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Nicaragua

sunny 36 °C

Sunday 17th April - Granada
Today we left El Salvador and made our way across to Nicaragua, country No. 6.
We had a very early start, leaving the hotel at 5am we drove down to La Union,
a small coastal town where we boarded a small fishing boat.
The quickest way to get over the border as for us was to sail across the Gulf of Fonseca directly to Potosi in Nicaragua.
However then came the fun - it really was a small boat, open topped, with just 2 guys manning it.
We moored off around 6.30 for the 2.5hr crossing.
It was like a scene from a news report of refugees crossing into another country !
All we had were some wooden homemade seats to sit on, thankfully wearing life jackets,
as halfway across, the sea turned rough, with water spraying overboard, the captain started handing out ponchos,
anyhow sunburnt and wet we arrived on the Nicaraguan shore, literally,
as there was no jetty, the boat just stopped short of the beach, so off with our shoes,
wading onto the beach we arrived on Nicaraguan soil.
Then out of nowhere a customs guy appeared and started checking some of our bags at random,
soon after we paid our $12 entry fee, cleared immigration and we were in.
Then for the last leg, a 5hr bus journey across the country, passing through the capital Managua and eventually arriving in Granada.
Granada, is very much like Antigua in El Salvador, a typical Spanish style colonial town dating back to 1524 and named after Theo Spanish founders hometown back in Spain.
After checking in, we went to stretch the legs with an orientation walk around the town.
We weren't feeling to hungry after travelling for the most of the day, so we had some Burritos and Tortas in local cafe near the hotel.

Monday 18th April - Granada
We had a free day in Granada, so during our walk about yesterday we arranged a volcano hike & Boat tour with a local tour company.
They picked us up at 8am and took us to the nearby Mombacho Volcano, the main volcano that overlooks Granada.
(there are 28 Volcanos in Nicaragua). Once at the entrance lodge,
we jumped into a very large amphibious truck that drove us up the side of the volcano to crater rim at 1,150m (3,700ft).
We then went on an easy circular hike around the crater rim with
our guide, spotting various plants and wildlife,
although the volcano was technically no longer active we went to a warm Fumarole just off the rim and
viewed plums of smoke arising from it, it was quiet a nice walk, cool and refreshing given the altitude and
that down in Granada it was fast approaching 36c ! after lunch in the shade, we went down to Lake Nicaragua,
The largest inland lake in Central America, (it's 160km long by 60km wide, but only 60m deep and
you can apparently fit the whole of Costa Rica into it).
It also empties it's fresh water into the Caribbean Sea and has Bull Sharks living in the lake,
albeit ones that have swum up stream from the coast.
We cruised out to a very small Island with just one small toy castle on it, built by the Spanish back in the 1500's,
It was to protect Granada from invading pirates. Then on to Monkey Island,
again an even smaller island with a group of Spider and White-faced monkeys living on it.
The island was only about 10m in diameter and protected as a reserve.
Lastly we ended up on yet another small island with just one hotel on it, having a drink,
swinging in their hammocks and watching the sun starting to set.
We returned back to land around 6pm just after sunset and went out for great Seafood Paella and
tried the local, most popular Nicaraguan Beer (well Lager) which is Tona, a 4.6% Pilsner, cold n refreshing like all the rest.
It was happy hour again, well here they have the HH from 6-8pm and some bars 11-11pm !
Anyhow a few cocktails later we retired back to our hotel.

Tuesday 19th April - Granada / Ometepe Island
We had a local breakfast before heading out for a walking city tour of Granada.
Steeped in history, mainly Spanish colonial that is, it full of streets with multicoloured houses,
The end of which usually has a grand church towering above them.
We visited the Central Park with the main Cathedral and Plaza, Merced Church,
the old Hospital and various other sites around the city, however the temperature was reaching 37c (98F),
so we had to retire to a local bar for some fruit smoothies before heading out again,
but this time dodging in and out of shadows due to the intense heat.
We good some good shots of the town, but the "postcard" shot was taken from one of the church towers and it was closed in the afternoon.
Not to be put off, determined to get "the shot", I noticed the best hotel in town was located on the central plaza and had an upper balcony overlooking the cathedral, so I went in, up the stairs to find the cleaners cleaning the suites at the front,
so I just went into the room, smiling at the cleaner (who thought it was our room) and went out onto the balcony and
took a few shots (result !).
At 3pm we left Granada to drive to the ferry port of San Jorge and boarded the ferry for the 1 hour crossing to Ometepe Island
where we would be spending the next couple of days.
Ometepe Island ("two Volcanos"), is an "hourglass" shaped island in two parts, each having it's own volcano;
One called Maderas (1,394m) and the larger one Concepcion (1,610m).
We docked at 6pm and transferred to our hotel.
As we were approaching the island, we watched the sun set over Granada and then the volcano on Ometepe erupting ! (?)
well we saw what seemed to everyone on board the ferry, to be lava flowing down the side of the volcano !
As we got closer to land the brightness increased, as did everyone's excitement,
However, after we had landed and got onto our transfer bus,
the bus driver calmed quipped that it was farmers burning off the scrub on the mountain side,
which due to high winds had got out of control !
Back to reality, we drove down a bumpy, dusty road in the middle of nowhere to this little hotel, which on approach looked very dodgy,
but we then checked in and an old security guard took us via torchlight to a detached little house, about 10m from the sea !
We had a quick turnaround and went to the restaurant where the local specialty was Pescado la Plancha (grilled local fish).
After another fish meal and a briefing from a local guide.
We went for a walk to the sea front and listened to sea crashing against the shore and just outside our "house"

Wednesday 20th April - Ometepe Island

After last nights briefing, we decided to have a go at climbing one of the Island's volcanos,
Sadly though due to the "lava flow" (scrub burning getting out of control), the Concepcion Volcano was closed,
so we attempted the Maderas Volcano, still at an impressive, 1,394m (4,500ft).
We left the hotel at 6am and starting climbing just after 7am, effectively from sea level (50m).
It started off quite gently, but due to the heat, (it was now around 28c with the humidity in the 80's) it was heavy going.
Then shortly afterwards after the gradient increased dramatically and so did the sweating,
we were leaking from everywhere, the temperature now getting towards 36c (95F), however we soon reached the jungle canopy and
thankfully a cool breeze that dropped both the temperature and humidity.
Onward and upward we pressed on to the crater rim, which revealed a large lagoon in the now dormant crater,
it had taken us 3.5 hrs to the top, which apparently impressed our guide, as the normal time is 4.5 to 5hrs.
We ripped open our bagged tortillas and tinned tuna to a well earned early lunch.
The decent was again as tricky as the temperature was now around 37c (100F) and quite technical in places,
that said we made good progress and we're safely down by just gone 2pm,
(7 hrs trekking in very hot conditions), as we'd finished early "Gelato time" beckoned and
on the way back we stopped off for a well earned ice cream, then a desperately needed cold shower,
followed by a relaxing early evening in our bar having a cooler or two or three.....
We ended our stay on the island, sat on our balcony watching the sea in the dark evening breeze quaffing the local
"Ron de Cana" the most popular Nicaraguan Rum.
The evenings entertainment was provided by the hotel security guard, a very old guy that walked around the hotel grounds every night.
Among the array of artillery that he carried was a homemade catapult, when I asked him about it,
he took get pleasure in showing me his skills, loading it and firing at the wild dogs on the beach outside our room,
(he was a pretty good shot too).

Posted by Andy-Irene 16:58 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Costa Rica

sunny 31 °C

Thursday 21st April - Ometepe / Monteverde

Today we left the island of Ometepe and sadly also Nicaragua.
We caught the early morning ferry at 7.30 back to the mainland and then drove for about an hour to reach the
border checkpoint to enter into Costa Rica.
We duly paid our "exit fee" ($5) to escape Nicaragua, walked around 500m across the border and
passed through immigration. It was then a 5hr drive to reach Monteverde.
Costa Rica, unlike Nicaragua being the poorest country in CA, is along with Panama the most expensive,
US dollars again were widely accepted although the official currency is the
Costa Rican Colon at around 500 to $1.
We stopped off on route for lunch and then the big change hit us -
we drove off the highway into a very modern shopping mall car park complete with retail outlets everywhere and
the depressing McDonalds symbol. In the supermarket we really saw the difference,
everything you wanted, plus all the prices were quite a bit more expensive than the UK.
We arrived late afternoon in Monteverde and after another quick turnaround went straight out for a j
ungle night walk in the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forrest Park.
It was just getting dark as we set off, but a big difference in temperature compared to Nicaragua,
still it was in the mid 20's, clear sky and full moon as we walked in the pitch black,
equipped each with a torch along the jungle trails.
Great atmosphere with only insects making the noise.
Within a few minutes we had seen various birds sleeping in the canopy including Toucans and Hawks,
then we heard a rustling and saw our first Armadillo,
they are actually nearly blind with very poor eyesight, so we could get very close without disturbing it,
other creatures were spotted including Racoons, Giant Stick Insects and Leaf Cutter Ants.
After a couple of hours in the darkness we returned back to the lodge and on to our hotel.
We had a short walk to a local restaurant and tried our first Costa Rican dish,
The most popular/traditional dish is "Casada" which consists of Rice, Beans, Salad and
then a main ingredient - (fish, meat or veggie etc.)
We walked back in the now cool, but refreshing night air and an early night.

Friday 22nd April - Monteverde

Up early as we'd arranged an early morning walk in the famous Cloud Forest.
Monteverde was founded by Quakers from the USA, who settled there in the 1950's and
bought much of the land in the surrounding area, being pacifists suited them as Costa Rica had disbanded it's armed forces a
few years earlier.
The Quakers named it Monteverde (Green Mountain) after its all year round green plants.
The Cloud Forest is basically caused by the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean winds meeting over land,
causing this unique ecosystem to be formed.
The Reserve consists of over 26,000 acres of cloud forest and consists of 6 ecological zones,
90% of which are virgin forest. There are over 2,500 plant species (including the most orchid species in a single place),
100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species.
We met our guide at the park and headed along one of the many canopy trails, his knowledge,
not to mention his eyesight was amazing, spotting wildlife that you'd normally just walk right past.
The highlight of the trek was actually spotting the elusive Quetzal, something we never expected to see,
not at threatened extinction levels yet, but sadly heading that way.
On the return trek we stopped at a feeding area for hummingbirds are saw lots of different species very close up.
After lunch we ramped up the activity level and went on a Zip-Wire canopy ride across the top of the reserve,
after a couple of tame starter runs, we had a fast 600m single run across the valley, then a mega 2,000m "Superman" flight horizontally
(with a second harness pulley) across a vast valley and very high up, (it's supposed to be the longest Zip in Latin America).
Luckily I had managed to borrow a chest harness for my GoPro so we got some great shots of the runs.
We ended the excitement with an optional "Tarzan" come-bungee swing,
which basically starts off with a mad free fall, followed by a massive swing which continued several times before coming to rest.
After an exhilarating time, we went out to sample the Costa Rican Beer - "Imperial"
Another 4.5% Lager, we'll it was cool, refreshing and well needed, a few more lagers later,
we had some local veggie Nachos and ended the night, sat on the balcony outside our room with a nightcap or two.

Saturday 23rd April - La Fortuna

Today we moved on to towards Volcano Arenal and its local town of La Fortuna.
Leaving the hotel early, we drove a couple of hours to Lake Arenal, then got a "Jeep Ferry"
(a very small boat with just a covering above) to the other side of the lake,
although it took just over half an hour to cross to the other side,
we then jumped aboard a local bus to our nearby hotel in La Fortuna.
La Fortuna is a small sleepy town, that came to provenance after the Arenal Volcano erupted
(after being dormant for over 400 Years) in July 1968.
Since then it has remained dormant and also access to it's summit is now closed.
We arrived at midday so with the free time, decided to go to the famous
La Catarata de la Fortuna, a 70m waterfall about 7km from town. It's now a protected area and once inside,
you are allowed to swim close to the falls as it crashes down to the plunge pool below. We'd took our swim gear,
so we went for it.
Cold at first, but very refreshing as you try to swim towards the cascade only to be forced back by the sheer strength of the current,
it was like swimming on a treadmill.
We then returned to the hotel and went out for a walk around the town and an evening meal -
at the best fish restaurant in town !
Irene had Mari-Mari and I had Tuna, both with Potatoes n Veg, just what we'd been craving for, for a over a week!

Sunday 24th April - La Fortuna

We had a free day so we'd booked a day out on the Lake, wildlife spotting.
We were left the hotel for a 2 hour drive towards the Nicaraguan border to
Cano Negro. On route we stopped next to a river bridge in an area famous for
Iguanas. There were loads of them sprawled about everywhere, some up to a 1m in length.
The bus then continued to the lake and we border it for a 2.5 hour cruise.
Just after setting off we were spotting wildlife straight away, numerous birds, Caymans, Howler and Spider Monkeys,
a great King Fisher - the biggest in Costa Rica. It was very rewarding and we certainly saw more than we thought we would,
but alas the elusive Sloth still remains to be spotted.
We arrived back late afternoon and went for a walk around the town,
booked a table in the great fish restaurant from the previous night and grabbed an ice cream to cool down while watching the
clouds circling the Arenal Volcano in the distance.
The day ended with another nice night sat in the Snapper Restaurant.

Monday 25th April - La Fortuna / San Jose

We had some free time prior to leaving for the capital San Jose in the afternoon,
so we'd arranged to go to the "Hanging Bridges" a nature walk through the Cloud Forest at the Mistico Private Forest Reserve.
The trail is 3km long through the jungle canopy and crosses 16 bridges ranging from a couple metres off the ground, to over 40m. 10 of them are fixed bridges and the other 6 are actual swinging rope bridges.
The humidity was high as we walked through the Park, but quiet, without many other people,
so it felt more natural and not like a theme park.
We managed to spot a few monkeys, a Viper and some Toucans during the walk before returning after a couple of hours for
some welcome fresh fruit and drinks. Once back in La Fortuna, we finally packed and left for the Capital San Jose.
On route we stopped off at another small reserve after a tipoff that there was a Sloth about !
On arrival we quickly paid our entrance fee and YES ! We managed to spot a male Sloth, sat high up in a tree.
(they sleep around 18 hours a day and when they eventually move, it's at a very slow pace,
so we were able to get some good photo shots) - Mission accomplished, we headed on to San Jose.
San Jose is the capital and is the home for over half the counties population.
We arrived late afternoon in a very busy, modern, concrete capital city and we all decided to out for a final nights meal together,
as many of us were leaving to go off in other directions the following day, (we would be continuing on our own, to Panama).
The hotel was situated close to the centre and the main attraction,
the Plaza de la Culture, (the main square). After checking in, we went for a walkabout in the capital, visiting the
Plaza itself, the National Theatre and the main shopping precinct.
Afterwards we went straight to a local Costa Rican meal and had some Wraps accompanied by a few "Imperials".
On the way back most of the shops and bars had closed down and the seedier side to the capital started to reveal itself,
as the next thing we noticed was the number of ladies that suddenly appeared on street corners and
the nearby bars looking like something out of a spaghetti western !

Posted by Andy-Irene 21:29 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Panama

semi-overcast 28 °C

Tuesday 26th - San Jose / Panama

Before departing to the airport, we went for a walk into the city centre early morning and
had some breakfast at a local bakery - fresh bread and coffee to start the day was a nice change.
Afterwards we had a walkabout to see the National Museum, the National Theatre and
the central market, then headed back, packed and left for the airport. the Airport check-in process went smooth,
plus we avoided paying the departure tax of $29 each ! , which was a nice bonus as we were flying Copa Airlines.
After sampling lots of free Costa Rican coffee and chocolate in the duty "free" we departed for Panama City.
We landed about 30mins late, but went straight through passport control and our bags were already waiting for us at the carousel,
so we made up for the late arrival.
The taxi ride took around 40 mins as we had to drive through the metropolis of the very modern Panama City,
full of massive skyscrapers overlooking the shore line, passing the trump tower, the highest point in the city and
also passing the old original town of Casco Viejo before heading north towards the Miraflores Locks and our hotel.
We got a great room on the top floor overlooking the massive Panama Canal and the Miraflores Lock.
After checking in, negotiating a free late check out and getting some complementary cocktail vouchers !
we got unpacked for the last time and went for an apperitivo !

Wednesday 27th April - Panama City

We woke up to the sight and sounds of massive container ships passing through the canal,
although we were on the top floor, with double glazing, so it wasn't that bad.
It was like watching lots of massive hotels go sailing past.
We had a quick breakfast and got a taxi to downtown Panama to meet a local guide for a day out in Panama City.
We started out in the old city; Casco Viejo, although now referred to as Casco Antiguo or San Felipe,
it is the old historic district of Panama City.
Completed and settled in 1673, it was built following the near-total destruction of the original Panamá city,
Panama Viejo in 1671, when the latter was attacked by pirates, namely a famous Welsh Pirate -
Henry Morgan who burnt most of the city to the ground. We managed to still see a few of the remaining buildings and
then went on to the Miraflores Lock at the Panama Canal,
A few facts...
The Panama Canal took 10 years to build from 1904 to 1914 and involved some 45,000 workers,
it actually has 3 locks that raise the water level by around 25m.
It runs from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean and is 77km long. Each lock takes around 8 mins to fill and
the ships pass through in around 45 mins.The lock size is approximately 300m long by 35m wide and
the container ships are made to practically the same size, to the point whereby there is only an
8 inch gap on each side of the boats. 8 "Mules" or Tugs are tethered to the boats, which run alongside on land,
on a rail system and keep them parallel and pull them through the lock.
It costs each Container vessel around $30k to pass though, dependant on its weight and
takes a total transit time (of the whole canal) of around 24 hours, compared to around 22 days,
if going around via Cape Horn, South America and also costing approx. $1M in fuel.
After a spot of lunch just off the Amador Causeway, we visited the Smithsonian Tropical Reserve,
a short drive from the old town. Within minutes of arriving we starting seeing Sloths and
there were 3 in trees, just in the car park !
We walked through the nature trail down to the sea and its tropical centre,
spotting even more Sloths and Iguanas on the way. At the end there were tanks breeding Star Fish and Sea Slugs,
plus a pool with Turtles and Nurse Sharks in.
Our guide then dropped us off back in the old town where we went to find Panama's one and only Microbrewery -
La Rana Dorada (The Golden Frog Brewery).
They had a tap room bar right next to a very small plant, which you could see via a glass screen,
but, the Brewers and owners were away,
However I managed to persuade the bar chap to let me have a look around and take some photos.
We then had a tasting tray of their 6 beers, a couple of which were quiet nice before returning to our hotel for our final night out.

Thursday 28th April - Panama City

Day 35 - Our Final Day
After a busy and exciting day yesterday, we went back into the City for another look around.
We got a taxi to the Amador Causeway, a 2km strip that connects the mainland to 3 small islands.
We started at the Islands and walked back towards town along the 2km strip,
getting some good views of the entrance towards the Miraflores Lock from the Pacific side and also of the city.
We passed the BioMuseum which was designed by a "famous" Architect and
basically looked like a load of coloured tin roofs on top of each other.
After reaching the town, we took another taxi all the way to the new very modern side of Panama,
filled with skyscrapers on top of each other and new ones being built in the small gaps in between.
The main reason was to visit the Trump Ocean Club Hotel & Casino with its 66th floor infinity pool.,
sadly though, the Casino and Pool were closed until 5pm, so we only got up the 13th floor,
However there were 2 infinity pools there and it had some nice views of the city too.
We then returned to the old town of Casco Viejo and had a final walkabout before returning to our hotel.
After a shower and some lunch we managed to get a free shuttle transfer to the airport for our overnight flight to Amsterdam.

Friday 29th April - Amsterdam, Manchester and Home !

We flew into Amsterdam, arriving about an hour later that scheduled, which was fine -
as it meant we had less time to wait for our next connection back to Manchester.
We arrived back into the UK around 5pm and caught the Airport train back to York &
finally walked through our door at 8.30pm, 35 days later, home at last.
It's a cliche, but the 5 weeks had passed so quickly (as they always do) and
had we'd travelled through all the 8 Central American Countries and
taken over 1,100 photos and around 40 video clips !
Plenty of homework then !

THE END.

Posted by Andy-Irene 16:07 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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