A chicken bus is a vividly painted American school bus, with colors of the rainbow so vibrant the psychedelic buses of the hippie era pale in comparison. These buses bear little resemblance to their original yellow color or occupation, that of transporting school children in North America.
No trip to Guatemala would be complete without experiencing traveling in one of these colorful chicken buses. They blend in well with the colorful traditional clothing worn by Guatemalans. And the interior of the buses is no less colorful than the exteriors. Posters of wrestlers or Che Guevara may adorn the inside, which also is likely to be trimming with twinkly Christmas lights and pompoms. Loud music adds to the atmosphere, though sometimes Spanish language movies are shown.
There are a couple of reasons why they’re called chicken buses. One may be because passengers are crammed into the buses like chickens crammed into a truck en route to market. Another reason may be because passengers frequently carry chickens – and other livestock – as well as their suitcases with them on the journey.
These buses are considered safe to ride in, though sometimes the mechanics might be questioned. They were, after all, made to transport school kids in the United States, where the students’ safety is a high priority. The drivers may be a horse of another color. Drivers of chicken buses may race each other down a winding mountain road. If you’re timid, you might want to consider another form of transport to get around this Central American country.
Since the buses were made for short-haul transportation, the seats can become uncomfortable after awhile. Grin and bear it: It’s the price you pay to surround yourself with local color and memories that will last a lifetime. Since bus companies shorten the distance between seats, leg room is likely to be limited, something to consider if you’re long legged.
Chicken buses are not for people traveling on a strict timetable. Schedules sometimes are non-existent; buses may leave when they’re filled with passenger or whenever the driver feels like it. Asking locals and others bout departure and arrival times may help. Expect unscheduled stops along the way to pick up or drop off passengers.
Chicken buses are a cheap way to get around Guatemala, but pay attention to what other passengers are paying lest you be charged a “gringo” tax. To avoid this, hand the bus attendant the exact same amount the locals are paying.
Chicken buses travel the width and length of Guatemala, as well as other countries in Central America, including El Salvador, Panama and Honduras.