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After being stranded for 3 days in Big Corn Island (and overnight in Bluefields), I finally managed to get from Big Corn Island to Granada.
On paper, this involved:
- A long distance bus from Granada to San Jose (about 9 hours)
- A long distance bus from San Jose direct to Puerto Viejo (about 4.5 hours)
At the time of this post, US$1 = C$580.
I planned to leave Granada early enough for me to make it to Puerto Viejo that same day … I nearly didn’t make it …
THE COSTA RICA ONWARDS TICKET:
I was in Costa Rica in December 2017 – as I made my way from Ometepe Island (Nicaragua) via Costa Rica to San Carlos (Nicaragua). It was a ‘visa run’.
At Costa Rican Immigration I was required to show an onward ticket out of the country. I did not have one. I walked 10 metres across the road and bought a bus ticket from San Jose to Managua. They try and charge US$25 but I negotiated them down to US$15 … they know that you have no intention of using it.
I heard from other travellers that you can get onto the American Airlines website and book a flight out of Costa Rica and put it on ‘hold’. The ‘on hold’ e-ticket is meant to look ‘real enough’ to fool Costa Rican Immigration. For this blog (and your benefit), I decided to give it a go …
I got onto the AA website and booked a US$200 ticket from San Jose to Miami, Florida. Online, they give you a 24 Hour period to cancel any booking. I went through the payment process expecting to find a button that allowed me to put the booking ‘on hold’. I never saw one. My Visa Payment got processed and I ended up with a real ticket!
I immediately got back onto the AA website and tried to cancel it. It is not easy to find out where to cancel your ticket. Even though the Visa Payment had been processed, the website didn’t let me cancel it. It, also, would not let me request a refund until it was cancelled. I found myself in an ‘infinite loop’. They DO NOT make it easy!
I was told to give Customer Services a phone call. I called their Nicaraguan Customer Service number. Luckily, I had plenty of call credits on my Nicaraguan Movistar account due to all of the Quintruple top-ups that I did in my 4 months in the country. I needed the credits … I was disconnected once and had to wait 10 minutes in a queue before I got through to a representative.
The AA representative was very helpful and my ticket was cancelled immediately. However, I was required to go back to the website to request a refund. Which I did. That was 5 days ago … at the time of writing this post, I still have not received a refund. I have to wait 7 days before escalating the refund problem. This experiment may prove to be a costly excercise 🙂
Anyway. I now had a valid e-ticket and I was ready to enter Costa Rica.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BUS:
On my trip from Bluefields to Granada, I met a friendly local who was born in Nicaragua but, now, lives in Limon, Costa Rica. He advised me to catch the Transportes Centralline bus from Granada to San Jose. I got online and found their Granada ticket office (which was not easy … so here’s a map):
It was up on Route 4 about 800 metres from the Cathedral Square.
I checked out Centralline’s competition (e.g. Ticabus) … Centralline were US$1 more expensive BUT their bus terminal in San Jose is next to the San Jose Bus Station servicing the ‘northern routes’ to Limon and Puerto Viejo … this saves you the taxi between bus terminals in San Jose. This makes it cheaper, easier, and SAFER than the competition.
The other advantage of Centralline is that the bus leaves Managua at 4:30am and connects in Granada at 5:30am … the competition didn’t leave Granada until 6:30am or 7:00am. By catching the Centralline, I had more of a chance of getting to Puerto Viejo that same day. The ticket cost me N$892 / US$28.75.
GRANADA TO PENAS BLANCAS:
You are advised to be at the Centralline Bus Terminal 30 minutes before the departure time. I was up at 4am and out of my Granada hotel (Hotel Los Tejados) by 4:30am. I walked up to the Centralline Bus Terminal and was there jut before 5am (I could have caught a taxi for N$30 per person).
The bus arrived early and we were on the road by 5:25am.
About 1 hour before the Costa Rica border, the bus assistant came around handing out Immigration Forms and collecting passports. He wanted US$4 to process me through Nicaraguan Immigration. I had forgotten to get out my small US$1 bills and only had US$20s on me. I said that I would sort out Immigration myself and kept my passport.
Many of these long distance buses provide free WiFi. I asked the assistant for the WiFi password. He never came back to me … probably because he hadn’t made any profit out of me for crossing the border.
Amazingly, the local who told me about the Centralline Bus was on the same bus. He gave me the password. I couldn’t sign on … the system seemed overloaded with connections. I finally signed on 30 minutes before we arrived in San Jose.
I filled in the Customs / Immigration forms. At 7:10am we arrived at the border.
The bus parked behind Nicaragua Immigration and the assistant took in everyone’s passports. I went in alone and queued.
I had no problems. All of my stamps were in order. He wasn’t interested in the forms that I had filled out. He wanted US$2 ‘exit tax’. I only had US$20 notes, Costa Rican Colones, and Nicaraguan Cordobas. He would not take Cordobas nor Colones.
I approached a money changer. For US$20 he gave me two US$1 notes and C$9000 (this was a poor rate of exchange). Effectively, it cost me US$4 anyway!
MY ADVICE: Give the bus attendant US$4 – it’s easier.
Outside, I found another money changer. With him, I changed my Cordobas to Colones. The ‘official’ exchange rate was N$! = C$18.40. He gave me C$18 which was very reasonable.
We were back on the bus and heading for Costa Rica Immigration by 7:45am. It is several 100 metres down the road.
Cosat Rica Immigration was a lot slower. There was a long queue, only 2 counters open, and proof of ‘exit tickets’ to be checked for every non Costa Rican passport. They accepted my AA e-Ticket, scanned my bags, and took my Customs Declaration form. We were underway by 8:30am.
At 11am we stopped at a roadside cafe for people to buy food and go to the toilets. We stayed for 15 minutes.
We arrived in the Centralline Bus Terminal at 1:50pm. My ‘local friend and I grabbed our bags and walked 20 metres to the Northern Bus Terminal next door. We arrived just as an MEPE bus was departing for Puerto Viejo (2pm). Alas it was full. The next one was at 4pm.
No problem … it gave me 2 hours to get a Mobile SIMcard and something to eat.
Immediately across the road from the bus terminal was a Kolbi / ICE stall. With passport in hand (in Costa Rica, you are required to register new SIMcards with ID) I purchased a C$9000 2Gb Mobile Data Plan. The SIMcard is provided free. There was a ‘promotion’ on … I got some extra call credits, a cheapo mini backpack, and a football notepad – yippee!
I bought a meal for C$4,200 in the Bus Terminal cafe. Before I knew it, it was 4pm and I was on the bus and on my way to Puerto Viejo. The ticket costs C$5,590 (under US$10).
SAN JOSE TO PUERTO VIEJO:
This was a direct bus to Puerto Viejo that is scheduled to take 4.5 hours. We were scheduled to arrive in PV at 8:30pm.
At 5:45pm the bus broke down. Everyone got off and waited for a replacement bus to arrive. The new bus arrived at 6:55pm.
20 kms before Limon we were delayed again by a road accident. We finally got to Limon at 10pm.
It stops down at the waterfront. It is easy to walk anywhere in town from there. If you have booked somewhere farther afield, there are taxi drivers waiting. Make sure that you negotiate a price before getting in one.
I did not book any accommodation in advance. I was going to do it on the Granada to San Jose bus … but, I had not internet.
I was, then, going to do it using my new Kolbi IMcard on the San Jose to PV bus … but, after the breakdown, I didn’t know if we were going to make it …
I walked up the street to see what I could find. I was approached by a man on a bicycle. He was the Manager of the Sel & Sucre Hostel. He said that he had a free room. I walked the short distance to his hostel and had a look. The room was in the loft up a ladder. There was a double mattress on the floor. On one side of that mattress I had a 1 meter gap to put my things. There wasn’t even enough room for me to open my suitcase. It had a mosquito net over the bed. It had a shared bathroom downstairs. He wanted US$30 for the night. It was after midnight, I had been travelling since 4:30am, and I was tired. I offered him US$20. He took it. I haven’t bothered taking photos … I will leave it to your own imagination …
If, like me, you want to avoid an overnight stay in San Jose this is a long and tiring journey. Alas, there are no overnight buses from Managua to San Jose (which, I think, would work out a lot better).
If you are lucky, you can start from the Centralline Bus Terminal in Granada at 5am, catch the 2pm MEPE Bus from San Jose, and be in Puerto Viejo at 6:30pm. A total of 13.5 hours.
However, expect to catch the 4pm MEP Bus and arrive in PV at 8:30pm. A total of 15.5 hours.
I was unlucky and didn’t arrive in PV until 11:30pm. A total of 18.5 hours.
MY ADVICE: If you are going from Nicaragua to the Costa Rican Carribean Coast, catch the Centralline bus.
MY ADVICE: Trying to ‘cheat’ Costa Rica Immigration with a false exit ticket isn’t worth the hassle. Buy a bus ticket at the border for US$15.
MY ADVICE: Pay the bus assistant his US$4 and give him your passport – let him sort out Nicaraguan Immigration for you.