A trip to Nicaragua, step 1: border crossing from Costa Rica:
As I’m spending some months in Costa Rica, preparing for a new project, I wanted to have a first look at Nicaragua. I cannot be ziplining in Costa Rica every free moment… I heard Nicaragua has even more problems with plastic waste than Costa Rica. And I wanted to go and have a look for myself. A friend who had just finished her assignment in Costa Rica was traveling that way as well. So we decided to travel as a team.
From my temporary location in Costa Rica, we made it by bus to the city of Liberia. Different bus lines manage and operate from separate locations, and it’s all about finding out at what station the bus to your destination arrives. The bus operator between Playas del Coco and Liberia, Pulitman, has its stop two blocks away from the bus station to Nicaragua.
Taxi vendors at this station walked up to us, telling us that the buses were not going, that it would take hours to have a bus, and that the bus was filthy. Guess what they were selling…
The bus to Penas Blancas, Nicaraguan border
Several companies operate towards Penas Blancas, the border crossing station. On most days you will not wait longer than an hour to catch the next bus. Seating is “first-come, first-served.” In an hour and a half, the bus makes it to the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. If you’re as lucky as we were, it’ll start raining once you step on the bus, and it’ll end well before you arrive at the destination.
At the border station of Penas Blancas, the bus drops you amidst a group of women who sell the exit tax tickets. Each visitor leaving Costa Rica must have one of these. For US$8 each, we got our tickets from the most persistent salesperson and started our way into Nicaragua. Don’t expect signs to guide you: finding your way and the right office is part of the experience.
No man’s land on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua
Emigrating to Costa Rica is a piece of cake once you have the exit tax paid and filled in the exit form (oops, I go back to the end of the line after filling in my form). Stamp in the passport, and we’re on our way to the next stop.
The restrooms in this no man’s land are known to be clean, so if you’re on your way to the border, and expect a wait there, here’s a tip: go here ;-)
A sort of rickshaw bike operates in no man’s land, offering transport from one to the other border. The drivers offered the ride at $1 to $3, but we decided to walk the 500 meters. Before leaving Costa Rica, the last Costa Rican policeman on this journey checks the stamp and waves you out. Before entering the customs zone of Nicaragua, a Nicaraguan officer had another look at the passport. And then, for the first time in many weeks, I see military uniforms again. Kind of a shock, coming from Costa Rica, where the army is a thing of the past (since 1948.)
Taxi-sales-men, the only certainty in a tourist attraction anywhere on the planet. A young man approached us as soon as we came near the Nicaraguan checkpoint. The gentle but persistent man will show you to the next counter and not over away further than 1 meter from you from here on. Getting rid of this newly made friend here is pretty close to impossible… But it allows you plenty of time to start showing him how much you are not willing to pay for the taxi and how poor you are. (Yeah, and they will so believe that from the guy carrying a camera…)
The first stop at this side of the border is NOT the Nicaraguan border patrol as you would expect, but an office of the city that hosts this no man’s land at the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. They charge a $1 city tax for using the area between the two countries…
And so, I finally reached the immigration officer in Nicaragua. Well-trained officers in the art of not smiling at all take your passport. Don’t try to swap passports between Costa Rica and Nicaragua borders: the officers searched for my stamp exiting showing the exit of Costa Rica, and when that wasn’t in the passport, they insisted on making me immigrate the passport I exited Costa Rica on. Having multiple passports on the trajectory between Nicaragua and Costa Rica includes planning what passport to use when entering Nicaragua.
So we made it out of the checkpoint after showing our passports once more. Our new best friend, who followed us through the process, introduced us to his friend with a taxi. It took walking away to lower the price to $20 to get from the border to San Juan. And our new best friend tried, in the end, to get the commission from us (no-go, of course)
And so, about an hour after we arrived at this side of the border, we were on our way to San Juan del Sur. Welcome to Nicaragua!
Koen Blanquart is a strategy consultant, journalist, and author.
Wanderlust is one of his driving factors, and he shares his travels here on Boarding Today. Koen is also the skipper of SV Bagabonda, a sailing vessel making a slow circumvention of the globe..
Koen recently published a book on how to manage a remote team: The Suitcase Office.