We crossed from Tortuguero by boat in 2008 using a regular service that ran from Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo del Sarapiqui once or twice a week. It left from the canal side of town where it overnighted at the dock by the Princessa Motel. It took us to the first border point on the Rio San Juan, which is the effectively where the delta begins. There are border stations on both sides of the river, neither of which is an official entry point for either country. Basically these are the first points where there is an agreed upon border. East of there they have argued for 150 years over who owns what in the continually shifting delta. It appears that locals transit using this route fairly regularly.
The procedure was that the boat stopped on the CR side and we produced IDs. The guard appeared to clear us and the lone other passenger and we crossed to the Nica side. There, the border station was a about twice the size and had 3 or 4 guards on duty. They inspected our documents, charged us about $10 each and explained that we were permitted to enter the country for up to 5 days, but had to exit back to CR on leaving. The visa like document they inserted in our passport was date stamped. We waited less than ten minutes for the east bound scheduled "fast" panga which took us into SJdN. This transfer appears to be a regular event. SJdN was about 45 minutes down river from this point if I remember correctly.
On the way out we caught the Thursday fast panga and stayed on it all the way up the river to a place called Trinidad, the last point at which Nicaragua and Costa Rica share the river. The Nica border station was expecting us and no amount of negotiation would allow us to continue on up to San Carlos... we sort of expected that. We gave up our permit and crossed to the CR side on a shuttle provided by the owners of the Trinidad Hotel. We had to check in at the CR border station before going to the hotel. We spent about 20 hours at this place (population 10) before catching the daily river taxi/bus up the Rio Sarapiqui to Sarapiqui.
Hopefully you or someone else finds this of interest. San Juan del Norte is a very interesting place and well worth visiting even though TA does not list it as a destination. Feel free to write me for more information
If I travel up the Sarapiqui to Trinidad in Costa and cross the Rio San Juan to Nicaragua am I correct that your experience was that the Nicaraguans would only permit you to stay for 5 days?
I am hoping to cross there and continue travelling on in to Nicaragua.
I cannot find any information on what is on the Nicaragua side of the river at that point, nor if there is any connection/road/trail on into Nica.
Do you have any info about the Nica side of the San Juan across from Trinidad.
I may just have to go and find out for myself :)
The border post across from Trinidad exists to restrict CR travel up the river. From that point on the Rio San Juan is fully contained within Nicaragua. There is no settlement there or way of accessing the border there except from the San Carlos panga or the return panga from San Juan del Norte. Boats leaving CR where the rivers join check in at that point if anyone is to be left on the Nica side of the river. Likewise they check in on the CR side if they have stopped on the Nica side. The next border point on the river east is where the delta begins and CR boats head south on the inland passage along the coast.. The same policy seems to apply there. Nica border officials seem to maintain control of the foreigner population that enters this area because there are so few travellers travelling on just four boats a week. I suppose you could try and leave by trawler and travel north to Bluefields or the Corn Islands, however, you may find yourself in a cell (in a very poor country) if someone puts an alert out for you because you have not exited on the expiry of your permit. If you want to avoid this risk, cross at the legit border post up by San Carlos and catch the panga there.
I suppose it is possible that things have changed In the last five years, but I saw no evidence of improved relations between the two countries on my last visit to CR 10 months ago or Nicaragua 8 months ago. Media reports and forums chat seem to show they are still squabbling over the Rio San Juan delta, hydro power and other stuff that has been the basis of their relationship for over 150 years. It is not a thing you want to get in the middle of when there are some many other beautiful aspects of these countries to enjoy.Edited: 20 September 2013, 07:17
there is no boat (or crossing) that will take you directly from san juan del norte to tortuguero.
As was mentioned by the other poster, it is possible to cross between Nicaragua and Costa Rica at points further down the Rio San Juan, but they are military checkpoints, and not official border crossings. While you can get across, and i know people who have gotten through no problem (this is the first place i heard about a 5 day limit. my friends went through like normal), but i dont know that i would bank on that happening repeatedly or regularly as things change so fast, especially since the 2 countries are at odds over that border area.
The most reliable way would be to go back the Rio San Juan back to San Carlos and cross there.
You might be able to find someone who has a boat in the San Juan Del Norte area that would take you down to Tortuguero privately if you paid them. But it wouldnt be a legal crossing, so im not sure that that is recommended at all. (though lots of locals take private boats across borders all the time. corn island to san andreas, puerto cabezas into honduras, etc.)
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