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 person, a 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 maps.me, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Coasting, Along Dusty Roads, and A Social Nomad, for their advice in helping us make this commute.