A relatively new land border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica has just opened up and since I’ve now done the crossing, I’d like to write about my experience in order to help other travelers do the same. The crossing is only open from 8 am to 4 pm so it’s not a 24 hour operation. I’m going to write this in English as I’ve seen that non-Central American travelers will need this information more.
I did the best I could on a step-by-step guide on how to cross the border as of July 2015.
For entering Nicaragua at Las Tablillas:
-First you need transportation as the bus from San Jose to Los Chilis does not go to the border. I don’t think taxis will go that way either so I recommend one of the following. Fee may vary depending on the season:
Oscar Gutierrez, driver, email: email@example.com Costa Rica phone # 506-8877-7060
-You’ll also want to coordinate transportation on the Nicaraguan side as there are not a lot of taxis there either
-On the way to the border, get your driver to stop in Los Chilis to pay the exit tax (impuesto de salida) for 4,500 Colones (about US$9). It’s best to do it in Los Chilis instead of at the ATM on the border in case the machine is broken or busy as there are no taxis really around at the border to take you back to Los Chilis.
-Drop off at the office complex and go through customs (guards just briefly check luggage)
-Fill out immigration paperwork and stand in line for the window for salida (exit); you can leave your luggage off the side so you aren’t lugging it around.
-After going through immigration, leave the building complex to walk and cross the border. You’ll see a fence where you’ll have to talk to Nicaragua Border Guard who will ask where you are going.
-After talking to the guard, walk a bit more and talk to the person at the building to fill out immigration paperwork to enter Nicaragua (entrada) and go to the window; Americans will have to pay US$12 entry fee. Best to have the exact amount.
-After immigration, walk right over to customs who only check briefly.
-After customs, walk some distance and go to final Nicaraguan guard who checks your paperwork prior to leaving. He’ll want to see your passport and receipt for paying the entry fee.
-Finally in Nicaragua! Hopefully, you had coordinated transportation!
For entering Costa Rica at Las Tablillas:
-You’ll need to set up transportation to go to the border and transportation on the Costa Rican side as there are not a lot of taxis on either side.
-Once there, take your luggage and show your passport to Nicaragua guard who will let you pass.
-Walk some distance to fill out immigration paperwork and stand in line at the window; Americans will have to pay US$2 exit fee. Have exact amount.
-After getting documentation back, walk with your luggage to talk to the Nicaragua Border Guard at the guard shack who will check your paperwork one last time.
-Once the guard gives you permission, pass the border (the gate) to talk to the Costa Rica Border Guards who will ask for your passport and check your luggage (customs).
-After getting approval, walk all the way to the Costa Rican building complex.
-Once there, drop your luggage and fill out immigration paperwork and stand in the entry line (entrada).
-After getting your paperwork, take your luggage to the customs guys who will briefly check your gear.
-Finally in Costa Rica!
The whole process should take roughly 20-30 minutes but could vary based on the amount of people and if computers go down or the two countries are angry at each other or whatever is going on.
I highly recommend having transportation set up. Oscar Gutierrez, my driver, went through the process with me so he’ll know the route to Las Tablillas and is also willing to pick up travelers returning from Nicaragua.
Other tips to note:
-Carry your real passport at all times. I was stopped at a river town port by a Nicaraguan soldier who wanted to see my real passport, not a copy. Put it in a plastic bag to protect from the rains…
-Bring a poncho or rain gear when outside. It can rain a lot at anytime and it can make you cold and miserable in a short period of time.
-It is possible to go to San Carlos via ground taxi or go to a lot of the towns along the river via boat taxi.
-You can change money on the Nicaraguan side for their currency, Cordobas, with a guy right on the border if you need to.
-Many of the dwellings along the river may or may not have running water or a generator.
-If you must have cell phone reception, buy a SIM chip as it will be cheaper. If you have service such as AT&T that uses GSM, you can use that too but it will be expensive.
-Bring bug spray if you are going to be in the jungle because at night, they come out in full force especially the mosquitoes.
-It is possible to kayak the entire Rio San Juan but hire a guide. There are a lot of rocky low points and rapids that can get you stuck or create other problems if you don’t know where to go.
-The winter months are May to September so if you’re going fishing, it can be a bit more difficult. Have more patience and adjust your fishing abilities accordingly to catch fish.
-Learn some Spanish prior to going – a lot of the people don’t speak English and it makes for a much easier time.
-If you hire a guide, ensure to tip him/her. A lot of the people don’t make much money as the GNP per capita in Nicaragua is US$2400/year, but in the jungle, it’s more like earning US$80-$100 a month so tips are well-received and help the locals make ends meet as many don’t have full-time employment.