Last Saturday, over 15,000 Nicaraguans working in Costa Rica crossed the border back into Nicaragua. Over 50,000 more are expected to cross in the next few days to spend Semana Santa (Holy Week) with their families. Even when there aren’t thousands of people, border crossings by land make TSA screenings seem like a piece of cake. Still, they’re not so bad if you know what to expect. Below are a few tips based on our recent crossing by bus.
Come prepared. Obviously you’ll need your passport, but also have a pen handy to fill out forms. Sharing is caring, but it’s more efficient if you bring your own.
Know your number. At some point the bus driver will collect your passport, and sometimes he does this before you fill out your forms. Have a copy of your passport on hand and/or memorize your passport number. Otherwise you have to track the bus driver down and try to get it back from him. Yes, the bus driver WILL take your passport, but he will give it back!
Cash is king. You’ll need to have cash to pay the entry fees. To enter into Nicaragua, we paid 8,000 colones (about $16 USD) each, and the American couple sitting in front of us paid in USD. The bus driver should have plenty of change in both currencies as well as cordobas. The mysterious part is the amount you pay seems to vary according to the source. Try to have at least $20 USD or the equivalent in local currency easily accessible.
There’s a reason it’s called hand luggage. Keep your hand luggage in your hands at all times. Even if you unload the bus and are told to leave your big bags below, always carry your hand luggage with you. Never leave it on the bus unattended.
Be prepared to be bombarded. “Cambio, cambio?” men will yell as soon as you step off the bus. Although they’re offering to conveniently change money for you as you wait, they may be ripping you off if you don’t know the current exchange rate. Also, your first welcome is likely to come from the many vendors that will approach you. They sell everything from snacks to sandals and cell phone cards. Others will straight up ask you for money, providing a toothless grin in return. As we understand, the men wearing navy blue vests are authorized to search your luggage, but they too can be aggressive and demand tips if they help you carry it.
Based on our experience, the border crossing into Costa Rica or Nicaragua at Penas Blancas takes at least two hours. Best of luck with your next border crossing, and if you have any experiences to share, please do. After all, sharing is caring~
Note: A version of this post was published in the The Nicaragua Dispatch & can be seen here.