A Travellerspoint blog

Panama City

semi-overcast

Hola!

Back on mainland Panama after a week in Bocas del Toro we got on the bus to Panama City. As the seats didn’t seem to be properly fixed to the bus it made for a shaky ride. Nevertheless we made it to Panama City in one piece :)

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Panama City by night

Not having a fixed timeline, we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay in the city, assuming it would work itself out. Mistake.
We arrived at a hostel recommended to us by the staff at Agua Lounge only to find it full, feeling pretty stupid for not calling ahead. Apparently hostels book out for Christmas. With no other hostels in the immediate vicinity and with the two of us starving and grumpy, we accepted their offer to sleep in the hostel theater at a reduced price.

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Christmas time in Panama

Not wanting to stay in Panama City longer than necessary, but with a lengthy to-do list, we stuffed ourselves with free banana pancakes at the hostel and set out to the famous Albrook Mall. We would end up spending more time than anticipated at this place as our stay in Panama City stretched into a week.
Having managed to find a cheap a computer we returned to the hostel to find a way to get to Colombia.

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A laptop at last..

As some of you might know, there is no road connecting South and Central America. There are popular sailing trips leaving Panama for Cartagena in Colombia, cruising to the beautiful San Blas islands of Panama. These trips aren’t cheap (safe one’s starting at around 400 US$), but we had originally planned taking this route as we wanted to see San Blas. Unfortunately, December is not the best time of year to go in these trips as seas can be rough and it usually rains. We therefore decided to postpone this journey to when we were heading back to Panama on our way back to Canada.
Jason had done a substantial amount of research trying to find a cheap route to Colombia, and had found a way that seemed likely to work. All that was missing was a short domestic flight. Long story short, after spending 7 hours at the airport trying to get on a flight (it was impossible to book online this close to Christmas) we found ourselves returning to the hostel.

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Airport Failure

As there was still no availability at our hostel, we decided to spend another night at the theater. Since the hostel was already overbooked and nobody seemed to have any idea who was staying there and not, many people in the theater were sleeping there for free. Once we realized this, we took advantage and helped ourselves to a free night :)
Failing in all our attempts to get to Colombia in a cheap way, we found ourselves forced to fly to Cartagena from Panama City on over-priced flights.
Booking the cheapest tickets meant staying in Panama for 5 days longer than planned. If nothing else this gave us the chance to see the famous Panama Canal, and move hostels three times.

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At the Miraflores Locks

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We flew out of Panama on the 23rd of December following a ridiculous route with 3 stop-overs, arriving in Cartagena just in time for Christmas :)

Posted by CanWay 10:41 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Bocas del Toro- Panamanian Paradise

semi-overcast 30 °C

Hola!

After spending five days in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca we left early in the morning heading for the Panamanian border. We were a little worried about the crossing because technically you need proof of onward travel to enter Panama, which we didn’t have. We teamed up with an America couple and a Canadian girl who had the same problem and hoped for the best.
Upon reaching immigration in Panama we employed our tactic of having the blond Norwegian girl explain to the immigration officers that we were planning to go to Colombia by boat, but that this had to be booked at the port we were leaving from. They took our word for it, and it ended up being a relatively hassle free border crossing on our part. Our fellow travelers, wanting to return to Costa Rica, were forced to buy a bus ticket to San Jose to enter.

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From the border we headed further down the coast, and got a boat leaving for Bocas del Toro

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Safety comes first

Our fellow Canadian traveler knew of a good hostel in Bocas, and we tagged along. Bocas del Toro is a collection of islands on the Caribbean side of Panama and boasts some of the country’s finest beaches. The water is crystal clear and small boats take you around from island to island.
The main island is Isla Colon, and our hostel was a couple of minutes boat ride away on Isla Bastimentos. Aqua Lounge is by far the best hostel we’ve stayed at in Central- America. Even though Lazy Mon was great, nothing compares to Aqua Lounge.

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Aqua Lounge seen from the main island, Isla Colon

The hostel is built on stilts over crystal clear, warm Caribbean water with holes cut out in the outside decks creating “swimming pools”.

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One of the "pools"

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Jason enjoying life

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Even though the location is perfect, it really is the staff that makes this hostel so awesome. There is a very relaxed vibe during the day, with lounge music playing as you either float around in the ocean or snooze on the deck. The bar is cheap, with happy hour until 7 p.m, the food is good, bathrooms and showers are clean, you can use the kitchen and there’s free breakfast.

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Swings over the "pool". Local kids could do all kinds of crazy tricks off these things

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Tough life

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The hostel cat

To Jason’s great satisfaction beer pong seems to be the “sport” of choice at Aqua Lounge, with the bartenders, cook and other staff members showing off their skills on a daily basis.

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Bocas is a party place, there’s no denying it. Different bars host the "main party" at different days of the week. It’s a good idea because this way everyone ends up at the same place and you don’t have to worry about what bar to go to, which when in a group always seems to be a hard decision after a few drinks.

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Mondo Taitu, one of the Isla Colon hostels with a great bar. Beer is 50 cents during Happy Hour :)

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No night out without a swim at the bar. Many of Bocas' bars are on stilts above the water.

Aqua Lounge hosts some great parties twice a week with most of the young tourist crowd on Isla Colon boating over to join in.

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Richie and J.J tending bar. J.J is also an awesome cook :)

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Aqua's main bar

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Why does he always shave like this when he's drunk? Jas with Will and Hannes, more great people from the Aqua family :)

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It got messy...

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Some of the people who made our time in Bocas awesome :)

Even though we spent a lot of time just hanging out at Aqua Lounge (rainy season, we saw some serious rain fall here) we did make it to one of the many beaches Bocas is famous for. Jason even caught his first proper wave. Yay :)

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Our stay in Bocas ended up being longer than planned, and after a week we reluctantly headed back to the mainland. Now we had to figure out a way to get to Colombia before Christmas without completely destroying our budget….

Posted by CanWay 11:20 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Caribbean Costa Rica

semi-overcast 35 °C

Hola!

From Montezuma we crossed Costa Rica to spend some time on the Caribbean coast. After spending a night in San Jose we arrived in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca close to the Panamanian border.

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Voss on the liquor shelf? Norwegian water is THAT good.

Following recommendations from a couple we met in San Jose we checked into Rocking J’s hostel about a 15 minute walk from town. They have all kinds of accommodations in this place ranging from hammocks to a small apartment. We decided on a tent set up on the second floor.

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As good a reputation as Rocking J’s has, we found it overpriced and very profit driven. After looking around town we found that we could get a private room right on the beach with a view for about the same price as our tent at. Needless to say, we got out of there the next day.
Even though we didn’t love our tent Rocking J’s had a good mix of people, and our one night there turned into a long one. After playing flippy cup for a while we hung out at the hostel bar with our new found friends before we hit the tent. It was not fun getting up before check-out the next morning.

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Flippy Cup

All settled at our new place, The Lazy Mon, we walked the five meters to the beach.

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Our room

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Balcony just outside the room with downstairs bar

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Beach right outside our hostel

For someone who’s never seen the Caribbean ocean before (like me) it is absolutely delightful! The water is so much clearer than in the Pacific and the sand is whiter and softer. As the rainy season was just ending we had a couple of showers a day, but we’d usually get some hours of sunshine mid-day.

Our hostel being right on the beach and with a fully equipped kitchen, we had no reason to leave the hostel area. Even at night we found ourselves spending most of our time here, as there was a bar downstairs with free pool, ping pong, fussball and Play station kinetic.
Another plus for cheap backpackers was that we could hang out on the terrace just outside our room that overlooked the bar, listen to the live music and mix our own drinks in the kitchen before eventually heading downstairs :) We didn’t even have to leave to go wildlife watching as there was a sloth living in the trees just outside the hostel, and tended to retreat to the kitchen window when the music got too loud at night.

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Our breakfast, lunch and dinner view

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Doug the hostel Sloth

Even though we had a good time at the “Lazy Mon” Costa Rica was not our favourite country. We didn't think it had the charm of other Central-American countries and it is also fairly expensive compared to its neighbours. Maybe we didn't go to the right places, but that's our opinion anyway. Therefore we decided to get going to Panama which was only a short bus ride away :)

Posted by CanWay 06:38 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Costa Rica- La Pura Vida

sunny 35 °C

Hola!

After partying for five days in San Juan del Sur, we figured it was time to move on. San Juan is close to the Nicaragua- Costa Rica border, and waking up way too early we got in a taxi with three fellow travelers. It made for a fairly uncomfortable ride with four girls in the back balancing two backpacks on our laps, and Jason in front chatting with the taxi driver. At the border we got to wait in line for about three hours with a collection of pubescent girls and boys who appeared to be part of some Costa Rican sports team. Latin Americans in general are pretty loud and tend to sing and whistle as if in the comfort of their own shower regardless of where they are. 14-16 year olds seem to take no notice of the outside world whatsoever, so when we finally found ourselves on a bus heading further into Costa Rica we appreciated the relatively quiet rumble and rattle of the bus.

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Crossing the border

We had planned our first stop in Costa Rica to be Montezuma. It took us two days to get there from San Juan on several buses and a ferry.

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On the way to Montezuma

Montezuma is a very relaxed beach town on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. It has a reputation of being a hippie town, and the locals just refer to it as "Montefumar". ( For those of you who don't speak Spanglish; "fumar" is the Spanish for "to smoke")
We settled in at a hostel right on the beach, and spent the next days walking along the endless expanses of beach, and trying to catch monkeys on film in the jungle.

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Breakfast View

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Beach just outside the hostel

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Montezuma Beach

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Strange Crab

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Montezuma Monkeys

As many other beach towns, Montezuma doesn't offer much else than relaxation, tanning and beer. Our biggest achievement except developing sunburns was getting new books.

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Bookstore Cat

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Montezuma Bathroom

After four days of beach combing we went back on the ferry and started our crossing of Costa Rica, to hit the Caribbean ocean for the first time on this trip :)

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Hasta luego Montezuma!

Posted by CanWay 15:46 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (4)

Beer and Beaches in San Juan del Sur

sunny 30 °C

Hola!!

After spending two days on Isla Ometepe we left the island for San Juan del Sur along with Ali and Sean, The Kiwis :) After a rather uneventful ferry and chicken bus ride we found ourselves on the beach again.
After going from hostel to hostel looking for the best deal in town we settled for a cute little guest house called Chale's. If you're ever heading to San Juan Chale's is highly recommended, cheap, clean and friendly it's definitely one of the better deals in town if you're looking for a double :)

San Juan is close to several beaches, many of them good for surfing. You can get to the beaches by 4x4 jeeps or buses. For the our first day we hang out on the city beach and got to know the small town.

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San Juan

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Tropical christmas preparations

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City Beach Sunset

As for many of the small beach town we've been to, there is not much to do in San Juan other than lounge on the beach and party. Hanging out with Sean and Ali we soon met up with a group of German, Aussie and Canadian travellers. Needless to say we ended up partying a fair bit.

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Roof top party

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Jason's new stache

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"The Taco Stop" mandatory post-bar food

The partying might have gotten the better of us, as we only managed to make it to one of the surrounding beaches once....

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Hung over...

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On the way to Playa Maderas

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Inside each of these shells there's a crab feasting on corn. At Maderas

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Maderas Sunset

Jason has a small obsession with sunsets, and on one of our last nights in town we went to "The Naked Tiger", a hostel up on a hill overlooking the bay, to see it from there. It's quite a way from the beach, but they have a free shuttle down to the center of town every two hours. It seemed like a pretty cool place, and if we were staying longer, we might have moved up there for a couple of nights.

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The Naked Tiger Sunset

Even though there's not much to say about our stay in San Juan, it is still one of our favourite places on this trip. It is not too touristy yet and pretty laid back :)

From San Juan we planned to make our way to Costa Rica, which is only about an hour away by bus. Pictures will be up later :)

Posted by CanWay 08:55 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

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