"I know that I am in danger, at risk, but I am ready to make the sacrifice, because Honduras needs peaceful change."
The interim government in Honduras, led by Roberto Micheletti, has threatened to arrest Zelaya, overthrown in a military-backed coup on June 28, if he sets foot in the country.
"It [Honduras] is completely isolated. They have become the North Korea or the Albania of Central America"
Oscar Arias, Costa Rican president
The administration imposed a curfew between 6pm (00:00 GMT) Thursday and 6am (12:00 GMT) along border areas in an attempt to keep Zelaya's supporters away.
Wearing a black leather vest and his trademark white cowboy hat, the ousted leader arrived in Esteli by jeep, accompanied by Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan foreign minister.
After arriving in Esteli, Zelaya said he would attempt to return to Honduras on Saturday. It is not clear when he will attempt to enter Honduras, or how he will do it.
Allan Fajardo, a spokesman for the ousted leader, said he could travel by air, sea, or land from any of Honduras' three neighbouring countries - Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The US and Latin American governments have demanded Zelaya be reinstated but Honduras' de facto rulers are refusing to bend to the pressure.
"The rule of law dictates that Mr Manuel Zelaya cannot return to Honduras as president. From the point of view of Honduran law, this matter is closed," Martha Alvarado, the de facto administration's deputy foreign minister, said.
An attempt earlier this month by Zelaya to return in a Venezuelan aeroplane was thwarted when the military blocked the runway.
US-backed mediation attempts in Costa Rica broke down earlier in the week.
Oscar Arias, the Costa Rican president who led the talks, said the de facto leaders of Honduras risk becoming international pariahs if they do not agree to back down.
[The interim government of Honduras] is completely isolated. They have become the North Korea or the Albania of Central America," he said on Wednesday.
The government that took over after the coup agreed to consult with congress and the supreme court on a proposal drawn up by Arias, a Nobel peace prize winner, but later appeared to back out of the deal.
|Micheletti and his interim government will not accept Zelaya's return as president [AFP]
"I don't think the supreme court or the state prosecutor's office or congress are going to change their criteria.
"I think they will maintain their position against Manuel Zelaya's return to power," Mauricio Villeda, a pro-coup negotiator, said.
The Organisation of American States, or OAS, warned the de facto government that it needs to agree to Arias' proposal.
Barack Obama, the US president, has condemned the coup and cut $16.5m in military aid to Honduras.
He has also threatened to slash economic aid to what is one of Latin America's poorest countries.
Zelaya was removed from power as he was about to press ahead with a non-binding referendum that critics said was aimed at changing the constitution to enable him to run again for office.
Zelaya said the charter changes were necessary to improve the lives of the poor.