Up until now I really haven't had a need to head up to Nicaragua but since my visa was set to expire in Costa Rica in about seven days and god knows I was in no mood to fly to the wintry cold of Canada, it was time to try one of these so called border runs. Now a lot of people would probably hop in their car and drive up to the border, park their vehicle and walk across, do the song and dance and come back...I didn't want to fuss around with that, I wanted to do this as simple and efficiently as possible, so instead, I a border run through a local tour company Native's Way Costa Rica. This was by far one of the best decisions I've made since I've been here. For a mere $65 USD, this tour company picked me up just outside of my gated community, did all of the leg-work to make sure the entry and exit of Nicaragua would go as smooth as possible including the various taxes that would need to be paid. Sounded pretty slick and almost too good to be true but what the heck?
I booked my trip for December 11, as they only do this group border run on Sundays. The tour starts in the morning by picking up other clients in the Playa Langosta and Tamarindo area. My pickup at the soccer field in Villareal was scheduled for 7:10am with a disclaimer that they could be up to ten minutes late. I arrived at the pickup point at 7am just to make sure I wouldn't miss it. At about 7:15 I see a Mercedes Benz passenger van heading my way, and sure enough it was Native's Way coming to pick me up, right on time. I board the van and off we go. We made our way up towards the next town over (Huacas) where we stopped and picked up a few other clients. Then we hit the road towards Liberia, with a stop at the intersection to Playa del Coco and then a stop in Liberia proper, and finally a direct shot to the Peñas Blancas border crossing. The ride up to the border was pretty much uneventful and the scenery was not all that different than that of what I've been accustomed to in our part of Guanacaste (the one difference I noticed though was the amount of banana plants as we got farther North.), they seemed to be everywhere. I kind of want to try growing a banana plant now!
As we approached the border crossing we came upon a gigantic lineup of cargo transport trucks, it had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about three miles long, just truck after truck after truck, many of which looked like they had been camped out there for days. To be expected I guess, as the road we were travelling on was the Pan-American highway which pretty connects the Americas together and serves as a major roadway for truck cargo traffic...I couldn't help but wonder what kind of goodies were in some of those trucks, just knowing how far south some of them had likely originated, and what some of those countries are known for...
Anyways, we pulled up to the Costa Rican exit at about 10am where our guide requested all of our passports so he could go get the exit stamps done and pay the subsequent taxes.over to the gate attendant. A few minutes later the guide comes back and we proceed to a parking area where we were instructed to leave our bags in the bus and only take our passports, wallets, vaccine / COVID information with us from that point, only brining the bare minimum so that we wouldn't have to pass through scanners. We made our way to the first stop which was just two Nicaraguan gentlemen and had to show them our passports and our COVID info. Neither of the gentlemen seemed to really give a crap about what they were looking at in our passports and COVID information...I'm sure it was all just a loose formality as a result of government bureaucracy. After that quick stop we proceeded to a small sanitario (sanitary) booth located just before the lineup to the entrance of the Nicaraguan immigration building. At the booth you either had to show a recent PCR test or your vaccine card, the attendant then stamped a little piece of paper with the date, handed it to you, and that was it. As the group of eighteen of us were taking our turns going to the sanitario booth, our guide told us all congregate to the left side of the immigration entrance (the right side of the entrance was the maze of people standing in line just waiting for their turn to get into the office and go through the immigration process). Once we had all finished providing our COVID info, we were taken directly into the immigration building, handed our passports to the guide again (that was a little scary considering my passport was brand new and I wasn't too keen on giving it up too easily...but alas, I had to give it to the guide). Our guide walked away past the immigration kiosks and into an office while we all waited patiently to see what was next. About fifteen minutes later, he came back with batches of the passports we had handed to him, handed them to a particular immigration officer, she stamped them and then we were whisked away across to the other side of the building which was the Nicaraguan border exit...stood in line there for another ten or fifteen minutes, got our passports stamped with an exit stamp and then we each got our passports back. As our guide was handing us our passports he told us we should immediately head over to Costa Rican immigration because there were long lines of people to get into the country...I thought to myself "oh great this is where things will slow down and what was a pretty smooth border run would get spoiled"...but nope...there were maybe five people ahead of us in three different lines...so less than ten minutes later we were getting our new Costa Rican visa stamp. It's important to note that when entering Costa Rica as a tourist, you must have an exit ticket as proof that you will be departing the country within 90 days, and you must know where in Costa Rica you will be staying. It's hit and miss whether or not the immigration officer asks for this information but you need to have it. In my case, I was asked where I was going and that was it, and he proceeded to stamp my visa for 90 days - Woohoo!
All in all, from the time we arrived at the Nicaraguan immigration building to the time we left and we're crossing back into Costa Rica, we spent no more than maybe 40 minutes in Nicaragua. I was blown away by how quickly everything happened...meanwhile, the folks that were just showing up to the border crossing on their own, were likely not as lucky as they couldn't simply bypass the long lines, I can only imagine how long of a wait they had to endure.
Once we had all gotten through the Costa Rican immigration process, we boarded our lovely Mercedes Benz van and away we went heading back home. I was dropped off at the soccer field in Villareal, and made my way back to my house by 2pm...the entire trip from start to finish was right about seven hours...incredible!
It was actually a very uneventful trip (which is good), any snag with anyones passport could have caused massive delays at the border...people have asked if we got to see some of the sights of Nicaragua, and check out some shops...nope, there was nothing of the sorts in the immediate area, and really, that was far from being the purpose of this trip. Next time, perhaps we'll spend a few days in the country and check things out, but for now, the trip did exactly what it was intended to do - renew my visa.