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Border Crossing Costa Rica to Nicaragua by Boat

Border Crossing Costa Rica to Nicaragua by Boat – Most tourists who are traveling in Costa Rica also want to visit other Central American countries. Nicaragua, the land of volcanos and lakes, is one popular option. While most people cross the border in Peñas Blancas, I choose the more adventurous option.

At 5:30 in the morning, I take the bus from the Bus Terminal de San Carlos in San Jose to Los Chiles.

The bus drive takes about five hours and costs 2.100 Colones (about $4). Los Chiles is the most northern town of Costa Rica, located at the Rio Frio.

I go straight to the government house from the bus stop in Los Chiles, past some small shops and sodas and a soccer field in midtown. The town is rather small, and I arrive at the office within a few minutes.

It is immediately my turn against the “normal” border crossing with long waiting lines and lots of paperwork.

I fill out the immigration form, hand it over to the officer together with my passport, and within a few minutes, I have my exit stamp.

From the office, I go down the road to the small port of departure. Here are already 20 people, mainly Nicaraguan, waiting for the next boat to San Carlos in Nicaragua. The boat ticket for the one-hour drive costs $11.

Port Of Departure In Los Chiles
Port of departure in Los Chiles

So far, everything went quite easy, and also, the boat tour feels more like an adventure tour than a border crossing. During the drive through the jungle, I see lots of birds, hear howler monkeys and enjoy an amazing landscape.

During the boat tour, you can enjoy an amazing landscape on the riverside and see many birds and other animals.

The kind of boat that is used for the border crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua

The actual border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is not more than a pole and a sign.

We only stop at a small military outpost. A group of three very friendly soldiers has a quick look at us, and we can continue our way. No controls, no endless waiting lines.

We do not even need to leave the boat. Soon we arrive the Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. I can see already the port of San Carlos.

Almost Arrived In San Carlos, Nicaragua
I almost arrived in San Carlos, Nicaragua.

The boat stops in front of the arrival terminal. I say goodbye to the boat driver and get welcomed by very friendly border officials.

I fill out the immigration form and pay USD 14 arrival tax. After a small talk with the official, I am in San Carlos, Nicaragua. Wow, what an easy and fun border crossing!

Arrival Terminal In San Caros, Nicaragua
Arrival terminal in San Caros, Nicaragua

Before I continue my way, I walk around in San Carlos. Clarisa, a local girl from San Carlos who I got to know on the boat, gives me a small sightseeing tour in her town.

It is a quiet place with nicely colored houses right on the lake. In the center, there is a playground and a small church. On the hill behind the park is a small fort that defended the town in the past from pirates.

View Over San Carlos, Nicaragua
View over San Carlos, Nicaragua

Normally border crossings are pretty stressful and a rather unpopular part of traveling. An unavoidable part. This border crossing, however, was the first highlight of my trip through Nicaragua.

When you have enough time and do not mind traveling a bit further to the next big town, I definitely recommend choosing this border instead of the main border in Peñas Blancas.

From Peñas Blancas you can arrive within short time all popular places like San Juan del Sur, Rivas Granada and Managua. However, the border crossing is stressful; you have to wait in line, which is way more complicated.

COMMENT: What was your most adventurous border crossing?

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Mathieu Bories

Wednesday 6th of January 2021

Do you think it's still possible to do this now in 2021 with covid restrictions ?

Tim Kroeger

Friday 29th of January 2021

I'm not sure. Right now, it is possible to cross the border by land from Costa Rica to Nicaragua; however, tourists can't enter Costa Rica by land.

Tim Kroeger

Tuesday 20th of February 2018

You are welcome :) Let me know if you have any questions and I will try to help :)


Monday 19th of February 2018

Thank you for sharing! Very helpful info to me right now!


Wednesday 15th of March 2017

Till what time the government house is open in Los Chiles? :-)


Tuesday 23rd of June 2015

Yeah I agree this is the only boat..And I love that trip every time I do it!