San Juan del Sur is a must-visit vacation destination for anyone looking at Central America, and last weekend I decided to take a trip there with a couple of friends. Without a ride, we were unsure how we would be getting from Managua to San Juan del Sur.
There are many options, from private taxis and limos, to special airport shuttles, to the buses that travel from Managua to San Juan del Sur regularly throughout the day. You can also rent a car for the day for a very low fee, usually around $35-40. We decided on taking an Express Bus from Mercado Huembes (Huembes Market) in Managua to San Juan.
There are two types of buses that run from Mercado Huembes to destinations all over the country: Ordinario and Express.
The Ordinario is also known as the “Chicken Bus” in Nicaragua, due to the way passengers are sometimes packed in like chickens. The main difference between these and the Express buses, is that Ordinarios will stop many times along the way to pick up additional passengers, adding anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to the trip.
Express Buses, on the other hand, will go directly to the named destination, with maybe one major stop along the way. Both types of buses leave Mercado Huembes every half hour or hour, depending on the time of day. By 5pm, you will be out of luck at the bus terminal, so plan your day accordingly.
Having decided on our means of transportation, my friends Sebastian, Jessica, and I left our apartment and caught a cab to Mercado Huembes, costing us about $2.50. This is where I learned my first lesson when it comes to taking the bus from Managua to San Juan: Get there early.
We arrived about half an hour before the bus’s planned departure, and it turns out that Express Buses can also be packed full before departing. We managed to find Jessica a seat, but Sebastian and I were left to stand for the two hours until our first destination: Rivas.
As the bus prepared to depart, vendors walked down the aisle selling snacks and drinks. Each of us grabbed a drink and something to eat, and we were on our way. These buses do not require you to purchase a ticket beforehand.
As I was wondering how we would go about paying, a conductor entered from the back door of the bus and proceeded to collect payment en route, cutting tickets as he went. Tickets ran about $2.25 to San Juan, and slightly less to Rivas.
Standing on the vibrating floor above the axle of a bus for 2 hours is not a particularly fun experience on its own, but something about sharing this fate kept Sebastian and me laughing for a decent part of the trip. Luckily for us, the road from Managua to San Juan del Sur is very well paved, so the trip was smooth and time passed quickly.
Upon arriving to Rivas, which is a town close to the shore of Lake Nicaragua, the conductor passed back through collecting tickets, and Sebastian and I were able to snag a couple seats. Having a seat on the bus really makes the trip from Managua to San Juan del Sur an easy one.
And at barely over $2, it’s hard to beat if you’re on a budget. Once you arrive in San Juan del Sur, there are several stops. We got off at the iconic “San Juan del Sur” sign at the entrance to the town.
Once we got off the bus, we started back up the hill to meet our friend Michael. He is a friend of ours from college, who came to visit in January, then canceled his flight home, moved from Managua to San Juan, and enrolled in Spanish school.
While in Managua, he was building homes for impoverished communities, and since moving to San Juan del Sur he has been teaching theater to children from poor areas.
As I walk, backpack in tow, I see Michael waiting for us on the street. His apartment is a short way away, up a flight of narrow cement stairs. I see the hammock hanging in his living room, and know where my first stop of the evening will be. We have a fun weekend in store for us, but that is a story for another time.