If you are a budget traveler or just a tourist looking for the quint essential Guatemalan experience, the “chicken buses” are what you are looking for. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say you have to look for them, they are quite hard to miss. These lavishly painted and often decorated buses can be found whizzing by in any of the major Guatemala cities or highways. The chicken bus may not provide the comforts of a tourist van or taxi, but they are much cheaper, and much more colorful!
The chicken bus is one of the main forms of transportation for Guatemalans. This undoubtedly because of the price. You can ride a chicken bus to just about any major tourist destination for only a few dollars. These chicken buses are usually very hot, crowded, and bumpy. Seats that were designed to sit two school age children usually have 3 to four occupants in them at any given time. Not to mention that you usually have people standing in the aisles as well.
These chicken buses are mostly out of commission school buses from the United States from the 60s and 70s. The buses certainly show there age, if not in the seats, than under the hood. The chicken buses can regularly break down, get flat tires, or cease to function. They are also slow going and stop regularly to pick up passengers. Because of this, don’t rely on a chicken bus if you are trying to get somewhere on time.
As with most buses in Central America, buses in Guatemala usually have a conductor who rides at the front of the bus and sometimes hanging out the door like a daredevil. The conductors job is mainly to collect money from the passenger and to flag down pedestrians who main be waiting for the bus. On occasion, the conductor jumps off the bus to guide the driver through blind turns, to stop traffic, or to yell at bad drivers.
Its not uncommon for the conductor to charge tourists a higher price than the locals. To avoid this, simply ask another passenger what the cost of the ride should be or just watch to see how much others are paying.
Catching the Chicken Bus
All across the country there are series of regular bus stops. If you are unsure of where these bus stops are, you can just ask your hotel or any local. However, it isn’t necessary to wait at designated bus stops to catch a chicken bus. Chicken buses will stop and pick up or drop off any passenger and where along its route. Buses usually have a sign stating the final destination of the buses route. This is how you will know which bus to take. The town is usually a larger city, but the bus will stop anywhere along the way.
To catch the chicken bus, simply wait anywhere along the buses route and flag it down once you see it approaching. You may have to pay the conductor as soon as you board the bus or shortly after sitting down.