Crossing the Border Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

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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).

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We got off the first bus where the person is on their bike, and this picture is taken from the bus stop where we were waiting for the 7:15 bus to Penas Blancas border crossing. 

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.

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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.

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Crossing the Border from Costa Rica to Panama

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One of my biggest concerns when preparing for our trip to Central America was crossing the borders between countries. Neither guide books nor blogs made it seem like it would be a smooth operation. I was worried about spending too much money, getting tricked into paying someone who wasn’t an official border agent, and basically just about getting lost!

Because I was feeling nervous about it we decided to book our transportation through Gecko Trail. They picked us up at our hostel in Puerto Viejo and drove us to the border crossing at Sixaola. Here’s what happened:

1.We got out of the van and waited in a short line up to pay our Costa Rica exit fee ($16US)

2.We got our bags out of the van, climbed up a small hill, and got into a line up at the Costa Rican custom building. Here we filled out our exit cards and handed them over along with our passports to get them stamped.

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Looking Back to the Costa Rica border

3. Next we walked over a fairly long bridge, and immediately waited in another line up to pay the Panama entrance fee ($6US).

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Walking the bridge between the borders.

4.Up until this point everything was fairly easy. Once we paid the entrance fee, finding the next stop was a bit more tricky. There were quite a few locals standing around, greeting us and pointing this way and that way. We were a little bit leery about who to trust, but we ended up taking a left and going down a big set of stairs, continuing on in the same direction, and then coming across this:

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Panama Migration Services

Here we waited quite awhile to get our passports stamped. When we paid our entrance fee we were given a tiny little piece of paper. Don’t loose this! You will need it when you get here.

5. From here, we went back in the same direction we had come from, back up the stairs again and then down the opposite side to the bus stop. Because we had arranged transfer with Gecko Trail, we luckily didn’t have to wait long before our bus arrived and we were on our way to Bocas.

The worst part of the whole border crossing was probably just dealing with the heat and our heavy bags! Confidence is key, as well as being prepared to ask questions and trust people. Why I would still recommend using a transfer company would be because with a company you do not have to wait for public transport which is sometimes sporadic and unreliable. I wouldn’t have wanted to wait around in the heat much longer than we had to.

The shuttle also ensures that you arrive at the town of Almirante and get dropped off right at a boat dock to take you to the Bocas islands. Public transit would drop you off at a bus stop and you would walk to the docks, having to wait for the next boat to come.

Overall, public transit is a lot more affordable. You will spend a lot of money if you pay a transport company, but it may be worth it if you are looking for piece of mind, reliability, and move from place to place as efficiently as possible.