It's not difficult or expensive to travel by public transportation around Nicaragua, just logistically demanding. It happens that there is no single bus taking a direct route inland from Chinandega (the town nearest to Marina Puesta del Sol on the NW coast where we stopped in April) to León or Granada, two popular tourist destinations. Say you want to travel by bus. Bus #1 takes you from Chinandega to León. Bus #2 takes you from León to Managua. Bus #3 takes you from Managua to Granada. Granted, the longest leg any of these 3 buses takes is only about 1-1/2 hours, and it only takes about 4-5 hours to get all the way from Marina Puesta del Sol to Granada, but that's a lot of transfers when the day is hot and your Spanish is weak. I think the lack of a direct route may have to do with Chinandega, León and Granada each being located in three separate departments (similar to counties in size, and to states in terms of political functioning). But whatever.
Buses along the main Nicaraguan highways we traveled leave their towns fairly regularly (every 20-40 minutes or so during the day), and the drivers and their assistants all take care to get passengers on the correct bus - especially if those passengers are as dazed and confused like we always are. There are even these way-cool "express" vans that have their destinations painted on the side of the van; they simply wait several minutes in the departure town until the van is full o' passengers, then take off to make only one or 2 stops en route. We found that whatever the mode of public transportation, most of them are full no matter where or how frequently they run. So you'll have plenty of company. Nice.
What we did was, we took a 12-person bus-van from León to Managua that filled up with 16 people. Made me nostalgic for the vehicular safety standards I'm used to. Nevertheless the driver was a real pro and got all us passengers to Managua, safe and sound, in about an hour. At the Managua transfer point near the university we asked our driver to point us to the correct express bus to Granada. He led us to a traditional-size bus that took off a few minutes after we boarded, and got us to Granada in about 1-1/2 hours. I'm not sure it was the exact route we'd wanted and it didn't feel at all like the express we'd asked for, but it did the job. Dropped us off near Granada's hyper-busy central market, about 4 blocks from our B&B, the excellent Casa Silas.** Centrally located. Quiet. Proprietor Rob is an excellent host. Full breakfast. Mini-split A/C. And a nice cool courtyard pool in which to soak after a day of hot turismo. This place is great. Get you some.
Granada is a pretty Spanish Colonial city on the shore of Lake Nicaragua that was burned to the ground by a 19th-century American wingnut. None of Granada's original 16th-century architecture survived the fire but the city has done its best to reproduce it. The arched interior of its cathedral is painted a cool sky blue and its outside is a brilliant yellow that's visible throughout the city, especially from the bell tower of another church in the centro.
Granada's former Franciscan convent is now a museum that displays some fine local prehispanic ceramics and an interesting collection of tall statues carved out of volcanic rock that are reminiscent of the moai on Easter Island - just in miniature. Or maybe totems like in the Pacific Northwest, except carved from rock instead of wood. Most of the museum's artifacts appear to have been collected during the middle to late 19th century from nearby areas in and around Lake Nicaragua. That was a time when artifacts were often separated from their site without their surroundings having been thoroughly investigated. In the case of most of the ceramics and statues displayed in Granada, it unfortunately appears that no one even recorded the precise location where the object was found. Too bad - think of what might still be learned from the original sites, using modern technology.
Granada supports many nice restaurants of all kinds and the food alone is one reason to visit. Granada has old-fart style restaurants that serve typical American/Mexican food, where to blend in with the clientele you wish you were wearing white linen and a Panama hat. Granada also has vegetarian restaurants and cafes that might appeal to the more youthful traveler who prefers living out of a backpack and lodging in one of Granada's many hostels. Places where to blend in with the clientele you wish you were more hip. Personally, I'd suggest visiting the restaurants that serve typical Nicaraguan food - such as the grilled meat extravaganza you can find at Restaurante El Zaguan, a couple blocks behind the cathedral. Dang that was good eatin'.
The local taxi drivers were on strike while we were in Granada. Seems they were having a serious dispute with the city councilfolk, who wanted to make some short term income for the city by awarding new taxi medallions at a steep discount to a large number of prospective cab drivers. The effect would be to reduce the income the current cab drivers could make. Awkward. In a country in which it's obviously very difficult to make a decent living, it didn't seem to me that either the cab drivers or the local government would benefit from the situation. By the time we left Granada things were getting a bit tense, politically speaking. But meanwhile we were bummed because one of the handiest forms of relatively inexpensive transportation was being denied to us. Thus we toured on foot in the 96F heat. Oh the humanity.
On the other hand, the absence of taxis on the streets must have been a relief to all the hard-working small horses (ponies?) we saw moving short-haul cargo with handmade wooden two-wheeled carts. One day we were even overtaken by what appeared to be a traditional funeral with a horse-drawn hearse. Nicaragua uses their horses intensively - whereas in El Salvador, we'd seen people instead of draft animals carrying most of the loads. Which is the country with better conditions - for the people, as well as their animals?
Visit Nicaragua and figure it all out for me.