Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
The border crossing from hell – Costa Rica to Panama
We started off the morning in Ciudad Neily where we’d stayed overnight ready for the day of travel. Breakfast was at a nearby restaurant for one of our favourite breakfasts of gallo pinto (beans and rice combined) and scrambled eggs. It’s so tasty because everything is fried and cooked in oil, but obviously not good for your heart on a daily basis.
The guidebooks tell you that this border crossing is quite likely the worst border you will do on any travel in Central America. We took a short 25 minute bus ride to the border town of Paso Canoas (400colones / US$0.72ea). The border town looked like many border towns, crowded with many people, shops, restaurants and a long line of cars/trucks and buses.
The first step is lining up to get our exit stamp out of Costa Rica. This is April 2014 and as of the past few months, you will need to pay $7 each to get out. This payment is done in a separate line at what is effectively the Bank of Costa Rica counter and you’ll need to show this receipt to get an exit stamp in a different line. All up this process took about 30 minutes.
The second step is a short walk to the Panama border entrance and waiting to get an entry stamp. When we arrived at the line we couldn’t see where it began. It was really a gigantic mess with trucks, cars and people all seemingly merging into one line. We waited for three hours, with a barely moving line, until we finally could see the front. However this is when the one person counter decided to close up for a lunch break. After waiting an extra half an hour we were asked to split the line into two distinct lines. This seemed to work for a while until they decided to merge the two lines into one again. This is when tensions broke out and everyone started getting quite angry and vocal at the lack of organisation. Luckily we were towards the front and the guy at the counter decided to stay and stamp our passports. I was worried as the woman in front of us (from Thailand) was asked to show she had $500 cash and a ticket out of Panama. Luckily we weren’t asked to do the same. We have heard stories of other travellers being asked for this documentation.
After finally making it across the border; we caught a bus to David ($2.10ea) and then a second bus to Boquete ($1.75ea).
We arrived in Boquete quite late at around 5.30pm due to the long border crossing and the 1 hour time change. We chose to stay in a hostel across the road from the bus stop for convenience. There was a nearby supermarket and a great chance to sample some different local beers.
In the morning we realised it was the 103rd birthday of the town and being across from the central park meant a whole range of noise pounding into the hostel. On top of this, Panama would have a national election in the next month and political advertising was everywhere including a large truck blaring political advertisements into our hostel. It didn’t take us long to decide to change hostels, this time to the suitably named “Hostal Doraz”.
The population is around 20,000 people and a high mix of ex-pat internationals call this place home. It does make for a fairly touristy kind of feel and you may end up wondering if you are in Panama. It is situated at an elevation of 1,200m (3,900ft) making for a cooler and wetter climate than the low lands.
We ended up on a short hike to the side of town for a nice lookout on a sunny afternoon.
The central park is a nice place to people watch if you have the time.
The birthday celebrations were a mix of different things including some horse parading and many local marching bands. The central park had a range of kids activities happening for most of the day. There was also a fairly large concert on the night in the local fair grounds.
Lost girls in Panama
We did discover upon our arrival in Boquete that two Dutch girls had gone missing on March 31st, 2014 in the local area. The news stories and local stories all seem to be a bit confusing. Essentially they had gone together to check out a trail and never made it back to their home stay. On our arrival in Boquete it had been 2 weeks since they’d gone missing and all trail hiking was meant to take place on a guided tour only. It was at this point that we were told that local guides had taken up the business of price gouging the tourist industry. There are many beautiful hikes in the area, but guides were charging $50+ to do them. This changed our plan on its head as hiking is usually a relatively cheap activity.
Hiking Volcan Baru – the highest point of Panama
The main point of coming to Boquete was to get to the peak of Panama which is Volcan Baru (3,475m/11,400ft). This hike would normally be done starting late night to get to the peak for sunrise around 4 hours later. There is an option to take a 4WD tour straight up the access road but we found prices at around $150 each. The hiking trail uses the same road and there’s really no way to get lost on it. Rodora was sick and not well enough to do the hike.
Toby decided to do the trip through Hostel Mamallena as going alone seemed a little risky. The staff at the hostel normally offered a $5/pp shuttle to the start of the hike, but at the time it was $40/pp including a guide. Arriving at the hostel at 11pm and finding 16 people coming on the hike was a bit of a shock. It was almost all girls and most wearing regular running shoes with some just casual walking shoes. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo that they were about to climb a volcano. We arrived at the trail entrance for 11.30pm and continued upwards at a slow pace.
The hike starts at roughly 1,800m and continues for around 13km. The trail itself is more built for the 4×4 jeeps and therefore can be a bit challenging for regular hikers. It can be slippery with a mix of big rocks that move unexpectedly.
With the hike progressing quite slowly due to 3 girls at the back of the group, it looked like we might miss sunrise. It was at this point that the guide chose to break the group in two with Toby leading 13 people including himself up to the top for the final 2 hours. I guess that shows how easy it is if you can guide yourself in the dark on the first time. The guide then took the remaining 3 girls at their own pace. Not a bad way to earn a living.
At the top is a set of communication towers with the final 30 minutes of hiking being quite steep and tough. Once on top it’s a matter of finding a spot for the sunrise. The highest point is marked by a white cross that offers some of the best panoramas as seen by the photos below.
The hike back down is actually fairly easy even though you’ve likely had no sleep and it being fairly long. For anyone with average fitness you should be down within a couple of hours and shouldn’t need to stop too often.
Blood Red Moon eclipse of April 2014
One lucky event that occurred on the hike up the volcano was the total eclipse of the moon. This can only occur at Full moon when the Sun, Moon and Earth exactly line up. In 2014 this will only occur twice. The red moon is a mixed effect of dust in the atmosphere and sunrise and sunset colours occurring around the world. The photo taken here was at 2.10am local time and certainly worth the sleepless night.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/