Driving from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.
This is the crossing I was warned about. that it could take hours (and hours). I have heard stories about 3-5 hours at this crossing.
As I arrived, I had no doubt that could be true.
Maybe it was because it was a Sunday, maybe because it was leading up to a holiday week (Easter was the following Sunday)...but this place looked like arrivals at an international airport...but with no order. There were literally hundreds of people milling about, and rows of busses waiting. All outside, in 90 degrees with 60% humidity.
It was clear I need a guide to help on this one. Luckily, as usual, a half dozen offered in about 5 seconds.
This is what it looked like as I arrived.
Note that virtually nothing has a sign on it...you are just expected to know where to go.
Approaching the border, again, the road is lined with a mile of trucks. Drive past them all...even into oncoming traffic. If you don't, you will never get there. The oncoming cars are understanding. They know what you are doing. After all, they just did it coming the other way.
At the beginning, show your passport to the attendant at the gate. Then, drive forward and park on the left, near the big new building (that is not being used yet as of April 2019).
Immigration is on the right. But, you start with an official that will be in the parking lot...that you have to find yourself... among hundreds of people.
Now, this is where it gets proven that this is impossible without help.
The person we needed will have a light blue shirt for customs. He is the one in middle in this picture, with the white hat. (The one covering up his light blue shirt with a gray sweatshirt.) There are 6 "helpers" surrounding him at this moment. My helper, Raul, has the red hat. We had to follow this official around for 5 to 10 minutes waiting for him to sign the customs exit paper. I should note, Raul had the exit paper for me, I didn't even know where to get one.
After he signs, we find a policeman (in black) in this same parking lot to review my papers and sign something. But, this wasn't the right policeman, so yes...find a 2nd policeman to do the same...in this same lot.
Then, we can finally go into the building on the right to get immigration exit stamp. The entrance is on the north side of the building. This is $2. I have heard of a $1 fee to get in line, but I did not have to pay that. You exit to the south of the building, then turn right and right back into the same building for customs, where the line was clearly an hour long. At this point, and official approached me and said I could skip the line for $60. This is the first time an official has so brazenly asked for a bribe. I was so taken aback by the audacity, I said NO. After 3-5 minutes, the line has not moved 1 inch. My helper makes some calls...he finds an official that will let me skip the line for only $30. I agree.
This process has clearly gone off the rails. But, we went to that official's office, he took all my papers, and walked away. About 10 minutes later, he returned, and I was all done with the exit process.
$30 bribe and $35 for my helper - it stinks, but that may have saved me hours. Well worth it.
Costa Rica side.
I guess the $35 tip was enough to keep my helper, Raul, happy on the Nicaragua side. He called his friend Stephen to meet me on the Costa Rica side to help me.
So, I am done with Nicaragua, I drove forward a bit, a few hundred feet actually. and come to a gate. Cannot pass, no signs, nobody manning the gate. What the hell?
This is when Stephen shows up to help. The gate is not for entrance, you need to veer right, drive through the fumigation booth, also not manned.
Then, left and back out to the road by veering right again.
Come to a parking lot on the right and park.
First stop is immigration on the left side of the road (across from the parking lot). Wait in line, get stamped. You will get asked about when you are leaving, and will be asked for proof. I didn't have any, and explained why ( I am driving thru, not flying, and not on a bus)...and I was good to go. No fee here.
Next, go across the street again, and get copies at the blue and white "building" - really shack.
This is where Stephen really shined! The woman at the copy shop also did my car permit app for me - turns out it is Stephen girlfriend. It sped things up - however, only to find out later, there was an extra fee for that!
Next, go ahead for customs, where they will check your car. My total fees for car permit were $55 - if you don't use a helper (and his girlfriend) to speed it up, I think it is $35.
Finally, drive ahead for insurance on the right. In this building, you get insurance, and your final car permit sign off, in the same building. Insurance for Costa Rica is $45.
Then, I am done, and can drive on and enjoy Costa Rica!
My bribes and helper fees took my total cost to $210 to cross this border. I believe it could have been done for less than $100 if I wanted to try to navigate it myself, and spend likely 5 hours at the crossing. But, I did this crossing in just over 90 minutes.
The temp was 90 degrees and the humidity was 60% when I arrived. And, nothing was in AC.
I think the extra $100 or so dollars was worth it. :-)