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Chicken Bus in GC

Bronx, New York
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Chicken Bus in GC

I want to experience a ride on a 'chicken bus' in GC. After reading some posts I'm wondering if its ok to ride one in the daytime.

Can anyone tell me, what bus route to take that is relatively safe? Do I take one leaving GC, for example, to Antigua?

To go to Guatemala and not experience this ride... is not visiting GC at all!

Thanks in advance for your input!!

Joe

USA
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1. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

First off, GC stands for Guatemala City. You don't want to take a local bus in the city. The real chicken buses are the ones that run on every road in the countryside. The Guat. City to Antigua bus is a quick short ride. Just enough time to smell the woodsmoke that is soaked into every huipile. Plus the acrid smell of burning brake pads as it makes the final run into Antigua. To build a chicken bus you take a US school bus, redo the interior seating so there is an extra ten rows and 3 across seating on each side. Paint the exterior and slap on extra lights. Put a luggage rack on top. Most important of all is a sacred heart of Jesus photo up next to the driver. Never ride a bus that puts a picture of Tweety there. Getting the bus to Antigua is a bit of a pain. Most bus lines used to leave from the center. But to curb congestion and pollution the government has moved many companies. You will need to take a cab to get there. A newbie is better off taking a chicken bus somewhere else. Antigua is off most such routes. Take a chicken bus from in back of the market in Antigua to Chimaltenango. It's a real pit of a town with some of the skankiest houses of ill fame in the country. But it is on the Panamerican highway. Look for the bus with the city name on the front. Tell the driver's assitant where you want to go. lf a transfer is needed he will make sure you get it. There are no schedules... all depends on the driver's mood. A lot are co-ops so you will see certain color patterns in certain regions. Watch out for pickpockets in the bus. It's quite safe to put your bag up top.

Los Angeles...
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2. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

I know what you mean about being scared of travelling anywhere in Guatemala City. Just remember that some of the problems in this big city could happen in any big city. Try to enjoy your trip around the big capital. I will also say that during my last trip there I was finally able to go around the capital and take local transportation- including chicken buses in the capital. Yes most of these buses travel into smaller towns surrounding the big urban cities. But you can also take them in the capital to get you closer to certain attractions, instead of paying more for a taxi. What I would suggest is talk to your hotel about nearby attractions and see if there are any chicken buses that can take you there. To go to the museums or the zoo, for example, I took the local train and got off on the trebol. Then walked down the rails to local chicken buses that would drop you off a block away. I do recommend you ask the chicken bus driver or person who charges where exactly it goes. You don’t want to get on one that is not going anywhere near your destination.

USA
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3. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

Fantastic reply #2. I've been traveling to Guat since probably you were born. Way back when, the primary question I'd get was the safety issue. My original line of work, now a mere sideline, was to deal with security issues. Today Guat is an incredibly tranquil place compared to decades past. Thinking of all the things a tourist might do to get themselves in trouble I can only come up with two don't do's. One is to hike solo around Lake Atitlan without certain precautions. The other is to take a city transit bus in Guatemala City. BTW... they are not called Chicken buses. That is reserved for those second class buses that go between towns. Yes, taxis in Guat. City are overpriced for the economy. But GC is not your average city. Unless your average city is Detroit, East Saint Louis or one of the third world barrios of Los Angeles. Besides having a murder rate that makes those other places seem like the Vatican, there is the issue of such folks as MS-13. I'm not talking about a pickpocket on a rush hour bus. Yes, there are some relatively safe runs on local buses. But to know them you need to access a couple different sources. If you want to take a local bus... hey someone needs the Darwin Award. But don't advise that other's do it unless you are at least willing to spring for some nice flowers.

Bethel Park, PA
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4. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

The bus-line in Guatemala city is locally referred to as the "tomato bus" because of its orangey-red color. We heard last year over 200 drivers of these busses were either assaulted or killed.

Guatemala
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5. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

GT Bob has got it right people. I have lived in Guatemala for 3 years now and I travel around the country with ease. Word of caution though...hoping onto the red buses in Guate can get you into some serious trouble. When I first arrived in the country and couldn't believe it was that bad, I did hop on a few red buses and sheer luck would have it that nothing ever happened to me. After living in the country now and having many guatemalan friends I would strongly caution against these buses...this city it completely controlled by serious gangs into serious meyhem. Do not play the ignorant tourist and add to the bad rep that Guatemala has received. If you are a tourist, to take a cab is super cheap in Guate city. As for the chicken buses, the majority are fine to ride on...from time to time you hear of robbers getting on different ones, but that can happen anywhere in the world!

In other words, enjoy travelling around the country, it's really not that dangerous, just keep your eyes open. When it comes to Guatemala city please just don't take needless risks...generally tourists are left alone, but that isn't a rule.

USA
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6. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

Jake makes a good point about Chicken buses in the countryside. I tend to stick with shuttle vans just because they are faster. In the country the chickenbuses are filled with 50-70 Indian farmers going or coming from fields or market. I guarantee they all carry machetes. Robbery? Imagine some punk getting on one of those buses with a revolver. He is going to be turned into fajitas in 30 seconds. I have a friend who is paranoid about chicken buses just because the last six feet of one she was on fell off. But that is rare.

Edmonton, Canada
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7. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

I rode a tourist shuttle between Antigua and GC, and we drove past a chicken bus that had just landed on its side beside the road. Distraught people were everywhere, and the ambulances had just arrived.

Shortly afterward, an ambulance passed us on its urgent way to GC.

Shortly after that, it slowed down and we passed it.

I knew what that meant.

Antigua, Guatemala
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8. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

GTBob, you're funny...I too fear for the poor fool that tries to rob a chicken bus filled with tough K'iche farmers (for example) carrying machetes. Their wives would probably offer a pretty tough fight too...

But yeah, as everyone else says, avoid the red city buses. The extortion gangs are incredibly violent and think nothing of killing these poor drivers and their ayudantes (as if that line of work isn't dangerous enough). We DO ride them, at times, and know the risks...but I would never advise anyone to do it.

One of the many great things about Guatemala is how easy it is to get places...we've taken many trips that involve van, pickup truck, shuttle, chicken bus, lancha, and luxury Pullman...you can always get from point A to point B. And if you have to sit around and wait for the next minivan, eat something delicious! one of the best lunches I've ever had was a pollo dorado lunch sitting at a dusty comedor on the side of the road in Iztapa.

USA
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9. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

Chicken buses in the countryside can be entertaining. The driver's assistant... who might have gone to school for three years can remember where every passenger got on, how much they paid, how much change they had coming to them and how many bags they had on the roof. Then there are the graduates of the public school system in California... One of the more amusing sights was to watch two farmers who had bought a large pig try and lift it up on the roof while the driver's aide stood on the roof pulling on a rope tied to the pig. Anyone who has spent time on a farm knows that any livestock responds to fear by defecating and urinating furiously... as the two farmers below it could attest. I did have one of the more surrealistic experiences on a chicken bus. We were in the northern highlands in the early morning. The road ran along the top of the ridge. We were approve the cloud level so there was a white sea in all directions. They were playing salsa music as usual. One of our crew had a Doors tape and asked the driver to play it. Getting 50 Mayans to sing along with Jim Morrison as we drove above the clouds was an strange experience.

Bethesda, MD
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10. Re: Chicken Bus in GC

Back in the 90s, I used to take the bus down Reforma from the embassy to the plaza. Not exactly a classic "chicken" bus, but it was an old barely functional school bus. Not sure I'd do it now though.

Edited: 07 April 2010, 21:03