Bus Riding & Border Hopping – Nicaragua to Costa Rica

When people visit Latin America, many of them travel throughout the region because of the close proximity of the countries.

Recently I spent a few weeks in Nicaragua to help my colleagues host a couple of discovery tours at Gran Pacifica. Since I had a few extra days to spare, I decided to take a short, 2-day trip to Flamingo Towers in Costa Rica – an absolutely stunning villa complex overlooking the nicest beaches in the country. After visiting a few months earlier, I was itching to get back. The property has unparalleled views of Playa Flamingo from the front balcony and Playa Potrero and the mountains from the back balcony. You see the sunrise from one balcony and the sunset from the other. It’s really quite unbelievable. And with my colleague living at the villas, I knew I had to go. But how would I get there?

Bus Riding & Border Hopping – Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Playa Conchal – a couple of beaches down from Playa Flamingo.

Fly from MGA to LIR? No direct flights and quite costly.

Rent a car? Can’t take a rental car across the border.

Get a cab? Unreliable and can’t cross the border.

Public bus? Eh, not a fan of being squashed between chickens and bananas.

However, everyone I spoke with insisted that I try the Tica Bus from Managua to Liberia. I admit, I avoid the chicken buses at all costs and was a bit hesitant.  But, the Tica Bus is NOT a chicken bus – it’s essentially a Greyhound.  For only $29, I had a one-way ticket to San Jose* on a bus with air conditioning, TVs, and a bathroom! Hey, I’ll take it.

Bus Riding & Border Hopping – Nicaragua to Costa Rica

My Tica Bus ticket. You must buy them at a Tica bus agency.

(*Since there is no option to purchase a ticket from Managua to Liberia, you have to purchase a ticket to San Jose and then get off at the Liberia stop. It is the first stop inside Costa Rica, and the bus driver announces as you approach it.)

I chose my seat – first one on the left hand side of the bus, so that if I had any questions I could just lean forward and ask the driver. I was traveling alone and didn’t want to miss my stop! I purchased a prepaid Nicaraguan cellphone for $15 (including minutes and texts) in case I needed to make any regional calls, so I felt prepared.

My cab driver dropped me off at the Tica Bus station at 6:00 A.M. promptly – as the booth agent had advised me to do when I purchased the ticket a few days earlier.  The process (paperwork, standing in lines, etc.) does take about 45 minutes, so it is recommended to listen to the agent. We left the station at 6:57, three minutes early…yes, EARLY!

The ride to the border went smoothly. Crossing the border was a bit unstructured – the bus doors open and you’re expected to know where to go, so I just followed the herd.

Bus Riding & Border Hopping – Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Tica Bus at the first stop.

After about 2 hours of driving south, I arrived at the first stop – immigration. The bus agent collected all of our passports, $4.00 USD, and the completed paperwork and does the rest of the work for you. Everyone exited the bus, but we were able to leave our luggage in the bottom compartment. For about 15 minutes, I lingered around, browsed the quesillos, and waved my finger to the Nica men, telling them for the 100th time that, no, I did not want to buy a lotto ticket.

The bus driver returned, honked his horn, and we all congregated back around the bus. An agent returned the passports to everyone and we boarded. I thought to myself, “Wow that’s so simple…off to Costa Rica now!” Well, not quite there yet….

After driving about five minutes through what appeared to be an old car wash, we arrived at another station. This time we exited the bus and collected our luggage. A couple of buses arrived behind us, so I grabbed my bag and sprinted to get in line to beat the crowd. While I have become quite patient after  living and working in Latin America, I would still rather avoid lines. This time I presented my passport to the booth agent with some more paperwork. They stamped my passport and I passed my luggage through an x-ray machine. After I was cleared, I headed back to the bus. I was the first one back – I guess no one else decided to sprint.

Bus Riding & Border Hopping – Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Doesn’t this remind you of a car wash!?

After about twenty minutes, the bus was full again and we continued through the border. The total time to pass through both stations took about 45-60 minutes. The lines weren’t too long, so maybe our bus arrived at a good time. I had heard that this process could take a couple of hours, so I was pleased with this quick outcome.

An hour and a half later, I arrived in Liberia. I took out my phone to call my colleague to let him know I was there, only to notice my cellphone was dead. Great. I got off the bus and asked myself the million-dollar question, “Do I want to go into the McDonalds or the Burger King to charge my phone. But then I heard “RACHEL!” from across the way. It was my colleague. I did tell him I’d be there at 10:30 A.M.(it was now 11:40) and, being a North American, he is prompt. He had been waiting for an hour and ten minutes! Bless him.

Bus Riding & Border Hopping – Nicaragua to Costa Rica

When I opened my eyes in the morning… this is what i saw.

We began our 50-minute drive to Playa Flamingo. The roads were in remarkable condition and the signage for towns was quite impressive. No street signs, but the signs do a great job of directing you where to go.

The 48 hours spent in Costa Rica were quite memorable. I tried fresh tuna steak (oh my goodness, so delicious…it was tuna and mahi-mahi season in Costa Rica!), ate fresh ceviche at Playa Conchal, and went beach hopping on ATVs. I was staying at Flamingo Towers and my room had an oceanfront view. The instant I opened my eyes in the morning, I saw the deep blue Pacific waters.  Wow – it was just an incredible way to start the day. How could I be anything less than happy from the moment I woke up?  I worked from the couch on the porch, observed the parrots flying by, heard the howler monkeys communicate to each other in the trees, and watched the tides roll in and out.

Bus Riding & Border Hopping – Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Sunset at Coco Loco, a restaurant/bar at Playa Flamingo. Try their coconut drink when you make it down here!

Life in Costa Rica really is “pura vida” (pure life).  If you haven’t been to this great land before, take a trip when you have the opportunity. While my experience getting to and spending time in Costa Rica was phenomenal, the trip back was a bit bumpy. Stay tuned for next week’s article to learn how to AVOID making the same mistakes I did when crossing back into Nicaragua…