Antigua to Leon

Posted from León, León Department, Nicaragua.

The trip from Antigua to Leon was long and trying. You never know what’s going to happen when you book yourself on a 17-hour van ride across Central America, but this was our experience.

The shuttle we booked through BigFoot Hostel for $55 was meant to collect us at our hostel at 2 a.m. So we set alarms for 1:35 – just to be ready. One hour after our intended departure time the shuttle pulled up to our hostel – and to many sleepy people’s dismay. The van had no head rests and had non-existent leg room. This was to be our home for the next 17 hours.


At the beginning of the journey the people in the backseat had a bit of extra room.

The journey is not far – about 700km, but the roads from Antigua through to the end of Honduras are absolutely terrible. Shockingly terrible. We had hoped we would get the smooth roads we had experienced on our trip from San Pedro to Antigua, but that lasted for about 20 mins. Then it was back to the same pock-marked roads that cover most of this area. 

There are three border crossings involved in this journey. The first one is between Guatemala and El Salvador.

We must leave Guatemala and get exit stamps. Luckily there is no exit fee for Guatemala, which we’re learning is quite the enterprise in Central America. After checking out of the country we head over to the El Salvador side – where they don’t stamp passports. A rather official looking guy asked us all for our passports, inspected them, gave us a little ticket and then let us go. That was it.

At the border in El Salvador. Need to buy anything?

At every border crossing we went to there were numerous people with massive wads of cash offering to trade money. I’m not sure what their rates were, but a few of the guys in the van swapped some money out. American money is readily accepted, but sometimes things are cheaper when paid in a local currency. However, we were only passing through El Salvador, so I saw no point in getting any money.

roads El Salvador

The amazing roads were the same as most we encountered in Central America.

Once we were in El Salvador we experienced more of the same horrible land-mind-inflicted roads. I don’t really know if they were hit with mines, but I couldn’t tell you the difference. We stopped at El Tunco – a surf destination and dropped off a bunch of people from our van, and also picked up a whole whack more. We were filled to capacity and there wasn’t much room.

Some of the new passengers decided beer would be a good idea – because being crammed into a van on bumpy horrible roads only means more bathroom breaks if you drink enough beer. It was kind of a win-win. We also learned that the earlier van that was headed up to Antigua had originally been our van, but some girl lost her shit and started crying when she found out she wouldn’t have a head rest for the journey, so they swapped vans. She became our nemesis for the next eight hours.

There wasn’t much to look at outside the window. The countries were experiencing a drought and nearly everything was yellow and brown.

We only spent about four or five hours driving through the country until it was time to exit El Salvador. It was rather painless. The best part about travel like this is you meet people. Almost none of us had Internet, so the only thing to do was listen to music or talk. Drink beer and talk. That’s one of the special things about budget travel – it’s been the best recipe for meeting people that I’ve ever encountered. 

Honduras border

I’m assuming these stalls are usually filled with vendors, or they are merely for shade.

Honduras border

Lunch at the Honduras border.

But checking into Honduras was a bit different. They charge $3 to enter the country. Our driver collected all of our passports, the immigration guards stamped all of our passports for us, and then handed them all back to us by calling out our names.  

Horrible roads. Bigger mines.

Leaving Hondurs was straight-forward, but getting into Nicaragua took some time. Most people ate lunch at a little stand while we waited and waited for our passports to be processed. Some people got more beer. There’s a $13 fee to enter Nicaragua. After they got processed and our driver handed all our documents back to us we piled into the van. The journey was almost over.

Huge swaths of missing pavement.

There was a bit of construction after the border – where they were repaving the road – but after 30 mins of that we were flying down the smoothest highway I have experienced since Mexico. It was like a dream.

We got into Leon by 7:30 p.m. checked into our hostel and collapsed.

The trip took about 17 hours, but a few hours of that was spent at border crossings, and we did stop enough to stretch our legs. In retrospect, while I enjoy seeing the countryside, next time I think I’d fly.

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