Friday, February 28, 2014

Corcovado Park

Our final stop in Central America was the Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. This area is much more difficult to get to as compared to other parks: from north Panama, we had to take 4 buses (and in between pass another horrible border), a taxi and a boat to get there, which took us 12 hours all together. This included a “1-hour” wait for a boat ride, which turned into 2 hours and in the end was nearly 4 hours.. (for everyone that plans on visiting central America, here is the bus- and boat schedule for the entire continent: it leaves when it leaves.) The wait wasn't that bad though - we sat in a restaurant overlooking a river with crocodiles! The boat ride was also an adventure, first going through the crocodile area, then a huge mangrove area to finish on the choppy ocean with crazy surf.

Because of its remoteness, Corcovado park is more natural and untouched, and full of animals which are considered endangered species. We took a tour to this park, which started at 6 in the morning so you can visit during the active period of animals (when they wake up and catch some breakfast). The highlight of our visit was seeing 3 tapirs*, a highly endangered specie which looks like a combination between a small elephant, a huge pig and a horse, with the nose of an ant eater. We also ran into a peccary family, lots of monkeys (squirrel monkeys*, howler monkeys* and spider monkeys), a crocodile and many exotic birds (scarlet macaw, toucan, trogon, tanager, wild turkey, hawk) during our visit. 
*endangered species

Apart from the tour in the park, we did the 'beach hike' which took us to many small and empty beaches, rented kayaks for a few hours and enjoyed our final moments in Costa Rica. This country has been beautiful. Although it's lacking any culture and we thought it was a bit too touristy and very expensive, it was great to see how this country - unlike its Central American neighbors - takes extremely good care of the amazing nature and environment. We will miss the sounds of exotic birds and monkeys everywhere around us all day!

Getting on and off the boat was a fun start.. reminded us of Wadlopen :)

Scarlet Macaw

Baird's Tapir - this one was 2m long and more then 1m high!

Just chillin', waiting for people to fall out of the boat

To get anywhere, get through the mangroves!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Time for Coffee

One thing Central America is famous for, is its coffee! Many coffee bars in the Western world sell coffee or beans from Guatemala, El Salvador or Costa Rica.

As a coffee lover, one thing on my list was visiting a coffee farm to know where it originally comes from and how it ends up in my cup :)

In Antigua, Guatemala, we visited a farm, where we learned about the full process: from picking the 'fruits' on the coffee plants, to the peeling and drying and export of the beans. Thanks to the homegrown coffee, Central America is full of nice coffee shops and cheap or free coffee can be found everywhere. We wanted to visit another farm in Costa Rica but that was insanely expensive and touristy, so we skipped that option.

 Yes.. our coffee comes from these plants!

Hand-picked :)

 Drying of coffee beans - I just want to jump in

The coffee got us HYPED UP!

In Costa Rica we found this coffee shop with coffee plants in their frontyard!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Last week we were so far south in Costa Rica, plus we had some time left before our flight to Curacao on 25 February, so we decided to check out Panama for a few days!

From the border we took chicken buses and a boat to Bocas del Torro, an island group in the Caribbean. We stayed 5 nights on the main island in a Dutch-owned hotel, Casa Max, where lots of other Dutch people stayed at.. warming us up for Curacao, probably! So the only thing we could do on the first day was rent a bicycle to check out the island.

On the second day we took a boat and deep-boarding/snorkeling tour to island Zapatilla, which is a small paradise:

Deepboarding is basically snorkeling except that a boat drags you - 10 meter behind the boat, you hang on to a rope. It's a fun way to experience the sealife at a fast pace. But the main attraction was the perfect combination of gorgeous beaches, clear water and palm trees on this island... and all of that on Valentine's Day !

On the third day we rented an ATV and toured around the island. This was one of Daniel's favorite things to do, and for Kendy as passenger, let's just say it was a bumpy ride!

After all these beaches we decided to go to Boquete, a mountainous area in Panama, which also appears to be the only region which is not super-hot. Boquete lies near Baru (Panama's only volcano) and has many trails. We walked the 3-waterfall trail on the first day.. through a rainy rainforest. On day 2 we walked the Quetzal trail, which was a nice but pretty tough 5-hour walk. We met a nice English couple in the bus on the way, who we shared a taxi with and ended up walking the full trail together. 

Peaceful town of Boquete 

One of the waterfalls on the 3-waterfall trail 

View from the Quetzal trail

 Relieved after the long hike!

We will return to Costa Rica via the Pacific border tomorrow (we left on the Caribbean side last week) and visit one more park, Corcovado, before we have to say goodbye to Central America and fly to Curacao.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Borders and Chicken Buses

One of the most interesting and at times funny, but mostly disturbing and annoying thing that any traveler in Central America has to deal with, are borders. 

Four of the 8 countries in Central America have created a CA-4 agreement, indicating that borders between these countries should be open and people can go freely from one to the other, similar to the Schengen agreement in Europe. One small issue: this is not the case at all, as we unfortunately experienced and blogged about a few weeks ago.

The borders are open - you can freely walk passed every checkpoint. However, if you don't get your passports stamped, you'll be illegal and with the police often checking passports in cars and buses, the chance of getting caught is pretty high.

So in the end, you do have to go through the painful process of taking all your luggage from the car/bus, waiting in line, exiting a country (which sometimes involves paying a legal or illegal fee), walking a few hundreds meters through no-mans land, waiting in line again and entering the next country (which again sometimes involves paying a legal or illegal fee).


Here we are in no-mans land

Travelers are doing this in 30+ degrees Celcius with high humidity, walking with a backpack on super dirty streets occupied by people trying to sell you all kinds of stuff, street dogs and other animals. If you're really unlucky, a group of kids will get all the luggage from your bus while it's driving slow or standing in traffic near the border, just so they can mandatory walk or bike it across no-mans for you (at a price). Or they just steal it from you and take it to the next country before you can even get there.

Today we crossed the Sixaola border from Costa Rica to Panama. From stories we read online, we learned that immigration on the Panamanian side always wants to see a flight or bus ticket out of Panama. If you don't have a ticket, entry will be denied, or you can buy a future bus ticket back to Costa Rica at a nearby office just so you can pass the border (which suddenly costs 5x the normal price). Or, if you've prepared, you can be 'creative' with a digital flight ticket; they're not really checking details with the airlines.

Luckily enough it went smooth for us today, and our luggage is still with us. No-mans land here was a 500 meter bridge, which is not being maintained by either country.. so it's full of holes and broken parts. Good luck walking there with your luggage :/

Be careful! 

The borders are full of rules and notes such as the one below. One memorable one was in Honduras, where a sign literally said "Entry fee: $3". When we took out dollars, the border control didn't accept it.. we had to pay $3 in Honduran Lempira, which meant going outside, changing $3 (plus exchange rate) to 60 Lempira, go back inside and pay the $3 fee in Lempira's. I'm lost. 

Very kind of Costa Rica to translate this note for all the tourists. Too bad it doesn't make any sense!

After passing the border, we took a 'chicken bus' to get to our destination, Bocas del Torro islands. This is a phenomenon in Central America: old American school buses get a colorful new layer of paint and are used to transport people, goods and animals. Chicken bus is actually the nickname that tourists have given it, officially it's called a Camioneta. It usually costs less then $1 per ride but people are being crammed in the bus, which doesn't have official stops: it will stop anywhere you want or wherever future passengers are waiting, even along the highways. The bus driver usually doubles as DJ, playing loud music (usually reggaeton). Quite an experience!

Chicken bus in San Pedro, Guatemala

Panama Chicken bus (Note: these are luxury seats! Normally they come with original American schoolbus seats!)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

From the cloud forest to the tropical forest - and kiteboarding!

After enjoying the Volcano Arenal area we spent a few days in Monteverde, which is a cloud forest park in Costa Rica. This mountainous area is split between a humid side with air from the Atlantic coast, and a dry part where the air comes from the Pacific. It was amazing to see the wildlife and different climates coming together! 

red-eyed tree frog

The Quetzal, a long tailed bird, also the national bird of Guatemala - where it is unfortunately very difficult to find. In Costa Rica it was easier :)


mini red dart frog

Today we visited a tropical forest park called Manuel Antonio, which is more south in Costa Rica. The dry season here is only 3 months per year: January till March so our timing was perfect :) In the wet season, this park receives more than 2.000mm rainfall per year. This forest is next to the ocean and some spectacular beaches. Great for a day visit! Although it's a small park, during 30 minutes on the beach we were visited by a raccoon, an iguana and a monkey! Even more spectacular is one of the slowest animals in the world which is moving around in the trees here: the sloth!!

Sloth chilling in his natural upside-down position

Sloth moving full speed

Visitor #1

Visitor #2

Visitor #3

Between visiting these parks we visited one of the world's best kiteboarding spots, near La Cruz in north-west Costa Rica. This place has a bay with an almost constant strong wind, making it a top destination for kiteboarding. We had a fantastic week, met many other kiteboarders (from beginners to very experienced). Our average day looked like this:
  • Get up around 7:30, have breakfast
  • Around 9.30, leave with to the beach standing on the back of a pickup truck with about 10 other kiteboarders (the truck was full of kites and boards)
  • 10-17 chill on the beach, lunch would be delivered, take a few hours of kiteboarding lessons whenever the wind and current were OK
  • 17-22 shower, relax at the hotel or a restaurant, have dinner with other kiteboarders

The wind was strong but very gusty which isn't easy for starters, but after a few days we were able to get up on a board with the kite pulling us! We both loved it and hope to improve our skills back in the Netherlands!

Apparently this is kite-surfing heaven :)

Kendy's first kiting experience!

Preparing a 6m kite

This is Daniel trying to kiteboard

And great sunsets too :)