Antigua to Leon Bus
Overall travel time: 18 hours and 12 minutes (7am departure, 1:12am arrival)
Overall cost: usd$69 ($50 transport, $2 tax, $3 Honduras border, $14 Nicaraguan border)
After an incredible week in Antigua, the sad day came where we moved onto the next place – Leon, Nicaragua. Antigua was one of my favourite places in Central America and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re in Guatemala. Finding transport from Antigua to Leon proved to be less straightforward than I had anticipated.
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Direct flights from Guatemala City to Manague (Nicaragua’s Capital) weren’t an option, due to the £300-400 cost. Additionally, all bus/shuttle companies I found online required a night stop in San Salvador, or departed Antigua at 2am. A quick Google search on the latter only brought up horror stories, involving robberies and ‘van takeovers’, in the middle of the night. I’m sure these aren’t a regular occurrence, but it still put me off doing the journey at night.
Eventually, I found a shuttle company whilst walking past the ‘Lemon Tree Hostel’ in Antigua. $50 usd later, I had a place on the 7am bus for the following morning. The shuttle company was called Roneey Shuttles and they collect you from your hostel.
This isn’t the most exciting read! But hopefully it’ll be useful to anyone looking to travel from Antigua to Leon – mostly during the day and without any overnight stops. Journey times and prices included.
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Antigua to the Guatemala/El Salvador Border
Guatemalan Border (exit)
With all 7 passengers on board, we had a quick briefing on the three border crossings and paid the driver 16Q/US$2 per person for tax. Our driver handed us immigration forms to fill out for exiting Guatemalan.
Leaving Antigua at 7:23am, it took two hours to reach the Guatemalan border. Here, we handed in our immigrations forms and received exit stamps in our passports – this took less than 10 minutes. It was possible to exchange currencies too, as with all borders in Central America.
El Salvador Border (entry)
The El Salvador border lies a short drive away. A healthcare professional immediately came to the van and thoroughly checked us and our passports. I’m unsure whether this is standard procedure or whether it was related to the Coronavirus outbreak. After asking in depth questions regarding our recent travels, we had blue lights shown on our foreheads.
Once we got the all clear, we left the border (9:48am) and made our way to El Tunco, El Salvador.
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El Tunco, El Salvador: Drama 1
The beach town of El Tunco was two hours from the EL Salvador border control (11:48am). We were given 1.5 hours to chill here, whilst they swapped vans and drivers.
Our initial departure time was 1:15pm, but in true Central American style, our bus was late. Waiting in the 37 degree heat by the meet-up point was less than ideal. However, twenty minutes later, a new bus and driver appeared. Our bags had been taken out of the original van and strapped to the roof of the new one.
Drama 1 of the trip began to unfold. Three people had left belongings in the first van that hadn’t been moved to the second van. This included clothes and an I-phone.
Understandably, they wanted to contact the original driver to retrieve their belongings. This heavily delayed our journey time, which was fine, until the driver decided to leave us in a boiling hot bus, with only a few windows open. Luckily they all got their things back. Finally, we 9 new passengers on board, we left El Tunco at 2pm.
Lesson 1: Always take your belongings with you when you leave these shuttles. The big bags are usually fine but all valuables should be kept with you.
El Salvador to the Honduras Border: Drama 2
An hour after leaving El Tunco, we stopped off at a petrol station. I highly recommend you break up any large USD notes here, by buying a bottle of water or something to eat. No border gave out change – despite blatantly having it!
El Salvador Border (exit) – 6pm
Three hours later we finally arrived at the El Salvador border (6pm). Our passports were thoroughly checked from inside the bus by an officer. El Salvador doesn’t charge an entry or exit fee, and as with other borders that day, we had blue lights shown on our foreheads.
Drama 2 then began. A girl on our bus didn’t have an entry date included on her Guatemalan stamp. You’re entitled to a combined 90 days in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. However, you must make sure your passport stamp includes an entry date and ‘90 days’, particularly if you’re crossing borders via land.
She was taken off into an office, while we waited for 50 minutes in the hot van. Eventually, our driver decided to take us to the Honduras border and come back for her later. Sundays are notorious for being especially busy at the borders and he wanted us to start queueing.
Honduras Border (entry)
He wasn’t kidding when he said the queues were bad. After over an hour of waiting, we finally got to the front. We gave finger prints, and paid the Gringo tax of USD $3, we got back on the bus at 8:08pm. Some people ended up paying $5 or $10 for not having the exact change!
Halfway through our queueing, the girl was reunited with our group. She was made to pay USD $45 for not having the date by her Guatemalan entry stamp and was told to leave the country within 5 days.
Lesson 2: Be sure to have ‘90 days’ written in your passport if you’re planning to move between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras or Nicaragua.
Lesson 3: Have the exact money at each border as they don’t give change. Coins lower than $1 aren’t accepted.
At 9pm we stopped in a petrol station, to pee, buy snacks and swap drivers again.
Honduras/Nicaragua Border Control
Honduras Border (exit) – 10:21pm
The Honduras border was a breeze. With no queues, we were back on the bus within 15 minutes.
Nicaraguan Border (entry) – 10:42pm
The Nicaraguan border was a different story! Our driver collected our passports, 14USD and went inside to sort out immigration. I sat outside the bus to get some air and connect to their free WiFi.
I have no idea why, but this took over an hour! Despite us being the only ones there. I was getting so frustrated and just wanted to be in Leon. Eventually, we were back on the bus for what felt like the 100th time and tackled the last leg of the journey.
Leon – 1:12am
Finally, more than 18 hours after leaving Antigua, we reached Leon!! The driver dropped us individually at our hostel/hotel doors. I really appreciated Roneey Shuttles for doing this, given how deserted and bordered up everything was in Leon. I wouldn’t have liked walking to my hostel alone.
I hope this helps anyone looking to make the trip from Antigua to Leon by bus, without any overnights stops. I was glad to get the whole journey done in a day, albeit an unpleasant experience. My biggest tips would be to take the exact change for borders, have the correct passport stamps and don’t leave anything in the van during the swap.
Happy travels x