Updated January 28th, 2024
How to get to Nicaragua from Costa Rica
Getting to Nicaragua is a journey that is well worth any inconvenience it may bring. These days most international travelers find that routing through Costa Rica is the easiest way to get to Nicaragua. Flying directly to Managua, Nicaragua is an option but flight options are limited to a few select origen cities including Miami, Houston and Mexico City.
The international airport in Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR) is only a 1h20m drive to the Nicaraguan border. It offers a great variety of direct flights from cities in the US, Canada, and Europe. In some cases, especially when coming from Europe, flying into San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) though 5h30m from the border is the way to go.
Note: If you have already done some research and are just looking for ground transportation options please skip to the bottom of this article.
Bienvenido a Nicaragua, The land of Lakes and Volcanoes. Lake Cocibolca and la isla Omotepe greet you on your arrival.
Essential border crossing information:
Nicaragua entry requirements
To enter Nicaragua you must have at least 6 months validity on your passport.
You will be required to pay $14 US dollars to enter Nicaragua. IMPORTANT: You must have cash in USD for this.
Costa Rica entry/exit requirements
Costa Rica has again streamlined entry for visitors post-pandemic. To enter Costa Rica you will only be required to provide proof of onward travel (return plane ticket or international bus ticket departing Costa Rica) and reservation details for your lodging (this can be in Nicaragua).
If you are heading straight to the border from the airport you can get a transit visa which will save you the $10 exit tax if you leave the country within 12 hours of arrival.
The crossing process at Peñas Blancas
If you have a Costa Rica transit visa you can go straight to customs when you arrive at the border for your exit stamp.
If you do not have a transit visa or have been in Costa Rica for more than 12 hours you will be required to pay for an exit visa at one of the small offices located about 100 meters back from the customs building on the east side of the highway, before going for your stamp.
Once you have checked out of Costa Rica you will walk about 300 meters along the road that leads to Nicaragua before passing through a checkpoint where first the Costa Rican and then a few steps later the Nicaraguan customs officials will ensure that you have your Costa Rica exit stamp on your passport. After the checkpoint, you will walk another 200 meters or so to the Nicaraguan customs building (a big white building).
Passing through Nicaraguan customs is expedited if you have filled out the aforementioned pre-entry form. You will be required to pay USD 14 to enter Nicaragua.
- The carts and border hustlers can be money well spent, especially if you are carrying heavy luggage or traveling with youngins. Budget a $5-$10 tip for their services.
- Nicaraguan customs can be tough on bringing in expensive non-personal items, so if you are planning on bringing quantities of merchandise, especially electronics, you may want to think again.
- Drones are not welcome in Nica unless registered. If you are traveling with a drone you can leave it with the Nicaraguan customs and they will return it to you when you depart the country, or you can try to disassemble and spread the pieces through your luggage and hope they won’t catch on to you. (I know a few people who have succeeded with this technique)
Ground transportation from Costa Rica to Nicaragua
Busing is the most affordable way to get around either Nicaragua or Costa Rica, especially if you are traveling solo, on a budget, and do not have strict time constraints. If traveling from San Jose then you will likely be best on either TicaBus https://www.ticabus.com/ or NicaBus https://www.nicabus.com.ni/ which are international bus lines that offer services direct to Nicaragua. Another great resource for busing is https://www.rome2rio.com/
Shuttle – Caribe Shuttle https://www.caribeshuttle.com/schedules-daily-shuttles offers a daily shuttle for $45 leaving Liberia at 9:15 am for San Juan del Sur.
Taxi – Though there are plenty of options, on the Costa Rican side we have been very happy with the Johnny Transfers based in Liberia Cell/Whatsapp +506 6158 1814
In Nicaragua I happily recommend Irma Gutierez, she is incredibly helpful and has the license required to enter the Nicaraguan customs office which can be very helpful. Irma is based in San Juan del Sur and can be reached by cell/WhatsApp is +505-8513-6033.
Both Johnny and Irma work with networks of drivers and will be able to arrange for a reliable ride even if they are not available themselves.
Car rental – You are not able to cross the border with a rental car, though it is possible to drop one off on one side of the border and pick one up on the other. Alamo and National car rental companies offer this service.
Ox Cart or Donkey – My personal favorite, and the best option if you want to take it slow and experience authentic culture LOL.
More tips for taking Peñas Blancas crossing
- If you are late and would prefer to get some rest close to the border then Cabañas Cañas Castilla is a great option. Less than minutes from the border this affordable and comfortable riverside lodge is run by a friendly couple who migrated from Switzerland 25 years ago. https://www.canas-castilla.com/cms/
- La Cruz Costa Rica located about 20 minutes from the border crossing at Peñas Blancas is a beautiful tico town with great views and kiteboarding opportunities in Bahia Salinas.
- If you find yourself stuck in Liberia, Hotel Villa Hermosa is clean, affordable, and run by some of the friendly Costa Ricans I have met. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g309240-d11600862-Reviews-Hotel_Villa_Hermosa-Liberia_Province_of_Guanacaste.html
Los Chiles – The other crossing
Ay yae yae los Chiles, spicy! That’s a town in Costa Rica on the Rio Frio which flows into lake Nicaragua.
This route makes sense for people who are in the La Fortuna area of Costa Rica as it’s only about an hour and a half to the border from there.
Look out for Iguanas as you pass through the area of Muelle (Iguana hot spot).
It used to be a romantic boat ride down the Rio Frio, now a simpler but less flavor land border crossing. For the master chef, I bet you could cook it up according to the old recipe as seen here.
Not many people use this border crossing which means it’s practically empty. Which makes for a fast and very easy process to go through immigration on both sides of the border.
The Border officers are much more relaxed about the official rules, so for people doing a border run, there is a good chance travelers won’t need to wait the standard 72 hours in the other country before renewing their visa.
The physical border crossing itself is quite short, on the Tico side (Costa Rica) buses drop you off right in front of the immigration/border office. After clearing immigration it’s just a 100m walk on a paved road to reach the Nicaraguan office.
On the Nica side of things, mini-vans pick up/drop off passengers right at the border and take about 45-60 minutes to reach San Carlos. These vans leave when full.
Now you are in Rio San Juan, the gateway to Nicaragua’s Caribbean.
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