Crossing the line defined in the Cañas–Jerez Treaty

Yes, gone are the days where border crossings involved a mighty mountain range or a river. We were in the realm of random lines on a map declared in a treaty between two countries. The Cañas–Jerez Treaty is perhaps not the best known treaty on the planet… but it defined the border that we needed to cross to get from Costa Rica to Nicaragua.

We had also entered the realm of ‘complicated’ border crossings, as international direct buses in Central America only go between the capital cities – yes how inconvenient.. so we had to get to the border, walk across, and then find transport on the other side. Our journey would be from Liberia, Costa Rica to Granada, Nicaragua.

The starting point was simple enough, we just had to walk to the bus station in Liberia and catch the 8.15am bus to Peñas Blancas border post.

Here is the bus! Heading for ‘la frontera’ (which means ‘the border’).

We were so efficient that we arrived early and ended up on the 7.40am bus! 🙂 A couple of hours later we were at the border. Leaving Costa Rica was very straightforward – no more onward ticket requirements – and as we had been super-efficient the day before and already paid our Costa Rican Exit Tax at a bank – we were good to go and just get ourselves stamped out of Costa Rica.

A dude hangs out by a mural at the border.
Costa Rica immigration building.

After leaving Costa Rica it’s a bit of walk past a load of trucks, and we got stopped by Nicaraguan police to check our passports and make sure that we had the Costa Rica exit stamp. We took a brief detour to get some Nicaraguan cash from an ATM, and then on we went.

Our last glimpse of Costa Rica. Bike taxis offer rides across no-man’s land, but we decided to walk.
The walk across no-man’s land…
WELCOME TO NICARAGUA! ‘We make your stay more pleasurable’ says the sign…. yes, we will see…
A sign marks the entrance to Nicaraguan immigration.

Entering Nicaragua went pretty smoothly as well. There was a mandatory x-ray of all baggage and an entry fee payment – and then we were in! 🙂 Yes, we are the best! 🙂 We congratulated ourselves and had a nice cold drink 🙂 Now all we had to do was find the bus to leave….

We found the bus! The bus from the border to Granada.

Now if you are thinking that this all sounds like a nice and easy stress-free border crossing, then you would be right! But of course this is not what is expected around here – and after the border crossing things rapidly deteriorated…

We had now entered the lands of the ‘chicken bus‘ – repainted and refitted school buses from the USA that run most of the short routes in Central America. These buses are famous for being very overcrowded and very slow. Luckily for us, the bus from the border starts empty, so we climbed aboard and grabbed some seats. The overhead racks were very large and so we could even fit our backpacks up there – so far so good! 🙂

Nicaragua was quite a contrast from Costa Rica – it’s a much poorer country, and also had recently been through a political crisis where outbreaks of violence and protests had made it dangerous to visit for around 9 months. This had decimated tourism and affected the economy even more.

As we trundled along on the bus we got good views of the countryside around, and we actually enjoyed this bus ride. We unfortunately then made a bad mistake…. Because this was a through bus to Managua, it would only stop at Granada on the main highway outside town – around 3km from the centre. This meant that either a taxi would be required, or we would need to make a long walk through questionable neighbourhoods in the midday 35 degree heat.

Being neither a fan of paying for taxis, nor for walking through questionable neighbourhoods in Central America – we decided to get off the bus at Rivas, where we could catch a local bus to Granada that would take us directly to the centre. Doesn’t that sound like a good plan?

So we got off the bus at Rivas and entered a mass of chaos with market stalls, buses parked at funny angles all over the place, and hundreds of people rushing around in all directions. Yes, this was already looking like a crappy idea…

A guy came up to us shouting ‘Granada, Granada’, and lacking any other credible options we followed him to his bus for Granada and got on. Because we had large bags we entered through the large back door at the rear of the bus and stashed them in the space  behind the back seats – this bus didn’t have an overhead storage area.

The bus conductor turned out to be very grumpy and decided to charge us for our backpacks. In some places you have to a pay a bit more on chicken buses for bags, as space is at a premium. On the last bus, we hadn’t been asked for bag payment, but on this bus he was charging us the full passenger fare per bag! Yes, so doubling the price of the ticket.

Now it’s not a lot of money we are talking about here – around 50c – so we didn’t want to kick up a fuss. But when we casually mentioned that it seemed like it was a bit of a high price for the bags, he launched into a big rant about it. This caused a lady sitting nearby to start joining in and calling the conductor a crook. She said it should be 20c for bags, and she was pretty annoyed because she had had to pay for her bags as well…

Before we knew it a bunch of passengers had joined in and were all slagging off the conductor – who was having none of it and started ranting back at them. Yes, so this bus ride turned out a lot worse than the previous one 🙁

To cap it all off – probably as some form of revenge – the conductor declared that he wasn’t going to go to the bus station in the centre of Granada, and he stopped the bus on the outskirts of town. Yes, what a LOSER….

But the real losers were us, as we had changed from a lovely bus for absolutely no reason,  ended up paying more because of the baggage fees, and now we were on a random street on the edge of Granada with no idea where we were… LOSERS….

So, to cut a long story short – we tried to walk, got lost a bit, got a bit nervous about where we were, got very hot and sweaty, decided to get in a taxi, the taxi driver picked up some other people on the way, the taxi driver didn’t know where our hostel was, we had to direct him there….

But in the end we made it! Full marks to us for the actual border crossing, but ZERO points for the journey to Granada afterwards…

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