Crossing international borders in Latin American is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across borders in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you cross from Las Manos, Honduras to Piedras Blancas, Nicaragua smoothly with or without a vehicle.
From: Las Manos, Honduras
To: Piedras Blancas, Nicaragua
Lay of the land: There were lots of 18 wheelers at this border and the crush of people going back home in both directions as the Christmas holiday approached was beginning as well. There were also a lot of touts frantically offering to “help.” We refused them all, as we always do, but one wouldn’t take no for an answer. Frank (surely not his real name but that’s what he told us) was not aggressive, spoke great English and we’d arrived on the cusp of the lunch time break and we really, really wanted to get through before border offices shut down for chow time. We made it clear that we don’t pay border touts, but Frank walked us through the process anyway. Smart kid. In the end we gave him a few dollars and got across the border before the lunch break.
Elapsed time: It took us 1.5 hours to get through the Honduran side of this border even with “Frank”‘s help.
Fees: We paid US$4 for mandatory vehicle fumigation, US$12 for 30 days of mandatory auto insurance in Nicaragua, US$12 per person for our Nicaraguan visas (which is pretty pricey in comparison to Nica’s neighbors), US$1 per person for a municipal charge/tax imposed by the local town and a US$5 tax on tourist vehicles that goes to the Nicaraguan tourism department. There was no fee at all for the temporary importation permit for our truck. That’s a grand total of US$47 for the two of us and our truck.
Number of days they gave us: 90 day visas and 30 day temporary importation permit for our truck (see important CA-4 visa information below). The vehicle importation permit can be extended twice for an additional 30 days each time at the DGI (aduana/customs) office in Managua shown on the map below.
Vehicle insurance requirements: Nicaragua requires you to buy in-country insurance which costs US$12 per 30 days.
Where to fill up: Gas is cheaper in Honduras so fill up before you cross.
Need to know: At least some of the border officials here are actually paying attention. At our very last paperwork check point a Nicaraguan border agent noticed that Eric’s license had expired and Karen had to take the wheel instead.
Also, our ATM cards did not work in nearly all of the ATMs in Nicaragua. Exchanging cash can be done safely and easily in Nicaragua at either the banks or with licensed money changers that are usually found outside of banks. The licensed money changers offer a better rate than either the banks or the ATMs so check what the official bank rate is then shop around.
In 2006 El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras joined together to create the so-called CA-4 (Central American 4) group of countries all honoring and enforcing one CA-4 visa governed by rules spelled out in the CA-4 Border Control Agreement. Tourists are allowed to spend up to 90 days in total in any combination of the four participating countries. The clock starts ticking on your CA-4 visa the moment you step foot in any of the CA-4 countries. Costa Rica is in Central America but it does not participate in the CA-4 Border Control Agreement so your time in Costa Rica does not count against the total allowed to you under CA-4 rules.
Duty free finds: There are two duty free shops on the Honduran side of this border with decent prices on booze, electronics, etc. Both take credit cards. We bought US$4 to US$6 bottles of wine. You are allowed five bottles of alcohol per person when entering Nicaragua.
Overall border rating: Easy and pleasant, though the fees on the Nicaragua side add up.
Read more about travel in Nicaragua
Read more about travel in Honduras