Yes, there are cheaper options to go from El Salvador to Nicaragua in one day. But using public transport is not easy and definitely not fast. Take my advice: spend some extra money and take a long-distance international bus, which is still an adventure.
The two best options probably are Platinum and Tica Bus. The best idea is to visit their offices in San Salvador: Platinum is in a dodgy area very close to the city centre, Tica is in the swanky Colonia San Benito in the western part. Take your ID with you and find out when buses actually leave, because personal experience learned us the information found online wasn’t really accurate.
We only had the option of evening / night buses, probably to avoid longer queues at the borders. ‘Borders’ is plural, yes: don’t forget Honduras is still in between El Salvador and Nicaragua. So around 3pm we boarded, jumped on the luxury bus, made a 90 minute detour for some tanking… and off we went.
The first part was visually stunning, as you see the impressive San Vicente volcano from a distance and then cross the mesmerizing Rio Lempa. But – after a small sandwich package – things got dark and boring, and you had no idea where you were…
No Man’s Land
Check beforehand whether your bus will actually go to your desired destination. Ours made a quick stop at the edge of our final destination Leon. From there we could take a taxi into town. But some international buses head straight to Managua (or take a detour through Esteli). Anyway, you made it here… so enjoy Nicaragua!