Six weeks, eight countries, and a lot of ground covered.
We’ve explored busy capital cities, bustling markets, and charming colonial towns. We’ve been in all manner of places, from bad neighbourhoods to peaceful churches. We’ve marvelled at ancient ruins, cultural treasures, and wonders of modern technology, like the Panama Canal. We’ve photographed beautiful panoramas, chaotic street scenes, colourful murals and edgy graffiti.
It’s also been one of the most action-packed trips we’ve ever done, including a whole range of different adventure activities, from snorkelling and canyoneering to zip-lining and bungy-jumping. We’ve climbed (and boarded down) active volcanoes, waded through gushing rapids, and rappelled down steep waterfalls. We’ve ventured into ancient lava tubes and bat caves, hiked through cloud forests, soaked in hot springs and raced down some of the scariest waterslides ever…at night.
From chicken buses to speedboats, and stormy, hurricane-like weather to the most exquisite sunsets ever, it’s been an incredibly diverse and interesting journey that we feel very fortunate to have experienced.
Our heartfelt thanks and regards go out to all the wonderful people we met along the way, who shared their cultures, life stories, and even their homes with us. We have learned so much, and are definitely better people for having met them.
Pura vida, and thank you for reading.
The whole day was pretty much spent making our way from Bocas del Toro to Panama City.
We left Bocas Town on a 6.30am boat and took a cab ($1 per person) to Almirante bus station where the long-distance bus to Panama City was scheduled to leave at 8.30am.
The bus journey was extremely long, and it didn’t help that the bus driver was driving at breakneck speeds the whole time. The way he was stepping on the gas and recklessly approaching bends in the road meant that we pretty much had to hold on to our seats the entire journey. And trying to nap wasn’t much use because you ended up whacking your head against the window whenever he braked suddenly.
All this came to a head when, about 62km outside Panama City, the bus driver actually managed to hit another car in front of him…! A minor accident, and luckily no one was hurt, but it did mean that our bus sat on the freeway for almost two hours while the two drivers tried to ‘settle’ problem.
After this huge delay, it was a great relief to finally arrive in Panama City where we’re staying with Alex and Adrian (and their two lovely Dobermans Max & Tyler) in their beautiful house right in the heart of downtown.
Our first impression of Panama’s capital is pretty good…in many ways, it reminds us of being in the US. The city looks cool lit up at night, and we’re looking forward to checking it out in daylight tomorrow.
Today we went on a boat tour around the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
Seeing dolphins at Dolphin Bay…observing colourful coral and fish while snorkelling at Cayo Coyal…the beautiful pristine white sand beach at Cayo Zapatilla…trying to spot sloths in the trees on Sloth Island…and finally floating over an area with lots of beautiful starfish…
Today we crossed from Costa Rica into Panama.
The day started early as we left just before 5.30am to catch the 6am bus from San Jose to Sixaola, the border town. While not of the ‘chicken’ variety, the bus was non AC and made several stops, including the towns of Limon and Puerto Viejo.
The border crossing was okay, although the officials on the Costa Rican side seemed infinitely more interested in the World Cup match that was playing on TV.
We left Costa Rica to the sound of cheering and cars honking jubilantly, as Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 and advanced to the second round of the World Cup, top of the group.
The “border” was effectively an old wrought iron railway bridge that looked like something right out of The Great Escape.
Then it was two more local buses, first to the town of Changuinola (20min, 1 USD) and another to Almirante (40 min, 1.45 USD). As usual, we were packed in like sardines. During the bus rides we were treated to a great mix of music, either from sound systems that were probably worth more than the bus itself, or from the tinny-sounding cellphones of other passengers. Choice tunes included upbeat dancehall numbers alternated with the plaintive strains of “Without You” and “Unchained Melody” en Espagnol.
The final leg of the journey was a 30-minute (6 USD) speed boat ride from Almirante port to Bocas del Toro. It was about 5pm by the time we got to Isla Colon, the most populated island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago and the capital of the BDT province .
We’re staying in Bocas Town, which sits on the southernmost tip of the island. It’s the capital and main town of the BDT Islands and where most of the hotels, restaurants, and tour operators are located. There even is a Bocas del Toro International Airport.
Bocas Town is small and easy to get around, and we managed to explore a fair bit before sundown. With its Caribbean vibe, in many ways it reminded us of Caye Caulker, just without the golf carts! Most of the hotels and businesses are located on 1st, 2nd and 3rd street (otherwise known as Main Street) and there is even a park area in the heart of town with a statue and bandstand in the middle, like most Central American cities.
Tomorrow we go island hopping.
"Pura vida" (lit: "pure life" in Spanish) is a commonly-heard expression and the law of the land in Costa Rica.
Often compared to Swahili’s “hakuna matata”, it can be used in a wide variety of ways, including greetings, farewells, when giving thanks, or just to express that things are going great. Related adjectives might be “excellent”, “cool” or “swell”.
But more than just a phrase, pura vida is deeply ingrained in the culture here. It reflects the mentality of the people that extends to being “full of life”…their version of joie de vivre and belief in the importance of enjoying life and living well.
Now that’s a great way to approach life.
We will miss you Costa Rica!
Today we made our way to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.
The journey was fairly easy, involving two buses: the first from La Fortuna to Ciudad Quesada (1.5 hours, 1350 colones), and then another bus to San Jose (2.5 hours, 1800 colones).
It rained for most of the afternoon but we walked around the downtown area of the city for a bit before dinner. As with the other capitals we’ve passed through on this trip, SJ has some nice parks, a lovely cathedral and other churches, cool murals, and of course some very recognisable brands (McD’s, KFC, BK, Papa John’s etc). There’s even a ‘Chinatown’, marked by an ornamental gate not unlike the ones in London.
San Jose seems like a pretty decent city, even in the wet weather. Pity we don’t have more time to explore it!
Hiking around the Arenal Volcano National Park…being lucky enough to see the volcano without cloud…clambering across rocks from old lava flow…seeing a poisonous viper snake well camouflaged in a tree…canyoneering adventure in which you rappel down waterfalls and downclimb and river trace along the canyon…brilliant fun and you get very wet!