What’s your favourite way of riding the bus? Watching the scenery roll by? Or maybe just a nice sleep?
Option 1 Is available all the way through Central America and its incredible. Views of rainforest, volcanoes and lakes, all in epic proportions. Option 2 is also available with a little bit of training of your mind.
What am I going on about? Well, the buses in Nicaragua are like nothing I’ve experienced and let’s just say they aren’t the most hospitable for the long of limb. My knees closer to my chest than I’m comfortable with and a numb bum within 30 minutes, things aren’t looking up for the local bus.
Despite this, the local buses or “chicken buses” were an experience of these countries that I wouldn’t have missed. They are old American school buses that have often been decorated and outfitted outlandishly. As well as their designs, they offer an experience of the life of the locals in the country with every man and his dog (or chicken) on these buses. If this has persuaded you then don’t start the search for timetables, if there are any they’re practically useless in this laid-back country. Just turn up, dodge the marauding taxi drivers and you’ll find the bus with your destination on the front. If not ask another bus driver and they’ll point you in the right direction.
If none of this flicks your switch then tourist shuttles were available from many of the hostels we stayed in, but I would urge you to try the local buses. They are 10x cheaper and they add to the whole atmosphere of travelling trying to work out what the hell is going on.
Note: Not all the busses are chicken buses. Some, like from the main bus station in Managua are mainly little vans that have twice the number of seats than you think is physically possible.
The Bus Stations
If you’re British like me then you know how to queue. Its either some innate ability, or something slowly trained into every child, over years of excessive societal politeness. This super power of sorts came in handy on a fair few occasions during our trip, one of which was the Leon bus station. We arrived after a brief stay in León and got to the bus station just in time to miss the bus back to Managua where we would change buses. Now I don’t know how long we queued in the humidity, being periodically asked to buy these plastic bags full of some mysterious liquid, but it wasn’t a short wait. Eventually, near my wits end, salvation came in the form of a small van which we only just managed to get onto.
No matter how many times a taxi driver tells you there’s no buses today or the only option is a “discounted taxi’, they’re lying. On one occasion, we were told all of this by many taxi drivers at the bus station, we turned the corner and found a huge empty bus with our destination on it.
The Crazy Conductor
Every big bus has one and I need them back in my life. This man is there to help you out, tell you where to get off and generally hang out of the bus yelling at passers-by, swapping money with random people on the street. On most journeys, we would just go to the final destination of the bus but on a few occasions, we needed to get off earlier. This is where the conductors came in handy they tell the drivers all the information and when you’re where you need to be, you pay them and they usher you off the bus very quickly.
A few stops we made were just on small junctions from which we walked to our hostel instead of waiting for another bus, these were a fun way of seeing some of the remote settlements not on the tourist trail. The conductor knew exactly where to drop us and gave us directions.
These men were the real heroes of our bus related endeavours.
- If you’re a drunken Nicaraguan man on your way to the Costa Rican border don’t think about shouting at and threatening a young woman (in this case, a Mexican girl we met who lives in Texas that helped us understand the border). This will only get the whole bus shouting at you to get off, then you’ll be taken off and finally handed over to the army.
- Buses in Nicaragua were a step into the unknown for me and every journey we made on them was memorable. Yes, a taxi or a tourist shuttle is more comfortable but they wouldn’t have offered the same experiences both on the buses and at the bus stations.