Getting there & away
Managua is the main transportation hub for the country, with four major national bus and van terminals, plus a handful of international bus lines, most grouped in Barrio Martha Quezada.
Tica Bus(222 3031) is in a newly remodeled terminal at the heart of Barrio Martha Quezada.
Costa Rica US$12, 10 hours, 5:45am, 7am and noon; for Liberia and San José
Panama City US$36, 34 hours, 5:45am and 7am
San Salvador US$25, 11 hours, 5am
King Quality(228 1454), across from Tica Bus, has in-flight…er, in-ride meal service and less intense air-conditioning.
Costa Rica US$16, eight hours, 2:30pm
Guatemala US$51, 32 hours, 3:30am; for Guatemala City
El Salvador US$27, 10 hours, 5am and 3pm; for San Salvador
Honduras US$24, 10 hours, 5am; for Tegucigalpa
Transnica (270 3133; 1c west of Esso), in convenient new digs in Barrio Martha Quezada, also offers luxury service.
Costa Rica US$12, nine hours, 5:30am, 7am and 10am; there's a luxury bus (US$20) at noon; for San José
San Salvador US$25, 11 hours, 5am
Honduras US$20, 10 hours, 5am; for Tegucigalpa
Del Sol Bus (270 2547) has one bus leaving for San Salvador (US$25) from Managua's Holiday Inn at 6am daily.
Buses leave from three main places: Mercado Roberto Huembes (for Granada, Masaya and southeast Nicaragua); Mercado Israel Lewites (for León and the Northern Pacific); and Mercado Mayoreo (for the Caribbean Coast and the Northern Highlands). Some also leave from the Mercado Oriental, mainly to rural destinations. It's faster, more comfortable and a bit more expensive to take minivans from UCA (pronounced 'ooka'). Minivans leave when full for León, Granada, Masaya, Rivas, San Jorge, Ticuantepe, Jinotepe, Masatepe and all of the Pueblo Blancos (White Villages).From Mercado Roberto Huembes microbuses leave when full to Ticuantepe, Santo Domingo and most of the Pueblos Blancos, among others. Regular buses and microbuses leave for destinations including:
Granada US$0.75, one hour, 5am to 10pm, every 15 minutes
Jinotepe microbus US$1.25, one hour, depart when full
Masatepe US$1.10, 5am to 6pm, every 20 minutes; also serves San Marcos
Masaya US$0.60, 40 minutes, 5am to 8pm, every 20 minutes
Naindame US$1.50, one hour, 6am to 8pm, every 15 minutes
Rivas expreso US$2.10, two hours, 4am to 6pm, every 30 minutes; ordinario US$1.50, 2½ hours, 4am to 6pm, every 30 minutes; microbus US$2.50, 1½ hours, depart when full
San Juan del Sur US$3.50, 2½ hours, 9am and 4pm
Sapoá/Costa Rica US$3.50, 2½ hours, 6am to 5pm, every 30 minutes
From Mercado Israel Lewites (Bóer; 265 2152) microbuses leave when full to Chinandega, La Concha, Corinto, Jinotepe, León, Masatepe, Nagarote, Puerto Sandino and El Sauce, among others. Regular buses run to destinations including:
Carazo US$0.80, one hour, 4:30am to 6:20pm, every 20 minutes; serving Diriamba and Jinotepe
Chinand ega/El Viejo US$2, 2½ hours, every 30 minutes; bus stops in León
El Sauce US$3, 7:45am and 2:45pm
La Paz Centro US$.90, one hour, 6am to 5pm, every 30 minutes
León expreso US$1.25, 1¼ hours, 5am to 4:45pm, every 30 minutes; via New Hwy and La Paz Centro
León ordinario US$1, two hours, 5am to 4:45pm, every 20 minutes; via Old Hwy and Puerto Sandino
León microbus US$1, 1¼ hours, depart when full
Nagarote US$0.70, 45 minutes, 6am to 5pm, every 30 minutes
Pochomil/Masachapa US$0.70, 1½ hours, 6am to 6pm, every 20 minutes
Mercado Mayoreo (RAAN 233 4729, Rama 233 4533) serves both the Northern Highlands and RAAN and the road to Rama, including San Carlos. Destinations include:
Boaco US$1.75, one hour, 4am to 6:30pm, every 30 minutes
El Rama expreso US$9, 5½ hours, 2pm, 6pm and 10pm; ordinario US$7, eight hours, 4am, 5am, 6am, 7:30am, 8:45am and 11:30am
Esquipulas US$3, 2½ hours, 6:25am, 8:20am, 12:25pm, 1:25pm, 2:50pm and 3:50pm
Estelí US$3, 2½ hours, 5:45am to 5:45pm, every 30 minutes
Jinotega US$3.50, three hours, 4am to 5:30pm, almost hourly; the 3pm bus serves San Rafael del Norte (US$3.75)
Matagalpa US$3, two hours, 3am to 6pm, every 30 minutes
Ocotal US$3.75, 3½ hours, 3:20am to 4:15pm, almost hourly; the 3:20am, 10:15am and 3pm buses serve Jalapa (US$6, five hours)
Río Blanco US$5, four hours, 4am to 3pm, almost hourly
San CarlosUS$9, 12 hours, 5am, 6am, 7am, 9:15am, 10:15am, 1pm and 6:30pm
Siuna US$9, 10 to 12 hours, four daily
Somoto US$3.75, 3½ hours, 7:15am, 9:45am, 11am, 12:45pm, 1:45pm, 2pm, 3:45pm and 4:45pm
By law, you must get basic insurance (US$10 per day) with car rental, which usually has a US$1500 deductible and does not cover flat tires. For another US$10 to US$15 per day, you can get supplemental insurance that will cover the deductible. Chances are, your credit card already provides supplemental insurance for at least the first two weeks of your rental, so call your card company and ask.
Renting a car is relatively inexpensive, thanks to pro-tourism tax laws. You need a driver's license from your own country (valid for one month after you arrive in Nicaragua) and a credit card; you must be over 25 years old, but ask around if you're not. Renting a car at the airport costs you a hefty 15% extra, so consider taking a taxi to an off-site office. Rental-car companies will wait for you at the Peñas Blancas border, and some companies, including Hertz, will let you take your rental car to Costa Rica with prior arrangement; it doesn't work the other way around.
Budget (in Managua 266 6226, in the US & Canada 800-758 9586) has excellent service and consistently lower rates than the other guys, but Dollar also gets rave reports. Other possibilities:
Alamo (airport 233 3718, Managua 270 1939; email@example.com)
Avis (airport 233 3011, Barrio Boloñia 268 1838; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Best (263 3242) Airport only.
Dollar (266 3620; www.dollar.com.ni) Has deals that include rooms at several Managua hotels, including El Conquistador and La Casona.
Exotic (233 4695; www.exoticrentacar.com.ni; Km 9.5 Carr Norte) At flashy Hotel Camino Real, specializes in limos and other fabulous rides.
Hertz (airport 233 1237; www.hertz.com.ni)
Lugo (airport 263 2368, Managua 277 0582; www.lugorentacar.com.ni)
National (270 1968; www.nationalnicaragua.com)
Nicaragua (Barrio Boloñia 250 2114, Bello Horizonte 244 1051; www.nicarentacar.com) Managua-based company that will accept a US$200 deposit in lieu of a credit card.
Payless (airport 233 1329, Managua 278 1825; www.payless.com.ni)
Targa (reservations 222 4824, airport 233 1176, Managua 222 4881; email@example.com)
World (263 1011; firstname.lastname@example.org) Avoid the airport tax by running across the street to the office at Best Western Las Mercedes.
Managua International Airport (MGA; 233 1624/28; www.eaai.com.ni; Km 11 Carr Norte) is a small, manageable airport that is getting more business as tourism and business travel to Managua increases, but it still has that small-country charm. There's a BanPro Visa/Plus ATM, Internet access (per hour US$2), souvenir shops and crappy food in the main terminal; don't expect to lounge over a good meal. Intur (8am-10pm) has an office inside the international terminal where English-speaking staff can recommend hotels, confirm flights and share flyers. The airport also has the best selection of English-language magazines in the country.
The smaller, more chaotic domestic terminal is just west of the main building. Departure tax for domestic flights is US$2, for international flights US$32, payable in US dollars or córdoba only.
Aerocaribbean(270 4134; Bosques de Altamira, frente el Cine 158) One Saturday flight to Havana, Cuba.
Atlantic Airlines (222 5787; www.atlanticairlines.com.ni; Bust José Martí 2½c este) International flights to Tegucigalpa on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and daily domestic flights to Bluefields and the Corn Islands.