A Travellerspoint blog

Panama City, Isla Taboga and San Blas Islands

24th August - 3rd September

sunny 34 °C
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We got an overnight bus from San José in Costa Rica to Panama City. This left at 11pm one day and arrived at 3pm on the next so was a long journey. We stayed in Panama City for 3 days. Much of this time was spent unsuccessfully trying to track down a boat to take us to Colombia. Quite a lot had left the previous week, the ones that were leaving at the time we wanted were full and the ones with spaces were too far in the future. Bad timing!

We did also manage to fit in a bit of sight seeing; we looked around the old town and went to the largest shopping centre in Central America. We had previously been to a shopping centre in San Salvador that also claimed to be the biggest but the Albrook Mall in Panama City really is huge!

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On another day we went to see the Miraflores Locks which is part of the Panama Canal. They have a museum that provides information on the history and workings of the canal. We also saw a large cargo ship pass through the lock which was quite interesting to see but there is no hiding the fact that it is a long, drawn out process!

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After spending 3 days in the city we decided to go to Isla Taboga which is a small island about an hour from Panama City on the Pacific side. We didn't want to go too far from the city in case we got good news about a boat via email. We didn't!

Isla Taboga actually turned out to be quite a strange place. Despite being close to the city it is really remote and seems cut off from the outside world. The only hostel on the island closed down making reasonably priced accommodation hard to come by. We ended up having to settle for rooms in people's houses that they rent out. It was a similar situation with restaurants - some had closed down and others hardly opened meaning that we ended up eating in the same place every night, always at the same table!

However, it was a nice place to spend a few days and save a bit of money. There was a sand bar sticking out of one side of the island that connects to a smaller island, which, during low tide provided a nice place to relax.

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When we left Taboga and returned to Panama City the best date we had found for a boat to Colombia was 3rd September (5 days away at that point). We decided that this was too long to wait so booked flights to Colombia and booked transport to the San Blas Islands (the best part of the boat to trip to Colombia) for the following day.

The San Blas Islands are a group of around 400 islands populated exclusively by indigenous people known as Kunas. 40 of the islands are inhabited, with the smallest ones home to single families living on narrow sandbanks. Some of the islands would just have 1 or 2 coconut trees, a bit of sand, and nothing else.

We were picked up at 5am in Panama City and taken by jeep to the Caribbean coast where we got a small boat to one of the islands. This was home to approximately 400 Kunas and the group we were with were given a circle of huts in one corner of the village. It was 2 to 3 in a hut and each would have a couple of hammocks and possibly a bed.

We left our stuff there and then set off to an island further out where we spent the afternoon chilling on the white sand beach. There was a shipwreck close to the island that we could snorkel around.

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Back in the village we were staying on that evening we were given a feast of lobster and king crab for dinner. Some of the local children then put on a show of some of the traditional Kuna dances.

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The next day we went to another smaller island that was far from the main one. We spent the day relaxing on the beach and playing games of poker and drinking beer with Greg, Liz and CC from New Zealand. That evening the 5 of us had decided to stay on a deserted island for the night in hammocks. Our plan of setting off back to the village early to pick up our stuff so we could set up camp before dark didn't go smoothly as the boat ran out of petrol! It was a long, hard row back using the wooden seats from the boat as oars!

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It was just getting dark when we eventually made it to our desert island. We quickly ate our dinner that was brought on the boat, set up the hammocks and made a camp fire. We had a lot of wine, rum and beers between us so was quite a drunken night! We were told we would be picked up the next morning at 7:30am, but this turned out to be 12:30pm (with breakfast delivered at 10am) which was a lot better as this meant we could spend the morning sleeping in the hammocks.

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That afternoon we were taken to the same island as the day before, and then back to the village in the evening. We had a really good 3 days on the islands but had to leave the next morning to get back to Panamá City as we had our flight to Colombia the following day.

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Posted by elliemike 15:48 Archived in Panama Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Monteverde and San Jose, Costa Rica

17th - 23rd August

semi-overcast 25 °C
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After leaving Sun Juan del Sur we travelled to Costa Rica. We spent a night in a town called Puntarenas before getting an early bus the next morning to Santa Elena, a small village in the Monteverde area which is surrounded by cloudforest.
We did a Bridges Tour through the cloudforest which involved walking along swing bridges through the forest. The guide we had for this was very good and we saw a giant rodent, sloths, a tarantula, owls and a millipede. At the end of the tour we saw a strangular tree (a tree with vines surrounding it which eventually kill the host tree after a number of years making the inside hollow). We climbed up the inside of this tree to get up to the last swinging bridge which was 8m high.
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After the bridges tour we went on a canopy tour with the same company. This was a series of zip lines through the cloudforest with varying lengths and speeds. There was also rappelling, which was a 7m free fall on a vertical rope, and a tarzan swing, a huge rope swing you are attached to on a harness.

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The Monteverde village was actually created in early 1950's by a number of American Quaker families. Many still make the living from producing cheese in a factory they set up when they first settled there. We went on a tour of this factory. It was just the 2 of us and the guide. We saw the whole cheese making process right from the milk being delivered to the cheese being sold in the shop. The tour finished with some cheese tasting which was a welcome treat as all other cheese we have had on this trip have been pretty poor!

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We also went on a few walks around the area, including the Bajo del Tigre trails around lowland parts of the cloudforest.

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After Monteverde we spent a night in San Jose where Mike celebrated his birthday. San Jose isn't a particularly nice place but we picked a hostel with a bar and a good atmosphere. We bought a big chocolate cake which we shared with the others at the hostel. Later on in the evening a few of us went to a casino and lost some money playing poker. It was a good night!

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Posted by elliemike 12:53 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nicaragua

sunny 30 °C
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After leaving Utila we spent a couple of days travelling to Granada in Nicaragua. We had to stay a night in Tegucigalpa (capital of Honduras) and pass through Managua (capital of Nicaragua) which, like most Central American capital cities, are not places that you would choose to spend much time.
Granada is a small colonial city on the edge of Lago de Nicaragua which is the 10th largest lake in the world. We spent 3 nights there in a hotel with a grand entrance hall with marble floors and strangely, lots of rocking chairs. There was also a pool at the back with mosaic tiles and lots of sun loungers. We were the only guests in the hotel so we took advantage of this by spending a lot of time by the pool. The rest of our time in Granada we spent walking around the town and market and eating food from street stalls.

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After Granada, we got a boat to Isla de Ometepe in the middle of the lake. It is a large island with a population of about 35,000. Apart from two towns that don´t have much to offer the majority of the island is fairly remote; it is surrounded by jungle and connected by roads that are muddy tracks making getting around the island much harder than it should be.

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Our first night on the island was spent having dinner and playing a drinking game with some people we had met on the ferry; Ramon from Holland, and Lisa and Kirstin from the states. As part of the game Mike had to do a rain run in the middle of a downpour and Ellie had to eat an insect (a very tiny one!).

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Most of the activities on Ometepe involve exploring the island in one way or another. On our first full day we hired bikes but didn't get very far because of the state of the roads and standard of the bikes. We then all moved to a hostel on a different part of the island that had a bit more life than the first one and arranged to climb a volcano the next day. This involved seven hours of difficult trekking, and we didn't even make it to the top. We found out later that there was an easier route from the other side.

The following day we went on another trek, this time to a waterfall. Again, the terrain was difficult at points as it was steep and we had to scramble up lots of rocks. This time we did make it all the way and were rewarded by getting to cool down under the waterfall.

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On the Saturday night there was a beach party a few hundred metres from our hostel that a group of us went to. They had a pretty loud sound system and played a random mix of western electronic music (mostly from early 90s), latin pop songs and slow songs (that all the locals paired off to in the manner of a school disco). It was a good drunken night though fuelled in part by this ridiculously cheap, and lethally strong, home made alcohol that we picked up at a local bar.

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We left Ometepe and had an easy day of travel to San Juan del Sur which is a small beach town on the Pacific coast. The beach in San Juan is a nice strip of sand but the water isn't the cleanest so it is better to go to other beaches for swimming that are a half hour drive away.

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This is what we did on our first day here with the others that we were with. We walked a little further along the coast than where we were dropped off and found a nice secluded beach to spend some time. This was going well until it started to rain and we had to retreat to a nearby bar. This turned out quite well as a drunk American woman bought everyone in the bar two beers each!

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Most of the days here we have spent relaxing on the beach in San Jose and one day Mike played football on the beach with some locals. In the evenings we have been enjoying the seafood and having nights out at the bars with various people.

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We also had a day of surf lessons which was really fun. Our instructor was good and had us both standing up quite quickly, although we were only surfing small waves. Ellie managed to bash her nose on her board after falling over causing it to swell (typical of her!).

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Posted by elliemike 05:57 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Scuba Diving on the Bay Islands, Honduras

27th July - 3rd August

sunny 33 °C
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After our mission up from El Salvador we spent a week on the island of Utila which is one of the Bay Islands in Honduras. It is known to be the cheapest place in the world to go scuba diving and there are dozens of dive schools offering various deals.

We ended up signing up to do the advanced open water course (we both already had open water) which involved 5 adventure dives and 4 free fun dives as well as accommodation through the dive school.

The dives that we did for our course included: a deep dive that took us down to 30m in order to see a ship wreck; a peak performance buoyancy dive that involved swimming though hoops at different levels under water, a game of frisbee that was funny because everything was in slow motion and matrix style fighting (without flippers); a naturalist dive to learn about identifying different types of fish, reef etc; a navigation dive to improve compass skills underwater; and a night dive.

On the dives we saw lots of different types of fish, eels, turtles, shrimp and octopus.

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The accommodation provided was an apartment on the seafront with a swimming area. We shared this with various people throughout the week, max of 8.

There was a really beautiful, picture postcard beach area 5 mins walk from the apartment with clear, still, turquoise water and golden sand - it had a small charge to keep it clean and stop it getting overcrowded.

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The nightlife on the island was good as there are lots of bus that are open late and a couple of clubs. We spent most evenings drinking rum on our balcony with the others before going out, sometimes having to get up to dive at 6a the following morning.

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Posted by elliemike 11:25 Archived in Honduras Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

El Salvador

20th-26th July

sunny 34 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

To get from Monterrico in Guatemala to San Diego in El Salvador we had a very long day of travelling. This consisted of a boat along the canal, 2 chicken buses (a direct and literal reference to some of the passengers!), microbus to the border, a walk through no-man's land between the 2 countries, 2 more chicken buses (one with a clown on board for entertainment!) and finally a pick up truck that to took us to our hostel.

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The hostel we stayed in was a friendly place run by a guy from Ipswich. It was surrounded by lots of green vegetation, had plenty of hammocks, a good swimming pool and lots of games.

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The night we arrived it was one of the guests, Ben's, birthday so there was a Piñata. We took it in turns to be blindfolded, spun round and then hit the piñata until the sweets fell out.

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We stayed 3 nights at the hostel and spent time relaxing in the pool and on the beach. Each evening there was some entertainment arranged such as table tennis tournaments, killer darts and poker nights.

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After San Diego we spent a couple of nights in the capital, San Salvador, which has an underservably bad reputation. The western suburbs where we stayed are new and modern and have lots of fast food chains, shopping centres (including the biggest in Central America) and cinemas. It was definitely the most westernised place we have been to so far.

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We then spent one night in Suchitoto, a small colonial town north of San Salvador which overlooks a huge lake - Lake Suchitlán.

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It was another long day of travelling leaving El Salvador: 2 chicken buses, a cycle tuk tuk pedalled by an old man across the border with Honduras, a taxi to the nearest Honduran town, a coach to San Pedro Sula (Honduras' second largest city), a taxi speeding across the city so we could get the next bus (no need as we arrived in plenty of time!), another bus to La Ceiba on the North coast (again with entertainment from a clown!) and finally a taxi to a hotel.

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Posted by elliemike 13:40 Archived in El Salvador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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