Nicaragua Visa Run

Abby TegneliaLast week I crossed a common expat milestone – my first Nicaragua visa run! I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Living in tiny, relaxed Coco is a dream, but I guess I’d missed the excitement of leaving the country on trips or… having any excitement in my life at all. Thank goodness my friends in other time zones (yes, you @theaussienomad) kept me occupied! At six am I took my little bag and headed out. Within a few hours, our little van of intrepid tourists had reached the border.

The actual crossing into Nicaragua turned out to be quite the social call. First of all, our fearless driver, Gustavo, was not about to wait in line behind the dozen or so massive semis that were waiting to cross. So he barreled onto the shoulder, on the wrong side of the road, which happened to drop straight down a few feet just past our tires, causing us to skim by with literally no more than an inch between us and a gigantic truck bearing down on our (small) van. Nicaragua marketWhen we got out, grateful for many reasons, to present ourselves on the Costa Rican side, everyone knew everyone. Cheryl, my friend who’s lived in Costa Rica for years, and Gustavo chatted away with some of the other guys milling about, joking with the immigration people checking our passports. It was all very light and fun!

San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur

We were checked into our little hotel, Gran Oceano, in San Juan del Sur, and at the beachfront restaurant by 10:30 am. But since we’d all been up since 5, it felt like afternoon. So we ordered big lunches (rice, beans and chicken, naturally) and Tona beer. I needed some sleep, but every time I got up to leave, another Tona appeared. Thus went our entire day, chatting with the many vendors who tried to sell us pottery and finding out how all of the kids ended up selling knick-knacks instead of going to school. Finally, we all spilled out, laughing, onto the beach, where we ran around at sunset after a long lazy, hazy day.

Masaya volcano

Masaya volcano

Day two was our super-tourist day. We drove to the active Masaya volcano, which emits so much sulphur that you’re allowed to stay for only 20 minutes. (Rules include: “In case of rock expulsions, protect yourself under your car.”) Then we headed to the Laguna de Apoyo crater lake and to the famous markets, where I bought a beautiful wooden fan that I use all the time now in hot, muggy Costa Rica. There, we had one of the best lunches I’ve had in Central America. (Yes, rice, beans… and fish.) Gustavo knows what he’s doing on the food front! That night, after checking into Granada’s Hotel Alhambra, we headed to El Zaguan, where I had the best steak I’ve ever had, without exaggeration. After dinner, we had drinks outside, where Cheryl smoked cigars with the guys.

Cheryl GrantOn our last day, we packed up the van and drove out to Lake Nicaragua’s famous islands, where the country’s rich have homes. There’s an island inhabited only by monkeys, as well as island after island adorned with stunning, colorful mansions. Finally, we climbed back in the van and headed for Costa Rica. It was pretty late when I pulled up the Barrio, and Denise and Lisa were on the stoop. “I brought you a present!” I squealed. “Is it wine? We’re out,” came my reply. “Nope,” I answered to crushed faces, who were now expecting a cheap trinket of some sort. I dramatically pulled out a humongous bottle of Grey Goose, and cheers erupted. Border duty-free shopping: increasing the quality of martinis for expats everywhere.

The following two tabs change content below.
I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

Related Content


  1. Your friend Cheryl looks pretty bad ass smokin those cigars!!! augh ha ha ha…Such a fun trip!!!

  2. Awww Abby I was glad to keep you amused that morning.. well night for me 🙂

    Sounds like you had plenty to keep you occupied on your visa run. Next time you will need to take a shopping list, you can’t be running out of wine now.

  3. What did I do before Twitter, Chris?! Haha. I love our community of expats/backpackers/travelers!! It really does make all of this way more fun!

  4. What’s next, Cheryl?! We have to think up something fun…

  5. I have to tell you one of my fave trips ever was to Nicaragua. I did everything you did and I had the BEST time! What a cool place for a visa run. Next time check out Guatemala.

    PS Eres tanta bonita en tu foto!

  6. How did you know Guatemala was high on my list?! I have a friend from there and have always wanted to go!

  7. Next time consider coming to Panama for the 72 hour visa run, we are really close to the border at Pasoa Canoas, about 24 miles and David Panama has excellent shopping dining night life and more and all at about 1/2 the price of costa rica, a favorite destination for the visa run crowd is which offers pool gym gardens rancho and hammocks wifi and more..

    come to panama, safe cheap and fun…

  8. Hi!
    Just a quick question. Do you remember what service you used to transport you to Nicaragua? We live in Coco and need to do our first visa run soon. Thanks for your help!


  1. […] Nicaragua’s children Before I left for Nicaragua, everyone warned me of its infamously pushy street kids. I have to say, we did not see much of this at all. In fact, getting to know some of the local children was the most meaningful part of our trip! […]

  2. The Stoop says:

    […] “Mau Monday,” and he makes us margaritas or martinis. When one of us has been through duty-free, Grey Goose makes an appearance. Otherwise, we pretty much offer Wine Wednesday specials — […]

  3. […] Before I left for Nicaragua, everyone warned me of its infamously pushy street kids. I have to say, we did not see much of this at all. In fact, getting to know some of the local children was the most meaningful part of our trip! […]

  4. […] Cheryl smokes a cigar with the dudes in Granada, Nicaragua. For more on our visa run, click here. […]

Speak Your Mind