As in many Central American countries, in Nicaragua the main mode of transportation is by bus. Nicaragua has an excellent bus system: efficient, cheap, and quite the experience.
Catching the bus in Nicaragua can seem chaotic and overwhelming with buses speeding to and from cities, bus lackeys hollering destinations while flagging people on, all the while music playing in the background, sometimes so loud it will drown out your voice. Don’t fret, there is an organization to this chaos and you will soon find how enjoyable and easy taking the bus is in Nicaragua. Here is the low down on taking the buses in Nicaragua.
Finding your bus: There are two ways to find the right bus in Nicaragua: see it or hear it. Like in Panama the buses in Nicaragua have their destinations painted on the front, back, and sometimes the sides in big bold letters. Once arriving at the bus terminal simply read the names on the different buses until you find where you’re wanting to go. Still can’t find it? Ask one of the workers, some might come up and ask your destination first, and they will point you in the right direction. Sometimes you will hear your bus before you see it and can hop on from the street or have to do a mad dash to catch it. This happened to us while heading out to spend the weekend on Isla Ometempe. We were walking through the market in Granada and all the sudden heard someone yelling our destination, “Rivas, Rivas, Rivas!”. We waved our arms catching the man’s attention who then instructed us to “corre, corre!” and we all looked ridiculous attempting to sprint for the slow moving bus up the street with our giant backpacks. The rear door opened and we quickly hopped in the moving bus while the lackey hung off the side giving our backpacks a little extra help. So yeah, sometimes there will be a panic induced sprint for a bus but if they see you they’ll wait.
Changing buses: Try and stay awake! I am the worst for staying awake during car rides. The second I sit down I crash. It’s important to stay awake because sometimes there will be unexpected bus changes and someone, you or your travel buddy if you have one, needs to listen up for your destination. The other day we were taking the bus from Rivas to Managua. While bumping along the lackey started hollering, “Managua, Managua, Managua”. I was surprised because I thought we were already on the bus to Managua, but apparently not. Eli was deeply engrossed in his Pokémon game and had absolutely no idea what was going on. I tentatively raised my hand and the lackey began to wave us towards the end of the bus where we were ushered off and quickly herded onto another bus that was pulled over on the side of the road, this one taking us to our final destination.
Trust in the bus driver and his lackey: The people of Nicaragua are very kind and genuinely want to help you. Don’t get me wrong, people want to help in the other countries as well but always for a price. In Nicaragua they’ll help you because it is the kind thing to do. The bus driver and their lackeys know the ins and outs of the bus system and sometimes you just have to trust they’ll get you where you need to go, because let’s face it you’ll have absolutely no idea.
The food: BUY THE FOOD. I cannot emphasize this enough. I love food, I guess you could call me a foodie, and on the buses I’m like a little kid in a candy store. On the vendors come with their pans, bowls, and bags full of goodies and out of the bus my money follows them. I happily pass my transportation time looking out the window, listening to the music, shoving my face, and wondering when the next vendor will hop on and what treats they’ll bring. The best part is nothing is over 20 córdoba (.75 cents), score!
The price: The buses are by far the cheapest option, usually ranging around 30 córdoba ($1.11). The most expensive bus we have taken has been 60 córdobas each which is $2.22.
There’s lots of standing: As I stated above the bus is the main form of transportation so they are often packed. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to get a seat and sometimes you’ll be standing the whole ride. In an attempt to get a seat I would try and arrive at least 30 minutes early. You’ll defintely be getting up close and personal with other passengers. Seriously, people will hang on you, touch your butt, breath down your neck, and put their boobs in your face all the while smiling politely. Don’t worry as people get off seats will free up and hopefully you can snag one.
Keep your things close: Take your backpack with you on the bus. We’ve only had one time when they have tried to put our bags on top and we have polity declined. Don’t think that this means the buses are unsafe or that your stuff will get stolen! As in every city, country, and culture there are always opurtunities so it’s just better to keep your things in eyesight.
The moral of the story is don’t be scared by the chaos, it’s organized remember ;). The price, the food, and the cultural experience makes taking the bus 100% worth it.
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