Off To A Dubious Start

It’s been a glorious few weeks not having to worry a huge amount about scams, especially on public transport. In Panama there was never any question that they’d charge us more because we’re foreign, we simply paid the same as everyone else when we got off the bus. Same in Costa Rica, you’d just pay the driver when you got on and he’d print you a ticket with all the details including the fare. I don’t even mind paying a little bit more as I do,afterall, have enough money to travel overseas. I can afford the extra 40 cents. I do dislike being overcharged whopping amounts, or being outright scammed. Buuuut the poorer the country the bigger the scams and Nicaragua is the second poorest country in North America. Here we go then.

One of the fabled chicken buses. They’re old US school buses, often repainted but sometimes not.

The border crossing was relatively painless and not even that long. It was when we found the bus station and were ushered onto a bus bound for Rivas it went minorly tits up. It went something like this but in Spanish and it doesn’t help that my Spanish is rudimentary at best.
“How much?”
“Two dollars per person.”
“In cordobas?”
“Two hundred.”
“Per person?”
“With the suitcases.”
Like a dumb fuck I just handed over the money then checked the exchange rate. US$2 is C$73. Let’s just call this an Idiot Tax shall we? That’s on me for not arming myself with knowledge in the first place and it wasn’t a scam for a huge amount, let’s face it. Also, don’t pay anyone but the assistant on the bus, and don’t pay before you get on and the bus rolls away. You’re still probably going to get charged more than the going rate once they add on a mythical luggage fee but what can you do? Lesson learned, thankfully not an expensive one.

San Juan Del Sur

San Juan Del Sur was nice enough though but we probably could have skipped it given that we don’t surf and I’ve pretty much had my fill of beaches. Tarrant loves a beach though, she’d quite happily spend the day crisping her tender English flesh on an expanse of Devil Particles. She’s also less bothered by sand than me. I have to spend far too much time sat bolt upright, gingerly brushing the sand from the corners of my sarong.

We saw some stunning sunsets.

When we get to a new country one of the first things we do is buy a SIM card. There’s a Claro shop in SJDS so we headed there. It’s an air conditioned paradise and we didn’t want to leave but they don’t sell beer so we kind of had to. Then we like to check out the food shops but the hostel kitchen was an ant infested sweat box so we decided to probably just make breakfast there and we’d find somewhere to eat out for other meals. Honestly, the little fuckers had a right pop at my feet whilst I was trying to scramble eggs. There are cheap eats at the market though, there are four comedores selling decent meals for between C$100 and C$130. That’ll do.

Then it’s imperative that we find our new favourite beer. Slightly pricey (but actually not hideously so) tourist restaurants line the beach so we headed there where the waiter assured us that Victoria Clásica was the best beer so we sank a few of these as the fiery skyball fucked off over yonder. Well we’ve not seen one of those for a while! The following evening we bought three different beers from the shop and sat on the beach to sample them as the sun set. Yes mate, this is the life. Also the waiter was correct, Victoria Clásica is by far the superior beer.

Important experiments.

There are several beaches to the north and south of SJDS and these are the beaches that people go to surf at. You can’t actually surf in SJDS proper. We duly hopped on a shuttle one morning to visit Playa Maderas, not to flail around in the water brandishing a fibreglass board that I’ll probably brain myself with at some point, but to just chill. We set up under the shade of a tree then when the hour got a bit more reasonable a restaurant set up chairs and parasols. Oh fuck yes please! Nothing pleases me more than beach furniture. We rented a set then had beer brought to us until it was time to leave.

Playa Maderas.
We had a lovely day watching the waves. Swimming was fun too, you’ll definitely get a good dumping at least once.

So it was short but sweet and yeah, you could probably swerve it if you’re not bothered about surfing or beaches. It’s a nice enough town and the sunsets were cracking but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I’d heard it had a great vibe but it just felt kind of… sad? I don’t know, I thought it would be a bit more buzzing than it was.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

San Juan Del Sur & Playa Maderas, Rivas Department, Nicaragua

Stayed at: Hostel Esperanza, San Juan Del Sur

Hostel Esperanza. This garden is probably its only redeeming feature. The kitchen is tiny and was filthy in the morning. Like, cockroaches and ants filthy. The dorm was spacious with lockers but only the bottom bunks got fans, those on the top bunks just got to sweat to death. It was cheap though and in a good location.

Useful shit to know…

How To Get From La Fortuna To San Juan Del Sur By Bus

La Fortuna To Peñas Blancas
  • We were told to take the 6.30am bus from La Fortuna to El Tanque. We got there early and ended up on the 6am bus but the 6.30 would be fine and would involve less waiting on the side of the road in El Tanque.
  • It cost ₡1020 each and only took about fifteen minutes, twenty max.
  • You get off at the T junction in El Tanque (just tell the driver where you’re going, he’ll make sure you get off in the right place), then cross the road to the bus stop on the corner of the road heading north.
  • Coordinates are 10.477997, -84.58202.
  • There were eight other foreigners heading to the border this morning, some arriving to the bus stop by taxi.
  • The bus is scheduled for 7.20am, it arrived just before 7.30 so not bad at all.
  • There was a guy who spoke English, not the driver, who got our bags loaded. He warned us all to keep an eye on our belongings as thefts are common.
  • You still pay the driver when you get on.
  • It cost ₡5000 each and took just over 5.5 hours including a 50 minute break in Upala for toilet and food.
  • When we boarded in El Tanque we were given a laminated card. You’ll need this when you reboard in Upala after the break, it’s like a queue jump ticket so you can get on before the people joining the bus in Upala.
Border Crossing
  • Costa Rica has an exit tax of US$8. You can pay online or you pay on the border but I believe it costs US$10 if you do it this way.
  • We paid online and printed out our receipts. If you don’t do this you’ll have to find the place to pay or they’ll send you back. Head for coordinates 11.210861, -85.610749, you should be able to pay there.
  • Once your tax is paid you queue for your exit stamp. They’ll want your exit tax receipt.
  • That’s it, you’re out of Costa Rica. It took about 20 minutes.
  • Walk over the border. It should only take about five hot, sweaty minutes. You’ll likely be weaving through queuing trucks in search of the building. Officials may check your exit stamp.
  • Officially you’re meant to fill out THIS FORM seven days before you enter Nicaragua. We did but, like most other people, the status remained at “no decision”. I’d read that this wouldn’t be a problem and it wasn’t. The form wasn’t even mentioned.
  • The first building you go to is the OSI building where you show your Covid vaccination (or negative test if you’re not vaccinated) through a hatch. They’ll give you a slip of paper.
  • We’d been told by someone in La Fortuna that her friend was denied entry as she didn’t have a yellow fever vaccination but we weren’t asked for ours.
  • Go into the immigration building. There’ll be a woman asking you to pay US$1 each just inside the door which she gives you a receipt for.
  • Join a queue. You’ll need to pay US$13 each in cash to enter Nicaragua. We’d read they can play silly buggers with change so we had the correct amount.
  • We were asked for our occupations and where we were staying in Nicaragua, including the hotel.
  • I had to write my phone number on a piece of paper.
  • It took a while for him to tap a load of info into his computer but then he stamped us in.
  • You’ll see bag scanners behind the immigration booths. Put your bags through.
  • You’re in Nicaragua, it took about 40 minutes.
Peñas Blancas To San Juan Del Sur
  • You’ll run a gauntlet of people offering you SIM cards, cambio and taxis.
  • You can change your colones for córdobas for a horrible rate.
  • The bus station is about 500 metres down the road on the left.
  • You’ll need a bus to Rivas but tell them you want to get down at La Virgen.
  • We were bundled into the back of the bus and were told it was US$2 each. We ended up paying way more than that in córdobas but that’s a story for the blog.
  • It took about half an hour to La Virgen. Get down and walk about 350 metres up the road towards San Juan to the bus stop.
  • The bus cost C$30 each and took about half an hour.
  • Total cost: US$14.14 in local currency (not including a very minor scam).
  • Total time: Nine hours including waiting for buses and crossing the border.

  • We used Hostal Los Chamos for the shuttle to Playa Maderas, we just showed up in the morning around 8.30am and they put us in the back of a 4×4 straight away.
  • It cost US$5 each. We paid in córdobas and the exchange rate was bang on at C$183 each. This price is for a return journey.
  • It takes about half an hour each way.
  • We had to tell the driver what time we wanted to return and he showed up right on time.
  • There are a couple of places to get food and drink at Playa Maderas. There’s also locker rental for US$5 and surfboard rental for US$10 per hour.
  • Los Tres Hermanos will rent you three chairs and a parasol for US$7, or C$250.

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