OK, it is confession time! When I first planned my trip to Costa Rica, I partially picked it because of this friendly competition that I have with a couple of other travel crazy friends of mine, over who’s visited the most countries. At first I thought I’d just pop down to Mexico and maybe do some diving but then I started looking at other countries nearby, so I could add a new one to my list. BUT that was only part of the reason, and not the main one, as these friends of mine have also helped me rediscover how much I love travelling, and helped me find the courage to go it alone again. So Costa Rica was as much a test for me to see that I can do it, as well as if I would enjoy going solo again, as for many years I haven’t thought that I could (see my first post on this blog a few weeks ago). And when I saw that the hotel I was planning to stay at, offered day trips to Nicaragua, I decided to do that to add a second new country to my list, even though “group tours” really aren’t my thing.
No I kid you not, that’s how silly (read: competitive) I am! 😊
A few days into my trip and really enjoying being back on the road, not for a minute regretting going on my own, I started talking to some of the locals about Nicaragua and asked the really helpful gal at the hotel for some more detail about the tour. Everybody I talked to said I’d be better off just getting a bus to Granada and since I don’t really like tours and was now more confident about travelling again, I did some quick research, read a couple of blogs from other people (this one in particular did sell me on the idea – read it, it’s really funny actually!) and when I found a very nice hotel for $36 a night that had free rooms, that sealed the deal!
So if you ever find yourself wondering how to get across the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, here’s how I did it (incl. times and cost):
Bus Playas del Coco – Liberia 675 Colones ($ 1.35); 50 min
Costa Rica seems to be the like most Latin countries, in the sense that a schedule is more a recommendation or approximation, than an exact science. With the exception that in my experience most of the time the buses leave before the planned departure time… So also this one but by now I have learnt the hard way, so I was there 7 min early! And of course we left ahead of schedule but only by about 3 minutes this time so I got on the bus I had planned to leave on for a change. Ha! Rebecka-Costa Rica 1:5. 😊
Bus Liberia – Peñas Blancas (La Frontera) 1,615 Colones ($ 3.23); 1.5 hrs
This time I had made sure to ask if the next bus was leaving from the same place as the first one stopped at (see my post about arriving in CR) and of course it was not. But the two terminals were just a block apart, less than a 5-min walk. I found it without any problems or hiccups, just by asking my way using my very limited Spanish vocabulary (autobus para Peñas Blancas?) and then mostly interpreting the “something metros” and a hand wave in the general direction. By observing who was walking where, as well as paying attention to the call-outs from cab drivers, it was a piece of cake.
Amazing what you can figure out just by keeping your eyes and ears open. 25 min after arriving in Liberia I was now on my way to the Nicaraguan border – possibly even a little ahead of my estimated schedule! All after getting refreshed and refreshments at the well-organised bus terminal.
This second bus was a comfortable, yet quite cramped long distance bus and it was not packed, so all in all a very comfortable ride I’d say. Air-conditioned but not like riding in an ice box thankfully…
Getting close to the border the view through the windows definitely started changing and the countryside looked much poorer than the other parts of Costa Rica I had seen so far. Perhaps not too different from most border towns but it still pained me to see the “tent” city and all the people waiting for…. Something.
Border crossing (40 min in total )
As other travelers have also observed, the whole border crossing experience was quite confusing, with little signage or direction and a fair stretch to walk in limbo, after numerous stops for passport checks, departure and entrance fees, customs etc. All in all the following stops: Pay departure tax ($8) in Costa Rica; queue again for passport control and exit stamp; check passport on border a couple of times; queue for passport check and pay entry fee to Nicaragua ($11.54, obviously $12); then go through customs and have your bags x-rayed. Show your passport again as you exit the “border station area” and actually enter Nicaragua.
Bus Border – Rivas ($1); 45 min
Opinions differed a bit when I asked around in Coco about whether there were buses leaving from the border to Rivas or not, once on the Nicaraguan side, or if taxi was the only option. But that sorted itself out quickly as approximately 100 yards into the country, there’s a guy literally pulling me onto an old school bus, telling me (my understanding of Spanish is getting quite good by now – nöden har ingen lag!) that I have to go with him to Rivas and then catch a bus to Granada from there. So I find myself sitting on this very old US school bus, I’d say anno 1967, having no Nicaraguan money and not knowing how much the fare is, or even if they’ll accept USD. But of course they did. And it was lucky it all worked out, as I had a bunch of other foreigners follow my lead as well.
People everywhere were really friendly and helpful, in spite of all looking quite shocked when I told them “No habla Español” (most likely due to my more Mediterranean looks), so I depended on asking around for everything basically and it seemed to work well, in spite of me not really speaking any Spanish – trusting whomever I asked and my gut and I felt completely safe as usual. And if you think about it: how would anyone benefit from lying to me about how to get to Granada anyway? Unless they drive a taxi that is… Because these guys are always trying to take you for a ride! Ha, ha, ha! Always haggle like crazy with taxi drivers, that is one universal travel law if any that I always depended on in every country and that has served me very well for the last 20 years!
Bus Rivas – Granada 31 Cordoba ($1.10); 1.5 hrs
The closer to Granada I got, the more “chickeny” and crowded the buses got but just as in Thailand and all other Southeast Asian countries, there are plenty of snacks readily available by vendors who hop on and off the buses so at least I didn’t have to starve – no clue what I ate but it tasted great!
Bussing it got easier though and was actually a bit more straight forward on the Nicaraguan side, I must say. There was no missing the bus in Rivas for example, as the school bus from the border barely came to a halt before some guy started shrieking “Granada, Granada, Granada!”, so you couldn’t really miss it or get lost even if you tried. In terms of schedule, my interpretation was that there weren’t really any but that the bus leaves when the bus is full. And “full” is defined as “bursting at the seems”. Literally.
More pictures and stories to follow, from Granada, which was a lovely place that I am really glad I spent a day and night in – and I do want to come back to spend some more time there – and see more of Nicaragua!