Kemah, the other white meat

I have spent the entire day dealing with the dog. Rather, I’ve spent the entire day dealing with the specifics of having a dog aboard a sailboat in one country (Guatemala) and trying to move with him (legally) to another country (Belize).

Kemah, the dog, has spent his day doing this:


note: one throw pillow under each arm

He didn’t even say “thanks”. The nerve.

But, I don’t begrudge him at all for his cushion-warming. In fact, I’d love to join him and most days I do. But, not today. Today, I’m afraid we had to stick to the roles predetermined by our opposable thumbs (or lack thereof) until he learns how to, in fact, do this:


perhaps this is why our pet import permit to Belize was lost in translation

Ya see, in the last year and a half, we’ve cruised half a dozen countries with the dog (The Bahamas, Jamaica, Columbia, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala). I’m used to my little routine: getting on Noonsite, checking the regs, then maybe doing a quick search of Cruisers Forum and/or the Cruisers Yahoo Group to see if any sailors have posted anything recently regarding check-in procedures (as they are wont to change).

Fortunately, we’ve had no issues and, generally, the import process for dogs held up to what was previously stated on the web. Furthermore, usually, no one cared at all: most didn’t ask-we volunteered K’s info; The Bahamas cared so little about what went on their forms the official listed K’s breed as “rescue dog” (okay . . .); and in Jamaica, which is the only country we’ve visited where K wasn’t allowed off the boat, the officials showed us a little island away from the anchorage where they “knew others have taken their dogs” *wink wink*.

But, it seems we are going to have no such luck importing our dog to Belize with lax regulations. I will spare you the play-by-play of the web of info I navigated, but perhaps this gem of a tangent will give you some idea of the clarity of info published by the Belizean authorities on the topic: “Obtaining a permit for these pets from BAHA is the same as is described above for obtaining a permit for ham or turkey“. umm, okay? (apparently, Belizeans love their Christmas hams . . .)

Anywho, long story short and in the spirit of paying it forward . . . here what we did to get an understanding of what will hopefully work for us (confused yet?):

  • We called the Placencia office of the Belize Agriculture Health Authority (BAHA) at (011) 501-824-4872. We spoke to a very nice official and were told that we need fill out this application to import animals and email it back to them via or (we emailed both).
  • The permit process takes 3 business days to be completed (we are submitting the app from Fronteras, Rio Dulce, Guatemala and taking 3+ days to get to the coastal town of Livingston, Guatemala. So, we figured we’re getting a head start and can just follow up in Livingston before entering Belizean waters). The permit is $25 (without the additional fees for faxing in the permit app, which we are not doing because we are choosing not to track down a time machine to find a working fax machine and are instead just emailing the forms).
  • We also need a Health Certificate, dated within 7 days of expected arrival, signed by a vet (from the country you are arriving from) affirming K to be in good health with an up-to-date rabies vaccination (he has the 3-year kind and they said that’s fine). We were quoted anywhere between $30-150 for this service from several vets in the area. Only one of them indicated they would need to examine Kemah before sending us the paperwork (via the bus from Guatemala City – why? who knows). We were told by one vet the high fee was due to arranging the import permit with Belize (I am doing that on my own) and for securing a “Guatemalan export permit” for K (um, that’s never been mentioned before and Belize doesn’t need it, so, no thanks). Because we have our old Health Cert from the States with all of K’s records and info on it, we simply emailed it to the  ”don’t need to see him, send me info, I’ll sign off on it for $30″ vet who is located in Guatemala City and will send the papers on the bus to us tomorrow. We’re paying a middle man at another marina for the service. What could go wrong?

By the by, we have read (on the totally reliable source that is the internet) that failure to secure an import permit or have a health cert could result in a $100 fine in Belize. This penalty is not exactly nothing, but not a horrible (we’re confiscating/quarantining/euthanizing your pet) scenario either. And, before we convinced the $30 vet not to charge us the extra $120 for “preparing” K’s papers, we seriously considered saving $20 by just showing up in Belize “unprepared” and paying the $100 fine.

So, that’s that. Cross your fingers, toes and opposable thumbs that everything will work out swimmingly. And, I’ll be sure to let you know what happens upon entry to Belize.

Until then, K and I are gonna keep the cushions warm.

***Update: We cleared into Belize on Monday, April 22. We never received a Import Permit  from BAHA, and both cruisers and locals encouraged us to bypass the BAHA office, which will make an appointment to search your boat for agriculture & animals if you report having any – and they will charge you for the transport of their officers to/from your boat. The nay-sayers figured “BAHA costs money, takes time, and no one enforces anything for BAHA for boaters” (unlike port captains, who may request your boating permits). So, in short, no one ever asked about the dog, and we didn’t tell. And, while I remain *convinced* this will bite us in the end, D was the captain who checked us in and continues to espouse the philosophy of the islands: “don’t worry, be happy”. Umm, okay.***

Quick update from Guatemala

Hey y’all,

I know it’s been a while. Our last month has been super crazy (more on that later) so we decided to take a break from “the world” (I know, I know, you already think we do that but this time we *meant* it :).

Now, we’re checking back in and it feels good. We’re lucky enough to take a break from the boat and have been on the road travelling overland exploring:

  • the super-serene mountain villages of Lake Atitlan,
  • and, the colonial city of Antigua (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

This weekend, we’re headed to

  • the limestone pools of Semuc Champey,
  • and, the land of the Ewoks ancient ruins of Tikal.

It’s a super-quick trip that is reminding us how much we like travelling with our house (hostelling is work, y’all!).

But, “what about Kemah?” you say. Right. He is living large on S/V Mother Jones with the awesome-rad folks of Over Yonderlust who were amazing enough to use our dog-sitting needs as a big, fat excuse to come back to Central America.

While we’re away (and not posting long-winded, stream of consciousness ramblings here), you can always keep up with the latest, day-to-day brain farts gems from the S/V Mother Jones crew on our facebook page.

See y’all back on the water!


D, L (& Mr. K from the boat)

Transiting the Panama Canal

Transiting the Panama Canal was truly an amazing experience.  How appropriate, that the 2nd leg of our journey, we got to see Amazing follow us.

D and I through the Miraflores Locks
Damon and I really wanted to transit the Panama Canal.  And, there are several ways to do this involving lots of money.  We did not want to do it that way.  So, off we went to become line-handlers.  Line-handlers, as you might surmise, handle lines (aka ropes to you land-lubbers) that are attached to boats, which help a boat safely transit the Canal.    
Why is this needed and how does it work?  Well, you can imagine that transiting the Canal is kinda a big deal.  It is.  You want it to go right, ie, you want the boat to go through the Canal without hitting the sides or other boats that are in the locks with you.  Add 267 MILLION gallons of swishing, swirling water for EACH LOCK and you can see why you might want some safety measures in place.  Here come the lines.  
If you imagine a boat as a sheet that’s blowing in the wind and you want it under control, you’d want a rope (line) on each corner, attached to something which keeps it taught.  That’s basically the idea for getting ships through the Canal: the lines help guide the boats through the middle of the Canal.  Small boats like sail boats have people attached to each end of those lines.  Big boats like tankers have machines (lovingly called mules) attached to those lines.  


Well, through a series of posting signs at a couple of yacht clubs, pouring over internet postings and the good ‘ole fashioned hanging at the local sailor bar, we found a boat and they invited us to crew with them.
Santorini is a ’48 foot Ketch and a beautiful boat – in fact, it was a show model and even had a washing machine and china cupboard on board!  Captain Tom and First Mate/Galley Queen Dawn were wonderful hosts as well as their crew, Canaan – from Georgetown!
Capt. Tom and Dawn with the San Pedro locks in the back

Canaan at the bow at San Pedro Locks

The first night at anchor on the Pacific side, we got to know each other a bit and talked about what to expect.  We hoped to tie up to a tug boat which means you basically glide through with them in the locks so it’s super-easy.  Then, the next morning, we set off to transit the Canal!
When you transit, you are boarded by an Advisor who works for the Panama Canal Transit Authority and they guide you through the process.  Pfew!  Our Advisor was really great: calm, nice and knowledgeable.
Here we are underway passing under the Bridge of the Americas!
The mast of the Santorini and the Bridge of the Americas

Approaching the Miraflores Locks, first set of locks on the Pacific side, I was once again blown away by the sheer magnitude of the Canal, the volume of traffic and containers that pass through daily and everything that is required to make THAT happen. 

Check out the size of these cranes, which move the containers of the tankers!  

The tugs, which push the tankers around!  And, the City in the background.
Headed into the Miraflores Locks it’s surreal to look up at the Visitor’s Center and all the tourists watching you go through.  To think we were “them” just a few days earlier!
Miraflores Visitor’s Center – we were one of those tine on-lookers just last week!
Passing through the locks is a cool experience with the water raising or lowering your boat along with the others.  Rising tides do life all boats!  
You do have to stay on your toes a bit, though when the locks open as there is likely to be a shift in the boat because of the shifting water – remember 237 MILLION gallons are at play!
Once through the first set of locks, we entered Gatun Lake and passed under the Culebra Cut – a 7 mile cut through the mountains – impressive!
The Culebra Cut

Because sailboats generally are much slower than tankers or cruise ships, it usually takes 2 days to transit the Canal.  This means a night on the Lake moored on the biggest mooring ball any of us have ever seen.  Look at the size of that sucker!

A mooring ball so big you can dance on it!
In the morning, it was time again to pass through the Locks and this time we’d finally be in the Caribbean.  We lucked out being in front of a HUGE tanker named “Amazing” – quite appropriate, don’tcha think?
Notice the mules pulling Amazing and notice how little room she has between her and the locks.
All in all, it was a truly Amazing experience – yes, I did that on purpose.  Phrases like “the 8th wonder of the world”, “they don’t build things like the used to”, etc do tend to fall out of your mouth during journeys like this and they did.
If you have further questions about this trip or the Canal, just ask!
The end

Panama City, Panama

Downtown seen from Casco Viejo
Bridge of the Americas
Cerro Ancon (the big hill in the middle of town)


Revolution Tower – the floors spin!
Nickle Tour: Panama City is a bustling capital and a world city.  It’s a diverse city of contrasts complete with Chinese bankers, Afro-Antillean immigrants come Panamanians, sky-scapers, slums and of course, the Canal.  However, we found the City (and surrounding region) to have a relatively un-developed infrastructure for tourism, which can be both good and bad.
Travel Tip: If you’re on a long journey and need “it” or simply missing the States, visit any of the City’s malls and you’ll find anything from movie theaters (including an Alamo-esque dine-in cinema), Cartier, 4-star restaurants (and KFC-food courts), Payless shoes and outdoor stores.

See:  Below is a suggested itinerary for 24 hours in the City.  If you have more time and/or are interested in a couple of day-trips from Panama City, check out this post
At the Miraflores Visitor’s Center overlooking the locks


Morning: The Miraflores Locks and Visitor’s Center is a must see.  *Hot tip* The best time to see ships pass through these locks is from 9-11am or 3-5pm.  The museum offers a great overview of the Canal: its history, the layout and construction.  The movie, however, views like propaganda  . . .  You can view ships, tour the museum and have lunch at the restaurant ($20 pp for a buffet that’s ample but not extraordinary – just do it anyway) in about 3 hours.  *Hot tip*While you can get a taxi to take you to the Locks and then another to take you back, often a taxi will wait for you to complete your visit.  This should cost you about $20 (from Amador).

Panal Canal Administration Building
 In regard to the Panal Canal Administration Building, unless you’re an art/history freak or have the time, you might want to skip it.  The murals and the view is cool, yes, but I wouldn’t consider it a “must-see” on your bucket list.  More interesting to me is the fact that they paid the artist $30K in commission – not bad for the early 20th – or the architecture of the surrounding gov buildings which look exactly the same as all of the Texa A&I buildings my Dad taught at in Kingsville, TX, because they were built by the same military funds.

Afternoon: You can easily wander around Casco Viejo in a couple of hours.  Stay towards the southeast portion of the peninsula as the area is surrounded by slums.  Highlights include meandering around neighborhood to view the restored, semi-restored and crumbling buildings, the beautiful little square of Plaza de la Independencia, which houses the Panama Canal Museum,  and Parque Bolivar which houses the President’s Palace, and the Embajada de Francia Park at the tip of the Peninsula with views of downtown and the Causeway.  Hungry?  Drop by the Fish Market for cheap seafood that you pick out downstairs and they prepare upstairs.   Need a drink?  Try out the classy Havana Bar.

Typical Casco Viejo building

this is not an effecient bike

Other things to do include getting a panoramic view of the City by hiking to the top of Cerro Ancon, the big hill in the Canal Zone, and biking along the man-made, 3-mile long Amador Causeway. 

Along the Causeway, you’ll pass the Frank Gehry-designed museum (under construction) and a branch of The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (pet starfish anyone?).  At the end of the Causeway there are a couple of restaurants.  I’d recommend stopping at Barko for their name-sake ceviche (ceviche made with coconut milk and jalapenos, yum).


Frank Gehry art house in progress, Cerro Ancon, at right


While we stayed the first night in a hotel reminiscent of the Shining (Hotel Casco Antigua), we promptly moved out of the noisy and dangerous section of Casco Viejo to the Balboa district and into the Hostal Amador.  We were very pleased with The Hostal Amador which is more like a hotel than a typical hostal.  It’s $35 per night, has AC, is safe, is in a quiet neighborhood, includes breakfast, is  close to the Albrook Airport, the causeway, a $15 cab ride to Miraflores Locks, a $3-5 cab ride to Casco Viejo and $5 cab ride downtown – what more could you ask for?
  • Downtown:  Eurasia is a quaint, up-scale place that serves up delicious fusion meals. 10 Bistro is another up-scale eatery with two locations downtown (1 in the Multiplaza mall, where we ate before a movie.
  • As previously mentioned, the ceviche at Barko at the end of the Causeway is worth the bike ride
  • If you want to rub elbows with “the locals” try the Fish Market and Café Coca-Cola in Casco Viejo.  They both serve up good dishes in an authentic atmosphere.
Thoughts on the Canal: I’m completely blown away by the Canal.  It’s clearly an engineering marvel – sure, let’s survey an impassable jungle, invent new equipment for the project and dig the equivalent of through the Earth and then some.  But, from my public-policy-perspective, it’s a whole ‘nother miracle.  Consider that in order to build the Canal, the Americans had to build an ENTIRE CITY to support it – complete with a new-fangled socialized public health and roadway system (Don’t want malaria?  Pave ALL the streets and give everyone window screens!).  And, don’t forget the comforts American workers want at home: Rotary Clubs, the Boy Scouts, etc. Import, import, import, funds, funds, funds.  Again, as a public policy sucker who has witnessed tons of (awesome) government-funded projects go by the wayside (or not), it’s absolutely A-M-A-Z-I-N-G to me to think of the grant requests to fund a bowling alley for officers, approved (or maybe not).

All about Bocas del Toro, Panama

Ferry Port, Bocas del Toro
Nickle Tour:  We love Bocas.  Because it’s a series of islands, we found life on the water to be just what we have been looking for so while we came for just a week, we stayed for three and we’ll back for two months in March.  Bocas has so much to offer:  “city” life in Town complete with great food and nightlife, secluded beaches, diving, snorkeling, caves, hiking, jungle, surfing, sailing, wildlife (monkeys, red frogs, starfish, etc) and months and months of places to explore on land and by water.  There’s also a great mix of cultures in Bocas anchored by a diverse group of native Panamanians (indigenous tribes, Latinos of Spanish descent and Afro-Antillians) and supplemented by expats and cruisers from all over the world – including a lot of Texans!
Travel Tip:  You may notice Isla Caranero is barely mentioned in this post.  That’s because the threat of the bugs has kept us away.   You can definitely feel them on the other islands, so I’m not eager for an increase in irritation.

Spending time in Bocas town:
Starfish Beach:  Take the bus to the northern tip of the island and get off at Drago Beach($5 RT), walk around the point to view hundreds of starfish laying in crystal clear water.

Rent a bike and explore the town.  For a nice ride, continue out of town and take the right towards Paunch and Bluff beach.  (An easy ride that’s about 2 hours round trip.
Learn Spanish.  If you’re staying for a while, take a refresher course at Spanish by the Sea.  I did and it was muy beuno!
Take a tour.  Many outfitters can arrange experiences ranging from day-sails and snorkeling trips and the ever popular DoDolphin Bay-Red Frog Beach-Zapatillas day tour.  The Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance is a good place to look for reputable tours.
A day on Bastimentos:
  • Pack a cooler of drinks and snacks and take a water taxi to the Red Frog Marina, take a short walk to the sea-side to bodysurf on Red Frog Beach and check out the Beach’s namesake.
  • Suspend yourself above the canopy on Red Frog’s ziplining tours!
  • After enjoying a few hours on Red Frog beach, hike south along the beach towards Wizzard Beach, which is great for surfing and Up the Hill (an almost-always hot, muddy hike) for a taste of refreshing  lemongrass tea or other locally-made organic products (many made from coconuts from their property).
  • Just past Up the Hill is The Thai Place which overlooks the bay and will satisfy your hunger with a spicy plate of yum after a day of fun in the sun.
Even though are house-sitting on Dolphin Bay, we spent some time in the area before and after our gig and can make the following recommendations:
Bocas Town:  Staying in Bocas town is very convenient but while you’ll definitely find the parties, you’ll have a hard time finding that deserted island feel unless you go further out towards Paunch Beach.
  • Las Olas ($40) is on the water, offers nice rooms with AC, TV, wi-fi, is safe and pleasant and has an on-site restaurant and bar which closes down early so it’s not noisy.
  • Spanish by the Sea ($20) is located on the school grounds but accepts non-students.   They have dorms and a few private rooms (as well as home-stays for students).  Internet and a kitchen is included.
  • Azucar Surf Retreat is on the other side of town (5 minutes by bike) and has 3 or 4 super-cute little cabinas, a private dock, kitchen/hang-out room overlooking the water. Plus, they have an on-site “spa” which is a lofted studio run by the wonderful Donna who does waxing, massage, etc at very reasonable prices. You can even get a massage on the dock, at sunset!

Bastimentos:  It’s just a $3 water taxi ride away (during the day and $5 at night) but is world’s away from the “hustle and bustle” (yeah, right) of Bocas town.

D at the Point on our balcony

The Point ($30) maintained by the friendly Canadian John, is, you guessed it, at  the point of the island.  If you’re looking for high ceilings of a wood framed cabina overlooking the sea with breezes and waves crashing below, this is the place for you.  Free kayaks and surfboards.  One drawback: no internet or kitchen.  But, a fridge is included for your cold drinks and food.

Good Eats in Bocas Town (in order of my faves):
  • The Ultimate Refugio is fantastic!  Weekly specials of seafood fusion keep me coming back to see what’s on the menu – and soon to be in my belly!  As for the pitcher of Jungle Juice, it’s a good thing you won’t be driving home.
  •  The Casbah serves up Mediterranean dishes that are faboush!  We had an excellent starter of shrimp and then fig and goat cheese stuffed chicken breast, yum.
  • Bocas Marina on Friday nights serves up ribs and fire-dancing – fun!
  •  John’s Bakery is the place to get your choripan (chorizo “pigs” in a blanket) and enchiladas (flaky pastries stuffed with chicken and spices).
  • Starfish Café has great breakfasts.
  • Lemongrass has good thai-fusion apps overlooking the water.
  • Toro Loco is the local bar which serves up typical bar food and cold beer.
  • Late-night food carts serve up grilled meats for cheap prices.
  • Super Gourmet is a good place to satisfy your need for sushi, an Italian sub or whatever else you’ve been craving from “home” (sweet pickels, Tofutti, etc).
  • Oh, and don’t forget to stop by the Barco Loco for a stumbling-great time for dancing and drinks (and watch your step!  the “stumbling” is due to the Labyrinth-esque docks as much as the Abuelo :)
Good Eats elsewhere:
  • The Thai Place on Bastimentos is worth the hike “up the hill”
  • Rana Azul is south of Isla Cristobal, about 10 miles south of Bocas Town by boat. They serve up brick-oven pizzas and a weekly specials on Friday nights and Sundays at noon.  Get there early (by boat only) to get a parking spot!
Rush hour at Rana Azul
More:  Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of over 9 islands, 52 keys and 200 islets just south of Costa Rica on the Carribbean coast.  There are several large islands, including Isla Colon, where the main town “Bocas” is located.  Directly across from Bocas is Isla Caranero – notorious for sand flies (chitras) – and a 10 minute boat ride away is Isla Bastimentos.  Click here for a map of Bocas and other sites of interest in Panama.

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Dolphin Bay at dusk

             As you may know, Damon and I, have been invited to house-sit in Bocas del Toro from March 15th-May 15th.  We arrived early in January to pinch-hit for a week awaiting the January-March crew.  The house is about 8 miles south of Bocas del Toro on Dolphin Bay and is only accessible via boat, which the owners have included in the deal.       
Just before dusk

      The house backs up to the rainforest, is flanked by howler monkeys and a chocolate farm and overlooks a beautiful bay.
We have the pleasure of watching over two dogs, Indie and Gellie, as well as a parrot, Jasmine, who has really taken a shine to Damon.

Damon and Jazzie

Laurie and Gellie
We’re enjoying being off the grid and living on solar, rainwater catchment and boating to town on a weekly basis to provision.  We look forward to our two months back in Cerro Valero come March.  Until then, it’s time to do more exploring!
Ships in a bottle (kinda) from our deck


Border Crossing #2

Crossing the border

Crossing into Panama was fairly easy except you should know that you have to have proof of departure from Panama in order to enter.  We first encountered this in Costa Rica but instead of requiring proof, we simply got a lecture.  No such luck in Panama.  But, the good news is you can (conveniently) buy a bus ticket scheduled to leave Panama back to Costa Rica 1 block from the border crossing.  Consider it your departure tax . . .

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Sunset at the beach 
Nickle Tour:  Manuel Antonio is an a-mazing national park in Costa Rica and you should go.  Albeit, “when I was there 10 years ago things were different!” you should still go.  You’ll see a wide array of wildlife, gorgeous beach and won’t be disappointed.  However, if you’re looking for solitude, go elsewhere.  The secret is out and the area is crowded.

Travel Tip:  While you can stay in Quepos and take a $.50 bus to and from the beach or through the main (only) road, I’d recommend staying along the main road.  If you do, you can walk to restuarants, bars, the beach, etc.  You’ll feel kind of isolated in Quepos, even though it’s only 7km to the beach.  But, you came to see Manuel Antonio, not Quepos so stay close to the park.

Also, hire a guide to tour Manuel Antonio – it’s well worth your money to have a trained eye pointing out camouflaged wildlife, and isn’t that why you came?

See: In addition to the Park (more later), we took a sunset cruise which shoved off at 3pm, included drinks, snacks and snorkeling before settling in to dinner and the beautiful sunset.  At $70 pp, it’s a splurge (for backpackers) but otherwise a great deal.

The Park, of course, is a must-see

That dark spot is an agouti

No joke!
Capuchins rule the beach

Alligators on the drive to Manuel Antonio
Mapaches (racoons) checking out tourist loot
An Ibis in the park and Pelicans on the beach

A three-toed sloth hangs out

Across from the Avion bar (the giant plane sticking out of the mountain), there is an Italian place we stopped in because it had half-priced food on Sundays.  Check out this bacon-wrapped shrimp!

El Avion Restaurant & Bar

Sleep: There are an overwhelming number of hotels along the main stretch ranging from hostels to 4-star resorts.  So, look around and you’re sure to find something that suits your tastes. But, once again, I’d recommend staying closer to the beach than in Quepos.

Family Time in La Fortuna & Arenal, Costa Rica

La Fortuna at night with Volcano Arenal in the  back
Tree through the cloud forest at La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna town square

Nickle Tour: Nestled in the cloud-forest highlands, the town of La Fortuna transformed rapidly in the last 30 years as Costa Rica marketed Volcano Arenal as a tourist destination.  Since then, visitors can enjoy the views of the volcano erupting (when it’s not clouded over, which is every day), many of whom do so in thermally-fed hot springs fed by the magma running underground at numerous resorts in the area.

Travel Tip: While Tabacon hot springs is “the place” most go, it’s also the most expensive.  Baldi is about half the price ($40ish for half-a-day including dinner) and just as hot.

La Fortuna waterfall is tucked in the cloud forest.  You can swim, but not under the waterfall as you’d get crushed.  It’s also quite a hike up and down, so wear proper footwear and prep for sore thighs. 
Baldi Hot Springs
Hot Springs: A must do!  Soak in any of the area’s hot springs.  There are plenty of resorts featuring the springs, with spa services, restaurants and bars for your easy enjoyment.  It’s also a good place to soak your bones after a day of hiking or rafting.
Hike!  Volcano Arenal has good hiking but you can’t go all the way up because it might ‘splode on you.  No beuno.
The Fam getting ready to Ride the Bull (Rio Toro)
Rafting!  We did a family trip with Desafio Tours and it was fantastic!  Whether you’re 15 or 65, you’ll have a great time, feel safe and ride great rapids.  The river has class 3-4 right after another which is great fun.  About halfway through you’ll get to stop and much fruit.  And, the guides will happily point out wildlife (howlers, toucans and a sloth) along the way.  We can’t recommend them enough.
Fresh fruit snack on the raft/table
Beth rides the bull!

Sleep: We stayed 2 nights at Hotel La Fortuna (a certified green hotel) courtesy of Mom, so it’s not really a backpacker place, but it’s very nice . . . everything you’d expect from a standard American-style hotel.  I’d recommend it for those who want to be comfortable without staying in an uber-resort or hostel.

Eat: There are several good places around town, but nothing really stuck out.  Explore the main strip and you’ll be satisfied.

New Year’s in Nosara, Costa Rica

Hotel Nosara
Beach biking

Nickle Tour: Nosara is a special place in Costa Rica: a small surfing village with plenty of gringo resources and expats without the big hotels and crowds.  I hesitate to tell you how wonderful it is because those who love it don’t want the word getting out! 

Travel Tip: Nosara town and Nosara beach are about 15km apart.  You want to stay on Nosara beach.  Getting to Nosara by bus is no small feat – and that’s probably part of why it’s so safe and quiet. For those who can, I’d recommend getting a $80-100 plane ticket from San Jose if that’s where you originate.  And, for those who may consider stopping in Samara – don’t.  If you’re more into a laid-back surfer vibe than the party scene, Nosara is your pick over Samara.

See: You can easily walk around Nosara but after a few days, you may want to get some wheels (rent a bike or a quad to explore the area).  We drove up to Ostional and lucked out to see turtles laying on the beach.  

Sea turtles on the beach at Ostional

In the same day, we explored some outside of Nosara town and found a hidden waterfall which relieved us from the midday heat. 

We also were treated by our friends to a morning of sport fishing and if you get the chance, we can’t recommend it enough!
D getting lunch
Kitty likes sashimi, too!

And, of course there is plenty of surfing to be had by beginners and advanced surfers, alike.


At the end of the beach is Hotel Nosara – a can’t miss spectacle.  Rumor has it this sprawling estate has been home to wild parties, has a “batman-esque” lair under the pool and the owners recently turned down $17 million from the Four Seasons to finish it.  The reason they turned it down: because if it’s finished the owner will have to pay its investors back -something they’re not interested in.  So, it sits, in its Studio 54 glory slowly being overtaken by the jungle.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to be in Nosara when The Black Sheep (same owners as the Hotel Nosara) is open (once a month), run, don’t walk!  It’s a Playboy Mansion type place where they brew beer, a bridge traversing a pool and stunning views of the Pacific.

Sleep: While many folks splurge for the Iguana, we camped in the Carnie Tent at Solo Bueno, a surfers hostel for $26 per night, which includes a kitchen for cooking.

Camping Treehouse Gardens

After a few days, we moved over to a private tree-house room at the Camping Treehouse Gardens which was $20 per night and also included a kitchen.

Eat: Iguana has yummy meals that are infused with local seafood and a beach flair.  There is an Italian place in town with UNBELIEVABLE lasagna, quite possibly the best we’ve ever had! The Thai place was good, too.  You can also get most staples at any of the mini-supers in town.
Drink!  You must make the trek up Almost Paradise for sunset and try the Granny’s Juice aka a white sangria with vodka – now that’s the way to start your evening.