What a trip! Literally and in every way the easiest, smoothest, most relaxing Visa Run in 3.5 years. I always take Ticabus from downtown San Jose, Costa Rica because they take care of most of the border details when arriving or departing Nicaragua.
Changes at the border:
Before I get carried away with my enthusiastic response to this trip while in Granada, let me tell you that the Frontera has changed, physically. The Costa Rican entry/exit building is still there although the cafeteria is closed now. The Nicaraguan side has changed substantially. In the past the bus would pull up to a structure where all your carry on and stored under the bus bags were checked, and close by this structure was a middle covered area where vendors sold all kinds of things, including food. There was a separate building to the side with a Customs store where you could buy alcohol and other non-taxed items. And further beyond that middle vendor area another building with offices, an atm machine and a bathroom area. Not any more… That middle vendor area part has been remodeled into offices. The structure where bags were checked is now remodeled with a new roof and an adjacent new building of offices.
The building you pull up to on the Nica side now has an xray machine to check your bags inside at the back of the building. The area surrounding the parking for buses and private vehicles has also been set up with an organized area of vendors under cover, altho the sides are totally open. Some of the food vendors have tables and chairs under the awnings – a kind of little restaurant, if you will. There are covered areas under shade for standing while waiting for the Nica officials to stamp your passport, too, so you don’t have to stand in the sun. The wait certainly hasn’t changed…. Taking the 12:30 pm bus out of San Jose, we arrived around 6:30 pm and went through the entire border process in less than an hour; however, returning on the 7 am bus out of Grenada, our wait was almost two hours (which is darn good in comparison to past trips).
Why I loved this Visa Run specifically:
I usually stay in this area of downtown Grenada… it’s the Calzada.
This time I stayed half a block from here:
Through many requests that jumped from word of mouth and FB questions for a new place that was less expensive and had air conditioning (something I wouldn’t visit without as it’s very hot in Nicaragua) for less than $40,
I landed in a family home that rents out six rooms. One of those rooms has a/c. Yippee!
You walk into their entryway, which includes the living room:
I was greeted by Martin Morales, who is one of the son’s living there with their mother. They live in the front portion of the house and the rooms for rent are in the back of the house (Rooms For Rent on Facebook). I paid $20/night for a clean room with private bath and a/c, cable tv and a comfortably servicible bed. But I got alot more for my buck here because Martin walked me around the neighborhood showing me good places to eat ($2 a meal) as well as telling me the best ways to travel and lounge by the lagoon and where to really shop for deals in Masaya (NOT the tourist market).
Don’t get me wrong. This was not a typical touristy place. This was a Nicaraguan family’s old, old, home. Well worn but clean. Usually they rent out their rooms by the week, but sometimes you can get lucky and get a room in-between those longer-term rentals.
Ticabus: $78 round trip plus one other ticket out of Costa Rica within three months that you need to show when you are returning at the end of your trip.
Hotel: $40 for 2 nights (I’m excluding the tip I gave Martin)
Food: $6 total for 1 breakfast and 2 late lunches
Taxi: $3 from Ticabus to Martin’s place cuz it was 8:30pm; otherwise I would have walked since it’s only about half a mile
Taxes: $27 total, including $9 for Ticabus/Costa Rica travel tax, and $14 entry Nica tax, and $4 departure Nica tax
Misc: $20 spent at the border for water, nuts and candies, plus a postre and water on the bus home
Total Expenses: $174
Quite a big difference from my past experiences staying close to the touristy center of town and the Calzada, where my expenses were between $350-$400, depending on which hotel I chose.
Interesting Gossip Gleaned in Misc Conversations:
… Regarding the new canal – Nicaragua does not have the machines necessary to move the earth and seas, so where are they going to get them? Through the Panama Canal (?) and then transported overland to Nicaragua? Just a question.
… Salaries at the Frontera are $2 a day. Not an hour. A day. I’m assuming part of the reason it takes so long for the Nica side to stamp your Visa is because 1) there’s no incentive to work very hard; and 2) it gives the vendors time to make more money than they would if the paperwork were expeditiously processed.
… Monthly salary for a call center dual language employee is $500, and I was told that was a REALLY GOOD income in Nicaragua.
… Taxis are actually licensed to charge 40 cordobas for a one way trip in Granada center, and 20 cordobas elsewhere one way in the city proper. The exchange rate right now is 27 cordobas to $1. In the past the taxis I’ve taken from Ticabus at night to my hotels charged me anywhere from 300 to 500 cordobas…. just sayin … negotiate from the instant you make eye contact.
… The border system is changing in Nicaragua to accommodate more trucks, cars and buses through separate areas in response to the new border up north, near Los Chiles. When Costa Rica gets it’s act together and formalizes it’s presence there (it’s in a construction trailer now; while the Nicaraguan side has formal offices) most big trucks will use that border as it’s a shorter trip from the Limon port, instead of travelling the long way through Guanacaste to the Penas Blancas border. This ultimately is going to make the border runs a smoother operation… that’s what they say anyway… hope it’s true.
So, I had a wonderful time in Granada thanks to my host Martin Morales. Check out his FB page, and consider utilizing his services as a Guide, Translator and as a person on the ground there with excellent English and understanding of the City, the country and cultural aspects of Nicaragua.