Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Panama - February 2011

From February 6th to March 3rd, 2011

After this crazy day, we decided to spend two nights camping in the parking lot of a small hotel on Poneloya beach, with Marie and Richard. The policemen headache was just starting. They argued on the fact that we did not have any seatbelt for our passenger on the back seats although you can see trucks carrying dozens of people in the back. Another created a story telling that we stopped too late at his signal and we had to drive backwards to the intersection.

On the way to Granada, we stopped for a swim in the crater lake of volcano Apoyo. The view was somewhat similar to that of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, but without any surrounding volcano. Granada is a colonial town on Lake Nicaragua. Churches and houses are colorful. Horse karts are waiting to take some tourist for a city tour. We went for a boat tour around a group of small islands called Las Isletas which were formed after Mombacho volcanic eruption. They are mainly inhabited by wealthy Nicaraguans or serve as secondary homes for some foreigners. The next day we sailed to Ometepe island which is formed by two volcanoes (one active) in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. One of the most important resources of the island is bananas. We also relaxed a few hours in a thermal spring which has the blessing of making you losing years...


Back to the mainland, we crossed the Costa Rican border. The process was same as usual. With the exception of the fumigation (5 USD) and liability insurance (12 USD), the transit was free. We spent our time driving/walking from an office to another with another Canadian couple, Marco and Sarah, traveling from Canada to Panama with an orange the brother of our van.

We spent our first night in Costa Rica on the beach of Playa Grande which is the entrance to Las Baulas Marine National Parks. After several hours, the long awaited Leatherback Turtle measuring 1.49 cm long and 1.06 m wide finally laid her 57 eggs in front of us. She swam from the Galapagos Islands to Costa Rica while males are waiting home. Females carry the male seed in order to fertilize the eggs when spawning. She will stay in the area for about two months and will spawn every 9 to 11 days. It will take another 60 to 70 days until the baby turtle will hatch and attempt their first dive into the wild ocean.

We continued our adventures with Marie and Richard towards Fortuna, a village near Arenal volcano. On the way, we stopped to visit a butterfly garden showing the different species and stages between the egg and the butterfly. Regarding the volcano and Lake Arenal, the pictures I saw showed a beautiful active volcano in a perfect cone shape. As per some local people, the volcano is still active, but since about a year, the lava show which used to happen every hour is now rare or nonexistent. Unfortunately we couldn't judge as during the two days we were there, it was well wrapped in clouds and watered by heavy rains. We experimented another issue with our van, this time we "burned" the starter. Even lost in the mountains we managed to find a mechanic with a bunch of junk in which we found what we needed.


After reaching La Pavona, where we left our van for 3 days, we embarqued in a small boat through the channels which leaded us to the small village of Tortuguero. This small village living out of tourism is only accessible by boat through the canals surrounded by rainforest. There are about 6 meters of rain each year. Although it is one of those places where it is more commune to see the rain than the sun, we had the chance to see the sunrise while visiting the national park on a small paddle boat. We could see and hear nature waking up. Some alligators were showing their head while waiting for the breakfast to show up. The howler monkeys were making some vocalizations. Different species of birds were communicating. The sloths and toucans were perched too high for us to recognize them.


Back to Pavona, we drove through miles of banana plantations. In the late nineties, Costa Rica was the second largest exporter in the field. Nearly 2'045'000 tons spread over 1% of the Costa Rican land was exported each year. We spent the following night in a small town called Orosi, surrounded by coffee plantations. This is the country's oldest agricultural production. In the 1820s, the government has boosted its production by providing coffee plants as well as tax exemption to interested families. In the late 20th century, the country produced 147,000 tons of coffee.

The next day, we slowly reached the elevation of 3344 meters before arriving to our next destination on the Pacific coast, near Uvita. After more than two weeks of travel with our friends Mary and Richard, we got used to the routine of finding a small hotel for them while we enjoyed the luxury of free parking, shower, toilet and sometime swimming pool. That evening, we were welcomed by Dana & Jan, ( couple from Switzerland who decided to leave the area of Zurich to settle in the warm. The view was magnificent and the swimming pool water at the perfect temperature to soak for a good part of the evening. The area is a good place to watch humpback whales or explore the underwater world near Isla del Caño. The reef was not very deep. The white tip sharks were resting on the sandy bottom, while different schools of fish were playing around the corals. Some murrains were out of their hold hunting for a prey and octopuses were hiding in between corals.


Once again, we crossed the Panama border with patience, but without any particular problem. The liability insurance was 15 USD and fumigation 3 USD. Unfortunately we didn't have much time to visit Panama because the vessel that was supposed to transport our vehicle was leaving Panama City two days later and we still had to go through various formalities (police check, cancellation of our transit permits, inspections, etc.). It is in Colon that our vehicle was put into a 20 'container and loaded onto the vessel for Valparaiso, Chile.


We were left with our only backpack as house. We took this opportunity to visit the Gatun Locks, where each transit raises or lowers boats from a height of 26 meters to cross the artificial lake that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. There is an average of 38 crossings per day and it takes nearly 10 hours to cross the 80 kilometers from one end of the channel to another. Only 27 meters wide, boats known as Panamax are constructed on the basis of that width in order to fit the canal. Locomotive attached to the bow are guiding them so they do not touch the edge. To improve the daily transit, they plan to add an additional channel that will recycle about 60% of the water and allow the crossing of post-Panamax ships, which will be even wider.

I never imagined that Panama City would look like Dubai. The administrative part of the city had mostly skyscrapers, shopping malls, luxurious boutiques and a marina with big yachts. But looking closer, the surroundings was taking us back to the reality of slums where people live in boxes on polluted and noisy roadsides.


After three weeks of travel with Mary and Richard, we spent our last day together relaxing on the small island of Taboga. During the boat ride, we could see dozens of ships waiting to transit the Panama Canal. It was with a twinge in the heart that we left our friends, going back into the harsh Canadian winter. It was a pleasure to share these last few weeks exchanging stories and points of view about what is happening in the world. Over the years, Marie has traveled through many countries on different continents. Richard made us discover what is the real Quebec French language and made us struggle to understand ... Tabernacle!

Between Costa Rica and Panama, we met many Canadians and Americans in search of a little piece paradise in order to escape the winters of the north.

We decided to join Serge, a Canadian from Quebec we met a few days earlier. He is living on a boat in the state of Chiquiri. The bus ride was approximately 6 hours long. The 7:45 am bus was already full before 7am, so we left with the 9:45 am bus. After 3 hours drive, we were informed that we had to have a break in Santiago as the road was blocked by demonstrator protesting the opening of a huge copper mine. Despite the break, we could not escape the roadblock. The 7.45 am bus was also stuck here, in the middle of nowhere. After a few hours, they agreed to open the road for an hour. But another roadblock was waiting for us a few miles away. This time we were lucky to be near a small restaurant which got submerged by the events. The only option was fried chicken with fries. For us, it was a packet of biscuits and a refill of our water bottles. We had no other choice than spending the night in the bus. The next morning, the protestors agreed to release a few vehicles including our bus. Another roadblock was waiting for us. This time, it seemed that our bus would not be able to move for a long time. The next village was a few miles away. Everyone started to save food and water. Some people walked to the village to get some water and biscuits in order to calm the thirst and hunger of the 14 children traveling with us. We decided not to spend another night in the bus and started walking across the demonstration. With such heat and lack of water in these last hours, it was nice to be able to drink cold water from the tape. We continued to climb over trunks and ash from burned tires, along the hundreds of vehicles and people waiting with patience. Ron & Emily, some tourists going back to where they came from, gave us a ride to the small village of Boca Chica. After 30 hours of traveling, we finally embarked on Kolea, Serge's boat.


If you are a member of "Couch surfing" and are looking for a different type of accommodation, Serge will be your next host. Unfortunately, events have somewhat shortened our stay. After a day of rest, we travelled back to Panama City where we took our flight to Santiago de Chile.

We also met Eveline and Martin (, Swiss bicyclers who left Mexico a few months ago, with the goal of reaching Argentina. Our paths have crossed three times in recent weeks.

Click here to read the story of our trip in Chile

See the album "Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Panama - February 2011"