Crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica cheaply could not be easier, however you should have proof of exit before going, amongst some other tips we will share with you based on our own experience!
If you are anything like us, you will either be heading to the Nicaragua – Costa Rica border either from Rivas, or from San Juan del Sur. Both locations offer easy access to the border, at which point you’ll be able to arrange further transport. Of course you can always take the easy option of a Tica or Nica bus and be taken all the way into Costa Rica, however these are both expensive options well outside what we had budgeted.
All Roads Lead To Peñas Blancas (or La Frontera)
Whether you’re leaving from San Juan or Rivas, you will eventually be making your way to the border, or a little town called Peñas Blancas.
No matter where you leave from, if you are a fan of Flor de Caña rum- buy up here as it is about 3 times more expensive in Costa Rica!
From San Juan del Sur
There is no point in heading all the way back to Rivas to get the bus to the border, because you’ll be covering a lot of the same road to backtrack your way there.
Instead, hop on a chicken bus from San Juan and say that you are going to “La Frontera” or “Peñas Blancas”. Make sure you tell them you know you have to change buses. They will drop you off (or you will have to shout if they forget) at an intersexual which in one direction heads to Rivas, and the other, the border. The map below should help you pinpoint it!
The 2 buses should cost you around 20-30 cordoba each, a small price to pay in comparison to some other options.
From the main bus station, ask for a bus to “La Frontera” or “Peñas Blancas” and you should get pointed in the right direction to a chicken bus.
TIPS: Please ignore taxi drivers here as they will stop at nothing to get you in their taxi including telling lies about the buses! In addition, ignore those attempting to sell you an exit ticket out of Costa Rica, they inflate their prices! If you are worried about an exit ticket or don’t currently have one (not many backpackers would), don’t worry. We explain further down how to go about this.
The bus from Rivas to the border is direct, and will drop you right out the front of the Nicaraguan border offices.
At The Nicaraguan Border
You can change money here with many people plying their trade, and the rate is okay. We found there were more money changers on this side in comparison to the Costa Rican side.
When you enter the office on the Nicaraguan side, you will be initially promoted to pay a border entry zone fee (at least we think this is what it was) of US$1 each. You will then walk forward to the actual customs officers and pay US$1.50 per person as an exit fee for the country. We would highly recommend having correct change in either cordobas or US dollars as many people ran into trouble trying to pay with $10 or $20 US notes.
Walking To Costa Rica
After exiting the Nicaraguan customs offices, you will be presented with a mayhem made up of people selling food and many buses. Make your way straight and slightly to the left to where the road goes (it is the only road leading forward) which will take you towards the Costa Rican side of the border.
If you are not sure, just ask any of the security officers along the way (point and say “Costa Rica”). Be careful walking along here too as there may be additional checkpoints for your passport, but nothing extra to pay yet.
The walk to the Costa Rica side will take you 5-10 minutes, and you can also hire a bike-taxi to take you if you like.
Entering Costa Rica
When you reach the Costa Rican side you will be presented with many bus company offices on your right, and a few official looking offices on your left. The customs area you need to go to is on your left.
We were warned of delays here as they usually only have 2 people serving, but fortunately for us we only had to wait 5 minutes to be served. There were no fees to enter Costa Rica, however they were adamant that we show them proof of exit out of the country.
We basically were not prepared for this, and made up a story that we had tickets for a date and time but didn’t have them printed or access to email. Fortunately for us we were given the full tourist visa, however we have had friends only given 3 day visas because they didn’t have proof of exit and were basically told to leave as soon as possible
Once you go through this check, your bags may go through an x-ray machine (the rum we purchased in Nicaragua made it through just fine) and then you are free to find a bus ticket to your next destination!
Proof of Exit Out of Costa Rica
So what about proof of exit! This is an important area for backpackers, and in general we don’t have tickets booked that far in advance. Never fear, there are a few options available to you, which can be shown to the border agent either on your phone or printed. These include:
1. Have A Ticket Out of Another Country
Flying out of Panama or have a ticket taking you from there to Colombia (for example)? Then we were told by the border agent that this would be acceptable. Please note that this may be down to the agent so we would not rely upon this as 100 per cent fool proof
2. Create a Fake Flight Itinerary
We actually used this option when taking a flight from Panama City to Medellin, as they and wanted to see proof of exit out of Colombia (this usually only happens in airports when going to Colombia). We quickly headed to Return Flights where we created a dodgy looking itinerary. It worked though, and we think it would work at the Costa Rican border also.
3. Buying a Cheap Open-ended Ticket at the Border
Remember those bus company offices we told you about when you get to the Costa Rican side of the border, well they can come in handy for proof of exit. Head to Transportes Deldu and ask for an open-ended ticket out of Costa Rica. It should cost you $10-15US and save you the trouble of requiring proof to enter the country. Whilst you are probably losing $10-15US, it’s a small price to pay
That’s pretty much it for crossing the border, we ended up getting on a bus to San Jose from here which was really easy (as many companies go here), but you could also get to Liberia, Monteverde, La Fortuna, or even the pacific coast from the border depending on the time of day.
If you find that you get across the border later in the day, we recommend going to San Jose for a night and then to your next destination. It is a lot easier to get to places from here than anywhere else, as all transport hubs are located here.
Good luck with your border crossing!