Living here in Costa Rica we are required to physically leave the country every 90 days, to “reset your visa”. Luckily there are two different countries within driving distance, Panama and Nicaragua. After a bunch of research we decided we would go to the Penas Blancas border of Costa Rica. We figured we would make it a 6 night trip and visit the Guanacaste area which is a popular beach destination before the visa run and then head to La Fortuna afterwards.
Playa Coco seemed convenient to border, had lots of lodging options, and seemed like a pretty cool place to visit. It was almost a 3 hour drive, but was a straight shot down the Pan American Highway. We found a nice 2 bedroom condo on AirBnB and met with the property manager once we arrived. It was my first time using the service but I would recommend as the process was easy and successful. We got in our room, and headed down to the beach…
It was a very lush area, and seeing all the boats in the harbor was pretty cool. We were a little disappointed that it was a “black sand” beach. We also heard from a local that there are only waves at this beach 2-3 times a year. The water was rough and there were big waves when we there, so that was some bad luck.
After hanging out on the beach for a little it started to rain, so we headed back to the condo. There was not WIFI and not only did I have some important work to complete, but we also had some Nicaragua research to do. A quick call the property manager and he was able to move us to another unit, so that worked out nicely.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the whole “visa run/border run” process. Some people will say you have to leave the country for 72 hours, some people say you can return the same day as long as your not importing anything. We decided that we would try to do the same day return, but we packed our bags in case we weren’t allowed back in and had to stay in Nicaragua for 3 days.
The drive to the border was about an hour and half, when we arrived it was extremely overwhelming. This is one of the main crossings for trucks, and there were tons of them! Backed up for what seemed like miles. We were able to navigate around them and found a parking service right near the Costa Rica office, that offers parking for $10 a day. Once arriving we were hounded by “helpers” and “money exchangers”. The area is loud and intense,and we decided to pay for two guys to “help us”. They provided exit/entrance forms for both countries as well as showing us where to go.
Remember, this process wouldn’t be too tough if we didn’t have 3 kids to drag along as well. After talking to the “helpers” they assured us they could get us back into Costa Rica quickly, we decided Troy would just wait for us to go in and out. No need for the extra expenses.
The exit process was pretty easy out of Costa Rica, you then walk towards the border, this is referred to as No Mans Land, as you are stamped out of one country but not yet stamped into another one. Here is the walkway…
Once we made it through the border we had to visit the Nicaragua entry office, this is where they had us meet their “helper” on the Nicaragua side, he pointed us in the right direction. It was very hot and long lines everywhere.
We took turns watching the kids while the other stood in line.
Here the kids looks like they are in Nicaraguan jail… They were troopers, and they listened well, as we were very adamant that they stay very close to us this whole day.
After getting our entry stamp, we walked around some of the small shops at the border, etc.. and then headed to the exit office. (It is right on the other side of the entry office). Gigi had to handle this as she speaks the language. Again it was long lines, and a pretty hectic process. It also seems that Nicaragua does not like when you entry and leave right away, we were lucky to get stamped.
Here is the exit office for those curious.
We headed back to the Costa Rica side, and after a short wait in line we were issued another 90 day tourist stamp. The helpers wanted almost $35 per passport for their “help”. We could have done this ourselves, but it was a learning experience. Some people we talked to about it say we got ripped off, but it was an interesting experience and we are glad it went as smooth as it did. We decided next time we will at least spend the night out of the country, whether it be in Panama or Nicaragua, hanging around the borders for a few hours with no guarantee it will go smoothly can be very stressful. Plus it will be nice to explore both countries a little more.
GL fells asleep instantly on the ride home, and it was a really long day for us all. The next day we decided to totally relax, luckily the condo had a 4 layer pool, so that made it pretty easy to forget about the border.
TM prefers pools over borders.
MK and GL in the top pool (about the size of hot tub).
Uncle Troy and myself just relaxing… Times are tough.
GL is really starting to love the water.
Overall, we had a nice 3 days in the area, lots of time in the car, but it was something we had to do. Playa Coco was nice, but we probably won’t visit again. Higher tourist prices for food, black sand beach, and many other options in the Guanacaste region.
Next visa run will be here before we know it, and I think we will try Panama next time.
We loaded up the car and headed to Los Lagos Resort in the La Fortuna area, post coming up soon.
Till next time…