San Juan Del Sur is a charming town along the beach with lots of fun things to do (bars, clubs, restaurants) and great surfing, snorkeling, diving, jungle treks.
While we came to Costa Rican W. Coast for an amazing kiteboarding trip with friends. We were supposed to meet in a few days, so we decided to check out Nicaragua and visit the awesome nomad.life house.
We made the mistake of renting a car at LIR (Liberia Airport) and trying to drive over the border. We were stopped at the border and had to turn back because the vehicle required special permission from the government to leave Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua. This is a common problem, but here’s how we overcame it:
- After being turned around in the evening, we drove to Blue Dream Hotel (4o mins from the border) to spend the night.
We looked up our options and decided to do the following:
- From Blue Dream Hotel Rt. 935 to La Cruz (20 mins)
- Then go left on the biggest main road, Rt. 1 North. Drive 20 minutes from La Cruz to Beña Blanca (border crossing),you may just drive around stopped trucks. There are a lot of them.
- At the border there will be many locals trying to “help” you, and enable you to exchange to Nicaraguan Currency. You need USD to enter the border, not NIO (They’re trying to make a quick buck and rip you off, but they’re sort of helpful).
- When you get to the border, you’ll have to pay a $8/person exit tax to Costa Rica at the “Post Office” (just a window on the side of the road. If you can skip this, do… This seemed to us like a scam, but technically that’s what you’re supposed to do.) They take USD or CRC (Costa Rican Colones).
- Then you drive to the border crossing, and get your passport stamped. (You’re getting stamped out of Costa Rica).
- Get back in the car, drive 800 feet to an area with a number of cars parked to your right and trucks/buses passing through. (Our rental car was required to have a specified permit to pass, we didn’t have it, as rentals generally aren’t allowed to cross.) So we parked here (just before the police booth).
- Here we took our bags from the car and walked another 500 feet, along the way we had our passports examined for the CR exit and were permitted to continue.
- Keep walking past a fence some military personnel. You will see buses pulled over here. This is now the entrance to Nica.
- Pay $2/ person at the window when you enter the building (slightly to your left).
- Then walk up to passport control and get stamped to enter Nica. (It’s a 90 day visa). They charged us another $12USD/pp here. I believe you may have to pay as much as $20USD/per person.
- Once you’re through, you put your bags through some scanners, like you had to when entering the airport.
- Now you’re officially in Nica.
- Walk out, and there will be many people hassling you to take a cab. We shared a cab with another couple and ended up spending $25 for the whole thing. Most of the people are asking $30.
- Have the cab take you to the beach in San Juan Del Sur. You may also go from here by bus.
Other option (Bus):
- If you’re not keen on driving, there’s a bus station in La Cruz.
- Online I read that the easiest way to cross by bus is to take the TicaBus or Trans Nica.
- The option we had (because of the time we were going) was to take a bus to the border instead of drive. ($2/per person)
- Then do 5-12 from above.
- Then take a local bus from the Nica border to San Juan. ($1 or 2 /per person)
- For us, time was of the essence and we chose the faster (slightly pricier) option.
If you’re here a couple of days, I’ve heard there are some amazing jungle treks and canopy tours within 20-30 minutes of San Juan.
The vibe is a bit young (spring break style in some place: loud music at night. Lots of people drinking a lot and running around the town. Also annoying to see young local kids (5-12 or so lighting fire crackers in many places at night). Not our thing, but we’re still enjoying the town. We’ll be here 2 more days.
Hope that’s helpful! Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions!
We’re loving the town here, lots of nice restaurants and hotels.
Things you should definitely bring: