Getting from San Juan del Sur to the border is super easy. You have two choices. 1) You can grab the bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas in the morning and go all the way to Rivas. From there look for the bus heading to Peñas Blancas or the Frontera and get on. Alternately, you can just take that bus from San Juan del Sur to the highway junction near La Virgin (see photos here) and get off there. That same bus from Rivas to the border will pass on the highway and you can flag it down to be picked up. The only downside to waiting on the highway is that you never know how full the bus will be and you may have to stand. This really isn’t a big deal since the trip to the border is only about 25 minutes! However, there is also a small chance the bus wont stop to pick you up.
(Note: Have a look at each individual page after reading this to find price updates as they may not be reflected here in the ‘route’ section. 2019 prices as provided by a traveller: Costa Rica border to Liberia is 1776, Liberia to la Irma is 2050, and La Irma to Santa Elena Is 1250)
Travel advice #1 (Feb 2018)
The latest blogger to do this route is Vanessa from Modern Mix Travel. Read about her route and experience here: How to bus from San Juan del Sur to Monteverde in 5 easy steps
Travel advice #2
A cool travel couple from Charlie Travels have written a great blog post on how to get from the Nicaragua border to Monteverde. Click the link below to have a read:
Travel advice #3 (August 2017)
This one comes from Travel Blogger Sara at fromheretoeverywhere. She kindly wrote out the who trip step-by-step for you below! What a great gal.
8.00 – 8.40 ~40mins
San Juan Del Sur – La Virgen (take the bus for Rivas, ask to be let off at La Virgen junction)
Should cost 10 cordobas but the guy charged us 30 cordobas and wouldn’t give us change!
8.40 – 9.05 ~25mins
La Virgen – Peñas Blancas (bus arrived 2 mins after we got off the Rivas bus, I think they run every 20mins)
20 cordobas but again think we were overcharged, locals looked like they were paying 10 cordobas
35mins border crossing
40min wait for bus
10.20 – 12.10 ~1hr 50mins
Peñas Blancas – Liberia (there is a ticket office at the border but when closed you can just pay the bus driver before boarding)
$3.50 / 1665 colones
13.00 – 14.40 ~1hr 40mins
Liberia – Irma (take the 1pm bus for Puntarenas, ask to be let off at Irma junction and then walk across the road to the Monteverde stop)
15.00 – 17.00 ~2hrs
Irma – Monteverde / Santa Elena (Sign on the bus stop reads “10am y 3pm” – there is no bus later than 3pm so you need to make sure you arrive early!)
Total time = 9 hours (departing San Juan del Sur at 8am, arriving Santa Elena at 5pm)
Total cost approx. $12 (vs. $65 shuttle booked with private company!)
NEWEST – Traveler advice #4 (Jan 2019)
Thanks Jerome for this detailed summary.
“I just did the journey from Monteverde to San Juan Del Sur yday (Jan 4th 2019) and posting this to help anyone who’s looking at doing this trip or exploring how to do it.
1- I took the TransMonteverde bus at 6am, headed to Puntarenas with a stop in Lagarto. I paid around 1200 colones as i didnt specify i was getting off before Puntarenas and elsewhere in the comments, it’s mentioned the ticket to Lagarto cost 875 colones so make sure you ask for this. I bought my ticket the day before.
Put your luggage on last so you can get it quickly when you get off.
2- I got off the bus at Lagarto, right at the entrance of the InterAmericana Highway. Follow this on your google maps to see where the hwy is and time your stop but its pretty clear as the dirt road meets a paved T. There was a few others getting off there too. We got there @ 750am. When you get off, walk right across a bridge about 150m and there’ll be a bus stop.
3- At 8:15am, the blue bus to Liberia arrived. The ticket cost 2350 colones ($3.90USD)
4. I got to Liberia about 10am and there was a bus to Penas Blancas, leaving from the same bus stop straight away. Just ask someone you see.
I changed some colones to Nicaraguan cordobas from a guy there. Check the rate for 1000 colones. Official rate is around 54. I was quoted 50 which was close enough for me as I only changed 10,000 colones ($16 USD), enough to get me to SJDS before I could go to an ATM. This also saves needing to do this at the border.
5. The bus from Liberia went around an hour until there was a minor car accident near the bus which the driver blamed the bus driver so we had to get off and they waited til the police arrived. I shared a cab to the border with some other travellers for 2000 colones. Barring this, you should get to Penas Blancas in about an 1.5 – 2hrs and the bus costs around 1650 colones ($2.70). I still got to the border around 1145am.
6. Pay your Costa Rican exit fee first (5000 colones) – you can do this at a window outside (its signposted) and they give you a receipt or with your card within the immigration office itself. Go through immigration after paying. This was really smooth and quick (10 mins total). I didn’t need to complete any forms (Australian passport).
7. Go through a couple of passport checks. On the Nicaraguan side, they held my passport for about 20 mins and asked me to wait for some unknown reason. It wasn’t stressful. They eventually waved me through.
8. Go through Nicaraguan immigration, they asked how long i’d be there (2 wks) and if i had an outward ticket (I didn’t as i read it wasnt needed). More discussions and then they let me through. Again, I didnt need to complete any forms. You pay the $12 USD direct to them, make sure you have this currency to make it easier.
9. Leave immigration and you’re in Nicaragua! Walk down about 50m and there’s buses on the left. Take one that goes to Managua or Rivas, check it goes past La Virgen. Touts on the street will tell you the bus is only direct to Managua or there’s no buses or something (neither is true) and offer you a taxi for $20 USD, not a bad option but i was dedicated to the grind by now. I took the bus to Managua – it left 5 mins after I arrived. Get on, sit down and then pay after, a guy comes down the aisle to collect. It costs 30 cordobas ($1USD) to La Virgen and takes 30 mins.
10. Follow this on Google Maps and go to the front as you approach, tell them your stop is La Virgen (“proxima parada a la Virgen por favor”) and they’ll stop for you. Tell them you need to get your bag from under the bus (if needed – “tengo una bolsa debajo el bus”). Facing the way the bus arrived, turn left and go down the road towards SJDS, you’ll see a couple of signs saying welcome to SJDS.. there’s a bus stop about 100m down to wait in the shade. I got here about 1.10pm.
11. I had to wait a while til the bus, it eventually arrived at 2pm. It costs 20 cordobas ($0.60usd). It was one of the old US school buses and quite busy. I had to get them to put my big bag on the roof but it was secure. Arrived about 2.40pm in San Juan Del Sur at the ‘Market’ bus stop which is central and walking distance to everything.
TLDR: It takes around 8-9 hours and 5 buses. It’s time consuming but not difficult. Transport only costs are around $11 USD vs $65 for the shuttle which is still 3 or 4 hours. Familiarise yourself with the route on Google Maps so you can track your blue dot and get off where you need to.
Complete the route and chill like a true backpacker champion in SJDS. Like everything in life, take snacks and enjoy the journey!!”
Don’t forget to read the extra traveller tips in the comments below!