Ometepe – Nicaragua – via Costa Rica – to San Carlos

San Carlos - Canons

DECEMBER 2017:

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OVERVIEW:

I spent 1 week on Ometepe Island. I stayed at the Hostal Tecali near Santa Cruz.Ometepe Island Map

I wanted to get from Ometepe across the lake to San Carlos to spend a few days going down the Rio San Juan to Greytown.

Alas, the ferry that used to go from Ometepe to San Carlos no longer operates … I was told that I needed to go back to Managua (a 1.5 hour ferry from Ometepe to San Jorge followed by 3-4 hours on busses from there to Managua). From Managua it is another 7-8 hour bus ride to San Carlos.

I needed to renew my CA4 Visa, so I decided to take the alternative land route through Costa Rica.Ometepe to San Carlos Map

On paper, it looked easy to do:

  • A bus from Rivas to Penas Blancas
  • Through Immigration
  • A bus from Penas Blancas along Ruta 4 (via La Cruz)
  • A bus from a town on Ruta 4 (perhaps San Rafael de Guatuso) across to Ruta 35
  • A bus up to Los Chiles
  • Through Immigration
  • A bus from the border to San Carlos, Rio San Juan

THE CA4 COUNTRIES:

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua are known as the CA4 (Central American 4) countries.CA4 Countries Map

As I describe in my Roatan to San Pedro post, I ‘struck lucky’ coming back through the Honduras-Guatemala border … Guatemala Immigration gave me a new 90 Day Visa (which they are not meant to do).

This new visa got me from Guatemala, through El Salvador and into Nicaragua … Costa Rica was, now, the nearest country for renewing my CA4 Visa.

I had over-stayed my 90 day visa by 3 days … so, I was expecting to pay a fine on leaving Nicaragua. I heard that it was US$5 / day of over-stay.


GRANADA TO RIVAS:

I had to go from Ometepe to Granada to see my son off on a flight back to New Zealand. My journey starts in Granada.Granada Bus Terminal for Rivas

I caught a taxi (N$20) at 8:45am from my Granada Hotel (La Siesta) to the terminal where you catch the bus for Rivas. The normal price is N$15 for a taxi ride anywhere within the Granada city limits but he charged me another N$5 for my suitcase (total N$30 / US$1).

This Rivas Terminal is about 5 blocks south of the Central Square. It is not really a ‘Bus Terminal’ … it is just a couple of busses parked up at the side of the road.

A bus to Rivas was already waiting, so I got on and claimed my seat. My suitcase was put up on the roof.Granada - Bus to Rivas

We left Granada at 9:20am and arrived in Rivas at 11:00am (N$32 for me plus N$20 for my suitcase – total N$52 / US$1.75).


RIVAS TO PENAS BLANCAS:

If you are coming from Ometepe Island, this is where you join my journey. You would have gotten on the Ferry in Moyogalpa (N$50), landed in San Jorge, and caught a bus (N$10) or taxi (N$30 / US$1 each) from there to Rivas Bus Station.Ometepe - Ferry Landing at San Jorge

In the Rivas Bus Terminal, I asked around for a bus to ‘Penas Blancas’ and ‘La Frontera’ (the frontier). It was easy to find.

The bus left at 11:20am (N$20). By 12:10pm we were in Sapoa where we found our first line of waiting trucks. By 12:20pm we were at the border. It was a short 100 meter walk from the bus to Nicaragua Immigration.

As you enter Immigration you find the first kiosk. Here you pay US$1 ‘Municipal Tax’ (they also allow you to pay in Cordobas – N$30). You, then, queue at Passport Control where you have to pay a US$2 ‘Exit Fee’. They ONLY ACCEPT US$s – you CANNOT PAY IN CORDOBAS. They never seem to have any change – so have the exact amount ready.

I was through Nicaragua Immigration in 15 minutes. Their computer system only identified my entry date into Nicaragua (not into the CA4 countries). If they had checked my passport stamps they would have been able to work out that I had over-stayed – they didn’t check them. I got through without a fine.

It was a short, 10 minute walk through ‘No Man’s Land’ to Costa Rica Immigration.Penas Blancas - Border

There is a BCR ATM here, so I took out C$100,000 (about US$200).

I queued for only a few minutes at Passport Control. He wouldn’t let me enter Costa Rica without proof of onwards travel. He pointed outside at a set of kiosks selling bus tickets.

The first kiosk wanted US$25 – they only sold tickets from San Jose to Managua. It’s a scam … they know that you are only buying the ticket to enter Costa Rica – and, that you are unlikely to ever use the ticket. I declined. I went to the next kiosk … the old lady smiled and said ‘US$15’. I bought my San Jose to Managua ticket from her.

I returned to the same man at Passport Control. He knew what was happening but he didn’t care as long as I had an exit ticket.

I cleared Costa Rica Immigration at 1:00pm.


MOVISTAR NICARAGUA:

Movistar is one of the top 3 networks in Costa Rica. To get a SIMcard in Costa Rica, you need to register with your Passport … there were no guarantees that I would be able to get a Costa Rican SIMcard on entry into Costa Rica.

Back in Granada, I went to Movistar and asked if my Nicaraguan Movistar SIMcard worked in Costa Rica. They said yes.

All I needed to do was put credits on whilst in Nicaragua so that I could buy what I needed in Costa Rica. You cannot ‘top up’ your Nicaragua Movistar SIMcard in Costa Rica.

They said that I would be ‘Roaming’ but that it should all work. I put N$200 of credits on my SIMcard.


PENAS BLANCAS TO QUESADA:

I could have bought a Costa Rica SIMcard at the border. There was a Claro kiosk and another operator’s kiosk … I did not see a Movistar kiosk.

I returned to the kiosks and asked for a ticket to Upala. I was directed to one kiosk.

The next bus to Upala left a 2:30pm. As I bought my ticket, she said that the bus went to San Carlos! I should have known better … I assumed that she meant San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua … she didn’t. I bought my ticket to San Carlos (C$3,580 / US$7) … thinking how lucky I was 🙂

Whilst I waited for my bus, I tried to get my Movistar SIMcard working. I had a signal, but it wouldn’t connect. I went into my Smartphone Settings and Mobile Networks to find 2 Movistars listed. I manually chose the first. It was Movistar Costa Rica. It didn’t work. I manually switched to the second. This gave me a Movistar Nicaragua Roaming connection. I turned my Roaming ‘on’. I could briefly get an internet connect but it kept disconnecting me. To get online, I had to keep going back into Mobile Network setting and choosing the same network again.

When I got a brief working connection, I checked out Google Maps to see which route my bus would take. I noticed that Ruta 4 joined Ruta 35 near a place called Muelle San Carlos. Oops. I returned to the ticket counter. She confirmed that my bus DID NOT go to San Carlos, Nicaragua … and, yes, it was going to a San Carlos in Costa Rica.Penas Blancas - Bus to Quesada

My bus arrived on time. It even had San Carlos written on the front of it.Penas Blancas - Bus to Quesada Seating

7 hours later we come to our final stop: Quesada!


QUESADA TO LOS CHILES:

It is 9:30pm and I am at the Plaza San Carlos Bus Terminal in Quesada.Quesada Town Map

My internet connection is still playing up and, when I can get it briefly to work, I can’t find any hotels listed on the internet.

As I tried to investigate my options, I saw a bus with Los Chiles written on it. A driver told me that it left at 10:15pm (C$2535 / US$5).

It had taken me 7 hours from the border to Quesada on Ruta 4 which is shown as a main road. Parts of that road were dirt track and slow progress.

Ruta 35 to Los Chiles is also listed as a main road. I was hoping that it would make slow progress and get me there after 5:00am.

We left on time. 2 hours later we were at the Los Chiles Bus Terminal.


A NIGHT IN LOS CHILES:

Los Chiles is a small frontier town.Los Chiles Town Map

I was approached by a young man on a push-bike who asked me if I needed an hotel.

I followed him 200 meters down the road to the Central Park.Los Chiles - Main Street

We woke the hotel owner and asked for a room. It was 1:00am and I needed to get some rest.

He showed me a very basic room with a single bed and a fan (C$5000 / US$10).Los Chiles - Single Room C$500

There was a shared bathroom that I decided not to use 🙂


LOS CHILES TO SAN CARLOS:

I was up and out by 7:00am and I made my way back to the Bus Terminal.Los Chiles - Bus Terminal

Taxi drivers quoted C$3000 / US$6 to go the short distance to the border. I declined. I waited until 7:45am and jumped on a passing bus (C$500 / US$1).

By 8:00am we were at the border.Los Chiles - Border Bus Terminal

At Costa Rica Immigration I had to pay a C$4800 / US$10 ‘Exit Fee’.

It was a 50 meter walk from there to Nicaragua Immigration.Los Chiles - Border Entry

Nicaragua Immigration noticed all of my CA4 entry and exit stamps and took me into a back room for questioning. Once satisfied, they allowed me through Passport Control. Entry was US$12 and you MUST PAY in US$s – have the exact amount ready as the never seem to have change.Los Chiles - Colectivo to San Carlos

I walked 50 meters down the road to catch a Colectivo to San Carlos (N$60 for me and another N$20 for my suitcase).


SAN CARLOS:

I arrived in San Carlos at 9:30am. It had taken me over 24 hours to get here.San Carlos Town Map

I stopped at the Bus Terminal to have a Ranchero Breakfast (N$70).San Carlos - Bus Terminal

My Nicaragua Movistar SIMcard was working again. I got online and searched for accommodation. I noticed that Hostal Don Frank had a last minute discount on a Double Room with Private Bathroom (US$13 / night).

I decided to have a look around the streets first. After checking out a couple of very basic rooms for N$350 / night, I decided that Don Frank’s was good value for money.San Carlos - Don Frank - Frontage

I called the phone number listed above the door. The man that answered only spoke Spanish. I managed to converse and he arrived at the door 5 minutes later.

He showed me a good Twin Room (a Double Bed and a Single Bed).San Carlos - Don Frank - Room Entry

It came with excellent in-room Wifi and Cable TV.San Carlos - Don Frank - Beds

There was a wardrobe to hang my clothes.San Carlos - Don Frank - Furniture

And a good bathroom.San Carlos - Don Frank - En Suite

I paid him N$350 / night and booked 2 nights.


CONCLUSION:

The ‘by boat’ route across lake Nicaragua between Ometepe and San Carlos no longer exists … you need to go by land.

The route through Costa Rica is not difficult, but it takes at least 24 hours. The problem with this route is the entry & exit costs of crossing the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica (twice).

I hear that there may be a night sleeper bus from Managua to San Carlos; it leaves about 10:30pm. If so, this would be a much better option that ending up in a dump hotel somewhere en route in Costa Rica.

MY ADVICE: If you don’t need to do a Visa Run, take the land route via Managua.

TTFN


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