How to Ride a Nicaraguan Chicken Bus

Riding a chicken bus in Nicaragua is an eye-opening and often terrifying experience.

  • Barreling down muddy cliff-side roads and potholed highways.
  • Listening to speeches on religion, politics and parasites
  • Eating full meals from the vendors at every stop.
  • Hanging on for dear life: from time to time.

It’s also the best way to experience Nicaragua: a hidden gem of Central America.

The Estelli Express, parked in Murra, Nicaragua, where I lived for seven months
The Estelli Express, parked in Murra, Nicaragua, where I lived for seven months

Sit By the Window: Trust Me on This One

You want to sit by the window for the obvious reason: fresh air. The seat may be a bit more cramped, but you get some relief from breathing in dust, heat and smelly body odors, as well as from the general stuffiness of the bus.

Kids selling me water as my bus came to a red light in Managua: the capital of Nicaragua
Kids selling me water as my bus came to a red light in Managua: the capital of Nicaragua

Your window seat also will come in handy when your Nicaraguan chicken bus stops at the side of the road and vendors come up to the side selling tasty treats like enchiladas, jacote fruits, rosquillas, cold water and soda, cheese, tortillas and bread. There’s nothing like conducting a transaction leaning out of the window of an old school bus.

Another equally important reason for sitting by the window is to combat the never-ending flow of humanity. Nicaraguan locals will board and get off the bus in droves at every stop. If you are in an aisle seat, you should be prepared to have your toes stepped on and having people falling and sitting in your lap.


Be Prepared to Squeeze

Nicaraguan chicken buses suuuure do get crowded
Nicaraguan chicken buses suuuure do get crowded

If you want to get that window seat on a Nicaragun bus, you’ve got to be prepared to push your way on.

Men, women and children of all ages make a b-line for the front door as soon as it opens, so forget about waiting on an organized line

I mentioned earlier that sitting by a window helps avoid people sitting in your lap. Well, you still might get some bodily contact.

It’s a safe bet that at some point in your journey at least three people will try and squeeze into your little row, often leaving you with parts of your new friend’s body on top of yours.

The Coltran (bus station) in Ocotal: a city in the North of Nicaragua, less than an hour bus ride from the Honduras border...where I almost got arrested...
The Coltran (bus station) in Ocotal: a city in the North of Nicaragua, less than an hour bus ride from the Honduras border…where I almost got arrested…

Wait, There’s Real Chickens Too?

Don’t be surprised, but from time to time people bring their own livestock onto the bus.

I’ve watched as locals have held out a handful of rice to allow their chicken, pig or other animal to have a snack on the bus. It makes sense: how else would they get them home.

Where To Put Your Stuff

Most Nicaraguan chicken buses have installed a rack above the seats for passengers to store their bags while traveling.

Honestly. What size bag could I possibly fit in this luggage rack?
Honestly. What size bag could I possibly fit in this luggage rack?

However, if you’re backpacking or have a big suitcase there is probably no way it will fit up there. At times, the opening is no larger than a book. So where do you put your big bag?

You can’t keep it in the seat with you: there’s no room. All that’s left is to put it either in the back of the bus (assuming there aren’t seats there) or up on top of the bus.

But a helpful piece of advice after riding these buses for seven months is “don’t worry about your bag while you’re on the bus.” The busy guys (cobradors) take very good care of them and they are safer up there than when you’re walking around.


Don’t Forget to Take it All In

This guy gives a 5 minute talk on the types and dangers of parasites before selling at least half of the bus some sort of pills he claims cures them.
This guy gives a 5 minute talk on the types and dangers of parasites before selling at least half of the bus some sort of pills he claims cures them.

Remember, you’re not taking a chicken bus for the ease of it. You’re taking it to get a glimpse into Nicaraguan culture.

Take it all in. Enjoy the preachers who stand in the front and talk about Jesus.

Smile at the guys who show charts of parasites and sell pills to “cure all.”

It’s a completely different world from whatever you are used to (probably) and one of the most educational and eye-opening experiences you can have.

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