My Panama & Costa Rica Vacation

Travel Panama & Costa Rica

Hey everyone! Most of you are aware that I recently went on a vacation for a week to Panama & Costa Rica. I was so excited for this trip as I was really feeling the need to get away from all of my job related stress. Unfortunately the trip really didn’t go the way I had hoped it would. The countries we visited were absolutely beautiful, but the tour company was so incredibly disorganized that I felt less relaxed when I got home than before I left!

Traven Panama & Costa Rica

Day 1: Travel

The first day of the trip was a travel day. Our 6am flight out of Edmonton was delayed until 830am, so we got up at 4am for nothing. Talk about disappointing! Luckily we had a long layover in Houston so we didn’t miss our next flight. Just as we started boarding the flight out of Houston there was an announcement that we wouldn’t be able to leave due to thunderstorms, so we waited an additional 40 minutes to board. Finally we got on our last plane and we landed in San Jose Costa Rica at around 9:15pm. Flights are the worst!

We took a cab to the Alajuela Backpackers Hostel. My friend and I booked 2 beds in some 4 person dorms instead of getting our own room, we really just wanted to sleep after such a long day. I don’t know about you guys but I can never seem to fall asleep on planes unless it’s a red-eye flight. The next morning is where all the real issues started…

Travel Flatlay

Day 2: Travel

At 730am we rushed to check out of our hostel because LBW, our tour company was supposed to be picking us up at 8am sharp. Only they didn’t arrive until 930am. So once again we could have slept in because of delays. I’m not by any means a morning person unfortunately. When the shuttle van finally arrived it was a squishy van that my friend & I had to cram into the back of. We met the other five travellers on the tour, I was surprised at what a small group it was.

Because the main highways in Costa Rica are one lane each way when traffic is bad there’s no way around it. Our transport to the Panama border was only supposed to take 5 hours, but it took closer to 8. When we got to the border we found out it had just closed at 5pm. I was so frustrated, our tour company apparently had no clue as to when the borders closed (to which I was like… isn’t that your JOB? Isn’t that why I’m paying you?)

Puerto Viejo Hostel

We backtracked a full hour back to Puerto Viejo where we checked into a hostel. I first thought the cabin style accommodations were cute, but then I realized the room was full of cockroaches. At night about 7 cockroaches climbed up a hole in the drainpipe and got all through our room. They’re surprisingly fast for such big bugs! Our mosquito nets had holes all through them and I found a VERY large spider in my sheets. Thank God I shook them out before getting into bed!

Panama Beach Lookout

Day 3: FINALLY in Panama

The problem with group tours is that they can have a really great, considerate group of people but sometimes certain travellers can be a pain. Unfortunately this tour was the latter. There was one guy from Michigan who was actually very nice and pleasant to travel with, but the other travellers were a group of four best friends who were very self centered. They were very rude to my friend and I. They probably didn’t even realize the way they came across, but If they had I don’t think they would have cared.

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m getting older or what, but after three or four days I gave up on trying to be nice. My friend asked me why I didn’t want to sit with them at the hostel all the time and I replied “Because I don’t like them?” I just don’t have patience for people who are rude and inconsiderate. I probably should have tried a little harder to be friends but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s okay not to like someone. We all have different personalities and we’re bound to come across people that we don’t enjoy being around.

ANYWAYS, the girls insisted we get up at 6am to shuttle back to the Panama border. The security was so strange to me, we had to provide fingerprint scans to cross which I wasn’t too pleased about. I’m weird and full of conspiracy theories about how our genetic info will one day be used against us.

The tour company was supposed to include all transportation costs within the tour price but when we got to the border our guide said that we had to pay $10 to cross the border. I was rather angry about this, when transportation is included there shouldn’t be surprise fees. What made me extra mad was that when we were given our receipts it turned out that the crossing fee was only $7. Our guide waved it off and said he would pay us back the extra $3 each. I reminded him several times but we never got our money, meaning that he kept $21 for himself from everyone. We also had to pay extra for the boat ride into Bocas Del Torro, the island where we were staying.

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Catamaran + Starfish Beach

We did a Catamaran sailing cruise that first day which we were originally led to believe would include drinks. We were told once we were in Panama that we had to buy our own drinks to take on the cruise. It wasn’t so bad, drinks are pretty cheap in Panama, especially beer. My friend and I bought a few sangria and strawberry daiquiri coolers for the boat. I laid on the netting that was open to the water below and chilled in the sun the whole time.

We finally docked at a Starfish Beach where the water was abundant with starfish. I don’t think I had ever seen a starfish in the ocean, my limited experience with them extended only to the starfish that you find in an aquarium. The water was very tranquil, We waded in the water and snorkelled before hopping back on the boat and sailing back to the hostel.

Bocas Del Torro | Scullys

Day 4: Free Exploring Day

The second day in Panama was a free day. Most of the tour group wanted to learn to scuba dive, but since there aren’t any actual coral reefs there my friend and I honestly just wanted to walk and find a sandy beach. Our guide told us that there was a really nice beach called Paki Point that was a 20 minute walk from our hostel, so I convinced my friend to take a walk to find it. Only Paki point turned out to be a full hour and a half walk away!

Scullys Drinks

Scullys Drinks | Passionfruit Daiquiri

Scullys Food

We didn’t actually make it there, but we eventually came across a sweet hostel called Scully’s after an hour of walking in the sweltering heat. We stopped in and had some food and a few drinks at the outdoor bar. They served some kind of a mocha milk shake with kahlua, baileys and a few other coffee liqueurs as well as passionfruit daiquiris!

If I ever went back to Bocas del Torro I would probably stay at Scully’s instead of Mamallenas where we stayed. The manager came over and chatted with us for a bit, he was apparently from California. He admitted that he didn’t know where Alberta was so we gave him a little Canadian geography education! xD He told us that we were free to hang out and use the hammocks of the pool at Scullys so of course we happily obliged!

Mamallena's Hostel

Our Hostel – Mamallena Bocas Del Torro

There was a large dock built out onto the ocean from our hostel that you could jump off of and there were lounge chairs to sit and feel the ocean breeze. The water was tranquil on that part of the island. There was a bar at the hostel with all kinds of fancy drinks! Happy hour was from 4-8pm and there wasn’t much to do in the evenings aside from eat and drink so I happily took advantage of the 2 for $7 mojitos and Pina Coladas! I spent most evenings in Bocas Del Torro lounging with a mojito in my hand and reading books on my kindle. I finished three books while vacationing!

Bocas Del Torro | Red Frog Beach

Day 5: Underwater Coral Surfing + Red Frog Beach

This was one of the things I was the most interested in doing in Panama. I don’t have any real pictures of the surfing, but it’s kind of like water skiing in that you hold onto a device that pulls you behind a boat. The main difference is that the device, called a subwing is meant to guide you underwater instead of over the water. You tilt the device down to be pulled to the bottom and when you need air you tilt it up to surface and breathe. While underwater you can tilt the panels in opposite directions to do a full 360 degree spin while underwater! Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a coral reef, but we did see some starfish!

That afternoon we took a boat to Red Frog Beach on a neighbouring Island. Apparently there were crocodiles on the island but we didn’t see any, I was kind of disappointed. The beach was so nice, I wanted to just sit in the shore while the waves rolled in against my legs, of course the beach wasn’t good enough for the other girls so they insisted we walked the entire length of the beach so they could use the pool at a hotel on the island. I was baffled, like how many times do you get to swim in the ocean, why would you choose a pool over the ocean when you have a stunning beach!?

Eventually I just went off on my own and swam in the ocean. The water was warm and felt so amazing after walking in the sun. The tide kept pulling us out further than we would like so I had to keep swimming back to the shallow water. For lunch we ate at a little beach restaurant and had “special fries” made with truffle oil.

Surfing Puerto Viejo

Day 6: Back to Puerto Viejo

We left Bocas Del Torro at 8am on the after three days in the little ocean town. I could have stayed there for the entire trip, there were so many little boat tours I would have loved to do. Alas, it was time to head back to Costa Rica.

Puerto Viejo was a nice town to visit. During the day it was great, there was a great little bakery on the main street that I would buy iced coffee and croissants from, and there were so many different types of food! You could find Thai, Indian, Itallian, Sushi and more.

The first full day in Puerto Viejo we took a cab to the beach. It was raining so most of the group wanted to stay out of the rain but I decided to take a private surfing lesson. It was so fun, I’ve never surfed in my life. I had a very angry sounding surf instructor named William, he taught me a three steps count where he would yell “ONE, TWO, THREE, NINJA!” Where I had to do the surf stance with your legs bent and one arm out with the other pointing in. He kept yelling “NO, NINJA! DO WHAT I TAUGHT YOU. LISTEN!” I laughed it off, I wasn’t very good but it was fun. The waves were also quite strong so I kept getting knocked over by them, the instructor had to literally hold my hand so I wouldn’t fall over backwards with each wave.

Jaguar Rescue Centre | Sloths

Day 7: Jaguar Rescue Centre

On the last full day with the tour group we were meant to go for a bike tour and then head over to the Jaguar rescue centre to learn about some animals that were struggling in the wild. The tour company messed up yet again and our guide forgot his wallet and asked a tour-goer to pay for the bike rental. I was so annoyed with that, I couldn’t believe how unprofessional that was. Once we got on the bikes it turned out that it wasn’t really a tour at all, all we did was bike to the rescue centre.

The rescue centre was one of my most memorable experiences of the whole trip. If I ever had the vacation time I would seriously consider taking a month to volunteer at the centre, they have a volunteer program where you get to help rehabilitate and care for the animals in the facility.

The tour allowed us to learn about the animals currently in the centre’s care, from sloths to ocelots to toucans to three different types of monkeys! Some of the animal stories were really heart breaking, one of the Ocelots named Ryan is a permanent resident in the facility because a farmer attacked him with a machete and left him blind and partially paralyzed. It really breaks my heart, but I’m glad there are places like this that care for the animals and provide them a life.

Jaguar Rescue Centre | Baby Monkey

The Jaguar rescue center is not a petting zoo so visitors aren’t allowed to interact with the animals in any way. I was very pleased with that, I don’t believe that animals should ever be exploited for human curiosity or fun. They are wild creatures and do better with as little human interaction as possible. That’s one of the reasons why I am hesitant to visit Thailand and participate in an elephant encounter, I’m not convinced that it’s mutually beneficial to the creatures themselves. Anyways, I loved the centre. Our guide was very informative and I learned lots about the animals!

Day 8: Travel Back to San Jose

Day 8 wasn’t super exciting. We were on a 5 hour shuttle back to San Jose from Puerto Viejo. My friend and I were on a different shuttle than the rest of the tour group, it wasn’t included with the tour fees so we had to book that separately. Luckily we weren’t crammed into the back of the van this time, I listened to my wheel of time audiobook for most of the drive. That night we stayed in a hostel and departed for the airport at 4am the next morning.

Puerto Viejo Beaches

My Takeaway

I took my time after I came back instead of writing this post immediately. A lot of my frustrations with the tour company and the other travellers have become less fresh in my mind so I’m able to look back on the trip and remember the good things instead of being so annoyed with everything. Honestly I felt burned out when I got home from the constant disappointments with the tour company’s organization and professionalism. It’s so strange because I did Peru with LBW last year and the trip was fantastic.

Bocas del Torro was really awesome, it’s a great place for a chill beach vacation with a mojito here and there. I did enjoy Costa Rica but when I go back with my husband we won’t be using a tour group and we will be booking into a better hostel. There was so much that I felt we missed out on in Costa Rica, I would have loved to see some waterfalls and see the Arenal Volcano so that’s on my list for next time!

Have you been to Costa Rica, and what was your biggest travel disappointment?

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed seeing a few snippets of my trip, it’s so nice to write about my trips when I get home and preserve the memories. As aways, please like & subscribe <3

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Always, Cleia

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28 Comments

  1. June 14, 2018 / 8:10 am

    I remembered from IG that your flight was delayed and then it seemed like the first few days went downhill from there! I’m sorry the tour company didn’t do their job properly. How unfortunate that the tour company was great in Peru but not Panama/Costa Rica. They sounded absolutely disorganized, not to mention the guide seems sketchy! The people who were on your tour also don’t sound very nice – the people you travel with can really play a big role in whether the trip is good or not.

    Okay, your hostel situation that first night in Puerto Viejo sounds absolutely terrifying. I’m afraid of bugs of all kinds (especially spiders) – not sure I would have slept at all that night.

    Otherwise, your photos look absolutely amazing – it seems like you saw a lot of cool things and got to relax quite a bit! Those cheap drinks sound delicious. Definitely need to make a note to see Starfish Beach if I ever go to Panama!

    • AlwaysCleia
      Author
      June 15, 2018 / 5:12 pm

      I was so disappointed, the guides were definitely not as great as the ones in Peru. I wish I could recommend the tour but I can’t, it’s better to see costa on your own!

      Haha yeah I was grateful for the bug nets over out beds, but that didn’t stop big bugs from crawling on the beds before the nets were securely fastened. Blech!! On the bright side there were some little lizards in the room that helped eat the bugs!

      Aside from the sleeping situation I did actually enjoy Puerto Viejo!

  2. June 13, 2018 / 11:12 pm

    Omg I’m so sorry that other people ruined the trip for you! What a shame those guys, don’t have a sense of compassion or empathy, like they’re so stupidly oblivious to their surroundings. I would have probably reacted the same way, it’s not fair that other people feel so entitled to do what they want and act however they want which then leads to everyone else not having fun.
    And wtf!! I would have been so pissed with those girls!! Who skips the beach at all?! Why are they there in the first place if they just want to be at the pool lol
    But I’m glad that you tried to remember the best times in your vacation!, welcome back!

    • AlwaysCleia
      Author
      June 15, 2018 / 4:57 pm

      I wouldn’t say that the trip was completely ruined, but I was frustrated with them for most of the trip 🙁 eventually I learned that it was best to just do my own thing and not interact with them 😅

      Right, like we were in paradise basically and the ocean wasn’t good enough, silly girls 😄
      Thanks, it’s good to be home!

  3. June 13, 2018 / 6:12 pm

    I’m so sorry that the tour company was so awful! I would have been angry and frustrated too! Did you send the company an email afterward?
    My husband and I are going to go to Costa Rica next year! He’ll be becoming a citizen soon so he’ll finally be able to get a passport! His moms side of the family is from Costa Rica so maybe we’ll reconnect with his family!

    • AlwaysCleia
      Author
      June 14, 2018 / 4:43 pm

      They had a feedback survey at the end and I left a lot of notes, they never reached out to me afterwards though.
      Oh thats amazing! I hope you guys have a great trip, it will be nice to reconnect with family 🙂

      • June 14, 2018 / 6:54 pm

        Well hopefully they made some changes after that. I did a lot of tours when I was younger in Europe but now that I’m older I just do not have the patience for other people 😂

        • AlwaysCleia
          Author
          June 15, 2018 / 5:17 pm

          Haha I’ve been thinking about doing a contiki tour in Europe but I’m scared about the same thing.

          • June 15, 2018 / 7:08 pm

            When I was in Europe I did Busabout. It’s an Australian company. It’s a hop on hop off bus tour but it isn’t really a tour. It’s just transportation but they offer some fun activities. I prefer traveling solo so I don’t like group activities 😅

          • AlwaysCleia
            Author
            June 16, 2018 / 11:50 pm

            I’ve never heard of that one, did you like it? We had a similar thing in Peru, We did our tour with LBW but we also used Peru Hop which is a similar idea that takes you between destinations.

          • June 17, 2018 / 12:46 am

            I loved it! They have specific routes that they drive through and they stop in most major cities and then some interesting little towns. I got a flex pass so I could stay in one city as long as I wanted and then hop on the next bus. The guides were cool too! They had all backpacked around Europe/lived in various countries so they always had great ideas of places to go visit! I would look into it and see if they go any of the places you’re interested in.

          • AlwaysCleia
            Author
            June 18, 2018 / 9:29 pm

            Wow that sounds great! I think I would need at least a month in Europe to do something like that, I would want to see every city possible!
            I will definitely write that down so I remember when I eventually do go 🙂

          • June 19, 2018 / 12:19 am

            Yeah I think I did it for a little over a month before my semester started in Spain. How long do you think you’ll go for?
            I want to go back for my 30th birthday next year! I have to see how much vacation time I can get though…

          • AlwaysCleia
            Author
            June 19, 2018 / 12:38 pm

            Hmm It depends how much time I can get off work. If I’m still part time I’ll probably do a month, It might need to be two weeks if I’m full time by then.
            I hope you can go, that would be amazing!

          • June 19, 2018 / 12:55 pm

            A month would be amazing! You could go to so many cities! 😃 Or you could pick a few cities and stay longer in each one!
            I’ll make it happen! I just might have to use a lot of my sick days 😂 I’m full time in a small department so I don’t think I’d be able to get more than two weeks.

          • AlwaysCleia
            Author
            June 19, 2018 / 3:46 pm

            Exactly, I’d love to see Italy and England!
            Can you do that with sick days? That would be awesome!

          • June 19, 2018 / 3:58 pm

            Weeeell I can’t call out five days in a row with sick days. But I would definitely add like two or three to the end of my vacation! 😅
            I used that Busabout company to travel around Italy and it was amazing!! I would love to go back! Be prepared to gain weight! 😂

          • AlwaysCleia
            Author
            June 20, 2018 / 7:01 pm

            haha! If I could I would do that too!
            Oh man I would eat so much in Italy!! Pasta and Wine everyday!

          • June 20, 2018 / 7:12 pm

            Don’t forget the gelato! 🤣😋

          • AlwaysCleia
            Author
            June 21, 2018 / 12:18 am

            Yes of course!!

  4. June 12, 2018 / 11:22 pm

    It looks like an incredible place to visit Cleia! That sucks that a few people in the group were being rude. I would probably have started ignoring them at a certain point as well 🙂

    • AlwaysCleia
      Author
      June 14, 2018 / 4:28 pm

      It was, it was very hot! Almost too hot, it wad hard to sleep without AC! I wish that we had got along better but I still enjoyed the trip 🙂

  5. June 12, 2018 / 6:33 pm

    OMG CLEIA!!! These pictures are gorgeous especially the ones of the drinks and scenery!!! It looks beautiful and I’m so jealous! I need a vacay too!!!

    • AlwaysCleia
      Author
      June 14, 2018 / 4:21 pm

      Thanks Linda!! I can’t wait to go back now and see the interior of Costa Rica. I hope you can get away soon!

      • June 15, 2018 / 2:43 pm

        California trip tomorrow for 4 days 🙌🏼🙌🏼

        • AlwaysCleia
          Author
          June 15, 2018 / 5:21 pm

          Have a wonderful trip!!

  6. June 12, 2018 / 1:06 pm

    This place looks so incredible!!! Loved this post xx

    • July 5, 2018 / 4:31 pm

      Thank you for reading!! I would love to go back one day, just not with a tour group. Sorry it took me so long to reply, I missed this comment somehow

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