We left La Fortuna in Costa Rica on Monday morning and got an 8am bus to Florencia where we only had to wait around 15 minutes for the bus to Los Chiles. After walking through town we found Rio San Juan and paid an official looking guy 60 Colons each for a port fee (or something like that – probably wasn’t even necessary!). He told us where the entry / exit building was so we headed there to get our exit stamp, and fortunately only a handful of people were in front of us, mostly Nicaraguans heading home. Outside of the building was another guy asking if we were going to San Carlos and telling us that the next boat was leaving at 1pm, almost in line with what we had been told regarding daily boat departures at 12.30, 1.30 and 3.30pm. We paid him $12 each after getting our passport stamps, had a quick beer with some new friends and boarded the small boat for the 1hr 15min ride to San Carlos.
Not long after leaving the small dock the boat assistant climbed on the roof, took down the Costa Rican flag and replaced it with a Nicaraguan one, then about halfway through the very beautiful river ride we pulled over at a Nicaraguan military post where 4 soldiers boarded the boat with AK47’s and did a very brief search of the bags we were carrying at our feet, though for some reason they never touched the big baggage at the head of the boat. We were now officially in Nicaraguan waters, albeit I’m sure Nicaragua claims the river fully where it passes along the border.
We arrived in the port town of San Carlos at 2.15pm and were ushered into the immigration building. This also went seamlessly and after paying our $12 Nicaraguan entry fee we were on our way to find accommodation for the night. The walk through town was hot and humid and after going the wrong way to find any rooms we headed back out of town towards the square situated on the edge of the lake where we came across Hospedaje Rio San Juan, a not so bad looking place from the outside but on the inside I guess we got what we paid for! Only $7 a night total for the 2 of us, cold water showers, and Wireless being installed as we were checking in so we had everything we needed. Prices were night and day different to Costa Rica and the food was as good, although the town could do with more of a facelift for sure.
The next day we bought our first class tickets at the ferry terminal for the 10 hour crossing of Lago de Nicaragua from San Carlos to Altagracia, Isla de Ometepe, and if the weather was not good for docking we would carry on to Granada for another 5 hours. I was definitely fearful of this ride as am not particularly good on the water and couldn’t facing puking for 10 hours, although my fears were unfounded and we had a very uneventful crossing with 2 stops on the mainland before arriving in Altagracia just after midnight. A lightweight hammock would have been ideal as there was plenty of room on the upper deck to string one up – we chose to pay the 30 Cordoba deck chair rental fee which was a bargain. There was plenty of wind and rain during the crossing but it never got as cold on deck as it did in the air conditioned inside areas!
After arriving in Altagracia we paid $4 for a taxi to Hotel Central and were greeted by someone to show us to our cabin where we crashed out for the night. No views of the Volcanoes as of yet…
Going from Costa Rica to Nicaragua using this border crossing I think is probably far more interesting and fun than taking the Peñas Blancas overland route.
November 26th 2012