How to get around in Nicaragua? Nicaragua is a very easy country to travel. There is public transport to almost all destinations you want to go to, just keep in mind that travelling by public transport goes slow, due to road conditions, the many stops busses make, the amount of buses that go and the nature of the people.
The fastest way to get around in Nicaragua is the most expensive way: flying. Nicaragua has got a bunch of airports and you can fly from one to the other; although there is a big change you have a stopover in Managua before reaching your final destinations. Managua (international airport), Bluefields (South East of Nicaragua), Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) and the Corn Islands are the main airports. Chinandega (North West of Nicaragua) also have airports. Both places can be reached by bus but are off the beaten track.
Nicaragua has no train line anymore. President Violeta Chamorro closed down the railway in 1993; selling the tail for scrap. She bought old, rotten American school buses in the United States and had the buses take over the job of the railway line. The last part of the railway line, the six kilometer stripe from Chichigalpa to Ing. S. Antonio, was decommissioned in September 2001. In places like Granada and Leon you can still find old train stations.
After the flying taking taxis is the most expensive way to get around Nicaragua. If you compare the prices of the taxis to the cost of living and the prices of busses in Nicaragua than (long distance) taxi prices are extreme. The price for a taxi ride from Managua to Leon (about 2,5 hours) is around 85 dollars. Within the city taxis are much cheaper; most take more passengers though.
Hotels, hostels etceteras do pick-ups from the airport. Prices are often based on taxi-prices. If you can; try to share a cap.
Private shuttles are a good and luxurious way to get around in Nicaragua. A lot of organisations run shuttles going from city to city. The shuttles are mini-vans that often pick you up from your hotel/hostel and drop you off at the hotel/hostel in your next location. You pay around 30 dollars to get from Leon to Granada: a 3 hours ride and 25 dollars to get from Leon (up north) all the way down to San Juan del Sur. Tierra Tours is one of the companies that run shuttle services. With these shuttle buses you guaranteed of having a seat in the bus.
Express busses are way cheaper than private shuttles and come close in comfort. They don’t pick you up, but run from bus station in one town to bus station in another town. You will have a seat, just like in a shuttle bus, however the little edge behind the drivers seat count as a seat as well. Big change you have to sit on their. Not the most comfortable option if you’re in for a ride of three hours. But you won’t pay more than a few dollars.
Take a chicken bus if you want to get the real Nicaraguan feeling of travelling. The chicken busses are the old school buses the government of former president Violeta Chamorro (a United States favorite) bought from the US. If you’re above 1.75 meter tall, you won’t have a lot of legroom, but the experience will beat the lack of comfort.
The chicken buses stop on almost every street corner and when you take one of the long distance buses, they just stop when somebody flags them down at the side of the road. They are called chicken busses because at every stop sales people will get on the bus to sell you chicken, bread, chips, candy and softdrinks. And that’s not all, because if you’re lucky you will get people on the buss trying to sell you scissors, vitamins, telephone cards, herbs that cure everything and God.
Minivans / minibuses
You may work out what is more uncomfortable: the chicken busses or the mini vans. Both run on the same tracks and compete for visitors. Although minivans /minibuses are found more in and around smaller towns and go more frequent. If you’re in a minivan and you think it’s full, because every seat is taken, you are wrong. The record bus I’ve been in, took thirty people, including big baskets with bread and empty fish eskies. There is no leg space for tall people and standing up, means folding double at the waist.
Just like the chicken buses they stop when they are flagged down by people on the side of the road. When you get on, just tell them where you want to get off and they stop there as well.
One little word on bus stations. Every town has his own bus stations. Some stations are as well for chicken buses as for minivans, but often both are separated. Next to that: most town have more than one bus station. Othen on the North and the South side of town. If you have to get from one station to another, you often have to get a taxi. As stated before: within the city – travelling short distances – taxis are cheaper than long distance ones and you can easily share a cap with other people who have to go to another bus station as well. Be sure to bargain on the price of the cap.
It feels like there is a big ‘battle’ going on between the chicken buses and the minivans. As soon as you get to a bus station people will ‘jump’ at you to ‘help’ you. Most often they really want to help you, only the minivan people want you in the minivan, the chicken bus people want you on their bus. Minivans are often a bit faster; make your own choice.
The only people you shouldn’t trust are the taxi-drivers. They will often tell you there is no bus going anymore, just to sell you a way more expensive taxi ride. So ask around first, before you get into a cap.
For the rest: just enjoy the ride.