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Some of the most memorable moments of your trip will come from bus rides. Bus service is well developed throughout the region, though not always comfortable. While some buses are air-conditioned with reserved seats that may recline, many others are colorfully repainted former US school buses (aka 'chicken buses'), with a liberal policy toward lugging merchandise (though it's unlikely you'll have to share your seat with a chicken).

Avoid night buses throughout the region (with the possible exception of Mexico and Panama), as these have been popular targets for highway robbers.

First-class and some 2nd-class buses depart on scheduled times from a terminal de autobuses (long-distance bus station); others leave from parking-lot bus terminals once they are full (these stop to collect more passengers all along the way – so you’re likely to be able to get a lift from the highway if need be). Be aware that many cities have more than one bus station. Bus companies can have their own terminals as well. Departure frequency varies.

Luggage may be stored in a lower compartment or piled on the roof of the bus. Keep an eye on your luggage if you can, particularly on the easily accessible racks in a packed bus. Always keep your valuables tucked away on your person. Watch out for pickpockets on crowded buses and in bus stations.

In some places, travel agents run private shuttle services (mostly vans with air-con) to popular destinations. They’re more comfortable and more expensive than public buses.

Colectivos & Minibuses

Connecting hub towns with smaller ones on short-haul trips is an array of minibuses (called rapidito in Honduras, chiva in Panama, and colectivo in Costa Rica and Mexico). When available, these are cheaper than 1st-class buses and run frequently. The catch: they also make frequent stops and the driver rarely considers them full.

Bus Durations

Remember that bus connections and border-crossing formalities can add extra time to the trip.

OriginDestinationDuration (hr)
Cancún, MexicoBelize City9-10
Flores, GuatemalaGuatemala City8-10
Guatemala CityCopán Ruinas, Honduras5
Managua, NicaraguaSan José, Costa Rica9
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, MexicoAntigua, Guatemala11
San José, Costa RicaPanama City14
San Salvador, El SalvadorTegucigalpa, Honduras8
Tegucigalpa, HondurasManagua, Nicaragua8