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Backpacking in Central America

Spending Christmas and New Years in the sun

sunny 30 °C

Trying to sum up almost four weeks travelling around Central America in one blog entry seems a bit much, but unfortunately my time is really limited at the moment (have to hand in a 20 pages essay at the end of the month…)
Anyway, I left Madrid for Costa Rica on the 19th of December and was picked up by my former flatmate and close friend Pauline from Berlin at the airport of San José. It was really great to see her again after such a long time (it has almost been a year!) and we stayed up most of the night chatting and having a few drinks. Found it very hard to like the Costa Rican beer which lime and salt (!) in it.
The 20th of dec. we went for a walk through Heredia (the city Pauline used to live near San José) and got organized for our trip to Nicaragua. As both of us had already intensively travelled around Costa Rica before we had decided to head up North for the Christmas holidays.

Christmas in Nicaragua

In the early morning of the next day we were lucky to get on a bus to the border and after spending an endless time waiting to get our passports stamped we continued on to San Juan del Sur, a small village on the western coast of Nicaragua.
It had been a long time since I’d been to the pacific, so I totally enjoyed going for a swim and watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean.Sunset at San Juan.jpg
Travelling by bus in Nicaragua was an adventure, as the buses are usually fairly worn-out, old American school buses and they are always seriously packed with people. The bus is full gets a new definition here ;). Had to kids on my lap and the guy next to me was caring around his chicken pet (for a moment I was glad there’s no bird flu in the Americas). Not to forget the music has to be on high volume so the passenger can actually feel the bass instead of the bumpy road…
We left San Juan on the 22nd with the intention to spend Christmas on Isla Ometepe. The island is on Lake Nicaragua, situated in the south of the country and the most amazing thing is that it features two volcanos! Nicaraguans have told us it is also called the heart of Nicaragua. For it’s outstanding beauty it definitely deserves this title, mind you I haven’t had a chance to see a lot more of the country.Isla Ometepe.jpg On Ometepe we stayed in a nice hostel (apart from the owner who was an idiot) with a view of the lake and volcano and enjoyed a completely non-traditional Christmas with other travellers from all over the world.

On Christmas eve we first watched a perfect sunset over the lake, before having a bonfire and watching a fire show on the dock. Two guys were playing the guitar and we all were having fine Caribbean rum as a Christmas treat ;)Christmas day Pauline and I first relaxed in hammocks and then decided we needed to overcome our hangovers with climbing half of a volcano. As you can imagine, we didn't make it very far, but isn't it the effort that counts?!?

In the middle of the night of the 26th (4 o’clock in the morning to be exact) our bus was leaving from the hostel to get back to the ferry and return to the mainland. Pau then headed back to sort out a few things in Heredia whereas I travelled to Granada (this time Granada/Nicaragua) for one more day and night. The town as quite a few pretty, colonial style buildings and a very laid-back atmosphere.Granada market square.jpg I could see why a couple of other travellers I’d met stayed and worked there for a longer period of time. I unfortunately had to leave the next day as Pau and I took another bus from San José to Panamá City on the 28th.

New Years in Panamá

17 hours later (what the hell of a ride) we arrived in Panamas capital and after having had a quick shower went to see the Canal and Causeway.Could be NYC.jpg The latter one is a stretch of restaurants and bars which sounded quite nice in the guidebook, but turned out to be an overrated, expensive tourist spot. Checking out Miraflores locks was very cool though!
In the evening Pau and I went to the airport to pick up another German Blondie. As you can imagine we again spent a night catching up, while eating fine German chocolate and cheese Angela had “smuggled” into the country for us. I mean she tried to declare the cheese, saying “tengo queso” (have cheese) to the customs, but they either didn’t understand her or thought she must be joking. We thought the story was hilarious!

Most of the 29th we spent with more sightseeing went to the old historical part of town (casco viejo) and also the even more historical part with ruins (Panamá viejo) and a Hindu temple.house in casco viejo.jpg We were lucky as a Panameño friend of Pau´s played our tour guide and explained us many interesting things.
At night he also took us to one of his friend’s house parties which was a great way to meet more locals. Even had to dance salsa with the guy whose birthday it was, while being filmed by his parents. Stop taking the piss, girls!!!

Meanwhile the 31st had arrived and we still didn’t have a clue on how to spend the big night of the year. The option spending 55 $ on a ticket for a posh hotel party didn’t seem appealing for various reasons and we ended up getting much cheaper tickets for a concert with around ten groups playing.
But plans where slightly changed when we bumped into a Tico (Costa Rican) friend of Pau´s who together with his friends (a Swedish couple) invited us for dinner in their hostel. Dinner turned out to be a delicious 3-course-meal (thanks again guys!) and we had such a great time with them that we decided to stay on the hostel’s roof terrace until after midnight.
Later on, we headed to the concert which turned out to be a bit of a fiasco. Not as much for as, but most of the other people who where there didn’t really seem to enjoy themselves. The concert was on a huge open-air field, but instead of rocking the dance floor people where sitting around round tables looking pretty (we were definitely underdressed wearing jeans and t-shirts ;) and sipping on their drinks. The girls and I had great fun on the empty dance floor and don’t know whether it was for our performance, were invited by a really nice Canadian couple to have a few drinks with them (they had open-bar tickets which came in very handy…).
And if you now think that was the end of the night you should come and party with us the next time ;) At 3.30 we decided to head back to town and check out calle Uruguay. We had been told before that there are a few nice bars and clubs on the street and weren’t disappointed. At Unplugged, a nice little bar we met up with almost all the other travellers we knew from the hostels and finally went home to sleep around ten in the morning…
What a great night!
having a g..w Years.jpg
On January, 2nd we had cured our hangovers and left Panamá city for El Valle in the interior of the country. There we wanted to hike to a waterfall and go to some thermal pools. The hike to the waterfall turned out to be a joke as it took us 5-minutes to get there, and we even had to pay 2,5 $!!! Playing around in the mud with fango was awesome and I think afterwards my skin never felt softer.
As my time schedule was a bit tight (have fun travelling, girls!) we headed on to Chitré where we got to see a national park. We still haven’t figured out what was the reason why this huge bit of land has turned into a strange desert (LP says it’s due to human missagriculture, the local ranger told us there used to be a lake which had dried-out over the years ?!?).
Next stop on the way back to Costa Rica was Boca Brava a deserted island on the Pacific side of the country. We had the great plan to hang out and snorkel/dive there for two days, but ended up spending our time in the cabin as it was raining cats and dogs for two days non-stop. Can’t always be lucky…

But there are always two sides of the medal and there was plenty of sun when I arrived on Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean. The girls and I had split up, as they had already been there and preferred to hike a volcano near Boquete.
The Islands of Bocas del Toro are fairly touristy (Isla Colón is at least, the first night I had a hard time to find a cheap hostel which wasn’t full!), but really beautiful. There I went snorkelling, hiked to a beach and saw some tiny red frogs on another. Also met some really cool people at the hostel, which proved that if you’re travelling alone, you’re almost never are alone ;)bocas del toro.jpg
Three days later a bit sad I had to leave for Costa Rica as I was flying back home to Madrid the next day. From Bocas I took a ferry to Changinuola which is the border town with Sixaola/Costa Rica and from there went by bus to San José.
Had a bit of a hassle at the border, because I didn’t carry my flight ticket with and they wouldn’t let me enter the country before I hadn’t bought a 5 $-rip off-return bus ticket to Panamá. So make sure you have an onward ticket (and even if it’s a print out e-ticket), when you cross that border.
And now a 22-hour-journey brought me back to reality – winter in Madrid – but returning here also made me realize that this is home at the moment.

Posted by steff 08:51 Tagged backpacking

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Wow, Steff. Sounds like you had an awesome time. Took me away from looking at the dreary overcast day outside just looking at the pictures of beautiful South America.

by IronChef

What a great way to spend Christmas Steff! Sounds brilliant!

by samsara_

Found this while looking for info for my own trip to S.A.
Was a fun read :)
Safe trips!

by ellismende

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