Chicken buses in Belize & beyond: A Central America Survival Guide
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For those of us travelling on a budget, chicken buses in Belize are by far the best way to get around. They’re usually one of the fleet of American school buses that were sold onto Central American governments when they bought new ones. Basic but functional! Unfortunately, the chicken buses in Belize are much less decorated than those you’ll find in Guatemala, but they work just the same 😉 This guide has been written with the chicken buses in Belize in mind, but the tips do apply more broadly to most of Central America.
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For those just staying on Caye Caulker or San Pedro, taking a chicken bus probably won’t be necessary unless travelling there by land from Mexico or Guatemala, but for travel around the mainland to destinations such as Placencia, they’re a staple of any Belize trip. Here are our tips for surviving chicken buses in Belize, use them to get to know the process of bus travel in this country, and how to stay comfortable and safe during your journey.
1. Get multiple opinions on bus times
It’s not uncommon that even the times displayed up at the bus terminal for chicken buses in Belize are out of date. Your best bet is always to ask the steward who helps call and load the buses, or someone who works at a shop of the terminals in smaller towns. There’s almost no reliable time information for chicken buses in Belize available online, so you need to rely on the locals’ knowledge a lot.
2. Pay onboard chicken buses in Belize
Unlike buses in other parts of Central America, tickets for chicken buses in Belize cannot be bought in advance. They can’t even be bought at the terminal, nor in most cases, from the bus driver. Instead, a few minutes into the trip, the bus assistant will come down the aisle and charge all those who haven’t paid yet. Sometimes you get a receipt, other times you’re just relying on the memory of the assistant – but as a foreigner you don’t have worry about them not remembering you! On average, chicken buses in Belize cost around 3-4 BZ$ per hour of travel.
3. Big bags to the back of the bus
If you’re travelling with big bags, don’t take up a seat for them. If they don’t fit in the railings above your head, take them to the very back of the bus, where the last row of seats will have usually been removed to accommodate luggage. Sit on a seat towards the back if you’re worried about safety, but it should generally be OK back there. It’s rare that a Belize chicken bus would have luggage space under it, and if it does they won’t use it until the back row is full.
If a bus terminal steward loads a bag on for you, he may ask for a tip. In all honesty, we didn’t see stewards ask anyone except foreigners, so your call on what/if you give.
4. Small bags with you on the seat
As we stressed in our post on how to stay safe and comfortable on night buses in South America, when taking chicken buses in Belize, you need to keep all your valuables on you. This includes passport, money, and technology. Your smaller rucksack should never leave your touch, let alone your sight, and it should never be put in the luggage shelf above your head. Make sure it can’t be pulled out from under the rows in front or behind; tie it to your leg if you have to! And if you’re hoping for some good legroom…
5. Take something to sit on
A t-shirt, a towel, whatever – take something to sit on so that your skin doesn’t stick to the old leather seats. Things are gonna get sweaty! If you have the luxury of something cushioned, that’ll serve you well on long journeys, too.
6. Keep alert to the weather
Since there’s no air conditioning on chicken buses in Belize, it’s an unwritten rule that windows remain open. However, if it begins to rain, there’s trouble ahead, and the shape of the roof means water literally streams through the windows like you’re being shot by a water pistol. Rain in Belize seems to have an on or off switch, with no ‘gentle’ setting in between, so if it starts raining you need to close your window tight as soon as you can. If it’s jammed, the bus assistant will come and help you 🙂
7. Fan it out
Aaaaand if all the windows are shut due to rain and there’s (still) no air con, things are about to get stuffy. Belize has the same tropical temperatures all year round, rainy season or not. Bring something you can fan yourself with, just in case!
8. Don’t expect to sleep on chicken buses in Belize
Being repurposed school buses, chicken buses in Belize are not designed for adults to be able to rest their heads. The backs of most of the chairs are too short to fall asleep on, and besides, the roads can get pretty bumpy. Belize’s chicken buses do not run as night buses for a good reason!
9. Hold onto your hair
On a sunny day, when all the windows of chicken buses in Belize are wide open, that sweet, sweet breeze will be oh-so welcome, but if you have annoying, uncontrollable hair like me, you’ll want a hat or headband to stop to blowing all over the place and constantly tickling your already hot, sticky forehead.
10. Have a good natter!
It’s really normal for people on board to turn around and chat with you, so don’t be worried if they do! It can be odd coming from a western European culture to get used to this, but just enjoy the friendliness!
That’s all we think you need to know about surviving chicken buses in Belize & beyond! But if you have any other tips, let us hear them in the comments!
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