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Latin American Buses

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I think I’ve done enough travelling on buses now. 4 hours here, 5 hours there, with the odd 8 hour journey thrown in to boot. Sometimes you put your luggage in the compartment underneath the bus, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get a tag for your bag, sometimes you don’t. Either way, you find yourself looking out of the window every time the bus stops and people take their bags from the driver. If you take your bag on the bus, sometimes there’s somewhere to put it, and sometimes you have to have it on your lap or by your feet. Regardless of the process, you always – ALWAYS – have your valuables and personal belongings with you.

What’s It Like?

Crowded Bus In Latin AmericaI always think that the driver is on the take. Sometimes he has help, sometimes he doesn’t. Quite often, the bus makes an unscheduled stop – sometimes several. It could be an old lady that’s sitting in a rocking chair, a young lad that’s outside a shop, or a shady looking guy on a motorbike on the freeway. In almost all circumstances, something is exchanged and the bus moves on.

Often, the bus will stop and the driver will disappear for 5 minutes whilst he buys somoething to eat, makes a transaction, or just talks to friends.

Some journeys will see seats reserved, some don’t. Either way, always turn up early. Firstly because you need to get yourself a seat, and secondly because the bus will quite easily leave early. I’ve no idea why – they call it Tico time in Costa Rica.

I’ve even had two heated conversations about seats so far – one, an american who claimed that there was “a rule” about staying in seats when the journey breaks into two, and another with a young boy who claimed the seat next to him was “occupado” when it clearly wasn’t. I won’t tell you what I told him!


Latin American BusThere are no safety rules in Latin America, no maximum passengers. In fact, there’s no counting of passengers at all! Standing is so common, it’s the norm, and I’ve seen sitting on the floor many times as well as sitting on laps.

Buses are old here. They have seen better days and many many miles of travel. They don’t go up hills well and make a lot of noise. They are hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable, but the overriding factor is that they are cheap most of the time.

Tico buses are better. They offer reserved seating, bag tagging, toilets, and fewer scheduled stops. The Executive bus offers blankets and food, but they cost much more than public transport.

The concept of bus stops also make me laugh. Firstly, they are every 200 metres on some services; but more amusing is that people will flag a bus down from anywhere. It could be somewhere randomly in between stops or a convenient street corner. Either way, there doesn’t appear to be a fixed rule.

ADDENDUM: Buses in Panama City are mental. They are either old yellow school buses (straight from American movies) or these phycadellic old machines with disco lights on the front. You can see them coming from a mile away and they light up the night sky like a firework display at New Year.

About Adrian Britton

Sometimes I will talk about things that are interesting, and sometimes I won’t. Sometimes it will be a bit of a laugh, and sometimes it will just be a downright rant about something going on in the world – I’m often accused at moaning a lot, and I consider myself quite good at it !!



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