My visit to Costa Rica in 2008 was short as I did not feel comfortable at all. With my visit into the centre of San Jose to post a parcel home I was told to ‘go home Americano’. I replied ‘sorry but I’m not American’ This did not seem to do the trick and I was consequently followed down the street. Feeling most uneasy I entered a shop and pretended to be interested in buying something. The 2 young men stayed outside for 10mins before moving on. Crime is on a steady increase in Costa Rica so be careful and don’t carry too much money or your passport. There are tourist police in Costa Rica in all the major tourist spots now. Daylight robberies occur and sometimes with weapons. So is it dangerous? Some say not, some say yes. Most enjoy it and have a trouble free holiday.
Having said that there are lots of outdoor activities to keep you on the go. Bungee jumping, white-water rafting, diving, hiking, snorkelling and more. Both the Pacific and Caribbean coast offer good diving and swimming. Caution should be exercised though as both coasts have strong rips, with sadly 6-12 tourists drowning each year. Pick a reputable tour company and go enjoy the outdoors. You can zip through the canopy on lines, hike up active volcanoes and swim in the beautiful clear water of the Caribbean all in one day and at night if you are there at the right time watch the turtles at Tortuguero beach lay their eggs.
On my bus from David in Panama through to San Jose there are some pineapple crops but for the most part it is jungle. The trip is rather long and winds on what seems like forever. Crossing the border was easy but took about 1 ½ hrs.
Costa Rica is also a very popular country in which to volunteer.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Costa Rica
1) Be aware of what and who is around you all the time.
2) Don’t wear lots of jewellery or expensive watches – this makes you a target.
3) To do tours pick a company with a good reputation. Ask someone who has already been there.
4) Go with friends when out walking.
5) I found that the taxi drivers could be trusted and they speak English. All the ones I used in San Jose knew where my hostel was.
6) Leave your passport at your hotel/hostel. They especially like to rob you of them.
7) Try to avoid carrying a big expensive camera.
8) Generally I found that the Costa Ricans did not like Americans, but it is best not to snap back if they accuse you of being an American gringo. (Maybe I just hit there at the wrong time?)
9) People love to visit Costa Rica and many have such a great time, so please remember this is just how I saw and experienced it.
My first experience of Panama, sort of, was when I had a 4hr stop over when flying from Quito to Cartagena. ( Yes, do your research as it was cheaper for me to fly through Panama than direct to Cartagena) I love Panama airport. You can leave me there for the day. It’s about half a km long, well it seems like it is, with duty free shopping on both sides. Shopping bliss.
When I actually flew into Panama to stay it took me 2hrs to get through immigration due the arrival of about 8 flights at the same time. As I flew in, I had to have a tourist visa. This I did not know until I was leaving Colombia and was asked if I had one at Cartagena Airport. I purchased mine there at a cost of approx. $5 U.S. They cannot be purchased at Panama City Airport. You will be turned away if you don’t have one. You have been warned. When coming into Panama via Costa Rica buses will issue you with one.
Most nationalities require on onward ticket but I have not heard of anyone being asked so show proof of this. If asked, show a credit card. Panama City was great. I hired a taxi driver that does private tours and headed for the Panama Canal and the Miraflores Locks not far out of the city. We timed it right and I got to see an oil tanker come in and go right through. I think my photos of this are some of the best I took. Then to the old city. Old buildings, bougainvilleas in flower hanging down, the sea, the view over to the new city. It’s a delightful place to visit. There is also a mariner nearby on an island which has a road built over to it and this is very new with more building still going on. It was full of grand yachts and boats. Many where from the USA.
If you can go to one of the resorts like Playa de Camerron, while in Panama, then do so. I did and I don’t really think for what I got that it was expensive. The Panamanians certainly know how to look after you.
DAVID is also a popular visitors spot and a good place to base yourself in order to see some of the smaller rural towns. I stayed at the Purple Hostel. Lovely place, purple building, couldn’t miss it. From here I did a day trip out to Boquete. There are lots of retirement homes that belong to Americans here and I can see why. It’s a very nice rural town with hostels and activities to do like river rafting. Bocas de Toro is another popular spot to go. It’s on an island and is growing more popular by the year as the place to visit.
And there is the area of San Blas to and not forgetting the city of Colon on the Caribbean coast either. Panama has some lovely places to holiday and fares are cheap from the USA.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Panama
1) Carry your passport on you. One of my buses was pulled over by police obviously looking for someone and I was asked for my passport. Luckily I had not packed it in my backpack.
2) Take a ‘chicken bus’ on a day trip to a smaller town. They are safe despite what some people say. On getting from city to city, the coaches for these trips are comfy.
3) If you fly in to Panama don’t forget that all important tourist visa. Your airline should be able to sell this at your departure point. Ask if they don’t mention it. Some reports say you can purchase it at the airport on your arrival. You could not do this last year.
4) When crossing in from Costa Rica you will have to show onward ticket or sufficient funds. A credit card is usually sufficient to keep them happy.
5) Take a guided taxi tour while in Panama City, it’s the best way to do it I think, especially if you have limited time in Panama City.
6) Taxi drivers can be trusted here and most speak English.
Popular Airlines flying to Panama www.copa.com
www.caribbeanairlines.com There is also all the major airlines from the USA and several more from Europe.
I have not been to any of these countries yet. On meeting people who have been to them they have commented that they are pretty much the same. One English couple from Brighton that I met in Nazca, Peru had been through all these countries and had been robbed in the street 3 times in Nicaragua. The 3rd time they got all their things back because by this time they were getting brave and just made such a noise about it that the robbers dropped it and ran.
From all that they told me I think my only suggestion would be to travel with another person through all these countries. Of course, and as per usual, there are many people who have travelled through this part of Central America without any troubles so it is up to the individual. There is alot of criminal activity in El Salvador. There are places in all these countries that are popular like the Copan Ruins in Honduras. There is river-rafting, diving, snorkelling or just sunbathing and swimming to do as Honduras and Nicaragua enjoy the beautiful turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
1) It is probably best to travel with a partner or in a group.
2) Take caution especially at night and be aware of who and what is around you. Common sense says don’t have too much money on you and if instinct tells you not to trust someone then don’t.
3) Check back with your own country as to whether they think it is safe for you to travel in these countries. The site for New Zealanders is; www.safetravel.govt.nz For all other nationalities just Google it if you don’t know your official safe travel website.
4) At the time of writing this (September 2009) only Honduras is on the ‘High Risk Destination’ on the New Zealand safetravel site.
5) Contact details for Rafaels special tour service; CEL;(507) 6652-4293 email; email@example.com
Belize it or not! Definitely Belize it. On the island of Caye Caulker it’s party time all the time. This has got to be the reason why I have been there twice. Most travellers arrive in Belize by bus from Mexico, Guatemala or Honduras. Belize City is a little rough around the edges and most backpackers give it a miss and head straight to the office at the wharf to buy a ticket and head off to Caye Caulker.
The major town in the south of Belize is Punta Gorda. Out from here is Moho Caye, The Snake Cayes, Hunting Cayes, and the Sapodilla Cayes.
Placencia is a little further north of Punta Gorda and out to sea from here is Rendezvous Caye and Gladden Caye. Of course there are more cayes than those two and more off the coast from every main town. I’m just naming the main ones.
Out from Dangriga are Tobacco Caye, South Water Caye and Carrie Bow Caye.
From Belize City there is Long Caye, Half Moon Caye, Blackbird Caye, English Caye, Spanish Caye, Hicks Caye, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. Along Lighthouse Reef is the famous Blue Hole. Stretching from the Gulf of Honduras and right along the coast and up Mexico to Cancun is the barrier reef. This is the 2nd longest reef in the world. The waters off Belize are a turquoise colour and so beautifully clean and clear. The snorkelling and diving is second to none. It’s like you are not even looking through goggles and water. The colours of the fish and coral are out of this world. I especially like the iridescent blue fish. There are nurse sharks that lie in your arms like babies. Its diver’s heaven.
Not forgetting the mainland. Belize has its own Mayan Ruins in the rainforest to enjoy. Northern, Central and Western Belize have many majestic Mayan cities. You can try the zip-lines through the jungle canopy, explore caves or go canoeing down a peaceful jungle river. Street stalls, museums, galleries, night life, culture, music and lots of public holidays and celebrations means there is something for everyone. The Belizean people are friendly and when they don’t want you to know what is being said revert to talking in Creole. I hate that but as I have a friend in Belize I am going to spend a lot more time on my next visit through and learn Creole. ( Note; some people spell it ‘Kriol’). English is the language of Belize but Spanish is often spoken in the northern province of Corozal.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Belize
1) It’s not all that easy to say something negative about Belize as it is a super friendly place so all the usual precautions apply.
2) Don’t have anything on you you don’t want to lose at night if you go drinking. Not so much on the islands as in Belize City.
3) Even if you don’t have a diving license the snorkelling is amazing and will keep the kids happy for hours. Take a day trip on a sail boat out to the reef. I can’t wait to be back there.
4) On Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye there is no need to book accommodation as it is so easy to find somewhere to stay. There’s an abundance of hostels and some nice hotels.
5) Try sea kayaking. It’s a great place to learn.
6) Go along the waterfront in the evening. This is where you will find the tour operators and it’s a great time to get some freshly cooked seafood and socialise with the locals.
7) My recommendation for a day reef trip, ‘Black Hawk’. Big Steve is a great guy with a fun sense of humour and he feeds you well.
8) Hop on a boat at night and go to the bar on the other part of Caye Caulker. You can lie in a hammock on the beach and listen to the music. Just mention it to a local and they will help you out. The cost is about $5 return. You can come back at whatever time you like.
9) From Ambergris Caye you can catch an early morning boat to Corozal and then a taxi over the border to Chetumal in the south of Mexico.
10) If you have your International Drivers License on you then hire a golf buggy on Ambergris Caye. It’s much bigger than Caye Caulker and the best way to see the whole island.
11) If staying on Caye Caulker and you want to do a day trip to some Mayan ruins you can do them from here. The main street has plenty of tour agents advertising these day trips.
12) When you arrive in Belize you will have to put the address of where you are staying. If you have not booked anywhere, have a quick look on the internet before departing to Belize, and write an address down.
Airlines serving Belize;
This country is so wonderful to travel in and has amazing scenery. Even lots of men I have meet say it’s beautiful. Not usually a word they would use so it must be true. And it is!! Guatemala City itself is not all that clean and most tourists only stop off here if they are catching an early morning flight out or get in late. There are cathedrals and plazas worth visiting though. I flew in mid-morning and caught a shuttle van to Antigua. This is a small town with some very old buildings, churches and a ton of history to soak up. There is a hill behind the town and this gives you a great view of Antigua. It is not dangerous to go walking up here alone and there are Police on duty. (For some time there was a problem with youths robbing people on the pathway). Guatemala is another of the cheapest places you can visit next to Bolivia. There is shopping and fashion for everyone. I brought a pair of jeans there that are still my favourite pair today. Cost -NZ $16. So cheap!! Go to the markets. Like all markets they have everything for sale, from fruits to blankets, and the colours are brilliant, even one of the fruits I tried was brilliant purple.
Antigua is surrounded by 3 volcanoes, one of which I went to and walked on the hard lava crust while the red hot lava flowed underneath. Even toasted marshmallows. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, with 4 being active.
Lake Atitlan. It’s captivating like all of Guatemala. I got a shuttle van from Antigua and about 2 ½ hrs later was there. The countryside along the way is so green. Crops of veggies growing everywhere. I couldn’t stop taking photos. Cliffs, gorges, plains of crops, the landscape changed every 15mins. The roading is good to, but is windy obviously, when going into and out of the gorges. Around Lago de Atitlan are small villages and a day boat trip is a must. In one of the villages you can buy the world famous pottery. Why do I say world famous, because I meet a Canadian lady who was there especially to buy some. (Not being world famous to me, I can’t remember to name of it. Derrrrrr!)
Almost every little town in Guatemala has a museum. Guatemala has so much history and today though Spanish is the official language something like 20 dialects of Mayan are spoken. No worries, all tour operators and agents speak English.
My great aunty lived in Guatemala for 4yrs on the Pacific Coast. It’s beautiful here also and is being developed at a steady pace as more and more visit all the coast area.
Let’s not forget places like Petén, Chimaltenango and Quetzaltenango. All on every backpackers list of ‘must go’ places. But my favourite is the pyramids at Tikal. Tikal National Park is a, UNESCO World Heritage Site, as are some of the other places I have seen. Tikal was an experience that I can’t describe. Sitting at the top of the tallest pyramid, looking down on the whole site, see the top of other pyramids pointing skywards above the trees, the sound of birds, monkeys. I could hear the Mayan children, of the pyramid era, running and playing below. It’s a riveting site and fortunately for visitors you are allowed to climb the pyramids. The town to stay in to visit here is Flores. It’s approx. an hour’s bus ride to Tikal. No need to book a bed in Flores as there are loads of hostels and hotels. The hostel/hotel can book you on the bus for Tikal as soon as you get there. From Flores I took the bus through to Belize City.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Guatemala
1) No need to book a shuttle to Antigua if you are flying in to Guatemala City. There are plenty waiting at the airport and they will take you right to your accommodation.
2) I only booked my first night. Getting a bed is no trouble, even when moving to the next town.
3) Take shuttle vans between towns. Guatemala is so set up for tourists there is no problem with getting vans, buses, boat tours etc.
4) Be aware if walking about in Guatemala City after dark, otherwise the rest of the country is very safe.
5) Talk with the locals. Most of them just want to practise their English. Not good for us if we want to practise our Spanish.
6) This is a great country to learn Spanish. There are several language schools.
7) Spend your money. It’s cheap and remember Guatemalans are very poor. I had the unfortunate experience of hearing someone moan about the price of a souvenir. How I keep my mouth shut I will never know!
8) A must do is Tikal. This is one of the few places you can still climb the pyramids. You can’t do this anymore at Chichen Itza in Mexico, so do it here while you have the chance.
9) If it’s a hazy day in Flores when you get there be sure to watch the sun go down. I have some fantastic photos of the sunset over the lake.
10) Climb a volcano. If you do the active volcano close to Antigua, take marshmallows or something similar to toast (and a long stick ).Take some money with you to so if the climb gets the better of you hire a horse. They follow you waiting for you to collapse. Bargain the price down here as they do charge alot and in my case where trying to get me to pay in US dollars. (I love the sense of humour of these people). It was all done in good fun, so no – I’m not moaning about the price.
11) When you get home tell everyone to go to Guatemala. For alot of them tourism is there income but best of all, they have a beautiful country for us to visit.
12) Internet cafes are in abundance so no worries on sending those emails home.
13) If you are not going to Honduras you can do the Copan Ruins from Atitlan. They have tours going everyday which makes it a handy way to do these ruins.
- I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to visit Guatemala and can’t wait till I return.