Crossing the Border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Ah… one of those lifetime experiences that we ended up checking off the bucket list… walking across a border crossing between two countries. We spent a lot of time researching this, and still were not very prepared for what happened, let me tell you! It was nothing short of unorganized chaos, and no english speaking help to be found!

Since we had two weeks, we decided that we wanted to take a short trip up to Granada because it was so close and they have a pretty spectacular Christmas tradition (think a lot of fireworks, all day long on Christmas Eve, with a big finale at midnight). We knew the border wasn’t too far from Liberia, where we landed in the morning, so we decided to book a semi-private shuttle through an online company to guarantee our arrival, as we got their Christmas Eve morning and wanted to be in Granada that afternoon. We went with Easy Ride Costa Rica – which was fairly pricey, and if we were to do it again, I am not sure that was the route we would go. However, they picked us up at a hotel in downtown Liberia, and were actually early to boot. There was only us, and another couple from the USA who were going to San Juan Del Sur, just across the Nica border. And thank goodness for them! John & Jenny – Jenny being a Nicaragua born, Spanish-speaking saviour!

Your Options for Crossing the Border:

  1. Hire a taxi to drop you off at the border, and get another one on the other side. There is hundreds of taxi drivers willing to harass you to get you to take their cab.. be careful of prices though.. their meters do their own things, if they even have one.
  2. Take the Tica Bus.. sit on an air-conditioned bus and wait while they take your money and passport to the office to get it all done for you. Not having your passport on your person was enough to make us not want to do this.. but many people choose this route. It is definitely one of the cheapest.
  3. The Chicken Bus – essentially with the locals in the back of a truck.
  4. Semi-Private or Private shuttle – more costly, but more space. They still drop you off at the border and pick you up on the other side just like a taxi. We used Easy Ride for our shuttles.
  5. Take a plane, and skip this all together.

For us.. the shuttle was the way we chose. Next time perhaps it will be a taxi if we ever go back. There is a few things you need to know though going through.. BRING CASH!! US is the easiest, and don’t trust that you can use the ATM’s.. it was broken the day we were there. There is a bank but the line up was ridiculous.

The Good Stuff AKA How to Cross Borders like a Boss

Costa Rica to Nicaragua

  1. You will have to pay an exit tax to leave Costa Rica. This is in a little office down off the main road. When you get to the immigration buildings, just prior there is a fork in the road, this place is on the right and lower than the road. You will need to pay an exit tax if you have been in the country for a few days or longer. We hadn’t even been there for 24 hours yet, but the couple we were with had been there about 5 days, so they had to pay $8 US.
  2. You will then go to the border office and get your exit stamp to prove that you are leaving Costa Rica. This is the big building in the middle.. to leave stay right on the fork and your entrance is on the left side of the road. After that, it’s about a 5 minute walk to an office (more like Shack) on the right side of the road where they check your passport and that you have paid everything you should. You then cross to the other side of the road to go through the Nicaragua side (another couple of minutes of walking/hauling your bags). (Yea, you zig-zag back and forth…)
  3. You go into the left side of the Nicaragua Boarder building. You pay $1 for what, we aren’t exactly sure to a person standing in a booth directly inside for a ticket that nobody ever looks at.
  4. Then you have to go through to the officers that look at your passport and ask you a few questions if they speak English. If not they stamp you and you pay another $12-14 each. Try to have smaller bills because they didn’t want to give us change for our $20’s. We ended up putting 4 of us together and they still gave the same amount of $1’s back to us anyways. I suggest you have a selection of bills to make this easier.
  5. You then put your bags through a scanner and head on out.
  6. We actually walked past the gate and started going back into Costa Rica. The blue gate just looks like it is a side tour to people’s houses, but you are literally going through a gate with rough grounds, that only fits a person or two through at a time. People are coming back in as you are trying to go out and it is really a giant clusterfuck with a guard or two checking passports and making sure you paid everything correctly.
  7. Get through the gate, and find your transit of taxi if you are going that way. Enjoy Nicaragua!

Nicaragua to Costa Rica

By this point we had already done the path once so at least we had the background information for doing the route in return. But if you are doing it the opposite way, here are your steps!

  1. When you get to the border you are going to stay to the right. You can walk through the crazy amounts of taxis or see if yours will drop you off as close to the building as possible. You will walk to the end of the road/path until you find the Blue gates and subsequently wait until you can push your way through and get an agent to look at your passport.
  2. Once through the gate you go straight into the building to get your passport checked so you can leave Nicaragua. Again, there is an exit tax here.. but at least they do it all in one here, not like the random building in Costa Rica. If I remember right it was between $5-10 US. There was a few lines when we were there – for locals and for others. The far left one was processing a massive amount of passports (probably the Tica bus), it seemed like Nica people stayed right, and foreigners were to the left.
  3. Go out of the building and cross the road to go through the checkpoint huts. They check that you have paid the appropriate prices and have the right tickets.
  4. At this point you will cross back over to the right side and follow the waves of people going back to Costa Rica. You are now on the right side of the Costa Rica Border building. We had to show tickets to prove we were leaving Costa Rica at some point this time. Luckily I had our flights printed out. I would suggest this on any border crossing to prove you aren’t staying forever. **Note the ATM was broken and the bathrooms didn’t work when we went through there. However, there is a bank inside the building… long lines though, and not well-marked. We actually thought it was the line to get back into Costa Rica because it was the same line, people just took a left to the bank once they got closer to the front of the line, or into the building.
  5. Bags scanned again, and out the other side. Our shuttle ended up being a taxi this time – but through the same company… the 4 of us barely fit with all of our stuff.. thanks to Jenny for sitting cross-legged in the front with my bag on the floor! Hah.

All in all— we’ve heard worse about border crossings elsewhere in the world. It wasn’t too bad, other than a seemingly free-for-all lack of organization or even signage in Spanish. When a local still didn’t know what to do.. that tells you something. However, for a border crossing, we didn’t feel overly scrutinized, or like it was an unsafe crossing. There wasn’t a large amount of military or security personal wandering around…

Yea.. that was a time! How about you? Crossed any borders lately? Any that we should avoid like the plague? Lol, Please comment and share!