Wondering how to travel from San Jose Costa Rica to San Juan del sur Nicaragua by bus? We’ve got you covered.
The idea of crossing the Costa Rica / Nicaragua border was daunting at first due to the ‘horror’ stories on the internet.
Before our bus from San Jose to San Juan del Sur we had a lot of questions. Was it worth the long venture to Nicaragua? What was the bus going to be like? Is an 8 hour journey from Costa Rica going to be a horrific experience?
Thankfully we decided visit Nicaragua as it turned out to be arguably our favourite country in Central America.
Even the long bus from San Jose to Nicaragua ended up a positive experience.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to get to San Juan del Sur including crossing the border at Penas Blancas.
Costa Rica to Nicaragua
The first step is to catch the bus from San Jose to Rivas Nicaragua.
The departure bus terminal will depend on which bus company you go with. We discuss your options below.
From San Jose a number of bus companies complete the route San Jose – Rivas – Managua.
The bus from San Jose to Rivas Nicaragua is roughly 8 hours including a border crossing at Penas Blancas.
Buses from Rivas
Rivas is the gateway to many places in Nicaragua. Popular routes include:
- Rivas to San Juan del Sur
- Rivas to Granada
- Rivas to Ometepe Island
- Rivas to Granada
- Rivas to Managua
If you plan to visit Leon you must first go to Managua & change buses from there.
Note: To get to Leon, you need to go to the Uca terminal to get a chicken bus or a shared local shuttle to Leon.
San Jose to San Juan del Sur Bus Options
There are many bus companies that travel from San Jose Costa Rica to Rivas Nicaragua which leave at various times during the day.
We caught the earliest bus possible because we read it is not advisable to arrive in the town of Rivas after nightfall.
Rivas is a gateway city in Nicaragua which we passed through several times. We can categorically say it is not a place we would want to hang out at night.
We didn’t run into any trouble, but of all the places we visited in Nicaragua, Rivas was the dodgiest.
Different companies leave from different locations so it is important to clearly note where your bus is leaving from and not just follow your taxi drivers advice because (at least in our case) it almost caused us to miss our bus.
San Jose to Rivas / Managua Bus Options & Times
A list of the available bus options & times is as follows:
- 3am – TicaBus Ejecutivo (via Highway #27) = $42
- 4am – NicaBus (via Highway #27) = $27
- 4am – TransNica = $27
- 4:30am – Central Line = $26
- 5am – TransNica = $27
- 6am – TicaBus = $27.30
- 6am – Nica Expresso = $27
- 6:30am – NicaBus (via Highway #27) = $27
- 7am – TransNica = $27
- 7:30am – TicaBus = $27.30
- 9am – TransNica = $27
- 10am – Central Line = $26
- 12pm – TransNica Ejecutivo (via Highway #27) – $38
- 12:30pm – TicaBus = $27.30
- 11:55pm – Nica Expresso = $27
Which option to select?
When choosing which bus to select there are a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly, is travelling in the fastest possible time important to you? If so, you should definitely note which buses travel down the faster route #27 which should shave an hour or two off your travel time.
The second thing to consider is your time of arrival in Rivas. Unless you like to live dangerously, (as noted above) we would strongly advise you to leave before 8.30am in the morning to arrive in Rivas during daylight.
After much deliberation, we selected to travel on the Nica Bus from San Jose to Rivas departing at 6.30am.
Nica Bus Review
We were very happy with our decision to travel from Costa Rica to Nicaragua with Nicabus.
We chose this option because it was the last bus travelling on Highway #27 before 8.30am.
The Nica Bus was very comfortable, air conditioned & had free wifi onboard!
The free wifi was a very pleasant surprise as we (wrongly) believed the only service with wifi onboard was the TransNica Ejecutivo.
Peñas Blancas Border Crossing
Whether you are catching the bus from San Jose to Penas Blancas, or if you are travelling a shorter distance from Monteverde to Penas Blancas, you’re going to have to stop here.
Aside from being excruciatingly long, the Costa Rica Nicaragua border crossing was relatively simple.
Costa Rica Customs – What to Expect
Before you reach the Costa Rica customs the attendant on the bus collects your exit tax out of Costa Rica ($8 USD) and your entry tax into Nicaragua ($13 USD).
When you arrive at Costa Rican customs, the whole bus is required to get off the bus & individually fill out a customs declaration & get your passport stamped in the custom’s office.
This was a relatively simple and easy process. The more time consuming and frustrating bit is yet to come – the Nicaraguan customs.
Nicaragua Customs – What to Expect
After driving about 100 metres beyond the Costa Rican customs, the attendant on the bus will collect all passports and will process the passports for you at the Nicaraguan customs office.
Sounds pretty good right?
Well there is a reason for this top notch service and it is due to the Nicaraguan bag checking procedure.
The bus will unload all luggage upon arrival at the Nicaraguan border.
You must take your luggage inside the customs terminal where you will be required to open it for the Nicaraguan border control to check its contents.
This isn’t as bad as it seems as we merely opened our bags up for them to quickly look inside and we closed it up again.
They didn’t rummage through our belongings. After this you (wrongly) assume that you get back on the bus and carry on your way.
It takes a very long time for everyone to be cleared by customs (as there could be 2 or 3 buses ahead of your bus to be cleared). On a bad day it could take 2-3 hours.
We waited in the sun for 1.5 hours to get back on the bus and that was bad enough!
Peñas Blancas to San Juan del Sur
After finally receiving clearance from CENTREX we got back on the bus for a quick journey to Rivas where we would transfer to San Juan del Sur.
Our first impression of Nicaragua – or maybe really second impression after customs – was positive. The roads were decent, sun was shining brightly and there was a surprising amount of windmills generating green energy.
After about 40 minutes we reached Rivas where we expected to stop at Rivas bus station where we could catch a chicken bus to San Juan del Sur.
Instead we were dropped off on the side of the highway.
Here we were inundated by locals approaching us to sell us a taxi to San Juan del Sur.
We tried to ask around (where is the chicken bus?) but all we ended up getting was “long way away” in response.
We ended up bartering a taxi down to $15 USD to San Juan del Sur.
After we got in a cab about 100 metres down the road, there was the chicken bus stop in all its glory with backpackers waiting for the bus.
The chicken bus from Rivas to San Juan del Sur would have cost 20 Cordobas pp (less than 1USD).
Don’t listen to the taxi drivers, the chicken bus can be hailed down across from the Pali on the main highway towards San Juan del Sur.
San Juan del Sur to San Jose
With experience behind us getting from San Juan del Sur to San Jose was a piece of cake.
We also managed to avoid Rivas entirely. Here’s how.
San Juan del Sur to Rivas bus
Catch the chicken bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas but get out at the village of La Virgen.
From here you can wait for a chicken bus from La Virgen to Penas Blancas border.
Fortunately, customs exiting Nicaragua was much quicker than when we entered.
After clearing customs at Penas Blancas on the Nicaraguan side you can walk the short distance to Costa Rican customs.
After passing through customs on the Costa Rica side there are lots of bus companies outside which leave regularly to destinations all over Costa Rica including:
- Penas Blancas to La Fortuna
- Penas Blancas to Monteverde
- Penas Blancas to San Jose
Penas Blancas to San Jose
After re-entering Costa Rica we saw the Nica Bus to San Jose driving off into the distance.
Rather than waiting hours for the next Nica bus, we chose to hop on the next available bus which was Transportes Deldu.
The bus was older than Nica bus but it got us to San Jose safely.
We were quite pleased actually because the bus stopped at San Jose Airport which saved us a taxi fare from downtown San Jose.
Overall, despite a long wait at the Nicaraguan border, the rest of the journey from Costa Rica to Nicaragua could not be faulted. For the 1.5 hours of frustration, I would say it is definitely worth venturing into Nicaragua from Costa Rica if you have the time.
Where to Stay
In San Jose we recommend the Sheraton for luxury, modern accommodation. It features a casino, free wifi and 24/7 fitness centre.
In San Juan del Sur we stayed at Casa Andalucia on two occasions and loved it. The property is just far enough outside of town to avoid the party madness. Our reward for walking up the hill to house was a beautiful vista of San Juan complete with fireflies and stars illuminating the night sky. We would dive into the infinity pool to cool off.
In Granada we stayed at El Almirante hotel. We loved everything about it from complimentary breakfast every morning to it’s great location near coffee shops and great restaurants.
Unlike Granada, we found it tough to find really good accommodation in Leon. If we went back today we would probably stay at somewhere like Guesthouse El Nancite.
If you visit Leon then you really must spend at least a night or two out at Las Penitas beach. We stayed at Nayal Lodge after it was just opened before there were any reviews as it looked neat and was so close the beach and buses. Today it remains one of the most popular hotels in Las Penitas.
More Travel Blog Posts About Nicaragua & Costa Rica
San Juan del Sur to Granada: If you didn’t catch the chicken bus from Rivas to San Juan, now you will. And it’s actually great.
Isla de Ometepe: Ometepe is the nearest tourist location to San Juan. It’s an incredible island featuring two volcanoes, crystal blue pools and the best breakfast we’ve had in Central America. Or maybe anywhere…
San Juan del Sur to Ometepe: We wouldn’t tell you how to visit Ometepe without showing you how to get there step by step.
Ometepe to Granada: If you do make a stop in Ometepe, you should make a stop in Granada afterwards. Here’s how to get there for $2
Leon Nicaragua: Leon was one of our favourite cities in Nicaragua.
Granada to Leon: There’s a minivan option, chicken bus or local bus. Guess which option we picked? You’ll probably be wrong!
La Fortuna: If tropical rain forests, volcanoes and epic waterfalls are your jam, then you can’t miss La Fortuna.
Essential Central America Packing Guide: We cover everything you need to make the most of your trip to Central America.
Why Your Next Vacation Should be to Costa Rica: I think we make a pretty compelling case
How to Get Cheap Car Hire in Costa Rica: We spent 10 days driving around Costa Rica. It’s the best way to see the country.