Border Crossing: Nicaragua – Costa Rica

The concept of crossing a border is rather simple. The process consists of 4 steps:

  1. Check yourself out of the country
  2. Check your bike out of the country
  3. Check yourself into the new country
  4. Check your bike into the new country

In practice, it’s never quite this simple. Most of our border crossing have been relatively straight forward though. However, it takes us 4.5 hours to get out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica…

Step 1: Check yourself out of Nicaragua

Before we can even begin this process we’re told me have to each pay $1 USD for some random fee. Everyone is paying it so we do the same. We get a ticket with stamp (they love stamps down here). Now to find the immigration office. There’s a building 200 meters away that has lines that seem just as long. We get in line and pay some lady walking around with a pad of forms 5 Cordoba ($0.25 USD) for an exit form. We wait in line for an hour before we arrive at the window. After answering a few questions – where are you from, where are you going – we get an exit stamp in our passport along with an exit ticket.

Step 2: Check your bike out of Nicaragua

We’re told we need to get a stamp from a customs official. We do this and ride towards the gate. They won’t let us through because we need more stamps or something. We ride back to the entrance gate and we’re told we have all we need and we can leave the country. We go back to the exit gate and tell them the guard said we’re good to go. They don’t agree and now we’re getting frustrated. We’re told we need to go find a police officer to sign our exit ticket. The guard tells us to talk with a helper. No way! So we walk around for 10 minutes trying to find the police man. Finally we located him and he signs our ticket. Back to the exit gate. They want more stamps. UUUGGGGGHHHH!!! Some friendly kid about 10 years old takes pity on us and tells us which unmarked building to go to. He’s nice and doesn’t even ask for money (I had no small currency, otherwise I would have given him a few cents). We wait in the line at the building for 15 minutes and hand the papers to the girl at the desk. She completes it and then puts it into a pile for the police officer to sign when he returns (if he ever does…). I tell her that I already have his signature but my pleas fall on deaf ears. Another 15 minutes later the policeman comes back, signs and stamps the papers, and we head back to the exit gate. FINALLY we’re out of Nicaragua after 2 hours! Here’s both sides of the ticket with countless illegible signatures and stamps.

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Step 3: Check yourself into Costa Rica

Drive into Costa Rica (no signs stating that we’re in Costa Rica). Some guys wave us over and tell us we need to be “fumigated” for $3USD. They spray our tires for 3 seconds with a splash of water – a lot of good that did… We don’t really want to pay so we drive forward and the policemen wave us on. No looking back now. A little bit down the road and we see the line for entry into Costa Rica. It too is about 200 meters long. Charles goes to by some lunch and I hold our spot in line. An hour later we make it to the window. The organization in the office doesn’t make any sense (but I won’t go into that…). We get our stamps and we leave the sauna office.

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Step 4: Check your bike into Costa Rica

Across the dirt path we find the Aduana (customs) office/shack. We hand our paperwork over and he tells us we need insurance. We show our USA cards and tell him it’s valid. He doesn’t care and won’t process our paperwork until we purchase the $14 USD insurance. Back across into another building we purchase the insurance. Again, back across to the Aduana building and he completes the paperwork but tells us we need to drive further down for more paperwork. Huh? We move on and Charles spots some random unmarked building. We drive up and look confused but some guys tells us to park and go to the window. After 10 minutes waiting in line the lady takes our papers and basically types everything into the computer. The first guy didn’t have a computer so he wrote it all out on paper. Now this lady types it into the computer? Efficient… I see that I’m not the first to think this and there’s scribble on the wall at the window.

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So, after 4.5 hours we’re out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica!

Categories: Costa Rica, Nicaragua | 3 Comments


A quick jaunt over the bridge and we’re in Nicaragua.

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Usually as we approach a border we’re surrounded by local guys speaking English who offer to “help” us through the border process. They tell us that it will take 6 hours but that they know someone who can make it faster or that the costs are expensive but they can get us a deal or that or that the papers have changed recently and they will help us complete it. I’ve heard horror stories about these guys always asking for more and more money (that they eventually pocket) for things that aren’t even needed. We always decline the offer. Helpers aren’t needed and we always get through the process with relative ease without paying any of these guys for help.

Many of these Central American borders are difficult to navigate because there’s no signs telling you which dilapidated building contains the immigration or customs office. Then within each building there’s a dozen different windows to go to. Charles and I have developed a new system. We continue to drive past all the buildings until someone comes running after us telling us that we need to go here or there to get paperwork. That makes it easy.

Before we can park the bikes some lady comes up to us telling us to fill out paperwork. We do then she says it’s a $12 USD fee. Huh? Is this a scam? She’s not even dressed at all professionally and has no certification badge (event he helpers have fake badges). I can’t read the Spanish document. I hang on to the papers and tell her I’ll pay later. Again, I take our paperwork to get the visas and vehicle import papers while Charles watches the bikes. I enjoy the border rigamoro and Charles is happy to let me do all the paperwork. Having 2 people is great for the border crossings to be able to keep an eye on all the gear.

I get all of our paperwork sorted and I ask an official if this paper the woman handed to me is legit or if it’s because I’m a gringo. He says it’s legit but I’m still not buying it… I’ve heard too many fake gringo tax stories. Charles and I are getting ready to mount the bikes and the lady is demanding that we pay. I tell her that I’m not certain it’s necessary and ask her why she’s been following me around and hasn’t had anyone else pay. She rambles. I tell her I’m sorry but we’re not going to pay. Another man comes over (also without any ID). He motions that the cops will handcuff us if we don’t have this receipt. Charles and I look at each other. It’s just a scare tactic we’re thinking. I tell her that we’re not paying and she gets pissed and rips the papers from my hand. Another woman comes over and now there’s 3 people yelling at us. We suit up and decide that if anyone signals us to pull over we’ll just pretend we didn’t see them and continue on.

200 meters after we left we pass a small building. I’m not stopping and I see a man running from the woods towards us. He’s obviously the “border control” guard. Charles is behind me and he too speeds up and we ride on. We made it! Then about 3 miles down the road there’s a pick up pulling off the road with 6 police officers getting out all waving at us. Hmmmm… Could the border patrol have radioed these guys? I have an idea… We speed up and pass them. We continue at 80 mph for the next hour. All the while I’m wondering if they’re radioing anyone up ahead or if they’re going to speed after us.

It still amazes me to see the landscape, people, and culture change from country to country. There’s lots of farming going on here. Herds of cattle wander the streets and men are pulled by horses on homemade chariots. The views of the volcanoes are breathtaking. We don’t see any police and there’s no checkpoints all the way into Leon. We decide not to make it a marathon day and find a hotel around 3pm. They have a pool. YESSSSSSSSSS.

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That night we run into Sam again. He spent a week or two on the beach in El Salvador, bought a surfboard and had a surfboard rack mounted to the side. RAD. I ask him about the $12 at the border. Ya, he says, it’s the mandatory insurance. Ohhhhhhhh… Oh well. We just saved $12! If we do get pulled over we’ve decided to hand over our (expired) USA insurance cards and tell them it’s valid for Nicaragua. Genius!

Everyone has told us to make a stop in Leon. It’s a colonial town but I feel that I’ve seen much better in Mexico and Guatemala. It’s not until the night time when the temperature drops that the city comes alive. We get some ice cream and sit on the street talking for a while. I think about how quiet it will be when I get back home. These Latin cities are alive with color, flavor, and music. It’s a beautiful scene.

In the morning we mount up and ride south for the beach of San Juan del Sur. The ride is swift and rather uneventful aside from the 40 mph cross wind gusts. Driving like we never would in the States, 40 mph over the speed limit at times, weaving in and out of traffic, driving the wrong way down one way streets, riding on the sidewalks, passing on the shoulders, not stopping when the police wave us down, the usual…

We arrive on the quant little beach of San Juan del Sur and immediately go for a swim. Refreshing! There must be a hundred local kids playing pick up soccer games on the beach.

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Time for a beer and to watch the sunset and some NFL football – Cardinals vs. Packers. The game goes into overtime but the local broadcast drops the feed and switches to the Mexico vs. Argentina soccer pre-game commentary. What the ****!

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That night the winds are howling. It felt like our hotel was going to be blown away. Nevertheless we decided to press on. Before we left town we rode our bikes on the beach.

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Strong crosswinds blew us all over the road. It was very tiring to keep focused and keep the bike steady. By 9:30 in the morning we arrived at the Costa Rica border. What a fun crossing… Stay tuned!

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Categories: Nicaragua | 4 Comments

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