Visa Run: A Long Day In Nicaragua
By Melissa New | Ocean’s Edge Intern. As a citizen of the United States, I am able to get a 90-day-tourist visa that allows me to live (but not work) in Costa Rica. That means every 90 days I have to leave the country for a visa run and re-enter to renew my visa. It is possible to apply for residency, but from what I’ve heard it’s a long process and you typically need to hire a lawyer who is bilingual. However, two quick ways to gain residency is to either marry a Costa Rican or give birth in the country. With neither of those options looking very likely in the near future I decided a quick visa run was the solution.
My Family in Town
About a month ago my mom, dad and younger brother came in from Arizona to visit me. Hannah gave me the week off so I was able to explore Costa Rica with my family. We stayed at a hotel in Jaco, a hotel in Arenal as well as a hotel a few hours south of the Nicaraguan border in Playa Flamingo. Although I had been in Costa Rica less than 90 days, I figured while I was so close to the border I might as well do a visa run. Lucky for me, my dad found a great deal on a one-day tour to Nicaragua from Playa Flamingo for only $130 so we booked the trip.
Our day started off at 4:50am when a driver picked up Adam and me from our Air BnB and took us to Liberia. That was where we had our complementary breakfast. The next stop was the Costa-Rican border. This stop was pretty quick as we waited in a short line, walked into a building, got our passports stamped and walked back onto our bus.
The following stop at the Nicaraguan border was a different story. We began by gathering all our stuff off the bus and waiting in a big parking lot with about 10 street vendors, right next to the Nicaraguan-Border building. Our tour guide took all our passports and said he would be “right back in 20 minutes” and by “20 minutes” he meant an hour and a half. Since I’ve been here in Costa Rica, I have learned that people operate on “Tico Time.” This means something that would take maybe 10-15 minutes in the States might take up to an hour or longer here. Finally, a woman came to meet us at our bus, handed us back our now-stamped passports and let us back onto our bus. After going through two more quick checkpoints, we were finally in Nicaragua!
We stopped at a few different places in the morning before we took a break for lunch. Our first stop was a quaint little town called Catarina. We all had to use the bathroom, so our tour guide told us to tell the bathroom attendant we were with “Eduardo” so that we didn’t have to pay. Well, this bathroom attendant decided to try his luck by telling me it would be $2 to enter the bathroom- even after I told him about Eduardo. He finally let me enter without a fee, but only minutes later I overheard him talking to a group of girls from my same bus behind me and he told them the fee would be $10! These gals stood their ground though, and finally he let them through without a fee.
Next we visited The Masaya Volcano- which by the way, is active. It was actually one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen because when we got to the viewing platform, we were able to look down into the volcano and see MAGMA!! ¿QUE EN EL QUE?** Yep you read that right folks- we saw the actual orange-flowing magma in the cone of the volcano! Best visa run ever!
After the Volcano, it was finally time for lunch! We stopped at a crowded restaurant where we were instantly served salad, rice and then our main course, all within a matter of five minutes. Let me tell you, going on a tour where lunch is provided is the way to go. After lunch we were free to shop at the nearby market, but Adam and I didn’t see it was right next door to the restaurant. Our bad. We ended up walking multiple blocks away from the bus (sorry mom) and found another market. Unfortunately we had to turn around just when we got there but hey, it’s the journey right?
Next we stopped in a sweet, cobble-stone-road filled town called Granada. After about an hour, we took a boat tour on the Granada Lake. This is a fresh-water lake and apparently there are bull sharks in the middle that can reach up to 10 feet long! The crazy thing was that I saw tons of people tubing and swimming in the lake! There are also Caiman Crocodiles (2-3 feet long) in the outskirts of the lake in the more swampy areas. Scary! The Mompacho volcano created a ton of little islands in Granada lake and people built houses upon them. I was shocked to hear how inexpensive these beautiful, big houses were!
We ended up loading back into the bus at about 6pm and headed back towards Costa Rica. Now for the last leg of the visa run. Another border-crossing adventure. Just as we were approaching the Costa-Rican-border-crossing building, our tour guide announced,
“ok, everybody get out your exit-flight itinerary.”
Ummm what!? Exit-flight itinerary? You never said anything about needing an exit flight to re enter the country! I waited until everyone had already gone in front of me in line. I asked someone who had gotten through if they were checking for the return flights. Luckily she said no, they weren’t, so I said a prayer and tried to play it cool. To my delight, the woman working at the desk didn’t even say a word to me. Just like that she stamped the Costa Rica seal and handed me back a 90 day visa.
Sweet sweet success!
**”Que en el que” is a phrase my teammate Kyle came up with. It is Spanglish (a mix of Spanish and English) meaning “what in the what???” As a team, we now say this in any circumstance that one might think to themselves “what in the world!?”