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Chicken buses, express buses, shuttles or rental car? How best to travel around Guatemala?

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So, I am trying to decide on what mode(s) of transportation we should use to get around.

I have to say that the chicken buses sound like a "must" at least once for us...we love that kind of thing! We like experiencing the "real" parts of the places we visit.
Is the chicken bus a viable way to get from GC to Antigua?
If not, where would one use the chicken bus?

However, for the longer legs of the trip we are looking for a cheap way to get from GC to Pana then Pana to Antigua. (Not necessarily in that order, haven't firmed this up yet).

When I looked into the shuttles (at least on transportguatemala.com) they seem pretty expensive for Latin America:
$50 for 2 people from GC to Pana
$24 for 2 people from Pana to Antigua
$24 for 2 people from GC to Antigua
And these aren't the private shuttles!

We're used to paying around $1-3 dollars for a 1-2 hour bus ride in Latin American countries. These shuttle prices seem so high that we were thinking about renting a car instead.
I can get a car for $127 for 5 days and then we could come and go when we please instead of having to catch a shuttle at a certain time.

We were really hoping that there would be bus service that's a step up (or maybe 2 or 3 steps up:) ) from chicken buses with buses that run very frequently for less than the shuttles.
Express buses? Do they exist?
I'm having trouble finding info if they do.

Can anyone help with express bus info, like prices, schedules, etc???
I'd also love to hear feedback about the chicken buses!

Thanks
:)>-

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