Tips & Tricks to help you plan your next adventure
From Corcovado we headed north towards the Nicoya Peninsula. We'd finally gotten Sean’s board fixed and we were all keen to get back to the beach.
Unfortunately, this was the point in the trip that Sar was leaving us. She was heading back to San Jose for a night before flying home.
We all boarded a bus bound for San Jose and fell asleep. 3 hours in we had reached our destination and the 3 of us (Tash still with us) hurriedly said our good byes to Sar and jumped off (she had another 5 hours ahead of her). We found another bus, again bound for San Jose, and jumped on. This one was set to pass Jaco, a quite large beach town roughly 3 hours away. From there we planned to catch a water taxi to the Nicoya peninsula.
Once in Jaco we found a cheap place to stay and dropped our stuff off to go and have an explore. Whilst there we bumped into Aimee, a chick from New Zealand we’d spent a few days with in Manuel. It turned out she was also keen to head north so we decided we’d head that way together.
We stayed the night in Jaco and jumped on a boat to Montezuma the next morning. The boat cost $35 US each and was relatively hassle free, except for the sketchy beach landing made a fair bit more stressful due to a 4 foot shore break on arrival unexpected by our captain.
Once in Montezuma we again chucked our things in our room and headed for an explore. We cooked chicken schnitzel for dinner and headed to bed early.
The next day we headed to Montezuma Falls. These are a series of waterfalls you can access by a small trail from town. The trail is short and easy (we all did it in flip flops) but it is entirely over rocks and through some small sections of the river, so enclosed shoes could also be helpful.
There were 3 waterfalls, and the first one you come to is HUGE. It also has a big rock ledge sticking out from the cliff half way down. Multiple people have died or received broken bones attempting to jump off this one, and resultantly we gave it a miss. The next one however is only 8 - 12m. I’m sure it has an actual set height, but for now it’s actual height depends on who you ask.
There are 2 ways of getting to the second (and jumpable) waterfall. You can pay $4US for access via a stair case on neighbouring private land, OR do what we did and scale a steep slope of mud and roots with the assistance of some well positioned ropes, and then scale back down the same way.
After a couple of jumps and plenty of footage we headed back to town for some lunch.
The next day we hired quad bikes and drove across the end of the peninsula to Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. It was meant to take 45 minutes but with our mad skills and sort of crappy bike (probably more our skills) it took us almost double that. Regardless it was fun, and we enjoyed Santa teresa so much we decided to book into a hostel (Don Jon’s) and headed there the next day. We ended up staying 5 nights!
The next 5 nights in Santa Teresa were full of nothing but cooking, reading, relaxing, swimming and surfing but it was perfect.
Next stop, Nicaragua and San Juan Del Sur, famous for Sunday Funday!
Parque Nacional Corcovado
To avoid a multiple bus hop including a ridiculous detour back to San Jose we opted to take a direct shuttle from Manuel Antonio to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa peninsula. Apart from our hostel forgetting to book the transfer until an hour after it was due to leave and then my needing to pay a surprise, ridiculous fee for my surfboard to sit by my feet in a two-thirds empty van (which is apparently standard in Costa Rica) the transfer went well and we saved a heap of time.
In Puerto Jimenez we stayed in "Cabinas del Perezoso" or "Cabins of the Sloth" which was run by a super friendly Italian man called Omar. Almost as soon as we arrived on Monday, Omar hooked us up with someone he knew in town who ran reputable and well priced tours and we booked in to go the next day.
That afternoon we headed out for an explore of the tiny town and after a cheap and tasty almuerzo (typical lunch) at a local "Soda" we went looking for animals. In particular; crocodiles. Of course.
After cruising down to the beach on the edge of town, and cutting back in to the road through someone's backyard we finally found the river where the crocodiles could be found. And by having the self titled "World's Greatest Animal Spotter" (Bec) with us, we were lucky enough to see one. And then, lucky enough to see it up close as it left the water and came over to check us out. After a discussion as to handle the approaching croc, we stood our ground as to not encourage it to charge. I don't know why we thought this would work but maybe one of us had been watching too many documentaries of big cats and bears and got their animal families mixed up....
Anyway, the croc wasn't scared by our show of "strength" and kept coming, so we broke ranks and ran. In hindsight this was probably smart as reptilians are probably not smart enough to look at body language and just see"food" and "not food". Around this time the heavens opened in a massive Costa Rican, wet season downpour and we were forced to retreat to the sloth cabins to keep our cameras from getting soaked.
That night Omar was friendly enough to take us around his impressive backyard and find a couple of cute as anything red eyed tree frogs! This was awesome as we'd never seen them up close, and after tending to his garden for a year he's created them great little habitat!
The next morning we were up at 4:30 am to meet our guide and driver at the bakery in town. OK we went to the wrong bakery at first, but after 20 minutes of confusion we were on the way to "Parque Nacional Corcovado" or the Corcovado National Park. On the way there we made several stops and saw several different animal species including a family of Central American Squirrel Monkeys and several Scarlet Macaws.
The day involved about 18 km of walking along beaches and a dirt track - 9 km out and 9 km back along the same path. We saw plenty of wildlife, including all 4 species of Costa Rican monkey, 2 species of bats, poison dart and other native frogs, coatis, a northern tamandua anteater and plenty of amazing bird life. We also saw several sets of fresh jaguar and tapir prints left in the sand from the night before, but alas the animals themselves remained elusive despite having "the world's best animal spotter" in our midst.
The most memorable part of the day was when said anteater was climbing on a branch crossing the path some 3-4 meters up. He wasn't bothered at all about the girls below taking photos of him and proceeded to climb directly over them in search of a tasty ant breakfast. That was until he misjudged and the branch he was on cracked and broke, sending him plummeting out of the tree directly at the girls. They quickly jumped out of the way and the poor fella hit the ground hard. We were all quite worried about his well being after what looked like a pretty serious fall, but after being stunned for a second or two he shook it off and scurried straight back up the nearest tree in search of more ants. Bruised, but luckily not broken.
We headed back to town, and after the early morning with lots of walking everyone was keen for an afternoon nap. We had an early night before another early wake up the next morning for a multiple bus trip up the pacific coast towards the Nicoya Peninsula.
Next stop, Jaco, Montezumas and Santa Teresa.
From Alajuela we headed onwards to the pacific coast and the beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park. To get there we needed to get a half hour morning bus into the centre of San Jose full with morning commuters, then a cab across the city centre followed by a third bus all the way to the town of Manuel Antonio, just outside of the National Park.
The first day we unpacked and walked down to the beach for a well needed swim. I can’t describe how good it felt to be back in the Pacific Ocean on a nice, warm beach! We chilled out under some trees for a while before we were alerted by a local coconut vendor to some action going on in the trees above us. There was a big sloth climbing around in a mango tree right next to us and we hadn’t even noticed! He was super relaxed, and wasn’t dazed in the slightest by all the excited shrieks made both by us and lots of other young tourist kids. We unfortunately didn't get any pictures of this little dude as we hadn't brought anything down to the beach with us! However, luckily for us this was not our only sloth encounter in Manuel.
Also that afternoon I found a guy to repair some of the numerous larger dings my surfboard had acquired on the way from Ecuador - Glad to know that paying $80 US to put my board on the plane resulted in plenty of TLC - thanks for nothing Copa Airlines…
That night we had some cheeky bevies with some new friends from the hostel - Aimee, James and Andy (Hey guys!) - before heading out to a local club called “Zion”. The night was good fun despite Zion being filled with plenty of of creepy local guys trying to sell drugs and staring predatorily at every single tourist girl on the dance-floor somewhat akin to a pride of lions surrounding a family of gazelle at the watering hole.
The next day we chilled out at the beach and took a back path below the hostel down to another beach. This was a really awesome walk which looped through some beautifully green (although very muddy) Costa Rican farmland.
Next morning we got up bright and early and headed down to the National Park. It cost $15 US pp to enter the park, and we’re glad we got there early as the park became busy quite quickly. We didn’t get a guide here to save a bit of cash, and didn’t really need to as we saw plenty of wildlife, including white headed capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, some large iguanas, and a family of small wombat-like mammals which we still don’t know the name of! (If you do can you please tell us). Oh and on the way out we saw another big sloth hanging around in a tree making a show for us!
Despite the afternoons having predictable heavy thunderstorms - yes we realise we went to tropical Costa Rica in the wet season - we really liked Manuel Antonio. If you’re after some fun in the sun right next to a sizeable national park, which isn’t too far from the capital San Jose then this is the place for you.
Next stop - Puerto Jimenez and the Corcovado National Park.
Next stop from Jamaica was Costa Rica! We flew from Kingston to San Jose and spent a couple of nights in Alajuela, a suburb/satellite city right near the airport. Conveniently the bus stop for a trip to Volcan Poas was only a few blocks from our hostel, Alajuela Backpackers.
We boarded the bus at 9am and headed to the Volcano. To our surprise (and luck) the day was incredibly clear! We could see right down into the cauldron without a cloud in sight. Volcan Poás has an elevation of 2708m and last erupted in 2011, meaning that it is still active.
We had been told to get there early as the clouds tended to drift in around 10am, however, given there was only one bus and it only arrived at the Volcano around 10 we weren’t left with many options. Luck was on our side! We strolled around the park and came back to the cauldron just in time to see it become completely covered by clouds.
The only bus back to town didn’t leave until 2:30pm, and as it was such a small park we decided to try our luck hitchhiking to get back. Tash and Sar managed to grab us a ride with a couple of people who could drop us down the hill and close to a "bus stop for Alajuela”. We readily accepted and jumped in.
They dropped us off at the “bus stop for Alajuela” and carried on their way. After one bus showing up and the driving shaking his head at us, we began to think we needed to explore other options… Much to our luck a friendly Costa Rican man pulled over and asked where we were heading, we told him our hostel and he told us to jump in he was going right by there. We all piled in and headed towards Alajuela. Once we got chatting the guy told us he picked us up because he felt sorry for us.. considering we were not at a bus stop for Alajuela, and resultantly would have never found the bus we were after.
We all had a good laugh and couldn’t believe our luck that he had picked us up. Luck really was on our side that day, that or hard work and determination from Tash and Sar with their hitchhiking efforts.
Next stop Manuel Antonio.. I wanna see some sloths!
From Montego Bay we headed onwards to Ocho Rios, and understandably we were all a little sad after saying goodbye to Laura and our weekend family, not knowing when we’d all be in the same country again.
We arrived at Ocho Rios, checked in, dropped our bags and headed off in search of some food and then a swim at the beach. That night we all slept like babies, exhausted after the weekends antics.
The next day we woke up early and walked to the famous Dunn’s River Falls.
Now I’m more than happy for anyone and everyone out there to disagree with me here, but we were all a little let down by Dunn’s River Falls. The falls themselves are beautiful, as all waterfalls are and it is cool that you can climb up them (even if it is slippery without the water shoes) however they’re surrounded by a lot of infrastructure and man made walkways and paths that make it seem like you’re in a theme park, not at a beautiful, natural waterfall. We still enjoyed ourselves here but felt like $20 was a bit of a rip-off for what was a pretty lame time. We were lucky enough to go here super early in the morning and had the place to ourselves, and were still kind of let down.
Nonetheless we enjoyed ourselves, climbed the falls, and got some nice pictures. My word of advice is if you only have a day or so here in Ocho Rios - GO TO THE BLUE HOLE INSTEAD! Or at least read on and see what interests you more.
The next day we headed to the Blue Hole and were absolutely amazed. There is a whole series of different swimming holes, rope swings and waterfalls right out in the middle of nowhere, no infrastructure, just bright blue, natural, fresh water pools, which some seem to be of infinite depth.
Again pictures will speak louder than words here,1 but all of us loved the Blue Hole and highly suggest going here!
Tomorrow we’re leaving Jamaica and heading onwards to Costa Rica, the last 9 days have absolutely flown by!
From Negril we hopped aboard a transfer to Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay where Laura and Michael had booked the villa. The property is over 400 acres includes multiple pools, a golf course, spas, tennis courts, croquet lawns and more.. you name it they’ve got it. The place was huge and our villa came equipped with a few staff members (all incredibly nice) and 2 golf carts to drive around the premises… Needless to say it was absolutely amazing and a total difference to the last 8 months of accommodation. They seriously spoilt us!
We arrived, embraced, sipped beverages in the pool, around the pool and on the pool… You get it, there was a lot of beverages and a lot of time in the pool. The next few days were a whirlwind of different meals, drinks and more with our little travelling crew that now included new friends - Mitch, Nicky and Joey from New York - Hey guys! Laura even treated me to my first ever spa experience; that’s right I’ve never been to a spa before and have only had a manicure and pedicure once, it’s just never been my thing. That being said I did seriously enjoy it, and after 8 months travelling I think my feet really needed it. (Thanks Lau!!)
However the real highlight of the weekend, besides getting to spend a full 3 days with one of our best friends we hadn’t seen for almost a year was Saturday. On Saturday Michael and Laura hired us all a catamaran in which sailed around the caribbean for a few hours sipping rum punch, listening to music and snorkelling at multiple spots before heading to Margaritaville for lunch.
Margaritaville is a huge restaurant on the water complete with with it's own water playground. Here we made the absolute most of the bar’s water slide, played on their huge inflatable floating playground and of course, topped ourselves off with numerous margaritas.
The weekend absolutely flew by and ended with myself, Laura, Sar and Tash watching the sunrise over the caribbean sea. It was perfect, and we will never be able to repay Laura and Michael for their generosity. Again here pictures will probably do more of the talking… If you’ve seen pictures of any of our previous accommodations you’ll see it is totally different, and it felt really nice to be spoilt and not have to plan anything for 3 whole days!
Thank you Laura and Michael, we love you both and cannot wait to see you asap!
Next stop Ocho Rios, Jamaica!
Jamaican Me Crazy - Negril
Monday the 6th we flew from Panama City to Kingston, Jamaica. We had booked accommodation and Negril and resultantly had a 5 hour transfer awaiting us. We eventually made it to our hotel, "Fun Holiday" and checked in. Awaiting us was our friend from home, Tash (who is also travelling indefinitely and you can follow at Every Day Is A Saturday) whom we hadn’t seen for over 7 months, needless to say many hugs were exchanged.
The next few days in we explored Negril, read our books and lay in the sun. We were pretty exhausted after our whirlwind San Blas trip and hence a few days recuperating was in need.
Negril in on the south western coast of Jamaica, and we stayed right on the famous 7 mile beach. The water is crystal clear, the sand is white, the jerk chicken (or curried goat for the more adventurous) is tasty and everyone you meet is either smoking or selling weed… well not everyone, but a helluva lot of people.
Our favourite day in Negril was when we headed to Rick's Cafe. Rick's Cafe is a huge (and expensive) cafe/restaurant/bar overlooking the water. The cafe is built around a large cliff jump, around 8m high. There is also a higher jump from the top of a tree overhanging the cliff but we didn't see anyone attempt it, and it cost $20 USD to give it a go.
The jump was heaps of fun and all 4 of us gave it a go.. as usual there are many people asking for a tip for this, that and the other but we really enjoyed Rick's.. even if our rum punch did cost $5US plus service and tax. We went around sunset and it was a nice place to watch the sun dip beneath the caribbean.
The beach is picturesque, and if your idea of a perfect holiday is lazing in the sun by the pool or beach whilst smoking ganja and drinking rum cocktails then this is the place for you. Not necessarily our cup of tea for more than a few days, but there is more exploring to be done!
Next stop Montego Bay to meet up another one of our friends from home - Laura - who now lives in the states. Her and her partner have spoiled us rotten and hired out a 7 bedroom house for the weekend for 9 of us to hang out and party in as a present for mine and Sean’s engagement… we should really think about getting engaged more often.
San Blas Adventures
We showed up to our scheduled meeting in Capurgana at lunchtime the day before we were to set off on our San Blas adventure to Panama with the aptly named "San Blas Adventures."
Here we basically had a meet and greet with our head guide Marco, our assistant guides Anna & Dennis, and of course the rest of our awesome crew of fellow adventurers. After a half hour of info we were sent on our merry way to get passport stamps out of Colombia and tie up other loose ends before we jumped on a boat to Sapzuro with all of our stuff.
The group all got dinner together and had a few cheeky "get to know each other" bevvies in our Sapzuro hostel that night before having an early night.
Next morning we were up and ready by 7:30 with all our stuff and in the boats. We were warned the first 2 hour boat of the trip would suck, and although we all did get fairly wet, it luckily wasn't nearly as bad as our boat from Turbo.
Halfway through the boat ride we made the compulsory stop to enter through Panama passport control and customs. Just slightly more annoying than normal here having to unpack all our gear from our waterproofed plastic bags buried on the boat for the sniffer dogs to go through. Old South American stereotypes die hard...
Not long after, we ended up on a deserted beach on quite a big island. Here we spent the afternoon before walking 15 minutes around the island to the local "Kuna" village, which was super cute and surprisingly large. The Kuna are the native people who inhabit the San Blas islands and have a fewsettlements on nearby mainland Panama. They were all super friendly and awesome hosts to us letting us sleep in hammocks in their town hall and cooking us a delicious dinner of fried fish with local sides.
Communication was a bit tough at times as lots of older Kuna villagers only speak "Kuna" and have Spanish that is worse than ours, but plenty of smiles and handshakes were shared. The kids here were super cute too. They were unbelievably keen to play with the strange light skinned giants whilst showing off their acrobatic skills and practicing a few words in English and Spanish. One little girl however seemed to burst into fearful tears every time she saw us walk past, and despite our best efforts, could only be consoled by her 5 or so year older brother.
After a good night sleep in some big, comfy hammocks, we were off to the second island, where we offloaded our gear and spent the arvo playing in the sun with plenty of footballs, footys and frisbees. The water wasn't super clear here but there were some nice areas to hang out in the sun and shade and it was still nice to go for a swim.
Another nights sleep in hammocks and cabins, and after breakkie we were off again.
The last full day began with a trip to a tiny island for lunch and some snorkelling, before moving on to one only slightly bigger to sleep the night in huts and hammocks. This last island was our personal favorite, with 3 other islands close by that we could easily swim between. We spent our afternoon swimming around between the islands before heading back for sunset and a big bucket of jungle juice rum punch.
And then dinner. Which was the best thing I have ever seen, let alone eaten. Our boat captain showed up with 2 huge crates of lobster, which we proceeded to eat all of. There was enough lobster, rice, salad and octopus that people were getting full and there was still octopus and lobster left over. Now I'm not one to waste food, and it's a tough job to take up the responsibility of making sure no one else does, but someone has gotta do it. Honestly I think I ate at least 7 lobster but I lost count.
A night of rum and bonfire followed, and the next morning we woke up to shake off the cobwebs in the beautiful blue Caribbean. We had lunch on the island before jumping back on the boats for the last time followed by a 3 or so hour 4wd ride to a hostel in Panama City and an early night for me.
Whilst I know we're quite spoilt being Australians, I was a little disappointed at the lack of coral and sea life in the water surrounding the islands, however the islands, the water itself and out Kuna hosts were absolutely beautiful. We had such an awesome time on our trip, thanks largely to our team of guides and also to our amazing fellow adventurers who were all great fun - you guys know who you are! If you're heading from South to Central America (or vice versa) I would certainly recommend looking into a San Blas trip as a beautiful way of crossing the border.
1 more day left in Panama City to relax, and next stop - Jamaica!
We got up early on our last morning in Cartagena to jump on a bus to Montereia as the first step in heading towards Capurgana on the Caribbean Colombia/Panama border. We knew the day would be a bit of an ordeal and only had some vague info from other blogs. We were pretty under prepared.
First bus left Cartagena at 8:45, ran on time and we ended up in Monteria around 1:30. Nearly everyone in the depot seemed quite surprised/concerned for the 3 gringos in the depot (Monteria seems to rarely or never see tourists) but they ended up being super helpful in pointing us to the correct office. Less than an hour later after anxiously watching our bus driver precariously tie our bags and my surfboard onto the roof along with mountains of potatoes and a kids bike, we were off.
This leg was meant to take 3.5 hours to Turbo where we planned to head to the dock that afternoon and buy a boat ticket for Capurgana the next day. Anyway, after several stops for the drivers to buy beers, 2 police road blocks to check ID's, several more stops to pick up and let off men with fighting chooks and 2 stops to re - tie bags that had fallen off the roof (thankfully none of ours!), we arrived in Turbo. This was 6.5 hours later and were dropped off in the middle of town with no reservations after dark. Awesome.
Most locals we found were super helpful and we found a nice clean hotel to sleep and watch the Copa America match. We got into town too late though and the boat ticket offices were closed, so the next morning we had to get up at 5:30 am to head down to the office as the boats apparently sell out. We just scraped into a seat on the last boat (lucky we got up early) and then had to hang around the dock area until 10 am when it finally set off.
We had heard the boat was pretty crappy from Turbo to Capurgana but honestly none of us were prepared for how bad it really was.
We've been in South America for over 7 months now and this was easily the shittiest 3 hours of that whole 7 months.
We got soaked and bashed constantly for 3 hours in the direct midday Caribbean sun with no way to brace yourself or escape the sun because of the wind and spray. Honestly we all got off the boat with terrible sunburns, concussions, sore backs from the impacts, and on top of that due to the wooden seats I had no skin left on my ass cheeks. I'm pretty sure the swell was up a bit when we did this trip and we had a shitty boat captain, but honestly by the end of the 3 hours fun times were had by none.
Our recommendation is to go to Necoclí instead of Turbo to get a boat to Capurgana, even if it takes a bit longer or costs a bit more because the Turbo to Capurgana boat for us was honestly horrific.
Capurgana however was great. The water was super clear and warm, we stayed in a really friendly, well priced and comfortable hostel - Pousada del Gecko - and just relaxed and recuperated after the insane 2 days of travel to get there.
One day we went for a walk over to neighboring Sapzuro and crossed over to La Meil into Panama for some duty free shopping. The walk to Sapzuro is hot and steamy through the jungle, but is relatively easy once you find the start of the path. The jungle on the way is beautiful, thick and green, with plenty of wildlife to see including monkeys, spiders and lizards chilling on the path, and at the halfway point you get a beautiful look out over the 2 towns.
Our recommendation for Sapzuro is Cabo Tiburon, a 10 minute walk past town and one of the best beaches we have found on the continent. The clear water, coconut trees everywhere and not another person in sight was well worth the walk up over the hill.
After 3 days of chilling and exploring around the border area, the rest of our San Blas group showed up and we were off. It was a super nice way to end our South American portion of the voyage. My god these past 7 months have absolutely flown by!
Next stop - Panama and the San Blas Islands... Oh baby!
An Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.