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Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

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Port Saint Lucie...
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Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

I want to start of in San Jose and spend two nights there. Then head to the west coast for a night or two. Then up north to Granada, Nicarauga for two or three days. On the way back to Coasta Rica I would like to come down the east coast to spend a day or two, and end up back at San Jose before I fly back home. Is this do able? Does anyone have any suggestions on stops along the way. Are there buses that I could catch that would go along this route? I will also be staying mostly at Hostels along the way after I leave San Jose. Thanks for any advice anyone can give me.

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1. Re: Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

This is kind of doable. You should do some research about the country first. You can't really just come from Nicaragua and go down the east coast. Well.... actually, you can - but it is a long and difficult and expensive trip.

I would not plan on spending two days in San Jose. A morning or afternoon is enough to see the "highlights" of the city.

Some helpful websites:

www.yourtravelmap.com - distances and travel times

www.govisitcostarica.com - Costa Rican government tourism site

www.anywherecostarica.com - general information

www.costa-rica-guide.com - general information

www.ticabus.com - international buses

www.nicoyapeninsula.com - information about part of the Pacific coast

Consider flying into SJO and out of LIR. Considering what you want to do, this would be much better.

Tampa, FL
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2. Re: Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

First, you should know that Costa Rica is spelled with just 1 a in Costa, though search engines will probably correct that for you.

Secondly, you should know that IMHO Hattie is one of the biggest SJ detractors on this board. Don't get me wrong, I think she gives a ton of really excellent advice and I love her for it, its just that in this one area I think she gets a bit unfairly harsh.

If your plane arrives early in the day and all you wanted to do is see the city's highlights before moving on, then I'd agree that you could see all you really need to downtown that afternoon and be off the next morning. In fact, since CR's real attractions are its natural wonders not its often gritty urban capital, you could even bypass SJ altogether. OTOH, at the very least, you'll probably want (or need) to go downtown at some point to take advantage of the bus connections that radiate from there. And, if you want to check out its night scene as long as you were there or extend your stay at least a little bit to take advantage of the many day trip possibilities out in the countryside around SJ, then using SJ as your base for more than just 1 night might still make a lot of sense.

Now regarding your question as to whether a circuit like you proposed is doable, my answer would really be not even kinda. Of course, if you've got enough money to pay for private transportation anything is kinda doable, but that is what it would take to come back by way of the Atlantic coast and personally I've never heard of anyone trying that. And if you're talking about taking public buses and staying at hostels, then I can save you having to do the research and tell you just to put that out of your mind.

Besides, the only real attraction on Nicaragua's eastern coast are Corn Island and maybe Bluefield and most travelers take a domestic flight from Managua to get there (there are also natural reserves along the coast but they aren't very accessible). The southernmost major town accessible by normal roads is Bluefield which is an arduous 19 hour bus journey from Managua and then you're still about 100 miles north of the border with CR which in turn is 30-40 miles north of Tortuguero, CR's northernmost town that is served by public boat (Barra Colorado is closer but you can only fly or hire a private boat to get there).

The closest thing that I know that would approach something like that for a backpacker type would be to return to CR by way of Lake Nicaragua. There are 2 basic ways you could do this. The first involves taking the public ferry from Granada (leaving every Monday & Thursday at 2-3PM?) for San Carlos on Lake Nicaragua's far southeastern shore (arriving at ~6AM? the next morning so bring a hammock to sleep on deck or get on board early and stake out a chair in the 1st class lounge area and be prepared to deal with the noisy TV and freezing AC). The 2nd way involves catching one of the much more frequent ferries from Rivas to Moyogalpa on Isla Ometepe and switching over to the aforementioned ferry which stops in Altagracia on the other side of the island around 6PM (again only on Mondays and Thursdays). Doing the route in the other direction, might actually be a little better in this regard since the return boat arrives in Ometepe around midnight and you can complete the trip to Granada going by way of Rivas on another day, thus avoiding having to sleep on the boat. Which ever way you went, I'd really recommend stopping over on Ometepe for a couple of nights (or more) if for no other reason than to break up that long boat ride. In fact, whether you choose to go back to CR by way of San Carlos or not, I'd really recommend you make Ometepe one of your stops on the way to Granada or back (see http://www.ometepenicaragua.com for more info or ferry schedules going in the other direction). BTW, I should say that is also possible (also a much more frequent and slightly quicker 12 hours) to get to San Carlos around the lake from Granada by way of an incredibly bumpy bus ride, but where is the fun of that? Plus going that way you'd miss Ometepe.

If you do decide to go back by way of San Carlos, you'll next have to take a scenic 2 hour boat ride along the Rio Frio to Los Chiles on the CR side of the border (cost ~$10) or if you've got the bucks pay over $300 for a private boat to take you all the way down the Rio San Juan to Barra Colorado (from which you'd also have to arrange expensive private transportation or airfare back to SJ). I'm [retty sure public boats only go as far as El Castillo. Anyway, I'm guessing just going to Los Chiles would be more in your budget and is a worthy destination in of itself whether you were going to/from Nicaragua or not (nearby Cano Negro has some of the best birding in CR). I'm not sure of the public boat schedules around there but you might be looking at having to spend a night somewhere near the border either in San Carlos or Los Chiles, particularly if you do this heading into Nicaragua (again not really a problem if you want to take advantage of Cano Negro any way). From Los Chiles its a 5 hour bus ride to SJ with frequent departures, but if you still have more time I'd recommend one more stopover, this time near Arenal and La Fortuna, before ending your journey in San Jose. If you want to avoid that extra night near the border and the public boat schedule doesn't work for you, it may also be possible to arrange boat/shuttle between San Carlos and Fortuna for ~$70 that will get you to Fortuna by 4 that same afternoon and also get in some wildlife viewing and help walk you through immigration, though that is not really that hard (you can call (506) 2479-8667 for more info on this). For more info on crossing the border (albeit in the other direction) here's a very informative link:

travelcostaricanow.com/index.php/Crossing_th…

What about the part of your loop on the Pacific side? Well. since this is the much more commonly used way of going between CR and Nicaragua, I'm sure there is no shortage of people around here that can lend their advice. I'll just mention a couple of places that make convenient and interesting stopovers along the way: 1) Rincon de la Vieja or possibly Santa Rosa Nat'l Park on the CR side (neither of which is that conveniently accessible from a busrider's point of view but are still doable) and, 2) San Juan del Sur on the Nicaraguan side.

Around here, the most often recommended bus company to use is TicaBus and they are certainly the easiest (e.g. they pretty much take care of the immigration process for you). OTOH, they cost a little more than more local alternatives and I've found them to be a bit of a pain to deal with if you're not planning on using them to take you all the way from SJ to Granada (or Managua). For example, despite my inquiries ahead of time, the driver refused to stop to let me off along the way to go to San Juan del Sur. I had to grab my things when we stopped at the border before they loaded them back on the bus and then catch a local bus from there (which actually probably worked out just as well). And you can't use them at all unless you're trip includes a border crossing, so you'll need to get used to using local buses at various points during your travels any way.

Edited: 26 February 2012, 18:08
Port Saint Lucie...
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3. Re: Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

Thanks for the info Prolijo. Thanks for the proper spelling of Costa. Little typo. The only reason I am going to Granada is to visit my cousin who is in the Peace Corps. I could also just fly there and work my way back to SJ. As far as the things I want to do in CR is zip lines, volcano tours, and a lot of night life. So if you had to pick one coast or the other which would best fit my interests? I also woul like to take some surfing lessons, and maybe do some rafting or kayaking.I love anything on the water. I dont want to do the private driver thing. Just buses if possible.

Tampa, FL
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4. Re: Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

Sorry, I almost missed your follow-up questions. Here are my thoughts.

Personally, I kinda prefer the Caribbean side of CR a little more because its not quite as touristy and tends more to my more rustic/backpacker style tastes. HOWEVER, since you plan on going to Nicaragua by ground in at least 1 direction, I think hitting somewhere along the northern Pacific coast would probably make a lot more sense. For example, Playa Flamingo is only a 1.5hour bus ride off the main bus route to/from Nicaragua from the northern transportation hub of Liberia and Tamarindo is only a half hour further than that. Both have active nightlife and daytime surf lessons. You could even visit the Rincon de la Vieja volcano from there as a long day trip, but personally I would focus on the water activities while there and save that (along with your ziplines, rafting and other volcano activities) for other parts of your trip.

Since you mentioned nightlife as one of your interests, I would definitely not write SJ off as quickly as Hattie did, though she might counsel you to at least stay out of the downtown area in someplace like Escazu, which also has an active nightlife scene. You should be aware that, unlike the beach areas, much of SJ's nightlife is geared much more to locals rather than tourists, with the notable exception of its rather seamy "adult" nightlife scene (which you may or may not be interested in), but that might not be such a bad thing depending on how adventurous you are.

The other advantage of spending more than just 1 night at least somewhere in the central valley area is that it would also make an excellent base for at least 2 of your other interests, volcanos and rafting. For the former, you can take tours that will take you right up to the cone of 2 nearby mostly dormant volcanos from where you can look down inside as well as admire amazing views of the surrounding country (unfortunately not both on the same tour though since they lie on opposite sides of SJ). A day trip to Irazu to the east of SJ can also be combined with a visit to Cartago (CR's religious center and former capital), Lankester Botanical Gardens and the Orosi Valley. A day trip to Poas to the west of SJ can also be combined with a visit to a coffee plantation and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

That takes care of the nightlife and the volcanoes. What about rafting? A lot of people do rafting as a day trip out of SJ especially on one of CR's most popular w/w rafting rivers, the Pacuare, which lies 1.5-2hrs NE of SJ. But it can also be done as a interesting means of going to Arenal/Fortuna (or PV on the Atlantic coast if you were going there). The advantage of this approach is that at NO extra cost (and a slight saving in busfare) you could get to where I recommended you visit anyway and also save yourself a half a day of extra travel time.

The reason I'd really recommend the Arenal/Fortuna area as one of your stops is that it is an active volcano that you can see relatively close-up (but not too close, e.g. you can't go to the top and look inside it like the other 2 volcanoes I already mentioned), but you can also see active lava flows (which are really cool if you get to see them glowing at night, though cool might not really be the best adjective for hot lava). In addition, the hot springs in that area (something you didn't ask about) are especially nice in the evening or day after a hard rafting trip (to ease sore muscles) and are not to be missed. And this area is also an ideal place to do your ziplining, with several different options in the immediate vicinity. Or you might even want to try canyoning (rapelling down waterfalls) for similar but even more unique thrills. Since you like water sports, how about stand up paddleboarding (SUP) which is another unique activity that can be done on nearby Lake Arenal?

Taking buses between Arenal and the northern Pacific beaches is not so convenient by public bus (because of the need for several changes) so you might want to opt for a more direct albeit more expensive tourist shuttle for that part of your trip. Or you could take a boat across Lake Arenal (yet another water activity) and stop in the Monteverde area next, which is good for cloud forest hikes and those canopy activities that you'd like to do. And then take the shuttle from there to the beach.

And while in Granada visiting your cousin, you might both want to visit the Masaya volcano which lies about halfway between Granada and Managua (30 minutes from each) and or take a night or 2 to visit Isla Ometepe which has 2 volcanoes that you can hike up (at least 2 nights would be better to allow enough time after getting there by ferry).

As you can see the larger question is whether or not you'll have the time to stay over at all these places (SJ-Arenal-Monteverde-Flamingo-Granada-Ometepe) even with flying on one of the Granada-SJ legs of your trip or else what you'd want to skip over.

Tampa, FL
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5. Re: Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

BTW, since you're now considering just traveling between Granada and SJ in one direction, you might want to check out "open jaw" airfares (flying into one place and out of another). They normally cost a bit more than standard roundtrip airfares but the extra cost might be less than adding that extra flight between Managua and SJ (not to mention it would save you some travel time).

If you flew into Managua and transferred to Granada, you could take the ferry to Altagracia on Ometepe (or go by way of bus to Rivas and ferry to Moyogalpa) for 2 nights, then ferry back to Rivas to meet the Tica Bus and get off in Liberia to bus to Flamingo for another 2-3 nights, then shuttle to Monteverde for another night or 2 or direct to Arenal for 2-3 nights more and then use the raft option to do the final distance to SJ for your last few nights.

Also, a couple of more water activities I've just thought of: I did some lake kayaking while I was on Ometepe (just beware of the strong winds that can sometimes come across the lake and stir up some waves), and while at Granada be sure to take one of the boat tours that take you out to see the nearby Isletas (tiny islands owned by individuals with their own houses on them, some quite luxurious)

6. Re: Coasta Rica to Nicarauga

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