Nicaragua / Costa Rica

PENAS BLANCA BORDER

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Description : Two big administrative buildings separated by a few stamps and passport inspections.

Comments : It is a fairly well organized crossing point, with adequate space on the two sides. 

What to do ? Show your passport to enter the Nicaragua administrative zone / Fill up the exit form / Pay the $2 tax / Get your passport stamped / Change your remaining Cordoba into Colones (24 Colones per Cordoba, 25 the opp) / Show your passport to exit Nicaragua / Walk 5mn toward the Costa Rica's immigration building / Pay US$3 (or C981) to get a stamp on your passport (a municipal tax !) / Then fill up the entry form and get your passport stamped. You shall be given 3 months / Head for the bus office to check the latest schedules / Visit the tiny tourist office for a few leaflets / Then walk 200m toward Banco Credito (inside a building without any sign, green color) and change TC at the best rate in the country (better than in Liberia as no commission : 326.15 per dollar) / Go back to the bus station and wait patiently / Have a snack at the cafeteria / When the bus show up, show your bag to the custom officer / Get in the bus / Keep your passport handy for a few more inspections.

What you may not like ? It took me only 30mn to do all the procedures but it could be much longer (especially from Costa Rica to Nicaragua), in particular if showing up at the same time than a Ticabus (they get priority) / The $7 entry tax to Nicaragua ($2 service + $5 tourist card) / The long wait for the bus on Costa Rica side / The numerous passport inspections / Showing up too early : the Costa Rica offices open at 8am only for the travelers (6am for truck drivers) and the first bus out is at 9:30 only. / The vaccination's scam sometimes running in Costa Rica : playing the dumb tourist is usually the solution... 

Change ? Moneychanger on both side will relieve you from your remaining local currencies. This is the best place to do it. The bank on Nicaragua side (open 8:30am) can change dollars but not TC. The bank on Costa Rica side (Banco Credit) will do it (but only American Express TC), at an even better rate than in Liberia (C326.15 and no commission). Open 8:30 to 12 & 13 to 17 Mond to Frid, Sat 8:30 to 12 only.

Leaving ? On Nicaragua side, buses leave every 30mn toward Rivas (C8, 45mn). A few also straight to Managua / On Costa Rica side, things are far less convenient. Buses to Liberia at 9:30, 11:30, 14:30 & 17. C500. 1.5 hours. You can also take a non-direct bus to San Jose : 5:30, 7:30, 10:30, 12 , 15:30 & 17:30 (Frid, Sat & Sund only). On Sunday, all those buses are direct and should not allow you to stop at Liberia. On other days, direct buses to San Jose at 10am and 2pm. C1740. 4 hours. 

The trip to Liberia : SSS / Left / C500 / 1.5 hours
The bus opened its doors at 9:20 but nobody rushed toward it. Very weird : what was going on ? Was this the right bus ? Was it a custom to let the gringos get in first ? I got the answer once on the bus : they were all queuing to have their bags inspected (or more exactly looked at for half a second). Then only, they got in. 
The first checking of the passport (or travel documents for the locals) took place 5mn later. There was another, one km further : the official came in and asked people to wave their paper above their heads. This way, the inspection was over within 30 seconds... How efficient !
We reached La Cruz half an hour after departure and, half an hour later, the last passport inspection : this time, with individual's attention. We finally reached Liberia at 11:10. Although there are national parks on both side of the road (Guanascasta on the left and Santa Rosa on the right), the scenery was nothing special until the few last km.  The left side was slightly better.

See also the trip from San Juan Del Sur