This is my “ToDo-List” for Central and South America. Covered are 19 countries so far, but I am open to your suggestions! The pictures I used are all from artists of the twenty20 community and I have to thank you guys at this point for taking such great pictures! Please feel free to leave suggestions for me, what I should not miss out when I travel Latin America the next time.
Pictures tell stories better than a thousand words. This is an old wisdom and it’s actually true. You might have read my report about my relatively short travel to Panamá, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. For me this was the first contact to this beautiful and magic piece of land on our planet and it is not the last time, that I have been there, promised. Since pictures express much more, than text ever could, when it comes up to the description of the beauty of places, people, nature and everything else but the lyric itself, I started to create and build up a Twenty20 Collection. In this gallery I collect pictures I like and worship, and included are pictures of 19 countries so far, here presented from North to South.
This collection features great pictures from all over Latin America, from diverse artists and is something like a ToDo list for me, when I travel to this region the next time. I will need plenty of time to do that of course, since there are already 19 countries included and by far not everything worthwhile to see…
What I have to do:
Surfing all along the Pacific coast, from Baja California in Mexico down to Chile, wherever I come by
Visit the Maya tribes of the Mexican desert for their cult, and experiencing it
Visit the plantations for cacao and coffee in different countries
Visit the places where medical plants are cultured in a fair trade principal
Visit the Maya Temples of Mexico and Belize
Exploring the Amazonas of Brazil and Bolivia
Sail to Cartagena via San Blas in Panamá
Dance Tango Argentino in Buenos Aires
Dance lots of Salsa
Snorkel and Dive in Central America and Venezuela
Visit the Carneval in Rio de Janeiro
Go diving on Coiba Island of Panamá and on Isla Fernando de Noronha of Brazil
Go snowboarding and hiking in Patagonia
Finish Pacific Coastal Highway 1 – called the Panamericana in Latin America
When you are on Twenty20 yourself, have pictures of those regions which might fit in and you are willing to get them featured in the Collection, please comment under them with the hashtag @benicoma and I will consider to take them in as well. And when you read this blog entry and want to share great places to visit, please leave a comment, it is highly appreciated!
This is a guide to my entries about my short travel to Panamá, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was an awesome experience, it lifted prejudices for me and the “fear” I had before I went there. I expected much more crime to face, couldn’t imagine, how beautiful the stay really would be. To sum it up, it was an awesome experience, that made me learn Spanish and I will defintively come back, most likely for a longer stay.
Those are my entries about my stay in Latin America. They are sorted in chronological order and reflect just a tiny part of the whole experience. I will definitively come back to those places and want to learn more about the other countries on this beautiful strip of land between South and Northamerica.
Sometimes traveling brings up alternatives you have not forseen. Accept them, follow the path of the unknown like I did in Nicaragua, exploring Isla de Ometepe with two adventurers from NZ and UK. It was one of the most exciting parts of my travels in Latin America and I learned to accept, that you have to adjust to what is possible and make the best out of it. Sometimes leaving the path, refusing your plan brings up new opportunities which are more valuable than what you planned primarily.
It is May 1st at 6:00 am. Conrad, Sam and me sit at the center of Playa Gigante, waiting for the daily bus back to Rivas. Normally it should leave at this time… Seems like the 1st of May is a holiday in Nicaragua as well. There is a bus which is not locked and two hammocks hang around inside, and the guys decide to claim them and make themselves comfortable. Not even two minutes later another guy steps into the bus and tells us to get the fuck outta there. He is angry and tells us, the bus is private and there will be no service to Rivas today. Fuck it, we could have spent the morning surfing and have left later…!
Some nice people of the village help us out, they call Omar, the local taxi driver, who works all the time, if you demand him to. 30 minutes later he is there, tells us immediately he has to pick up another girl, “una chica muy hermosa”. It is common in Nicaragua that the left over spots in a taxi are filled with people. She is a nice girl and Sam, me in the middle and her have to share the back of the car. Conrad is the only one of us speaking proper Spanish so he gets the front seat. He is the tallest of us anyways. Omar is communicative, tells us lots of stories and when he drops the girl in Rivas, he continues talking to the family where he drops her off. You should always plan ahead when you travel, since that happens a lot over here – it is quite comparable to my experience with our driver back to Panamá City fromSan Blas. Plan enough time to get from one place to another, not that you miss your plane or ferry!
There we are, in San Jorgewhere all the ferries to Isla de Ometepe leave. An hour later we have boarded and are on our way. A fresh breeze goes over Lake Nicaragua, which is actually impressively big for a fresh water lake, looks a bit like the sea! The island will be our destination for this day, and it’s still quite early. The boys want to catch another ferry in the evening, making their way into the backcountry of Nicaragua. I want to continue to Granada the next day. So far the plans…
When we are in San José del Sur a lady starts to bend our ears, wants to lure us into her hostel. She tells the guys there won’t be a ferry for the next days to the backcountry and there won’t be the direct ferry to Granada, because of the holidays. Of course we don’t believe her, we assume it is just a trick to lure us into a three day hostel stay. But we negotiate with her that she takes us to Altagracia on the back of her pickup truck. It is just $10, or 250 Córdoba for quite a long ride. The boys learn from some other locals that the lady was right and there won’t be any service this day. So we continue to Santa Cruz by bus, where we stay at a small, family run hostel, close to Playa Santo Domingo which looks like a carribean beach.
We rent some bikes and start to cycle around. It is very hot, the sweat rinses, the landscape is impressive and our destination is the Ojo de Agua – the eye of water. On our way we see some monkeys and several beautiful birds. The landscape is dry, the vulcanos Conceptión and Maderas arise masterful over the island. After half of an hour we are there and this place has some mysterious charme. A statue reminds of the days long time passed, when the land was still populated by Nahuatl indians. Lots of paradise birds fly around, vulcano Conceptión seems to be close and the water of the natural pool is turquoise and very refreshing. The whole place has a peaceful atmosphere. There are many local families enjoying the dip in the pool, which is replenished by an underwater fountain. The day flies by in a snap and the guys meet a girl, they already met somewhere else on their trip. It’s a great experience to travel with those laid back dudes.
At night Conrad and me attend a party in another hostel around. He met another guy in the afternoon, who he knows from back in the day and we are having a good time at this party. The plan is that the boys continue their trip to Costa Rica the next day. The party is crazy and fun, all the guys are dressed up like ladies albeit from Conrad and me. I meet an interesting guy from former West-Berlin, who travels since 16 years without a break and who lives on Ometepe since over one year. I find myself totally destroyed in a hammock and when someone jumps on me, I have the feeling I should go home… I decide to follow the guys back to Costa Rica, I want to give it a try to meet up with Dani, before I have to leave Latin America, there is not much time left anymore…
The next morning I contact her. She is really curious, as I am, to meet up in Costa Rica. We don’t know where yet, we just know we will meet this evening. I propose to meet up in Cañas, tell her I will be there around 3:00 pm, if everything will be going smooth at the border. She tells me that she leaves immediately to make it on time and that she is going to wait at a friends house until I arrive. This is the most adventurous part of my trip – I somehow wonder about myself since I have to catch my flight from Managua in four days – I am exited, let my plans go, enjoy doing it. I just follow my instinct and the will to devote the next days to adventure. Before our ferry leaves back to Rivas, we enjoy breakfast together.
Guys, without your adventurous and laid back spirit influencing me, I might never have deviated my path of travel, you taught me a valuable lesson just by letting me come with you, thank you. It was great traveling with you and I hope we meet again some day in the future!
Nicaragua is different from Panama and Costa Rica. There is barely any trace of tourism and the people are very nice. Playa Gigante is a great place to visit, but you should go there to appreciate the sports and underwater life, not for partying. The Nicaraguans in the village still live very traditional – I hope you show them the necessary respect when you go there! The kids are great surfers and I bet we will see some of them becoming pros.
An hour after my arrival at the Playa Gigante I have done all the check-in. For my sake I am able to pay up my stay and the food I consume with my credit card – since I don’t have too much cash on me anymore due to the cab ride – this feels like lots of money when you are used to get a full dinner for around two dollars. I will stay the next two nights in a hammock, in a high room without air condition, for seven dollars a night. That’s great and actually what I was looking for. I get a locker and place all my stuff, get me a big bottle of Toñar, a Nicaraguan beer and chill out. It’s a most peaceful mood and the sun sets over the Pacific.
Dani writes me on WhatsApp and we have a lively English / Spanish conversation while the night takes over and the rum starts to make me tipsy. I enjoy a local dinner for pilgrims, which is just two dollars and very tasty. From time to time the power goes down and up again. When it is totally dark I decide to have a swim, naked, it’s awesome! When I lie in my hammock later I can hear the roaring “thunder” of the Pacific, it’s powerful, and a great experience to fall asleep like that.
It’s around 5:30 am when I wake up the next morning. I walk around and take a closer look at the beach. There is not much, mainly just the beach which is most beautiful. My breakfast are cereals with fresh and tasty fruits from the region. I could really get used to this, although I have never really been into breakfast!
I try to rent a surfboard but the guy tells me that there was a group of Americans the last week who broke three of his boards and he doubts my skills and is obviously worried that he will lose just another board. I guarantee him to stick to his advice and that I am a pretty good snowboarder who knows about the dangers of those action focussed sports and that my surfing skills are acceptable for doing it just as short as I do (it will be my 12th time). He agrees to rent a board to me after lunch, says that the surf will be better in the afternoon anyways. So I go snorkeling for the time in between and what I see totally overwhelms me. The current is strong and I have to struggle to get close to the cliffs. Again I really regret not to have a GoPro. There is a mooray eel feasting directly on the cliffs without any fear. It is a white mooray with black spots, one I have never seen before. Different kind of fugu is swimming around, the ones with stings and some without. I see some really colorful and big emperor fish and so many more animals in those 45 minutes it’s unbelievable! The only thing I miss are colorful corals, there are basically none – especially if I compare my snorkeling experience from San Blas– but what I see is new and the fearlessness of those fish is sapid. For my dislike I swim into several nettles of jellyfish, it hurts pretty much…
Lunch is the pilgrims food again, Gallo Pinto with fish. Easy going, good, cheap. And I receive my board thereafter. It is 8’2”, a little bigger than the one I had in Santa Catalina. I follow the surfer dude, who rent the board to me, and two of his buddies. One is a local Nico (male Nicaraguans are called Nicos), the other one a shitfaced American from Colorado – shitfaced because he is already hammered at 1 pm – which I dislike – he is funny, tho. But that’s how they are on vacation and that’s why I chose to skip San Juan del Sur. The surf is not as big as expected, but some bigger waves of 2 m come in and it’s lots of fun to ride here. I basically spend the whole day surfing and later the day I get some company of Matt, who I met already the evening before. He has a very short board and is at the same level as me. We get along very well and while I have a break I start building a sand castle, which arises the interest of some ladies at the beach who come by one after another to ask me what I do there. Being infantile sometimes is just a great thing to do! 😉
On my way back to the hostel I see a scenery I would have loved to take a picture of. But for the respect towards the Nicas and Nicos I don’t do it. A family of six people, the parents very young, live with their animals in a very small hut. The garden is muddy, pigs are lying around, the chicken is going all over the place, and their horse is feasting. A little baby Nica is sitting in kind of a bucket, having a bath looking at us while we pass by. It’s such a different world, but taking pictures of them is disrespectful so I continue to get my camera just to take some pictures of the beautiful evening at the surfer beach, which is the next bay to the one the hostel is at.
The night comes fast and it’s already my last night here, since my plan is to continue to Granada, from Granada to León and there to meet up with Eric, a friend from Florida to do some vulcano boarding…
There is an open mic session this night at our hostel and I get to know Conrad from England and Sam from New Zealand, who hung out the evening before with Matt already. The four of us have a good time and the boys tell me they want to continue to Isla de Ometepeearly the next morning. And of course I’m in…
Traveling longer distances and making the border is always an adventure in Latin America. When you plan to leave Costa Rica via La Cruz don’t forget to buy the tax to leave the country. It’s interesting to see all the vendors in the border area and you can change your money on the streets or get yourself your lunch from one of the vendors…
It’s 6 am in the morning while I enjoy some scrambled eggs, the bus to Tilarán leaves at 7 am, like always very early and it’s the only bus of the day. The managers of the hostel El Tucan speak English and gave me some advice how to continue the trip. From now I am on my own – without Stefan who speaks fluent Spanish – expecting to meet few people who can speak English, so gestures and my little knowledge in Italian and some words in Spanish should hopefully help to get me to my destination this day. I plan to reach Rivas in Nicaraguaand want to continue to Playa Gigante the next day for some decent surfing, with the first bus of the day.
The bus is on time and I meet an American and a Canadian from Alberta, who I already met a couple of days ago in Panamá City. The guys have different plans. The American ran out of money but does not want to return to the USA, so he is looking for a job in the Tilarán area for some work on a farm, the Canadian guy wants to make his way to the beach of Costa Rica.
The ride is sloppy and for some time there is no pavement and the bus goes over a dirtroad. It’s an old school bus from Canada and I open the windows and enjoy the great fresh air and the stunning views over Costa Rica‘s highlands. I fall asleep several times, it’s like in a crib and as if you are cradled the whole time. The little Tica who is riding the bus with her dad seems to enjoy it as well. This kid already knows how attract and entertain people. Very cute.
When the bus reaches Tilarán I’m somehow disappointed since I saw on the map that there should be some big volcanos but I didn’t see them on the way and I can’t see them now… but there is no time to further think about that anyways. The bus to Cañas is already waiting to leave and I hop on. “¿Para llegar a Cañas?” The bus driver nods and replies with a short “Si”. And there we already go. Another two hours later I’m in Cañas and just five minutes after I hit the Panamericana I flag down my first bus to continue to La Cruz, close to the border of Nicaragua. The country changes a lot. It’s very dry here and there are lots of plantations along the road. It’s like in a dream to see all this going by. Around two pm I’m in La Cruz and find my way, mainly with gestures, to the next station where the busses to Peñas Blancas stop. This is the town on the border, Maxim told me to go this way and I’m glad for this information since it would not have been easy to find it on my own.
I pass the border walking, but don’t have the tourist leaving ticket, so I have to return to a little house on the Costa Rican side of the border to buy a ticket for ten dollars that grants me eligibility to leave the country.
There is lots of traffic (mainly pedestrians) at the border and lots of people try to sell food and drinks, merchandise, cloth and other goods, like hammocks. As soon as I pay my twelve dollars of taxes to enter Nicaragua, I’m allowed to pass a simple gate into the country and immediately find the bus to Rivas. It’s much louder here. Very busy indeed. All the people who try to sell something yell what they offer, repeatedly and the whole time. Even the bus drivers yell where they will go after departure. What I immediately recognize is that the Nicaraguans look totally different than Costa Ricans. They are much darker and look more like Indios.
Around four pm I’m in Rivas and since everything worked out so great I decide to take a cab to Playa Gigante which costs around 20 dollars. At five pm and some never ending discussions with the cab driver, who decides the negotiated payment is too few – four km before we are actually there – in a wild mixture of Spanish and English, I’m there. Have not expected to do this all in one day and am happy about it. Time to relax!
It’s early afternoon and I just had a power nap. Was necessary after those seven hours of hiking. Beeing back to Innsbruck’s alps will be challenging, I can feel that. I am happy, dreamed of the light of the rainforest, its smell and sounds.
I start hiking up the street, on which we left Santa Elena in the morning. I ask some guys and they tell me, you might have a great overview over the country close to the hospital.
The city part where mostly locals live is a little bit uphill. I pass a school and make a left at the soccer field to get to the clinic and directly beside that you find the local firefighters. The station looks cool, the guys have their own gym directly besides the big firefighter truck.
The view up into the mountains is stunning and from a spot you have the perfect overview over the touristic part of town. The grave-yard is special with all those tiled boxes and in general everything is colorful.
I want to see the sunset, but the incoming clouds steal my show. From the upper part of the city you have a tremendous view over the whole valley. It’s a great atmosphere with those clouds as well and I appreciate it, although I miss on the sunset over the Pacific…
Hiking the unique and mysterious mountain cloud rainforest of Costa Rica’s Monteverde is stunning. It’s a peaceful and calm forest and hiking there is a beautiful experience. I recommend to start alone and ennjoy the plants and animals you will see there, without the necessity to talk, it’s worth it!
I have booked the early shuttle to the cloud forest reserve. Getting up early in Latin America is easy, compared to our western world. I have not figured out why but I wake up every morning around sunrise with no problems. It’s 5:50 am and my shuttle to the Santa Elena reserve will pick me up at 6:30 am. I plan to spend lots of time wandering the rainforest and have no other plans for the day. Sven, Jochen, Maxim and his girlfriend are on the shuttle as well and we arrive there at 7:00 am, at the gates of the Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena.
It is quite cold compared to all the other places I visited so far, maybe 22°C and I have to wear my jacket – it rains from time to time and the clouds crawl through the trees. The guys take the tour but I decide to go for myself since I want to enjoy the calm of the forest. I receive my map at the gate and start immediately and directly into the long tour and I am alone for the next four hours, without meeting a single person, which is great and somehow meditative.
I discover the observation deck of the reserve and climb up there. It’s quite high and the wind goes strong. Sitting there, listening to the surrounding is great. I enjoy some left over souvenir I still carry from San José and the mood of the rainforest which surrounds me even more… The clouds open up and close again, allowing deep insights into the forest every couple of minutes. It’s a unique and mysterious mood over the treetops and I hear lots of different voices of different animals, mostly from birds.
From time to time humming birds come along the way. They are cool, fly in front of you, standing in the air for some seconds, watching you and depart back into the forest. There are plenty of blossoms everywhere and different types of insects feed from them, as well as the humming birds. After a good hour I continue to hike. I just let the pictures talk for what I see…
And then there are some animals I can observe and actually take photos of. It’s not so easy after all since it is quite dark under the trees and clouds and most of the birds are fast – especially the cute humming birds. I see a big bird spider, several centipedes, butterflies and the highlight is a nest with fledglings, which I discover while I observe an adult bird, which doesn’t fly away when I approach it…
After seven hours of hiking I decide to take the shuttle back to the village. It was long enough but very relaxed and a mysterious but most beautiful experience. I am happy and plan to discover the village later. I hope to get a view down into the lower land and to the ocean…
Before I continue writing about my Latinamerica travels, I want to give you a short audio visual version of my most beautiful impressions. I just bought the song In Love (Bernard’s Extended Club Mix) by Bernard Badie on Amazon today. Great how this system works, you get the song, you make a video (it’s really easy) and you upload it, done. I have all my CDs I bought – all time – as digital copy on Amazon! I appreciate these features of the web 2.0 and it’s quite convenient… But now to the video.
I hope you enjoy it, you can find further songs, which came along the way in my YouTube Playlist! It’s also a promise to discover everything south of Latinamerica, hopefully soon.
Monteverde and Santa Elena in the highlands of Costa Rica offer diverse activity. I came there to go hiking in the rainforest and for the Canopy Extreme ziplining, which is one of the best you can probably find on planet earth. It was an outstanding experience with lots of adrenaline and stunning views over the countryside of this most beautiful country.
After the tour I regret to not have taken my camera… but more about this tour: It’s zip lining and you go on some of the tracks 100+m high over the ground and quite fast. Sometimes together with another person, on some lines up to one Kilometer in distance. Pure adrenaline awaits you on the Tarzan swing where you have free fall first and then swing up into the trees. The last activity is superman. You go head forward from the highest point with a tremendous view over Costa Rica. You see the volcanos, the mountains, the Pacific and the sun going through the clouds and painting the country in tones from white, grey, over Amber to gold.
Breathtaking to go towards that view with about 70 kph and head forward. One of the most intense experience I made for some time…
And we have a colorful and most beautiful visitor, when we return from the tour, a red ara who seems to be free but quite tame.
What could be better than seeing one of those creatures as a finish of a perfect day. The evening is calm. I am still exhausted from the long ride the day before and while I relax in the hammock in front of the hostel, I get to know two Francocanadians, Maxim and his girlfriend. They travel since one year and made all their way down from California through Baja California of Mexico down to Costa Rica.
They invite me for dinner, it’s a very nice evening and we enjoy some tasty Fleur de Cana, the seven year old rum, dark and mild, from Nicaragua. Tired I go to sleep, the next day will start early again…
The way from Panama City to San Jose takes us a full night and passing the boarder with the Expresso bus is no joy. It takes long, nearly 3h, until we have done everything. I observe the locals, they get out of the bus at the border and make it on their feet. As I realize later, it’s way faster. I decide to stay in San Jose at night and continue to Monteverde the next day… A good decision since catching a bus would have been difficult, the border took us too long.
Stefan joins me to Costa Rica, we want to go to Monteverde – we get a cab and go to the bus station of Panama City (ciudád de Panama). There is a huge shopping mall and we stroll around. The ticket is 40$ for the over night bus to San Joséfrom there we have to catch the bus to Monteverde, but the time is very limited to actually do that – we better get over the border in short time.
We attend the fish market a last time for a last Ceviche (for me, Stefan will be back) and another great plate with fish, patatas frijas (a special kind of fried banana) and great salad, spiced with estragon and salsa picante.
Panama really has it all. We continue to the Panama channel but the museum is already closed that sucks so we find another cab driver who brings us to one of the watergates.
Back to the hostel I start boozing and we meet yet another German, Basti from Munich – I start to wonder wether there are just Bavarians? We find out that there will be no chance to catch the connecting bus to Monteverdeanymore… Stefan seems a little pissed about that, but agrees that it is a good oportunity to wash cloth and relax for one day. Around 10 pm we are back at the bus terminal. We meet 2 girls from San Blaswho go to San José as well. The ride seems to take forever and it’s freezing cold. I barely can sleep, at least there are not too many people so you can stretch out a little bit. In the morning we have to wait 3 hours at the border. We meet Dani, a cute latina from Costa Rica, who we met initially on our first day on San Blas. This time the friend of her is not with her, she tells Stefan, that he is Costa Rican as well but works in Panama City. She goes to San José as we do, that’s where she lives. I am happy to see her, and she gives me her number and I have to promise that I contact her. She is very cute… It’s hard to do conversation, she doesn’t speak any English, I don’t speak any Spanish, but somehow we understand each other, say goodbye and promise to stay in touch via WhatsApp.
Costa Rica from the bus Windows looks less polluted than Panama. And there seems to be much more forest. I think of those last days in paradise, of my salsa night in Santa Catalina, of the cloud rainforest which is up to come, of the underwater world, and I finally fall asleep. After another stop I talk to a nice girl, Kelly, from Florida. She lives here since eight month, mainly in Panamabut visits some friends in Costa Rica. She recommends me to stay at Jáco at the beach and continue to Monteverde the next day. Later I decide to go to San José for one night with Stefan and Dennis, to get the cloth washed and relax one night. We met Dennis on the bus and he is from Munich… – hmmm. He invites us to come with him to his hostel, the Love Hostel 2, which is a bit outside in San Antonio of San José, in a safe area. So we follow him there and it’s a really nice hostel, hidden quite well and the owner is a hobby DJ with talent, as we find out during the evening.
The atmosphere there is great and I chill with some other guys from Germany since one of them has his birthday. It’s time to say good bye to Stefan, was fun traveling with you lad! Totally destroyed I fall into bed and hope that my laundry will be done the next day and that I make it to the bus to Monteverde on time. Still wasted I get up, 5:30h – wahhh – like all the last days. We just start at 5:48h by car to the station… I’m a bit in worry I won’t catch my bus which leaves at 6 am. Manuel speeds through the city with probably 80 kph and at 5:59h we are there and the bus is already going to leave but for my luck a cab blocks the way and I catch it last second. It makes its way into the highlands of Costa Rica, it’s beautiful!
Around lunchtime I’m there, get a comfortable room in the hostel El Tucan and book the Canopy Extreme Tour for the afternoon. I meet two Canadians, Kylie and Simon who travel together. There are two German guys as well who look really tired and obviously suffer from their jetlag. Sven and Jochen, and they join for the ziplining tour in the afternoon.