Why I decided against going across every Central American land border before 2022

In short: the answer is COVID. COVID regulations, an expensive trip that was going to be shorter than it would be worth it, and a very strict border.

As an American, I realize that a “strict” border is a normal border to everyone else. I’m not blind to that, and that’s why I am always in awe of travelers from all over the world, particularly not from Europe, Canada, or the States. If you’re traveling from outside of these areas, this whirlwind I went through with trying to figure out going to Nicaragua as a solo female traveler from its neighbor Costa Rica is probably what your normal travel arrangements look like. And it’s hellish.

These are the kind of trips that you have to plan in advance, and I very rarely travel like that. I’ve spent countless mornings walking around cities looking for hostels with availability, changing plans last minute because I changed my mind the day of on what I wanted to do, or times like this morning where I woke up at 7 AM to sit out front on the street of the coworking cafe for an hour, because it hadn’t opened yet. I had a plan to make and a bus to catch at 9 AM. I quite literally had no other choice. And almost all of my travel plans look like this. I believe in the value of spontaneity on these trips, that way I never miss an adventure that I want to do. I have no plans, so I have no limits.

9 AM rainy bus ride back to San Jose, Costa Rica

Or so I thought. I arrived back to Puerto Viejo, Limón, Costa Rica and went into the booth to buy my shuttle ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I was automatically told no. “You have to email the information email”. That’s never a good sign, I thought. Especially since I wanted to leave the following day. I asked if anything was necessary to travel to Nicaragua regarding COVID regulations, as for Costa Rica we needed to do a health pre-check form to get in the country. She told me I needed a PCR test. A $150 PCR test that would not have me my results anytime soon, but from 48-72 hours. I wanted to go tomorrow. I was in a rush. I was somehow miraculously trying to go to 4 countries in less than a month. I’ve done it before. I didn’t think it would be that hard. So I went to the doctor to cough up the $150 for the damn PCR test. I was still unsure about the shuttle, but I had at least sent the email to the information site provided by the booth. The testing site was closed for the day. That 48-72 hours turned into 72-96 hours in a few minutes and there was nothing I could do about it.

All I could do now was wait. And then the email arrived from the information email. “Lamentablemente no contamos con disponibilidad”. Okay, I can arrive another way. My dear friend sat at a cafe (the coworking one, where I sat on the street this morning, remember?) for almost 3 hours trying to figure out how else I could get there. I could take Tika Bus from San Jose that would take me to Managua. Originally, my plan was to spend 5 days in San Juan del Sur, and sprinkle in a Masaya adventure in there to see a volcano and go zip lining. After that, I would go to Managua where I would take a flight to Mexico that was double the price leaving Nicaragua (that’s closer to Mexico) than it was leaving Costa Rica (which is further away, towards South America).

A $300 versus $180 flight didn’t make me budge on my goal to pass the country’s land border, allowing me to achieve my goal of passing all of Central America by land before 2022. But when you add in a $150 PCR test, almost $50 in all country’s entrance and exit taxes by land, and a 3 days wait, it didn’t seem worth it to just cross from San Jose to Managua. Perhaps I’d spend a day or two at a nature reserve, or seeing a volcano, but I would quite literally be spending upwards of $400 for a few days and a land border crossing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to spend that money without thinking twice, but I doubt it. I rarely do things just to say “I did this”, and that’s what Nicaragua was turning out to be. I took the night to sleep on everything.

I surfaced the thought again. I don’t do things just to say I did them. If I did this border crossing, I would want to spend enough time to see volcanoes, go to the pacific coast, go zip lining, see the cities, typical things I would do in all of the other countries that I travel to. Nicaragua is also a country with a tough political past, something I didn’t want to take advantage of through my “cheap” (as a gringo) travel just to check a box off my country list. This trip was against my budget and against my morals. So I bought my flight to Mexico City and wrote my dear friend in Oaxaca, “I’ll see you soon”.

That’s the end of the story. I didn’t accomplish my goal of passing all of the Central American land borders before 2022 and I’m okay with that. I never, ever wish to support “I did that” tourism, but rather slow, immersive tourism that supports and engages communities. I don’t want to go anywhere where I don’t have the chance to help at least one person. That’s not what I do this for.

With that being said, I’m going to put myself to work for the next 2 days to write blog posts on Costa Rica and Panama, as well as to plan ahead for Mexico.

Hasta pronto, Mexico. 🇲🇽

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