Whirlwind visits to Costa Rica and Panama

As we have spent so much time in Central America, we decided that we should probably try and whizz through the last two countries and get on down to South America, and we managed to “do” these last two countries in 20 days – although we missed a lot that we would have liked to do. If you look at it on a map you can see how far we have come in nearly 4 months compared with how far we have to go to get to Buenos Aires in a similar time frame! (Unless we decide to extend…we will keep you posted on that one!!) See what we have done so far!

Costa Rica
A mixture of this feeling pressed for time and the annoying boarder officials. On our way into Costa Rica we were forced to buy a bus ticket out from the capital San Jose to Panama City for US$42 each because we didn’t have “proof of exit” (bloody ridiculous, as nice as Costa Rica is we aren’t planning on moving there illegally!!), we missed out the wildlife opportunities of the national parks in Costa Rica as the ones we wanted to go to were further south than San Jose. It also meant that we missed out a nice couple of places on the Caribbean side and into Panama as we didn’t want to waste the tickets (to get around this, many people fake booking confirmations for flights as they don’t actually check them, so it’s a joke anyway!). But hey ho, we figured we were going onto South America which would also have way too much to choose from!

So after this very rubbish, long and annoying boarder crossing into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, we decided to go to the popular beach town of Tamarindo. How different this was to any other place we’d been yet, except Cancun I suppose! It was all a lot more expensive than we had been paying previously, and pretty shiny and Americanised! The cheapest hostel we could find was US$15 for a dorm and the one we stayed in had a weird feel to it. Fortunately though, it was above a supermarket which we used and cooked for ourselves as the restaurants were also really expensive for us (but actually it did get us back into the habit of cooking which is a big money saver for travelling even when local restaurants are cheap!). The beach, however, was lovely and we spent a nice couple of days chilling out on the beach while playing pool on the rooftop terrace in the evening while watching the sun go down. Not too shabby I suppose!

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After a few days here, we decided to head inland to La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano in the rainforest. Loads of people would have you think that it is really difficult to get around in Costa Rica without using expensive shuttle buses that are all based in the capital. However, we found that this is a lie and buses are so easy and cheap! There is even a website that tells you how to get from one place to another and where to change bus – it actually works throughout Central America so it’s a shame we didn’t discover this gem earlier! Anyway, off we went to La Fortuna, and despite our excellent bus knowledge we made the mistake of asking a local the quickest way and he sent us on about a 3hr detour almost back to Nicaragua! It wasn’t a bad ride though, we were now out of “chicken bus” territory and onto ones more like we have at home where people aren’t quite so crammed in. They’re not as quirky though!

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Costa Rica bus

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Chicken bus, in case you need reminding! (Old retired school buses from the US, so called because it’s as if the drivers play “chicken” with each other!)

La Fortuna was such a change from the BOILING heat of Tamarindo, we were able to make use of our walking boots, trousers, and even rain jacket! It was quite a nice change though and we didn’t mind. We stayed in a small hotel run by a local guy which was a lot cheaper than the backpacker resorts and he was helpful and friendly. As it was raining we didn’t bother with any of the jungle treks, canopy zip lining etc (reasons why most people go!) as they were all quite expensive and we thought it might be spoiled by the rain, so we opted for a visit to the free natural hot springs instead! (We didn’t want to take the camera or worry about our stuff so click the link for trip advisor photos). What an experience, we just spent the afternoon sitting in a hot river (almost too hot in some places!), where there were mostly locals there but some backpackers too. It was doubly great as there are loads of hotels nearby where you can visit their “hot springs” (swimming pools) for about $30 each! Anyway, after we felt pampered by the river enough we took a slide down this tunnel thing and made our way back. It was a lovely day though and still weird to think that the water was naturally so hot! Especially when we have struggled to find hot showers at times! (Not that you really need it in most places!)

Next stop, we went to Montezuma, another beach town on the Pacific side but a lot more laid back and less “shiny” than Tamarindo. Another few lovely days where our hotel was literally on the beach!

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Balcony view

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Montezuma beach

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Alex made a friend

One evening we found ourselves at an open mic night at a nice bar called Organico. The singing was (mostly) actually really good and we were enjoying some good drinks, Alex with his locally brewed organic beer (not lager!) when in the street we heard some excitement. We went out and there were a load of street performers with fire poi, fire twirling, dancing, drumming, and all sorts! We watched for a bit and then it kind of turned into everyone just dancing in the street. We thought it was great! But when the time came for us to dance, Alex felt it was time to leave…apparently it’s ok to sing and dance around the supermarket but too embarrassing when people are actually dancing around you 😝! Was a good spontaneous surprise for us nevertheless!

The next day we went to the local waterfall where people were just chilling and jumping off stuff. We felt we made the most of our time here in Montezuma, but alas, the time came when we had to move on again.

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We stayed in the capital, San Jose, for a couple of days, which was actually our first capital city of the trip so far! (Most in Central America are dangerous and not got much to visit). It wasn’t massively pretty there but it was nice to be in a city again and actually a bit overwhelming when we went to the Mall (filled with shoe shops….literally, hardly anything else! We also tried Taco Bell for the first time! It was ok but the $1 fish tacos on the street in Mexico were way better!). Then on board our annoying expensive boarder bus to……

Panama!
We managed to arrange to get off before Panama City itself and arrived in the second city, David, at about 10pm. We stayed the night there in the Purple House hostel (literally everything was purple!) before heading to the amazing Lost and Found lodge in the middle of the rainforest. The bus dropped us off at the road outside and we had a 20 minute hike uphill to get there, with our big rucksacks and food, but this place was DEFINITELY worth it. Just look at the view!

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While we were there, we won Trivial Pursuit (somehow!), we visited the hostel’s own honey bear called Rocky, and said hello to the other little visitors who came up!

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The hostel had also put together a treasure hunt trail around the surrounding area with clues and free drinks at the end, which began with us hiking for ages up a massive hill unnecessarily, getting lost for ages on the wrong side of a river, but eventually we, along with our Aussie friend Tim, managed to solve the clues and just about make it back before dark!

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Also, interestingly, Tim is a physiotherapist and has a theory about what happened to Alex’s leg which sounds like it could be right! An answer at last! (Obv apart from the Mayan bone healer’s, which I guess could still fit!)

The trail, naturally, ended in the bar (for the free drinks of course!) where we met some others and had a fun night of Cards Against Humanity (interesting with people you don’t know!!), rum, and giant jenga!

The next day a group of us, Tim, 2 other English couples (Lou and Andy, Hannah and Rowan), went to a nearby river canyon. There was some good free climbing there as you could just fall into the water, but we mainly just chilled and swam a bit, until it started chucking it down with rain so we ran back to the shop and made a big group meal of chilli con carne….yum!

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Alex and Andy also spent the evening playing with their cameras as they have a similar one, and Alex got this one of the stars…

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Panama City
Last but not least for Central America, we visited Panama City, which was like the future! If we were overwhelmed by the city of San Jose for just being a city, this was something else!

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Of course, we had to visit the Panama Canal, which was massive! We missed the big cruise ships and cargo ships but saw a few boats go through the Miraflora Locks…

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Still quite impressive! Especially as they begun digging it by hand…although gave up on that one and brought in the dynamite.

We also couldn’t resist a trip to the mall here – the capitalist draw eh! Alex was now set on buying a new camera lens, but we had no luck, seems you can buy everything there except camera lenses! The mall was SO big that we couldn’t split up as we knew we would never find each other again! But we had fun looking around and considering what we might buy if we had money/space in our rucksacks.

We finished the day with dinner at the fish market and ate cevice – a Central American dish where the fish is cured in lemon juice, with onions etc. I was a bit wary, having had bad experiences with fish in the past, but this was pretty good actually!

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So that’s it really for Central America! It has taken us way longer than planned but been a blast, along with its moments! Panama and Costa Rica both have so much to offer and such variety, I would love to go back someday. However, we wanted to get on to the South. Next post will be about our epic trip sailing from Portableo, Panama, via the San Blas Islands to Cartagena, Colombia. Watch this space!

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