The Buses of La Paz … the Transporte Colectivo
La Paz has a complex and fascinating rapid transit system. You can get most places in the city for a fee of 10 pesos. This is about 90 cents US.
Most American visitors miss this opportunity. It is both enjoyable, entertaining at times, educational, and a not-to-be-missed part of an experience of the culture of Baja California Sur.
The buses of La Paz come in three main varieties and many colors. The smaller bus style– transporte colectivos–run all over town on routes. There are slightly bigger school bus style buses called the transporte urbano. And finally, there is Eco Baja Tour buses which, contrary to their names, are actually buses for both single destinations or charters for tours.
I want to talk here about the smaller school bus type of ‘transporte colectivo’ and the Eco Baja Tours.
Eco Baja Tours is easy. They are used primarily for two things. (1) To get to the San Jose del Cabo international Airport or the towns along the way like Los Barilles, Todo Santos, and Cabo San Lucas. And, (2) to get to Bahia Balandra (a great beach), Pichilingue (Customs and Importation), and Tecolote (fishing and beer).
They have a bus station on the Malecon facing the beach which is a terminal and ticket office. You cannot schedule them online so be ready to go to the station a week ahead to get tickets. Or you can just show up and take your chances.
They have almost hourly buses to the airport in San Jose del Cabo. it is 420 pesos approximately, one way.
There are about 5 buses a day (10am, 12am, 1pm, 3pm, return 7pm) that go to Tecolote and Pichilingue and Bahia Balandra which are on the way there. It is 40 pesos approximately one way so be prepared to pay the driver when you want to comeback as there is not ticket office at the other end of the route.
Now as to the ‘transporte colectivo’. There is no true schedule (as far as experience will tell) and availability can vary based on the number of drivers on duty.
It is important that you understand, this is not a demand driven system with peak demand scheduling. It is more like a collective of bus operators, all of whom are their own bosses. So, for example, if it is a holiday, there may not be many drivers or buses. This seems counter-intuitive. But, the drivers also take the holiday off, it seems.
But not to worry, there always seem to be buses, you just have to adjust your expectations to a longer wait than normal.
On the front of each bus is a placard over the front window listing its stops and the ‘name’ of the bus or ‘route’.
So, if you want to go to Chedruai which is a grocery store, you would look for the bus that lists among other things ‘Chedraui’. This is also the No. 8 bus. I know from experience that it goes to Chedraui and back to the center of town about every half hour. Cost 10 pesos one way, with no transfer tickets. Each bus is 10 pesos.
If I want to go to Walmart, I look for the bus that has ‘Walmart’ on its placard. Or, I might know it is the “Batallion 35: Route 39 bus”. Cost 10 pesos.
Each ride is a surprise. If you are new, you don’t quite get the routing right and you see parts of the city you did not intend. Carolyn and I call these adventures–our definition of adventure being that no one got killed and we didn’t have anything else better to do anyway. HOWEVER, have no fear and absolutely do not despair if you happen to take the wrong bus (unless you have a box of ice cream in your groceries) because the route always repeats itself. So, you can just get back off where you got on and try again. Or, alternately, most routes end up in Centro which is near the marinas, the Malecon, the beach side hotels, the night life, and the taxi stations. And, if all else fails … take a taxi back! We will discuss the fine points of taxi usage in another post. (The Taxi Cabs of La Paz)
There are four golden rules of the ‘transporte colectivo’. (1) No bus should have shock absorbers, (2) all buses eventually return to Centro de Cuidad as part of the route, look for the word ‘Centro’, and (3) the word ‘bajan’, pronounced ba-hahn will bring the bus to a halt so you can get off. “Bajan, senor!” works even better. In fact, these words should be among your first Spanish words, and, (4) routes are circular so you always can get off where you got on and be no worse off than to be back where you began.
Try again with another bus! Walk! Or face defeat and hail or call a taxi.
In La Paz, one of the first relationships you may make before you discover the ‘colectivo’ is a friendly dependable taxi driver … get to know one at least by name and cab number and phone number. Having someone who will come get you wherever you are is very comforting. and, they will help you to learn Spanish and bargaining.
There is a bus station for the ‘transporte colectivo’ but I cannot figure out its purpose. There are, to my knowledge, after a year of using them, no schedules printed and no maps of the routes to help you out. The drivers do not usually speak English.
But somehow, none of this makes it less fun to learn they system. You are in Mexico, learn the culture … or walk!