Saturday, May 24, 2014

Welcome to 30 Days in Central America (Costa Rica and Panama)

Costa Rica & Panama Travel Blog - Central America




Thank you for visiting my travel journal of my 30 day trip to Central America, featuring Costa Rica and Panama.  This trip was made in the summer of 2011 and I traveled with my wife.  We traveled on a budget, making the use of local buses, ferries, and public transportation.  We stayed at small hotels and hostels.  Our travels took us to:

Costa Rica
  • San Jose
  • Puntarenas
  • Montezuma
  • Cuzama
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Panama
  • Bocas del Toro
  • Bastimentos
  • David
  • Boquete
  • El Valle de Anton
  • Panama City
We made many observations during our trips and thoroughly enjoyed our time in both countries.  Our favorite places were Montezuma, Bocas del Toro, Boquete, and El Valle de Anton.  Panama City was very nice as well.  We noticed that Panama is, overall, a more inexpensive country to visit, and is in no way less exciting or enticing than Costa Rica.  In fact, what we really liked about Panama was that there were less crowds and many of the places seemed to be less discovered.  I imagine that all that will change in the future as more people travel to Panama.  Either way, I am glad to have experienced it when I did.

We traveled during the low season.  Rain was not too bad nor was it an issue.  Tropical rains are usually something I enjoy, as they bring a nice break to the heat and tend to not last long.  The rain is often heavy and powerful, quickly starting and ending.  The low season generally means more heat, but it also means the water is warmer and there are less crowds.  Overall, I love traveling in the low season, as prices are lower as well and I find that I get some of the great locales to myself. 

On our way we flew from Boston to Fort Lauderdale Florida and into San Jose and left via Panama City with a stop over in Fort Lauderdale before ending in New York.  I hope you enjoy this journal.  Feel free to comment or link your sites and travels about Central America in the comments.  Thank you for reading!


    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    Morning in San Jose - Bus to Montezuma, Costa Rica


    When we awoke, we decided to have some breakfast and then head out.  We were here, after all, to see Central America, not to spend time lounging about in a hotel room.  Our bags were mostly packed, so there was not much to do with that. 

    We made our way to the area where we checked in (which was not far from our room door) and asked about breakfast.  We were guided to a small courtyard with a couple of tables and asked about what we would like.  We mentioned we were vegetarian.  Nosotros Vegetarianamos.  Therefore, it was understood that we would not be feasting on ham and sausage.

    After breakfast, we decided to go outside and see the area around the hotel.  It was much different than the night before.  In fact, there were real people outside now, and the buildings and businesses now were open.  Not far from us was a bus station and a lot of shops.  We asked a few people about getting to Montezuma and we were told to take a nearby bus if we were interested in going.  To be honest, San Jose did not seem to be the prettiest place in the world to us, and based on what we had heard about the outer areas of Costa Rica, there was not much that we wanted to see in the city.  The area around us seemed a bit run down.  Perhaps the whole city was not this way, and it's a real shame I did not get to see more of it on my trip, but at this point I was longing to spend some time on the beach and in the water, so we walked around the town and markets for a while before getting a bus ticket to Montezuma.  We purchased some type of egg cream drink and empanadas.  The empanadas were pretty good, but the yellow egg style drink was delicious.  I could not seem to get enough of it and went back for more before leaving. 

    After walking around the city and visiting a small mall with food court in the upper area and using the toilet, we headed off towards our hotel and got our belongings.  It was time to leave San Jose and see some of the countryside. 

    We purchased some snacks and drinks for the long bus ride to Montezuma.  The bus would travel west towards the Pacific coast.  We would be taking a ferry from Puntarenas to the Nicoya Peninsula before continuing to the small beach town of Montezuma.

    When we boarded the bus, Beverly and I found a seat together and got comfortable.  The bus headed out of the city.  It made its way along the highway to and past the airport and continued through some large mountains that were covered in tropical foliage.  The highway climbed upward and then descended multiple times as we passed through the hills.  Eventually we could see the sea in the distance. 

    Many of the homes that we passed were the small simple style homes that we had been used to seeing in the tropical areas of the world.  Some commanded great views from the hills.  We passed through many small towns on the way to the coast.  The sights from the bus were sometimes magnificent, especially as we got closer to the coast. 

    Puntarenas did not look like much of a tourist town.  Instead, it seemed to be a working port where much of the country's trade passes through.  The bus continued through the town, which was large and full of colorful buildings.  Sometimes we would catch a glimpse of the sparkling blue waters.  Eventually we arrived at the ferry terminal and we all were instructed to get off the bus. 

    This was not a large ferry and we would be getting on a different bus when we reached the other side.  There were many street food vendors out by the ferry terminal, which is common in Latin America.  People seem to be very entrepreneurial in this part of the world and many make a living from selling their food.  Much of it is said to be delicious, and it is during these times I sometimes wish I did eat meat.  If I did eat meat, I would save a lot of money traveling, as most of the time, the food at the street stalls looks better than what I find in the restaurants.  However, sometimes I am lucky and find a vegetarian option, such as the cream corn (elotes) in the Yucatan.

    The ferry ride was long but picturesque.  I enjoyed being able to stand and walk around while on the boat.  There was an older woman out in a row boat close to the shore and I could not help but feel a longing to be out there on the water in a small boat, just rowing slowly, exploring the coves and coastline areas. 

    After our ferry ride, we boarded a new bus.  At first we were a bit confused, as we kind of just wung this trip to Montezuma, but we got settled in and noticed that many of the travelers on this bus were a lot younger and perhaps the type one would expect to see going to a place like Montezuma.

    The ride from the ferry did not seem as long as the bus ride to the ferry, but it was still a long ride to Montezuma, and it was getting dark at this point.  We enjoyed the ride and wondered where we would stay once we arrived. 

    Evening street scene in Montezuma, Costa Rica
    After a couple of hours on the bus, we finally arrived in Montezuma.  The bus came down a large hill and into a small beach town that is flanked by mountains to the north and the beach to the south.  The lights of various buildings greeted us and when we stepped off the bus, various hotel owners did too.  Many were quick to tell us how great their place was and how cheap it was as well.  We decided to take a look, as we wanted to check into something and find dinner. 

    The particular hotel that we were shown was a small place right on the beach.  There was not much for a room.  Just a bed and four walls.  Outside, one could hear the sounds of the ocean.  It was good enough, so we paid and went to shower.  Beverly saw a very large and ugly spider in one of the showers.  I was lucky enough to not catch a glimpse of such a thing, as I hate spiders.

    We went out and looked around the town.  There were a few small restaurants and a main convenience store, which we ventured into.  The store had a good variety of groceries and necessities.  There were some pizza style breads that caught my eye, and after tasting one later in the night, I like it enough to have it often during this trip.  We also got some fruit and something to drink and sat on the beach and listened to the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. 

    It was nice to finally be in paradise after spending so much time traveling.  We had left Springfield a few days ago and it had been non-stop traveling since then.  It was finally time to relax and enjoy the jungle and sea. 

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Night Arrival in Costa Rica

    It was incredibly late when we arrived in Costa Rica.  We got through Customs and Immigration without trouble.  I was worried, as I read that one must have proof of a return flight when entering Costa Rica, and I read that sometimes having a ticket out of another country did not count unless one had a bus ticket to that other country as well.  Well, I had no bus ticket to Panama at the time, and to be honest, I was not exactly sure how or when we would get to Panama.  Well, everything worked out fine, and we had no trouble with that at all (they didn't even ask). 

    The airport is about an hour or so outside of the city, and we had to get a taxi to the center of San Jose.  We asked about taking a regular bus to the city, but were told that busses only run to San Jose during certain times, and the next one would not be heading to the city for a few hours.  Truth is, I felt beyond disgusting at this point and wanted a real bed more than anything, and the idea of taking a taxi right to a hotel in the city sounded very, very nice.  We spent about $20 on the taxi and rode towards the city exhausted. 

    Although I was exhausted, I did not sleep on the way to the city.  I always love arriving in a new country and seeing everything (even if it is night).  As we drove, I could see the outline of tropical trees and billboards in Spanish.  As we got closer to the city, more and more buildings were lit up and there were signs of life.  However, when we arrived to the central part of San Jose (which was not that far from the outskirts) the entire city was dead.  Every building was closed up and there were few if any lights on in any hotels and homes.  I asked the taxi driver about a place to stay and he showed us a particular hotel that, in hindsight, may have been somewhat of a rip off.  You see, when we went into the hotel, the manager and the taxi driver spoke in Spanish, and I suspected there was probably a kickback for the taxi driver taking us to this particular place.  However, the price was still lower than we were used to spending, and we were both ready for a very long slumber.  I also did not want to walk around in the night and look for a place when everything seemed dark and closed. 

    What was really fishy about this place is that there were bunks in one room, and although we were fine with taking bunks and using a shared bathroom (nobody else seemed to be staying here at the time), the proprietor acted like it was not an option and wanted us to buy the private room.  It was probably about 2 AM or later at this point, and I was in no mood to argue with someone who may or may not have (conveniently) known a lot of English (especially the kind of English he did not want to hear).

    The room we got was nice enough and the shower had hot water.  Breakfast was included.  There was even a TV (not that it matters, I was not here to watch the telly).  I peeled all my clothing off my body and went to take a luxurious shower.  After cleaning myself off and feeling layer after layer of sweat fall off my naked body, I did not bother getting dressed and collapsed into bed.  I slept like a baby on that mattress.  In fact, the bed was pretty comfortable. 

    We had finally arrived. 

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Arrival In Fort Lauderdale, Florida - Hanging out at the Beach - Preparing for Costa Rica

    It was late when we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, and the airport departure area was technically closed when we got there.  Therefore, we were ushered to the main area out front.  Everything was closed up for the night and people were sleeping on the floors.  We figured that this was a good chance to get some more rest, as we were exhausted.  We made beds for ourselves and tried to fall asleep. 

    The problem with sleeping at the airport in Fort Lauderdale was the fact that the airport was insanely cold.  The air conditioners were on max.  Although I brought a sweater for the cold nights in Boquete, Panama (a town that is in the cloud forest area), I was unable to stay warm.  I laid there shivering until I fell asleep.  Sometimes I would awaken, my back aching and body shivering, and I would try to fall asleep again.  In the corner, I would sometimes see a cockroach scurry by.  I tried to ignore it and sleep.  After all, I would be out and about all day long in the city before getting back on the plane, and did not expect to be able to sleep.

    Well, eventually we heard the sounds of ticket agents talking with customers and decided that it was time to wake up and go out.  We were both still quite tired and now were hungry, so the idea of getting some food sounded good.  Besides, we were both sick of the very cold airport.  We made our way to a Dunkin Donuts and got a doughnut to tide us over.

    When we stepped outside, the sun radiated on our backs.  We made our way to the bus stop, which was not too far away from the door and caught a bus that took us to downtown Fort Lauderdale.  We transferred to another bus that took us towards the beach area. 

    Fort Lauderdale seemed to us a very clean and wealthy city.  Everywhere there were boats and yachts, and many homes were built in canal areas.  Some of these homes were huge, and some of the boats were larger than the houses.  The bus passed by canal after canal as it made its way to the Atlantic coast where people were exercising and jogging.  Out on the beach, machines were combing the sand and making the beach "presentable."  Along the main boulevard, there were highrises and fancy hotels lined for as far as the eye could see in both directions along the coastline. 

    We were quite thirsty at this point, due to the heat and due to not having much to drink while at the airport, so we stopped at a small convenience store and purchased something to quench our thirst.  We then walked along the beach for a while, passing by many people who were doing their morning workouts. 

    We saw a palm grove in the distance and decided it would be a good place to relax for a while.  There were a few picnic tables and showers, and I considered taking a shower, as I felt quite nasty due to the heat and having not shaved that morning.  However, I did not feel like changing into my swimsuit, and was not sure if Beverly wanted to swim.  Furthermore, I just wanted to rest, as I was exhausted.  So, we laid down on Beverly's sarong and enjoyed the shade from a palm tree.

    The area around us looked like it was under construction and there were few people actually at this beach area, even though the city was starting to get busy.  We didn't seem to mind, as the shade here was nice, and there was not a lot of palm trees on the sand on other areas of the beach.  We did not know that this area was the hangout of the city's homeless population, and, to be honest, with how tired I was, I did not care.  In fact, I decided to go to sleep right then, right there, on that beach in Fort Lauderdale.

    When I awoke, I was greeted by a homeless woman who may or may not have wanted some of my money.  She seemed nice enough, maybe too nice.  We sat with her and talked for a while about the life of the less fortunate in Florida.  She had all sorts of wild plans for her future.  Sometimes I felt like falling back to sleep, but instead figured that we really needed some food and should soon get going to get something. 

    After cleaning up a bit (no shower, sadly) we made our way back towards the bus stop.  The heat was extremely hot now and the sun was beating down our backs.  We walked forth, absorbing the sun, with our bags on our shoulders.  I felt better for having a nap, but all the more disgusting.  Maybe I should have taken a shower at the beach?

    We caught a bus and made our way to a Denny's, where we had a vegetarian hamburger each with fries.  We then made our way back to the airport to wait a few hours for our flight.  The meal was good, and so was what we saw of the city.  But, the truth is, we had expected to be in Central America at this time and we were truly excited to see some of Costa Rica.  And I knew that the heat here in Florida was nothing compared to what I would be feeling closer to the Equator. 

    Luckily, our plane to San Jose boarded on time, even though while we waited at the airport, we heard many angry passengers from other flights that were late or delayed.  One such individual was on vacation for a week and had missed a few days by a delayed flight.  I could not help but feel bad for her, as it would truly be awful to have to cut a vacation in half due to airline troubles.  That is one reason why I like to take long trips, in case something sets us back.  I remember back to Singapore when I was sick for a few days, and if I had only a small time in Asia, I would have lost a lot by not being able to do much.  However, this woman seemed to only have a few days off work and did not have the luxury of a long vacation, and she was clearly disappointed.  I don't blame her.

    The flight to San Jose would be longer than the flight to Florida, and by the time we would find a place to stay (which we had not yet, as we just found out about going to San Jose instead of Panama City), we were wondering where we would sleep.  Therefore, just like the previous flight, we slept on the plane on this flight.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Preparing for Central America



    Today we left Springfield, MA and made our way to drop off our ferrets at the Educated Ferret Rescue in South Hadley.   The woman who owns The Educated Ferret is named Donna and she is a very nice woman.  We were worried about leaving our pets behind for a month while we are in Central America, but after meeting Donna, we are sure that they will be in good hands.

    Donna gave us a coloring book with information on the rescue and we have it with us, as we are not stopping by the apartment before we catch our flight.  It is something else to carry with us, but it may make for some good reading.

    Speaking of carrying things with us, we have only packed two very small bags full of clothing and necessities.  We have never traveled so lightly before and we are curious to see how well we do in Central America with bags that are maybe twice the size of our heads.  They fit right under the seat on the plane, and therefore, we do not have to pay anything extra for bags, which is good.  We are flying on Spirit Airlines, and they are one of those 'no frills' airlines that charge extra for everything besides the flight.  I kind of like the idea, because I am mainly concerned with getting to my destination, and if the flight was not as cheap as it was, I would not be able to travel as much.

    After dropping off the ferrets at the Educated Ferret, we picked up a eggplant parmesan grinder (sub sandwich) and followed I-90 east towards Boston, where we would be flying out.

    We made good time and dropped off our rental car in Boston with a few hours to spare before our plane left.  Therefore, we waited in the airport before we check in with our flight. 

    After passing the time by talking about how great this trip is going to be, we checked in to our flight.  Well, as we waited, we noticed that the weather was getting bad and that many of the flights were delayed.  When we asked about our flight to Fort Lauderdale Florida (where we would be connecting to our flight to Panama City), we were told that the connecting flight would be missed and we would have to wait a few days unless we want to fly somewhere else.  Well, we were thinking of making a trip to Costa Rica and seeing some of the country, so we asked about flying into San Jose, Costa Rica.  The customer service clerk checked her database and said that it would be possible to catch a plane later tomorrow and get to San Jose around midnight.  That seemed perfect to us, as we would be saving money flying in to one city and flying out of another, and would not have to backtrack.  We were thinking of doing a round trip flight into San Jose before and the cost was quite a bit more. 

    Well, we settled ourselves on the floor of the airport in a nice little cubby area while we watched the sky grow black.  We laid our heads on our small carry on bags and felt ourselves slowly falling to sleep.

    In a few hours our flight was boarding and we headed towards our plane.  We did not stay awake too long before falling alseep.  We knew that we would be arriving very early in the morning in Florida and were not sure if we would be able to sleep until the evening when we boarded the plane to San Jose, Costa Rica.