We like to travel regularly, about every three months we get away. Our first trip to check out our neighboring countries, was to Panama. At that time, we were living in the hills near Zurqui (off of Highway 32, although, no one here references road numbers!) so, it was more convenient to go down the Caribbean coast, rather than the Pacific side. We love to spend time on the beaches south of Puerto Viejo. It is less developed and is not over run by tourists, but this trip, we would stop short of Puerto Viejo and head west to Bribri, then south to the border crossing in Sixaola. This border is a rickety old one lane bridge, over a muddy river.
This is a BUSY crossing, so bringing your vehicle, requires patience and paperwork (the keystones of Costa Rican society.) I drove down from Los Angeles to Panama in 1977, and at every boarder crossing they would fumigate your car’s undercarriage. This was to eliminate all those pesky hitchhikers (mostly of the insect persuasion!) So, be prepared and have your windows rolled up! Once over the border/bridge, there is a very dramatic difference between the standard of living in Panama and Costa Rica, even in the poorer areas. We made our way to the coastal town of Almirante and secured a water taxi to take us to Bocas Town in Bocas del Toro, and a secured lot where we would leave our car. Unlike CR, there are people trying relentlessly to sell you things at every turn in Panama. This means that you will want to find the taxi service that most of the locals use, not the tourist taxis, or you will pay dearly for the trip! The residents who live along the water are living a very desperate and meager life, which I think is important for tourists to see, to be reminded how fortunate some of us are, and to think of ways these families could be helped.
Bocas Town, on Isla Colon, seems to be the gateway town where tourists stay only for a night, and then take boats to many of the interesting places in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. We had made a tentative reservation at the Hotel Angela but, I was not ready to commit. Once we had been shown around, I felt it was too pricey, so we walked across town to the Hotel Olas, which had simple clean rooms at a reasonable price. It is busier too, which I saw as a positive, even though it had an almost hostel feel. There is a popular park in the center of town and it is surrounded by stalls selling jewelry and reggae wear, as this is a mecca for the surf and fishing tourists to shop for trinkets.
There are nice beaches on the other side of the Isla Colon and on the neighboring islands, but they are a quite a distance from town, and the beaches near town are very dirty, you will not want to spend time there! We were serenaded all night long by the the scratching sound of rats in the walls, and I shudder to think what it would have been like without the ac on to keep them at bay! Needless to say, we are ready to leave this island paradise the next morning. I’ve been told there are amazing beaches to be enjoyed on these islands, but travelling with children and not much time, we didn’t have the luxury of taking a taxi/water taxi and surveying potential spots to spend the day. We did know there are wonderful beaches and lodging just over the border, and on the way home, so we got on the first boat out and high-tailed it back to the border. Panama is beautiful, and we look forward to returning and exploring when we have time to enjoy it, but for now, we were ready to return home.
Prior to our next “regularly scheduled mini vacation,” I researched a journey into Nicaragua. A mutual friend said he loves to travel to Grenada, so that’s where I started, but for us to drive to the border crossing on the pacific, and then make our way all the way up to Grenada, we simply did not have the time. So, now what?