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Guatemala: Is the chicken bus worth it?

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A Guatemalan chicken bus
A Guatemalan chicken bus

Despite its dangers, Guatemala seems to attract rugged tourists. If you’re feeling brave, it’s still a good idea to check the U.S. State Department travel safety page. The U.S. embassy page listing recent incidents is an eye-opener. In Antigua, which looked so idyllic on a recent episode of “House Hunters International,” two armed men assaulted a tourist who was riding a chicken bus. The men forced the tourist to remove his clothes to see if he was carrying anything of value, the page says.

So if you’re still inclined to visit, know how to travel purposefully and strategically.

The capital of Guatemala City is dicey at best. Towns that border Mexico are infested with drug merchants, who don’t like foreigners in their way. In rural areas, mobs look at tourists with suspicion, and have ganged up on foreigners when they’re suspected of kidnapping.

Some tips from experienced, daredevil travelers:

  • Abandon your “party” attitude.
  • Be picky about your transportation. The chicken buses — hard-driven customized school buses that are packed past capacity — get mixed reviews among visitors. Some feel the risk is necessary for an authentic experience, and is taken daily by the locals. Others will tell you it’s just plain reckless, especially on mountain routes.
  • Always know where you are and where you’re going.
  • Leave the jewelry at home.
  • Consider carrying a “throw down wallet” with an expired credit card or two in it, and some cash.
  • Keep important documents and cash reserves under your clothes.
  • Know the language well enough to ask locals for advice.
  • Travel light.
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