A Travellerspoint blog

Bocas del Toro, Panama: Empty beaches and friendly locals

Panama is not spoiled yet, hope they keep it that way

sunny 31 °C

Hi Everyone, I realized on Costa Rica entry that I did not properly upload some good pics. So I have added those if you want to look back. I am having alot of trouble uploading videos so I may to open a YouTube account and give the link. Stand by for those changes.

We arrived safely in Bocas del Toro Panama which is an archipelago of islands on the Caribbean Sea. It is not over touristy and still has a beautiful local charm. We spend a night at a busy hostel run by a very welcoming young lady name Jaonella who is Panamanian but also speaks fluent French and English. The next day we move to a hotel next door which is turning into a hostel. It’s a lot more roomy with air conditioning and the lady gives us a large private room because I have kids. We still wander over to the amiable Hostel Heike to hang out and get info on the area. We also book some surf lessons for an afternoon and the following morning. The kids get basic instruction on a beach with low wave action then the next morning our instructor, Miguel, brings us to some serious waves on Wizard Beach. Wizard is empty at ten in the morning and even at it’s busiest there is never more than 20 people. It is one of those paradise beaches you imagine, beautiful colored water, perfect palm trees and no one else but you. Panama has not been discovered by big developers yet, although there are some resorts so it’s around the corner. If the locals cdock_snorkeling_trip.jpgview_from_a_boat.jpgRed_Frog_Beach.jpgsurf_school__6_.jpgsurf_school__4_.jpgsnorkeling.jpgIsla_Carneros.jpgsurfboard__2_.jpgHostel_Heike__2_.jpgan protect their gems maybe it won’t become another Mexico or Costa Rica. There are warnings of theft on the beach and trails so that’s another way to keep the crowds down. For a coastal area Bocas is cheaper and with the use of a kitchen we can keep costs down until Chris arrives. Jordan and I go to another nearby island, Carneros, while Ariel takes a nap. I love these huts on stilts over the water. We have no problem lounging on quiet beaches reached by boat while we wait for Chris. He arrives on Monday morning at the airport down the street, literally the run way could be in the middle of town, it’s very handy. His backpack does not arrive so the next three days are spent exploring the area with intermittent phone calls to United Airlines who lost the bad, and American Airlines his second to last connection flight. United is rude and American will help but slowly as we are now in a remote part of Panama. There are worst places to be stuck without your luggage! We take an all- day snorkeling boating tour which brings us to dolphins, beautiful fish and more empty awesome beaches.We also discover a crazy hostel/bar on the water called the Aqua lounge and if you are not careful it can have the same effect as crazy glue. The people of Bocas are very nice and we get to know a few locals. Once Chris' bag arrives we pack it up for Isla Bastimentos which is ten minutes by boat but a very different world.Aqua_Lounge__5_.jpgRed_Frog_park.jpg

Posted by sostrander 10:18 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Costa Rica - I knew it would be this way!

Beautiful, expensive, great waves and unforgettable wildlife


Once in Costa Rica we headed for the Pacific Coast to Manual Antonio Park, a really special park I visited over 20 years ago with my parents. I found a good hotel near the beach and also at the park gates tucked away in the jungle. For $45 US we had two good beds, AC, big bathroom, tv, fridge, use of some kitchen facilities, a pool, extremely good security, and wi-fi. I discover how expensive food is here not only in restaurants but also in the grocery store in the park and in the town. So we are going to try to live on fruit, veg, bread and cereal. My allergies are really bugging me here and I have run out of some awesome allergy meds I bought in Guatemala. We will be meeting Chris in one week and we are all really excited, I do hope Panama is a little smoother going than other spots but if not at least Chris is around to lean on or vent with. We met a lady,Natasha, and her son, Anastas , the boys are inseparable from the get go and we are delighted to hang out together for a few days. Manual Antonio Park does not disappoint as three different types of monkeys fly overhead. I must hire a guide in order to spot sloths and once I see them we see many but how well camouflaged those creatures are in the jungle. The waves here are humongous and if it weren’t for the high cost I would put the kids in surf school. That may have to wait for Panama. I felt that we were not ready for a three day bus ride to Panama so I booked a flight from San Jose to Bocas del Toro Panama on Nature Air. The thought of getting up at 4:30 catching cabs to bus stations and riding for five hours a day then the water taxi and crazy border crap prompted me to spend too much money for a short flight but other backpackers confirm that yes indeed it’s a long haul and a border with hassles and I made the right decision. The flight isn't expensive but the many taxes, surcharges and entry/exit fees add up. In San Jose we visit the National Museum and return to our fun hostel where we meet a Montreal family The Perraults. They are traveling around the world with three kids and we have an enjoyable chit chat about life on the road.The flight is only an hour and quite fun as there are only 19 seats on the plane, it is a twin otter. The airport is a five minute walk to the town of Bocas del Toro. I know we are going to really like it here. In Costa Rica the slogan is Pura Vida in Panama it's Viva Vida. Thanks to everyone who has commented on the blog, sent email, stayed in touch through facebook. It's wonderful to stay in touch and hear from you all.DSC01397.jpgDSC01407.jpgDSC01399.jpgDSC01398.jpgDSC01387.jpg

Accomodations while in Costa Rica:

San Jose

Posted by sostrander 20:21 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The long Road to Costa Rica

Are we on a highway to hell?


The bus trip to El Salvador from Lake Atitlan was long and uneventful. While at the border two women from our bus were detained almost an hour, they were visibly shaken up by it. Once we crossed the border our bus was stopped three times by very heavily armed police doing routine checks on buses. Really Wow!
San Salvador is far more modern then we had imagined! Although I must admit we saw it from the dark!Once the bus dropped us off we had an awesome cab driver who took us to a nearby restaurant - Tony Romas!
Our next bus left at 3am so we reluctantly got a room at the bus station for a few hours. Not a pleasant scene.
While in San Salvador I made a critical calculation error and essentially left the country with no money but the driver promised he would stop at a bank machine. But he didn’t stop until Nicaragua and in Nicaragua my bank cards were not working. Yikes, I had to borrow money from the driver until Managua in order to pay entrance fees to two countries. This is every backpackers nightmare and yet we have all found ourselves in this situation. Finally after a cab ride and 4 bank machines we find one that works. An American lady behind me at the machine said yes, this was a common problem in Nic. with North American bank cards. Well that doesn’t sound good to me as it would only let me withdraw a minimal amount but I am able to also get $200 emergency American dollars. We were so mentally exhausted and tired from the heat that we paid the same kind cab driver to take us to Granada, a town south of Managua with colonial charm - that's what the guide book said! He drops us off at Oasis hostel and it was an oasis from a town and country that has been clearly neglected by it's government and is teeming with poverty, in my opinion. Although Grenada has beautiful colonial buildings and parks, they are decaying and have not had the TLC required for such old majestic beauties in the tropical heat. The below pictures were taken at 6am and I swear they clean that city all night because by 5pm it is a swamp of market entrails.
We spend extra money for three beds and AC because I really need a good night sleep. Without bus reservations we cannot leave Nicaragua on the Tica first class bus so I decide to head for the coast on a chicken bus. It was a pleasant ride but the weather isn't that great and I can tell Ariel is not comfortable at all in Nicaragua. Too much smell, too much poverty, too much everything so from the coast we head for the border which is very close. It is the most chaotic border we have experienced and I am completely confused as to where I go and who stamps what. It didn't occur to me that I had only paid (twice, wierd) and stamped in one area even though the passport was checked and rechecked (by who I don't know) Another critical mistake on my part. We board a bus in Costa Rica and a half hour down the road the bus is boarded by cops that check our passports. Ours are not stamped correctly and he tells us to get off the bus in the middle of the highway and return to the border. If that police officer could understand English I would be in jail right now! I am able to say to him in Spanish that' it's unbelievable that he would do this to a mother and her children without offering better solutions to this problem. I also tell him that he better damn well flag a bus down going back to the border because I am not hitchhiking with two kids. Beeeeep Beeeeep. That's me swearing again.
A bus shows up moments later and I tell the police asshole to explain to the bus driver what has happened. The bus driver is really kind and tells me not worry that he will show me exactly where to go and find the next bus to San Jose for us. But he charges us fare to return to the border. Once all is done correctly I have to buy three more tickets to San Jose as the bus company would not honor the last ones. The kids did far better in all these nightmares than I did and once again I am so proud of them for staying calm under ridiculous circumstances.
Two hours into the four hour drive, that will bring us into town later than I prefer for hostel hunting in a big Central American city, the bus breaks down in the rain. We wait for two hours for a new bus, I am no longer upset as I realize these things just happen. We hang out and talk to other backpackers and tell them our laughable stories, they know a good hostel and offer to take us with them when we arrive super late tonight. Thank you to Stephanie from Sweden and Pedro from Venezuela. When we arrive at 11pm we flag down a cab and Pedro has some sweet talking to convince a cabby in a Corolla to take 5 backpackers with gear and a surf board on his roof! But with much negotiation he goes for it but at a price. We arrive at the hostel and the adults agree we all need a cold beer right away! Next morning at 6am we are on a milk run bus to Manuel Antonia Park on the Pacific central coast of Costa Rica alive, healthy, and happy again.

Posted by sostrander 10:56 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Another beautiful spot in Guatemala


We had a fun bus ride through the mountains to Lake Atitlan, and what a stunning lake it is! It reminds me of beautiful lakes in North America or even Lake Luzerne in Switzerland. We spent a night in charming Panajachel and chose a decent hotel due to our week of bathroom fear. As always I woke up early and walked around town during the early morning calm and burgeoning which I love. The lake was still and the mountains beautiful but I realized that we needed a less touristy environment after being in Antigua for a week so in the afternoon we took a boat to foot of the volcano, in a town called San Pedro. It’s a small town with both a granola/backpacker area and it’s own community. Places that we visit with backpacker areas are actually quite welcoming because too much of the authentic means a different level of comfort; a lot more flies, dog poop, sad stray animals, and sometimes children too. It’s wonderful to explore the authentic communities but it’s also nice to have a good coffee and a room in an area designed for backpackers from other countries. Sorry guys, I’m 41 with two kids in tow.!
In San Pedro we stayed in great place called Gran Suen which is family owned. San Pedro is a walkable community with great little nooks on dirt paths. I met a few expats that raved about life on the lake with the volcanoes. We discovered a great wifi restaurant, called the D’Noz with huge meals and a library with daily world news update binders to browse. This small town has many language schools, non-profit agencies working with the region, and a small Israel community. We spent a couple of hours in Santiago de Atitlan but really preferred San Pedro..
We hiked 3,000 feet with a guide up a mountain to an impressive vista of the lake. The kids went horse-back riding and went to the pool even though the lake had plenty of swimming opportunities. We visited a few of the towns on the lake but preferred San Pedro.
Time was running short before we needed to be in Panama and as I diagnosed the airline vs. bus trip through 5 Central American countries I realized I had to make a decision. Fly from Guatemala for about $900 dollars due to flight cost, airport taxes and fees, or take the bus and spend one third the cost or less and see a little of 5 countries. So we left on Wednesday for El Salvador a country that brings wonder of the unknown and a little fear to the mind.

Posted by sostrander 10:17 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Notes on travel

Why so many huskies in Guatemala, and Che is the Lord apparently


Small footnote before I post a proper entry with pictures on Lake Atitlan.

Since arriving in Guatemala we have seen many huskies. Why? A little far from the homeland I would say.
Apparently they are the IN dog right. Also, Che Guavera is still immensely popular in Guatemala even though he hasn't been in touch for a hell of a long time. There are billboards, t-shirts and it's more than just pop culture with this mythic figure. When I asked a local why Che is still so important to Guatemalans he simply replied "he brought the revolution,
he is the Lord" OK, well I will now brush up on my Che history facts in Central America.
In Guatemala the Maya women wear their traditional dress and depending on what town or which Maya group you are from your clothing will reflect this. The colors of these beautiful costumes also have meaning depending on the color scheme. In the Lake Atitlan area Evangelical Christianity has taken a much stronger foothold then Catholism with the local. Why? Possibly better recruiting and marketing. If I was here longer I would have a more complex answer.
Also, the local language here areMayan not Spanish and you notice it right away as it sounds completely different. They sound similar (in my opinion) to Hebrew or an Arabic language with lots of hhhrrr sounds at the back of the throat.

Posted by sostrander 17:34 Archived in Guatemala Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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