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!
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…
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?)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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