How to Get from El Salvador to Nicaragua (2022)

by | Jun 27, 2022 | El Salvador, Nicaragua, Travel

Are you traveling overland from El Salvador to Nicaragua? Are you wondering how to do it? What are the requirements for entry into Nicaragua in 2022? In this blog post, I’ll tell you about my experience crossing the border from El Salvador to Honduras and then crossing the border from Honduras to Nicaragua in March 2022.

I’ve also included updated COVID entry requirements for Nicaragua as of June 16, 2022. They have changed and you no longer need a PCR test if you are fully vaccinated. However, for the most recent information on crossing the border into Nicaragua, visit that country’s Ministry of Tourism website.

This was THE hardest border crossing I’ve ever done, and I recommend that you don’t attempt the long journey by chicken bus. Instead, sign up with one of the bus companies in San Salvador or the shuttles in El Tunco. I’ll tell you where you can find these companies later in the post.

The whole journey from El Salvador to Nicaragua took 13 hours, and with the COVID test, entry/exit fees, and a bus ticket, it cost me US$159.

map from El Salvador to Nicaragua

Hey! Are you also looking to cross the border from Honduras to El Salvador? Check out my step-by-step guide on how to do it? I also have guides for Guatemala to Belize and Belize to Guatemala.

Can you do this double border crossing by chicken bus?

If you’re traveling from El Salvador to Nicaragua, you’re going to need to also cross Honduras. Two borders in one day is pretty hard to do. The area of Honduras that you need to cross is one place that you don’t want to spend a lot of time in after dark. Plus, the Honduras and Nicaragua border is a chaotic nightmare that takes FOREVER!

Can you cross from El Salvador to Nicaragua by boat?

Yes, you can. Gekko Explorer does a shared boat shuttle from El Salvador to Nicaragua. By taking the boat, you avoid crossing Honduras. The cost is currently US$65. They can pick you up in San Salvador, El Tunco, El Zonte, and El Cuco.

You can also do the boat crossing on your own. Catch the boat in La Union, El Salvador and take it to Potosi, Nicaragua. The boat leaves every Tuesday and Friday.

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Where to buy your bus ticket in San Salvador?

For those in San Salvador, buy your bus ticket from Tica Bus or Transporte del Sol. I chose the latter because that’s the one my friends took and the hostel recommended.

I recommend staying at La Zona Hostel (Google Maps) because it’s close to 2 bus companies that go to Nicaragua. The hostel isn’t that cheap and it’s not the most comfortable place, but it’s located in a safe neighborhood and it’s so convenient for taking the buses to Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Here are the 2 bus companies that go to Nicaragua:

Cristobal Colon and Tica bus company in a red and white building
  1. Tica Bus (Google Maps) is across the street together with the Cristobal Colon bus company.
Transporte Del Sol sign

2. Transporte del Sol (Google Maps) is a block away near the embassy of Mexico.

addresses for Transporte del Sol

You’ll want to first visit the bus company before buying your ticket so that you know what all the current requirements are for entry. It’s very complicated as you’ll see.

Give yourself some time when you buy the ticket because the ticket agent will go through all the documents with you to ensure that you have everything. She will also make photocopies of your documents.

Get more of my detailed guides for crossing the border in Central America:

Can you get a direct bus from El Tunco, El Salvador to Nicaragua?

Yes, there is a shuttle that takes people directly from El Tunco or El Zonte to Leon, Nicaragua. It costs around US$50. I met people who took it and they were very satisfied.

What are the entry requirements for Honduras?

For Honduras, you will need to fill out 2 online forms AND either a COVID test or vaccine proof.

1. Health Form – Ficha Epidemiological

This form asks you for vaccine information and includes some health questions along with typical immigration questions.

This is the online form that I filled out: https://ee.humanitarianresponse.info/x/3LC6FbGX

The English version of this form had a few bugs in it when I last used it. For some of the questions, the English version was not appearing. Therefore, I highly recommend having the Spanish version open on one device and the English version on another.

BEFORE you submit the form, print it and save it to an electronic device.

THEN hit the SUBMIT button.

AFTER you hit the submit button, you’ll get a number at the bottom of the form, you need to take a screenshot of that number or write the number down.

screenshot of number you need to write down for Honduras form

You may be asked for the number at immigration. I’ve crossed the Honduran border twice and I have never been asked.

2. Pre-check Form

The second form you need to fill out for Honduras is the Pre-Check Form. You need to PRINT this form and show it at immigration.

This is the online form that I filled out: https://prechequeo.inm.gob.hn/Index

3. Either full-vaccination OR COVID antigen or PCR test

The next entry requirement for Honduras is proof of full vaccination or proof of a negative test from a COVID antigen or PCR test. Luckily, you can use the PCR test for Nicaragua.

I believe they need a physical paper copy of vaccination proof.

What are the entry requirements for Nicaragua?

There are several requirements for entry into Nicaragua.

1. Apply online for entry into Nicaragua

The first thing you need to do is fill out an online application form for entry into Nicaragua. You are supposed to do this at least 7 days before entry because it supposedly takes that long to get a response. Actually, for me, I submitted the form on a Monday and got my response on a Wednesday.

Here is the online form that I filled out: https://solicitudes.migob.gob.ni/

It’s not an easy form to fill out as the translation is not very clear. Here are some of the tricky questions you’ll be asked:

  • your date of entry
  • an address of where you’re staying in Nicaragua – I just entered a hostel’s address but I didn’t end up staying there
  • where you are crossing the border into Nicaragua. For this one, you will be crossing at Guasaule.
  • where you will be exiting Nicaragua. I’m planning on going to Costa Rica after Nicaragua. On Google Maps, it looked like I would be crossing the border at Pena Blanca but that was not one of the choices on the form, so I just chose the only other border crossing for Costa Rica.

2. Proof of Vaccination or PCR Test not more than 72 hours before entry

Nicaragua changed their COVID entry requirements in June 2022. These are the requirements per the United States Embassy website and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Tourism website. I recommend visiting both websites to see the latest information.

You can enter Nicaragua with one of the following (not both):

  1. Effective June 16, 2022, travelers arriving in Nicaragua must present a digital or physical full COVID vaccination certificate, showing that they received all required doses of a COVID vaccine approved by the WHO or registered in Nicaragua: Sputnik V, Sputnik Light, Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covishield, Soberana 02, Abdala, Janssen from Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm, and Coviran.
  2. All unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers, regardless of age, are required to present a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entry into Nicaragua. Those traveling from Asia, Oceania, and Africa will have to take their test 92 hours before arrival. All unvaccinated travelers must present the results of the tests in digital or printed form upon arrival at the country’s border.
COVID test address

According to the bus company, the Nicaraguan government only accepts test results from 2 labs. Centrolab and another one that I can’t remember.

Now the good news is that if you are staying at La Zona Hostel, Centrolab will come to the hostel and give you your PCR test in the morning and then supposedly give you the results by email in the late afternoon. I didn’t get mine until 7:30 pm and the only reason was that I asked the hostel to help me get my results. To do it at the hostel, it costs US$85.

If you do the tests yourself at Centrolab, you need to travel out to the lab to take the test in the morning and back to your hotel and then back out to the lab to get your results in the late afternoon. Supposedly, they don’t email it to you, which doesn’t make sense given the fact that they emailed the results to me when Centrolab showed up at my hostel. It costs US$80 at Centrolab. If you are taking the Tica Bus, you get US$10 off for a total of US$70.

Also, you NEED to keep your receipt from Centrolab. Don’t lose it! The bus company took a photocopy of mine. I am assuming this is to prevent people from creating fake COVID test results.

Can you get a FREE COVID test in El Salvador?

Someone on the Backpacking Central America Facebook group said she got a FREE test at Unidad de Salud Dr. Diaz Del Pinal (Google Maps) in Santa Tecla. Free tests are given from 7:00 – 9:00 am every weekday. Her test result was accepted at the border. Unfortunately, tests are limited and the Facebook poster said the clinic ran out at 8:15 am.

My hesitation in recommending this place is that I don’t think it’s a good idea to take away tests from Salvadorans if tests are limited. I would rather pay the US$85 if my getting a test means a Salvadoran can’t.

3. Email your COVID results to the Nicaraguan Government

After you’ve received your PCR results, send them to the Nicaraguan government. You do this by replying to the email that the Nicaraguan government sent you telling you that you’ve been allowed entry into their country.

You can’t miss this email. Each paragraph uses a different color from the rainbow. Cute! Just reply to THAT email by attaching your PCR test results to it.

What documents do you need at the borders?

These are the documents that you need to gather and prepare BEFORE you leave San Salvador. While on the bus, the bus company will have you fill out additional forms for the border.

Honduras border

  1. A paper copy of the Pre-Check form that has been filled out
  2. Proof of vaccination or COVID test results
  3. US$3 – make sure you have US dollars or Honduran lempiras
  4. A passport that is valid for at least 6 months
  5. An immigration form for entry into Honduras and a form for exit – the bus company gave us the forms on the bus
  6. Make sure you’re Central American visa (90 days total for Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua and not each country) hasn’t expired

Nicaragua Border

  1. A paper copy of the email the Nicaraguan government sent you allowing you to enter
  2. A paper copy of your PCR test results from an approved lab
  3. The receipt from your PCR test
  4. US$13 – make sure you have US dollars
  5. 2 copies of your passport info page – I’m not sure why I needed this, but the bus company asked for it
  6. A passport that is good for at least 6 months
  7. Address of where you are staying in Nicaragua – I wrote it out on a piece of paper
  8. An immigration form for entry into Nicaragua – the bus company gave us the forms to fill out on the bus and then collected them
  9. Make sure you’re Central American visa (usually, you get 90 days total for Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua and not each country) hasn’t expired

How to cross the border from El Salvador to Honduras to Nicaragua

Step 1: Leave San Salvador

The bus company told me to arrive at least 40 minutes BEFORE the departure time of 6:00 am.

It’s really important that you take this seriously BECAUSE you need to check in at the transportation office BEFORE you board the bus. The agent will go over all your documents again, making sure you have everything. This is also when you’ll get your seat assignment and your luggage tag(s).

Transporte del Sol bus

There weren’t that many people on the bus (maybe 10 people total) but it took a long time for the agent to go over the documents for each person and it seemed that EVERYONE except me had some issue with them. That’s why you want to arrive early.

I then checked my bags and the bags were stored under the bus. You need to write your name and phone number on the luggage tag.

interior of Transporte del Sol bus

Then at 5:55 am we got to board the bus. But BEFORE boarding our documents were checked AGAIN by the bus attendant. I was impressed with how thorough and how conscientious the bus company was.

However, we did not leave until 6:18 as 2 people were late boarding the bus.

Step 2: Crossing from El Salvador into Honduras at El Amatillo

Before we got to the border at El Amatillo, the bus attendant handed out 3 more immigration forms to fill out by hand. One was for arriving in Honduras, another for leaving Honduras, and a third for arriving in Nicaragua. We also had to give her US$3. I thought it was the fee for entering Honduras, but it turned out not to be the case, and in the end, I never found out why I had to give her US$3.

These were standard forms that you need to fill out for nearly every country. I gave her the forms and I’m not sure what she did with them.

That was sort of the whole day. The bus attendant was constantly collecting documents from us and handing them off to one border or another, trying to get the border-crossing process to go faster.

The El Salvador / Honduras border at El Amatillo reminds me of the Mexico / Guatemala border—not a lot of security, lots of people loitering around, a bit of chaos, and lots of shops and empty buildings. It felt like the border was in the middle of a town.

2.1 Exiting El Salvador

We get to the El Salvador part of the border at 9:45 am.

At the El Salvador border, we didn’t even have to get off the bus. Instead, an immigration agent boarded and examined each person’s passport, recording the information from our documents onto a ledger.

El Salvador has the most laidback system of any Central American country. Check out my post on entering from Honduras to El Salvador.

2.2 Entering Honduras – Health Check

The bus then drove to the Honduras part of the border. At 10:54, we arrived, and everyone got off the bus. We didn’t have to take our luggage with us.

The first step was to get our COVID vaccine cards or tests approved. This took place in a small office. It included a temperature check as well.

I had both a vaccine card and a PCR test.

The health inspector then fills out a small piece of paper with your temperature and a check for whichever proof you have to enter Honduras. You then take that paper with you to immigration.

2.3 Entering Honduras: Immigration

Then you walk 2 or 3 minutes to a larger building that is immigration. The building is divided into two parts: on one side of the room are people entering Honduras and on the other are people leaving Honduras. It is all very organized and quick.

blue and white building at Honduras immigration at El Amatillo

There were only about 10 people in line. There were 4 windows, 3 of which were open.

I showed my pre-check form (I don’t even remember if he looked at it), my paper from the health inspector, and my passport.

I had to get fingerprints done and a photo taken.

No questions were asked.

I had to also pay US$3.

Honduras has the most professional and technologically advanced immigration system of all Central American countries.

It’s 10:17 am when everyone is back on the bus and we can leave the border.

Step 3: Exiting Honduras

The ease of entering Honduras gave me a false sense of comfort. Little did I realize that things would get harder once I tried entering Nicaragua.

We arrive at the Honduras border at 1:00 pm.

The Honduras border wins the prize for THE WORST BORDER CROSSING EVER!

a village at Honduran border with a tree with no leaves, buildings in the background, and trash on the ground

It’s in a small brick building in the middle of a village. The village is poor. It’s a bunch of wooden shacks. There’s trash everywhere and lots of goats, dogs, and chickens. 

The line for immigration was so long and moved glacially slowly. It took 1 hour and 25 minutes for all 10 people on our bus to clear Honduras immigration.

Honduras immigration building

The immigration people are in a bad mood and everyone speaks Spanish quickly. You need to scan your fingerprints and get your photo taken.

They stamped my passport, but the ink was so faded that it was unreadable.

It was 2:25 pm when we finally left.

Step 4: Entering Nicaragua at Guasaule

Before we got to Nicaragua immigration, which was on the other side of a bridge, the bus attendant collected everyone’s passport and PCR test results. I assume she took all of our documents to a health inspection.

white building at Nicaraguan immigration

We then entered the immigration building and that’s when we got our passports back. But not the PCR test.

Immigration on the Nicaraguan side runs glacially slow as well. The immigration officer needs to fill out forms by hand!

Plus, they are really impatient if you don’t understand what they’re saying.

I handed the immigration agent my passport but no other documents. She never asked for the email from the Nicaraguan government.

She asked me several questions:

  • What mode of transport am I using to cross the border? (I didn’t understand her question in Spanish at first, which really seemed to annoy her. – “Que…viajar…?”)
  • How many days am I planning to stay in Nicaragua?
  • What is my address in Nicaragua? (I had luckily written down my hotel’s address on a piece of paper. This was not the same hotel that I had put on my online application for entry into Nicaragua)
  • What is my telephone number?
  • What is my profession?

I then had to pay US$13. Make sure to keep the receipt because you’ll be asked to show it to board the bus again.

I did not get a stamp in my passport. Instead, I got a piece of paper with a stamp on it and another piece of paper that was hand-written with some information on it that I can’t read. Plus, a small receipt.

I should have asked her why there was no stamp, but the officer was so impatient and mean that I forgot to check while still at immigration.

Overall, my experience was rather quick. It seemed that people who were entering independently and not with a bus or shuttle were having a harder time with the immigration agents. There were a couple of foreign backpackers who spent a long time at immigration answering questions and being sent to different lines. They didn’t seem to have U.S. dollars either.

Step 5: Nicaraguan Customs

Once you finish immigration, do NOT go back out the door that you entered.

You need to walk behind the immigration booths to customs.

At customs, EVERYONE had to open their bags and have their bags searched.

Luckily, when the customs official opened up my bag, the first thing he saw was my toiletry bag with my hairbrush and he just gave up and didn’t continue searching my bag as he did for everyone else.

It was 3:30 pm by the time I finished immigration and customs.

The 2 backpackers accidentally missed customs. While waiting for the bus to show up, I saw them being escorted back into the immigration building and then into customs. Then I saw them get their bags searched for the longest time. It looked like they had gotten in trouble for doing that.

Step 6: Leaving Immigration

Unfortunately, we had to wait until 4:45 pm for our bus to show up and to board the bus. Then when we finally boarded, we needed to show their receipt from immigration to an immigration official.

However, we still didn’t leave Nicaraguan immigration until 5:15 pm.

Where can you exchange money at the border?

I assumed there would be people exchanging money at the border of Nicaragua, but I didn’t see anyone and the bus attendant was in such a hurry. People who crossed independently told me they saw money changers, though.

Make sure to exchange money at the border!

Step 7: Arriving in Leon, Nicaragua

We arrived in Leon at 7:30 pm. The bus dropped me and 2 other people off at a gas station on the highway (Google Maps) outside of Leon.

I had no Nicaraguan money (cordoba) for a taxi. None of the taxis would accept my US dollars.

Probably, the gas station had an ATM inside. I didn’t check because the people who picked up the 2 women who got off the bus with me offered to drive me to my hotel.

Where to stay in San Salvador

When choosing a place to stay in San Salvador, try to get somewhere near the bus company that you’ll be using to take to Nicaragua. I usually use booking.com to book hotels and hostels in El Salvador.

La Zona Hostel

  • COST: US$17 – $20 for a bed in a dorm room | US$50 – $60 for a private room
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
  • BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

This is the perfect budget place to stay if you need to take a bus from El Salvador to Nicaragua or from El Salvador to Guatemala. It’s near 2 long-distance bus stations: Tica and Transporte del Sol. The hostel is also in a very safe neighborhood and within walking distance of 2 museums.

It should cost you about US$5 to take an Uber from the Terminal Occidente.

Plus, they can arrange for Centrolab to come to the hostel to administer your COVID test.

Some advice:

Whatever you do, ask for a top bunk. The bottom ones have a mattress on the floor (a perfect opportunity for critters and bed bugs).

I preferred the third-floor dorm room. Each cubicle had its own fan and the room was larger with more storage space so you’re not crawling over everyone else’s backpack.

The second-floor dorms are smaller and have air conditioning, but it’s not turned on until 9:00 pm. The first night the air conditioning was set to 21 degrees (it was FREEZING!) and the next night it was set to 26 degrees (it was TOO HOT!). If you do stay on the second floor, ask for the top bunk bed by the window!

Where to stay in Leon, Nicaragua

When choosing a place to stay in Nicaragua, I usually used Booking.com. If you book through their App on your phone, you can sometimes get even cheaper prices than from your laptop.

Casa de Los Berrios

  • COST: US$14 for a private room with a bath but no aircon; if you want aircon, you can pay extra
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
  • BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

This is a fabulous place to stay if you don’t want to do a hostel and you’re on a budget. Quiet and full of character. The family who owns the place is just wonderful.

Casa de Los Berrios courtyard in Leon, Nicaragua
double bed in room at Casa de los Berrios

There is a lovely courtyard with rocking chairs that you can relax in in the morning and evening when it’s not so hot out.

Poco a Poco Hostal

This hostel was highly recommended by friends of mine who also stayed at Bigfoot Hostel. It’s got great reviews on Booking.com and the dorm rooms look spacious and well-ventilated.

Where to stay in Granada, Nicaragua

I stayed for over 2 weeks in Granada and stayed at 5 different hotels and hostels. Here are my recommendations (all based on my experience) for the best places to stay in Granada. If you can swing it, try staying at Hotel Boutique Adela. It’s sublime!

Best Hostels in Granada

Oasis Hostel (Booking.com | Agoda), Hostel de Boca en Boca (Booking.com | Agoda), and Selina Hostel (Booking.com | Agoda)

These are the 3 most popular hostels in Granada. I’ve stayed at all 3 of them, and they all have their pluses and minuses. All of the places are centrally located and are very good at organizing activities for their guests. Oasis and Boca include a free breakfast of pancakes, and their prices for tours and dorm rooms are much cheaper than Selina’s. However, you can sometimes get a good deal on dorms and private rooms at Selina, which include air conditioning.

If I had to choose one hostel out of the 3 I stayed at, I’d choose Boca. It’s cheaper than Selina and Oasis, and their bathrooms and showers are cleaner than Oasis’s. Plus, they’ve got a nice social atmosphere. They also have 4-person dorms that are inexpensive and almost as good as a private room.

If money is no object, and you like to party, then go for Selina.

Hotel El Arca de Noe

This lovely family-run hotel is a sweet deal for those who want some peace and quiet and their own room. You get free breakfast as well as access to make your own food in their kitchen. The owner gives you a free tour of the city in his car.

Hotel Boutique Adela

THIS hotel is absolutely divine! With just 4 rooms in the whole place, it feels like you’re in your own private villa. Price is fantastic for what you get: US$60 – $80. If you book on booking.com, you can often get a free upgrade to the King Suite. You can sometimes get a cheaper price on your phone than on your laptop.

room at Hotel Boutique Adela in Granada Nicaragua
swimming pool and lounge chair at Hotel Boutique Adela

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found this guide on getting from El Salvador to Nicaragua. The El Salvador and Honduras border is pretty easy. It’s the Honduras and Nicaragua border that is the slow and difficult one. But if you go with a bus company like Tica or Transporte del Sol, your journey will be much smoother than if you go on your own.

If you have questions about the trip, feel free to leave them in the Comment Section below.

For those of you who’ve done the bus trip or boat trip, I’d love to hear about your experience.

If you’ve found this info useful and helpful, I’d love it if you could share the love on social media.

Thank you and safe travels!

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting World Nomads. This is what I’ve used for short-term travel. When  I quit my job to travel around the world, I switched to Safety Wings. They’re very affordable (less than US$100 a month depending on age) especially for those of us who are over 40 years old. They now cover COVID19.

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Practical tips for traveling in Central America - from El Salvador to Nicaragua
practical tips for traveling in Central America

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The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel & digital nomad blog, dedicated to helping women over 40 travel the world safely, cheaply, and comfortably. Whether you’re going for a one, two- or three-week vacation, exploring the world as a digital nomad, or staying home and discovering the world from the comfort and safety of your home, you’ll find loads of information to help inspire and inform you in your wanderings.

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