miguel Bus Line is the same company…
      TSM stands for Transportes San Miguel.

      the office phone number again, is 214-946-2022

    • Jeanne Angelos

      Just found this Amy. This is Jeanne Angelos– we met at Bougambilia in SMA two years ago and went to market together during that time, after Dia de las Muertes. Had lost your contact address.
      Just got back from a month in SMA and thought of you a lot.
      Now interested in bussing down there, but would like to be on an ETN
      bus for comfort. Do you have any info on this bus line. Would like to get back in touch somehow.

      • Hi Jeanne. I’m not sure who Amy is, but thanks for the comment. My name is Susan, and I don’t think we’ve met. However, you asked for information about ETN. Here is their website. They only operate in Mexico, so you’ll have to get to the border at Laredo either by Greyhound (or whatever U.S. carrier) or have someone drive you there. Walk across the border and then go to the ETN terminal. I don’t remember exactly where it is, but taking a cab should be no problem.

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