If you’re going to be in Guanacaste in Costa Rica, I highly recommend visiting Nicaragua. Nicaragua is really easy to get to and you can cross two countries in one trip off your list!
If you want to go on your own, you have a couple ways to do so.
- Public bus – you need to take a bus from the Liberia bus station to the border. There are many buses such as Deldu and they will say “Penas Blancas” on top. From Liberia to the border, the bus ride takes roughly 3 hours.
- Driving – you can drive your rental car to the border but you cannot drive it across the border. You will have to leave it at one of the private parking lots which costs ~$4 a day.
However, if you don’t want to go on your own, you can go on a Nicaragua tour from Costa Rica. Many of the beach towns aren’t very far from the border and if you are short on time or prefer to go with a guide, this is an excellent option.
Nicaragua Tour from Costa Rica
This is a full day tour starting from about 5 AM to 10PM so be prepared for a very busy day!
We got picked up at 5:30 AM very close to our condo in Playas del Coco. Our second time at the tour we got picked up at Tamarindo at 4:45 AM.
Breakfast and off to the border
After pick up, they take you to breakfast which is at a beautiful spot near the border in La Cruz. You get a lovely view of Bahia Salinas.
After breakfast, it was time to cross the border. You have to get out to do the Costa Rica exit yourselves but the guide does the Nicaragua entry. You get a little bit of time to go duty free shopping and I recommend getting the Nicaragua rum, Flor de Cana because it’s way cheaper at the duty free store and it is excellent.
Border crossings are really easy when you’re on a tour since the guide does half of it for you. Read this post to see what it’s like to cross the border on foot.
We’re in Nicaragua!
After we got our passports back with our Nicaragua stamp, we left the border and headed to our next destination, Santa Catarina. Along the way, our guide stopped a couple times so we could take pictures of Lake Nicaragua and the volcanoes.
At Catarina, a very small town in Masaya, there is a great viewpoint of Laguna de Apoyo. This volcanic lake is a nature reserve in an extinct volcano and it is just beautiful! It’s one of our favorite places in Nicaragua.
We stayed for about 20 minutes and then headed off to Masaya Volcano.
Our next stop was Masaya Volcano. Unfortunately it was a pretty rainy and cloudy day so we couldn’t see the crater, but this active volcano is famous for being one of the few in the world and the only one in the western hemisphere where you can actually drive up to the center.
We got out and spent about 45 minutes walking around and taking pictures.
Along the way there, our guide told us some history and background about this volcano and the national park which was really interesting. The Mayans who used to live in this area would sacrifice beautiful women at the cross whenever the volcano erupted or rumbled.
To this day, this active volcano continuously spews sulfur dioxide gas (so you might hear your tour guide cracking a few jokes about how you shouldn’t breathe in the air). Right now, as of December 2016, there is lava flowing at the volcano!
If you walk towards the entrance of the parking lot, you can get some beautiful views of Nicaragua below.
Our next stop was the Masaya market, one of the most famous souvenirs stores in Central America. We first had lunch which we got to choose from a variety of dishes.
Nicaragua has excellent beef so if you like meat, order the churrasco or filet mignon. We had the churrasco and it was delicious. The mixed kebab also looked awesome! For vegetarians, the fish is really good. I had it with pico de gallo on a stone plate, yum!
After lunch we had about 20 minutes to browse the Masaya market. If you want souvenirs, this is the best place to buy them.
Souvenirs in Nicaragua are cheaper than Costa Rica and their leather items are top notch quality. You can find everything from leather bags and purses, shoes and belts for a good price.
You can also get cheap shirts for $5, hammocks, cigars and other knick knacks. Remember to bargain! They’ll always start high but you can negotiate down a lot. I highly recommend doing souvenir shopping here since it is so much cheaper than Costa Rica.
You can use dollars at the market but they do give your change back in cordobas so you will need to ask if you want your change in USD.
Boat ride in Lake Nicaragua
After Masaya, we headed to Grenada. First we passed through the city to take a boat ride on Lake Nicaragua which was my favorite part of the tour (besides lunch :P). We climbed into a boat and went off into the lake to see the thousands of little islands.
If you’ve ever wanted to have your own private island and build a house on it, this is a premiere place to do so! We saw a sign for a house on an island for $300k.
After the boat ride, we stopped in Granada which is one of the most important cities in Nicaragua due to its very rich colonial heritage, apparent through its architecture and city design.
You’ll see colonial buildings and churches everywhere and automatically see why so many people love this little city. In fact, many foreigners who move to Nicaragua choose Granada as their new home.
We walked through town towards the main yellow church and visited a hammock making shop along the way.
The second time we did this tour we took a horse carriage ride throughout the town and stopped at a chocolate factory. This was such a fun way to see Granada since they take you to the park, important historical buildings and plus, who doesn’t love a horse ride?
The horse carriage ride now costs $10 per person and is optional. If you don’t want to do it, you can walk around town or go up the yellow church which costs $1 to get a great view of the city.
Back to Costa Rica
After Granada, it was time to head back. Similar to what we did for entering Nicaragua, we filled out a custom form and gave that plus our passport to our tour guide to do our Nicaragua exit. Then we got out to enter Costa Rica and after that finished, they dropped us back home.
So as you can see, this is a very busy day and you get to see a few of Nicaragua’s main tourist destinations. This is a great option if you don’t have a lot of time or just want to get a taste of Nicaragua!
Things to Know About This Nicaragua One Day Tour
- You need to bring your original passport.
- The tour costs $140 (might be a bit more depending on where you get picked up from) and it is best to pay in USD. Bring it before the tour, there is no time to stop at an ATM and you pay at breakfast if you haven’t pre-paid. There is an ATM on the Nicaraguan side of the border.
- Bring small bills.
- Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes.
- Bring a camera and a day bag. If you go in rainy season, make sure you have a waterproof cover or your backpack is waterproof.
- The tour provides water, breakfast and lunch but not dinner so bring snacks.
- You don’t need to exchange money at the border since Nicaragua accepts USD but they do not accept Costa Rican colones.
- Bring a print out copy of your flight itinerary out of Costa Rica to present when you’re entering Costa Rica.
Watch a video of this tour here!