Crossing the Border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica Made Easy

Rachel Jensen

The past couple of weeks were spent in Nicaragua to help my colleagues host a couple of tours at Gran Pacifica. Since I had a few extra days in country, I decided to take a short, 2-day trip to Flamingo Towers in Costa Rica – an absolutely stunning villa complex overlooking the prettiest beaches in the country. I had visited in February and was itching to get back. The property has unparalleled views of Playa Flamingo from the front balcony, and Playa Potrero and the mountains from the back balcony. You see the sunrise from one balcony and the sunset from the other. It’s really quite unbelievable. And with my colleague now working there, I knew I had to go. But how would I be crossing the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica?

Fly from MGA to LIR? — No direct flights and quite costly. Rent a car? — Can’t take a rental car across the border. Get a cab? — Unreliable and can’t cross the border. Bus? — Eh, not a fan of being smushed in between chickens and bananas.

But everyone insisted that I try the Tica Bus from Managua to Liberia. I admit – I avoid the chicken buses and was a bit hesitant. But, the Tica bus IS NOT a chicken bus – it’s a Greyhound from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. For only $29, I had a one-way ticket to San Jose* on a bus with air conditioning, TVs and a bathroom! Hey, I’ll take it. (*Since there is no option to purchase a ticket from Managua to Liberia, you have to purchase a ticket to San Jose and then get off at the Liberia stop. It is the first stop after crossing the border, and the bus driver announces as you approach it.)

I chose my seat – first one on the left hand side of the bus so that if I had any questions I could just lean forward and ask the driver. I was traveling alone, and didn’t want to miss my stop! I purchased a prepaid Nicaraguan cellphone for $15 (including the minutes and texts) in case I needed to make any regional calls, and I was good to go.

My cab driver dropped me off at the Tica bus station at 6:00am promptly – as the booth agent had advised me to do when I purchased the ticket a few days earlier. The process (paperwork, standing in lines, etc) does take about 45 minutes, so it is recommended to listen to the agent. We left the station at 6:57am – 3 minutes EARLY…yes, EARLY! — and we were on our way from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.

The ride down went smoothly. Crossing the border was a bit unstructured – the bus just opens the doors and you’re supposed to know what to do when you get off — so I just followed the herd.

After about 2 hours of driving south, you arrive at the first stop – immigration. The bus agent collects your passport, $4.00 USD, and the completed paperwork and does the work for you. Everyone has to exit the bus, but you don’t have to take your luggage. You linger around, browse the quesillos, and inform the salesmen for the 100th time that no, you do not want to buy a lotto ticket.

The bus driver comes back – in this case about 15 minutes later – honks his horn and everyone congregates around the bus. An agent returns the passports to everyone, and you board the bus. I thought to myself, “Wow that’s so simple… off to Costa Rica now!” Well, not quite there yet…

We boarded the bus, drove about 5 minutes through what appeared to be an old car wash and then arrived at another station. This time we had to get off and collect our luggage from under the bus. I saw a couple of buses arrive behind us, so I grabbed my bag and then actually sprinted to get in line to beat the crowd. While I have become quite patient after living and working in Latin America for two and a half years, I would still rather avoid lines. This time I presented my passport to the booth agent with some more paperwork. They stamped my passport and then I passed my luggage through an x-ray machine. After I was cleared, I headed back to the bus. I was the first one back – I guess no one else decided to sprint.

When everyone boarded, we were back on track to Costa Rica. The total time to pass through both stations took about 40 minutes. The lines weren’t too long, so maybe our bus arrived at a good time. I had heard that the process of crossing the border could take a couple of hours, so I was pleased with this quick process.

An hour and a half later, I arrived in Liberia. Took out my phone to call my colleague to let him know I was there, only to notice my cellphone was dead. Great. I got off the bus and asked myself the million-dollar question— do I want to go into the McDonalds or the Burger King to charge my phone. But then I heard “RACHEL!” from across the way. Here came my colleague. I did tell him I’d be there at 10:30am (it was now 11:40am) and being a North American, he is prompt. He had been waiting for an hour and ten minutes! Bless him.

We began our 50-minute drive to Playa Flamingo. The roads were in great condition and the signage for towns was quite impressive. No street signs, but the signs do a great job of directing you where to go.

The 48 hours I spent in Costa Rica were amazing. I tried fresh tuna steak (oh my goodness—so delicious…it is tuna and mahi-mahi season in Costa Rica!), ate fresh ceviche at Playa Conchal, and went beach hopping on ATV’s. I was staying at Flamingo Towers, and my room had an oceanfront view. The instant I opened my eyes in the morning, I saw the deep blue Pacific waters. Wow – it was just an incredible way to start the day. How could I be anything less than happy from the moment I woke up? I worked from the couch on the porch and observed the parrots fly by, heard the howler monkeys talk to each other, and watched the tides roll in and out.

Life in Costa Rica really is “Pura Vida” (Pure Life). If you haven’t been before, take a trip when you have the opportunity. While my experience getting from Nicaragua to Costa Rica and my time there were phenomenal – the trip back was a bit bumpy. Stay tuned for next week’s article to learn how to AVOID making the same mistakes I did when crossing back into Nicaragua…