by: Robelyn M. Yambao
This is Robelyn again! I just wanna share this experience that I've tried last 2014.
As a first time vacationer in the Spanish speaking countries such as Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I did a lot of research online how to go to Nicaragua at first by bus and like you, I was so nervous that time traveling alone as backpacker without any idea what will happen to me on the road as a foreigner since I barely understand their language and they don't speak English either. So, I wanna try to help my fellow travelers with some experiences of mine so you will know what to do on your trips here and also you will have choices to follow. Let us start:
FIRST TRIP December 2014: Taking bus from Herradura to Barranca to Peñas Blancas
I was staying at Herradura so, my choices in getting to Nicaragua were routes from Herradura to San Jose to Peñas Blancas and Herradura to Barranca to Peñas Blancas. I chose the second route because I can save time. This route was over 2 hours faster than the route from San Jose. From the bus stop in Herradura, just take the bus with the signboard Puntarenas. Inside the bus, the first three rows of the seats will be for pregnant, senior citizen, disabled and with children so, better choose the seats from the middle so you won't be getting disturb by surrendering your seat for others and ended up to be standing all the way.
Anyway, before reaching Puntarenas after an hour or so the bus will stop at the place where you can take a taxi going to Barranca. It is a crossroad so, you won't miss it! Aside from this sign, you will notice that almost half of the passengers of the bus will go down to take taxis going to Barranca just follow them or ask some passengers. Most of the people here don't speak English and can't understand what you are saying but don't be shy to ask, talk to them anyway. I spent $3 in this ride.
I took a taxi with other locals because it will be too expensive if you will take a special trip. The driver tricked me here by asking too much for my fare. I just gave him $10 or 5000 colones since I didn't have smaller bills with me, my mistake of course but, do not forget to change your money into smaller bills when traveling. Pay only what locals are paying, as what they always say "same, same" (it is the same).
At Barranca bus stop, many bus lines were going to my destination too unfortunately, always full of passengers. I was so lucky to have one vacant seat at the back of the Transportes Deldu Bus after asking the collector if their destination was also same with mine. Just tell him you will go PeÑas Blancas or "is there still available seat?" Then, pay him. He collected my payment at the bus doorstep.
In this trip with Transportes Deldu, the bus will stop at Restaurante Lapampa after an hour or so for lunch break. All passengers will go down from the bus to eat their lunch. I got $3 food in the said restaurant such as rice, chicken, banana, bread, juice.
After lunch for 30 minutes in that restaurant, the bus will start to travel again for another 3 hours. Few meters away before reaching the border of Costa Rica, police officer will come inside the bus to check the passengers' passports one by one in their seats. After that, it will move again to park at PeÑas Blancas to drop off the passengers, that's the end border of Costa Rica. You will notice when you get off from the bus, people will ask you to buy their stuff or will ask you to change your money to cordobas (currency of Nicaragua). I just ignored them and went directly to the right corner where you pay the exit tax worth $7 before entering the departure area of Costa Rica. After paying the tax, go straight to the departure area and ask the guard to give you the custom form to be filled out by you while you are on your line. You will be lucky if only few passengers are in the line during your trip but if so many travelers, the line up will be long enough to give you time to fill out the form. Submit this form, passport and the receipt of exit tax to the immigration officer. The officer will then give you exit stamp.
CROSSING THE BORDER
From the exit door of Costa Rica, I kept walking on the right side, few meters away, I saw check point where you allow them to check your bags before entering the Nicaragua border. At the entrance, officers checked my passport. One officer realized I couldn't enter because I am a Filipino Citizen and I should have tourist visa to enter their country. I was panicking in my mind though my body was calm. He asked the other officer if he could let me in even my passport has no visa stamp to enter the country. The other officer agreed with him to let me in because I could get the visa upon arrival at the entry office. So they let me passed through. I went to a small tent where I saw some people sitting for registration. When they saw me, they checked my passport with the following questions:
* How many days would you like to stay,
* Where would you stay,
* What was the last country you've been for the last 15 days.
After my registration, they gave me square stub that I need to submit to the immigration officer at the arrival section. All Nicaraguans got injection when entering the country. I never had it so, I went straight to the entry office.
ARRIVAL SECTION OF NICARAGUA
At the entry section, you will see a booth where travelers pay municipal tax of $1. They will give you here a small square stub that you need to show to the immigration officer. In my experience, the officer said that I need a visa to enter their country after checking his list of countries who need visa. So, I asked him what should I do to get a visa. He asked me to submit a photo copy of my front passport where my info are written and the stamps of Costa Rica (entry/exit). I was lucky that day that the weather was great and the travelers were few. I did not have a hard time to find the copier section and did not wait for long time because people were so helpful to me. I submitted the papers back to the officer. He asked me to wait for awhile to process my visa. He finished first all the travelers who don't need visa in his counter. I waited for 30 minutes. He then called me to ask for the payment of $50 for visa and another $12 for the tax. He asked me what place to visit in Nicaragua, the name of hotel and days of stay. After answering those questions, he gave me stamp and visa for 30 days with the receipts of my visa and tax payments.
On the exit door, there are another two officers will check your bags and passport. The exit gate is really small just like the gate of your house.
WELCOME TO NICARAGUA
When entering the land of Nicaragua, just walk straight to the bus terminal. There are people will welcome you here with questions such as "Do you wanna change your dollars?" or "Do you need a taxi?". There are some taxi who offers special trip or a ride together with other locals. If you want to be alone in the taxi, their rate is $25. If you wanna ride with other travelers like locals, just pay $10. Kinda expensive, yeah, I know! You are a tourist, they know you have money and you don't have a choice. But, always ask for discounts. If they wont give you, pretend that you don't want their service and show to them that you will take a bus. hehehe... (you can save with this trick).
So, I took the taxi going to Rivas with other passengers. I found a cheap hostel beside the Cathedral for only 10$ for two persons. I told the lady that only me will occupy the room so the old lady gave me the room for 5$ a night. That night, I checked the nearby park walking distance from my hostel. Then, when I felt tired I got some rest back to my hostel.
GOING BACK TO COSTA RICA
The next morning, I left my hostel at 6:30 then headed back to the Nicaragua border. My last Cordobas left in my pocket was 170, the driver was asking me 200 but I said I don't have Cordobas anymore because I spent all the currency last night. So, he accepted it.
At the departure office, same process will be done. The line was so long that I waited for 30 minutes then another half hour in the departure section for the stamping.
The steps in the departure area is the same in entry. Pay the municipality tax of $1 and they will give you a small square stub. Ask the guard to give you a form, fill it out and submit to the immigration officer together with your passport and the stub. The officer will then ask you to pay another $2 for the exit tax. Then, he will stamp your passport with exit date and give you the receipt. You will walk through the same road going to the Costa Rica Border. The officers will always check your passport on the way. On the right side before entering the Entry Office of Costa Rica, you will see the ticketing booth for different bus lines where you can buy ticket going to San Jose.
When you reach the Costa Rica entrance, ask the guard to give you a form, fill it out and submit to the officer when you reach the immigration window. The officer will then check your passport, ticket booking to your homecountry and will ask you how many days you wanna stay in their country. Then, the officer will give you a stamp for 90 days stay.
I went to the ticketing booth after I got the entry stamp for Costa Rica. I bought ticket from the same bus line I took when I came here. I left the border at 11am then arrived at San Jose bus station at 5.30pm. We had a break on the way for eating, I spent same amount for bus ticket and food. Then, I got the 6pm trip from San Jose coca cola station going to Jaco. That was a tiring and thrilling trip for me. I was happy because I did it!
This is the hub for the day, I hope this can help a little for others. Please share so people will know and help them too. Thanks for reading, see you again next time!
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A licensed teacher in the Philippines who shifted her career into another direction to follow her passion to be a blogger. Her blogs are related in traveling and simple living as an expat in a foreign land.