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Chicken Bus, practical guide (public transport in Guatemala)

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Panajachel to Antigua (May 2023), prices, tips and tricks for taking public transport in Guatemala.

What is this

Commonly known as the “Chicken Bus” (even Guatemalans call them that), public transportation in Guatemala is definitely an experience to have when you visit. For Westerners however, this can be a bit stressful, so I decided to give you some tips to make your first experience as pleasant as possible.

bus schools chicken bus guatemala
Chicken Buses

It goes without saying that this type of trip is made for those who have the audacity to expand their comfort zone. You must use a minimum of resourcefulness and not be afraid to talk to people.

DO NOT BE AFRAID! Remember, they are used to tourists, it's their second biggest source of income nationally, smile and take it lightly, keep calm even if they seem to have taken 3 ''Monsters'', it's is only a few hours of mayhem, I promise you'll get through this in one piece. ;)

Why are they called "chicken buses"? The answer is simple: it's because the locals carry all sorts of incredible things there, such as a huge box of chicks who squawk all the way, cats, turkeys, six big bags of groceries, etc. , and of course, chickens! It's public transport and there are no real rules on what you can and can't bring. So that being said, it is certain that your backpack will not be too big for transport.

Tips and tricks before you go and general operation

Study your route before leaving, because you will change buses several times. For example, if you leave from the city of Panajachel (Lake Atitlan) and go to Antigua, your journey will be separated into approximately 4 buses. There is no direct bus for this route. So, before getting on the bus, let us know your final destination. If you do a long distance, like the example I just gave, the locals will tell you. "No, I'm not going that far, but to such a destination, and then you can take another bus." Trust him, he knows his job. Let yourself be guided. And if you are not in the right place, most of the time, you will be told where to go. Once again, let yourself be guided! You will be surprised by the effectiveness of this method. Even if you don't speak Spanish, a finger pointing in the right direction has no nationality.

When you are about to board the correct bus:

I advise you not to put your luggage on the roof, always keep it within sight. I've heard crazy stories about it. Guatemala is a disadvantaged country, a new backpack in trendy colors could be identified as full of nice surprises. If you have valuables, keep them with you. For my part, nothing has ever been stolen from me, and I always travel with a lot of electronics, given my profession. Never mind, I always travel by public transport and I never felt threatened. Be careful but don't be paranoid either and you'll be fine.

Payment stage

inside school bus guatemala chicken bus
Interior of a chicken bus

You get on the bus, find a seat and go straight to a seat. You will only pay when the “Ayudente” comes to ask you where you want to go.

Some advice for this stage: We are not going to hide anything here, the “Ayudentes” (those who collect money on the buses) will try to make money quickly by saying a price rounded up. It's unfair, you'll probably feel a little discriminated against, but that's the way it is. To them, you are a walking ATM. If you pay with a 100Q note, he may well decide not to give you all your change in return. How much each trip costs is often a combination of several factors.

How then to not be fooled?

1-Plan to bring small denominations: lots of 5Q, 10Q and 20Q.

2- Sit in the middle or towards the end of the bus, if possible (even if these are not the best seats in terms of comfort in my opinion, you'll see, it's a lot of noise, but it's a good thing to save money). Then, pay attention when the Ayudente starts charging people. Try to notice how much people are paying.

3-If you have not been able to do the calculation, do not panic. With my experience of several years traveling in Guatemala, I advise you never to ask how much the trip costs, pretend that you already know the price and hand over as little money as possible, even if the helper tells you '' no, it's not that price, it's so much''. Generally what I've noticed over time is that normally for a ride under an hour it's around Q5 per person. 10Q for 1 hour. An average of 0.5Q per kilometer would also be a good approximation to rely on. It could be a little more, or a little less, depending on the several factors I listed above.

Route and price with the main intersections on these roads *For information only*

Panajachel to Antigua price (May 2023)

Departure at 10 a.m., arrival 12:45 p.m.

Panajachel to Solola: 5Q per person

Solola to Los Encuentros: 4Q per person

Los Encuentros in Chimaltenango 20Q per person (however we believe the Ayudente rounded the amount up a bit)

Chimaltenango to Antigua: Q10 per person

The intersections below are good landmarks for your travels in Guatemala:

Los Encuentros


Four Caminos

los encuentros guatemala
Los Encuentros

After all, these intersections aren't called "meetings" and "four paths" for any reason!

I leave you with a little humorous song about Chicken Buses written by a gringo 10 years ago! If it can reassure you to try this mode of travel, know that you are neither the first nor the last, have a good trip!

Leave everything and travel, become a nomad. Many people dream of it, but many also fear doing it. Be inspired by the adventures of an independent travel filmmaker who challenged herself to make 10 travel films around the world and become a full-time nomad.

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