City Guide to Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico: Part 1 | Public Transportation
If you’re visiting Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico public transportation is a great way to move about the city! Here’s our guide to taking buses, finding bus routes, ticket costs and acceptable payment methods for Santiago de Queretaro’s public transportation system.
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We spent over a month living in Santiago de Queretaro, Queretaro, Mexico and got around exclusively on the public transportation system. It was a great way to learn the layout of the city, see neighborhoods most tourists miss, and have a couple of adventures along the way. The bus system covers most of the expansive city and we had no problem getting where we needed to go, whether it be a grocery store, our hotel, or a tourist attraction.
The morning after our arrival in Santiago de Queretaro we set out to figure out the public transportation system. We stumbled a bit at first, since at the time of our visit there wasn’t a comprehensive transportation website that detailed the system and how it worked.
However, during our visit the city was in the midst of rolling out the QROBus system, a prepaid reloadable bus card. Fortunately, since our visit we’ve seen many improvements in the information detailed online, although it’s all in Spanish.
Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico City Buses
The public transportation system in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico is made up of over 70 bus lines, with additional private bus lines that extend and augment the network. As you may imagine, with such a large system of bus routes, the city and its suburbs are well covered. In addition, while cars and taxis are extremely common in the city (traffic can be a nightmare!), use of public transportation by the locals is high and buses can get very crowded (shoulder to shoulder) during peak times.
There are different types of buses utilized within the public transportation network, some are modern, some are older, and still others are well past their prime and in need of replacement.
The main routes (1, 65, 121, etc.) are the ones that travel on Queretaro’s main road, Avenida Constituyentes, and use newer buses. They're equipped with digital LED signage indicating the route number and have entrance doors on both sides of the bus that are specifically optimized for the newer bus stops on Avenida Constituyentes.
Older buses are more common and usually have their route numbers painted or posted on the windows. Additionally, some routes don’t have numbers and are instead identified by the main neighborhood (e.g. Colonia Alameda) they service. These buses list the stops and locations they go to on the front and side windows of the bus.
From our experience, city buses start operating at about 4:30 am and run seven days a week. There doesn’t seem to be a set schedule for arrival times at each stop, however buses seem to arrive every 10 to 20 minutes.
Tip: At the time of writing this article we learned that Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico is piloting a test run of a few night routes ('rutas nocturnas')! We hope the routes expand, but please be sure to check in advance to ensure the schedule and routes are still active during your visit.
The bus system in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico consists of a plethora of routes that run seven days a weeks and will get you to, or within a close distance of your final destination.
From what we can tell, the actual routes of the private buses aren’t published. However, we traveled frequently on a private route (#74) and found that it was simply a matter of asking a few people (and confirming with a bus driver) what bus number/route we should board for where we wanted to go.
During our visit, the city of Santiago de Queretaro was updating and modernizing their public transportation system, adding routes and maps online. However, as of our departure, there yet wasn’t an application (web, desktop, or mobile) in English. We ended up using a combination of a few resources to make it easier for us to navigate the bus network.
Tip: If you’re not comfortable with reading Spanish you may want to have a translation application handy or use the auto translate feature of your web browser.
Web Based Resources for Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico Bus Route Details
Rutas (routes) is a map for QROBus that can be used from a web browser. The interface is in Spanish, so here are a few helpful translations with a mini-tutorial:
‘Presione Aqui’ (a button on the top center of the map) translates to ‘Press Here’
After pressing the ‘Presione Aqui’ button, two more buttons appear:
‘+ Opciones’ (the maroon/purple button) translates to ‘+ Options’
‘Ocultar’ translates to ‘Hide’
Expanding Opciones (by clicking on the maroon/purple button), expands to show several additional functions, which are:
‘Para Ubicar un punto en el mapa de clic aqui’ translates to ‘Click here to locate a point on the map’. This option allows you to choose a point on the map, at which point, a drop-down menu (maroon/purple button at the top of the map labeled ‘Rutas Aqui’) will list all the routes that service this location. Click on a route number in the ‘Rutas Aqui’ menu to see the route overlaid on the map. The blue and red lines indicate the two different directions of the route.
‘Busca tu ruta entre 2 puntos (incio/fin)’ translates to ‘Find a route between two points (start/finish)’. This option allows you to choose a point on the map as your starting point (the prompt ‘Ubique primer punto’ means ‘Choose your first point’) and another point on the map as your ending point (the prompt ‘Ubique el segundo punto’ means ‘Choose your second point’). Once you’ve selected your start and end point, wait a moment and a maroon/purple button on the top of the map, labeled ‘Rutas Aqui’ will appear and produce a dropdown list of possible route options.
‘Seleccion por ruta especifica’ translates to ‘Select a specific route’. This option allows you to choose a location on the map and then select a specific route from the dropdown menu that services this area.
‘Limpiar mapa’ translates to ‘Clear map’. Clicking this option will remove all points on the map.
‘Centros de Expedicion’ translates to ‘Expedition Centers’. This option shows all service centers on the map. Clicking on one will show the address and hours of operation.
The prompt, ‘Espere un momento en lo que carga el listado y seleccione una ruta’ means ‘To select a route wait a moment while the list loads’. When this prompt appears, it will take a couple of moments to load the routes, which can be seen by clicking on the maroon/purple button at the top of the screen that’s labeled ‘Rutas Aqui’.
Clicking on a route from the drop-down menu ‘Rutas Aqui’ will show the route overlaid on the map. Each direction of the bus will be shown, one in red and one in blue. Use the arrow indicators on the route line to see which direction the bus is heading. Furthermore, keep in mind that the individual arrows indicate where the bus is intended to stop, but ultimately, it’s up to the individual driver and traffic conditions where the actual stop will be.
Ruta Directa and Rutero Online
Use them by dragging the letter ‘A’ to your start location and the letter ‘B’ to you end location (or by clicking on the map to set your start and end location). The appropriate bus line(s) you can board for your intended destination will be shown on the right-hand side.
An additional tool that may also be helpful is Moovit App.
Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico PDF Bus Route Map
Also, consider using this PDF bus route map provided by the city of Santiago de Queretaro. It provides all of the stops (with the corresponding routes) within the downtown area. The PDF bus route map is useful because it also includes a few private bus routes.
Mobile Applications for Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico Bus Route Details
There are a few different moble applications for QROBus route and trip planning information:
In our experience, bus stops weren’t always clearly signed. We encountered bus stops that were marked or indicated in a variety of ways:
A bright blue square sign with a white icon of a bus and the word ‘Parada’ (Stop).
A sign that listed the bus routes by number.
A traditional bus stop with a bench and covering that protects the stop from the elements (sun, wind, rain, etc.).
A gathering of people waiting at a specific location (intersection, mid-block, on-ramp to a highway, etc.)
Avenida Constituyentes has a network of newer bus stops. They’re located in the center/median of the road and are the only bus stops that require a scanning of your QROBus Prepaid Card at a turnstile to enter the stop. Once you enter the enclosed bus stop and pass through the turnstile, overhead screens indicate the order of the arriving buses. Additionally, buses will arrive at one of three glass doors, so be sure and stay sharp! Also, since you’ve already scanned your QROBus card to enter the bus stop, so there’s no need to scan your card again when boarding the bus.genera
Tickets and Fares
Of the over 65 cities we’ve visited, tickets and fares for the public transportation system in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico are one of the most straight forward we’ve seen. With that being said, fares for city buses and private buses operate differently, although each system is fairly simple.
City Bus Tickets and Fares
The price to board a city bus is $8 MXN (roughly $0.44 USD, depending on current conversion rates). Passengers pay when boarding, and since early 2018, only QROBus Prepaid Cards are accepted. Transfers are $4 MXN if made within an hour of your initial scanning of your QROBus card. Rates are automatically calculated and deducted when your QROBus Prepaid Card is scanned. So, there’s no need for a transfer slip, you simply disembark bus A, board bus B, and rescan your card.
Private Bus Tickets and Fares
Private bus lines (like Bus line 74 to Juriquilla) ONLY accepted cash as of our visit. Fares are between $8.50 and $10 MXN (about $0.45-0.53 USD) depending on the distance traveled. Keep in mind that on a private bus, unlike city buses, you pay when disembarking (or if the bus is full, the driver's assistant may come around and collect fairs mid-route). When paying, be prepared to give your start and end point, so that your fare is calculated correctly.
Private buses run independently of city buses and other private buses, therefore, there are no transfers and full fares are expected to be paid for each bus ride.
QROBus Prepaid Cards (Tarjeta de Prepago, QROBus)
In early 2018, Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico phased in a bus RFID Prepaid Card system and as of March 2018, all city buses accepted only QROBus Prepaid Cards.
There are several QROBus Prepaid Card options, but as a tourist you’ll do well with the ‘General Card’ (‘Tarjeta General’).
Tip: If you’re traveling with a partner or group, cards can’t be shared and each person traveling needs their own QROBus Prepaid Card.
Purchasing and Reloading QROBus Prepaid Cards
Cards can be purchased at self-service kiosks and at stores throughout the city. We bought our QROBus General Card at a self-service kiosk located within an OXXO convenience store and didn’t have to provide any type of identification.
Just like purchasing a QROBus card, reloading one can be done at stores and self-service kiosks. While we wouldn’t recommend relying on it, we also found that large bus stops sometimes had attendants that weren’t only available for passenger assistance, but also offered the ability to reload a QROBus Prepaid Card.
Spot attendants by their bright green reflective vests that say ‘Estoy para ayudarte’ (‘I’m here to help you’) on their back.
Here are some helpful tips for purchasing and reloading QROBus Prepaid Cards:
Use the map to find locations where you can buy and reload QROBus General Cards. The map also shows the different types of reload points (e.g. store, self-service kiosk).
Each QROBus General Card costs $28 MXN (roughly $1.50 USD, depending on current conversion rates), which is non-refundable. However, when you initially purchase the card the total cost will be $40 MXN, because it’ll come preloaded with a balance of $12 MXN.
The self-service kiosks are cash only, accepting coins and bills up to $200 MXN.
Unfortunately, the self-service QROBus kiosks don’t have an English language option. However, to better help you navigate the system, here are the translated options of the main screen:
‘Adquire tu tarjeta’ – ‘Purchase your card’
‘Recarga’ – ‘Reload’
‘Consulta tu saldo’ –‘ Check your balance’
‘Adquire un Boleto’ – ‘Purchase a ticket’
‘Ayuda’ – ‘Help’
When using the self-service kiosk to reload or check the balance of your QROBus Prepaid Card, insert your card into the slot labeled ‘Coloque aqui su tarjeta’ (‘Place your card here’). The machine will beep as it attempts to read the card.
Remember! When reloading your card at a self-service kiosk, don’t remove your card from the machine when the screen says ‘¡No! Retire su tarjeta. Cargando’.
Using a QROBus Prepaid Card
QROBus Prepaid Cards need to be scanned for payment immediately upon boarding the bus. With the exception of Avenida Constituyentes, RFID readers (‘validadores’) aren’t located at stations or bus stops. Instead, passengers scan their card upon boarding the bus. The readers are usually found on the right hand side when entering the bus (near the dashboard) or behind the driver’s seat.
All QROBus Prepaid Card readers look similar and are easy to spot with their orange and blue coloring.
To scan your QROBus Prepaid Card don’t swipe it, instead rest it on the pad below the screen (on top of the QROBus logo) for three seconds. Once the machine has read the card you’ll:
Hear a beep.
See a color flash on the side of the machine and a matching color flash on the QROBus logo.
See a confirmation message and your remaining balance shown on the digital screen.
Here’s a handy key to decipher the beeps, colors, and messages:
One beep and a green light – The QROBus Prepaid Card scanned correctly and there are sufficient funds to cover the current fare, as well as funds to cover your next fare.
Two beeps and a yellow light – The QROBus Prepaid Card scanned correctly and there are sufficient funds to cover the current fare, however there are insufficient funds to cover your next fare.
Three beeps and a red light – The QROBus Prepaid Card scanned correctly, however there are insufficient funds to cover the current fare. The digital screen will display your current balance with the message ‘Es su saldo Insuficiente’ (‘Your balance is insufficient’).
Four beeps and a red light - The QROBus Prepaid Card didn’t scan correctly and the current fare can’t be paid. The digital screen will display the message ‘Boletinada’ (‘Invalid’).
Tip: Watch the short video on the how to use the QROBus RFID readers (‘validadores’). Although it’s in Spanish, you can still get a good idea of how the reader works.
Regional Buses and Transportation
Santiago de Queretaro is the capital of Queretaro State and at only a couple hours north of Mexico City, it’s a major hub for transportation. Taking a bus and traveling to nearby cities, as well as just about anywhere in Mexico is fairly simple.
While we spent six weeks in Santiago de Queretaro, it was a house sit in San Miguel de Allende that originally brought us to the region. We used the regional bus from Queretaro to move about the area.
The main bus station in Queretaro is Terminal de Autobuses de Santiago de Querétaro. You can purchase bus tickets ahead of time in person or online from a variety of bus companies. However, we found it easiest to purchase tickets at the terminal, since it didn’t require creating an online account for our one time purchase.
Building B at the bus terminal is located at the very center of the “U” shaped layout and is the main terminal for regional buses.
To purchase your ticket(s), enter the lobby and approach one of the many counters. Prices and times are listed on the wall behind the counters for easy comparison between companies. You can purchase tickets for same day travel or plan ahead and buy your tickets in advance. Usually, you can also buy tickets on-board the bus.
We traveled from Santiago de Queretaro to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico by regional bus. It took us about an hour and a half and round trip tickets were only $76 MXN each (roughly, $8 USD based on currency exchange at the time of travel).
Learn more about our bus experience (we highly recommend it!) in our City Guide to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico | Travel Tips & Tourist Information.
Public Transportation Tips
Although there doesn’t seem to be an official bus schedule with arrival times for each stop, we rarely waited more than 15 minutes for a bus to arrive. We were never on a strict schedule, but allowing an additional 15 to 20 minutes for travel time was helpful.
Buses are largely impacted by traffic on their route. So expect the bus to take longer to arrive and for the ride to take longer than usual during rush hour, especially in city center.
A fun part of taking the bus in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico is the experiences and adventures you get to have! It’s not uncommon to have a performer board the bus and do a routine/act for tips (stand-up comedy, rapping/signing, clown/mime, or playing of an instrument). Also, if you get hungry, many bus drivers will allow vendors with snacks to walk the length of the bus and sell their goods.
City buses can be super crowded, so be sure to secure your cards and cash. We have yet to have anything stolen (fingers crossed!), see how we do it in our Long-Term Travel Hack #3: Keeping Yourself and Your Belongings Safer article.
On rare occasions, because of severe traffic, holidays, or breakdowns, you may have to wait for an extended time for your bus to arrive. Taxis and Uber drivers (use our link and get a discount on your first ride!) realize this and will often pass by and honk, slow down and motion, or sometimes even park and wait for a fare at bus stops.
Finding Your Intended Route, Bus Stop, and Correct Bus
If you find yourself stuck, before you get exasperated, simply ask someone for help.
While at a bus stop, you should also look for QROBus attendants that wear bright green reflective vests if you’re in need of information or have a question.
Finding the correct bus stop can be challenging, since very few stops have a sign of routes that are serviced there. Moreover, many stops aren’t marked at all (particularly if you’re traveling on side streets and suburbs). We found the best way to spot a bus stop was to look for a gathering of people, then asking one or two of them if the particular bus we were looking for stopped there. Asking in Spanish will go a long way, so try ‘Desculpe, aqui para la ruta XX?’ (‘Excuse me, does route XX stop here?’).
With so many bus routes, there are many bus stops close to each other. On more than one occasion we found ourselves waiting at the wrong bus stop! We quickly learned to confirm with other riders that we were at the correct stop.
A best practice is to confirm your destination with the driver of the bus before boarding. This is common even by locals.
Boarding and Disembarking the Bus
When a bus is full, it’s not uncommon for the bus driver to pass a bus stop and not allow new passengers to board. Don’t be alarmed though, another bus is likely to arrive within 10-20 minutes.
Usually, buses won’t stop unless a passenger is disembarking or boarding the bus (with the exception of Avenida Constituyentes). Therefore, you’ll need to signal that you want to disembark at the next stop (by pressing the stop button or telling the driver ‘Próxima Parada porfavor’, ‘Next Stop please’).
Since most bus stops service multiple routes, don’t assume the your intended bus will stop just because you’re waiting for it. Even if there’s a crowd of people waiting at the stop, you should still signal the bus driver you intend to board!
When disembarking, especially on a bus full of passengers, it can take a bit of time to get to the door and exit. If the bus driver doesn’t realize you’re wanting to exit, they may close the doors and continue to drive. Don’t be dismayed, simply yell to the driver “Parada Porfavor!” and they’ll more than likely stop and open the doors again.
Passengers should board from the front and exit through the rear, with the exception of private buses, where you need to exit from the front so you can pay your fare. Additionally, on Avenida Constituyentes passengers board and exit from the rear doors of the bus.
Riding the Bus
Bus operators can be assertive and sometimes aggressive drivers. This means they drive fast and stop hard. Be prepared and always hold on to a seat or a pole. Even better, hold on with both hands!
Like a captain of a ship, the driver of a private buses is the reigning authority, meaning that while they’re behind the wheel, what they say goes. This means that taking a private bus can be a great adventure! We boarded private buses with large crucifixes, curtains, concert size speakers and subwoofers blasting music, missing seats, and poles that were duct-taped to the ceiling and walls of the bus. We even boarded a bus in Juriquilla that made it about 30 feet before breaking down on the side of a three-lane highway! Much to our relief, a couple of days later, we boarded that same bus again and made it to our destination without incident.
Buses can be incredibly full (standing room only), to the point that you’ll be willing to wager that there’s no way one more person could fit on-board, yet at the next stop a group of three magically do! At one point, we were on a bus that was so full that passengers literally started banging on the windows and yelling at the driver not to stop anymore! As you can imagine, a shouting match with the driver ensued.
After 24 countries and nearly 65 cities, we’ve learned that public transportation is the best way to get around a city. Not only for practical and budgetary reasons, but also for the experiences.
In pursuit of experiences and fun stories, Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico has so far been one of our favorite public transportation cities! It took a few days to understand the system, but once we had it down, it was easy to get where we needed to go. Plus, we really felt much more like locals than had we opted for only taxis and ride sharing!