Well friends, time for the big update on my recent Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua. It was SO much easier than the Panama border because I took Tica Bus who pretty much manages most of the process.
Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride…. brutal…
I took the tourist bus leaving San Jose at 12:30 in the afternoon. We arrived at the Nicaragua border about 5 pm. We got off the bus and into a line that included only those of us on the bus. I was sent immediately to the front of the line because I was obviously an older woman… the elderly are respected here in Latin America, and while it’s not fun being reminded that you are old, it is very nice to be given that type of respect. At any rate, I was stamped out of Costa Rica and back in my seat on the bus within three minutes. Next we were taken to the Nicaraguan side. Before we disembarked from the bus, we all gave our Visas plus the entrance fee to the driver who took them into the Nicaraguan Migracion office for stamping. While we waited for him we took all of our luggage and put it on a long table to be gone through by Migracion officials. There were many men at the door to the bus as we left it asking if we wanted help with our luggage. These guys would move your luggage to the table and back to the bus for a fee. There were also money changers there to exchange different denominations for a price. This part was the longest time spent waiting for the driver to get back with our paperwork. We probably waited close to an hour. When he returned he called out the name on the paperwork and each person retrieved theirs and re-entered the bus. This process was wonderful because we didn’t have to walk the long way between these two areas and we were in good hands. Since I don’t have very operable Spanish at this time, it was easy to simply follow the leader and carry on. Next stop: Granada, which took another hour and a half.
I stayed at La Islita Boutique Hotel, laislita.com, located 2.5 blocks from the main tourist avenue loaded with restaurants, hotels and various types of stores, adjacent to the Cathedral Main Square.
La Islita Reception
This is a beautiful colonial hotel, as are many in Granada, built around a huge Mango tree. There are only 8 beautiful and spacious rooms. The rate includes a fantastic and bountiful breakfast. There are many hostels as well as hotels and if you do your research you can find some real deals. My decision to stay at La Islita was totally positive as it totally made me feel safe and secure. All the people working there were helpful about where to go and which tour company to use and where to eat. They don’t use the term “Boutique” loosely either. The entire place was an exquisite treat. Exploring was easy since Granada is not that large a city. The first morning I went for a walk at 6am and had a few surprises … one of which was the kids sleeping in the middle of the street. I’m not talking adolescents, either. These were kids of 8 to 10 years of age. I don’t know the story there, but I did know that there would be quite a bit of begging and assumed these children were part of that scene. There were guards stationed all around the parks and tourist areas so I didn’t worry too much about them and continued wandering. The main surprise for me was the colonial nature of the city - it’s breathtaking; really amazing to glance into open front doors and see lush interior gardens. And the sidewalks are tiled beautifully as well. At night there were many people who moved their chairs outside onto the sidewalks to catch a breeze. The temperature was pretty similar to Heredia and sometimes Alajuela, Costa Rica – probably hovered around the mid-80′s with humidity that had you swimming in your clothes at 9am. But. There are breezes off Lake Nicaragua that lighten that load pretty regularly, plus La Islita had a/c in the rooms and that helped. I can tell you that that humidity was not at all helpful to me when shopping for underwear I had forgotten to pack for the trip…. it was torture, but there were stores like Ropa Americana (new or second hand clothing from the US) that can be found along the street adjacent to the Central Market.
I found most of the information I needed for this trip at wikitravel.org/en/Granada_(Nicaragua).
Places I shopped that I can heartily recommend include:
Soy Nica for leather goods – facebook.com/soynica.dk
and, Ole’ Ole’ for unusual pieces of art, clothing, ceramics, and furniture. Other wonderful finds included La Calzada Centro de Arte, where an expat teaches one on one art classes of all levels in an open studio adjacent to a restaurant. You can find her at: nicaragua-art.com. She provides canvases at cost plus lets you use the paints and brushes. Nice place. She’s a very generous person who really believes everyone should discover their inner artist and invite them to come out to play!
I went to three eateries while there: El Zaguen which serves the most mouthwatering, tender steak you’ll ever have; El Camello which has tremendous art and really good food and is only a block from La Islita; and Don Carlos Pizza which I was very happy with, located on the main tourist plaza.
El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel… my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.
I went on one tour to Masaya Volcano through Tierra Tours tierratour.com. It was about a 4 hour tour that included going through the Interpretive Center, arriving at the edge of the crater, then traveling to the city of Masaya where we walked around and shopped at the Old Central Market, then off to a community center in an adjacent village where ceramic pots are made. It’s a fantastic place and was the highlight of the tour for me. The government supports the center and kids from the very impoverished community are encouraged to learn how to build these ceramics – from helping to gather the clay(s) of various colors – no artificial substances whatsoever – to learning to throw and bake the pots in the same way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
One afternoon was spent lazing by the pool here:
$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.
A final plug for Seeing Hands Blind Massage, located on that main tourist thoroughfare across from the blue school in Euro Cafe. The cost is very inexpensive for the professionalism and incredible work they do. I had one guy give me a massage for three days in a row – no, not really – just one hour-long massage on three consecutive days. Wow, WHEW, now that’s a kind of therapy I hadn’t expected and the breakthroughs for me emotionally were really powerful. Highly recommended. Fantastic service for those folks who learn to be practitioners of the art and really understand the body. I’ll go back to Granada just for massage!
After three nights and four days it was time to go back to San Jose. This time I left on the early bus, and this is what we bussed into:
No kidding folks… it’s a busy border and this pic doesn’t show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.
First, the bus driver gathered all of our Visas as before, along with the price of departure, and we waited for his return to call out our names and re-board the bus to the Costa Rican Migracion building. The picture above is very close to what was actually waiting for us there. So many people I was disheartened. Since I’m considered an elder, I was again placed in the line for pregnant women, children and their parents along with us old folks. The Agent at the Costa Rican window wanted to see a departure from Costa Rica ticket – he didn’t say what kind of ticket, whether it was bus or plane. I had a plane ticket (make sure there are dates on your copy) and that appeased him. I noticed on the paperwork that it was asked if you’d been out of Costa Rica for three days. I hadn’t noticed that on previous border crossings. After he gave me my 90-day stamp I was processed out into an airline-like area where a big machine xrayed everything I was carrying. There were five militia guys surrounding a table next to where the baggage came out of the machine but cuz of my age and guilelessness I guess, I wasn’t asked to give up my baggage for review, so that was the end of that process. I did get through the entry more quickly because I was older, but then had to wait more than a couple of hours for those others on our bus who had to go to the end of the line at least a block away.
The trip to Granada was about the same amount of time on the bus both ways, but the process at the border crossing was much smoother and well organized then what I’d experienced at the border with Panama. And I enjoyed Granada so incredibly much more than I did in David or Boquete, Panama. I’ll definitely be a regular on this trip with Tica Bus to Granada!