Nicaragua—And Yes, a Crazy Border Crossing Story

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Holy shit, what a day.

Right now, I am fulfilling a long-time fantasy of mine: I am all by myself in a hotel room (i.e., not in a hostel, in a dorm). I am on the bed, a can of Coke Zero and a bottle of water on the table beside me. The TV is on (some Hollywood movie dubbed in Spanish) and I have a relatively good Wi-Fi signal.

Life is easy, eh?

Wait until you read this. I deserved that fucking room.

I decided to go to Nicaragua. Don’t bother checking the map—it’s the country north of Costa Rica. Why Nicaragua? Well, along with El Salvador, is it the only country in Central America I have only visited once, briefly, in 2001, when Feng and I first traveled from Mexico to Brazil. In 2008, when we came back to Panama and Costa Rica, we had tried to cross to Nicaragua to spend Christmas over there but we never made it—crossing the border was too chaotic. Second, Costa Rica is a nice country but it is a bit more expensive than I had expected. Nicaragua is much cheaper. Third… well, why not? I have time (I am going back to Canada on February 26) and I am flexible.

¡Voy!

I woke up at 6 a.m. in Sámara. A couple of drunk (or high) Germans were loud and the roosters were having the time of their life. I packed in the dark (most folks in the dorm were passed out) and left the hostel.

I waited on the side of the road for the 7 a.m. bus to Nicoya. We arrived an hour later but I missed the hourly bus to Liberia by just a few minutes. I walked around and found a panadería open—bonus, I was able to use their bathroom. I caught the 9 a.m. bus and we arrived in Liberia shortly after 11 a.m.

From Liberia, it took about two hours—an another bus—to reach Peñas Blancas,  the border crossing to Nicaragua. I was surprised to see that we were only two gringos in the lineup—a Spanish guy and I.

We got off the bus and our passports were stamped for the salida (exit) of Costa Rica. Unlike in 2008, we didn’t have to wait long and I was telling the story of our attempt to cross the border in 2008 to the Spanish guy as we walked the one-kilometer long no man’s land road to Nicaragua.

It started to pour so we were pretty soaked and sweaty by the time we reached the police station, under a tent, in Nicaragua. The officer took my passport, inspected it and declared it caducado. “What?” I said. “It’s valid!”

Turned out that, according to Nicaraguan immigration law, passports must have a validity of at least six months beyond the dates of travel. And mine expires mid-July 2014, so I was missing a few days. “Go back to Costa Rica,” the officer said.

It was pouring rain, I had just been traveling for 10 hours and hadn’t eaten anything since the croissant at the bakery in Nicoya. I was not going back to Costa Rica. And I am stubborn (Feng can testify).

The Spanish guy had stuck with me and he was trying to help—his Spanish was obviously better than mine to argue. Eventually, after 30 minutes, we found a solution. A good old bribe.

It involved walking to a copy centre (yes, there was a copy centre at the border crossing, go figure), make a copy of my plane ticket that showed I would indeed exit the country (since I am flying back from San José in Costa Rica), putting a $20 in my passport and go to the office of Capitán Alvaro who would let me through.

Phew.

I did just that.

Then I queued again to pay the $1 fee to enter the state of Ricas, $12 to enter Nicaragua and receive my entry stamp. I’m not sure how many times I mentioned Capitán Alvaro but each and every officer who checked my passport noted I didn’t have the six-month validity as required. They are actually enforcing that rule I guess.

Eventually my passport was stamped and I rushed to take the bus. Initially, my plan was to spend the night in Rivas, the state capital and closest city. But the first bus leaving was going all the way to Granada, a much nicer city that I actually wanted to visit… so that’s where I ended up.

The chicken bus took two hours to get to Granada—well, actually, outside the city, I had to take a tuk tuk for the last 15 kilometres. I was dead by the time I arrived.

Finding a hotel took me another 30 minutes but hell, I deserved a room by myself, didn’t I!

So here I am, in Nicaragua. Should be interesting…

You can see the com­plete set of Costa Rica and Nicaragua on Flickr.

About to Leave Liberia

About to Leave Liberia

From Liberia to the Border

From Liberia to the Border

From Liberia to the Border

From Liberia to the Border

In The Bus

In The Bus

The Road I Walked Between Costa Rica and NIcaragua

The Road I Walked Between Costa Rica and NIcaragua

Entering Nicaragua

Entering Nicaragua

Entering Nicaragua

Entering Nicaragua

Chicken Bus to Granada

Chicken Bus to Granada

... And The Tuk Tuk

… And The Tuk Tuk

... And The Tuk Tuk

… And The Tuk Tuk

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

12 Comments

  1. WHOA!! Crazy !! It was nice that the Spanish guy helped you. I always encounter bribes when i fly to Ivory Coast, especially at police roadblocks. Happy you made it in safely 🙂

  2. you should know that your canadian passport should have at least the validity of the period for which you are admitted. should get the new 10years canadian pass, in order things dont deteriorate.
    and have a second or third passport handy (I guess your french one might have helped). not that officers they want to enforce the rule when entering their country. they just want some more money.
    and careful when arguing with people in central america. u dont know which way the discussion is going.remember everything have a price there, so act accordingly.

    • My passport was valid for the period for which I was admitted, i.e. 90 days. It’s just that Nicaragua requires passports to be valid for at least six months from the date of travel and mine was short by a week (it only expires in July). I should have known I guess… but I didn’t. Apparently a lot of countries have the same rule but I have never seen it enforced. I will get a 10-year passport soon, it wasn’t available yet in 2009.

      I didn’t argue… well, just very politely 🙂

      • again you are wrong.and the officer was right.
        take a look here :
        http://travel.gc.ca/destinations/nicaragua
        for the entry/exit reqs.
        Passport

        Canadians must present a passport to visit Nicaragua, which must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of expected departure from that country.

        might sound funny to you, but always when I travel I take all 3 passports with me: EU, USA & CAN. you know, you never know :). keeping them valid is easy now that Canada joined the club of bio-metric 10 years valid.
        armed violence is common in central america, so act cautiously. anyway have fun while north-east is heading for yet another round of snow, although here in NYC, being by the sea isnt as bad as the rest of the country.

        • I have never said the officer was wrong. I said that 1) I wasn’t aware of that requirement 2) I had never seen it enforced.

          My French passport expired and it’s hard to have it renewed in Canada. I probably will but I don’t like traveling with two passports, it can create issues as well.

  3. That’s the reason whu I did not get to go to Turkey, my sister’s passport only had a few months of validity left.

    You can renew your passport up to one year before it expires, I try to do it 7 months before.

  4. I just returned from Nicaragua. One person in our group had a passport that, like yours, expired in five months and three weeks instead of 6 months. We wondered if this would be an issue but the border person at the airport never mentioned it. Maybe there is an assumption that people arriving by air are richer than those crossing over by foot from Costa Rica. Maybe there were just more eyes on the airport guard. I read somewhere that the rules are different for Americans than for people from other countries. BTW, we all speak Mandarin and looked for Chinese speakers in Granada. There is one guy on ex-pat exchange and two awful Chinese restaurants owned by a Chinese man but not sure if that’s the same guy as on ex-pat exchange. Regardless you may have just doubled the number of people of Chinese descent in Granada!

    • I noticed too that something rules are different depending on whether you land at the airport or cross the border by foot. For instance, in Thailand, you get two weeks if you cross by land but longer if you arrive at the airport.

      I saw two Chinese restaurants in Granada but they both looked… very non-Chinese! 😆 There were a lot of Chinese in Puntarenas in Costa Rica, not so many in Nicaragua.

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