Borders: Nicaragua to Costa Rica & Nicaragua by the Books

Okay, so all of these countries that were meant to be budget savers (Honduras, Nicaragua) have ended up costing us a bit more than we bargained for. In Nicaragua, these extra dollars are largely to blame on Spanish language classes and my inability to resist Caribbean islands. Flight out to Corn Islands? Bit of a budget buster. But so, so worth it. Here’s how we sit after Nicaragua:

Days: 30 (This, we realised at the border, is uncomfortably close to the 30 day limit we were given upon arriving in Nicaragua. Keep an eye on your stamps, folks.)
Total Cordoba: 29,130
Total US Dollars: 1037
Approx. Daily Expenditure (USD): 35

And now for a quick run-down on the trip down to Costa Rica.

It’s easy enough, if timely, to take local buses from Managua to the Peñas Blancas border crossing to Costa Rica, and then catch local Costa Rican buses from there. At this point, we couldn’t risk the journey taking us too long, as we had friends to meet at around 5 p.m. in Liberia, Costa Rica. Somehow our trip-long motto of having time but not money had morphed into not having either, which is always a tricky situation when dealing with Central American buses.

There are a number of international buses that will take you from Managua, Nicaragua to San Jose, Costa Rica. They will happily drop you off in Liberia, Costa Rica but will still charge the full fare to San Jose. One of our arriving friends, Amanda, was landing in the morning in San Jose and planned to take the bus up to Liberia. Our other friends were arriving in Liberia in the evening.

TicaBus has 6 a.m., 7 a.m., and noon departures. Central Line has one bus leaving at 4:30 a.m. Transnica has 5 a.m., 7 a.m., and 10 a.m. departures. (I believe there are a couple of buses also leaving in the afternoon, but we were only after the morning, so I didn’t take note of these.) The annoying thing about bus travel in Managua is that instead of a central bus terminal, each company has its own. And they are often a taxi ride away from one another. After arriving in the evening from the Corn Islands, I was unable to call to reserve a bus, so we just hedged our bets and turned up at TicaBus at 6:30 a.m. We arrived to the unfortunate news that the bus was full and the next wasn’t leaving until noon. We decided to chance it and grabbed a cab to Transnica, where we were loaded onto a nearly empty bus for $30 each (plus $5 for Tim’s surfboard. They don’t like the extra baggage on some of these buses).

The ride went smoothly, including the rainy border crossing into Costa Rica. Technically, you are required to show an exit ticket from Costa Rica in order to enter, but this is rarely asked for and we didn’t have to provide any such proof. It is a good idea to have an exact exit date in mind to tell the customs official – we did hear stories from an Aussie arriving in Costa Rica who responded “I don’t know,” to questions about time in Costa Rica and following destination and was then allowed only 7 days in the country.

Arriving in Costa Rica is a surreal experience after several months in Central America. It’s apparent, almost immediately, that this country operates differently and has a higher standard of living. The houses are nicer, the cows are chubbier: the grass is literally greener. The chaos seemed to fade behind us as our bus sped further away from the border, and the advice I’d given my friends about conservative clothes and diligent safety seemed a bit paranoid. Costa Rica felt much more North American than the countries we’d spent the last few months in. There was most certainly a level of culture shock upon arriving. Of course still Central American, Costa Rica still felt like a different world.

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