The route is probably one of the most common ones in this part of Central America – yet it can seem confusing if you have never done it! Let us help you.
First – get on the 6am bus heading to San José. Unfortunately, you will have to pay the full fare all the way (6500C). **Make sure you tell the driver you want to get off in Barranca. The drive will then drop you on the side of the road at a junction where busses heading towards the border will pass. Don’t stress, this is a really common thing to do and drivers are used to letting you off. Have a look at the photos on the Barranca page to give you an idea of where you’re going. **Important only the 6am bus leaving Santa Teresa passes Barranca. The afternoon bus does not.
In Barranca you are going to have 2 options.
Take the a/c TransNica bus. It is highly likely that a TransNica employee will be waiting for you to arrive. He will likely be trying to sell you a ticket as soon as you step off of the bus. These tickets are quite a bit more expensive (15,000C) than the other option. Also, I do not know if this price includes your Costa Rica Exit Tax but I believe it does not. Pros: i) The bus will arrive very soon after you do so there will be little waiting in the hot sun, ii) They will help you all the way across the Peñas Blancas border and you won’t have to carry your gear (approx 1km), and they even do the immigration portion for Nicaragua for you (extra fee $4). iii) You get to watch a movie!
Inform the drive you are on your way to San Juan del Sur and he will drop you at another junction on the highway before Rivas. There is no need to go all the way to Rivas as the bus to SJDS will pass this spot and pick you up. All in all you will feel like your journey is fast-tracked by the TransNica bus. With this option you should be in SJDS by 5pm.
Wait for a different bus to pass to pick you up. There is a good chance there will be a driver that shows up to see who has opted not to go with TransNica. The bus won’t pass immediately – likely an hour wait. But, the cost will be much less – approx 5000C.
Pros: way cheeper. Cons: i) a bit more waiting and no fast-tracking at the border. ii) You must also carry all of your stuff.
Once on the Nicaragua side you will immediately find busses there heading to Rivas. They leave very regularly. Ask the drive to drop you at the junction on the highway for the one heading to SJDS, (same as in option 1), and wait there for the bus to pass coming from Rivas. The estimated arrival time varies with this option. It depends on what time your bus passes in Barranca and how busy the border is, but you can usually be there around 7pm.
Price difference between the two: about $22.
Don’t like the idea of going through Barranca to get to the border? There is another way. Go to the Station in Puntarenas and get on the bus to Liberia. From Liberia continue to Peñas Blancas. This route may add an extra hour or two to your journey, but there is no waiting on the side of the highway for the bus.