typically get a tourist visa when coming into Panama. This
requires that you leave Panama every 3 months for 72 hours.
Alternatively, here in the Bocas area cruisers can get a marinero
visa (after being on a tourist visa for 3 months) that is good
for 9 months but requires that you make a half-day, combination water taxi-land
trip to the mainland (Changuinola) to renew every 30 days. The
catch is that the rest of Panama does NOT recognize the marinero
visa, so you have to plan your moves accordingly. We originally
converted to the marinero visa, but when we returned from the USA
in fall 2009, we decided to stay on the tourist visa.
Since we're currently on the
tourist visa, we have had to leave Panama 3 times since last fall,
each trip for 3 days. This gave us the excuse to check out 3
different places in Costa Rica, whose border is only about
40 miles to our
northwest. We have visited Puerto Viejo (Caribbean side), Puerto
Limon by boat (Caribbean side) and Golfito (Pacific side). (See
Rica Trip Recommendations.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Costa Rica is one hour behind Panama time.)
destinations (and our location in Panama) boxed in
was our first experience at the 3-day "mandatory vacation". (Steve
had been here previously when Deborah was visiting in the USA.) It
is located on the Caribbean side only about
50 miles from Bocas del
it took 3½
hours to get
here using the water taxi-shuttle van combo package (reasonably priced
at $58 p/p roundtrip, door-to-door service). At the Panama-Costa
Rica border, we had to clear out of Panama, then walk across a long, rickety bridge (also used for vehicular traffic
- yikes!) and
into Costa Rica. The transportation service we used herds us
through as a group so it's pretty hassle-free, and
free of any official
fees, too! Crossing the border into "bananalandia" Costa Rica, the landscape
seems to change a bit, as we are greeted with huge, lovely Norfolk
pine-like trees (a favorite of mine). The main road is bordered by
rows of African palm
trees, which we are familiar with from our previous visit to Costa
Rica's Pacific side in 2007.
This seaside town of Puerto Viejo is a big surfer hangout
and thus popular with the backpackers. There are great choices in
restaurants and lodging, and an up and coming music scene.
Compared to Bocas Town, it has more of an artsy-craftsy feel, and we
found it aesthetically more pleasing as the town is fronted with actual
beach and lots of greenery all along the shore. We also found it cleaner with
more green space in the town itself.
at a reasonably priced, cruiser recommended hotel (Casa Verde) a block from the main
drag. It was clean and built around very lush grounds. We
found great places to eat, and lots of street vendors and shops (more so
than in Bocas) to poke around
in. Costa Rica is known for it's beautiful woods and
craftsmanship, and accordingly, as we discovered in our previous travels
to Costa Rica, beautiful wood ceilings, doors and other appointments are
Viejo is bordered on one end with a national park that affords many
miles of walking/hiking and bike riding through beautiful tropical
forest and quaint settlements scattered along the way. We found a
hippie who makes lamps, and we bought a much needed light for over
salon table. Our lamp has local flora "laminated" into the shade.
Viejo (as well as Bocas) is well known among the surfer crowd as having excellent waves
during season - the famous kick-ass Salsa Bravo is here.
Accordingly, there are lots of hostels here for backpackers, but
the most popular is Rocking J's. It
is definitely worthwhile checking out just for the fun of it. It's
huge, and was decorated by someone who obviously had LOTS of time on his hands and
LOTS of scrap
ceramic tiles - practically the whole
place is done in ceramics. Hang/pitch/rent accommodations include hammocks,
sheltered tents on the ground or in the loft, shared rooms and private rooms.
They have a restaurant and live music at night, but we managed to find
their bar on several occasions for that cold beer and bathroom break
during our hiking and biking excursions.
day we hopped on the local bus and headed
45 minutes north to the
town of Cahuita, as we had read about it in Lonely Planet.
After walking the 2 town streets, quenching our thirst at their
intersection and walking down to the beach area, we decided we had seen
enough (i.e., seen it all). The exception is that another national
park abuts the town, and supposedly it has good hiking, but with the
rainy season in progress, it probably would have been a messy trek
across the swollen streams.
Because of the
relative ease and low cost of traveling to Puerto Viejo, it is popular
with cruisers for their 3-day getaway. For our detailed write-up
on transportation, lodging, restaurants, activities and more, see our
on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, was our destination three months later for our
mandatory 3-day exit from Panama.
We sailed on a friend's boat,
s/v Tropical Dance (Dan & Reylyn), and buddy-boated with s/v Jackaroo
(Dyllon & Darion). To cover
the 65 miles by sea, we left
Bocas at 10:00 p.m. and arrived around noon the next day.
Puerto Limon is Costa Rica's
largest shipping port on the Caribbean side, is never talked about as a
cruiser stopover, and as such we were expecting a dirty, scroungy town.
pleasantly surprised to find a clean, neat town
with things to
see and do
There are 2 commercial docks in use
(and 1 not in use), one of which is used for cruise ships when in port. We anchored
50 yards of it.
While this may sound
like a bad idea, it
actually provided us with up-close entertainment
watching the loading and unloading of cargo;
with binoculars, well, the cruise ships provided alternate amusement.
Fortunately, and unexpectedly, there was no cargo activity at night so
it was quiet. As the harbor is rather open, the water is fairly
clean. (If you click to enlarge the small picture at the
top right, you can barely see the masts of our boats just to the right
of the large blue roof with "steeple".)
In a port area
one is always concerned with security issues and the "dirty" elements.
That was certainly not the case here (although common sense should
always be used). We found a secure heavy-duty ladder to lock our
dinghies to, then had to pass through two sets of security gates to
leave and enter the port area, showing our passports each time.
The town itself, just outside of the secured area, was very clean with a
area and lots of nice local arts & crafts. As with all Latin
American cities/towns, there is a central park which here turned out to
be one of the
have seen. We quickly found
the nearby Washington
Bar with ice cold beer and sidewalk service to be our group's rendezvous
spot. A highlight for Steve was having a
Whooper with cheese (for
breakfast) at Burger King - just like we were back in the USA! We also loaded up with a bucket of Pollo
chicken (which we know and love from
Guatemala and is similar or better than KFC) for our night time sail back
Sidewalk art gallery
Wood craftsman carving sign
Artist painting feathers
We used a tour
operator, who is being groomed to act as an immigration/customs agent
those doing their 3-day hiatus from Panama, to take our boat captains around
for the clearing in and out processes. Even though it still
involved a lot of running around, the
process was much simplified using
him. He then took our group of eight for
a day tour: We did
an impressive zipline/canopy tour, enjoyed a
delicious lunch with a
of the whole area, general sightseeing including the popular and
pretty Bonita beach area, and a boat trip
up a canal where we saw lots
crocodile and the highlight being a sloth hanging over the
water within our touch.
This was a very
long, and initially fast, zipline run over the river:
El Rancho del
Valle zipline canopy tour, La Bomba, near Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
Croc's eyes in center
(Be sure to click the sloth
picture to enlarge.)
our tour, we experienced Pipa, which is the sweet-ish, natural
water from unripened coconuts that locals love to drink. A man was delivering a cart
of unripened coconuts. The girl in the video below shows us how
it's done (don't try this at home), then we each tried
Pipa. The "lid" is then used to scoop out and eat the soft
flesh from inside. Not bad, just a hint of coconut taste.
We had an
unexpected surprise one day walking through town. We ran into
longtime friends Rocky & Denise from Houston (from our T.A.S.S. sailing
club) who were on the cruise ship at port and heading through the Panama
Canal to Peru. Once again, the cruising world is a small one.
For something different, we spent our 3
days "in exile" at this little coastal town, located on a small gulf, inside
the large Golfo Dulce on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.
The "town" of Golfito is scattered along several miles of coast, with no real town center.
While it is not a top-10 tourist destination, we enjoyed our stay, saw
the sights and met the local gringo residents and a few cruisers. It was hot
we tried to do our outdoor activities in the morning, and relax in the
afternoon. There's not a whole lot to do in our opinion, so bring
a good book for the afternoon - or schedule a nap.
We hiked way up a
semi-paved national park road for a spectacular panoramic view of our
Golfito, the large Golfo Dulce beyond it, and the Osa Peninsula in the
far distance (barely visible in the pictures above) flanking the Pacific Ocean.
Walks all along Golfito "town" included cruiser-recommended & wonderful
lunch of mahi mahi with
jalapeño cream sauce (yummm!)
and ceviche at La Casona del Mariscos, a
stroll through the duty-free mall (all junk unless you're in need of
appliances or electronics), and a daytime detour through the red light
district of bars, with strategically located privacy screens at the
doorways, and the conveniently located Alcoholics Anonymous center.
There is a small community of gringos that live here (in Golfito, not
the red light district), as well as a small cruising community, although
most of the boats at the small marinas are for sport fishing.
stayed at a cruiser-recommended, brand new guesthouse (Land Sea/Tierra
Mar) owned by cruiser-friendly gringos.
located up a hill, provided us very clean accommodations with a
mini-kitchenette, and afforded us great
views from our balcony. The popular gringo hangout, Banana Bay
Marina, Restaurant & Bar was located directly across the road from us.
The other popular hangout is The Fish Hook, only a few steps away.
What did take
some getting use to (at least we weren't in a boat) is the large tidal
range on the Pacific side. Being on the Caribbean side, we
experience only about a one foot tidal range.
COMPARISON of TIDAL
RANGE in GOLFITO (Pacific side)
The tidal range on Panama's Pacific
side is 12-16 ft. (some sources say 20 ft.). Here in Golfito, during this
new moon phase, we were only experiencing about a
10 ft. range. These pictures are of Banana Bay
Marina, Restaurant & Bar.
For our detailed
write-up on transportation, lodging, restaurants, activities and more,
see our Golfito
As I publish this update, we have just returned from our 2nd immigration
trip to Golfito. As the first trip was done in April when it was
hot and drier, this trip in July was during rainy season so we were
prepared accordingly to spend more time under cover with book, computer
and hammock. Still enjoyed our time there, and got to go back to
our favorite restaurant, La Casona del Mariscos for the mahi mahi in