EL SALVADOR -
NICARAGUA - COSTA RICA
Steve & Deborah, s/v
We spent 8 days in El Salvador, 15 days in
Nicaragua and 22 days in Costa Rica. There was more that we wanted to
see in Costa Rica, but decided to save that for next year when we have to
leave Panama for immigration purposes. The cost of traveling in El
Salvador and Nicaragua is similar to what we're used to in Guatemala.
Costa Rica, however, is much more expensive, more like stateside prices
(or at least what we remember stateside prices to be like the last time we
We always kept safety in mind when selecting our
destinations, transportation, lodging and activities, even though it may
cost us more. Also, our budget is a few notches above a backpackers –
there are lots of cheaper but still acceptable alternatives.
TRAVELING DURING RAINY SEASON:
We traveled during “rainy season” (June through November),
aka “green season” for the tourism spin or “winter” to the locals. This is
also the “low season” which translates into cost savings among other things:
There are a lot fewer people (tourists) to contend with,
so . . .
reservations generally are not necessary, so traveling without an itinerary or
timetable, as we did, allowed us to be totally flexible – this alone is a
great reason to go during low season. This applies to
transportation, hotels, restaurants, tours and attractions, national
Accommodations are frequently considerably less. Several times we were
upgraded from a standard room to a deluxe room for no charge.
Temperatures on the coast and in the lowlands are more pleasant.
Vegetation everywhere is more lush and greener, and flowering plants are
at their height.
more water so there’s more waterfalls, fuller streams and better river
trips and rafting.
places are less dry and dusty.
Disadvantages are that, yes, it is rainy season, so plan your
outdoor activities in the morning when skies are clear blue, and assume
clouds and/or rain will come in the afternoon. If venturing out after noon,
take an umbrella or rain jacket with you. Another thing to keep in mind is
that a lot of rain can wash out roads and flood rivers altering your plans,
or worse, leaving you stranded on the wrong side. (We had sporadic,
but not daily, rain in El Salvador and Nicaragua. However, in Costa
Rica we had rain every afternoon except for one - but the mornings were
Note: June/July/August may be
considered a secondary "high" season due to American tourists/students.
Lonely Planet’s Nicaragua & El Salvador (1st
ed., Oct. 2006) and Costa Rica ( 7th ed., Oct. 2006). We did not use our
Central America on a Shoestring as we were told it was out of date
and not detailed enough, plus our budget is above a backpacker’s budget.
Ken, s/v Polaris, traveled El Salvador and Nicaragua in early 2007 and
gave us detailed notes on their trip which was a tremendous help and some
of which have been incorporated into this write up.
picked up information from the various consulates in Guatemala City (see
Trip Tips) and free tourist publications along the way.
(”L.P. “ references below are to pages in the appropriate
Lonely Planet guide.)
TRANSPORTATION IN GENERAL:
Tica Bus has a pass (about $75 one way, $150 round trip) that
you can ride from Mexico to Panama (or anywhere in between) that travels to
each of the capital-major cities. We chose to do our transportation ala
carte even though it cost more so we could pick and choose international bus
lines and times that worked the best for us. The various international bus
lines (not all work all countries) are Pullmantur, Tica Bus, King
Quality/Comfort, Del Sol and NicaBus. These bus lines have nice,
comfortable air conditioned buses, some are double-decker, with restroom and
sometimes basic food-beverage service. We usually traveled executive class,
and sometimes first class was also available. We only used local bus
service for day trips when we did not have luggage with us (because of
safety issues). On all these international buses, border crossings are
handled by the bus personnel and processed as a group (sometimes we stayed
on board while immigration came on board, other times we got off, and
sometimes luggage was searched). These buses have a reputation for
sometimes being quite cold, so wear or carry onboard accordingly. NOTE: We had our vitamins in a ziplock bag with no labels,
which drew much attention at the border crossing thinking that we were drug
smugglers and was confiscated until
we found an English-speaking person who translated. Now the ziplocks are
Within Costa Rica, we used Gray Line shuttle van door-to-door
service for our side trips. We found them to be very reliable, convenient,
safe and reasonably
It is noteworthy to mention that in every
single case where we had scheduled pickup service at our hotel or other
location (e.g., taxis, shuttle vans, tours), they arrived at least 10
minutes early! This was true of all three countries, whether it be in
the city or in a rural area. We found all vans and tour vehicles to be
clean, comfortable, A/C; some were like-new SUVs.
While services/labor are very cheap in El
Salvador and Nicaragua, the cost of fuel is expensive, so understand this
when considering transportation options.
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GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA to SAN SALVADOR,
Pullmantur double-decker bus, executive class, $32.50/pp, breakfast.
Must make reservations but no assigned seats so try to get on first to claim
the front row seats with the view. (More expensive first class has bigger,
assigned seats downstairs with champagne but no forward view.) Left 7:00
a.m. conveniently from the Holiday Inn in Zona 10 across the street from Las
Torres. Arrived 11:30 a.m. same day at the Pullmantur “station” located at
the Sheraton Presidente in safe, upscale Zona Rosa. (There’s an ATM
inside the Sheraton; the Tica Bus terminal is only 3 blocks from here.) There are taxis waiting
We paid nothing to clear out of Guatemala and nothing to clear into El
Salvador. We stayed on the bus. Luggage was searched (Steve was called off
the bus to explain the suspicious vitamins). Passports are not stamped due
to the C-4 thing.
[ Top of page ]
- - -
(Also see www.svargo.com,
Pictures/Journal page 26)
Official currency is US$. Telephone country code = 503
8 days total: 3 nights in Suchitoto --- 3 nights in San Salvador
--- long day trip to Morazon/Perquín/El Mozote (a trip highlight) --- 1
night at mountain coffee finca --- 1 night in San Salvador.
(Traveled in August 2007)
The Pullmantur bus from Guatemala City (see above) arrived at the ritzy
Sheraton Presidente in safe Zona Rosa, and from there we took a taxi ($35;
Polaris paid either $30 or $40) to Suchitoto, an hour drive north of San Salvador. We
called the same taxi driver to come pick us up when we were ready to leave
(Miguel Angel Berrios, cell (503) 7883-6867).
La Villa Balanza:
Room #2 in the brand new building (you don’t want the old building), shared
bath (good hot water shower), new queen bed, nice clean rooms, ceiling fan,
$20/night. Nice shared balcony with a high-up view of Lago de Suchitlan
(Embalse Cerron Grande) and surrounding area. Refer-freezer (and kitchen)
and another toilet downstairs you can use. We had the place to ourselves
for 2 days/nights. Laundry service. Restaurant - odd war paraphernalia
scattered around. Rooms #1 and #3 also share the bath and balcony, but
smaller beds. They also have new rooms with private bath but they are
darker and without the great view. Recommend (especially room #2). Tel:
(503) 2335-1408; across from Parque San Martin. Ruby is owner. (L.P. p.
We checked out other lodging options:
Hotel Las Puertas de Suchitoto:
Double M-Th $59, F-Su $82, includes 2 breakfasts, Tel. (503) 2393-9200.
Los Almendros de San Lorenzo Hotel & Restaurant:
Very nice upscale place, A/C, pool and probably many other amenities; we
enjoyed an excellent dinner in nice ambiance, Tel. (503) 2335-1200,
Activities: We ate Sunday
lunch (Argentinean grill) at nationally renowned artist (wood sculptor and
painter) Miguel Martino's house, which is his workshop and gallery Monday
thru Saturday. Although the meal didn't live up to Lonely Planet's
praise, it was a good excuse to view his large, beautiful wood pieces.
La Casa del Escultor. (L.P. p. 382)
Café Artex located on south side of Central Park: Chalma, who speaks
English, owns this small internet/café; he is a good source for information;
and there is an ATM just outside his place.
The 2 safe zones to stay in are Zona Rosa
and Colonia Escalόn. Zona Rosa is where several of the international bus
terminals/offices are located, is within walking distance of several of the
museums, and has lots of nice restaurants and bars. Colonia Escalόn has a
good variety of restaurants, the huge and very nice Galerias mall (and movie
theatre), and a large grocery/liquor store. We walked around both
zones at night with no problem.
Casa de Huespedes Australia:
Room #5, private bath with hot shower, 2 double beds, A/C, cable TV, tipico
breakfast, $31/night. Basic, very clean and secure. Comfortable common
areas, free internet, laundry service. Located in safe Colonia Escalόn
(near Zona Rosa), 1 block from the huge Galerias mall and lots of restaurant
choices to fit any budget. Shared baths available for less. Recommend.
Tel: (503) 2298-6035; 1a Calle Pte 3852 @ 75 Ave, Colonia Escalόn. Amada
Libertad is owner. (L.P. p. 331)
Maison de Maria (TicaBus hotel at the bus terminal in safe
It’s a bus station, of sorts - I envisioned dingy rooms and corridors with gross
carpeting. WRONG - this place is bright and spotless! Room #11, 2 double
beds, private bath w/ hot shower, A/C, cable TV, $32. Internet available,
nice (and very clean) common areas. Very convenient for that 3:00 a.m. bus
departure. This place gets our vote for “best room lighting” of our
entire trip – you
could actually read in bed! Recommend.
We checked out other lodging options:
Hotel Villa Florencia (Zona
Double, king bed $51; very clean and nice, A/C, hot water, cable TV, internet, in safe
Zona Rosa, Ave La Revolucion, (503) 2257-0236. Polaris also recommends.
(L.P. p. 331)
Day trip via the “Peace Route” to former guerrilla stronghold
Perquín, and site of huge massacre in El Mozote, in mountainous Morazán
We’re not big history buffs but wanted to understand the civil war better.
This was an eye-opening experience. We found Mario through the tourist
bureau (tourismo.com), who was an excellent English speaking guide born in
this area. Once there, his friend Luis, who started fighting as a guerrilla
12, for 12 years, gave us an interesting and informative tour on site in
Perquín. With Luis, we went to El Mozote, the site of a quick,
1,000-person brutal massacre (mostly women and children lured there under
false pretenses) by the national guard. A woman, one of only a handful of
survivors, gave us the tour. (As both only spoke Spanish, Mario did a nice
job translating their stories.) Mario did a great job of giving us the
history, political views and other cultural and environmental issues. It’s
a 3 ½ hour drive 1-way; whole trip should be about 12 hours, but ours was 14
hours due to unexpected road construction (El Salvador has excellent
highways and roadways!). $85/per person (probably less if there were more
people) + worthy tips. HIGHLY RECOMMEND the Peace Tour, especially with Mario.
Contact Mario Dominguez at cell (503) 7874-8402 or home (503) 2257-4895;
www.nahuatours.com. Nice A/C
vehicle with good driver (so Mario could talk to us).
In San Salvador, we visited the Museo Nacional de Antropologia David J.
Guzman (good); Museo de Arte de El Salvador (good); Monument
to Memory and Truth (recommend, patterned after the Vietnam Memorial in
Washington D.C.); and next to it Sala Nacional de Expositiones (my
favorite) with changing exhibits; small Museo de Arte Popular
(primarily works of Domingo Herrera’s miniature clay figures).
JUAYUA (near Sonsonate)
Finca El Portezuelo:
Juayúa (near Sonsonate), along the Ruta de las Flores: Colorful, artsy
cabin in the mountains on a working coffee finca (plantation).
Master bedroom with private bath w/ hot shower, king bed (and 2 singles),
fireplace in room, breakfast, roundtrip transportation from San Salvador (1
hr 45 min trip 1-way), 2 guided hikes, dinner at our request, $270. Living
room with DVDs, fireplace. We hiked to a hot water geyser/springs one day;
other day hiked through various coffee fincas, a corn field, up into
the cool tropical cloud forest and over to Laguna Verde crater lake (great
hike). They also have horseback riding and mountain bikes. This finca is
owned by 1 of the 5 major coffee producing families in El Salvador. Family
member Gaby & husband Julio run this and also operate tour company Akwaterra
which specializes in top-notch eco-adventure tours (surfing, kayaking,
mountain trekking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking). They were
very accommodating and flexible to our wishes. Contact Gaby (country code
503): cell 7888-8642; office 2263-6242 or 2263-2211. They’re U.S. educated
Salvadorans so they speak perfect English. An all-day, all-inclusive
package (transportation, activities and guide) is $105/pp. Recommend this
trip, or other trips through Akwaterra based on meeting Gaby. (L.P. p.
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SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR to
Tica Bus left from Zona Rosa terminal at 3:00 a.m. and arrived in Managua
12:00 noon same day. Light snacks served, assigned seats, air conditioned
(bring warm clothing), $30/per person. (A later bus costs $5 less.)
Other bus options: Del Sol, 6:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., $28, 1
class, breakfast, no seat assignments. King Quality also makes the trip and
has offices in Zona Rosa.
En route, the bus goes through Honduras. We paid nothing to clear out of El
Salvador and $3/pp to clear into Honduras. We stayed on the bus as the El
Salvadoran and Honduran officials came onboard. We paid nothing to clear
out of Honduras and paid $9/pp to clear into Nicaragua. Everyone had to get
off and wait around in the heat, while everyone’s luggage was inspected – except for
ours which they allowed to stay in the bus’ luggage compartment, something
about us being American tourists??? Passports are not stamped due to the
[ Top of page ]
- - -
(Also see www.svargo.com,
Pictures/Journal page 27)
Currency US$1 = 18.5 cordobas. US$ accepted but we didn’t
use. Telephone country code = 505.
Electricity and water rationing schedules are used daily
throughout the country – make sure to pack flashlights and spare
15 days: 7 nights in Granada --- day trip to Masaya --- day trip to
Leon --- night trip to active Masaya volcano --- 2 nights on Isla de
Ometepe (Lago Nicaragua) --- day trip around island --- 6 nights in
San Juan del Sur --- night trip to see turtles laying eggs --- day trip
to northern surfing beach. (Traveled in August/September 2007)
out of Managua as quickly and easily as possible. However, Polaris
recommends the brand new Tica Bus Hotel that adjoins their bus terminal:
$33/night, stark with A/C, cable TV, very convenient for a late
arrival/early departure; they walked a mile to a modern mall with a great
food court and cheap cinema; they could not find ATMs close by but used US$;
this isn’t in the best of neighborhoods so use taxis when out after dark.
Polaris took a taxi from Managua to Leon for $40.
This is a good place to use as home base, convenient for
various day or side trips.
We arrived at the Tica Bus terminal in Managua and in 2 minutes flat we were
in a taxi headed to Granada – an hour trip, $30 (Polaris paid $35). Based
on everything we have heard and read, Managua is not a place to hang out -
ugly, dirty, little of interest to see, unsafe. The center of the city was
bombed out during the war and has never been rebuilt. (Tica Bus has just
opened a new hotel at their bus terminal in Managua. Based on their hotel
in San Salvador and pictures, would recommend this if you have to stay
overnight in Managua.)
Three clean, nice rooms with good queen bed, private bath w/ hot shower,
cable TV, good ceiling fan, light breakfast, $25/night ($150/week). (One
room has air conditioning for more money; there is also an apartment for
rent upstairs). Rooms look out onto small garden area and fountain; open
air dining, secure, internet, laundry service, large water reserve so you
don’t have to go without when the city’s water supply is cut off each day.
This place is owned by Jan & Francis, gay guys from Belgium, advertised as
”gay friendly” (and heterosexual tolerant!) and decorated accordingly. We
stayed a week (Polaris stayed 2 weeks) and enjoyed the place, Jan and
Francis (they speak good English) are interesting, have good stories to tell
and can direct you anywhere. Recommend – but not if you’re homophobic!
Tel: (505) 844-2317; Calle Cuiscoma, 2 blocks directly south of Central
Park (approach from the east to avoid the grimy street market).
Day trip to Masaya:
We took a local minibus to the crossroads and walked in a roundabout way
(even with asking for directions) to the Mercado de Artesanias (Mercado
Viejo) which has the nicer stuff; the Mercado Municipal (Mercado Nuevo) is
the people’s market and we didn’t bother going there. Unfortunately we
didn’t take the Lonely Planet guide with us and couldn’t find our way
around, when the rain started. We taxied around the malecon (nothing there)
and took a local bus back to Granada. Market was OK, but take the book with
Day trip to Leon:
Based partially on Polaris’ comments (see below) we decided to see Leon on a
day trip. We arranged for transportation only (i.e., no “tour”) (8:30 –
6:30, 2.5 hrs. each direction, Tierra Tours Granada, $25/pp). Leon is the 2nd
biggest city in Nicaragua, but most of the sights are within easy walking
distance of Central Park. The highlight was the attractive Museo de Arte
Ortiz-Guardian with it’s 2 buildings and large collection of modern Latin
American artists. Museo de Leyendas & Mitos wasn’t as interesting as
expected. Lots of churches, be sure to do the roof tour on the cathedral
Basilica de la Asuncion; view colorful facades of Iglesia El Calvario and
Iglesia de la Recoleccion. (En route, the van took us through ugly Managua
where we got a mini-tour : Saw the large Sandino monument and view of city,
President Ortega’s house, the odd 64-“egged” Catholic church, and a huge
tent city.) (Polaris had planned on staying a week in Leon, but after 2
days moved on – in their opinion reasonable accommodations were hard to
find, attractions were in need of a face lift, and a must-see only if you
are into art and old cathedrals, although the Museo de Arte scored high with
Night trip to active Masaya volcano:
A great trip (Tierra Tours Granada, 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., $30/pp).
Included very informative museum; lookouts/lookins to craters at sunset;
dusk hike up and lookout/lookin over another crater and town; visit to
volcanic-made caves, complete with flying bats, flashlights and hardhats
(big new cracks formed in the rock in 4/07 made it a little creepy); and
standing at the very edge of the crater, high above the crater bottom (no
railing) in the dark with gas masks on to see the lava flow was
anticlimactic as the wind caused the steam/gases to obscure the view of the
red lava flow below. But definitely very interesting and informative,
partially due to an excellent, English speaking park guide.
Central Park on Saturday
(electricity stays on) usually has onstage entertainment. We saw a great 2
hours of folkloric dancing, complete with good choreography, fancy, colorful
costumes and marimbas, followed by an upbeat dance band.
tour of Granada the first day gave us a good orientation to the city, which
is what Antigua, Guatemala might have been like 10 or 15 years ago.
Recommend a very nice young man with descent English and well nourished
horses – Manuel Alvarez, 680-4690, $15/hour (Hotel Joluva recommended him).
He´s saving money so he can attend the university next year to study
At Iglesia San Francisco we met a very nice young man,
Enoch Bermudez, who works for the church (he works as interpreter among
other things) and gave us a tour. He took us to the Cathedral de Granada
where his best friend Santos took us to the bell tower where he did the
12:00 noon bell ringing. Enoch speaks wonderful English and has a whole
slew of American idioms and colloquial speech in his repertoire. We took
him our American magazines as we finished them so he could practice – he was
Various museums (Convento y Museo San Francisco);
Mi Museo was highly recommended but we forgot about it until the last
day when it was closed.
Mona Lisa - Best pizza in town.
- Great food and atmoshpere
- Great steaks and setting
Kathy's Waffle House - Yummy pecan waffles, gringo hangout, nice
view of blueberry church
Zoom Bar - corner bar 'n burger hangout
Asia Latina - "Thai and Asian fusion with a Latino touch"
ISLA DE OMETEPE
This is the only place in Nicaragua that does not ration
their electricity or water as they are self-sufficient.
The north-east side of the island tends to be very windy, so
we were advised to stay on the less windy west side, and also not in the
rather blasé towns of Moyogalpa or Altagracia.
From Granada, we used Paxeos shuttle van service ($15/pp; there are lots of
options in Granada) to the ferry dock at San Jorge. We took the big ‘ferry’
(1 hour, $3/pp) to Moyogalpa. A 30-minute taxi ride took us from the ferry
dock in Moyogalpa to Hotel Charco Verde for $15 (but see below). Polaris
used brothers Marlo and Norvin (644-9854), we used their other brother
Carlo. Taxis (don’t worry, taxis will be waiting at the ferry dock). On our
return trip back to San Jorge, we took the adequate ‘lancha’ ($1.50/pp),
which was also a large covered boat, only not as plush as the ‘ferry’.
Alternately, Polaris took a bus ($1.50/pp) from Granada to Rivas and then a
taxi to San Jorge’s ferry dock. There also is a ferry from Granada to
Ometepe, but we hear it is a long, and possibly very rough ride.
Hotel Finca Charco Verde:
Cabina #13 on beach with private patio, A/C and fan, queen + single bed, NO
hot water (anywhere), $35. (Prices range from $25 - $45, cabinas/rooms with
no A/C and/or no beach view also available.) Clean, comfortable room, nice
common areas on beach with cable TV. decent restaurant. There’s a very
pleasant and easy hour hike with some good views, around (actually past) the
Verde Lagoon. Also, an hour hike (round trip) up to the Mirador del Diablo
(just down the road from the Hotel) affords great panoramic views of the
volcanoes (assuming no clouds), but be sure to wear good footgear as part of
it is steep and slippery when wet. For $10 total, we took a taxi from Hotel
Charco Verde back to the ferry dock in Moyogalpa (see above). L.P. p. 145.
Hotel Finca Playa Venecia:
located just down the beach from Hotel Charco Verde, we hear is also nice.
We walked there but didn’t get to see much due to a sudden heavy rain
storm. L.P. p.144.
We hired Carlo (above) for an abbreviated island tour (5 hours, $30). Be
warned, some of the roads are very bad and even in Carlo’s 4-wheel drive SUV
it was still very rough. Can’t imagine what Polaris’ probably-shockless bus
trip was like around the island! We saw the coffee Finca (and hostel)
Magdalena (not much to see and the road to it gets our vote as the “roughest
road” on our trip); a few interesting petroglyphs, nice gardens and a great
view (and lodge and restaurant) at Albergue Ecologico El Porvenir; Santo
Domingo beach for lunch; La Presa Ojo de Agua,, a clear-water swimming hole;
Altagracia for the museum’s volcano shots (ok).
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
From San Jorge we caught a taxi ($18; Polaris paid $15) to San Juan del Sur.
We checked out a couple of other hotels
first, but felt they asked too much and offered too little; then we saw the
Hotel Park Avenue Villas:
Brand new place located up on a hill, nicely furnished and spotlessly clean
with all rooms facing the courtyard pool. Remote A/C + fan, queen bed +
lots of pillows, cable TV + DVD player (you can borrow from their small but
good DVD library), hot water, huge shower, in-room coffee maker with
fixings, laundry service and a pleasant, comfortable upstairs common-area
balcony with rocking chairs and a great harbor/ocean view, “Venetian” room,
$55/night. Suites and apartments (Polaris had one, $400/week) also
available. Owners Ralph and Renda are from Texas and have a sailboat
anchored in the harbor. Too new to be listed in Lonely Planet. Recommend.
Tel: (505) 837-0582,
Night trip to see turtles lay eggs:
Casa Oro ($25/pp) took a
group via “safari” truck to La Flor beach where we saw an Olive Ridley
turtle come to shore, lay and bury eggs, then return to the ocean. We were
there during a “fuller” moon; best to go around new moon as more turtles are
more likely to come ashore to nest.
– Using Casa Oro (a hostel and reputable tour operator) transportation
services ($5/pp), we spent a day at Playa Madera and Bahia Majagual,
watching the surfers on some of the best breakers around; pleasant, solitary
beaches, with lots of rock outcroppings offshore, for walking and exploring.
El Colibri - great food, artsy
Pozo – brand new restaurant owned by a California couple with a
Gato Negro – great for breakfast; huge, organized selection of
English-language books for sale
San Juan Pizza -
good pizza and homemade pasta
Pelican Eyes – high-end resort high up on the hill; great bar for
happy hour and great (but pricey) menu for dinner. This place merits at least a
walk-through, uh, hike-up, for the views and grounds – be sure to go
all the way to the top swimming pools – this place makes La Casa del
Mundo (Lake Atitlan, Guatemala) look like the bunny slope.
While there are plenty of internet cafes around, they won’t do you any good
when the electricity goes off for half a day. But you’re in luck as there
is Nica Geeks, a solar-powered internet that we used frequently.
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SAN JUAN DEL SUR, EL SALVADOR to SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
We took a taxi from San Juan
del Sur to Rivas, where we waited on the street for the 8:00 a.m. Tica Bus
($15) coming from Managua and going to San Jose. (We made reservations
and bought tickets at the Tica Bus
"office" in San Juan del Sur - it's on the west side of the park and
housed inside an automotive store.) This trip is suppose to take 6 - 8
hours, depending on how the border crossing goes. For us, it took 10
hours: A fatal traffic accident closed down the "highway" for
hours; border crossing took about 2 hours to complete; torrential rains met
us at the border; and if that wasn't enough, the delays put us into San Jose
at the start of rush hour in the rain. (There are several other
options of getting across the border and to San Jose, but after this lengthy
ordeal - see below - we couldn't imagine trying to figure all this out
on our own.)
It cost $3/pp to clear out of Nicaragua and nothing to clear into Costa
Rica. It took us a full 2 hours to clear: We all got off the bus
at the Nicaraguan border and got harassed by money changers and food vendors
while officials took our passports to immigration to get stamped out - we're
leaving the C-4 countries. We then pile back on the bus, drive through
a bus wash that fumigates the bus exterior (make sure your window is closed)
and stop at the Costa Rica border. We get off again and stand in a
long line at immigration waiting to get stamped into Costa Rica. Then
we have to retrieve all our luggage from the bus and drag it over to
inspection tables. Even though we all waited 30 minutes for the
customs official to do his inspection, the actual inspection consisted of
all the bags lined up tightly on the table, and everyone unzipped each bag
just enough for the guy to quickly stick his hand inside each so he could
say that he had "inspected" all bags - the actual inspection took all of two
minutes for the whole bus. (We're not sure if they're changing their
procedures or what. Several people had previously described the custom
procedures as walking with your bags through a door way that has a big
button, connected to a light, that you have to push: If the light
turns green, you pass; if the light turns red then your bags get inspected.
We were told the key was not to bang the button, but gently press it.)
had read several places that when entering Costa Rica that one must show
proof of a return ticket out of the country. We did not find this to
[ Top of page ]
- - -
(Also see www.svargo.com,
Pictures/Journal - page 28 and
Pictures/Journal - page 34)
Currency US$1 = 512 Colones. Telephone country code = 506.
22 days: Used San Jose as “home base” (11 nights total) --- day trip to
Rain Forest Aerial Tram (in Braulio Carrillo Natl Park) --- 4 nights at
Arenal Volcano --- 3 nights in Monteverde / Santa Elena --- 4 nights at
Manuel Antonio. (Traveled in September 2007)
We arrived in San Jose at the new Tica Bus
station (Lonely Planet p. 98 shows the OLD location). (We didn’t know Tica Bus had moved their station, so when after 20 minutes and a lot of
driving – in the dark and rain – our taxi still had not made it to our hotel
that we thought was only 4 blocks away, we both got very anxious; a phone call to our
hotel convinced us we were not being abducted.) We think the new
station is on Paseo Colon near Torre Mercedes.
Gray Line Costa Rica
shuttle van door-to-door service we used for traveling around Costa Rica.
We found their quality service to be safe, dependable and reasonably priced
and the vans (variable sizes depending on need) to be new and quite
comfortable. Tel (506) 220-2126, 291-2222, 232-3681;
www.graylinecostarica.com. (L.P. 325)
In general, cost of living is a lot more in Costa Rica than
what we were used to in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua – more akin to
stateside prices. Also, there is a hefty 16% tax on hotels so know if tax
is added in when comparing prices; 13% sales tax + 10% service is added at
restaurants. Typical admissions into “basic” attractions and parks ranged
$7 – $13 per person, as
opposed to the $2 - $5 we were accustomed to paying previously.
We HIGHLY RECOMMEND that when visiting the various national
and private parks and reserves, that you be sure to hire a guide, otherwise
you probably won’t even see 5% of the animals that you would see with a
guide. There are usually official guides at the park entrances that are
very knowledgeable, know where to find the animals and carry a spotting
telescope on a tripod so you can get an up-close look and you can even take
pictures through the scope! Or your hotel may be able to recommend a
guide. Also, early morning is the best time to see diurnal animals.
Throughout Costa Rica, you will have more than ample
opportunity to visit butterfly gardens, ranariums (frog aquariums),
serpentariums (snake aquariums), hummingbird gardens, insect museums,
botanical gardens, canopy zip line tours, aerial trams, hanging bridges,
etc., etc., and if you try to do them all you will surely go broke. We
picked and chose based on guide books and people’s recommendations, doing a
few here and there. As a bonus for going during rainy season, flowers are
at their prime, and as most outdoor attractions are lavishly landscaped, the
ooh and aah factor was high.
We did not pack our small hiking binoculars, but wished I had
found room (and strength) to lug more stuff along. We certainly would have
used them at Arenal Volcano (although we did borrow cheap ones from the
hotels) and the various parks for wildlife watching (although guides carry
nice spotting scopes on tripods).
You may want to go back to the top and review
TRAVELING DURING RAINY SEASON.
The reasons for traveling during low season apply especially to Costa Rica.
Also, if traveling during this time of year, plan your outdoor activities
for the morning (you're getting up early anyway to see the wildlife); assume
it will rain in the afternoon so carry an umbrella or rain jacket.
is a safe area to stay in and walk day or night. The area used to be home
to the wealthy coffee barons, so most all lodging is in converted mansions.
Hotel Dunn Inn:
Located in safe Barrio Amόn, we used this as our home base. Clean,
pleasant, airy and comfortable. Rooms have hot water, cable TV, free phone,
refrig, ceiling fan, wood paneling/floor. Nice little restaurant/bar, free
wifi and coffee bar, internet computers available, and free luggage storage
which we used when making our side trips.
$68 (includes tax) with queen bed (less for standard room). Suites,
A/C (wasn’t needed) and Jacuzzi tub also available. Staff was very
professional and helpful. We liked rooms #4 (corner room with 4 windows and
queen); #3 (small but with French doors and a small balcony); #6. Ave 11,
Calle 5, Barrio Amόn; Tel (506) 222-3232 / 222-3426;
email@example.com. We HIGHLY RECOMMEND. (L.P. 108)
There was good (e.g., nicely folded) and reasonable (2 loads for $9) laundry
service available literally just around the corner from the Dunn Inn.
We made reservations here for our first night and moved to Hotel Dunn Inn
for the duration of our stays in San Jose. This place was clean, and
reminded us of funky Las Torres in Guatemala City, although an older and
darker version. Room #14 (Hemingway Suite), queen bed, cable TV, hot
shower, refrig, free phone, ceiling fan, included good self-serve breakfast,
$66 (which included the 16% tax). Free internet, "hot tub" outside, free
luggage storage. Ave 9, Calle 9, Barrio Amόn, (506) 221-1804, 257-8630,
Sightseeing / Shopping:
Day trip to Rain Forest Aerial Tram (Atlantic) in Braulio
Carrillo National Park:
We did a day package for $135/pp, which included: Door-to-door van
transportation; breakfast; introductory video; aerial tram with
English-speaking guide (just us); canopy zip line tour; guided tour through
nature walks, small serpentarium, butterfly and frog gardens. This is a
first class operation (we did their aerial tram in Dominica a few years
ago), partially because the remarkable construction was done with the
preservation of the environment as their number one goal. For example, only
fallen trees were used for stepping-stones and all supplies were cabled in
so as not to compress the soil. Also, the zip line uses double cables, has
a practice line, requires use of helmets and has superior equipment and
cable gear (quality-wise, no comparison to the zip line at Tikal). The zip
course included nature walks between towers; zipping across the scenic river
several times; taking in the mass of toucans sitting in the nearby trees.
They have a Lodge if you want to spend the night in the rainforest. There is
another Rain Forest Aerial Tram on the Pacific side, smaller with less
attractions. RFAT has an office in Barrio Amόn just a couple of blocks from
Dunn Inn - I think it’s at 5th & 7th Street, 7th
Ave; Tel (506) 257-5961;
Located in nearby Escazú, this is both the workshop and store for
internationally renowned wood craftsman Barry Biesanz. His work is delicate
and high quality, totally handmade, each piece designed around the natural
lines and shape of the wood. His signature bowl pieces are so delicate that
the wood is actually translucent. Each piece is unique; they are expensive
(small bowl $50 minimum), but worth the trip to see and possibly get a tour
of the workshop from the artist himself. About a 15 minute taxi ride, it’s
hard to find – call or go to website for map; Tel 289-4337;
M-F 8-5, Sat & Sun by appt. (L.P. 139)
Located in nearby Escazú, it’s the best mall we’ve seen in Central America;
a huge variety of mid to high end stores, including some nice art; Cemaco,
big Columbia store and GNC; movie theatres; typical food court but also nice
restaurants and bars situated around atrium atmosphere and elsewhere. It’s
a 15-minute taxi ride from Dunn Inn, but certainly worth it for the
diversity. (L.P. 139)
Within walking distance of Barrio Amόn:
Wondering about the small
but diverse indigenous culture of Costa Rica? This small store is packed
with high quality arts and crafts from the various tribes, and can give you
a quickie education about traditions better than anything else we saw. We
fell in love with the “Diablitos” ceremonial masks of the Brunka (boruca)
tribe (awesome way beyond any Guatemalan mask) and bought 2 which they
professionally shipped back to Houston. The store practices “free trade”,
which means they buy the pieces directly from the artist (instead of on
consignment); sales proceeds go 50% to the artist and 50% to the store. We
discussed having them arrange a trip for us to visit the Boruca tribe (pop.
3,000), but the rainy season was making reliable and safe transportation too
iffy. This store is only a few blocks from Dunn Inn, so be sure not to
miss this art collection; they also have kuna molas and Wounan canasta
baskets from Panama. In Barrio Amόn, Ave 7 between Calles 5 & 7; tel
The popular museum
supposedly has the world’s largest collection of American jade – very nice
pieces; archeological exhibits of ceramics and stonework are mixed in.
English signage. (Located on ground floor now.) (L.P.96)
Museo de Oro Precolombino y Numismatica:
This museum, located
under the Cultural Plaza and owned by Banco Central (who issues all the
country’s currency), has a large collection of great pre-columbian gold and
artifacts; a currency exhibit that was surprisingly interesting (hold your
colon bill under the black light to reveal its secret markings – unless its
counterfeit); and a temporary exhibit tying in American mercenary William
Walker with the currency, which was also well done (but more than I needed
to know). The whole thing is well done with English signage. (L.P. 97)
Took a short tour of what is
considered the most beautiful building in Costa Rica, or at least San Jose;
lots of gold leaf; large famous painting from Italy depicting banana
harvesting – but obviously artist had never witnessed such a thing;
theater's main floor rises level with the stage for social functions;
excellent little café. It was the 3rd location in the world to have
electricity. (L.P. 99)
San Pedro Mall:
A basic mall with food court and movie theatres.
Acuarias: If you want a
haircut, massage or pedicure, this is a good place - we both got cuts and
Deb got a massage with sauna.
(all within walking distance of Dunn Inn except last one):
– Excellent, pricey, in converted home with art work
– Good food, eat indoors or on porch of this mansion surrounded by big
|J.R. House of
Casual, excellent ribs to rival those in Texas
– Very nice, varied Asian menu, great food, Asian artwork decor
[ Top of page ]
We combined these 2 areas into the same trip. We visited
Arenal Volcano area for 4 nights, then took the Jeep-Boat-Jeep
transportation across the lake (Laguna de Arenal) to Monteverde-Santa
Elena. You can drive around the north side of the lake BUT it is a VERY
ROUGH road and a very long ride, so think twice about it, especially during
rainy season when a bridge or road may get washed out. You can also do this
trip in reverse.
Because of the large number of tourists, English is spoken
most places, including by the various guides. We found all guides to be
very professional. Many places are cash basis only. There are, however,
several ATMs in La Fortuna and in Santa Elena.
This is one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world
(active since 1968). Presently, the active lava flow is on its southwest
side (just prior to early 2007, it was flowing east & north). You enter the
area at La Fortuna, on the inactive east side of the volcano. This is the
largest town around, which was built for the lava views – before the volcano
altered its course. The town is fine for an afternoon of sightseeing or
overnight stay if your transportation schedule in/out dictates, but you’re
here to see the lava flow so head on over to the other side of Arenal –
around El Castillo and the Arenal Volcano National Park. You really need
your own wheels here as there is little public transportation and lot of
area to explore. As most people here are either tourist or fond of tourist,
driving here is civilized, although the roads are not, so you need to rent a
Gray Line door-to-door shuttle van service from
San Jose to La Fortuna, $29/pp one way, 8:00 – 12:00 noon.
Rent-a-Car in La Fortuna, $60/day (included tax and insurance) + fuel
but they gave us 1 ½ days free. The office in La Fortuna (I think) (506)
479-8027; in San Jose 442-6178 / 223-4249. You will definitely want to rent
a 4x4 vehicle, which are plentiful. (Poas said we could leave the car at
the lake where the Jeep-Boat-Jeep boat picks up (at the dam near El
Castillo), that way you don’t have to go back in to La Fortuna.) (L.P. 248)
Jeep-Boat-Jeep, door-to-door service from La Fortuna to Monteverde/Santa
Elena, or vice versa, about 3 hours. Rough road all the way from the lake
to Santa Elena – an hour 45 minutes just to go 22 miles. $25/pp through our
hotel, BUT found out later could have bought in La Fortuna for $15/pp.
We stayed in 3 different places, each one got better. They
all have great volcano/lava views, but each one just got more up close and
personal to Arenal! Clouds tend to hang around Arenal, especially during
rainy season, so it can be hit or miss on the views (we were very fortunate
to have great views most of the time) - one more reason to stay flexible in
your travel plans, as we did. In order, with the best first:
Arenal Observatory Lodge:
This is the only accommodation located in the Arenal Volcano National Park.
We went by here just for a day visit on our way back to La Fortuna and
decided we just had to stay a night (that’s the beauty of not traveling on a
schedule). The less expensive rooms were taken so we splurged on room #30
in the main lodge, $117/night (includes good buffet breakfast & hike), with
the most incredible in-your-face view of Arenal you can imagine: Full
picture window with Arenal front and center, big as your face; seen from our
king-size bed. This lodge, located at the base of Arenal, is where the
scientists who study (since 1987) this very active volcano stay; however, it
is anything but basic. Rooms are very clean and nicely decorated; large,
good restaurant /bar with observation deck and same awesome volcano view.
The grounds are huge, meticulously landscaped with a vast variety of labeled
plants and flowers (lots of species of heliconia, ginger, orchids, etc.),
several miles of hiking trails, and a very pretty pool area with a large
covered hot tub nestled against the pine forest, all of which we utilized.
Lots of birds, including parrots, and you can hear the howler monkeys.
There’s a mini-museum on the premises with a seismograph. Through the
lodge, we did a guided sunset hike through the “new” lava fields
(1998) on the west side of Arenal. Unfortunately, it began raining so the
lava flow was barely visible, although we were pretty darn close. There are
various lodging options scattered around the property, some appeared to be
more basic (i.e., not newly renovated, although with perfect views). Oh, by
the way, did I mention . . . you’re in a posted “high risk” area here? We
were so close that with the naked eye we literally could see eruptions and
individual rocks bouncing down the side of Arenal leaving trails of
disturbed ash; by night, red hot dots, dashes and lines are highly visible.
Arenal is constantly heard grumbling, occasionally letting out a loud belch
accompanied by a huge plume of smoke and ash. HIGHLY RECOMMEND, even
if only for the day. Tel 290-7011, 692-2070; www.arenalobservatorylodge.com.
(L.P. 250, 251)
Hotel Linda Vista del Norte:
$63/night (includes tax, and good Americano breakfast -
$13 value), same price for room with or without view; suites
available. We had room #7 with a direct view of the lava flow from our huge
picture window, very clean and cheerily decorated, 2 beds, steamy hot
shower, beautiful wood ceiling, patio. The hotel is located high up on top
of a ridge with a wonderful panoramic view. Attractive pool and hot tub
area, terrace, very good restaurant and bar with indoor/outdoor seating –
ALL with SPECTACULAR views of Arenal’s lava flow to our northeast, the lake
to the northwest, and verdant hills to the south. Hiking areas nearby
although we didn’t do. Ask for binoculars. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. On the road
to El Castillo; Tel 380-0847;
www.lindavistadelnorte.com. (L.P. 251)
Villa Volcan Suites
$75/night, private bath, view from the bed/patio, sound of rushing stream
below, clean. We thought this was great until we saw the other 2 places
above. In comparison, this is overpriced and not quite as luxurious as
Lonely Planet makes it out to be. Located in El Castillo, with a few
comedors nearby, we drove to dinner elsewhere. Owner Glenn also owns the
large butterfly conservatory across the street with beautiful grounds, which
we toured. Ask for binoculars. Tel 302-5568. (L.P. 252)
We spent our last night in Arenal in La Fortuna as we were
catching the early Jeep-Boat-Jeep. The town is tourist-oriented, safe (no
burglar bars), lots of hotels, restaurants (Don Rufino, Lava Rocks, Luigi’s
Pizza are good), shops and tour agencies to choose from.
Hotel Pepito’s Place:
8 rooms, $35/night, 2 good beds, cable TV, refrig, A/C, hairdryer!, hot
water, clean and neat, no view, good location, internet in office. The
office for Poas Rent-a-Car is located in the same building.
Lots of hot springs in the area although we did not go to them – in
hindsight, probably should have gone to one. But at $29/pp ($19/pp after
7pm) for the elaborate Tabacon Hot Springs, we couldn’t justify the money.
We did hear good things about Eco-Termales and Baldi Thermae Hot Springs,
which still cost at least $19/pp. (L.P. 238, 239)
Having wheels and some time
to kill in La Fortuna, we visited this small, but nicely done ecological
reserve and enjoyed it. It has a little of everything: A nature trail takes
you through different sections in the wild: butterfly garden (enclosed),
frogs, snakes in aquariums, lake with caimans (somewhere) and we sighted
sleeping 2-toed sloths, agoutis, gray-neck quail; also around somewhere are
howler monkeys and coatis. In the wild, a worker showed us several sleeping
red-eyed tree frogs that I had walked right by (they sleep on or under
banana leaves) and there were lots of red poison dart frogs hopping around –
that alone made it worthwhile. Recommend if you’re looking for something to
do in the La Fortuna area. Tel 460-8005. (L.P. 239)
MONTEVERDE / SANTA ELENA
This area is composed of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Biological Reserve and the newer, smaller and less visited Santa Elena
Reserve cloud forest. There is an endless number of eco-activities to keep
you busy for a while, lots of shops and galleries to poke around in, and a
variety of accommodations and good restaurants and bars to sample. While
Santa Elena is the only town, all these things are spread out over several
miles, easily accessible by foot, taxi or shuttle service.
Jeep-Boat-Jeep, door-to-door service from La Fortuna to Monteverde/Santa
Elena, or vice versa. $25/pp through our hotel, BUT found out later could
have bought in La Fortuna for $15/pp. (L.P. 248)
Gray Line door-to-door shuttle van service from
Santa Elena to San Jose, $38/pp one way, 8:00 – 12:00 noon. (This costs
more than from San Jose to La Fortuna because of the wear ‘n tear on the
tires. Soooo, those of you wanting to drive yourself around the lake, what
does this tell you?!)
Hotel de Montana Monteverde:
Located a mile or so outside
of Santa Elena on the main road, this lovely sprawling property, with its
own private reserve, sits high up on a hill
overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We reserved a “standard” room for
$63/night (10% discount for cash, includes full breakfast) but since it was
low season we got a free upgrade to a “superior” room (#23, $113 value) with
a private balcony and giant bathtub; cable TV,
bed, refrig, free phone, ceiling fan, beautiful wood ceiling. The
property is being renovated – our room among others, restaurant, reception
were done – with 2 Jacuzzi spas, bar and other rooms still to be done.
Through the hotel, we did a guided night tour with Juan Carlos ($13/pp;
spotting scope, bright flashlight with battery pack and flashlights for each
participant) on the hotel reserve, where we saw a Motmot (bird) and lots
more. We walked to/from the town of Santa Elena, although there is a very
steep hill on the way so cheap taxis are readily available. Recommend. We
spent all 4 nights here. Tel 645-5046 / 645-5338;
We checked this out in case we wanted to move (we decided we had too good a
deal, even though it cost more than here) and would recommend. Located in
Santa Elena, built around a huge fig tree, the recently renovated room we
saw was clean, hot water, cable TV, balcony. About $35 including
breakfast. Tel 645-7475. (L.P. 200)
WOW, where to begin?
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve:
hotel, we did an early morning (best time to see the wildlife) guided tour
with Carlos ($35/pp included transportation + knowledgeable guide + park
entrance fee). Before we even left the hotel, we spied through his spotting
scope a tree with dozens of keel-billed/rainbow toucans in it. On the drive
to the park, he found us a Splendid Quetzal that was resting after its
breakfast of avocados. We saw a lot in the park. It was low season so we
literally almost had the park to ourselves; we understand high season is a
different story where the number of daily visitors is limited to 150 people
and waiting lists are used (another great reason to travel during rainy
season). Outside the entrance is a small, free hummingbird garden with big
iridescent purple and turquoise hummingbirds among others. Tel 645-5122.
Santa Elena Reserve:
Lonely Planet describes it as having less infrastructure and therefore less
maintained, we found the paths and signage to be comparable to Monteverde.
Here we opted for a self-guided hike (and thus didn’t see much wildlife) to
the continental divide where on a clear day (we were in the clouds
that day) you can see both the Caribbean and Pacific! Tel 661-8290. (L.P.
This is one of
those places that has most everything, but also does it extremely well:
Canopy zip-line tour (15 stations through primary tropical cloud forest –
wish we had done this but it was drizzling); long and high hanging
(suspension) bridges (8) spanning thick, lush forest, streams and rivers,
interspersed along a nice hiking trail – we enjoyed this even in the
drizzle; huge domed butterfly garden – which we heard later was excellent;
large hummingbird garden; a reptile and amphibian exhibit; and the Jewels of
the Rainforest / Whitten Entomological Collection. This latter exhibition
is one of the largest private collections (over 1 million dead specimens) in
the world of insects and more yucky things. Whitten uses art as a means to
display, compare and educate. A fascinating 10-minute video started the
tour. We did this and would recommend. Selvatura has a small
restaurant/bar, and also has free shuttle service to/from Santa Elena and
surrounding area. It’s also within walking distance of Santa Elena Reserve
so we combined these into one day (taxied to Santa Elena Reserve, walked
downhill to Selvatura, took their shuttle back to town). Tel 645-5929;
The Frog Pond / Ranario
(frogs in big aquariums): We loved this exhibit. We had a
terrific guide who took us around and spotted 36 of the 37 species in the
aquariums. As most of the frogs are nocturnal, you need a guide to find
them for you during the day while they sleep in their heavily floraed
habitat. But the bonus is that your ticket allows you to come back in after
6:00 pm when the lights are out and the frogs are hopping. You get a
flashlight so you are able to find most all of them. Yep, the red-eyed
tree, red poison and green poison dart, blue jeans frogs and the humongous
toad were all there. $9/pp for 2 visits. Tel 645-6320. (L.P. 192)
(snakes in big aquariums): An exhibit I love to hate. Most
venomous snakes are nocturnal, so your ticket allows you to come back after
things are dark so you can see them on the move. There are also
non-venomous snakes. $8/pp for 2 visits. Tel 645-6002. (L.P. 192)
El Establo Mountain Resort:
Ok, so this
isn’t exactly a sightseeing attraction, per se. It’s an upscale hotel
(resort) located across the street from our Hotel de Montana Monteverde. We
went there for a happy hour drink at the bar, which the staff kept telling
us was located “just up the hill”. A steep, half-mile hike later, we arrive
definitely ready for that drink. But the view is incredible – you’re way up
high and can see the Pacific. (L.P. 202)
There are lots more things to see and do here.
(?) - Good Italian
– Jazzed up Costa Rican food (e.g., sea bass), small place in town
– Pasta, seafood and pizza in nice atmosphere
[ Top of page ]
This area is made up of the town of Quepos, the Manuel
Antonio National Park and several miles in between.
Gray Line door-to-door shuttle van service from
San Jose to Manuel Antonio, 4 hours, $29/pp. Ask your driver to stop at the
Rio Tarcoles bridge (aka Crocodile Bridge), so you can get out, walk the
bridge and see the dozens of large crocodiles lazing around the river banks,
flexing their big jaws (L.P. 325). We used the same service to go back to
buses run frequently (60 cents) between Quepos and Manuel Antonio Park,
or you can get a taxi for a couple of bucks. (No need to feel compelled to
stay in Quepos or near the park entrance.)
After Arenal and Monteverde
we were used to splurging (budget blown, what the hell). Again, we get a
gratis upgrade since it’s low season. Room #29,
around $70, includes full breakfast buffet, queen bed, private
balcony, ocean view over the tree tops, A/C, ceiling fan, free phone,
refrig, and I think another pretty wood ceiling. Nice pool, spa (but not
very hot), restaurant/bar, free internet. Located on the road midway
between Quepos and Manuel Antonio Park. Tel 777-1234;
www.hotel-california.com. (L.P. 350)
Manuel Antonio National Park:
If you want to see anything,
and there’s plenty to see here, hire a park guide (they have spotting scopes
– we got some great pictures using the scope). Afterward, we went back
and hiked some more on our own. The park is closed on Mondays to give
the animals a day of rest. Whales, no, we didn’t see any, but
for several days just before we arrived whales had been sighted in the bay
inside of the big rocks.
Turtle release bust:
What looked like it was going to be a highlight of the trip became the
biggest (only) disappointment. We hooked up with a guy (American) who had
an "in" with the big turtle conservatory at Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge.
Olive Ridley turtles come here in the summer-fall to lay their eggs; 45 – 60
days later they hatch and we're on the cusp. They had just started
hatching, his inside contact told him, so we schedule to go out early next
morning and actually participate hands-on in releasing the baby turtles back
into the ocean. But in fact, a predator had dug up a nest which
necessitated the baby turtles being released prematurely into the wild.
Very disappointing. But, we did not miss out as later back in
Monterrico, Guatemala, we got to release baby leatherbacks back into the
|El Gran Escape
- Located in Quepos across from the beach, good place for fish, lots of
- Located just outside the park, had good snacks there
? - Located just outside the
park, upstairs, had good seared tuna for lunch
- Can't remember where it was but my notes say "hearty seafood soup"
There are several more places we were interested in visiting
in Costa Rica, but decided to save and do from the Panama side. In
particular, Tortuguero (more turtles) on the Caribbean coast and remote
Corcovado National Park on the far southwest peninsula.
[ Top of page ]
- - -
RECOMMENDATIONS ON WHERE TO GO FOR
YOUR MANDATORY IMMIGRATION RUN IN
Bocas del Toro on tourist visas, we have to leave Panama every 90 days for
72 hours for immigration purposes. Across the border in Costa Rica on
the Caribbean side are Puerto Viejo and
Puerto Limόn; on the Pacific side is
Golfito. Below are our experiences and recommendations.
(added January and May 2010)
NOTE: Costa Rica is one hour behind Panama time.
de Talamanca (Caribbean side)
(added January 2010)
(Also see www.svargo.com,
Pictures/Journal - page 34)
This is probably the easiest and cheapest
way to do your mandatory 72 hours out of Panama (from Bocas del Toro). This beach town is a
big surfer hangout with great choices in restaurants and lodging, and an up
and coming music scene. Compared to Bocas, it has more of an
artsy-craftsy feel, and we found it aesthetically more pleasing as the town
is fronted with actual beach and lots of greenery all along the shore.
There are national parks nearby and walking/hiking and biking are very big
here. (L.P. 480)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Costa Rica is one hour
behind Panama time.
provides door-to-door service
and gets you across the border as a group.
For $56 per person round trip ($28/one way), this includes the Water Taxi 25 water
taxi from Bocas to Almirante, comfortable van ride to the border where you
are walked across in a group (take rain gear if appropriate), van ride on to
Puerto Viejo where you are dropped off at your hotel - in all about 3½
hours total. Process is reversed
for your return. We highly recommend as we think it's quite a deal and so easy to do. Caribe Shuttle in Bocas is located at
Water Taxi 25 (next to Bocas Paradise Hotel) (507) 757-7048; in
Puerto Viejo located at Rocking J's (506) 2750-0626.
(They are in the process of setting up shuttle service between
Bocas/Almirante and David/Boquete.)
Casa Verde Lodge
is a block from the main street and beach, is set in exotic tropical
gardens, has a very pleasant swimming pool area with jacuzzi (wasn't working
when we were there) and massage cabana, and a small café. Their 14
rooms are spacious, very clean, comfortable (ours had 1 double and 2
twin beds) with night stands and lots of shelves, private patio or balcony
with chairs/hammock, cable TV, refrigerator, fans. About $48/double.
Tel (506) 2750-0015,
Hotel Banana Azul
is located about a mile walk west of town. Although we have not seen
it, others who have stayed there all rave about it, so worth checking out.
Tel (506) 2750-2035, 2750-0212,
Tree House, a top end choice, is
located a couple of miles east of town. We've been on the jungle
property but have not seen the 3 totally secluded, open air houses:
tree house (built up in a huge tree), beach house and beach suite.
Lots of surprises. Tel (506) 2750-0706,
Rocking J's, while this is a true
backpacker hangout and we're not suggesting you stay there, it is definitely
worthwhile checking out just for the fun of it. It's huge, and was
decorated by someone who had lots of time on his hands and lots of scrap
ceramic tiles. Hang/pitch/rent accommodations include hammocks,
sheltered tents on the ground or in the loft, shared rooms, private rooms.
Restaurant; music; Caribe Shuttle offices there. We managed to find
their bar on several occasions for that cold beer and bathroom break amongst
our hiking and biking. Located about a mile east of town, on the
beach/road. Tel (506) 2750-0657,
Surfing (home of the famous Salsa Brava, the biggest break in
Costa Rica), swimming, snorkeling, diving, hiking, biking. East of
Puerto Viejo, the beach and road run through Punta Uva to Manzanillo and
through national park and reserve. We really enjoyed biking and hiking
along here, lots of little communities and lodging to check out. One
day we hopped on the bus and headed west to Cahuita, not much to see there,
although there is the Cahuita National Park nearby (we did not go to it).
Chocolate is a classy open-air cafe serving fresh French-press coffee
and steamed milk to start your day off with a yummy breakfast.
Rojo, located upstairs, is a very popular place for Thai and Middle
Beach is a brand new open-air multi-decked place serving good food in a
pleasant atmosphere looking over the beachfront. One night we strolled
around with our cocktail at their outdoor art exhibit - local artists'
works on small billboards - on the grounds. Located one block directly
in front of Casa Verde, on the beach road.
Viejo, really good pizza & Italian place next to Chile Rojo.
[ Top of page ]
PUERTO LIMON (Carib side)
(added January 2010)
(Also see www.svargo.com,
Pictures/Journal - page 34)
It was time
for several of us from Bocas del Toro to leave Panama for 72 hours for our
immigration. We decided to sail to Puerto Limόn,
Costa Rica to meet our requirement. Puerto Limόn
is Costa Rica's largest port on the Caribbean side, never talked about as a
cruiser stopover, and as such we were
expecting a dirty, scroungy town. We were pleasantly surprised to find
a clean, neat town with things to see and do nearby. (L.P. 450)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Costa Rica is one hour behind Panama time.
there: Going against the current it was a 14 hour trip from Bocas Marina
to cover the 65 miles by sea; coming
back it took about 10 hours. We never saw any traffic until right at
Limόn. I believe you could do this as a land
trip using Caribe Shuttle (above); then travel the rest of the way either by
shuttle/bus or by shuttle boat (check with David Carnegie, below). Lonely
Planet says that most boat transportation is done in the major port of Moín,
just 7km west of Limόn.
& Immigration: This port
handles freighters and cruise ships. They are not accustomed to
handling yachts with respect to customs and immigrations, so it took a
while. We are "grooming" David Carnegie (see below) and his associate
Marsha to cater to yachties, so we recommend using him - there is a lot of
running around no matter how you do it so best to hook up with someone who
has done this before.
Anchorage: The port
has a large concrete dock for freighters. To the west of it
(you're on the south side of a point) is the cruise ship dock. To the
west of that is another dock that is unused. The "anchorage" is
between the cruise ship dock and the unused dock. Our bow anchor held
well to the SE, but we experienced a roll and set a stern anchor on the
scoured bottom towards shore which did not hold well. Our buddy boat,
who has been there a couple of times before, said that they had never
experienced a roll.
tie-up: There is no dinghy dock, but if you dinghy under the
cruise ship dock, you will find close to shore (east side of dock) a large
metal ladder up to the top. You will have to use the large tire and/or
I-beam to climb up to the ladder from the dinghy, but it is doable even with
a low tide. You can lock your dinghy here.
Security: We felt security was very good here for our boats,
dinghies and ourselves. There is good security around the docks, and there
are 2 different security gates you have to pass through coming or going.
Be sure to have your passport with you. We always let the guards know
we were on the boats and would be returning.
Yachtie services / local transportation / tour operator:
Carnegie, Caribbean Costaricans, Tour Operator, yachties' "agent" in the
making. David took our boat captains around to clear in and to clear
out. He gave us a full day tour (see below) which included: zipline in
La Bomba, great lunch at El Faro, a canal boat tour, general tour of area,
and took us to do errands at the bank and grocery store. He speaks
excellent English, was very attentive to our needs and is interested in
developing himself as an "agent" there to assist yachties - we think he will
be very receptive to any needs or suggestions that yacthies may have.
Tel (506) 2798-2203, 8855-3297,
UPDATE: Since our initial posting, we have heard of 2 cruiser couples, one
by sea and one by land, who used David's services and were very pleased.
The town is good sized and clean
with an impressive central park (Parque
Vargas) and pedestrian mall starting at the seawall (where you enter on foot
from the secured dock area). There's plenty of satisfactory shopping
(Mas x Menos, large grocery store), internet cafes, banks. The central
mercado and street vendors had a wonderful selection of
produce. Playa Bonita is a quick taxi ride from town and offers a
pretty beach, a couple of restaurants/bars and good people watching - it's
very popular on Sundays.
El Rancho del Valle (?) in La Bomba,
a 30 minute drive from the port. We were impressed with the quality
and safety of the ziplines and how each zipline got more "advanced" -
perfect for the first-time zipper. Staff was great and one was
dedicated to taking pictures with our cameras. Zipped over big rushing river.
Canal boat tour -
we observed a sloth within touching distance,
lots of different birds, alligator (or caiman?)
Uvita is a small island located
just off the mainland. While we did not explore it,
our buddy boat anchored there for the day and did some surfing.
Washington Bar is located at the
corner of the pedestrian mall (main street) where it meets Parque Vargas.
With some outdoor seating for people-watching and icy cold beer, this immediately
became the group's default rendezvous spot for the next 3 days.
El Faro ("the lighthouse") located
way high up with a great view overlooking the port area. Good ceviche.
Barrio Santa Eduviges, 200m east from torres of Cable Tica, Tel. (506) 2758-2159,
La Reina is a nice restaurant/bar on
Playa Bonita, a $6 taxi ride to the north. We enjoyed a very lazy
Sunday afternoon at a shady bar table, watching the beachgoers, surfers,
kite-fliers, young soccer players, and a man with his pet lizard on a leash.
There is another restaurant/bar but we did not check it out.
For your fast food fix: Burger King
(we had Whoppers for breakfast - just as we remember them!), Pollo Campero
(out of Guatemala and better than KFC, we got a bucket for our night
passage), Pizza Hut, TCBY are within walking distance.
[ Top of page ]
GOLFITO (Pacific side)
(added May 2010, updated July 2010)
(Also see www.svargo.com,
Pictures/Journal - page 34)
For something different, we spent our 3
days "in exile" at this little coastal town, located on a small gulf, inside
the large Golfo Dulce on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. The "town" of
Golfito is scattered along several miles of coast, with no real town center.
While it is not a top-10 tourist destination, we enjoyed our stay, saw the
sights and met gringo cruisers & land owners. It was hot (April), so we tried
to do our outdoor activities in the morning, and relax in the afternoon.
There's not a whole lot to do in our opinion, so bring a good book for the
afternoon - or schedule a nap. (L.P. p.430)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Costa Rica is one hour
behind Panama time.
July 2010 update: We just returned
from our 2nd trip to Golfito. We again enjoyed our stay at Land &
Sea's guesthouse and have added a few more restaurants below. It is
rainy season - cloudy mornings with rain in the afternoons and evenings, so
come prepared. Land & Sea is currently building another guesthouse
next door to where we stayed.
It's about a 45 minute ride from David to
the Costa Rican border (a friend drove us but you can catch a bus at the
David bus station). You walk across the border at Paso Canoas.
We then caught a bus to Golfito (1½ hours depending on stops, $1.30) - ask
for the bus station at Paso Canoas. The bus dropped us off at the
Golfito cemetery, directly across from the Land & Sea office. To
return to the border, we caught the bus at the "main" bus stop in Golfito to
assure we had seats - ask around for it.
Alternatively after crossing over into
Costa Rica, friends took a taxi to Zancudo which is on Golfo Dulce (around
$35) and spent their 3 days there. To return, they took a water taxi
to Golfito, where they then caught the cheap bus back to the border.
Land & Sea / Tierra Mar
has a brand new guest house up the hill directly across from Banana Bay
Marina (see below). We stayed in the 'Villa Studio', $35/night, clean
and very light room (sliding glass door + big window) with
refrigerator/coffee bar/basic dishes, A/C, cable TV, private patio with
sink, and shared balcony with great view over marina and bay. 'Casita
Tierra Mar', $60/night, with full kitchen and separate bedroom, shares the
balcony. 'Crew Quarters' room available for $20. Behind their
office over the water is a common area and honor bar available to their
guests. If we go back, we would definitely stay here again as we
really like this place AND it's location relative to popular gringo
restaurants/bars. Katie & Tim, friend of cruisers, run the place.
Get off the bus at the cemetery. Tel. (506) 2775-1614.
July 2010: They are building another guesthouse.
La Purruja Lodge,
located a few miles south of Golfito, is recommended by friends. While
there is a good restaurant next door, there is nothing else nearby.
The draw of this secluded, peaceful place are the lovely, sprawling grounds,
lots of wildlife, and a haven for bird lovers; swimming pool. Run by
Swiss-Tico couple. Several small, clean cabins with ceiling fans;
includes breakfast; double ~$30. Tel. (506) 2775-1054,
Cabinas El Tucán,
located on the main drag, offers budget accommodations in this family run
hotel. Friends who stayed here report clean rooms, community kitchen
to keep costs down and friendly families with kids playing in the courtyard.
Rooms with refrigerators, TVs, A/C available. Tel. (506) 2775-0553.
Banana Bay Marina is probably the
most popular gringo/cruiser hangout. Big, nice open-air restaurant/bar
over the water with view, consistently good food, happy hour (5:00-6:00) and
lively Friday nights. It is located next to the Land & Sea / Tierra
Mar office and across the street from their guest house.
The Fish Hook, located on the other
side of Land & Sea, has a pleasant bar area (free wifi) and nice open-air
restaurant, over the water with view and good food.
La Casona de Mariscos
was recommended to us by several cruisers,
and we really liked it. Going north on the main road, at Banco
Nacional turn right and it is located just up the hill on the left.
Highly recommended is the mahi mahi with jalapeño sauce! We've had it
Mar y Luna Restaurant/Bar, located
about a mile south of Banana Bay, is a pleasant setting out over the water
and offers whole fish; we enjoyed garlic-butter fillets;
Buenos Dias Restaurant, located "in
town", is very popular and very clean; we had a good breakfast there, choose
tipico or American-style breakfast
Soda de Escanso, located next to the
2 chandleries, offers good and inexpensive breakfast in a more "local"
Rio de Janeiro Restaurant,
recommended by a local gringo for your meat 'n potato fix, is located a mile
south of town.
There are a few small marinas in Golfito:
Banana Bay Marina, Fish Hook Marina, very small Mar y Luna and more. Cruisers
can also anchor in this very protected bay. We found 2 chandleries
located on the main road across from each other. The tidal range here
is 9 - 13 ft.
We hiked 1½ hours up a decent road (starts
at the soccer field on south side of town) through the thick forested
national reserve where we were rewarded with a wonderful panoramic view of
Golfito, Golfo Dulce and beyond.
There is a duty free shopping center that
we checked out. Don't waste your time unless you need to furnish your
house with small/large appliances, TVs; the rest is "tipico" junk.
Foreigners can buy, but you pick your purchase up the next day, assuring
that you spend a night (and your money) in Golfito.
There are boats/tours to the islands for
exploration, and sport fishing is also popular here. Land & Sea /
Tierra Mar is also a travel/tour and real estate/property management agent
(Katie, Tel. (506) 2775-1614, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Interesting red light district, but don't
go there after dark. We got a chuckle out of the Alcoholics Anonymous
office located amid 'bars-ville'.
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- - - - -
JOSE, COSTA RICA to GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA
Not wanting to retrace our steps by bus, we decided to fly
back on Copa Airlines, $217 ($165 + $52 tax). Once you factor in buses,
hotels, meals out, and the hassle factor of border crossings, we thought it
wasn’t too bad.
[ Top of page ]
- - -
We always kept our safety in mind when deciding on transportation, lodging
and activity options. Keep in mind that when traveling with luggage you’re
an easier target, than when just doing a day trip with little to tempt
someone. We used nicer international buses, shuttle van door-to-door
services and taxis when traveling with our luggage. We used local bus
transportation (sometimes) when doing day trips without luggage.
Baggage may be inspected at borders so best not to lock your bags (carry
important things with you); label any medication/vitamins that are out of
their original containers.
We were able to find ATMs most places. We used Lonely Planet as a source –
and found more ATMs than they had listed – but some places that you would
expect to have ATMs don’t, so plan ahead.
Not all places take credit cards. When credit cards are accepted, we
found that sometimes a fee was added; sometimes not; and sometimes you can
receive a discount (e.g., 10%) off the quoted price if paying with cash.
Be sure to ask if using a credit card as the additional fee can be hefty.
Although we had planned to hand launder our clothes in the sink (and we
still did), for the most part we were able to find good, cheap and
convenient laundry service, frequently at the places we stayed (or they
would send it out).
Guatemala: To keep our Tigo phone number active while we
were out of the country, we had a friend buy time for us every 30 days.
It showed up in our balance when we reentered the country.
El Salvador: Our Guatemala Tigo phone automatically
Nicaragua: Tigo does not work here. We bought a Claro
$5 chip + $20 time and it worked. To call outside of Nicaragua, you
must hold down the “0” until the “+” sign displays, then dial
Costa Rica: We hear nothing works here and foreigners
cannot even buy a phone here as there are no telephone numbers left;
even residents have to wait for a number. Where phone service is
available, we found the hotels to offer free in-country phone calls.
- - -
|THINGS TO CONSIDER PACKING:
Flashlights + batteries, candles +
lighter: especially in Nicaragua where power outages are
Umbrella or rain gear:
especially if rainy season; we had collapsible Totes and ponchos that
Passports + copies packed
separately: . . . just in case
Alternate credit/ATM card(s):
in case your credit card people decide to put a stop on yours, for
whatever reason, as happened to us
Alarm clock: rare to find a
clock/alarm in your room; you'll need it for that early bus or wildlife
if we had packed ours we would have used, especially in Costa Rica
Cell phone: if you have
one, you might be able to convert and use (see above); convenient for making
Laundry detergent + clothes line +
few clothes pins + small drain plug: came in handy
doing hand laundry; bought 2 drain plugs in Guate City, both of which
were too big, but a plastic bag and coin works almost as well
Garbage bags, large: to
cover your luggage if it goes on top of the bus; or it's pouring down
rain; or to wear
Memory stick(s): we backup our
precious digital photos and pack separately . . .
just in case (you may need to pack your card reader)
Hiking boots: although they
would have been handy, we did not want the extra bulk or weight, so our
"tennis" shoes worked just fine; have spare shoes in case your tennis
shoes get soaked
Wash cloth: you probably
already know this, but if you want one, then pack it
Padlocks/cable: just in
case you feel a need to lock your luggage to something; we carried them
but never used
Ziplock bags: always
come in handy
Corkscrew . . .
. . .
- - -
CONSULATES IN GUATEMALA CITY:
While in Guatemala City we visited each of these
consulates and were given maps, brochures, tourist info, etc.. Panama
was the only one that didn’t have much to give us.
Las Americas 16-46, Zona 13
8:00 – 4:00
14-72, Zona 10
15 Calle 7-59, Zona 10
9:00 – 2:00
2-65, Zona 14
8:00 – 3:00
INGUAT (Guatemala Tourist Board)
7 Ave @ Calle Mateo Flores, Zona 4
- - -
“L.P. xxx” refers to page number in the
appropriate country's Lonely Planet guide
[ Top of page ]