There is one major land crossing between Costa Rica and Nicaragua along The Pan-Americana and it is notorious for being the worst border crossing in Central America. Easily a full day of corrupt officials, border thieves, touts pushing their services on you, etc. I think every rider that I’ve met who had used that route still had little twitches when they talked about it. There is another crossing on the other side of Lake Nicaragua at a town called Los Chiles. Getting to it on the Costa Rican side is easy, but at the border there is a long river crossing with no vehicle ferry and then on Nicaraguan side, the ride from the town of San Carlos is a bit of an unknown- some people say it’s a new tar road, some people say it’s under construction and a mud bath, etc. We just really didn’t know what to expect with that route, but we knew it sounded better than the alternative.
A postcard perfect ride around Lake Arenal and Arenal Volcano brought us close enough to the border to find some camping and then cross the next morning. The area was farmed and fenced, but we found an unfenced part of a pineapple plantation where the fruit wasn’t even close to ripe (important since if you get found by the farmer you don’t want him thinking you’re there to steal) and were able to ride through the spiky rows of plants, over a hill, and into an unused part of the farm close to the forest. Perfect for camping since the hill would block any light or noise we made as well as keeping us hidden from the fields in use.
After a quiet night, we were up early to get to the border and see what we could do about finding a boat across. As it turned out, there were lots of boats that crossed and a good number had enough room for two bikes. The bad news was the exorbitant price they were insisting on for a bike and the fact that the boats were more like barges with high railings around them. The gate to get on was too narrow for the bikes (stupid fat boxer engines!), so they would have to be lifted over- with the bottom of the tyres at about waist height. I was willing to go for it as long as the ferry guy got the labour we needed at both ends to get the bikes on and off. HP2 wasn’t as happy with the idea and especially with the cost since there was prime opportunity to really get hosed (get to the other side and the ferry guys insists that debarking wasn’t in the price and the 4 guys we need to help lift the bikes insist on $50 each, etc). After a bit of back and forth between us and the ferry guy and HP2 and I, it started to rain. Considering the water slicking down the dock and how we had to load the bikes, the decision was pretty much made for us and we decided to take the Pan-Americana.
A local directed us down a rocky track that would shave time and distance off going back around the lake and we were able to make the dreaded border in no time. Riding up to it we were surprised at how quiet it was- some traffic going the other way, but nothing on our side of the road… Arriving at the Costa Rican side of the border we were met by nothing more than the normal kind of border chaos and were able to cross quite quickly- after having customs decide to re-import our bikes (we had gone through customs in Los Chiles) and then export them again. Riding across to the Nicaraguan side we were ready for it, but it was empty. A couple of buses, one or two trucks- nothing. A lady from the insurance office was even hanging out and took us there right away- and explained the quiet. It was the Costa Rican day of independence (the parades and such had been a day earlier, but the official day off was today) so no traffic was coming into Nicaragua and all the touts, etc, etc hadn’t bothered to come to an empty border crossing! Whoo-Hoo! We made the worst crossing in Central America in under 3 hours and with no hassles- amazing!
An so, with the weather remaing blustery it was time to head in Nicaragua.