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  • Writer's pictureWITY TRAVELS


Updated: Oct 21, 2022

The main form of transport you will see in any city you visit in Guatemala are colorful school buses. The locals call them “camionetas,” while tourists call them chicken buses. They use them to get from town to town around the country. While the core of this bus may remind you of the school buses you took back in the day, these camionetas hold a lot more character and a lot more people. Each bus is painted in different bright colors as if the bright yellow wasn’t vivid enough.

In case you are new here, we are Will and Katy. We are a travel couple that is traveling around the world. We are on year two of our travel adventures and have spent a total of 2 months so far in Guatemala. In this blog we will share our first experiences on a Guatemalan chicken bus. If you need a list of bus routes, prices and links to maps you can scroll to the bottom of the blog.

Above the front driver’s window are either painted letters or an electronic scrolling sign with the destinations of the bus. The cities might also be painted on the back or the side of the bus, along with some kind of reference to God or Jesus. The front of the bus is also decked out with bright lights; which makes these buses hard to miss at night. There is a ladder at the back of the bus which leads to a rack on top of the bus where they can put large pieces of cargo or big suitcases. Most of the time I only saw a spare tire, a tarp, and a bucket on top.

Antigua to Guatemala City

We were told not to ride the chicken buses; even by our Airbnb host. People told us that we would get robbed. We heard that these buses were going to be JAM PACKED, and that the drivers were crazy! Our very first experience was nothing like this. Our first experience was on a bus from Antigua to Guatemala City. Now, this trip was a short one-hour and 15-minute ride. It was not crowded at all. It was a Sunday afternoon and there were quite a handful of empty seats. The driver did drive fast and we swayed from side to side as the bus turned on curves, but nothing seemed out of place. Except for the abrupt ending where we were 2 of the last 3 passengers left and the driver told us to quickly get off.

(Left to Right: San Nicolas Church in Xela , Munícípalidad de Quetzaltenango, Central Park in Xela)

Quezaltenango(Xela) to Chichi

Maybe it was our naïveté to expect the same kind of experience for our second time on a camioneta, but it was not at all what we experienced. The next time we hopped on one of these local buses was in the pouring rain at the Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela) Terminal. Our goal was to get to the town of Chichicastenango (also known as Chichi), for the biggest market in Central America. We had gone to the bus area earlier in the day to confirm the bus schedule and route, as we always do. At that time a gentleman told us there was a bus that goes straight to Chichi and brought us over to get onto the bus. I had to explain to him that we didn’t need to go right then, but that we would be back in a few hours to catch a bus then. He huffed and walked away. This is not the first time something like this has happened. Often during our travels if we go earlier to inquire about a bus or look at a menu in a restaurant for a time in the future the person is disappointed. I assume because they were hoping for a sale right then and there, and in the case of the guy by the bus, I think he probably would have gotten a commission. We left him disappointed and went on to explore the city a little longer.

A few hours later when we returned to the station, it wasn’t ideal, because it was raining. People were running around looking for their buses. Guys were shouting various names of towns around Guatemala to try and fill up their buses. I asked around for a bus that was going to Chichi. One guy told me it wasn’t there yet, it would be coming and motioned to an area where we should go stand and wait. As Will and I stood there with our rain jackets attempting to keep us dry, a few more guys came over asking where we needed to go. I told them Chichi. They too said there was no bus, but they added that right now the only way to get to Chichi was to take a bus to Los Encuentros and then change buses at that location. This wasn’t news to me, since I previously read that this was the only way to get to Chichi from Xela. Earlier when I saw a bus that went straight to Chichi, that was a surprise. So without hesitation, Will and I headed to board the bus that was going to Los Encuentros.

I got on the bus first and saw the very first row open, so I took it. I looked over to the entrance and Will was still standing outside. He was blocked by an elderly couple who were saying goodbye to their family. Finally, when Will got in, we tried to squeeze our two backpacks into the space on the floor between us and the bus driver. A few moments passed and a guy with a long beard, red shirt, and a ball cap got in and sat in the front seat next to the driver’s seat. He then proceeded to get on his phone, and at times he would call out the window, “Encuentros.” After a few moments, he sat in the driver’s seat. He was our bus driver. More and more people packed onto the bus. It seemed like every seat was full. The bus driver even shouted over to the passengers to squeeze together on the seats, because they can sit three to a seat. I remember sitting three to a seat on a school bus in elementary school, but that was because we were small kids. That bus was full of grown adults, but somehow three full-sized adults squeezed onto a seat. Luckily for us, a third person had yet to squeeze onto our seat.

The bus helper, that’s what we’ll call the guy who was herding people onto the bus, started collecting the bus fee. He started with the people on the back of the bus, asking where they were headed so he could charge them the right amount. Because although the bus was headed to Los Encuentros, people hop off and on the bus at any point in time, so the fee can be different. There was an older lady in the seat behind us who, when I turned around to see what was going on in the back of the bus, leaned over and asked us where we were from. I’m not sure if it was our backpacks or our rain jackets, or maybe she heard Will talking to me in English, but something gave away that we were not from Guatemala. I told her we were from the United States. She welcomed us to her beautiful country and told us that we shouldn’t pay any more than 40 Quetzales for this ride. I thought it was so kind of her to make sure we weren’t getting overcharged. As a note, we did not get overcharged.

About 5 minutes passed before it was time to go. The rain did not slow down as the driver pressed the gas pedal and began driving away from the hectic bus station outside the market. The bus helper was hanging out the open door calling out “Encuentros” over and over again trying to fill the bus with even more passengers. Every seat, besides apparently ours, was taken. I was not sure how any more people could fit. But the bus would stop and more people would pile in. Instead of sitting on a seat, they stood in the aisle. Finally, what we feared, a young lady asked to squeeze onto the seat with us. I was seated closest to the window, to give Will the aisle so he would have more legroom. But the little legroom he did have was taken away from him as he squeezed closer to me attempting to give this lady a sliver of the seat. The bus helper "came to the rescue." He popped the seat off its hinges, and pulled it toward the aisle, giving the lady more of a seat to sit on. What he failed to realize is that half my butt was off the seat. That is how I managed the rest of the hour trip as the bus zoomed through the roads, swaying from side to side. Each time the driver was going around a bend, I gripped onto the silver bar that served as a barricade between us and the driver. People would hop off, but more would come on, never leaving the bus anything but packed.

We finally reached the switch point of Los Encuentros. We quickly got off the bus (because the driver kept moving) and crossed the highway to look for the bus to Chichi. We asked around and were told to wait. It was arriving soon. After roughly 15 minutes the bus to Chichi arrived. This was not a camioneta like we just rode, it was a small passenger van. Nothing crazy happened on this bus. It was a normal ride and every seat was filled. But unlike the camioneta, there was no space for extra passengers. It was a 40-minute ride that only cost 10 Quetzales. We drove on a road through the mountains as the sun set, but the driver drove at normal speeds. If only all bus drivers could drive as he did.

(Left to Right: Cemetery at Chichi, Shopping at the Largest Market in Central America, Ritual at Iglesia de Santo Tomás)

Chichicastenango to Guatemala City

I’m not sure why, but each time we rode a camioneta, the rides got crazier and crazier. Our third time riding the bus was from Chichi to Guatemala City. This was the longest and craziest ride yet. Our original plan was to take one of the small buses to the Los Encuentros switch point and then wait to flag down a camioneta there that was headed to Guatemala City. However, as we were walking to our hotel from the market, we saw a camioneta that said Guatemala City, and the bus helper was calling out “Guate, Guate.” As he jumped off the bus looking for passengers I asked if there was another one passing by later. He said he was not sure but to get on this bus now. I told him we didn’t even have our backpacks with us, we had to go get them. He walked along the bus as the bus kept moving and asked where our bags were as if he would wait for us. I told him it was at our hotel and we still had to pack. He jumped onto his bus and drove away. Although we couldn’t get on that bus, we knew there was a direct bus from Chichi to Guatemala City. After we packed our bags and checked out of the hotel we returned to the main road we saw the earlier bus turn onto. Then we waited. After about 15 minutes a camioneta arrived with a bus helper shouting out “Guate Guate.” Exactly where we needed to go. We quickly climbed onto the bus, in hopes we could find two empty seats. We did not want to stand for a 3-hour ride. To our luck, there were a handful of empty seats at the back of the bus. We eagerly made our way to the back, however, Will and I couldn’t sit together. I sat in one aisle seat next to a young guy and Will sat in the empty aisle seat to the left of me next to two younger kids.

As the bus helper made his way through the bus to collect the bus fee I turned to the guy next to me and asked how much the fare to Guate should be. He wasn’t entirely sure as it wasn’t his final destination, but his guess was 50 Quetzales. As the bus helper approached me, I handed him Q100 and told him two for Guate. He counted and said it was a total of Q120. I handed him Q20 more. Just Q10 a person off, not too bad. He finished collecting bus fares and made his way back to the front of the bus.

As we made our way out of Chichi, the bus was picking up more people. At Los Encuentros the guy sitting next to me got off and Will was able to switch over to the same seat with me. At this stop we also saw two tourists get on the bus and they sat in the row in front of us. A guy and a girl with fair skin and light hair. They put their bags overhead. Brave. We just always kept our bags with us, even if it means it sits on our lap the whole way. The man began speaking Spanish to one of the other passengers, which I wasn’t expecting. He was confirming where he had to switch buses to get to Antigua, with very good Spanish I might add. The bus kept getting more and more full. It was standing room only down the center aisle. After one stop the bus was so full the bus helper had to squeeze his way through the people to collect the bus fare. Once he got to the back of the bus, instead of making his way back to the front, he opened up the door on the back of the bus, and climbed up the ladder to the roof of the bus. I remember as a kid that opening up the back door on a bus was a big no-no, it was used for emergencies only and the loudest and most annoying siren would sound when it was “accidentally” opened by some hooligans in the back of the bus. That was not the case on the camioneta. It was used to escape the crowd. While in motion, the bus helper made his way, I assume by walking on the roof, perhaps crawling, to the front of the bus. I was sitting on the right side of the bus, by the window, and saw the bus helper somehow make his way off the top of the bus into the open side door. To clarify, there was no ladder on the side of the bus. It was like a scene in an action movie, without the fighting a bad guy on the roof part.

I am not sure if that driver was wilder, or if it was because we were in the back of the bus, but it was a bumpier ride. I felt I had to grip the bar in front of me harder than the other two rides. This time we didn’t sway from side to side, we were jolted from side to side. After a while, the bus got emptier; well the people all standing in the aisle were at least gone. Which apparently was a good time for some guy who came onto the bus. He started talking to everyone. He started by greeting everyone and asking for their attention and then proceeded to talk about this cream he was selling. This is the first time I saw something like this on a bus. I was used to people walking through train carts in other countries selling small items like candy bars or masks, but it was just a quick shout of the name of the item and the price. This guy on the other hand had a whole speech for his product. He listed off the benefits and how they should not live without it. Once he was done with his sales pitch he shouted out the prices of these creams and the sales he had for that day. To my surprise, we saw him make a few sales. I thought most people weren’t paying attention to him, especially because it was so loud. His method worked and he got off on the next stop with a profit.

This ride was already the most interesting trip so far. To add to it, it began raining and everyone quickly put their windows up. Unfortunately, it resulted in the bus getting really hot, muggy, and smelly. While it was raining the first time we rode a camioneta, I guess because we were sitting in the first row we still had the breeze from the driver’s window which he left cracked open, and from the bus door that was constantly opened to let people in.

After a long three hours, we finally reached our destination of Guatemala City. It left us off at Trebol, where we assumed it would drop us off. We were glad to be walking on the pavement again.

Inside of a chicken bus in Guatemala

While everyone warned us about riding in the camionetas, for three different rides, we didn’t have any major issues. If anything, all we experienced were really kind and helpful Guatemalans. If anything it really gave us a peek into the daily living of the locals. Many people take these buses daily to get to work. The biggest market in Central America, which is in Chichi, only happens Thursdays and Sundays; so locals might make that long trek out there to sell their products or to go shopping. We have talked to a couple of people that did have their bag stolen or their wallet stolen, but that’s because they had their bag on the rack above the seats and had fallen asleep. I do have tips for you if you are riding a camioneta any time soon:

  • Keep your bag with you, on your lap. Or at least divide your belongings into two bags, keep the valuables with you and then feel free to place the other bag in the overhead rack.

  • If you are prone to motion sickness, take a motion sickness medicine if you are going far. I am very prone to getting motion sickness, but I took a chance and didn’t need it for the bus from Antigua to Guatemala. I took it for the others, and I am glad I did.

  • If you can, try and get a window seat; you will appreciate the fresh air.

Here is a list of routes (all kinds of buses) we took, with the prices we paid (as of 2022). If you click on the cities it will take you to the google map location. I had a hard time finding anything online, so I hope this list helps.

BUS ROUTES IN GUATEMALA (Chicken Buses and Shuttle Buses)

Uber from Guatemala City to Antigua - about $25 USD

Chicken Bus from Antigua to Guatemala City - Q20

Chicken Bus from Xela to Los Encuentros - Q40

Mini Bus from Los Encuentros to Chichicastenango - Q10

Chicken Bus from Chichicastenango (not a proper station we just flagged down the bus off this street) to Guatemala City - Q60 ( *You can also take a minibus from Chichi to Los Encuentros and then flag down a chicken bus that is going to Guatemala. )

Mini Bus from Lanquin (just flag one down in this corner) to Coban - Q40

Big Shuttle Bus (with AC) from Coban (Company: Monja Blanca) to Guatemala City - Q120 ( *They have smaller shuttle buses that are around 75Q but they leave at certain times, so just go ahead of time so you know when those buses are scheduled for )

Mini Bus from Flores to Tikal - Q50

Tikal to Flores - we paid for a return ticket with the original company we used, but the day we left there were also small minivans in the parking lot heading to Flores that were only Q25, I think this is the one time we got overcharged for a ride.

Chicken Bus from Guatemala City to Panajachel

Unfortunately as of the time we were there, there weren't direct chicken buses, you will have to take 3 buses:

Guatemala City to Los Encuentros - Q40

Los Encuentros to Solola - Q3.5

Solola to Panajachel - Q5

(You have to get to Panajachel and then take the Water Taxi to the other cities around Lake Atitlan, like San Pedro La Laguna, San Juan, San Marcos, ect.)

Ferry/Water Taxi in Panajachel (they are called "lanchas" in Spanish).

Use the dock that is off of Calle del Embarcadero.

From Panajachel to San Pedro - Q25

From Panajachel to San Juan - Q25

Until next time... What could possibly be next?

Watch the Youtube video to get our first impressions of our time in Xela, Guatemala and our time shopping at the biggest market in Central America, in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

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