TICONUEVO | MARCH 29, 2014
Our 90-day visa was expiring and we needed to leave Costa Rica and re-enter to re-new our visa in order to keep our U.S. driver’s license and Costa Rican driver’s insurance in force. We couldn’t afford the time and expense to fly out to some airport in the States. And other than the visa issue, we had no pressing reason to go there in the first place.
As I said last week, Costa Rica’s only bordering nations, Panama and Nicaragua, are the closest exit points. You can fly, take a bus, take a tour bus (complete with lodging and meals) or get yourself to the border and either walk across or take a water taxi at a number of border crossings. In most cases, a trip to Nicaragua will be far less expensive in time and money. At the moment, it may also be much less risky than heading southeast to Panama due issues some folks have experienced at the border upon attempting to return to Costa Rica. You can even make an inexpensive mini-vacation out of it if you decide to visit large cities like Managua or Grenada.
Just as a number of ex-pats before us, we decided to head for San Carlos, Nicaragua (no to be mistaken with San Carlos – Costa Rica or Ciudad Quesada) via the water taxi from Los Chiles, Costa Rica on the Rio Frio river. The best way to go to Los Chiles from about anywhere in the Central Valley will take you through the city of Naranjo. The drive from Naranjo normally takes about 3 ½ hours across some very good roads. Allow enough time for the drive as there is only one water taxi a day that is supposed to leave Los Chiles at 12:30PM, seats are limited and you will need to buy your spot on the boat and accomplish several tasks before it leaves. We wound up running into a fairly long traffic control delay for a repaving project, but we still made it in about 3 ½ hours. It’s a very pretty drive and a completely different landscape from the one you’ll see in the Central Valley as you drop from 3,000 feet to nearly sea level passing pastures and pineapple farms on the lightly travelled highway. As is normal, direction signage is minimal and using a GPS helped us to find our way.
How to drive from the Central Valley to Los Chiles
For our first visit to the sleepy little town of Los Chiles, we also had help from blog posting on a great new website, Que Pasa Grecia. The blog is complete with instructions, advice and even photos about the couple’s Los Chiles-San Carlos experience. There was a photo of every place we would need to find (they were all located behind the town square and near the Rio Frio.) We printed out the instruction blog, photos and all and took it with us. Our blog printout wasn’t perfect as the exact “Los Chiles exit system” is “a bit fluid,” but once in Los Chiles, there is little signage to identify important buildings and locations and no instructions of any kind are posted. So, the photos and instructions helped us immensely. You can print out the Los Chiles-San Carlos blog by clicking here.
Where to get your ticket for the boatin Los Chiles Where to board the boat in Los Chiles
(images courtesy of Quepasagrecia.com)
We paid for our ride to Nicaragua first, then paid for and got our passport exit stamp at the poorly marked Costa Rican immigration building across the street from the ticket table. We decided not to attempt our return trip to the Central Valley on the same day and next rented a room at one of the two adjacent tourist hotels in Los Chiles. Our hotel room was clean, air conditioned and came with breakfast and secure off-street parking included.
Down the street from all of this and near the Rio Frio was a makeshift “official card table” where we paid a small port exit tax. The taxi loading dock was about 100 feet from there and we waited at that spot along with the other passengers for our boat to start loading. After watching the tourist boats and buses load and unload it got a bit boring. So, I also suggest you bring along a lunch and a something to do or read. On the day our friends took the taxi it left fifteen minutes ahead of schedule at 12:15. However the taxi on our trip didn’t leave until 1:30 and we were pretty hungry by the time we arrived at San Carlos and got through Nicaraguan immigration.
San Juan river during the trip Arrival in San Carlos - Nicaragua
Depending on your luck, the trip along the river to San Carlos – Nicaragua, can offer views of wildlife as well as a number of primitive habitations where residents try to eke out a living. There is also an amusing “changing of the flags” ceremony on the boat from Costa Rican to Nicaraguan just before a stop at the actual border where friendly Nicaraguan soldiers perform an inspection and pass you along to continue your journey to the lake-based “port” of San Carlos. With our late departure and late arrival in San Carlos at around 2:40, we had no time to explore the town and only few minutes to get ten dollars exchanged (they won’t exchange colones) and grab a very quick bite using our Nicaraguan notes before racing back to catch the only return taxi, which started the loading process at 3:00. Plan to take dollars to Nicaragua as they work best for all of the official immigration processing, entry and exit stamps and return water taxi ride.
When we returned to Los Chiles, we made our way back to Costarican immigration to get our passports stamped with our renewed visas. I showed the immigration agent my approved residency application and I was expecting to get a 90-day visa, but my agent, I think as a favor, left the “90 days” off of my stamp. I weighed the idea of travelling within Costa Rica for an unlimited number of days with an open-ended visa, but I decided that we should have our “cedula de residencia” fairly soon and only bad things were likely to happen with a visa not reflecting a specific number of valid days. I returned to the line, thanked him for trying to do me a favor, but requested he add the “90 days.”
With a confused look, he did so. Pura vida.
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica and used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.