Category Archives: Panama
Here I am, writing from home again. In my last post from Panama I mentioned that I was about to finish my trip with a camping tour to the San Blas islands (Kuna Yala). To summarize, it could really have been paradise but the conditions of the camping tour and the weather spoiled that experience unfortunately. It was a terrible trip for me, not only because of what I just mentioned but also because I had a very bad cold. Coughing the nights through in a hot, moist tent made me more homesick than I have ever been before. After the tour the group (me + eight great people whom without I would not have managed those days) got some refund from the tour operator for sending us to a poorly maintained camp.
Below picture of the dog in the rain will allways remind me of how I felt those days stranded on an, almost, deserted island. So glad to be back!
Besides the poor camping conditions the tour was over prized and did not fullfill what it said. As a counterargument the travel agency mentioned that doing business with the Kunas is really difficult. They show their dominant postion through example controlling who enters and leaves Kuna land every day. This is the reason me and the group could not leave earlier even if we wanted. The sad thing is that it would have been a much better experience if only the camping element was taken away. The last night was spent in the Kuna village and even though the conditions where simple we had waterproof roof and dry bed. This is how most people experience San Blas, by a homestay. I am sure it would have been a complet different experience if I would have choosen this option but then once again, my cold would still have bothered me. Guess why everyone looks so happy on the last picture? Because it was the last meal before heading back to Panama city 😉 For the refund and a bit more I checked in to the Marriott in Panama city for the last night and it was worth every penny.
From this trip I choose to write rather much, country by country, but since I travelled without laptop transferring photos was a bit difficult but I have updated all my posts with pictures today so feel free to check them out. One interesting observation I did when choosing pictures for Honduras was how difficult it was to reduce the amount of pictures. The tone in my text does not allways correspond with the pictures. There was some disappointments about food, weather and lack of atmosphere on our holiday in Honduras but looking back on my pictures I choose to remember only the good days and the good days we had where actually really good 🙂
I have now been to all countries in Central America minus El Salvador and plus Tulum in Mexico. This years trip can in no mening compete with last years. At first I thought it was only the first impression last year that made me feel like that. Or maybe the fact that the weather has been a bit disappointing during this years trip. But looking back I understand that we just happened to choose the most amazing places already last year. And the lodgings were all wonderful which is something that has become more and more important for me for the total experience of a place. Not to forget last years culinary experiences. On this trip the most spectacular lodging was definetely the “Mananamadera” coffe estate in Boquete, Panama. But also “Lands end” in Honduras was a great experience and all the comfy hotels in Florida plus my last Marriott night in Panama city. Not to forget the tranquilo Finca Mystica in Nicaragua. The food was not at all as good on this trip although I have to say they knew how to make smoothies in Panama (unlike Honduras and Nicaragua).
If you are planning a trip to Central America I would say stick to mine and Louise´s last years itinerary but add a bit of Panama if you have the time, and you will have seen the best of this region. Some say Nicaraua is their favourite destination. I liked what I saw and maybe I did not see enough to be able to make a fair judgement. But for me Nicaragua can not compete with Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica. And this years beach experiences cannot compete with Tulum in Mexico. The snorkelling in Panama is fantastic due to the colours of the reef but the large amount of sharkes, turtles and stingays that we saw in Belize makes Belize a more exiting snorkel desination.
It has been great to have two month vacation but I have learned about myself that more than that is not necessary in one go for me. Lots of people travel for half a year, a year or more. I rather split it up since I have noticed that after a while you take everything for granted and tend to forget how privileged you are being on such a great vacation. With this said I am very happy I took two month off because I believe it is great to now and then disconnect with my normal routines and stressful life I sometimes live . No more trips planned so far even if the “want to do list” is very long as usual. In the meantime I will keep on documenting past trips. Hope you will follow!
Thinking back of Cahuita, my last stop in Costa Rica, gives me mixed feelings. It was a beautiful location but those bedbugs has given me sleeping problems due to nightmares. After Cahuita I crossed the boarder to wonderful Panama and took a boat to the Bocas del Toro islands. It was just a short 3 1/2 hour travel day and I was in paradise. The Bocas consists of a group of island whereof the isla Colon is the easiest to get to and the most commercial. First I gave it a thought to continue to a more remote island but decided to spend my four days in Colon because from there it would be easy to discover different beaches everyday. I ended up in hostel Heike, a 10 USD a night hostel with great vibe. I had heard about isla Colon being very commercial, to partyish etc but sometimes you need to make your own opinion. I happened to love everything about Bocas. I had a dormitory room with great people and was even able to go to bed early (and sleep) two nights out of four. The other two I shaked my butt with Myrtha from Switzerland and Frank and Eva from Germany to latin vibes. And believe it or not but I even managed to get three days of sunny weather (before I came and after I left it rained all the time).
One day I did a full day tour which consisted of four parts. The first part I would have been happy to skip. 12 speed boats chasing poor bottled nose dolphins in something called “Dolphin bay”. I get tears in my eyes thinking of those beautiful animals having to put up with that every day, all days long. After this we went snorkeling from the boat. Oh My, I have never seen such colorful reefs in my whole life. It was not as much fish as for example in Egypt but the corals where pastel bright green, yellow, pink, purple and formed in a way which completely enchanted me. Sadly enough we had only 30 minutes for this highlight. I would have liked to stay forever. Off we went for the third part which was lunch, for 20 USD I got a freshly cooked lobster on my plate. Yeah, sometimes you have to splurge even as a backpacker 🙂 After lunch we continued to one of the more remote islands in the Bocas called Zapatilla which was a small bounty island where we could relax for two hours. What a day! The following day I discovered the beach Drago and Estrella, the last one famous for the starfishes visible everywhere in the clear water. Those two beaches are on Colon but a 30 minute busride from the main town. The last day me and my room mates took a boat to the famous Redfrog beach. It is called so because it is possible to find small red frogs in that area although mostly at night. The sad thing is that small boys carry around a couple of them in a leaf the whole day to show tourists (and get money) which means that by the end of the day those frogs are dead. Therefor they are endangered and I refused to look at them. But I had enough to look at, the water was crystal clear and the sand white. The beach reminded me a bit about Tulum and definitely fits in under the category “Paradise beaches”. I left Bocas with great memories and wish I could have stayed longer but time was running out.
Off went the bus through futile mountains and banana plantations towards the town David. From there a chickenbus for around one hour up the mountains and then I finally reach the location where I was going to splurge myself for two nights at the absolutely magnificent place Mananamadera, in Boquete. I found this place on Tripadvisor and it is actually a Coffie Estate with only one guest suit although one more is being built. Randy from Texas came here 6 years ago and started up this little paradise in the mountains. I must admit that after reading all the top reviews on Tripadvisor I did have expectations but in real it was many times better than I could ever imagine. Randy showed himself to be the kindest host I ever met. He provided me with a cellphone and asked me to call every time I wanted to arrange transport (his estate is about a 10 minutes drive from town). He went out his way to make me feel so welcome and not did I only have a whole suit with living room, bedroom and bathroom but also a dog called Chubbs that watched over me all day long. He was very cuddly and very cute. In the morning a smiling Randy served fresh coffee from his estate accompanied by breakfast of my choice. On my only full day he drove me to the beginning of a great hike and even though a bit rainy I enjoyed this day so much. After the hike I was picked up again and could rest out in my wonderful bed, better than Hilton, and enjoy the mountain views from the porch in the garden.
After a great and very relaxing Boquete experience it was time to head towards Panama City. It was a very uncomfortable bus ride of 8 hours. I was in the front and could not stretch my legs, the woman next to me was very big and demanded a bit of my seat too and they showed loud movies which made it impossible to take a nap. I was glad to discover that my hostel in Panama city, Mamallena, was a pretty quiet hostel that invited for a good nights sleep.
Panama City is not a very beautiful city. Still there is something very charming about this place. The people is a mix from every corner of the world. Salsa and Bachata music is heard everywhere you go, any time of the day, and people are greeting each other on the streets. A new beautiful futuristic skyline meets the old town Casco Viejo with neglected colonial building, lots of them now being restored by foreign investors opening up hotels and restaurants in them. There are some places where one should not go but most of the city is pretty safe at day time and taking a taxi from A to B is super cheap. Lots of development is going on in Panama city since 1999 when US handed over the Panama canal to the Panamanian government and cash started to roll in. The planning and building of the Panama canal has a long history but was finished 1914 by the Americans who where the once that finally succeeded to realize the project. I didn’t know much of the canal before coming here but the the tricky part is the huge difference between the sea level of the two oceans and the Lake Gatún where the ships has to pass.
Panama city is also a city with some huge shopping malls where the beautiful Panamanians are hanging out getting the latest trends. Also the city is famous for its nightlife which I tried on Friday evening. Together with a young Englishman that I met in the hostel I went to a really cool salsa place called “Habana Panama” which, according to those who have visited Havana, is like being in Havana. Live band on the stage, huge dance floor in the middle. Just one things was missing, I didn’t get to dance. Seems like people stick to each other the whole evening, going there solo is not a good idea (my company was not a salsa dancer). But it was a delight to just watch as well!
Before I fly back to Sweden the coming Friday I will take a three days tour to the islands of San Blas, also called the Kuna Yala islands since they are run autonomous by the Kuna Indians. San Blas consists of almost 280 small islands in the Caribbean and I am very eager to soak up a bit of sun is this paradise before going back to reality. I will be camping with 10 other people on a deserted island and the last night will be spent with the Kunas on a more developed island. I will report from that once back home. Adios Centro America!
The next trip that is waiting around the corner (Feb/Mar 2012) is an almost nine weeks long holiday to Florida, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The first four weeks will be done together with my friend Louise. We went away this year in February to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico and liked it so much more that we want to explore of this fantastic region.
Planning and arranging things for such a trip is really half the fun. Nowadays I pretty much like to pre-book and plan my trip in advance. Some might think that is boring and I would have thought too a few years ago. But this is just a way that suits me nowadays (especially when time is limited). It is very relaxed to not have to think about too much practicalities once on holiday. This way I also make sure not to miss out on any highlights since I do lot´s of research already from home. And it is just so much fun to enjoy everything twice, online and in real 😉
So where are we going? Right now in the planning stage it looks like this:
- United States: Landing in Miami =>Key West – Fort Lauderdale – Orlando – Sarasota – Miami
- Honduras: Landing in Guatemala City =>Copan – San Pedro Sula – La Ceiba – Roatan Island
- Nicaragua: Flying to Managua =>Granada – (Jenny continues alone) Spanish studies by lake Apoyo – Ometepe Island
- Costa Rica: San José – Tortuguero – Corcovado – Cahuita
- Panama: Bocas del Toro islands – Boquete – San Blas islands – Panama City
This was my first post and first update, there is much more to come. And here is a picture of my friend Louise and me last year in Costa Rica. Louise is a great travel mate. We are both structured but adventurous and like a mix of beach, city life and beautiful & tranquil scenery. We like to go to bed early (unless there is a party ;-)), need food every three hours and around two in the afternoon we both get cravings for cold beer 😀 Now, that is what I call a good match!