Getting there & away
Nicaragua is accessible via two international airports and six major border crossings (and two sketchy ones) with Honduras and Costa Rica. International buses and flights leave Managua several times daily for El Salvador.
There are no official border crossings by sea. Although you can theoretically cross the Golfo de Fonseca to El Salvador, this is not a regular crossing (you'll need to hire a private boat) and you should talk to immigration in Managua or San Salvador before attempting it.
If passport stamps are not a huge concern, there are five international ports administered by ENAP (the National Port Company), where you could catch a cargo ship: Puerto Sandino and Corinto on the Pacific, and El Rama, El Bluff (close to Bluefields) and Bilwi on the Atlantic.
The Potosí and San Juan de Nicaragua crossings are basically for adventureros with deep pockets, or actual pirates. The rest of these border crossings are solid. It's US$7 to enter Nicaragua, US$2 to leave. Costa Rica is free coming and going, while Honduras charges US$3 entry and free exit.
Sipoá to Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica The main border crossing to Costa Rica is a 1km stroll through mellow border weirdness; it's fast and efficient if your arrival doesn't coincide with an international bus.
San Carlos to Los Chiles, Costa Rica Or, take an easy, breezy, gorgeous river boat ride down the egret-lined Río Frio.
San Juan de Nicaragua to Barra, Costa Rica This expensive river adventure is usually arranged by fancy fishing lodges, but you could theoretically do it yourself.
Potosí to La Union, El Salvador Even sketchier, you could rent a boat and follow the old international ferry route across the Gulf of Fonseca.
Guasale to Choluteca, Honduras The fastest route from Nicaragua, an easy cruise north from lovely León.
Somoto to Choluteca, Honduras High-altitude crossing is almost as close to El Salvador, and comes with an amazing granite canyon.
Ocotal to Tegucigalpa, Honduras See the sunny Segovias and Honduran capital, at this major, businesslike border.
Comfy international buses have reclining seats, air-conditioning, televisions, bathrooms and sometimes even food service, and are definitely safer for travelers with bags. But it's always cheaper - and more convenient in high season (November to April), when you may need reservations for international buses - to take local buses and cross yourself.
Several bus lines serve destinations throughout Central America, including San Salvador, and all of them are convenient to Barrio Martha Quezada in Managua, and have offices or stops elsewhere in the country.
Tica Bus (222 3031, Managua; www.ticabus.com) The most popular carrier serves national capitals and major cities from Panama City to the Mexican border, including El Salvador (US$25, one bus daily). In addition to the sparkling new Managua terminal, there are offices in Rivas, Matagalpa, Estelí, León, Ocotal and Chinandega.
Careli Tours (278 6919; www.carelitours.com) Recommended Swiss company that runs tours in several languages to lots of destinations.
Gray Line (266 6134; www.graylinenicaragua.com) Offers plush, all-inclusive day trips (US$45 to US$90) beginning in Managua, and ending up on yachts, in canopy tours and wandering through colonial cities.
Nicaragua's main international hub is Managua International Airport (MGA; 233 1624/28; www.eaai.com.ni; Km 11 Carr Norte), a small, manageable airport that doesn't get many flights, although this is improving. It's worth checking into fares from much busier Juan Santamaria Airport in San José, Costa Rica, four to six hours by bus from the Nicaraguan border, or the international airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, just two hours by bus from Peñas Blancas. Nature Air makes two daily flights from San José and Liberia, Costa Rica, to tiny Granada International Airport. Recently reapproved for international flights, at press time Big Corn Island still only had domestic services.
The following airlines fly in and out of Nicaragua, and have offices in Managua. All airlines (except Aerocaribbean) also have offices at Managua International Airport, which can be reached by the second (233 or 263) phone number given in each listing.
Atlantic Airlines (airline code FLI; 222 5787, 233 3103; www.atlanticairlines.com; 2½c arriba del Busto José Martí; hub Managua) One daily flight to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and daily services to Bluefields and the Corn Islands.