Passing Peñas Blancas

Another border and another batle with bureaucracy

the mark
The official line
Nico side
Nicaraguan lines
Costa Rican lines
As a traveler with way too many countries under my belt, most of the those entered overland, I’ve passed my share of borders. Some, like the one between Mongolia and China were a desolate spot only marked with barbed wire. Others, like the crossing between Thailand and Cambodia was a lesson is chaos theory as swarms of locals flowed effortless around border guards that plucked travelers from the stream.

Rarely do I re-cross a border though and when I do, it’s always an interesting lesson in national priorities. Today I am crossing the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica at Peñas Blancas, and both sides have their own feel and frustrations. They also have different procedusres depending on your direction. In order of experience, here’s the details:

  • Costa Rica to Nicaragua: As Nicole and I exit the local bus from Liberia; we are beset upon by frantic locals, each with something to sell. Some hold wads of money for exchange, others plates of food, and the most dangerous only offer “friendship.”

    Common at any point of chaos, these “helpers” are quick to be friendly and help you with all your needs – for a price. A price which you will not know, sometimes until it is too late. Ignoring this throng, I guide Nicole into the Immigration building and to the Costa Rica exit window. A few moments and a stamp later, we are walking the shaded road to the Nicaraguan border post.

    On this side, a cluster of large buildings await – Immigration, customs, banks, and even Duty Free shops. We quickly find the Nicaraguan entry window, and $8 later, we are officially in Nicaragua. Or at least as the government is concerned.

    After I use the handy ATM, dispensing cordovans and dollars, to refresh my local currency cache, I send Nicole off to bargain with the Taxi Mafia for a lift to San Juan del Sur. Oddly enough, she sets a price but the taxis are no-where to be seen. Its only then we realize we have to exit through a small door in the Immigration wall, a small door that costs us $2 to use.

  • Nicaragua to Costa Rica: Riding the luxury Tica Bus, the driver’s assistant collects my passport and $3 as we leave Granada. When we arrive at the Nicaraguan border, he takes the passports and cash to the Immigration office, allowing me to wander through the Duty Free stores at my leisure. As we re-board the bus for the short trip to Costa Rican customs, I am perplexed that I receive my passport back.

    In Costa Rica, I realize why. Seems Nicaraguans need a special residency stamp and we all have to have our info entered into the Costa Rican immigration system, one by one. Not one to wait in stupid long lines, I walked around the Immigration building, to the side mainly used by those exiting, and snuck in the line from that side.

    With my stamp I thought it was time to go. Nope, the Costa Rican Agriculture Inspection Team then went through everyone’s bug suitcases looking for fresh produce. This was in addition to the special wash the bus went through as we passed between countries.

    And now, a few miles from the border, we’re checked yet again, this time by the Costa Rican border guards. I guess the wealth of Costa Rica attracts more than just tourists and travelers – Nicaraguans want a piece of paradise too.