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#439686 - 06/04/12 07:53 AM Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Traveling from San Pedro, Belize to San Jose, Costa Rica: Now That WAS Easy

I started my trip by flying from San Pedro to Belize International Airport on Tropic Air. Saturday's weather was finally starting to brighten after what seems like weeks of rain on Ambergris Caye.

I checked into TACA Air, an easy exit fee was included in the price of my ticket. Music to my ears.

We boarded early for the 5:15pm flight to San Salvador. The flight was about 1/3 full with most of the travellers headed to San Salvador and then Los Angeles.

It was my first time on TACA and I am now one of their biggest fans. The flight crew was great, they were quick and efficient, the planes seemed brand new and....AND...they gave a free snack and real drinks on the 45 minute flight. Free head phones and a choices of tv and games. We were totally living on the edge. A real PEANUT snack. It's nice to remember that air travel on big airplanes doesn't always need to suck.

El Salvador's national airport was actually pretty busy with lots of evening flights leaving for South America and the United States. There was no need to go through immigration or customs, my next flight to San Jose left in about an hour. I stopped in for a beer at the local bar...I mean...who knows when I will be in El Salvador again. Almost everything at the airport is quoted in US Dollars.

Another quick flight (it's just 1 hour from San Salvador to San Jose) and I landed at night. Remarkably cooler than Belize since the capital's elevation is raised a bit, my friends picked me up at the airport. We made our way to the Airport Hotel (much nicer than it sounds) and I fell asleep a pretty early.

We had to get up early to make our way to the Panama-Costa Rica border. Green, mountainous and beautiful, today Costa Rica is looking pretty good...

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on San Pedro Scoop

#439913 - 06/06/12 09:42 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Mangoes EVERYWHERE: Driving from San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama

While Central America is relatively compact, the countries really start stretching out in the south...both Costa Rica and Panama are pretty long and skinny.

I arrived in San Jose on Saturday evening, we planned to cross the border between Costa Rica and Panama on Monday morning and arrive in Coronado, Panama the same day. We had some driving to do. Let's get going.

We woke up early, had our breakfast at the Hotel Aeropuerto, San Jose and paid the bill. It hit me...Costa Rica is expensive! $90USD for a hotel that should have been about $40. Gas per gallon is at almost $6 USD. But there is a reason that people flock to this country and pay a little bit extra. It is absolutely stunning. Mountains, neon green valleys, rushing rivers and waterfalls, trees bursting with flowers and fruit, happy looking cattle, water you can drink from the taps, well fed dogs and much less blatant poverty. All of that doesn't come for free. And look at this! RECYCLING. Totally impressive, Costa Rica.


We drove for about 5 hours and decided to stop in the port town of Golfito. About half way, Danni had us stop. She recognized some islands in a bay around Domincal (she insisted that they are shaped like a rabbit and a hawk). She had been there with her parents YEARS ago visiting Costa Rican friends when the road was still dirt. We had to stop to take a picture.


I like here is another one of Costa Rica. With a nice little arrow pointing to Golfito.

The weather patterns so far have been sun in the morning, clouds and some rain moving in at night. Typical tropics.

We looked around town, found a hotel ($40USD...much more reasonable), had dinner and where driven inside by a mosquito storm.


Time to get up even earlier the next day. It was about an hour to the border and since Cesar and Danni are driving across, the process is not just a simple passport stamp.

But the passport stamp is first. We checked out of Costa Rica pretty easily. No fee at all for leaving the country this way.

We parked between the borders to check out the duty free shopping in what is called the "Jerusalem Mall". There are lots of businesses big and small between Costa Rica and Panama...

The Panama border took a bit more time. The stamping of the passport was quite easy. A gentleman sells you a small $1USD sticker for your passport and you are given 60 days as a tourist. Simple. Danni and Cesar had a bit more to do. You need car insurance and registration...the internet service was down so it took a bit more time...but not much.

It was pretty much a 6 hour drive after that shooting straight for Playa Coronado (by San Carlos on the map below).

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on San Pedro Scoop

#440006 - 06/07/12 09:19 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Panama: So Far I'm Really Digging It

So last I spoke to you, I had arrived at Finca Bachita in Playa Coronado, Panama. For those of you who asked, the house is named after my friend Cesar's very cute mom, Beatrice. Bachita is her nickname and Finca means farm/estate or plantation in Spanish.

The town of Coronado is about an hour and a half west of Panama City and one of the oldest private communities in Panama. It's huge...with over 2000 good sized residences plus a couple large and ugly high rises, a clinic, a horse farm, restaurants and a long grey/black beach along the Pacific. Just outside the development on the main road (the PanAmerican highway to be exact), there are very American supermarkets, malls, spas...everything. Look at this wine selection at the local market...and $5-$10 a bottle...

Panama is developing incredibly quickly and prices are rising quickly as well. But to me? Everything seems CHEAP! Definitely cheaper than Costa Rica and much cheaper than Belize.

Even trees along the highway seem to buckling from the weight of so much fruit. I do not exaggerate when I say that mangoes are everywhere. But all are not created equal. We stopped at a roadside stand that sold five or six different kinds of mangoes plus another fruit, the kinep. Giant mangos...5 for $1USD. You really can't beat it.

You'd think the one on the right...the yellow one would be the most tasty. In fact, it has been my least favorite...very woody.

Next the super fresh black clams, caracol...$1.25USD a dozen! All plucked from the sea this morning. Here is Cesar's dad picking out the best ones.

It was time for a chicken round-up...grabbing the fowl, tying their legs together in bunches of three and loading the birds into the back of the BMW. That last step provided these poor chickies a bit of dignity during their relocation. At least they could ride in air conditioned luxury.

Juan Pablo's farm was their new home. There they were introduced to their new family: a bunch of turkeys, some geese, a posse of dogs, about 30 more chickens, a flock of sheep, a few pigs and a good sized herd of cows.

Oh yeah...and one GIGANTIC caterpillar.

We went to meet the family cow Bella. She was a bit sad looking and stand-offish for good reason...she just had a still born calf very close to term a few days ago. (A baby boy if you want to know.) Poor girl.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on San Pedro Scoop

#440236 - 06/10/12 07:32 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Tranquilo in Panama: Playa Venao & Pedasi on the Azuero Peninsula

We decided to take an overnight trip to the Azuero Peninsula...the area that is sometimes called the heart of Panama. Beautiful beaches, old colonial towns and indigenous history? What's not to like?

Panama is different from the other central American countries I've visited..very beautiful landscape, relatively few tourists but incredibly modern infrastructure. There was road construction everywhere during our bridges, expanded should be interesting to see if Panama can maintain its charm and feeling of untouched nature.

The first large town on the peninsula is Chitre...replete with four lane roads, traffic lights, strip malls & huge home good stores and fast food. But just about 5 minutes away (we were a bit lost) we were in a tiny charming plaza with an ancient looking church and old men in Panama hats (flipped up in front) idly chatting in the shade. Hopefully they can keep both the old and the new. (Like this older man and his grandson collecting wood in a horse drawn carriage while surfers catch some waves on Playa Venao.)

Most of what I've read says that the land on this peninsula has been harshly deforested...and that may be true but it has left beautiful rolling pasture land dotted with HUGE old forest trees. Particularly after we passed the town of Pedasi (I'll get back to that later) and made the 40 minute drive to Playa Venao (or Venado) where we were staying.

There are two large palapa restaurants (one associated with El Sitio hotel & surf shop and much more expensive) and not much else except for signs that they are going to be LOTS of building soon. I'm glad to visit this very pretty bay before it all arrives.

We took a walk to the far end of the beach...

Very very very quiet and beautiful with gorgeous green grassy hills sloping to the beach.

THE place to stay seemed to be the Villa Marina both for its beautiful plantation style grounds and the prime spot on the beach.

Really beautiful (and expensive looking) hotel. (If you'd like, check out their Hostal Villa Marina)

But don't worry...there were quite a few signs for smaller, less expensive hotels in Venao. Don't be fooled by the word only means hotel down here. It is NOT the same as a hostEL. Villa Marina is listed as a hostal that costs about $200USD a night.

We did have a plate of the "Panamanian french fries" at Restaurant Isla Iguana.

I am going to say something quite blasphemous about a fruit near and dear to every Caribbean, Central and South American's heart. I don't LOVE plantains. I don't think they should be served with every single meal. But these? I like. They are fried then smashed and then fried again green plantains called Pataconas. Well salted, they are more potato with hardly any banana taste. Delicious for eating ceviche or with ketchup like a french fry.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on San Pedro Scoop

#440369 - 06/12/12 08:05 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Checking out a Bit of the Coast Line in Panama: Coronado, San Carlos and El Palmar......

Yesterday was a bit of a lazy day (for me), I relaxed on the family Lazy Boy and whiled away hours enjoying the quick internet speed of Panama (it has to be 10x that of my connection in Belize). Cesar and Danni spent much of the day cleaning their "casa para un ano" (also known as their truck) and Cesar's dad did the heavy labor...disassembling the old outdoor brick fire oven.

We had a hankering for fish tacos later than evening so Danni and I headed to the beach first thing in the morning (it was really our only outing). The area fishermen all pull up in a town about 20 minutes away called San Carlos.

It's a relatively small, quaint town with some government's the local county seat. San Carlos is a mix of old-school and brand new that I am starting to get used to in Panama. Across the street from a JET BLACK gold flecked beach and the area where the fishing boats pull in is a large tract of land being cleared for a new development high rise called Fontanella de Mar. According to its website it is inspired by "new urbanism"...ugh. I guess the fishermen are going to need to relocate.

Fish cost $2.25 USD per pound. It is hard to say whether we got the gringa price or not...the two of us did stand out like sore thumbs. But everyone there was quite friendly.

We took a quick ride through the neighboring town of El Palmar. Much smaller and cuter...just a smattering of houses, small hotels and a surf camp.

And a very nice beach with lots of surfers.

The sand was really quite's just the mix of black and tan that makes it look a bit...well...muddy

The community of Playa Coronado (our home base and the biggest development in the area) is all land (1500 acres) originally purchased in the 1940s by a man named Gustavo Eisenmann. Today, there is a beach club, 5500 homeowners, an equestrian center, a golf course, condominium towers...very good investment Gustavo. The area is still run by his family members.

We are off to Panama City tomorrow..certainly much more to report back then. Hasta manana!

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on San Pedro Scoop

#440465 - 06/13/12 09:43 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 4,672
LaurieMar Offline
LaurieMar  Offline
What a great adventure! I have been to Panama a few times, and just love it. Don't forget to visit the Casco Viejo area of Panama City. We were just there last year and I could have spent days rambling around. They are renovating lots of the old buildings...lots to see and do.

#440565 - 06/14/12 09:09 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Good-Bye Coronado Beach, Hello Panama City

Yesterday morning we left Coronado and Cesar's parents to head to Panama City for 3 days and to end my trip to Panama. We walked down to the beach to take one last swim on the black and tan sand beach.

I remain fixated on the pure jet black sand. For some reason in pictures, it just looks dirty grey.

Some bad weather was rolling over the mountains...time to skedaddle.

On the way to Panama City, we stopped at a huge brand new shopping center. The Westland Mall. Huge, brand new and pretty empty. They did have a very impressive food court with every fast food place you can imagine (from Taco Bell to McDonalds to Carls Jr to Quiznos...sigh) and a few stores...most knock-offs of Abercrombie and Fitch. Apparently the frat boy look is popular world wide.

About an hour later we were a bit lost in Panama City...we crossed over the canal (which looks amazing) and through the Canal Administration area. Here is the old YMCA building.

We finally made it to the Congrejo area, found our apartment (from and went out to do some investigating.

The neighborhood is really nice...quite residential with lots of bars and restaurants. Almost next door to us is a brewery/pub. We stopped in. And were offered free tastes of all their beers. Love this place.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on San Pedro Scoop

#440657 - 06/15/12 08:50 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Casco Viejo, Panama City: Gorgeous Old Town under Heavy Rehabilitation

Casco Viejo (or Old Town in Spanish) is just that...the old Spanish colonial section of Panama City. It was completed and settled in the later 1600s after the pirate Captain Morgan attacked and the first settlement Panama Viejo was burned to the ground. Panama Viejo had been the city center since it is mostly in ruins.

Casco Viejo is an incredibly beautiful, very walkable area, it is under an INTENSE bout of construction and rejuvenation (like most of Panama City) and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. You know you are going to see some very good stuff.

Warning: I am uploading tons of pictures because well...I took a ton. And the internet speed in Panama is absolutely a delight. I feel like I am being introduced to YouTube for the first time.

There are churches, museums, some finished houses/apartment buildings and so many empty shells...

Pictures around Simon Bolivar Plaza (Panama was a part of Colombia until 1831 after all).

I can't wait to come back in a few years to see what Casco Viejo is like. Though I'm not sure I can wait that love... so far I absolutely LOVE Panama City..

Click here to read the rest of the article and see TONS more EXCELLENT photos in SanPedroScoop!

#440741 - 06/16/12 08:55 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Check That One Off the Bucket LIst: The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a miraculous engineering feat, a modern wonder of the world and something that I've always wanted to see. (See my Central American Bucket List)

Not only is it a 48 mile long connection dug in jungle and rock between two oceans but the boats going through start at sea level, rise up 54 feet and then back down through a system of three huge locks. All using gravity. And the size of these boats? It's no joke...

The trip generally takes 8-10 hours.

The canal was completed by the Americans (well, actually the workers were mainly from the West Indies, primarily Barbados) in 1914 and handed over to the Panamanians on December 31, 1999.

Visiting is a very cool thing.

The first set of locks from the Pacific side are the Miraflores Locks about 15 minutes outside of town. There is a good sized visitor center and viewing area. To enter as a non-resident, you can pay $5 USD to only access the viewing areas or $8USD to see the movie and the museum. Pay the extra. The movie is worth it. Particularly if you are interested in the new locks that are being built to accommodate even larger that can hold up to 12,000 containers or are 160 feet wide (currently the locks are 110 feet wide). These mega-locks are set to open on the 100th anniversary of the completion of the canal in 2014.

When you first arrive, you won't be impressed. The building is 3 stories high and you are allowed on only two and the observation area is way too small...way too crowded. Try to get a spot along the edge...people with their cameras will be elbowing you to get in front.

A large scarab beetle landed on the woman in front of me...something to photograph while I waited for the first ship of the day to enter the locks. The boats go from Pacific to Atlantic in the morning and the opposite way in the afternoon.


The water and the boat drops 27 feet over 8 minutes and these doors open. They are the height of a 7 story building. Huge. (A goofy announcer is doing a play-by-play in English and Spanish during the whole transit...telling you when to get your camera ready and when to wave to the boat's passengers.)

The doors open and the boat glides through (with 2 feet on either side) to drop again in the next lock.

It's an incredibly tight squeeze.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see LOTS more photos on San Pedro Scoop

#440945 - 06/19/12 08:14 AM Re: Traveling from San Pedro to San Jose, Costa Rica [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,378
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Visiting Panama City, A Recap: Where I Stayed, What I Loved (AKA While I'll be Back REALLY Soon)

I know that you guys think I like everything...but I don't. If I don't enjoy a meal or a bar or a place, I generally just gloss over it or I don't say anything at all. No need to do that with Panama City...I LOVE this city. I really let me count the ways.

First, quickly, the place I stayed in. We had 4 nights planned in Panama City and wanted more of an apartment. Originally we planned to do some cooking there (I soon realized that I LOVE the food in this town...I wanted to eat out EVERY meal). You might not always think of it but (often thought of as a site for luxury or long-term rentals) has some cheap, daily offerings. It next hurts to look...

We found Casa Congrejo. $50USD a night for the three of us, a private bathroom (with a shower you could park a car in), a huge room, a TV, A/C, great Wi-Fi, a common kitchen and lounge and a fantastic area of town.

Here's a quick list of things I love about Panama City.

1. The prices: Compared to Belize and to the US, service oriented things are CHEAP. A $4 haircut. A $3 manicure. $150USD Botox (yes...I considered it for a minute. I am 38 after all...don't be so judgey wudgey). The town is also a fantastic place for shopping. Electronics cost the same as they do in the US as do clothes and shoes. American brands abound. You will be seriously impressed by the malls in Panama City.

2. Real History: Panama City is the oldest European settled city on the Pacific Ocean (1519). The old section of town is being totally rehabilitated. And it is gorgeous.

3. The Canal: The Panama Canal is not only something amazing to see but it allows Panama a huge flow of goods not available everywhere.

4. A 24 Hour City: You can buy food, stop by a pharmacy for Viagra, a grocery store for a six pack of beers, hail a taxi or gamble your night away at the casino...all night long. I rarely take advantage of this kinda stuff but for some reason it is very comforting to me to know that I have options.

5. Money Flowing into Infrastructure: EVERYWHERE construction. From the new subway/metro that is being built (and is SO needed...traffic is horrible mid-day) to the mega-locks that are being dug in the is being pumped into this city. Wi-Fi is available in pretty much every park and open area.

6. Medical Care: I mentioned Botox before but many people come down here for real "medical tourism" not just plastic surgery. Panama has a first class medical system. I stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe Panama (yes! they still have these!) and ran into a super sweet woman from Oklahoma named Rebecca. She is staying in Panama with her 15 year old daughter, McKenna having stem cell treatments. McKenna was in a four wheeling accident 2 years ago and lost most of the feeling in her legs. Panama (and Cell Medicine) are able to provide her with treatments that are otherwise illegal and too expensive in the United States. Rebecca, I am hoping hard that these treatments work for your daughter!

Amazingly, they even have free emergency care available to tourists for the first 30 days of their visit to Panama.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on San Pedro Scoop

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