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Tiresome travel by land from Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Many people choose to visit both Nicaragua and Costa Rica on a trip to Central America and have asked about the best way to travel between the two countries.  It’s a really simple process and here I am going to lay it out step by step with approximate times (the timing can vary greatly depending on the time of year you travel – mostly depending on how long the immigration procedures take).

There are several international bus lines available between Nicaragua and Costa Rica: TicaBus and Transnica are the most popular. They basically offer the same services and quality.  On this occasion, we traveled with Transnica..

The Transnica agency is located behind la Catedral Metropolitana, near the DGI offices.  In San José, here is the address.  It’s well known by taxi drivers.  Here is the link to their website, which has a lot of problems and seems pretty cheesy at the moment.  We purchased our tickets in person a few days in advance and directly from the offices.  That is probably what you will have to plan on doing whether you are in Managua or in Costa Rica.  The cost from Managua to San José at 5, 7 or 10:00 a.m. is $28.75.  The cost from San Jose to Managua at 4, 5 and 9:00 a.m. is $26.50.

When you cross into either country, the law requires you to have proof of passage leaving the country.  In other words, if you want to go one way into Costa Rica, you either have to buy a return ticket (you can leave it without a date and it doesn’t expire) or show them your onward travel ticket (such as leaving from the San José airport, which was our case).  If you are backpacking and don’t have set plans, basically you have to buy the second ticket getting you out of the country at some point in the future.  A convenient law for these busing companies…

OK. Ready for this?  Here it comes, down to the finest details.  If you don’t see something you need to know, please feel free to leave a comment and I will be happy to get you the information.

Inside the Transnice terminal in Managua
Inside the Transnice terminal in Managua

We opted for the earliest bus – 5 a.m.  They ask you to be there at 4:15 a.m.
Check-in – line to show tix, weigh and check bags (1 bag, 35 kg each)
Fill out 1 customs form and 2 immigration forms

Transnica bus from Managua to San José
Transnica bus from Managua to San José
Transnica bus from Managua to San José
Inside the Transnica bus from Managua to San José

 Transnica has a nice fleet of new and very comfortable buses.  Take a jacket for the AC.
The bus left the terminal at 5:07 a.m.  Along the way, it stopped in Masaya, Granada, Rivas, and a few other spots to pick up passengers.  In any of those cities, you can board the bus or get off on your return (same ticket price).  If you are boarding other than in Managua, you can buy tickets at local agencies.  Just ask around.

A bus agent passes through the bus a bit before 7 a.m. taking everyone’s passport and collecting a fee: C$20 each for Nicaraguans and $3 for foreigners.  They take care of the movement at the border.

Note: Nicaraguan residents must have an exit visa.  It can be purchased forC$200 at the border, just like it can be purchased at Migración Offices or at the Managua International Airport.

We arrived at the Nicaraguan border, Peñas Blancas, at 7:50 a.m.   We got off the bus at 7:55 a.m.

Here you have at least 20 minutes to check out the duty-free stores.  I bought coffee at two of the three duty-free shops.  It’s better to buy it in Nicaragua at La Union or Pali – it’s cheaper.  i.e. Cafe Las Flores here costs $10.  In La Union, it costs 6.50.  A liter of Flor de Caña 7 years costs $9.  I bought it for $7.40 (a good sale).

At 8:40 a.m. we moved out to the Costa Rican border.

There we had to take all our luggage and pass through immigration and customs.  Remember that if you don’t have CR residency or proof of being in transit ( a ticket leaving Costa Rica) you must purchase one at one of the few ticket counters outside the Immigration building.

After getting into the immigration area, you must leave your bags against the west wall and wait in line to be attended to.  After immigration, you again get your bags and take them to the customs X-ray machines.  Turn in your customs form and collect your bags to put them again on the bus.

At 9:20 a.m. we were on our way to San Jose.   En route, we arrived at Liberia at 10:25 a.m. (a popular jumping-off spot for the beaches in Guanacaste, Costa Rica). 

At 12:00 noon we had our first highway robbery – a restaurant called El Malinche.   Arroz con pollo and a few sides for c2700 (more than $5).  A 600 ml Coke for almost $2.  Longing for Nicaraguan prices…pura vida.  About 1 1/2 hours from here ’til the airport…. (they say). 

We arrived at the airport at 2:10 p.m.  After looking for the Courtyard Marriott shuttle, we were off to the hotel.  It’s a great place to stay cause it’s only 0.3 km from the airport.  The shuttle runs every half hour from 4 a.m. to 12 midnight.

For what it’s worth, Walmart (with its Costa Rican selection of goods) is right next door (a minute’s walk).  Got some good soup, bakery goods, and drinks there…a lot cheaper than the hotel lobby “restaurant” that had basic food for $10+.

The following morning, we awaited the shuttle but didn’t get on the first one.  15 minutes later he was back and the airport is just a 5-minute drive so we arrived just fine.  No wait in the airport departure tax line (everybody who is a tourist has to pay the hefty $29.00 tax before checking in for your flight).  Sometimes they say it is an hour’s wait.  You can prepay in the hotel for a $4 service fee (Might be worth it for one or two persons but not for a group).

That’s the trip from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, on

this occasion to catch a pretty cheap flight out of Costa Rica.  An incident-free trip if you know what you are doing….you can read a related article here.



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