When travelling through multiple countries on a budget, one must say goodbye to international flights and hello to crossing borders on foot. It sounds daunting for sure, but our first experience doing so in Peñas Blancas to and from Nicaragua/Costa Rica was actually pretty cool. The immigration officers were lovely people on both sides, crossing on foot felt like we were crossing the finish line of a marathon, and the whole process went pretty quickly...which was nice.
Things to know when crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua and vice versa:
The bus from Liberia city centre to Peñas Blancas takes about 2 hours and runs frequently (every 15 minutes in the morning and every 45 minutes after that)
Depending on time of day, the immigration process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to multiple hours, for us it took 30 minutes
The bus from Peñas Blancas to Rivas (which is your connecting point to Managua, Granada, Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur) takes about 1 hour
If you are heading to San Juan del Sur, you can ask the driver to let you off at La Virgin about halfway to Rivas, and catch the connecting bus on the other side of the road to cut time. Keep in mind the bus may be packed when it gets to you because you’re getting on mid way through the ride
Ferries to and from Ometepe Island run frequently all day, there is one at least every hour
The price of the bus from Liberia to Peñas Blancas is 1600 Colones (2.8 USD)
The price of the bus From Peñas Blancas to Rivas is 30 Córdoba (1 USD)
A taxi from La Virgin to San Juan del Sur is $5 USD per person
A taxi from Rivas to San Jorge Port is $4 USD per person
A bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas is 60 Córdoba (2 USD)
There is a 31 Córdoba (1 USD) fee to enter the port at San Jorge
The ferry to and from Ometepe Island is 50 Córdoba (1.3 USD)
Exiting Costa Rica you pay a $1 USD Municipal Tax and a $7 USD Exit Tax
Entering Nicaragua you pay a $1 USD Municipal Tax and a $10 USD Entry Tax
When exiting Nicaragua you pay a $1 USD Municipal Tax and a $4 USD Exit Tax
There is no entry fee or tax to get into Costa Rica HOWEVER as of April 1, 2018 you MUST show proof of onward travel when entering Costa Rica. A plane ticket, or a pre-booked shuttle will do the trick. You can always purchase a refundable one if you aren’t yet sure when or how you will be leaving Costa Rica. In our case we knew exactly when we departing and purchased a Caribe Shuttle ticket ahead of time. We were asked to show it at the border when entering Costa Rica so don’t forget!
If you aren’t travelling with children or disabled persons, try to avoid taking taxis. There are always buses and they are so much cheaper and frequent enough that a taxi is avoidable. The taxi drivers are very good at pressuring you into it, and will tell you things like, “there are no more buses today, you will miss your connection if you wait for the bus here” etc.
Carry a waist pouch for the border process. You need to show your passport several times along the way and having it handy is best.
Carry small USD bills pulling out 20s and 50s isn’t advisable and the immigration officers may not have the change
The guys walking around on both sides of the border exchanging Córdobas and Colones aren’t actually that bad price wise, so if you didn’t go to an ATM ahead of time, that option is always there. There are ATMs on site, but I’d avoid them if you can.
Ask before taking any pictures. Even on your walk across borders. There are army men everywhere and some of them don’t take too kindly to tourists snapping away.
When entering Costa Rica don’t forget to actually go through the immigration office and get your stamp. It’s easily missed, and no one will stop you from walking right on by. Sounds cool, but later on if you are asked to show your passport anywhere in Costa Rica, you can land yourself in a heap of trouble.
If you ask anyone for bus schedules or where to wait for the bus, ask 2-3 people at MINIMUM. You tend to get different information from different people, so if you get the same info from at least 2-3 people, you know you can trust it.
As you can see there is a lot of info to keep in mind, but it sounds worse than it is, I promise. After you’ve done your first exit or entry...the rest is easy peasy.