XelaWho Guide to Chicken Buses

Here’s a guide to some challenging situations you might find while riding Guatemala’s famed chicken buses.

Situation: You don’t know how much the bus will cost.
Never ask the ayudante. Doing so just gives him incentive to overcharge you. If he asks you for Q50 for a thirty minute trip, how can you argue with him? You already made it abundantly clear that you have no idea how much it will be. If you find yourself in this situation, the best option is to pay attention to how much the people in front of you are charged or to ask a neighbor. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Guatemalans are an incredibly friendly and helpful people; “para servirle” is a common expression for a reason. Another option is to give the ayudante a bill for a greater amount than the trip will likely cost. While doing this, look incredibly bored like you do this every day. Don’t worry if he doesn’t give you change immediately; he’ll hit you back.

Situation: You don’t know whether to take one bus or two.
If no buses are currently running to your intended destination, you’re put in the unenviable position of deciding whether to wait for the next bus or taking one that will get you part of the way there. The answer is a pretty easy one and depends on your priorities. If you’re in a rush, take a bus that will get you part of the way there; it’s almost always faster. If you’re trying to save money, wait for the next bus: taking multiple buses can increase the price of the trip up to 50%. Keep in mind that if you’re traveling to potentially dangerous or unknown places, it may be more prudent to take a direct bus. Bus stations are often flooded with shady characters, such as pickpockets and even Mormons.

Situation: You don’t know where to sit.
Regardless of whether the front seats are filled to capacity (just kidding – the word “capacity” does not apply to chicken buses) and the back is relatively empty (only 2-3 people per seat), Guatemalans, especially Mayan women in my experience, generally prefer to sit in the front. Whether they have a Rosa Parks complex or understandably prefer to be near a door so they don’t have to climb over hundreds of people to get off, this little tidbit of information could be your ticket to a comfortable ride. If you sit all the way in the back, you have the added bonus of being able to slip out the back door like a pro when you come to your stop.

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