Tag Archives: independent travel

Goodbye Costa Rica.

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Goodbye Costa Rica.

Our journey through Costa Rica has ended and what an amazing journey it was. We saw so much wildlife that we have never seen anywhere before on our travels around the world. Sloths, White faced capuchin monkeys, Howler monkeys, Coati’s, Scarlet Macaws, Agouti’s, Racoons. I could write a long list. We have visited eight national parks, two wetland parks and done a night hike in the jungle. If you have been following my blog you will have read all about them. We also have learnt so many fascinating things about the wildlife here, and so much about the rain forest, their ecosystems and it’s trees and plants that support both the wildlife and themselves. The whole experience has been totally enthralling. Sadly though our journey in Costa Rica is at an end, and now we are back in Panama. Nevertheless the experiences and memories of this amazing country will be with us always.

Paso Canoas border crossing.

Now land border crossings can be a bit of a challenge, from memory we have done about five. Thailand to Cambodia at Poipet probably being the worst and most stressful. I always research the crossings thoroughly before any trip that involves them. Sometimes though when just reading about them they sound a total nightmare. it’s amazing what the mind conjures up when you have no images in your head. My mind conjures scenes from a Mad Max film or Dodge city. Well to be honest Poipet was just that. So my advice is go onto YouTube and search for the crossing you are going to and someone would have filmed themselves doing the whole thing. Beware though some are painful to watch as it’s just an exercise about look at me, see how handsome or beautiful I am. Despite this they can be a useful source of information. You then have an image in your head of the whole process and then realise it’s not as scary as you imagined at all.

When we crossed the border in the beginning of our trip we went across at a place called Sixola. The whole thing was a breeze. Friendly control officers helpful people. The whole process took around twenty minutes.

Crossing at the main border, Paso Canoas,was a very different experience. We read that it was always very busy and can take up to two hours to cross. Big queues of people, and a ten minute walk between the departing and arriving customs over very uneven ground. Oh well it had to be done, we had no choice. We took the bus from Golfito to Paso Canoas, which took around a hour and a half. The bus drops you off right across the street from where you get your exit stamp to leave and costa around a £2 each. For a taxi to do the same journey you are looking at paying between $60 to $75 dollars. When you leave Costa Rica you have to pay an exit tax $8 dollars or 5400 CRC. You can pay this at the office opposite where you get your exit stamp, but sometimes their systems are down making life difficult. Thankfully where we stayed in Golfito we were told by the host that you can pay the tax online through BCR bank. The page is in Spanish , but most modern smartphones have a translate option for web pages. Click Here for official site. We didn’t actually need to show our receipt for the exit tax as when you purchase the tax online you have to record your passport number on the form so I presume it showed on the customs officer’s computer as paid. This process took about ten minutes. She also told us that it’s best to have printed copies of all of your paperwork Covid vaccination records, Panama entry affidavit, proof of your onward journey from Panama. Also sometimes proof of funds for your stay in Panama, in the form of a credit card or three months bank statements. Fortunately we got all this done in a local print copy shop in Golfito. You can get this done at the border but I imagine it would be much more expensive.

Getting back into Panama was very different. Firstly the walk to get your exit stamp certainly did not take 10 minutes like other blogs I have read, granted the path we had read about was uneven but if you walk along the edge of the tarmac road, taking care avoiding the very large trucks passing you will be fine. On reaching the exit building, another added bonus was there were no large queues of people waiting to cross which we had read about, it was just us. The next part is where it got quite stressful. At the customs officers window you first have to show your exit stamp from Costa Rica, he then hurries you through a door to see a doctor “ I have to say he did not look much like a doctor, he could have been anyone. He then gives you a form to fill out. We were then approached by what we thought was a border official, he had a tee shirt with an official looking logo and an official looking lanyard. As I was filling out the forms he was joined by another guy, they were both very friendly and helpful but were getting a bit close to us for our liking. So Jackie kept guard on our luggage while I filled the forms out. One of the guys then took the forms from us and passed them through the window to the doctor, along with our printed covid vaccination records. They would not accept our digital NHS QR codes on our phone, thankfully we had printed copies. The Doctor then stamps the paperwork for you to take back to the customs officer. He asks you where you are staying in Panama and proof of your onward journey from Panama. They sometimes ask you for proof that you have enough money to support you when in the country. Thankfully this wasn’t needed in our case. He then takes a picture of you and then records your finger prints digitally. Stamps your passport and your done. When we left the building to catch our bus one of the supposedly official customs officers approached us and wanted a tip for his help. We initially said no, but for his cheek I gave him the only few colons (Costa Rican currency) we had, which was no use to us in Panama. So beware. Border scams don’t you just love them.

Getting the bus from the border to David is really easy, just by pass the hoards of waiting taxi drivers to the bus stand and there are loads plying for you trade. These small mini buses charge $5 pp (at time of writing) as opposed to between $55 and $70 dollars for a taxi.

Golfito : Costa Rica.

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Golfito : Costa Rica.

Our last stop on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, before we cross the border back into Panama is the town of Golfito. The town is situated along a narrow strip along Golfito bay, backed against steep green hills covered by rain forest. Golfito was once a major port town on the South Pacific Coast in the days when there was little else in the area except huge banana plantations.

We decided to go to Golfito firstly as it looked a good place to chill for a few days. Also it’s not far from the next leg of the trip, crossing the border at Paso Canoas, back into Panama. We found a nice little apartment on Airbnb overlooking the bay which is reasonably priced and is very nice, with great views of the bay.

View from our balcony
Night view.

Golfito town was built by the United fruit company to house the thousands of workers who came to the area to work on the banana plantations. A railroad was also built to transport the bananas from the plantations to the docks. The railroad is long gone now. There are just a couple of old steam engines left as a reminder of the past.

The town was built in three separate areas

Zona Americana Or the white zone. It was here that the professionals and senior executives lived in large white painted homes built in the British colonial style, with the best of amenities

Zona Amarilla Or yellow zone where the middle management, foreman and supervisors lived. Not as well appointed as the white zone, but still comfortable and well made. Access to both white and yellow zone’s were strictly controlled by guardhouses and security.

Zona Gris The grey zone where the labourers and dock workers lived. In cramped conditions and much fewer amenities, which amounted to just basic living. Often resulting in violent disputes within the community.

Now all that has gone, thankfully, but there are still plenty of reminders from the past. Many of the timber constructed buildings are still standing, some are renovated and some are in quite bad disrepair. Now the town has a quite noticeable American and Canadian expat community, and has had a major revamp in some areas. Like it’s two marinas, where expensive yachts and sports fishing boats are moored, it also has a small airport.

Sierpe Frogs : Sierpe, Costa Rica

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Sierpe Frogs : Sierpe, Costa Rica

As I said in my previous post I felt the only way to describe how amazing our mangrove and night hike tours were was to cover it in a separate post completely .

All through our journey through Costa Rica we had wanted to do a night hike to see the elusive Red eye tree frog, or any frog to be honest. We have heard plenty of them when visiting the National parks, but despite hearing the amazing chorus of all the frogs calling out we never actually got to see any. It seemed every time we did our research on the different companies offering night frog tours or hikes the reviews were never great. A lot of the night walk tours are on private reserves where a man made frog pond is built just to get the tourists in and to make a whole lot of money in the process, something we definitely do not subscribe to. It seemed we were never going to find a good company or tour that would satisfy our ethical way of thinking. It was not until Jackie was browsing the net that she stumbled upon Sierpe Frogs on trip advisor, which is strange it’s a platform we hardly use as we have found that most of the review posts on there are years out of date. But in this case the majority of the reviews were up to date and were excellent, and there were none rated below good. So our decision was made. When we arrive at Sierpe we will contact Raby Nuñez the proprietor and book our tour.

We met Raby at 5:30pm at the dock, as we had to cross the Sierpe river to start our walk. Raby was a really lovely guy and spoke perfect English so we were off to a good start. Raby’s friend, Jeffrey who was training as a guide came along too. We disembarked the small boat and started our walk. We walked for about 25 minutes, up hill for the most part. All along our journey to the start of the trail Raby was explaining about the many types of different plants and trees and how they help and supply food for the wildlife. His knowledge was excellent. We reached a bend in the road when Raby pointed out a huge ants nest. We were astounded when he told us the nest can be up to six metres deep “ wow “. Eventually we got to where the walk started. I could describe it as a path but it was far from that, it was a real trek through the jungle and in places very slippery under foot, which did not impress me as on more than one occasion my worn out knees have given way causing me to fall “I’ve got two grazed knees to prove it”. It was a good job we brought out very good Brasher walking boots with us because in places the track was very muddy and wet. Whilst we were walking along to get to the path Raby asked us if we minded him picking up the frogs to show us or just point them out. We asked him if by picking them up would they get harmed in any way, but he reassured us it wouldn’t . Incidentally he told us he doesn’t even use insect repellent whilst handling the frogs so that no harmful chemicals can be transferred. So we were happy to say we were okay with it. Raby’s knowledge on all types of frog species was excellent. He is really passionate about the little fellows. Raby’s passion for frogs and lizards, started as a small child, so it is great that he can now turn his love of nature and wildlife into his job. We learned so much about the species and every frog he picked up was placed on a leaf for us to admire and look at and for me to photograph them. Raby or Jeffery then placed them meticulously back in the same place he found them. Another highlight was seeing a Wedge billed wood creeper fast asleep in the nook. An absolutely amazing and unforgettable night. Apart from where I was stung by a huge wasp, which somehow managed to get up my shirt sleeve. Boy did it sting. Oh and also being thoroughly exhausted by the experience, but so so worth it. Apart from the bee sting that is.

As we had such an amazing time on the night hike we also booked a mangrove tour with Raby. Once again we were not disappointed. The trip lasted three hours and once again saw plenty of wildlife. Howler Monkeys, white faced capuchin monkeys, and for the first time on our trip the adorable squirrel monkeys. We also saw a Boa snake curled up in a tree. Plenty of iguanas enjoying the sun, a toucan crocodiles,oh and a raccoon perched on a branch high up in a tree. I had no idea that’s where they live and sleep during the day, being nocturnal. We would never have spotted all this amazing wildlife without our guide. Another amazing Costa Rican experience. All made possible by Raby, Jeffrey and Sierpe Frogs. Who I cannot recommend highly enough

Sierpe : Costa Rica.

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Sierpe : Costa Rica.

Our last but one stop before leaving glorious Costa Rica. We are visiting the small town of Sierpe. Our journey was to be taxi to the bus station, then a direct bus to Sierpe with the Tracopa bus company. We asked the waiter in La French café where we were having breakfast if he would kindly call us a taxi, when a very kind Canadian who also was having breakfast and who now lives in Costa Rica offered us a lift, a very nice gesture indeed. The bus company we used Tracopa, are recommended in the guide books, they have a fleet of large coaches which serve most large and small towns in Costa Rica. Along with another company called Ticabus. The journey took about two hours and cost 14,000 CRC which is about £16.

We came to Sierpe to do a couple of things, one was to take a night hike in the jungle and also take a tour of the extensive mangroves here. We also considered visiting the Corcovado National Park, but after quite a bit of research we gave it a miss. Which is kind of sad as the park is billed as the jewel in the crown of Costa Rica’s national parks. Our reasons were firstly you can only enter the park with an authorised guide “ which isn’t a problem in itself “ but the only way to get there from Sierpe was to take a boat along the river to where you will eventually go out to sea, all this is before you reach the San Pedrillo ranger station. This journey takes around one and a half hours. After which you will disembark for your hike. There are other ways of getting to the park, (click here, to find out more). It’s also recommended you stay overnight in basic accommodation or to camp to get the best experience. As we had visited quite a few National parks on our trip we have learnt that you need to be in the parks early to get the best possibility of sighting wildlife. Taking the tour as above you would not arrive until possibly 10am, that’s if sea conditions are good. Another factor was the cost. At around $120 to $130 dollars per person, and the fact that it’s getting towards the end of our trip, and the budget was getting a little tight we did not go.

After viewing google maps of Sierpe we decided to stay for five nights, as there looked like there was plenty to do. Unfortunately Google hasn’t got around to or are not allowed to perform their street view imagery, (That goes for the whole of Costa Rica) so we could not have a good look as to what Sierpe is really like. When we arrived, the bus stopped outside a hotel called Oleaje Sereno, which also has a restaurant called Le Perla attached . There were a load of people waiting at the dock, either for their tour to Corcovado or going onto their accommodation at drake bay. So we thought the town seems lively enough so we would be okay with our five nights. It wasn’t until everyone had gone and just left me and Jackie alone in this large restaurant we noticed the town was deserted, apart from a few stray dogs and tumbleweed rolling down the street (not really) and the fact that the restaurant we were in, was one of only two in town, we looked at each other and said what on earth were we going to do for five nights?

We called the owner of the apartment we had booked, to arrange access. She told us to wait there and somebody would meet us. A lovely little Costa Rican woman greeted us and showed us around. It was quite nice but a lot darker than the photos on Booking.com but it was okay. We were still wondering what we were going to do for the next four days, but we need not have worried . Just read my next post, as I feel it needs a separate entry on the blog to do it justice. It was just amazing.

Uvita: Costa Rica.

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Uvita: Costa Rica.

Continuing down the pacific coast towards the Panamanian border we are now at a town called Uvita. Well hardly a town just a few restaurants, and places to stay strung out along the road leading to the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, which is the reason we are here. We are staying at a lovely little apartment we found on Airbnb behind a very nice complex called Plaza Bahia Moana, with a great little cafe restaurant called Le French Cafe who serve lovely food and has really lovely staff.

Marino Ballena Park, (Ballena is Spanish for whale) was created to provide a safe haven for the migrating humpback whales who come to breed in the warmer tropical waters just off the coast. The whales migrate down from the west coast of America and southern British Columbia which is where they feed. Unfortunately for us the best time to see them is between June and November so we were out of luck. In a way though we are quite glad, because as well as the restaurants and accommodation along the road there are quite a few places where you can book a whale spotting tour, with lots of dormant boats by the side waiting for the season to start. I can only presume in the height of the whale spotting season there will be lots of these boats out on the water, full of tourists chasing the whales around just to get a photo. Which is something we both don’t agree with. We declined to do this in Sri Lanka because of the same reason.

I have to mention how friendly and helpful the Costa Rican people are, everyone we have met have been lovely. When we walked down to the park entrance to see where we had to go for our visit, a local man who was selling his driftwood carvings called us over and and took us to the edge of a small stream and pointed out a female Caiman and her babies. He didn’t want any money he was just pleased to show them to us.

Uncannily the park is shaped like a whale tail, which can be seen at low tide (See Photo) which I didn’t take incidentally. This is caused by two converging currents that when meet, push the sand up and create a walkway to another sand bar that runs across like the letter T, hence the name whale tail. The picture will explain a lot better than I can.

Parque Marino Ballena whale tail

The whale tail can only be seen at low tide, so it’s best to check out tide times for the day of you visit. Entrance fee to the park is $6 dollars per person and you can come and go as many times as you like on the same day.

The walk to the viewing point of the whale tale involves crossing a water inlet which when we crossed to get to the viewpoint it was just over ankle deep. Once at the whale tail there is a path which goes off into a mangrove where hopefully you will spot some wildlife (we didn’t incidentally). Also there were a few signs warning you of crocodiles, slightly worrying. All the same it was a nice walk but extremely hot and humid. The path exits where we had previously crossed the inlet, but the river was much wider and the water was much deeper as the tide was coming in. We watched where other people were crossing and followed them. Hanging on to each other we gingerly crossed, the water was much deeper than previously. We had no alternative but to carry on as we had to cross to exit the park, this is when I managed to find a deep hole and went over and nearly under. With my rucksack full of expensive cameras and equipment and my iPhone in my pocket I thought the worse. Thankfully my iPhone being the latest model is advertised as being waterproof up to 6 metres for 30 minutes. Thankfully I did not descend 6 metres and I wasn’t under for 30 minutes, but a quick dunk for about 10 seconds and all was well. Also thanks to my good quality Osprey rucksack my cameras and lenses were fine. Panic over.

The high converging tides causing the whale tail