How to travel around within Nicaragua: An Overview
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our ramblings and that you find some value in what we post here.
So, the question of the day is, how does one travel around within
Nicaragua? What are your options? There are five main options that immediately come to mind:
- Taking buses and/or expresso vans
- Renting a car
- Hiring a point-to-point shuttle service
- Hiring a private car and driver
- Joining an organized group tour
Buses and Expresso Minivans
Taking buses and expresso minivans has its pluses and minuses to be sure. Pluses are that:
- Bus fares are very inexpensive for visitors from other countries.
- They arrive and leave at fairly frequent intervals, (at least between the main towns they are).
- Buses travel to nearly every small village, so you are not necessarily limited to the big towns and cities.
Expresso vans are smaller passenger vans that hold up to 20 people absolutely jammed in
Additional pluses for expresso buses are:
- they make less stops, hence the use of the term “expresso”
- they tend to arrive and leave at different, and sometimes more
- convenient locations to the big bus stations usually located in busy markets
Discussing the downsides to both bus and mini-van expressos is a
little trickier as it can involve subjective feeling and individual
preferences, so YMMV as they say 😉
Minuses for buses and expresso vans include:
- They are public, cooperatives, and individual owner/operators of buses and some buses, are literally “chicken buses” in that passengers bring onboard live chickens going to market.(I’ve also seen a live pig strapped to a bus roof.)
Yes passengers do bring their chickens on the bus…
- Can be quite crowded; you are not guaranteed a seat, which is why it is best to go to the bus station to have the best chance of getting a seat. Even if the bus goes by on its way out of town, all the seats may already be taken and then you will be on your feet for awhile at least until some people get off.
Buses can be crowded, especially during peak times
- Not as secure; obviously it is not as safe as being in your own vehicle.While the inter-city buses are not perfectly safe, they are much safer than the Managua city buses. Just follow the basic tips like don’t flash money, cameras, jewelry etc. around, keep your passport, credit cards and other personal information on your person, preferably under your outer clothing in a travel belt or pouch.
Pickpockets and crowded buses sometimes go together, unfortunately.
Renting a car has pluses in that you can:
- Decide when and where you will travel, coming and going on your own schedule.
- The ability to explore small villages, isolated beaches, mountain valleys, and other places that are not frequently served by bus or expresso vans.
The cost, even for a compact vehicle, is currently at or above $50 a day. Fuel and extra insurance coverage is of course extra. So if you are really doing some driving, let’s say from Managua to Leon, and then Leon to Granada, then to San Juan del Sur and want to take about six or seven days to do it, you are looking at an average daily fuel cost of ~$20-$50 (estimating here…literally this is YMMV). Before you know it you are looking at about $100 a day if you get full coverage insurance and drive around a bit.
Stress of driving is another factor and it is real. Actually before discussing that, you should know that Nicaragua is one of the better countries to drive in because it is still fairly rare for individuals to own their own vehicles. So once you are out of Managua, the traffic is not a big factor. What will get you are the traffic hazards; imagine a typical first-person driving video game but where taxis cut in front of you on a two-lane road and then come to an abrupt stop as soon as they slip in ahead of your vehicle. Buses stop and disgorge people in the middle of the road, oxen- and horse-driven carts plod along, school lets out and hundreds of kids are walking on the side of the road and inevitably they leak out onto the road, people playing chicken on the side of the road who decide they just must run out right in front of you to cross instead of waiting for you to pass, lousy drivers that might be drunk, beliggerent, or just piss-poor. Don’t forgot just a few of the rest; lots of times there are no street signs, stoplights are out, potholes are horrible, construction closes a lane but there is no one directing which direction passes when, in cities one-way streets with non-existent or non-obvious signage, etc etc.
Hiring a point-to-point private or group shuttle service
There are several shuttle services operating at any particular time. What i mean is that they seem to come and go. So check the latest on some of the various forum groups out there, Tripadvisor, Gotonicaragua, Lonely Planet, etc.
These services are relatively expensive for most travelers. Best for non-adventurous visitors whose Spanish skills are lacking.
Hiring a Car and a Driver
The more I think about this option the better it seems to me. You get all the advantages of a private car without the driving stress! These services cost about the same or perhaps slightly more than renting a car and driving yourself. An additional plus is that the driver may also speak English or another language besides Spanish, and act as your tour guide during your visit. A great guide will also know of and suggest interesting little places and experiences that will make your trip even more memorable.
Joining an Organized Group Tour
This is also a good option for some people who want to be catered to, do not want the responsibility of deciding “what’s next,” and in general, those who are first time visitors that want to experience a good part of Nicaragua in a stress-free manner. The obvious downside is that you are part of a group and that means that if the group is leaving town at 8 am from the hotel lobby, you need to be on-board with that whole program. This can be a good thing though, don’t get me wrong. I wanted to take a trip to Ometepe and a local Managua tour company had the transport, two days tour, one night lodging, with all the little fees included for $60 and I was totally up for doing it. I would like to see quite a bit of Ometepe, and it really is not worthwhile driving, putting the truck on the ferry, and driving around over there, plus I don’t know the island but want to try different adventures during our travels there. What better way than to take an organized group tour! Get to know the island and not worry about the hassles.
Link to Nicaraguan Bus Schedules
Four Essential Nicaraguan Driving Tips