With Lago Nicaragua and the Island of Ometepe situated so closely to the Costa Rican border, the crossing at Peñas Blancas is a common experience for travellers. Peñas Blancas is usually fairly quiet, but come in December or around Semana Santa and the crossing can be teeming with holiday-makers. Borders can be confusing and unfamiliar places at the best of times and with varying online accounts, this article will detail how to cross easily into Nicaragua and to Ometepe beyond.
Getting to Peñas Blancas is straightforward. Buses to the border are comfortable, regular and cheap. From Liberia, the nearest large city to the border, buses leave every half hour from the Municipal bus station, starting at 5 a.m. From here, the 2 hour journey will cost a bit less than $3. From San Jose, buses leave regularly from Gran Terminal del Caribe. In the past, Terminal Deldu was the bus terminal that supplied Peñas Blancas, but it has ince been relocated here. Tickets from San Jose cost $8.
On arrival at Peñas Blanca, buses alight outside the Costa Rican immigration office. Before receiving an exit stamp, there is a $8 exit tax, payable either at one of the new, but not always operational, ATM style machines inside the immigration office, or at the small, green building marked ‘Impuestos de Salida’ outside. After paying the tax and filling out an immigration form, have your passport stamped and head outside.
It is a 500m walk along a gravel road from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. Keep your passport to hand as there are border police along the way who will want to make sure you have all the correct stamps. At the Nicaraguan immigration, there are another couple of fees to pay. A $1 fee is required to enter the Rivas department of Nicaragua, plus an additional $10 for a tourist card and $2 migration processing fee for entering by land. As a CA-4 country, the 90 days given by the tourist card applies for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as well.
Once through the immigration and on to Nicaraguan soil, you will be greeted with the familiar sight of eager taxi drivers offering rides to Rivas. As a general practice, prices tend to get cheaper with distance from the exit, and don’t pay any more than $10 each per person. Alternatively, if on a budget, there is a bus depot 50m down the road. The buses to Rivas from here are certainly no frills but are regular and will set you back less than a dollar. The road to Rivas from Peñas Blancas is a beautiful one, with Lago de Nicaragua and the enormous volcanoes of Ometepe ever present to the right.
Rivas bus station acts as a hub for San Juan del Sur, Granada and Managua buses and so it is always moving a bubbling with fervent activity. Again, taxi drivers here lean towards the eager side, offering collectivo to the San Jorge dock for $2 per person. Despite what the taxi drivers say, there is also a regular bus that goes from Rivas to San Jorge. It doesn’t stop in the bus station, but can be flagged down from the road just outside. A ticket for the 15 minute journey will cost $0.25.
Once at the port, head through the large gate and to the row of ticket offices. There is a choice two types of boat, which run alternatively from 7 a.m. until 5:45 p.m. Ferries are the larger, slightly more modern option with tickets costing just under $2. Lanchas are the cheaper option of the two at $1. On these smaller, wooden boats, bags stay up top and there is lots of seating below deck, keep any possessions on your lap though as the floor gets quite wet quite quickly. Generally the lake is flat, but it can be a bit choppy in the afternoon.
The boats dock in Moyogalpa, the island’s largest and most equipped village. The large number of restaurants, bars, banks, food stores and rental shops here make Moyogalpa a great location to begin exploring Ometepe from. Casa de Gio provides a free shuttle from the dock, just mention in advance which boat you will arrive on.