I came to Leon with high hopes of lava. I’d heard a lot about Volcan Telica and was excited by the prospect of seeing lots of the stuff! I was excessively nervous about taking the local transport to Leon so I thought I’d write about my experience in a bit of detail here in case it helps others. I’m not a strange to local transport and I’d taken several chicken buses in Belize and Sri Lanka with friends on previous trips but somehow the prospect of going it alone filled me with an unreasonable amount of dread!
I was in fact planning to take a shuttle to Leon (easily available from tour operators and hostels in Granada for $15). However, deciding to go on the kayaking trip with my roommates on the last morning forced my hand as the shuttles all left way before we were due back. I’m actually glad about that as the bus was completely fine. Very straightforward and not at all scary or uncomfortable. After arriving back from kayaking I had lunch then walked to the bus stop 5 minutes from my hostel on Calle Vega. I was nervous about my bags being allowed on but the bus guys are super efficient and I’ve never seen them turn down business so my bags were quickly piled up at the front of the bus and I took my seat to await departure. The bus took about 10 minutes to fill up and then we were on our way. It costs 24 cordobas (about $1) from the one hour-ish journey to Managua and apart from the inevitable close busily contact with strangers as people jump on and off along the route (don’t worry, people are very friendly and avoid squashing up against you if they can!) its a fairly comfortable ride in a mini bus. Although I’ve heard stories of aircon on the route my bus didn’t have it but with windows open it wasn’t too sweltering.
The minibuses drop you at Managua’s UCA which is the last stop and the minibuses to Leon depart from the same place. In contrast to most bus stations around the world (including the UK!) I found it very easy to find the bus to Leon. There are maybe 10 berths for the buses which are in a row, they’re clearly labeled with their routes and there are lots of friendly bus guys (I’m not sure what their official name is!) waiting outside shouting their destinations. If all else fails the buses themselves are also clearly labeled with their routes. Simple!
The bus standing at the Leon stop was full when I arrived so I joined a group of about 10 locals already waiting. It took maybe 20 minutes for the next bus to arrive. As soon as there was a sign of a queue forming I made like a good English person and joined it. I had to stand with my bags for about 10 minutes but when the bus arrived I turned around and the queue had grown by about 10 people behind me so it was worth it! This bus didn’t have an obvious place to put the bags so I followed the drivers directions to keep them on my lap and grabbed a seat at the end of a row so that my big backpack could go easily on the floor. This bus was full within 5 minutes due to the queue and then we were on our way again. The ride to Leon was about an hour and a half and included a lot of dubious overtaking. The road seemed to be one long queue of traffic with a lot of lorries on the route and the driver was determined to overtake all of them be it on straight road, blind corners or hills! I decided it was better not to look and happily we survived the journey. It cost 51 cordobas which is about ($2). Along the way we made a snack stop while the driver collected the fare and various local women surrounded the bus settling quesillos, frescas and other snacks that I didn’t recognise. You won’t starve on a Nicaraguan bus!
I thought about trying to walk from the Leon bus station to my hostel but on arriving the bus station is pretty chaotic and I didn’t have much idea which way to orient my map. I was immediately surrounded by taxi drivers offering to take me into town for 100 cordobas. This is way too much, I learnt later that a taxi costs 20 cordobas. In the end however I went with a pedicab driver who charged me 50 cordobas for what was a 15 minute cycle. This was probably still too much but for the novelty and the effort he put in cycling me and my bags on the potholed roads I didn’t mind.
So, there you have it. I made it to my hostel in Leon in about 3.5 hours for $5. The shuttle is undoubtedly more convenient but I got a nice “yeeeeeah, I can do the buses” feeling and it wasn’t so bad!