Crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua – We’ve just completed our very last Peñas Blancas border run between Costa Rica and Nicaragua! Having done the trip five times, here are some helpful hints:
COSTA RICA TO NICARAGUA:
You can do the border crossing by foot – it’s certainly cheaper and everything is relatively straight forward. The border is about 5 hours away from San Jose – the city center – if you’re travelling by bus. Considering the distance, taking a taxi would be financial suicide. But there are small tour operators that arrange transport, if going by bus is not your thing.
Once you arrive you’re on your own! Again, the process is not overly complicated but considering I stress about every minute detail on a good day, I like the safety and support of travelling with an actual international bus service.
Tica Bus for the win! This is my first choice when it comes to transportation across the border. There are offices throughout Costa Rica and Nicaragua, so buying a ticket is easy. Most Tica Bus employees can speak basic English, so I had no communication problems. Once you’ve booked your ticket, they will help you through the entire process.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
BUS TICKET: It’s about $26 per person for a one-way trip to Managua, Nicaragua. It’s important to mention that the bus does stops in key towns such as Rivas (for those heading to San Juan Del Sur) and Granada. Regardless of where you get off, the bus ticket price remains the same. There are other international bus companies and prices do vary – as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. The TicaBus has toilets, air-conditioning, free WiFi and about 3 hours into your journey a man hops on to sell sandwiches and empanadas.
DEPARTURE TAX: $8 per person when paying at the TicaBus counter. Its $7 per person if you pay this at a Bancrédito branch BEFORE you take the bus. Personally, the extra $1 is worth it simply for the ease of doing everything at one place on one day. But TicaBus does not accept credit cards for this payment, nor do they accept Dollar coins (Dollar bills and Colónes are perfectly acceptable).
TicaBus will not allow you to enter the bus without this tax being paid.
If you’re taking a different bus to the border and you forget to pay this tax in advance, there are small paypoint machines at the border – but whether these machines work on the day, is just a risk I’m not willing to take.
FORMS: You will be required to fill out two forms – a Travelers Declaration (one form per family) and Migration Card (one form per person). Remember to keep your reciept that shows you’ve paid your departure tax.
CROSSING THE BORDER:
When you arrive at the Peñas Blancas border you will be required to get your Costa Rican exit stamp. The official will also take the Migration Card that you recently completed. You then wait for all other passengers before you enter the bus again. The bus attendant may want to see the exit stamp in your passport before he allows you to enter the bus, so keep it open on the correct page.
Once you get back on the bus, the bus attendant will collect all passengers’ passports. They will then take all passport to be stamped for entry into Nicaragua, while passengers get their luggage scanned. It’s a bit daunting to give up your passport, but it does help the process go quicker and we had absolutely no issue getting our passports returned.
You’ll need to hand over your Travelers Declaration while your bag is being scanned.
ADDITIONAL FEE: Each foreign traveler is also charged $14 after leaving Costa Rica and before entering Nicaragua. To be honest, I have no clue what this is for. Apparently locals are only charged $1. The bus attendant will walk through the bus collecting money in Colónes, Córdobas or Dollars while collecting passports. Don’t worry about having the exact amount, the bus attendant will give you change, although this usually takes a while.
MONEY EXCHANGE: If you’re looking to exchange any money, this can all be done at the border. There are men walking around with wads of cash and calculators ready to help. You should get accosted by about 12 before you even step off the bus.
TELEPHONE SIM CARDS: You can also purchase sim cards for your phone at the border so you can always be in contact with family and friends. The bus does have WiFi though, so unless you’re making actual calls you’ll still be able to access the internet regardless of the sim.
OTHER THINGS TO REMEMBER:
A thin jersey (the air-con can be a bit crazy)
Snacks (although they do sell crisps, chocolates, drinks and some local food at the border)
Click here, if you’re looking for information on crossing the border back to Costa Rica from Nicaragua.
Remember to have fun and enjoy Nicaragua!
Oh, and I cannot say enough about how amazing Granada is – keep it in mind when looking for a place to visit.