Painted in bright colors and big fumes of black smoke coming from the exhaust….you can’t miss them. Locals call these colorful painted buses “camionetas” or simply “bus”. Foreigners know them as “chicken buses” although I have no idea where the term comes from, since I have never seen any live stock on them. However they do pack them as full as they can with people so maybe you will feel cooped up like a chicken while riding on one.
The buses in Guatemala are discarded American school buses, they get imported, fixed up and painted in Guatemala. They drive between villages and from the interior of the country to the capital. There is always one driver and one “ayudante” who helps collect the fare.
Is it safe to take buses in Guatemala? In general they drive like crazy and accidents do happen. Mainly because on some routes there is fierce competition, this means they will drive as fast as they can to get to the next stop, so they can get as many passengers at possible.
If you don’t want to leave Guatemala without the experience of taking a “chicken bus” my advice would be to take one from Antigua to one of the nearby villages. These routes are generally safe, not super busy, and you get to have a fun experience!
Tips on taking chicken buses in Guatemala
- There are no time tables, but most of them go pretty often, so you never wait long. The main destination is written on the front of the bus, but also shouted from the bus by the ayudante.
- There are no official “bus stops”. Basically they will want as many people as possible, so just waving one down at any point along the route will make them stop for you.
- The benches you might think are for only two people will actually be for three or more people. Just sit down where you can and make space for the next person sitting down. You will often here the ayudante shout “Sí, hay lugar señores” (Yes, there is space people!). And you will probably look around wondering where.
- You don’t buy a ticket. Just get on the bus, sit down and the ayudante will come by and collect the fare (ask a local beforehand how much it is, and have exact change ready, which makes things easier).
- Big suitcases or backpacks will go on top of the bus, so keep all your valuables in a day pack and keep a good eye on it.
If you want to know more about the buses in Guatemala, there is really interesting documentary called “La Camioneta”. You can see a trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5knpkw_94rA , and the movie is available on Netflix.
So now you know some more about taking a “chicken bus”. Enjoy the (bumpy) ride!!