If studying abroad in Costa Rica, or at least in Costa Rica for an extended amount of time, I highly recommend going to Nicaragua. It is easy to do, very cheap, relatively safe if done right, and a beautiful country. Here is everything you need to know about traveling to ‘Nica from San Jose, Costa Rica!
You have a few options in regards to buses out of San Jose: private, public, and various locations. I recommend taking a private bus because they are air conditioned, more spacious, and help expedite the border process. One can take the public bus for cheaper, however you could be at the border for hours, so it all comes down to time and your budget. Going with a private company only costs about $27-$30, so it is not that big of a cost for a lesser hassle and more time to enjoy Nicaragua. The three main companies out of San Jose are: Transnica, Tica Bus, and Nica Expresso.
Leaves at 4am, 5am, 9am, and 12pm
Stops: Peñas Blancas (the border or la frontera), Granada, or Managua
2. Tica Bus
Leaves at 6am, 7:30am, and 12:30pm
Stops: Peñas Blancas (the border or la frontera), and Managua
3. Nica Expresso
Leaves at 6am
Stops: Chinandega, Leon, and Managua
Places to Go and Things to Do:
Located about an hour from the capital Managua, Granada is a colorful quaint little town that has amazing architecture rich with history. The town is a great place for sight seeing, walking around, visiting historic churches, and experiencing small clustered Nicaraguan markets that line the streets. Granada is very close to Lake Nicaragua, and a tour of the lake and 365 islands it contains is a must! A tour for about $25 will take you around the islands for about two hours, and then feed you an amazing lunch afterwards. We were even lucky enough to witness a Nicaraguan gallo pinto eating contest at the restaurant, which was an experience to say the least.
Where to stay:
The Hostel Oasis was a relaxing, cheap hostel located in the center of town. This hostel offers wifi, a pool, cable tv, free international phone call, a free pancake breakfast every morning, coffee and tea, and access to a kitchen. Prices range from $9 to $40 for a dormitory to a private room, respectively.
Being the capital of Nicaragua, Managua is a large busy city similar to San Jose. A few must-sees are the Plaza de la Revolucion, the Old Cathedral, and the Tiscapa Lagoon. Managua is also very big for gambling in casinos and playing billiards if that fancies your interest. It is very easy to catch a bus in and out of Managua and they run frequently. I recommend doing a day trip to Managua to sight see, yet staying elsewhere. Managua has been known to be slightly more dangerous at night, as with any big city at night. Managua is also a great place to buy cheap souvenirs for friends and loved ones.
Located about 90 kilometers north of Managua, León is a great destination for volcano activities! The most common of these are volcano boarding and volcano hiking on eight different volcanoes. The companies used most are Bigfoot Hostel for boarding and Quetzaltrekkers Nicaragua for hiking. The hiking tours offered one, two, or three day treks all visiting different volcanoes and craters. León is also a good place to catch a baseball game, escape to a beach, or visit more beautiful historic churches.
4. San Juan Del Sur
San Juan Del Sur is one of the southern most cities you can get to in Nicaragua before the border in Peñas Blancas. San Juan Del Sur is an amazing town for surfing, hanging out at the beach, and nightlife. I absolutely loved San Juan del Sur and spent the most amount of time here because I fell in love with the hostel we stayed at, The Naked Tiger. The hostel has a very young vibe, cheap food, hammocks everywhere, oh, and did I mention the view that overlooks all of the city and beach? It is definitely a party hostel, so do not expect to get much sleep while there, but it is so worth it. Every Sunday they offer a pool crawl for $10 that visits four different pools around San Juan del Sur and it is way too much fun. When not kicking it at the hostel, there is amazing food and shopping in town, as well as an awesome beach for surfing and laying out on. Another fun adventure is to hike up to the Holy Statue that overlooks all of San Juan del Sur. It is about a twenty-minute hike for an amazing view, definitely worth it. Also, from here it is very easy to get back to the Costa Rican border. There is no bus from what we could tell, however it is only about a 30 minute, $20 taxi to the border. From there, you can walk across the border and purchase a bus ticket back to San Jose through any of the companies mentioned above.