Before taking this journey, there was very little information online about going from Nicaragua to Costa Rica so here’s our itinerary, I hope it helps! We left Little Corn on Thursday 19th April and arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica on 27th, having been on four boats, four buses, three taxis and two tuk tuks.
- Little Corn – Carlito’s ($40 for two double beds), Three brothers ($10 – 15 for a double and a single)
- Panga to Big Corn at 6.30am Thursday ($6 each)
- Express boat to Bluefields 9am Thursday ($10 each) (Other options – Captain D’s leaves at midnight on Saturday or a second boat leaves at 9pm on Sunday and goes straight to El Rama, arrives around 8am on Monday)
- Stop over in Bluefields – Lobster Pot ($8 for a double bed, be warned this IS a whore house), Hotel Oasis ($55 for double room with private bath, cable tv and air con)
- Boat to El Rama ($10 each) – panga leaves from the Municipal Docks next to Hotel Oasis all day once they fill up
- Stop over in El Rama at New Caribe Oasis Hotel ($12 for double bed with private bath, cable tv, fan)
- Bus to Juigalpa ($3 each) – Hotel Roassario ($12 for a double bed, private bath, cable tv and air con) You’ll need to take a taxi to ‘centro’ as the bus stop is on the main road and then catch a taxi back to the bus station in the morning for the bus to San Carlos
- Bus to San Carlos ($5 each) – Cabinas Leyko ($13 for two single beds with fan, shared bath and no tv or $25 for double bed with air con and cable tv) We stayed here two nights to catch up on some work so paid $26 in total
- Walk to Municipal Port (about 5 minutes walk from Leyko with our rucksacks)
- Boat to Los Chiles at 1pm everyday ($10 each) Paid immigration $2 each to leave Nicaragua and then another $2 each upon arriving in Costa Rica – Hotel Wilson Tulipan ($30 for double bed, private bath, cable tv and air con)
- Bus to San Jose – Every hour buses leave for Ciudad Quesada (the locals call it San Carlos, not to be confused with San Carlos, Nicaragua it’s probably easier to use the official name) where you can change for San Jose, takes around 3 hours ($5 each) Second bus takes around 2 hours and arrives at the San Carlos Terminal in San Jose ($3 each)
- Taxi to the hostel, about a ten minute journey in rush hour ($3)
- Galileo Hostel, San Jose is within walking distance of all amenities such as restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc ($9 each for a dorm bed)
Total days: 9 days
Total cost: $258 for two people (£160)
You could easily cut down time and costs. We decided to do each leg of the journey on separate days so we would have time to look around and get some work done. If you’re pushed for time you could probably carry out this trip in 6 days but you’d need to be up early and travel all day most days. You can also cut accommodation costs, we forked out a whopping $55 for a hotel room in Bluefields because there were no ‘middle-ground’ hotels, and after the first night in a whore house we decided it was time to find some hot water and enjoy a spot of luxury. You can also find much cheaper accommodation in Los Chiles, but as the Hotel Wilson Tulipan was right next to the immigration office we gave in to our laziness and paid higher than ‘the usual’. However you won’t be able to cut other costs such as transport and immigration. This is the cheapest way to reach Costa Rica from Bluefields, the other options are to fly or bus back to Managua and then take a Tica bus through the Penas Blancas border crossing to reach San Jose. This is a very well-travelled route so it’s easy, but also very hectic, and you miss out on seeing the true heart of the Nicaragua countryside.
For more info about our experience crossing the border at San Carlos/Los Chiles, read on…
From Cabina’s Leyko we were able to walk to the Municipal port in San Carlos. We filled out forms for immigration, paid $2 tax and then $10 for the boat journey down Rio Frio. A boat leaves at 1pm everyday, there might be a couple of other times but you’d need to get to the port and check. It takes about 30 mins to an hour, and it’s very pleasant ( so much nicer than the boat ride from Bluefields to Rama), you can spot tortoises and lots of birds along the way. There’s a camouflage painted immigration hut half way down but we were waved through and didn’t have to get off the boat to have our passports checked. When we arrived in Los Chiles, Costa Rica we queued to have our bags checked but again we were waved through (sometimes it pays to be a gringo!) They thoroughly searched the Nica family in front of us and found an iguana stuffed in the old lady’s handbag which they removed, made a note of her name and then let them through. It’s a short walk to immigration to hand in your form and get your passport stamped. In total there were no more than 15 people so even though we were last, we only waited around 10 minutes.
We arrived in Los Chiles at around 2.15pm but after dealing with immigration it was almost 3pm, so we decided to stay a night in Los Chiles to break up the journey. There is a bus that leaves to go straight to San Jose at around 3 – 3.30pm, we probably would have made it if we’d run from immigration to the bus station (it’s around a ten minute walk) or been a bit sharper getting off the boat, through customs and immigration. We stayed in the Hotel Wilson Tulipan which is a bit of a rip off at $36 per night but you do get cable tv, hot showers, air con and it’s nicely decorated with top quality furnishings. The staff weren’t very friendly, one girl in particular, check out my review on Trip Advisor and perhaps do some research on other hotels/hostels in the area. We hadn’t, so we took the easy option and wanted to take advantage of a good internet connection for the rest of the day to get some work done. (We also managed to barter the room down to $30, the price for a single person in the room)
There are indirect buses to San Jose that leave every hour, head to Ciudad Quesada, San Carlos where you can easily change for a bus to San Jose. It stops at a large bus station, and there were lots of friendly people to help point us in the direction of the ticket office and then the correct bus. Direct buses do leave from the Los Chiles bus station and take about 5 hours but there’s only one or two a day. The two leg journey will take around 6 hours, 3 hours on bus one, 30 minutes change over and 2 hours or more for the second bus, which is pretty windy as it has to go up and over a few hills.
We arrived in San Jose at the San Carlos Terminal at around 5pm after setting off from the hotel at 11am. We took a taxi for about $3 to Galileo Hostel. This is a really cool hostel if you want cheap accommodation in San Jose, one of the cheapest but it’s nice and clean and has a great vibe. There’s a 24 hour bar but it’s only small so it doesn’t get too rowdy and they don’t play loud music so sleeping, even though we were directly above the bar wasn’t a problem at all. It’s listed in Lonely Planet’s Central America on a Shoestring guidebook.
If you have the time, I’d really recommend this journey as the border crossing at Penas Blancas on the Pacific side is very hectic and can take forever. Los Chiles was the most relaxed border crossing we’ve ever done, in fact it felt more like a leisurely boat ride to spot some native wildlife. This isn’t a quick journey though, it took us nine days in total to get from Little Corn to San Jose but you could easily shorten this by a couple of days, we just like the slow pace, after all it’s all about Enjoying The Journey ;)