I’ve done quite a few overland border crossings in my travels, but none was quite as bad as the one I just did today from Costa Rica to Panama. This is probably as bad as it gets but today was probably way out of the ordinary and we were simply unlucky to get caught up in some extraordinary circumstances.
1) We began with a 4 hour bus from Manuel Antonio to San Jose, which cost about $9 per person. Afterwards we cabbed it to the Ticabus station and boarded an 11pm bus ($60 per person) for Panama City. We were on the bus for about 5.5 hours before we arrived at the border town of Paso Canoas between Costa Rica and Panama:
2) It was about 4:30am when we arrived at the Costa Rica border, so you can imagine how sleepy we all are when they wake us up. We were then barked at to get off the bus to get our Costa Rica exit stamps in our passports, after which the bus drives away to the Panama border…and then we find out that the Costa Rica passport office/border post doesn’t open until 6am. So we waited for an hour and half outside in the dark.
Other border crossings would have allowed us to sleep on the bus. So I slept on the floor instead.
4) At 6am the Costa Rica border post opens, and thankfully it didn’t take long for them to process our passports.
5) We then walked over to the Panama border:
6) However, once at the border entering Panama, we arrived to discover only one person was working for a crowd of over 500 people, one by one in a line, trying to enter Panama. Yeah, right. But really, we wait over 3 hours while moving at a glacial pace.
(We were told later on that today was a holiday which means everything in Panama was short staffed…but no amount of research online afterwards to confirm would yield such information).
7) After that nightmare was over we were introduced to another: we were made to take our bags from the bus and bring into a customs room, where again, only one person was going to search all 500 of our bags, one by one.
8) After discussing Freud, debating some Kant and deriving the formula for cold fusion, we got back on the bus and made our way to Panama City, which was going to be another 9 hour ride.
It may not seem that bad in writing, but imagine being told by previous travelers that the crossing would take only 30 minutes when it actually took 4.5 hours (9 times as long!).
The bus company felt so bad (because what had happened, they said, was totally unexpected) that it stopped at a McDonald’s for an hour and bought us all chicken sandwiches:
Tica Bus, brought to you by McDonald's
9 hours later, we arrived finally at Panama City:
Panama Canal up ahead!
And their Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City was a welcome sight for sore eyes and cranky limbs:
- At time of posting in Paso Canoas, it was 28 °C -
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds
There’s been a few recurring inside jokes we’ve been throwing around during the trip, one of them being nature’s tendency to constantly amaze us, and at the same time screw us over.
Today was one of those days where it tried to screw us over. Today we got wrecked by nature.
We got up at around 6am this morning to get into the park as early as possible so we could see animals. Instead, it started to rain heavily and we took some time in making sure we would be prepared for the possibility of getting wet.
We went to the supermarket and bought some food (there’s no place to buy anything in the national park; you have to pack it with you unless you want to pay the admission fee more than once going in and out), took the local bus down to the national park entrance, and paid the $10 admission fee.
We hiked the trail for a bit…
…and we came upon some empty beaches:
We also hiked up Cathedral Point for the viewpoint into the Pacific Ocean:
Found some more empty beaches:
Playa Manuel Antonio
We had one more trail left to do when it just started to pour.
Most people turned around and tried to flee for cover. Some gave up and turned around, heading for the exit. What did we do?
“I ain’t neva scurred!”
Either we’re idiotic, stubborn, or both, but we wanted to hike the last trail in order to catch an ocean view of Playa Escondido. The trail, however, turns into a bit of a challenge during what seemed like a tropical storm at the time.
Literally we were caught in a sudden cloudburst of interminable rain; as we struggled to hike a trail that ended up becoming a stream, and then a river…
And after about 20 minutes of hiking all by ourselves, cursing quietly under our breaths we were rewarded with…
End of the road
And then we headed back down towards the exit, dejected.
Just kidding: how is this NOT epic enough? Imagine hiking all by yourself in the pouring rain to the point where you can barely see what’s in front of you, in the middle of one of the top 12 national parks in the world. Just imagine it. Because we don’t have to; we actually did it. We got back from the park learning a little more about ourselves today; that all of us are kinda crazy stubborn, that we are up for any challenge, idiotic or not, that we are more than happy to go all in for off the beaten track experiences, and that we weren’t going to give up so easily even when nature stares right at us in the face….right in the FACE.
Ultimately, I feel pretty lucky to have these great group of people monsooning with me as they really are all a team of ultimate badasses. Thanks for never giving up, guys, I’m proud to be traveling with y’all.
Looking back on the last 48 hours it’s hard to believe we came from here:
- At time of posting in Manuel Antonio National Park, it was 23 °C -
Humidity: 100% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: raining CATS AND DOGS
Our first group photo!
Today we explored the lovely little town of Quepos, which was once underwater filled with mangroves (thanks for that Jenn Gao!), and is so small it only takes 3 hours to see everything, even if you’re walking really really slowly:
We struck up a conversation with a bunch of Chinese restaurant owners at the “only Chinese restaurant in Manuel Antonio”; they were born in Costa Rica, spoke fluent Spanish along with a bit of English, but our group communicated with them in Cantonese and Mandarin. The world felt a little smaller while talking to them.
To make things even more interested, their local public school is funded by South Korea:
What else to do? Catch some kind of sunset at Playa Quepos:
One of the BEST coffee I ever had at Cafe Milagro:
Eat some Comida Tipicas:
At Restaurant "Tipico"
At "Soda de Sanchez"; their food was so much better! Highly recommended!
Become friends for life:
- At time of posting in Quepos, it was 22 °C -
Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 12km/hr | Cloud Cover: few clouds
Forbes Magazine lists it as one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world (the list is actually pretty thorough). A contributor to Forbes and the author of “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” remarked that this was “the most beautiful sunset in the world.” We had to go just to be sure.
The Manuel Antonio Beach:
We scaled down this hill in order to get to the beach more quickly. Some minor injuries occurred:
We appreciated some nature along the way:
Looking down the road to Manuel Antonio Beach
A four-leafed clover!
And we enjoyed their famous sunset:
Once dusk hit we had dinner at El Avion, featuring a decommissioned and unused 1954 Fairchild C-123 airplane from the days of the Nicaragua-Iran-Contra fiasco back in the days of President Reagen, which was converted into an impressive restaurant:
Inside the airplane
The hanger bay
Afterwards we embarked on an ill-fated trip to Villas Jacqueline for its rooftop lounge, and we had to walk through about 1km of this sketchy, unmarked dirt road in the dark:
When we got there, nobody was there. It was literally abandoned. We added the creepiness factor into this as you’ll notice there’s a tricycle that’s just…there (or are we forcing the creepiness right now?)
So we did what anyone else would do at the beginning of a bad horror movie and made ourselves at home.
But we didn’t stay for long.
As you can tell, we’re exhausted after a day of hiking, scaling down hills not meant to be scaled down, learning how to surf, taking on a pretty unpredictable and intense waves on the beach, and struggling with a relative lack of sleep the whole time.
So we’re taking the cue from our misadventure to Villa Jacqueline and will be heading to bed early tonight (first full night’s sleep in a long time!). This way we can check out the hiking trail in the National Park early tomorrow morning when all the animals wake up!
- At time of posting in Manuel Antonio, it was 26 °C -
Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds
-__- "Paradise = wifi"
I barely got an hour of sleep before we had to wake up at 5:15am to catch taxis to the Bus Station for Manuel Antonio.
BEWARE: LONELY PLANET AND EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG about where to catch the buses to Manuel Antonio and Quepos; right now common knowledge among guidebooks and even a guide staying at our hostel will say that these buses depart from the “Coca-Cola Station” on the west side of the city.
That actually just recently changed; buses for Quepos and Manuel Antonio now depart from the “Terminal Tracopa” Bus Station in the south side of the city. The departure time remains the same: a bus leaves every 90min beginning at 6am for around $9 USD per person.
This unexpected snafu led us to taking taxis to the wrong station with only 11 minutes left to go before the 6am bus would depart; we scrambled to Tracopa with only 3 minutes left to spare.
South San Jose
These new buses alternate every other 90min in deciding whether to take you all the way to Manuel Antonio Beach or end at Quepos 7km up from Manuel Antonio. The 6am bus took us direct to Manuel Antonio (with only a brief 1min stop in Quepos).
After about a 3 hour drive, we arrived at Manuel Antonio.
The entrance to Manuel Antonio Beach!
To get back up to Quepos (where most of all the cafes, hostels, restaurants, and ATMs are), you need to take a 380 colones (75 cents) per person bus up the 7km hill.
And from there we’re currently resting and enjoying the view from our hostel: Vista Serena.
More to come!
- At time of posting in Manuel Antonio Beach, it was 28 °C -
Humidity: 51% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds
Team of Monsooning Badasses
Today we shrugged off the comforts of a direct international coach bus (that would’ve taken care of everything for us at a hefty price) and opted for independently navigating our way from Granada, Nicaragua to San Jose, Costa Rica by way of the cheap and local chicken buses.
Starting from Granada: Walked south to the chicken bus parking lot and boarded the second-to-last 1:30pm bus to Rivas (the last bus of the day to Rivas is at 3:30pm).
Walking south in Granada
Towards the Chicken buses
The ride cost us about 30 cordobas (a little more than a $1 USD) per person, and lasted for about an hour and 40 minutes.
On the way from Granada to Rivas
From Rivas we boarded another bus to Pena Blancas (you can ask for that bus by saying ‘Frontera’ for ‘the border’) within the same bus station, which cost us about $1 USD per person and was about a 55 minute ride (we left at 3:30pm and got there around 4:25pm).
The Bus Station in Rivas to get on the bus for the border
Once arriving at Pena Blancas, you’re almost at the border between Nicaragua and San Jose. Get off the bus and walk past all the vehicles towards the border guards and show them your passports.
Walking towards the edge of Nicaragua
Keep walking past the guards and ask for where you can get your passports stamped at the Nicaraguan border office:
Turn left here
The immigration/emigration office is up ahead
Make sure in this building you’re on the correct side (one side is to get a stamp into Nicaragua, the other is to get a stamp into Costa Rica).
After getting your stamps, head out and walk about 1km through what I affectionately always call “no man’s land/Purgatory” to the Costa Rica’s border post. Ignore any touts who offer to guide, drive or carry your luggage for you; you won’t really need them.
Officially exiting Nicaragua at this point
About to enter Costa Rica
"Bienvenidos a Nicaragua"
Almost there! Enter the white building on the left to get your passports inspected...again.
Easy as pie: you’re now in Costa Rica!
"Bienvenido a Costa Rica"
Go get your passport stamped for Costa Rica at what looks like a bus station.
FYI it’s important that you have some kind of onward ticket that shows you’re exiting Costa Rica (whether it’s a flight out or a bus crossing into Nicaragua or Panama) within 30 days. If you don’t have this, they will either force you to buy these exit tickets at an adjacent bus ticket or make you show all the cash that you have on you to prove you’re not going to get stuck in Costa Rica (over-lingering tourists tend to ruin the environment!). Since we had already bought onward tickets to Panama, we didn’t have a problem.
After getting stamped in, ask for the next bus to Liberia or San Jose, Costa Rica. If you are as efficient as we were, you’ll make it just in time for the 5pm Transportes Deldu Bus to San Jose (other option is the Transnica Bus, which costs about the same but has different departure times). Otherwise you’ll be stuck waiting awhile for the last 6:30pm bus to San Jose. The bus ride costs about $10 USD per person and lasts for 5-6 hours with a rest stop about 2/3 way in.
A rest stop about 2/3 of the way to San Jose
Approaching the lights of San Jose
Once arriving into San Jose, take a cab to your hotel/hostel from the bus terminals if you’re coming in at night as the neighborhoods around these terminals are reportedly to be quite dodgy.
The Parque Nacional of San Jose
In a few hours we move onwards to one of the many jewels of Costa Rica and one of Forbes’ Magazine Top 12 National Parks in the World: Manuel Antonio!
- At time of posting in San Jose, Costa Rica, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds