To make the most of the unique and unforgettable experiences that will overflow your trip across this little sub-continent; you need to come with an all-embracing attitude and an open yet ever cautious mind. Chicken buses are certainly not the only way to travel through the region. There are shared and private shuttles, tuk-tuks, Pullman buses, taxis, Uber service in most cities, car rental companies and of course a pile of airlines that can take you for a fly from country to country. Nonetheless, chicken buses happen to be the cheapest way to move around. So if you happen to be a budget-traveller, these may present the best of options.
You should however take into account the following advices before you go out on the adventure of a life time. One of the major concerns in relation to chicken buses is safety. It is important to mention that in and around the cities belonging to the Northern Triangle; that is Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras you are better off using another mode of transport.
Buses in these cities are often subject to assaults by thieves and sometimes even unrelenting gang members. In for example in Guatemala City only, 62 bus drivers were killed while 25 were injured. Unfortunately, violence and impunity keeps reigning over these urban areas and things are not likely to change any time soon. When you leave the urban areas and their vicinities however things change substantially for the better when it comes to muggers; especially if you are visiting touristic areas.
Yet, you should always ask around for recommended bus routes; plus, completely avoid traveling at night time. If you look it up, you will probably find that the maximum capacity of a standard school bus ranges from 42 to 72 passengers. As expected, Central American chicken buses set out to defy this figures. Possibly, for the first time in your life you will get to know what it really feels to be swimming in a pool of human beings.
Guatemala for instance, broke the Guinness World Record by fitting people, 2 chickens and plenty of Gallo beers the local beer in one of its multi-coloured chicken buses. It is perhaps redundant to say that comfort is not a priority when hopping into one of these vehicles. You can add onto this, the fact that some of the shock absorbers in these buses are pretty spoiled and the seats are not in great shape either; given that they are recycled buses coming from the U.
The Chicken Bus Experience
In other words you basically have to come into terms with the idea that you may feel suffocated at times and that your bum might be in pain for most of the ride. If this description does not match your experience then you are one-hell of a lucky person. So feel free to kindly ask the driver to stop at a specific location. Once in Central America you will be able to find chicken buses everywhere, with the only exception of Costa Rica; which apparently replaced them with modern ones a few years back.
In Belize they are not as vibrant on the outside and they are usually less crowded with passengers on the inside.
Authenticity on the Guatemalan Chicken Buses
After all, they are called chicken buses! A life in the air is full of adventure, but it is also not without challenges: hours of delay, getting stranded on an island somewhere, As of 1st of November , both Ryanair and Wizz Air now only allow under-seat bags as hand luggage with their basic fairs. This means Development in this small approximately 3.
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If you Are you all set for your travels? They are then driven through Mexico to Central America where they get a new lease of life. We first experienced chicken buses in Panama where they were usually in their native yellow livery. One thing we noticed, as we travelled in Panama and then through Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and on to Guatemala, all by chicken bus, was that not only did the buses get more colourful and decorative, they also got more crowded.
The exception was Belize where they were more modestly painted and less crowded than in their neighbouring countries. The seating on a chicken bus is forward-facing padded benches.
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Configurations vary but a common arrangement was three on one side of the aisle and two on the other. One observation we made early on in our chicken bus journeys is that the seats on these old school buses are meant for school children. Even so, three adults were required to squeeze onto a seat designed for three children!
There was always a bit of body overhang from the seats on either side and often, instead of standing, another passenger would somehow sit in the space in the aisle, wedged in place by the bottom of the passenger occupying half a seat either side of them. This is not a comfortable option. The aisle seat was usually the short straw — inevitably it meant one bum cheek on the seat and one off it. On mountain roads not sliding off altogether was a challenge and often it was only other passengers wedging you in place that prevented it.
Is travelling by chicken bus a fun experience?
The ayudantes are responsible for getting passengers on and off the bus, organising any luggage or produce that is being carried as well as squeezing up and down the packed aisle to collect fares. They will often climb onto the roof of a moving bus to secure any cargo that has been stowed there. Getting off when we needed to was the final chicken bus challenge.
On top of that, squeezing our way past, or over, a mass of people in order to reach the door before the bus either sped off or the next crowd of people scrummaged to get on was, quite frankly, exhausting. On one occasion Mark jumped off a slow-moving bus which then sped up, leaving me on board. Thinking about it, maybe they are called chicken buses because travelling by one gives you the opportunity to experience life as a battery hen?
There are two aspects of safety here. The first is from a road safety point of view. Ironically the majority of travellers are more concerned about the safety of their possessions than their personal safety.
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And use a bag that locks. I would feel selfish depriving an elderly woman or a mother holding two small children of a seat because my precious bag was using it. Cheap, cheap not just the sound of the chicks! For those travelling on a budget in Central America, there is no doubt chicken bus is the way to go. In countries where there is a more established tourist network and plenty of backpackers wanting to get from A to B or rather from beach to beach travel agents will offer shuttle bus services.
We were amazed by the number of backpackers supposedly on a tight budget taking mini-van transfers, favouring convenience over cost. At this point we have to hold our hands up and admit that we did take one shuttle bus in three months in the region and yes, it was way more comfortable than a chicken bus but generally we found it hard to justify the cost. Or to deny ourselves another chicken bus experience! So in summary, is travelling by chicken bus an essential experience whilst in Central America?
One bus we caught during our journey from Antigua to Chichicastenango was incredibly full. Despite being packed to bursting point, more and more people kept getting on. The erratic breaking and accelerating drove us crazy and people trying to get on and off kept stamping on our feet. It was tempting but then I pointed out we still had to reach our destination and the next bus was unlikely to be any better.
My fiancee rode on a few of them, but I saw none during my 2 month trip through CR. Thanks for sharing! Mark reckons you may get a similar experience on an upcoming journey though! The craziest thing about Chicken buses to me was that no matter how crowded the bus is, there is always room for the vendors to get on and sell their food!
Terrific blog; one of your best. The pictures of the buses were as colourful as the prose and the video says it all. A far cry from National Express or Greyhound but a lot more fun. They surely miss out on a fun experience! I guess the buses are a good tourist attraction.
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