How to ride chicken buses in Guatemala. Prices, routes and tips

Versión en español

The popular chicken buses are the low-cost collective buses that Guatemalans use to travel from town to town. These buses are a necessity and a tradition for the locals. However, for tourists they are an adventure and for the less adventurous, they are a risk. For me the chicken buses mean a nostalgic memory of my 20’s, when I started to travel around Guatemala. I still ride them today, but with more caution. Therefore, I can tell you as an expert how to ride chicken buses in Guatemala. I detail the safest routes, prices and safety tips.

How to ride chicken buses in Guatemala

What is a chicken bus?

A chicken bus is a school bus from the United States. In Central America they are modified to give them a second life. You will see them all over the country pimped up with lights, colors and religious expressions. Some are even decorated with classic Disney characters combined with romantic phrases. Pictures of these buses have become the quintessential Central American postcard. In addition, in Guatemala they are famous for driving at speeds worthy of a Formula 1 race.

The name chicken bus was given by foreign tourists who came to Guatemala and saw the locals travel with vegetables and animals, especially chickens. So, the trip is a whole experience of sounds with cackling and Latin American music, a real party!

We Guatemalans do not call these buses “chicken buses”, but use various names: camionetas, canasteras or burras. It is highly probable that if you ask a local for “el chicken bus que va hacia Antigua” (the chicken bus that goes to Antigua), they will not understand you.

How to ride chicken buses in Guatemala

Are chicken buses safe in Guatemala?

I understand the sense of adventure of riding a chicken bus. We save a lot of money and enjoy an authentic experience. There will be no greater Guatemalan cultural immersion on your trip than wiggling between chickens and people to the rhythm of a good cumbia and the motion of the bus.

Travel adventures aside, I will be honest: it is not safe to travel by chicken bus in Guatemala. The risks are muggings on the road, accidents, overcharging and that you will be tricked by the drivers’ assistants just to get you on the bus. However, it is not all bad and there are some safe routes for chicken bus travel in Guatemala. You need a Guatemalan like me to tell you about them. Keep reading, you will find detailed information on how to ride chicken buses in Guatemala and insider tips to have the adventure in a safe way.

How to ride chicken buses in Guatemala

The safest chicken bus routes in Guatemala

Chicken bus Guatemala City – Antigua

This is the most popular route in the country. You can take the bus at the Trebol Bus Station. From here all the chicken buses leave for the Panamerican Highway towards western Guatemala (Antigua, Atitlan, Quetzaltenango, Quiche etc,). When you arrive at the bus station, you will be approached by some guys asking you where you are going. Tell them clearly that you are going to Antigua and that you want to take the “camioneta directa para Antigua” (direct bus to Antigua). Even if they offer you another bus with another destination and tell you that you can connect in San Lucas, ignore them. Say clearly and firmly that you want “la directa” and then they will tell you where the direct bus is parked. They can be quite insistent.

Another way to make sure you get the right chicken bus is to also look at the name of the destination on the front of the bus. It is usually in colorful letters at the top of the windshield. It should say “Antigua – Guate”.

The bus to Antigua takes the Roosevelt highway making continuous stops. So, another point where you can take the bus is at the bus stop at the Gran Via Shopping Center or at the Peri-Roosevelt Shopping Center.

The route starts at: Trebol Bus Station in Guatemala City, ends at: Antigua Guatemala Bus Terminal and vice versa.

One-way price: 20 GTQ (1.25 USD)

Operating hours: 5:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Frequency: every 15 to 20 minutes

Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes

What to avoid: Travel after 4:00 PM (traffic increases, muggings occur and they may charge more than 20 GTQ).

Chicken bus Antigua – San Juan del Obispo

San Juan del Obispo is a small Mayan village near Antigua. It is picturesque, cozy and home to artisans and loquat (subtropical fruits also known as “Japanese plum”) and chocolate farmers. It has a well-deserved place in my list of the Most authentic Mayan villages in Guatemala.

The distance between the bus terminal in Antigua Guatemala where you take the chicken bus and the central square of the village is 5 km (3 mi).

On this particular route you will not experience the traditional high speeds of the chicken buses. The drivers here take their time and will go at 30 km/h (19 mph) maximum.

The route starts at: Antigua Guatemala Bus Terminal, ends at: San Juan del Obispo Central Park and vice versa.

One-way price: 3 GTQ (0.40 USD)

Operating hours: 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM

Frequency: every 10 to 15 minutes

Travel time: 10 minutes

Chicken bus Antigua – Santa Maria de Jesus

Santa Maria de Jesus is another small Mayan village near Antigua. It is known for its location on the slopes of the Agua Volcano and the authentic lifestyle of its population, the Maya-Kaqchikel ethnic group. For this reason, it is on my list of the 10 Most Authentic Mayan villages in Guatemala to visit.

If you are spending a few days in Antigua, it is an excellent idea to take a chicken bus to visit this small village for a pleasant experience. This route is quiet and short, similar to the one to San Juan del Obispo.

The route starts at: Antigua Guatemala Bus Terminal, ends at: Santa Maria de Jesus market and vice versa.

One-way price: 10 GTQ (1.25 USD)

Operating hours: 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM

Frequency: every 10 to 15 minutes

Travel time: 25 minutes

Book a private chicken bus in Antigua to visit the villages nearby

Chicken bus Quetzaltenango – San Andres Xecul

San Andres Xecul is located 10 km (6 mi) away from Quetzaltenango or Xela. San Andres has become popular among travelers for having one of the most iconic Mayan-Catholic syncretic churches in Guatemala. This church became a Guatemalan postcard thanks to the Lonely Planet travel guide that dedicated the cover of one of its editions to this building. For this reason and for its Mayan purity it is among the 10 Most Authentic Mayan villages in Guatemala.

Quetzaltenango is the second largest city in Guatemala and one of the most touristic due to the number of tours and Spanish lessons you can take here. If you spend a few days here, I recommend taking the chicken bus to this pretty little town for a safe 10 km (6 mi) ride.

The route starts at: Quetzaltenango Bus Terminal, ends at: San Andres Xecul Catholic Church and vice versa.

One-way price: 10 GTQ (1.25 USD)

Operating hours: 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM

Frequency: every 30 minutes

Travel time: 25 minutes

Chicken bus Quetzaltenango – San Cristobal Totonicapan

San Cristobal Totonicapan is a town known for one of the first Catholic churches founded in colonial times in Guatemala. In this place you can find the typical rural life of the country. The food sold during its street food evenings is delicious. Read more about this authentic Mayan village here.

Getting to this town from Quetzaltenango by chicken bus is one of the safest experiences you will have traveling in Guatemala. Read here to learn more about how to take the bus. From Quetzaltenango you must get off at Cuatro (4) Caminos and take the next bus that goes directly to San Cristobal Totonicapan.

The route starts at:

  1. Quetzaltenango Bus Terminal, towards: Cuatro (4) Caminos,
  2. Cuatro (4) Caminos ends at: San Cristobal Totonicapan market and vice versa.

One-way price: First chicken bus: 15 GTQ (2 USD), second chicken bus: 5 GTQ (0.60 USD)

Operating hours: 5:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Frequency: every 10 to 15 minutes

Travel time: 30 minutes

What to avoid: Travel after 4:00 PM (traffic increases, muggings occur and they may charge more than usual).

Safety tips to ride chicken buses in Guatemala

How to ride chicken buses in Guatemala

  • Plan your trips so that you arrive at your final destination during daytime. Never travel after 5:30 PM. Being on the road after dark is a risk because accidents and armed muggings increase.
  • Always check the destination sign on the windshield of the chicken buses. Study the possible routes departing from where you take the bus. This will prevent bus drivers and their assistants from placing you on routes that are difficult to connect to your destination.
  • Do not show your belongings during the trip. Take this measure into account especially when arriving at bus terminals. No matter how safe a route may be, muggings often occur at bus terminals.
  • Do not travel with large amounts of money. It is preferable that you carry small bills and coins (1, 5, 10 and 20 GTQ) and have the exact change for the journey. Do not show large bills while looking for the ticket fee. The driver’s assistant goes from seat to seat charging the passengers and if he does not, you pay when you get off.
  • Always tell the driver and his assistant where you get off. They will let you know a few meters before you arrive. Start walking towards the door. Do not wait for the bus to stop before you start walking, because the driver will not wait for you. If you don’t get to the door in time, he will simply continue on his way.
  • Along the way, there will be food vendors offering fruits, breads, tortillas with chicken, coconut water and other things. Buy only bottled drinks and packaged snacks. Food is not hygienic on the buses.
  • If you are carrying large bags, the assistant will take your luggage to put it on top of the bus. It is tied with ropes along with the locals’ vegetable and fruit baskets. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, you can take it with you inside the bus, but you have to pay an extra fare.

Enjoy the fun ride and ¡Buen viaje!

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Also read:

Planning a trip to Guatemala: step by step

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