We were unable to book transportation into Nicaragua at our hostel in Costa Rica because the shuttle service needed a minimum of four passengers before it would operate. Because we wanted to get on with the next chapter of our travel, we decided to chance public transportation on our own.
Foolowing the instructions from the receptionist at our hostel, which I finally asked her to write down after getting her to confirm twice, we left our hostel in Arenal at 5:30 in the morning (sorry to our dorm mates). We went to the Super Mega grocery store in town, and just down the street we found the bus stop. We had a bit of a wait here, and at 6:30 we caught a bus to Tonque ($2 per person). It was only about a 15 minute ride. When we got off the bus in Tonque, we crossed the street and waited at another bus stop for the 7:15 bus which would take us to the Penas Blancas border crossing ($8 per person).
This was a very long journey. The bus seats were hard plastic and the bus ride was 5 hours long. We had one bathroom break at a road side stop where there was also food available.
When we got to the border crossing we were a bit overwhelmed. We gathered our packs and followed the crowd of people going to pay their exit fees. There were lots of people trying to tell us where to go and I am not sure if they were all trustworthy. We kept our heads down and made it to the lineups where we paid an $8 exit fee per person. Now we had to try and figure out what was next. We headed back across the road and finally decided to go into the building and fill out our paper work, then get in line.
From here we walked across the border and were bombarded by people wanting to help us. One man just wouldn’t leave us alone and insisted on staying by our side. We had to pay our entrance fee of $13 per person at a small hut, and then take a piece of paper into another building that was almost like airport security. Finally, escorted by our “helper” we were outside again and being put into a cab. He wanted a lot of money from us, and we eventually settled on a much smaller price for his “help” then he originally demanded. I am not sure how to avoid these people, but if you can it will save you a few bucks and a lot of hassle.
Once we were in our taxi we were able to settle down from the excitement/anxiety of crossing the border. We paid $35 to be driven to the San Jorge ferry docks. We found the ticket office there and paid $10 for our tickets. We had a bit of time to get a snack while we waited for the ferry.
It was a short but tumultuous ferry ride over. We were seated in the lower part of the boat and it was a head-between-your-legs kind of trip. Once we got across we almost immediately caught a bus ($1) which would take us around the island to the small town of Merida.
Overall, the process of crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was quite smooth. It certainly cost a fraction of what it would have to pay a travel agency to escort us across. If you are for comfort and ease, don’t go this route. If you are more interested in getting to Nicaragua on the cheap- try it! I feel like if we can do it, anyone can! Good luck.
Pin for later!