Staying in Costa Rica requires you to renew your visa every 90 days by leaving the country, which creates a cool opportunity to visit new places. Of course, it’s easier to just drive to a neighboring state than it might by to fly back home.
We left Tamarindo at 5:30am and were scheduled to make it to our destination in time for a proper breakfast. The bus ride to Nicaragua was about 4 and a half hours, but we spent another 2-3 hours going through the motions at the border.
It was brutal. First, we had to stop at customs in Costa Rica. We paid an exit tax ($10) and presented our passports for verification, and then went to a separate location to verify our COVID test results and have our passports checked a second time. When we officially crossed into Nicaragua, we repeated it all over again - going to one place to show test results and another to pay the entrance tax. I’m not sure whether or not it was because we were in a large group, but an agent collected all our passports and sort of vanished off? Apparently she had to cross reference a list and confirm the information for our visit. We got the passports back after a while, but had to go back to the bus to retrieve our bags and return to the customs building to have them inspected. The next step was for us to fill out a declaration form, but when they didn’t have enough, the sassy desk clerk told our tour leader that it was our responsibility to find more. Our guide had to drive to a nearby print shop to make photocopies of the form and rush back - at which point a different clerk said we never should’ve had to go through that at all. After that ordeal, we had to present our passports yet again so we could get our stamps and have our pictures taken. (This process went miles more smoothly on the way back).
We didn’t end up eating for the first time until after 1 o’clock, and the meal wasn’t great. But things started to look up when we visited a nearby beach and took pictures of the volcanos sitting across the water.
Next, we drove a bit farther to a city called Rivas where we enjoyed a serene boat ride through a lake island. The woman who guided us there was funny and energetic, telling us all about her love for her daughter, her thoughts about life, and what it was like to live in her country.
To end the night, we made another drive to El Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya to visit the active volcano there. At first we were disappointed that we hadn’t gotten to see it during the day. It turned out that the view at night was even better. You could see the glow of the lava shining as it bubbled and boiled below. The smoke was so strong it made you cough. Your eyes started to water. But still, you couldn’t help but want to get closer and feel the warmth around you as the stars glimmered above. Something about the energy there was beautifully invigorating.
Getting to our hostel was exciting, too. It was located in Granada, which had its own sort of romance to it. We happened to arrive as a salsa class was starting, and we were greeted by a friendly attendant who provided us with a welcome drink. Having gone without food for most of the day, we grouped off and walked into town for dinner; I went to a pizza place with a few ladies. I was excited to potentially go to a bar or club afterwards but the men in town were THE WORST. Catcalling is one thing but this was straight up harassment. We didn’t even walk farther than two blocks but men everywhere were blowing kisses, yelling out of car windows, sticking out their tongues, and making lewd remarks. A security guard even walked out of his building and followed us for a second. When we finished eating, I tucked in for the night.
Breakfast was included with our stay. A new day gave us the chance to see the town more clearly, and it was colorful and vibrant. The architecture was classic. It invited you to want to see more.
We spent the day volcano boarding and that was an adventure all its own.
There happened to be a 5K right outside our hostel, so it was fun to listen to the music and watch runners participate. After breakfast, we spent some time walking the local market. There was an incredible church just across the way and more buildings to see in the square. When the bus arrived, we drove to San Juan del Sur and spent two hours or so eating beachside and watching boats sail across the water.
This town was more relaxed than Granada, but also more touristic. There were hostels on every block and different kinds of shops and activities. I happened upon a local street artist who was showcasing paintings made by himself, his father, and his uncle (and of course, I bought one by each!).
We went up a hill to view an impressive statue called The Christ of the Mercy, and finished our trip with a group picture overlooking the sea.
Nicaragua was a spectacular surprise filled with wonders big and small. Most of us were sad to leave, but eager to return and see more of what it has to offer.
Next, I’ll be visiting Panama and I’m hopeful it will be just as great!