The best way of traversing through Central America, from my experience, is by bus, flying is extortionate, trains don’t exist and boats serve little purpose unless you’re island hopping. Now when I say bus, I mean the coaches and not the Chicken Busses. For those unaware, the chicken busses are old US school busses that have been given a sort of Blackpool slut style makeover with the addition of trashy lights, spiked wheels, bells, whistles and any other tat that can be found to adorn the yellow abomination. The chicken busses exist throughout Central America and are primarily used for shorter distances, it is possible to travel far on various busses but it isn’t an option I’d recommend unless you are down to your final pennies.
Prior to this journey I really wanted to experience a journey on a chicken bus, the name itself conjures up images of madness, crammed busses with pets, people and luggage, and it sounded exciting. I quickly faced the realisation when I arrived here that my only desire to get on a chicken bus was so that I’d be able to say ‘I did that,’ a horribly ostentatious way to travel. With this said, I haven’t taken a chicken bus anywhere and intend to avoid those bacteria infested, bumcheek breaking, bandit filled busses for as long as humanly possible. I have spoken to countless people and read countless accounts of their experience on the busses and have no reason to think that my journey will be any safer or more comfortable than theirs.
The only flights I have taken, or intend to take are from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba and from Panama to Colombia. The former I decided to take in advance with my only purpose being to get out of SPS as quick as possible. The flight was only $60 so not much more expensive than the bus, it only took 45 minutes as well. The latter flight, I will be taking to overcome the Darien Gap, the only break in the Pan-American highway where an overland journey simply isn’t possible. Flights in the majority of Central American are spellbindingly expensive. I am writing this from the coach down to San Jose from Managua, a trip that has cost me $27, the flight for the same journey would have been just a shade over $600, utter madness!
The majority of the busses I have taken have been comfortable, basic, but comfortable, think National Express circa 1995. No wi-fi option (of course) plenty of stops for food, drinks and cigarettes, border crossing have been pretty basic too. If you can, many of the companies offer an executive bus, for a little bit extra you can get better comfort, more space and less pit stops for food which means you hit your destination far quicker.
For any of you who plan to get through Central America by bus, there are a few things that are important to know, having made mistakes in planning for these, I feel that I’m well placed to advise. Firstly, booking online is simply not an option, you must go to the station and purchase your ticket. Secondly, buy your ticket as far in advance as possible, I found this hard due to the speed in which I’m travelling but as soon as you arrive at a destination, I’d advise you to plan your escape as soon as possible. Thirdly, don’t be put off if a bus is full, there are usually 2 or 3 different companies that offer the same journey, ask about and do lots of research online. And finally, make sure that if nothing else, you take headphones and some music or a film for the bus, they will subject you to some of the worst films on the planet and crank the volume up as high as possible regardless of the hour, if you are taking a long bus there is no way to stay sane without some aural distraction.
My favourite part of bus travel, providing there is daylight, is to put some music on, look out of the window and use the time to reflect, to plan and to figure things out. It’s important to take time out from life for a while and there is no better way of doing that than putting yourself into a mobile prison for 10 hours!!
My favourite mode of travel is the train, speedy and comfortable, unfortunately Central American did away with these for some madcap reason so I guess I’ll have to wait for my return to Europe to enjoy that again. For now, however I’ll make do with the National Express- ba-ba-ba-da-ba-ba-ba-ba.