Costa Rica Border

Costa-Rica: How to Get There from Nicaragua and Panama; Tips for crossing Costa-Rican Border

Costa-Rica is one of the most popular Central American countries: it is very safe, and its infrastructure is very well-developed. Certain developments, however, have not quite reached it: for instance, the border and customs are quite chaotic, and to reach the Costa Rican border, one has to change transport several times. In this post, we share the experience of crossing the border and taking public transport from both sides.
Costa-Rica: How to Get

From Panama to Costa-Rica

There is a direct bus from Panama-City to San-Jose (the capital of Costa-Rica) which takes about 24 hours. But we recommend breaking this long trip into two parts by stopping in Almirante and getting to Bocas del Toro islands from there by ferry or boat. On your way back from Bocas del Toro, you may book a transfer from the border with Costa-Rica for 17 dollars (you may do this in advance in one of many Bocas del Toro tourist offices) or get there by changing several buses (we paid 5 dollars for the boat to Almirante, 1.75 dollars to get from Almirante to Changionla, and then one more dollar each for the transfer from Almirante to the border). We recommend getting the evening boat from Bocas del Toro to Almirante, sleep in one of many cheap Almirante hotels, and continue your way in the morning.
From Panama to Costa-Rica

The buses from Almirante to Changionola start at 5.30 and leave every 15-30 minutes. Buses from Changionola to the border are equally frequent.

Crossing Panama – Costa-Rica Border

When you arrive at the border by bus, you have to go up to the abandoned bridge.
Crossing Panama – Costa-Rica Border

There, you buy stamps for leaving Panama, 4 dollars each. Then you cross the mound and find the booth with migration officers. There, they check your passport and stamp it. The vigilant officers did not want to let us out thinking that we do not have the right for the visa-free entrance to Costa-Rica. Before going to such countries, we download the visa-related rules in their languages, because very often the officers themselves are not aware of the legal regulations in their countries (in our case, they did not know that the European Union residence permit or the US visa allow for visa-free entrance). We convinced the officers that we can enter, got the stamp, and, having crossed the parallel bridge, found ourselves in Costa-Rica.
Crossing Panama – Costa-Rica Border

Costa-Rican officer did not ask any questions at all, so it was already at 10 AM that we were sitting in the bus from the Costa-Rican border to San-Jose. The ticket to San-Jose cost 26 dollars, the cashier accepted both local money and dollars. The price of the ticket is quite high for Central America, but one should remember that Costa-Rica is the most expensive country in the region. It takes about 6 hours to get from the border to San-Jose, as the bus stops in many small towns and there is a lot of traffic. You may try to get to Limon and then to San-Jose, but it may take the same amount of time. The bus arrives at Terminal Atlantico Norte in San-Jose.

To/From Nicaragua: Crossing the Border

The trip from San-Jose to the border with Nicaragua takes about 6 hours: our bus from San-Jose departed at 5AM and we could easily get Uber taxi then (which was also quite cheap). The bus was great, it only did not have the toilet and air conditioner. The final bus stop is two kilometers from the border, so you either have to walk or to take a taxi. Costa-Rica – Nicaragua border is one of the most inefficient borders we have ever seen. According to Central American tradition, you have to pay for leaving the country, but it is hard to find the booths, as they are a bit outside. Officially, it costs 7 dollars, but some booths sell it for 8.
Then the mess continues. You have to walk on foot to the border of Nicaragua to check the passports.
Nicaragua: Crossing the Border

You cannot find any officers or signs on the way, just the flows of people running in the opposite directions. At some point, a migration officer stopped us, and it took him a while to look at our passports and ask questions. “Competent” people were coming up to him just to stare at the passports or, seeing the Belarusian passport, to nod as if they finally understand and say “Belize.” This is how we were standing for about 20 minutes. Finally, our officer received an approval on the walkie, and we could enter Nicaragua. We reached the migration office which seemed more like a market due to lots of people selling a lot of stuff next to it. On the entrance, there is a booth, from which you get another stamp for a dollar. Many people do not stop at it, and nobody checks the stamp afterwards. In the office, another queue formed after us: the officer was again surprised by our passport and left for consultation. A man in the queue appeared to know that there is a country called Belarus and even remembered its capital. The officer finally stamped our passports (with another entrance fee—12 dollars—involved). At the exit, we had to scan our bags and show our stamps. The stupidity of the border reached zenith in the terrible toilet which cost 1.3 dollars (special price for tourists), but we did not feel like bargaining or looking for something else anymore. We could immediately take the bus to our next destination Rivas and continue to our main Nicaragua stop—island Ometepe. The bus was full of people and cheerful Latin American music.

chicken bus