The Chicken Bus (& others)

As our principle mode of transport, it only seems fair to dedicate a whole piece to them. So here it is…. The chicken bus.

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Most chicken buses are old US school buses, although old mini buses are sometimes used. Depending on the wealth of the country you are in, depends on what condition the buses are in.

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Panama City

The buses here are decorated brightly, each one personalised; some with added chrome bumpers & exhausts, personalised artwork, sound systems & lighting.

In the City we saw several disco buses complete with disco ball.

Panama has a highly organised bus system with driver & ‘conductor’ partnership. Fares are usually collected at the end of the journey, relying on passenger honesty as to where they got on.

The buses are generally clean, run regulary & not overcrowded. Most have sound systems fitted however the quality of the speakers is questionable, as literally the whole bus vibrates to the volume of bass.
Some have TV screens fitted, although the choice of film is definitely suspect. However, if you love Steven Seagal or Jason Statham, you’ll be in your element.

Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, the buses tend to be older, often in disrepair & usually in their original paintwork or rusty.
The ‘in flight’ entertainment on one included a flatscreen strapped to the windscreen & Demis Rousos & early Mariah Carey DVD.
Most only have a CD player with some great Latin American beats playing (or if you are unlucky 70s/ 80s pop/rock)

In contrast to Panama, they are extremely crowded, often dangerously so (we had one poor passenger be sick on us in the cramped hot conditions).
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Another difference, is the amount of street venders, who come on in droves to sell their items. We have seen up to 14 or more often pushing their way through the crowded bus, selling anything from food to shampoo. To get a feel for the experience, see video street vendors
We turn this into a game trying to remember all the items in order (aka The Generation Game).

Costa Rica
With the advent of mainsteam tourism, CR have upgraded their bus system & the beloved chicken buses are only seen more rurally now. It’s a shame in some ways, but I must say the extensive bus/coach system is actually a huge improvement, from our visit 9 years ago, for a fast comfortable journey.

Guatemala
In Guatemala we decided to take the back packer shuttles instead (for safety). These were (supposedly) air conditioned but we soon became disillusioned with these as they were packed, didn’t seem much safer & of course full of back packers. In the search of something more authentic, we returned to the public Colectivos.

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Belize
Belize bus system is safe, reliable & based on a variety of old vehicles. Not the ‘standard’ old school bus but a mix of old buses, coaches & various. Getting around Belize has a very laid back Caribbean vibe … But its cheap & reliable.

Mexico
Mexico’s Yucatan buses are state of the art, air conditioned coaches & Colectivo mini buses.
Transport is more expensive here, but you travel like kings! A timetable & reliability to be proud of, you can get anywhere is the Yucatán – in style!

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Photo Courtesy of ADO Buses

We missed the old chicken buses though 😦

So In Summary…
Pluses
* You experience more culture
* You meet the local people
* Less tourists
* You see more towns as not as direct
* You see more of the country as they are usually slower
* Increadibly cheap compared to tourist buses

Drawbacks
* Hot & crowded
* Take longer
* Takes more planning
* Sometimes loud & frantic

And not forgetting …
Last but not least, a small mention should be made for the MOTO Taxis of Nicaragua & Guatemala (Tuk Tuks to you & I). For small journeys around town they were a fun, if sometimes scary, easy way to get around.
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So in the end we both looked forward to & dreaded our chicken bus journeys. It’s certainly part of the experience of travelling through Central America & not one to miss.

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