San Pedro Sula, Honduras, has been dominating the lists of the World’s Most Dangerous, Deadly, and Violent cities since 2011. I’ll be more clear; San Pedro Sula dominates when the lists are determined by murder rate per capita, and do not include countries at war. If you solely possessed this information, you would imagine that this a place the average person would like to avoid. However, San Pedro Sula is a major transportation hub for Hondruas, and the chances of going through it are exceptionally high for the average traveller. It is also true that the vast majority of the violence in San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, and the rest of Central America and Mexico, is gang- and drug-related. It is reasonably unlikely the average tourist will get caught up in it.
We spent a good amount of time staring at bus timetables and counting hours in transit before deciding on our approach to get from La Ceiba, Honduras (essentially either of the Bay Islands, Utila or Roatan) to Leon, Nicaragaua. We wanted to find the sweet spot somewhere in the rosy trifecta of cheap, timely, and minimal back-tracking.
The general rule, with all services, anywhere in the world is this: You take a triangle, and at each point you put a word. Cheap, Fast, and Good. This is what everyone, everywhere in the world wants when they pay for a service. They want it to be good quality, to be quickly completed/delivered, and they want it cheap. Now the tricky thing is, you can only really ever have two of the three. Think about it. If you want it cheap and fast, it’s not going to be the best quality. If you want it good and fast, it most certainly isn’t going to be cheap.
Essentially the same rules apply to bus travel in Central America.
There are a million different ways you could combine as many buses to do this journey, but here is what we did:
We came from The Jungle River Lodge, and didn’t arrive in La Ceiba until about 2 p.m. We then caught a Diana Express bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula that left around 4:30 p.m. and arrived about 8 p.m .There are many different buses doing this journey, all throughout the day. The upside of Diana Express is that it is cheap (115 L each way). The downside is that its terminals, both in La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula, are not connected to the main bus terminal and are a bit out of the way.
If you are coming from Utila, the ferries depart at 6:20 a.m. and 2 p.m., arriving in La Ceiba approximately one hour after departure. From Roatan, the ferry departs at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., and it takes almost two hours. Even the afternoon ferries would get you into La Ceiba in enough time to take a bus as far as San Pedro Sula.
From a poster on the wall of the Diana Express terminal in La Ceiba, we came across a lovely hostel in San Pedro that offers free bus terminal pick-up, and return transport to the bus for 2 USD/person. Arriving in the dark in San Pedro means that you will really benefit from having something like this arranged. Guaras Hostel was very nice and was run by very nice people who accommodated our early start without a worry. We were woken up about 10 minutes before our alarm, at around 4:05 a.m., as an assurance that we wouldn’t miss our scheduled pick-up. We joined a host of other travellers, and were welcomed with coffee and biscuits at this obscenely early hour. Our transport arrived (in the form of a Hilton branded minibus) and we were at the bus station before our 5 a.m. goal. We hadn’t bought a ticket yet and had been warned that our bus has a tendency to fill up. We had decided to splurge, in an effort to make the trip slightly less draining, on a direct bus that would take us all the way from San Pedro Sula to Leon (or Managua, if you so desire). The Tica Bus was scheduled to leave San Pedro at 5:30 a.m. and arrive in Managua at 5:30 p.m. The Leon stop would be around 3:30. (I think it ended up being closer to 4:30, but that’s pretty damn close.) This bus also stops in the capital city of Tegucigalpa (Tegus for short). On chicken buses, I don’t even know how long this trip would take. The bus cost 658 Limperia, or around 32 USD.
The bus got on its way only slightly behind schedule, and its only major stops were Tegus and the border. The international buses tend to help handle the border crossing details, and will often collect everyone’s passports and border fees to handle all of the paperwork. I’m generally convinced they charge everyone (or at least the tourists) a bit extra for the convenience of it all as well. It cost us a total of 15 USD each for departure tax from Honduras and entry into Nicaragua. We were aware that Nicaraguan entry cost around 12 USD, so we figured this wasn’t too far off.
On the Nicaraguan side of the border, we all had to unload our luggage and go through a cursory customs line. Most of the tourists hardly unzipped the top of their backpack before being waved through. Neverthless, avoid taking any restricted items into Nicaragua, included fresh food, or you could get stung at the border.
Eventually, we were on the road again, and Wolverine dubbed in Spanish helped pass the remaining time before we made it to Leon. Volcanoes became an every-present feature on the skyline, and anticipation for our dive into our next Central American country rose. When we were deposited outside of a petrol station in Leon, the informal bus-stop that doesn’t require a dip into the city limits, it was easy to jump into a shared taxi to our hostel. “Our” hostel, La Tortuga Booluda, was one that we had grabbed out of our guidebook and had, of course, not booked. Upon arrival, we were told there wasn’t quite enough space, so we took the owner up on his recommendation for a nearby bed at Sin Fronteras. Dorms at Sin Fronteras run 7 USD per person, rooms are $22. This seemed pretty par for the course in highgly popular Leon, though we did see a dorm bed offered above a bar for $5.
Journey complete, we ventured out into the dimming light and rising sounds of evening in steaming Leon.