Quaint, friendly and hassle-free, with the most laid-back immigration officers you're likely to encounter anywhere in Mexico, PIEDRAS NEGRAS is the ideal border town. The unpretentious main square is directly opposite the international bridge, and hotels and restaurants aren't far away. Nonetheless, there's no reason to stay longer than it takes to catch the first bus south, which traverses a parched plain before cutting through gaps in the mountains past Monclova, some four hours from Piedras Negras. Now little more than the site of a vast steelworks, Monclova can make a useful staging point, but you wouldn't go out of your way to visit.
Piedras Negras's extremely helpful tourist office (Mon– Fri 9am–5pm; Tel:878/782-8424, Web: www.proturac.com ), by the main square as you enter Mexico from the US, has free maps of the town and Eagle Pass on the other side, as well as of other cities in Coahuila. From the customs post, Allende runs straight ahead towards the bus station, while Hidalgo heads left past one of the longer-established hotels, Hotel Santos, Hidalgo 314 at the corner of Matamoros (Tel:878/782-4775; Price: M$250-350), though like almost all the others in town it seems to be suffering from years of neglect and border-town overpricing. Slightly nicer and more economical hotels can be found on Zaragoza, beyond the market square. These include the Torreón, Zaragoza and Dr Coss (Tel:878/782-5043, F878/782-2984; Price: M$200-250), which has plain, simple rooms; and the very similar Hotel Reforma, Zaragoza 507 Sur (Tel:878/782-0390; Price: M$200-250). Better still, stretch for the nearby and comfortable Hotel Santa Rosa, Guerrero 401 Ote, on the corner of Morelos (Tel:878/782-0400; Price: M$250-350), with bright rooms set around a plant-filled, tiled courtyard, or the luxurious Best Western-owned Autel Río, Padre de las Casas 121 Nte, at Teran (Tel:878/782-7064, Eautelrio@prodigy.net.mx; Price: M$500-750), with a TV in every room, a swimming pool and plenty of parking space; they also offer guests free Internet access in the lobby.
For a great introduction to cheap Mexican food, head straight for the taquerías around the market. If you want a cheapish sit-down meal, Los Gitanos on Zaragoza and Allende is popular with the locals and serves comida corrida. You could also check out La Hacienda, across from the Autel Río, which has a pricier buffet and dishes out Mexican fare. For currency exchange, head for one of the numerous stalls around the bus station, as rates here are generally very good; also try the market at Zaragoza 107. Bancomer (Mon– Sat 9am–5pm), one block from the main plaza on Morelos and Abasolo, has a 24-hour ATM.
The bus station (Tel:878/782-7484) is a fifteen-minute walk from the main plaza along Allende. The main companies, Blancos and Águila, operate a decent second-class service, with frequent departures to all the major points south. Expresso Futura buses run to Mexico City, Aguascalientes and Monterrey, while Turistar Ejecutivo luxury buses serve Mexico City, Monclova and Querétaro. Frontera second-class buses have frequent departures to Nuevo Laredo, three hours away. The Coahuilense service to Saltillo takes around seven hours.
If you're headed Stateside, cross the border to Eagle Pass, Texas, and walk 200m north to the Greyhound station, which has four direct departures to San Antonio daily, and one a day to Dallas.