Entering Nicaragua via Penas Blancas, Costa Rica
Bus Fare: Central Line: $35.00 US
Fees: Costa Rica Departure Tax: $8.00 US
Nicaragua Entry Fee: $10.00 US
Nicaragua Tourist Card: $3.00 US
Rivas Region Tax: $2.00 US
Immigration: About 45 Minutes
Customs: 10 Minutes
Boarding/Waiting Time: About 1 Hour combined
For this border crossing I have to start at the beginning. We wanted to get from the little mountain town of Monteverde, Costa Rica to Nicaragua. The original destination was Lake Ometepe in Nicaragua so we opted for the western border crossing.
Monteverde is not exactly along a main highway so the first hurdle was figuring out how to get out of Monteverde and catching a bus into Nicaragua. It was also our first border crossing, which I must admit we were all a little apprehensive about. A day or so before we left we asked the Airbnb host what his suggestions were, we inquired at the Monteverde Chamber of Commerce, and did a little digging on the internet.
There are essentially two ways of going about border crossings. There’s the easy and expensive way, you hop on a big fancy bus, seat guaranteed, they assist you with paperwork/passports and such, they get you across the border, and the final destination is usually a capital city or at least a larger hub city.
The exciting/hard and cheap way is to piece it together yourself using a combination of chicken busses and longer route busses, which are referred to as mini-busses, shuttle busses, Pullmans, etc.
As I said before getting out of Monteverde was our first challenge. We figured out that we could catch a bus out of Monteverde to the little roadside town of La Irma and then catch a bus heading Northbound for Nicaragua. But we still had a few questions. I’ll spare you the details and get right down to how it all actually worked out.
We opted for the expensive bus, this usually isn’t how we do things but you’ll find that when you are traveling, especially with children, sometimes you just have to splurge.
The day before we left we found a little shop that sold bus tickets, as many of the shops in town do. We were able to book seats from La Irma across the border to get us as far as Managua. All we had to do was show our passports and pay the fare, we left with handwritten vouchers and a lot of hope that some bus coming down the road the next day would stop and pick us up.
Now we had to figure out how to get to La Irma. As it was there is one bus that departs at 4:20am from the main bus terminal that gets you down the mountain in time for your border bus. No taxi will run this early so you’re going to have to trek it. For us it was about a mile from where we were staying. I was less than comfortable with the idea, our family would be loaded down with our packs, walking in the dark of night, and hoping this was all going to be ok. It was.
Other than a few stray dogs I felt as safe as ever. Obviously the Policia know that gringos do this every morning because they were out and about lights and all. They even helped us get down the right street when they saw us stop and look around.
The bus ride was easy enough, about 2.5 hours just to get to La Irma. The roadside bus stop is a simple covered bench across from a small gas station and market. When we purchased the tickets the woman didn’t know what time the bus would be coming by in La Irma to take us the rest of the way, so we rushed to the gas station to use the restroom and got back as quickly as possible. It was probably about 7:00am. Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. At first it wasn’t so bad because there were several people, gringos and locals, waiting and then hopping on busses as they sped by. But then there were four, just us, the lone bunch. It was about this time that Hubby and I started to worry. Did we miss it? Did we get screwed? Just then a taxi driver pulled and Hubby asked in his best Spanish if he knew anything about our bus. He assured us it would be coming and sure enough a few minutes later it arrived. I’d say by this time it was probably about 8:30am.
We showed our vouchers, hopped aboard, and started our border adventure. Then literally 2 minutes later the bus pulled into a large market/eatery and took their morning break for about 20 minutes. It was so comical, I couldn’t stop laughing. Had we known, we could have just hung here, grabbed some coffee, a sandwich, whatever, and relaxed. But now YOU know, so walk the quarter mile and rest assured your bus is coming and relax.
Approximately 2 hours later we had arrived at the Nicaraguan border. Prior to disembarking the porter handed out immigration and customs paperwork. This is pretty typical and you just fill it out the best you can. Because we were on the international bus and paid to get all the way to Managua, we were able to leave our packs on the bus while we dealt with exiting Costa Rica and Immigration. First we had to obtain our exit stamps and pay our departure tax. The office was only about 100 feet away. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were bombarded by money exchangers, another common border event, as well as several people ushering you to the tax office, your official last stop in Costa Rica.
It was easy to pay our fees; if I remember correctly they accepted colones or dollars. Now it was time to get in line for immigration and pay our entry fees into Nicaragua. Everyone was talking about how short the line was, and I agreed based on what I had read, but it still took us about 45 minutes to get through though. Once we received our entry stamps it was back on the bus. The porter collected our passports as we were headed to another stop. We drove about a mile down the road and now it was time to grab our packs and pass through customs. It was very hectic at this stop. Watch your stuff carefully. The porter was doling out packs and you had to physically walk them through customs. Just follow the line of people, throw your stuff on the conveyor belt, and scoop it off in a timely manner. Then head back outside. Congratulations you are in Nicaragua.
Once we were back outside we had to wait to reboard our bus. This took about 20 minutes or so. It was hot and there are so many vendors walking around trying to sell you things. I didn’t feel totally comfortable at this stop. Mostly because of the vendors. I kept seeing vendors hand tourists an item and then not want to take it back, attempting to make the tourist pay for the item they were merely “checking out”. Honestly this was happening to locals just as much as the gringos. Fortunately because we had read all about this kind of thing we knew better than to accept an item, so we were spared. We did buy some drinks and snacks because it’s appropriate to support the local economy and honestly it was crazy hot!
Finally we were back on the bus, we got our passports back, took our seats, and big sigh of relief.
Next stop La Virgen. Not even a town but the junction to make your way into San Juan Del Sur.
Remember this was the international bus option. Looking back we could have saved at least half and pieced the adventure together. If you were piecing it together it would have been easy enough to catch one of the many busses passing past La Irma, granted it would have been standing room only, to get you to Penas Blancas. Then you would walk, tuk tuk, or taxi your way across the border. From there you could easily catch a local bus to take you North toward Managaua depending on where your destination might land you.