crossing borders: el salvador to nicaragua via honduras

Like many travellers, we had to make a tough call about whether to spend time in Honduras. Due to time and money concerns - and with very little pulling us to the country - we decided to skip it in order to prolong our stay in Nicaragua. 

However, this decision did mean that we were going to pass through three countries and two borders in one day. 

So, here is our guide on how you can avoid paying inflated tourist bus or boat fees (around $75USD per person) and cross the border how it should be done: on your own, on foot and with local transport only! 

#1 leaving el cuco, el salvador - arriving honduras border

To leave El Salvador, all roads lead to a city called San Miguel - wherever you are, your first objective is to get here. 

If you're in El Cuco, you're probably staying at the excellent Casa Tortgua Verde. They offer a boat ride to Nicaragua for $75 per person, which is a huge cost on a small budget. So, we decided to make our own way there. 

Everyday except Sunday, a bus for San Miguel passes Tortuga Verde at 8 a.m; this is definitely the more convenient option, but if you want to leave earlier or later then you'll need a $5 taxi ride into El Cuco.

A 60 minute ride (but remember, this is El Salvador - all buses do not necessarily move this quick!) will bring you to the hectic San Miguel bus terminal.

From there, you need to take bus 330 to El Amatillo or La Frontera (the ticket guy will likely be shouting Santa Rosa - a small town before the border). This is one of few bus terminals where they actually have signs at each spot, so it's relatively easy to find your connection. Some great papusa stands are around the corner too if you want to savour your last taste before leaving the country!

You'll then be dropped off at the border. There's no need to take the tuk-tuks from here, but you might need to insist to them that you're happy walking. 

Leave El Salvador (no charge) and it's a short walk to the Honduras side, where there is a little bit of paperwork to fill in. There is also a $3 processing charge (you are given a receipt for this). 

Now, if you plan on staying in Honduras,  you should take one of the chicken buses onward and make your connection.

overview: el salvador to honduras

#1 El Cuco to San Miguel (1 - 1.5 hrs, costs $1 per person)

#2 San Miguel to El Almatillo/La Frontera (1hr, costs $2 per person)

#3 Cross the El Salvador-Honduras border on foot and go through customs (approx 30 minutes. Entry fee $3 per person)

Total time: 2.5-3 hours   /  Total cost: $6 per person

#2 leaving honduras - entering leon, nicaragua

However, if you simply want to fast-track it to Nicaragua, then there are several mini-vans making a quick and direct journey to from border to border. Particularly if you want to arrive at the Guasaule border, which is the most direct crossing point for Leon. 

Disregard the chicken bus touts telling you that theirs is quicker, as they are of course slower and you need to make at least one transfer at Choluteca to bring you to the border. It may be cheaper, but it will cost you in time later in the day. 

The shuttle-bus cost is $6, so thankfully you won't have to change any $USD into Honduran currency - the shops at the border also accept USD. The only downside to the direct buses is that you might have to wait around a while before they depart, with the last bus leaving at around 2.30 p.m. 

You will be dropped off at the border and, again, disregard the tuk-tuks as it is possible to cross on foot. Exiting the Honduran side is easy (no charge) and you will cross the bridge and probably have to ask directions to the migration desk (it's located inside a slightly hidden away office). 

As you already have a CA4 visa, your time in Nicaragua will be included on this, however there is a $12 entry fee per person. Thankfully, this was officially documented and receipted (keep this close for the rest of the crossing and for exiting the country as you may have to present it to other officials). 

The bus station for connections to Leon is around 5 minutes walk from the border post, on the left hand side as you come to the end of a small community. 

Now, depending on the time of day, you should wait around for a micro-van which is the slightly more expensive but much quicker way to reach Leon. This will cost approximately $2 but the last departure is around 5 p.m. 

If you have plenty of time, then the larger school bus is a perfectly fine option, but requires a change at Chinandega. We took this option and unfortunately arrived too late to catch our onward bus to Leon.

If this happens to you, there are two budget hotels located about a 10 minute walk from the terminal, but we would recommend taking a taxi there. 

overview: honduras - nicaragua

#1 Shuttle to Guasale (2hrs, $6 per person)

#2Cross Honduras-Nicaragua border on foot and go through customs (approx. 30 minutes. Entry fee $12 per person)

#3 Bus to Leon (2.5hrs, costs $2 per person)

Total Time: 5 hours / Total Cost: $20 per person

So that's how we saved about $61 each! Do you have any alternative routes or experiences? Let us know in the comments!

on your way to nicaragua? you should check out some of these posts!