How to Bus from San Juan del Sur to Monteverde in 5 Easy Steps

To continue our “world tour” South through Central America, we needed to get from San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua to Monteverde in Costa Rica. The easiest option is to take a shuttle but the cost was $65USD per person for the comfort and convenience of door to door service, or $40USD for partial transportation which drops you off at a highway intersection where you catch the local Costa Rican bus to Monteverde.  So, we decided to navigate local transportation instead: we bussed from San Juan del Sur to Monteverde for $9USD per persona savings of $56USD per person, or $112USD between the two of us.

Before you begin this route, make sure you have some sort of offline GPS/map on your phone, so you can follow along with where you are and double check your commute.  We love and highly recommend the app, which allows you to download maps and track your location while offline.

We took a total of four busses (two in Nicaragua, two in Costa Rica), and crossed the border on foot.  The entire journey took us about 8 hours.  The actual time spent on a bus was 5.5 hours, it took about 30 minutes to cross the border, and about 2 hours of waiting time between busses.

At first it seems intimidating to take four busses from San Juan del Sur to Monteverde, but if you look at your journey on a map, it’s a very logical route, and the transitions between busses are very straightforward.  This was my first time taking local transit across international borders, and I’m so happy so were able to navigate our route without any trouble.  Read on to see how we took the bus from San Juan del Sur to Monteverde in 5 easy steps.

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Step 1: In San Juan del Sur, Get on the Chicken Bus to Rivas but get off at La Virgen.

  • Ride Time: 30 minutes
  • Cost: C$30 (Córdoba) / $1 USD

The bus “terminal” in San Juan del Sur is located near Hostel Casa Oro, South of the main part of town. Get on the chicken bus to Rivas, but asked to be let off at La Virgen, which is a point where the bus to the border in Step 2 intersects.  Get off the bus at the T-shaped intersection when the bus turns left.

The chicken bus we got on departed from San Juan del Sur at 8:45am. We arrived at La Virgen at 9:15am.

No problem if you accidentally go all the way to Rivas, but you’d be backtracking on your route. Getting off at La Virgen means you’re intersecting your next bus which departs from Rivas.

San Juan del Sur Chicken Bus to Rivas
San Juan del Sur Chicken Bus to Rivas

Step 2: At La Virgen, Get On the Bus Towards La Frontier (the border) and Get Off at the Last Stop

  • Ride Time: 30 minutes
  • Cost: C$20 (Córdoba) / $0.60 USD

In La Virgen, cross the road and take the bus going in the opposite direction of where the previous bus just turned. This bus will take you to the border (La Frontier). Get off at the last stop.

We were fortunate and had an immediate transfer and didn’t have to wait. In fact, the bus driver waited for us, knowing we were going to catch his bus.

We got on the bus at La Virgen at 9:15am.  We arrived at the border at 9:45am.

On this bus ride, you’ll see a lot of modern looking windmills in the Nicaraguan countryside. You’ll know you’re getting close to the border when you see a lineup of trucks.

Step 3: Cross the Border on Foot from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.

  • Crossing Time: 45 minutes
  • Cost (for a Canadian citizen): $5 USD

Once you get off the bus, head straight towards the customs building to officially exit Nicaragua.  We paid two rounds of exit fees – $1USD, then $4USD, for a total of $5USD to leave the country.  Although you can pay in the local Nicaraguan Córdoba currency (use them up here, while you still can!), USD seemed to be the preferred method of payment.  Adios, Nicaragua!

Then you’re in no man’s land for a 5 minute walk, until you get to Costa Rica customs.  To the customs officer is where you show proof of onwards travel.  We showed them a shuttle ticket on our phones on which we were on a waiting list for which was fine. After getting our passport stamped, we had our luggage scanned through an X-Ray machine, and we were officially in the border town of Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica!

In total, we spent about 45 minutes getting out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Border Crossing from Nicaragua
Welcome to Costa Rica!

Step 4: Get on a Costa Rican Bus from Peñas Blancas to La Irma

  • Ride time: 2.5 hours
  • Cost: Cost: $4.50USD / 2,400 Colones

Parallel to the customs building are several stands and counters selling bus tickets. I’m not sure what all the different stands are for, but we purchased our ticket to La Irma from a building with a green sign. If in doubt, look for the seating area with the most locals.

Printed on the ticket was our time of departure — 11:15am, as well as assigned seating. The Greyhound-esque bus arrived at around 11am (listen for someone yelling the time and the rush of people).

The ride takes about 2.5 hours and was uncomfortable because of the heat. It was really hot in the middle of the day, and even the airflow from the windows only blew hot air into our faces.  Be diligent in watching for your destination on your map, there was only one other person who got off at this stop.

We got on the bus at Peñas Blancas at 11:15am, we arrived at La Irma at 1:45pm.

Where we bought our bus ticket to La Irma
Where we bought our bus ticket to La Irma

Bus ticket to La Irma

Step 5: At La Irma, Get on The Bus to Monteverde at 10am or 3pm

  • Ride time: 2 hours
  • Cost: Cost: $3USD / 1,500 Colones

We made it to La Irma!  We know that the bus up to Monteverde comes twice a day, at 10am or 3pm.  We had about an hour of time to kill so we had lunch at the local restaurant, used the bathroom, and bought bottled water at the gas station.

As you are gaining elevation the whole way up to Monteverde, the road on a map looks wind-y, “like someone’s intestine” was how Steve described it.

This final portion of your journey to Monteverde is only around 38km, but because of the uphill elevation and narrow, winding roads, the ride took two hours.  The scenery was so beautiful with lush, green, forests.  And the higher in elevation you go, the cooler the climate.

We got on the bus at La Irma at 3:15pm and finally arrived in Monteverde at 5:15pm.

Restaurante La Irma, Costa Rica
Lunch at Restaurante La Irma, Costa Rica
La Irma to Monte Verde Bus Stop
La Irma to Monteverde Bus Stop – the bus comes twice daily at 10am and 3pm.
38km to Monteverde, but the bus ride takes two hours.


Overall the bus route seemed intimidating with a lot of transitions but it was actually really straightforward if you follow along on a map, and know where to get off the bus.  We were happy to save over $112USD by taking local transportation, and felt like we had accomplished an adventure in our commute.

Now that you’ve made it to Monteverde, here’s our blog post on: What to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica and Why.

Hope this guide helped you get from San Juan del Sur to Monteverde!  If you have a similar route or any updated advice to share, please comment below to help other travellers.  Thanks to other bloggers like: Charlie Travels, Centro CoastingAlong Dusty Roads, and A Social Nomad, for their advice in helping us make this commute.


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  1. We googled “how to get from San Juan de sur to Monteverde” and came across your blog entry. The buses and connections ran exactly as you had suggested. We nearly missed the first bus as the bus for Rivas departs across from the municipal market (the street parallel to casa del oro) , but from there everything ran smoothly . So thankyou so much for your clear instructions. So many places in San Juan quoted 40-65 USD for the same journey and you made it easy for us.

    1. Hi Doireann, thank you so much for your lovely comment. It means so much to me to hear that my words and photos are helping other people like you make decisions in your own travels and exploration of the world. Thank you for keeping me motivated to keep writing on Modern Mix Travel!

  2. Hi Vanessa. Your instructions are indeed very clear, especially with pictures of everything. It’s a great confidence boost to have all the details. I noticed a couple small errors in currency names. When leaving Nicaragua you are using up Cordobas (not Colones) and using Colones (not Colonials) in Costa Rica. Your confusion reminds how crazy and confusing that border can be with the caministas in your face. I have learned to ignore the ones that approach me and approach one when I’m ready.

    1. Thank you so much Lorraine!! You’re right, I had some of the currency names mixed up — not used to saying, typing, or spelling them out 🙂 I have corrected them!

  3. Thanks for the great post! We did this journey today and probably wouldn’t have done it having not read your blog. Lots of pennies saved and it was pretty simple. Thanks again for the tips.

  4. Just wanted to post and say this is still accurate as of Nov 2019, followed this advice and even the timings and arrival at Monteverde were scarily accurate to the minute! But be careful getting quoted a price to La Virgen with the buses, the ayudante orginally wanted 40 cordobas, when I just gave him 20 because thats what my hostel told me it should cost 🙂

  5. Hey, just wanted to post a follow up comment on this blog. This was such a great post, like you said the route initially sounds complicated but isn’t too bad – mainly due to blogs like this that explain it perfectly.

    So we just caught this today and have a few extra notes.

    – Got to the chicken bus in SJDS around 8.15 but it didn’t leave till around 8.45am. It might be worth the day before asking the conductors at the stop what time it departs in the morning if you want an earlier one and don’t want to wait
    – we had some roadworks so were a little delayed getting to La Virgen. Then the first bus to the border actually refused to let us on (after letting locals on – maybe he didn’t want to deal with the faff of our bags).
    – There were then huge queues of lorries about four miles from the border. This led to our driver weaving in and out of both sides of the road. Maybe it’s typical, but it also added time on.
    – We arrived at the border about 10.15am. Then the border crossing took aaaaaages, seemed like a busy day. We finally left Costa Rica immigration at 11.45am which was a bit stressful because we knew the last bus you can catch to make the La Irma connection was at midday. But we made it! So that was a bit stressful.
    – We then got to La Irma at 2.45pm. Again cutting it a bit closer than we’d wanted to but we made it. Definitely follow the advice of adding the stop to or Google maps because the driver didn’t really announce anything.

    So all good and your instructions are still super great! I guess I haven’t added much, but it was a touch stressful that we cut it fine to catch the bus from the border to La Irma and then, as a result, cut it fine at La Irma. Maybe it’s because tourism is picking up again in Nicaragua and so traffic and the border was busier? Or maybe we were just unlucky. My advice to anyone else doing it is to perhaps catch the chicken bus in SJDS that leaves before the 8.45am one – that way it should all work out a bit less stressful and, as the blog suggests, you can then just have lunch at La Irma.

    1. And, to be clear, the bus from La Irma to Monteverde is still schedules at 3pm (though was forty minutes late for us due to a road accident causing traffic). All the stop names/photos etc are still up to date. We got charged the following in Jan 2020

      – SJDS to La Virgen. 40 cordobas
      – La Virgen to the border. 30 cordobas
      – Nicaraguan immigration fee. 1 + 2 = 3 dollars total (they actually wouldn’t let us pay in cordobas! It seemed like the guard was not having a good day though)
      – Penas Blancas to La Irma bus (same company as photographed on the blog). 2600 colones.
      – La Irma to Monteverde. 1200 colones.

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