tips for catching the bus from Costa Rica into Nicaragua

I wanted to write a quick post on this because I researched heaps about trying to find a bus from San Jose to Nicaragua, and I couldn’t really find the answer I was looking for online before my trip. So, I am writing this post for travelers like myself.

Scenario: Super cheap flights from Vancouver to San Jose, but our destination was San Juan Del Sur (area) Nicaragua. It was also seemingly a nice idea to drive across some of the Costa Rica countryside. 

Problem: Every forum/blog I read said you had to take a bus or taxi to San Jose city centre from the airport (approx 1 hour by bus or 30 mins by taxi) to purchase your ticket and board the bus downtown – this is incorrect. Also, everyone has said it’s very difficult or almost impossible to book your ticket ahead of time. Also false.

Solution: Central Line Transportation.

Our plane was scheduled to arrive into SJO at 7am and wanted to catch the bus right away to Nica. After MUCH research, I found Central Line Transportation, a very minimally mentioned bus charter that offers great service, comfortable seats, A/C and the same rates as the other charters. ($28 USD each way)

*SIDE NOTE* These buses also sell tickets for $12 on either side of the border (So, Penas Blancas to San Jose, or Penas Blancas to Managua.) If you’re getting on at the airport, it’s just pretty easy and convenient to pay the $28 for peace of mind.

Central Line runs daily between San Jose & Managua (note, you pay for the full trip, even if you get off early). One leaves SJ at 4am and the next at 10am. When you go to book your bus online (secure through paypal), you can select which stop you’d like to get on at, and they will ensure to stop there and pick you up. The option you would choose if you are going directly from SJO is PEUNTE VILLA BONITA. Peunte means “bridge” at Villa Bonita. (See map) It’s a bus stop on the highway 1 at the overpass heading into Villa Bonita. (That big long grey area is the airport).

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We had so much spare time that we saved the tiny $5 or so on taxi from the airport and just walked. It took 45mins, and there’s a few different ways you can get there… basically just follow any of the non-highway roads to the bus stop.

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It was so nice to avoid the hassle of going into the major city centre. Apparently the other main buses (Trans Nica, Tica etc., along with tons of other local buses) stop at Puente Villa Bonita too, but without for sure being able to reserve online, I didn’t know that until we got there. Central Line was awesome, easy, clean and efficient. They also give you ALL of the forms early to fill out before the border – and what a convenience of being able to book ahead of time online.

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Peunte Villa Bonita Bus Stop, on the Highway 1
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The wall across from the bus stop – we waited here for about an hour…!
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Beautiful Costa Rica countryside

AT THE BORDER:

Beware, people are out to scam you a little. I get it, it’s their job, but just don’t buy into it. Once you first get off the bus you will be swarmed with people trying to help you & exchange money. Don’t do any of it. Only pay the fees that the other (local) travelers on your bus are paying. Someone might offer you forms etc. (for a fee) don’t take these, you already have filled out everything you need from Central Line. Someone might try and walk you across the border and offer “nice” help, but then they will ask you to pay them a fee.

Once you first get off the bus, follow everyone to the Costa Rica “exit office” ie: a shack/shop. Here you will pay the $8 USD exit Costa Rica fee. This is the first thing you do when you get off the bus. They will take your passport for a minute and you will pay the fee.

You then walk back towards the bus, and go into the customs office. They don’t even ask you anything, they just look at your passport and take one of the forms.

Then you go back onto the bus, and as it pulls up a few meters, you hand a guy who Central Line has hired to help your passport and the $14 USD Nica entry fee. Apparently the entry is only meant to cost $10, and there’s also a municipal fee I guess at the Penas Blancas border of $1 and then I believe the other $3 is just for the service of the guy who Central Line hired. Fair enough.

The bus pulls up to an area where you go inside and put your luggage through scanners, and then you wait for the bus to pull back around the other side of the building. Eventually the bus driver lets you back on after he checks everyone’s passport & ticket with a customs agent.

Additionally, Nicaraguan army will come on and check your passport once back on the bus, AGAIN. (The whole thing is a bit of an ordeal….)

But finally, you are then in Nicaragua.

FYI – I nearly had a melt down at the border – we had come off a red eye and I was exhausted and had been scammed by a few people, which is why I wanted to write this post to help others avoid that.

After the border ordeal, since we were headed to San Juan Del Sur, we asked the Central Line driver to drop us at La Virgen – the first turn off to SJDS. We had two options here – wait for the chicken bus (approx $C 10-30 or $1) or there’s a nice man on the corner who operates a taxi and will drive you the 20 minutes for $15, possibly less if you barter.

And there you HAVE it! You’re in San Juan Del Sur! Picked up from Villa Bonita across from the SJO airport at 10:45am, and we rolled into SJDS at around 4:15pm. (Approximately 5.5 hours)

One more thing to note – we were staying in Playa Maderas (about 20 mins down a pretty hectic dirt road from SJDS) and we arrived into SJDS as the sun was going down so we had to pay $20 for a taxi (yikes!) Normally, you can catch the beach shuttle out at Casa Oro Hostel, one way for $3 or return for $5. They depart SJDS at 8am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm & 4pm

Hopefully this was helpful to someone – I wish I would have known some of these things going into it all, particularly how chaotic the border was going to be, but hey – that’s all in the name of travel anyways!

Happy Nica trails.

~Emventurer

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