Slip off the shoes, whip out the plastic bag of 3.4-oz. toiletries, isolate the laptop in the bin, chug the last of the liquids, and pray to the TSA gods that it’s not your turn for a patdown.
As frequent fliers, we at GreenSpot Travel have the airport screening process down pat. Unfortunately, that routine is no preparation for a Central American border crossing. Recently we traveled by bus from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, and noticed many first-timers were similarly perplexed about the protocols of crossing the border at Peñas Blancas.
Yes, crossing an international border by land is an entirely different ballgame and can be intimidating for the uninitiated. However, if you have a general idea of what to expect, it’s much easier. Plus, traveling by bus is more economical and a great way to see the countryside.
Since thousands of people will be traveling between Nicaragua and Costa Rica this week for Semana Santa, I figured it’s a good time to share our border-crossing pointers with Nicaragua Dispatch readers who will be on the road this holiday weekend.
- Come prepared. Obviously you’ll need your passport, but also have a pen handy to fill out forms. Sharing is caring, but it’s more efficient if you bring your own.
- Know your number. At some point the bus driver will collect your passport, and sometimes he does this before you fill out your forms. Have a copy of your passport on hand and/or memorize your passport number. Otherwise you have to track the bus driver down and try to get it back from him. Yes, the bus driver WILL take your passport, but he will give it back!
- Cash is king. You’ll need to have cash to pay the entry fees. To enter into Nicaragua, we paid 8,000 colones (about $16) each, and the American couple sitting in front of us paid in USD. The bus driver should have plenty of change in both currencies as well as cordobas. The mysterious part is the amount you pay seems to vary according to the source. Try to have at least $20 or the equivalent in local currency easily accessible.
- There’s a reason it’s called hand luggage. Keep your hand luggage in your hands at all times. Even if you unload the bus and are told to leave your big bags below, always carry your hand luggage with you. Never leave it on the bus unattended.
- Be prepared to be bombarded. “Cambio, cambio?” men will yell as soon as you step off the bus. Although they’re offering to change money for you as you wait, they may be ripping you off if you don’t know the current exchange rate, or even what the currency looks like. Also, your first welcome is likely to come from the many vendors who approach you. They sell everything from snacks to sandals and cellphone cards. Others will straight up ask you for money, providing a toothless grin in return. As we understand, the men wearing navy blue vests are authorized to search your luggage, but they too can be aggressive and demand tips if they help you carry it.
Katie Jackson is a young traveler who traded farm life in Montana for fast-paced Manhattan. In February, she traded the concrete jungle of NYC for the wild jungles of Nicaragua, where she is exploring for GreenSpot Travel--a green travel company that believes in supporting local communities while providing customized vacations to Nicaragua and other Central America destinations.