A view of a mountain in Nicaragua

How to Take the Bus from Antigua, Guatemala to Nicaragua

There are several ways to travel from Guatemala to Nicaragua, including by bus and by plane. The best way, I would say in hindsight, is to spend at least a few days travelling through El Salvador en-route. Ellie and I basically chose the direct shuttle to Nicaragua because we thought El Salvador would be too dangerous, but it turns out that’s not the case at all and we met many happy travellers on this shuttle bus (we picked up travellers in El Tunco on our way through El Salvador!).

If you’re planning on taking this bus from Guatemala to Nicaragua, you can consider this your ultimate guide. I took this bus mid-January 2024, so this recount is about as fresh as it can be!

At the time we travelled, the ticket price through the agency we booked through was $65 USD, plus the $21-23 you need at the border crossings.

Getting from Guatemala City to Antigua

This all-day-bus goes from Antigua, Guatemala, because it’s one of the busiest hotspots for tourists and you’ll find that most tours and shuttles in this region will centre around Antigua. However, if you’re travelling from somewhere else in Guatemala it’s likely you’ll pass through Guatemala City, too.

Click here for six ways to get from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua, Guatemala.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: I wouldn’t recommend visiting or staying Guatemala City. It’s generally quite dangerous, and tourists usually only stay there the night before or after a flight. Most tourists stick to the tourist trail in Guatemala, which is generally safer and more accessible for tourists. Outside of these areas, Guatemala can be unpredictable. If you need to get into Antigua I’d recommend taking a tourist shuttle bus or even a private transport service.

Getting the Bus from Antigua to Nicaragua

When you’re googling how to get the bus from Antigua to Nicaragua, it can look like there are several shuttle services offering this route. At the time of writing, there are not: there is one operator (Roneey Shuttle Service), being sold by several different agents, so that it looks like several different companies. I really got caught out by that, as this was one of the only buses I booked in advance online, rather than booking with a local operator or via accommodation (which is what I generally recommend). It’s good to have someone physical to go to for help if something goes wrong or your transport doesn’t turn up!

The bus service begins in Antigua, Guatemala and ends in Leon, Nicaragua, and takes a total of around 16 hours. We were picked up shortly after 5.20am and arrived in Leon just before 11pm. Your total travel time will depend on whether you’re picked up and dropped off first or last, and how long it takes you to make the border crossings.

Border Assistance

If you’ve looked at the map, you might notice that this journey involves three Central America border crossings: Guatemala -> El Salvador -> Honduras -> Nicaragua. Yep, it was a busy day for my passport! Each border crossing was different (and sometimes different for different people on our bus, depending on where they were from), but it was comforting to go as a group and the bus offers border assistance. That means that, in some instances, the border agents already had copies of our passports and we were able to get through with relative ease. (This was not the case when we travelled on from Nicaragua to Costa Rica… but more on that soon!).

If you’re planning a big trip in Central America, be careful with your time in CA-4. CA-4 is a group made up of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and they have a joint visa agreement meaning you can only stay within all four countries for 90 days at a time.

I’d say in terms of border crossings, taking this shuttle is the easiest way to travel from Guatemala to Nicaragua (apart from flying, of course). You can do this trip with a series of public transport buses (although it’s likely to take you more than a day), but having a little assistance at the border went a long way. At least, until we reached Nicaragua. But more on that soon!

A Guide to Beaches in Nicaragua

Getting Picked Up in Antigua

Instead of having to head to the bus station at 5am, the shuttle bus picks you up from your accommodation. This sounds nice, until you’re sat on the street in the pitch black in a foreign country with all of you valuables neatly packed up in a bag for someone to steal. (The instructions are clear: wait outside and we will pick you up between 4.45-5.30am, don’t stay inside your hostel because we won’t come looking for you. Charming.) We actually asked the person working at our hostel if we could sit inside with the door open and luckily he said yes. He also showed us that there were security cameras, which put us at ease when some grumpy guy pulled up in an unmarked white van and said: “Two girls for Nicaragua? Get in.”

Ellie and I exchanged glances. On the one hand I was thinking: “How would he know we’re going to Nicaragua?” and on the other: “He could easily know that buses to Nicaragua pass at this time”. The man was absolutely FURIOUS when I asked him to show credentials and he and Ellie got into a bit of a barny over her rucksack. Luckily it did turn out to be the legit bus service that we’d booked, but you can’t be too careful with these things.

Remember: No matter how grumpy someone is, you have the right to (and you should) check that they are who they say they are before you get into their unmarked white van. Or, any van, actually.

What Was the Bus Like from Guatemala to Nicaragua?

Speaking of the van: the way this bus was advertised, I’d imagined one of the soft, comfortable, air conditioned ADO buses I still dream about from my travels in Mexico a couple of years ago.

This… this was an unbranded minivan with no boot and all our luggage strapped to the roof. (Even if you’re not travelling with a big bag, be prepared for it to go on the roof. Mine was only 30L but it would not fit under my seat and, trust me, you want to maximise what little leg room you have!). Everything was fine on the bus in the end and (spoiler alert) it got us there, but it wasn’t quite the luxury travel I’d been UTTERLY FOOLED into believing by the agency website.

There was no on-board toilet (and although the service was advertised as on-demand rest stops, nobody was brave enough to ask Grumpy Driver to stop). Short rest stops were a regular occurrence, though, and there was often somewhere to use the bathroom at the border if you asked nicely. 

Read more about Guatemala: How to Take the Chicken Bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlán

Crossing Into El Salvador & El Salvador

The bus took us through and out of Guatemala on the CA2, the southernmost highway in Guatemala. We officially exited Guatemala, drove a few minutes down the road, and then officially entered El Salvador. You will get a stamp as you exit Guatemala and another stamp as you enter via the El Salvador border. All of your passport stamps are important on this journey, but you’re unlikely to miss one when you’re directed by your driver and travelling as a group. For most people there was no border crossing fee, but some people, depending on their passport, had to buy an El Salvador immigration card for $12 on entry.

This was the first time we came across money changers on our trip. Money changers are people who will come up to you at the border and offer to change your cash. I’ll write more about currencies in Central America soon, but in a nutshell: these guys are great for small change and getting a little bit of local currency on your way into a country. But, remember that they have to make a living, and the exchange rate won’t be great: use a cash machine for large amounts of cash. Of course, these guys were offering to change our Guatemalan Quetzals for US Dollars, as that is the local currency in El Salvador. (You’re likely to have at least a little cash on you, as Guatemala is a largely cash only kind of place).

This bus does not pass through San Salvador (luckily – imagine the traffic!) and instead takes you along a picturesque coastline that makes you desperately wish you’d saved a few days to explore El Salvador. We stopped twice to drop off and pick up passengers in El Tunco and El Salvador International Airport. We also stopped in a service station in El Salvador, which was the first time I saw in person the QR codes you use to pay in Bitcoin (!) and we had some delicious and very cheap El Salvadorian food. 

Crossing into Honduras & Honduras

For some of the border crossings, our driver collected cash at the beginning of the trip, so we didn’t actually have to fish around for cash at most of the borders until we crossed into Nicaragua. We didn’t get exit stamps leaving El Salvador into Honduras, which we believe to be normal, and then went into the immigration building in Honduras to officially enter the country. 

We were quite tired and a little delirious at this point (sunset was fast approaching), and we had a hilarious encounter with some locals when the immigration officers put us in a seated queue to enter Honduras. There were several immigration officers working so the queue moved quite quickly, and every time someone got called from the front we all had to move up a chair. Only, sometimes, it was moving so fast we would barely sit down before we had to get up again. It was like a mundane version of musical chairs, but it kept us entertained for ten minutes! 

The first person that went up to get their passport stamped in Honduras was asked to pay the border fee, which we’d already given to the driver. The driver then spent some time sorting it out and we were all given a slip of paper stating that we’d already paid. It wasn’t long before we all had our passport stamped, photo taken and finger prints recorded. Then we hung around outside for a few minutes before we all piled back into the minivan and crossed the short stretch of Honduras to reach the Nicaraguan border. At some random point in Honduras we turned onto a side road and switched buses with a group of people travelling in the other direction, which of course was not very well thought out and caused a lot of baggage confusion, but we got there eventually!

Crossing into Nicaragua & Nicaragua

I won’t get started on Nicaraguan politics (but I will tell you that the historical walking tour in Leon was amazing, and really interesting). But, it was due to some of their stricter policies that we spent a long time crossing the border from Honduras into Nicaragua. Our passports were collected, and then redistributed. Then we were told to queue up at immigration one by one. We each paid a small fee (around $5), had our photos taken, and they didn’t give us our passports back until all of our bags and the entire bus had been thoroughly scanned and searched, which I’m sure you can imagine took a while! 

There’s a list of things it’s illegal to bring into Nicaragua, including certain types of filming equipment, drones, more than 2 phones or laptops… the list goes on! 

After this we were well on our way, and it was less than 2 hours drive left to arrive in Leon! Yay! 

As promised, this door to door shuttle service dropped us off at our hostel. We were delayed by a few hours, so we went out to find food and went to bed. Originally we had planned to head on to Granada, but we decided to stay an extra night in Leon. (Note: book two nights accommodation in Leon even if you don’t plan on staying there for too long. We only booked one night and regretted having to switch hostels on the second night when ours was full and we needed some more time to rest before travelling again. We met quite a few people from our bus out and about in Leon, but equally we had met a few people heading on to Granada, Ometepe and San Juan del Sur (one of the best surf spots in Nicaragua).

Some of the best things to do in Leon:

– The free walking tour

– Volcano boarding on Cerro Negro

– Go on a night out with Bigfoot Hostel

– Go to the top of the Basilica Cathedral

– Do the Flor de Caña Rum Tour 

– Visit the Artesania de Leon

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