Chicken buses – 5 survival tips

Central America is well renowned for its “chicken buses”, essentially old, worn-out school buses from the US that get a second lease on life transporting the good folk of Central America and their produce (including animals, hence the name) from one place to another.   They are all dilapidated (though brightly coloured) without any creature comforts (think bathroom, air-conditioning) and cover very long routes, much to the eternal discomfort of their passengers.

chicken buses at the terminal
Chicken buses at the terminal. Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Leaving Ometepe, the chicken bus trip from Rivas to Managua is only a short one – just over two hours, but it did demonstrate many of the high points of the experience.   Here are some tips for young players:

Tip 1.  Make sure you get there early to get a seat.  Although it is illegal (in Nicaragua) to have people standing on the buses, it seems every bus company is more prepared to pay the fine than follow the rule.

chicken bus

Tip 2.  Don’t drink too much before your trip.  Although Tip 1 is important, it creates an issue as there are no bathrooms on the buses, and they don’t stop for bathroom breaks either.  If you are on a really long trip like the one I did from Managua to San Carlos it helps to dehydrate yourself a bit beforehand – 7 hours without a pee-break is a very, very long time!   It goes without saying that if you do have a bathroom opportunity mid-journey – take it!  Even though you will likely have to pay (a very small amount) to do so.  You never know when the next opportunity will arise.

Tip 3.  Make sure you choose the correct side of the bus to sit on.  There is no air-conditioning on chicken buses and rarely any curtains, so if you are sitting on the sunny side of the bus – you are going to suffer (and probably get sunburned)!

Tip 4. Try to sit in the middle-front of the bus.  As you can probably imagine, chicken buses don’t have the greatest suspension and sitting in the back of the bus is a very bouncy affair.   The speakers for the sound-system also tend to be in the back of the bus and the driver cranks up the music so that he can hear it.  This tends to be very loud when you are sitting a metre away from the speaker, and not great when you are suffering from a dehydration headache (see Tip 2).

Tip 5.  Develop a fondness for latin romantica and 80s power ballads.  These are the tunes of choice for Nicaraguan bus drivers.  Or, I guess you could put in your own headphones…

No, catching chicken buses is not comfortable, but it is an amazing experience – every time.   They are also unbelievably cheap and they really do go everywhere.

And I just want to do a shout out to all the central american kids I’ve ever encountered on chicken buses.  You guys are unbelievably well behaved and truly amazing!    There is a lot that Australian kids could learn from the way you travel.


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