Finally - the trip that we've been waiting all year to take! Tomorrow, we are off on our first trip to Central America, visiting the countries of Panama and Costa Rica for an unprecedented (for us) three weeks!
It's a little embarassing that despite growing up within relatively easy reach of Mexico, I've never been any further South in the Western Hemisphere than Corpus Christi, Texas. It's not that we haven't wanted to explore this corner of the world, more that we just hadn't gotten around to it yet. The remedy for this came about last year, when my cruise travel agent called to tell me about a rather unique itinerary that he thought he might enjoy - one week "explorer" cruise, that goes through the canal (in and of itself very exciting) but then spends the rest of the week hopping around different nature preserves on the Pacific coast of both Panama and Costa Rica.
Exciting no? And honestly, too good to miss! So we booked it.
And then, I started doing my research. I couldn't help but think that since we would already in that corner of the world, it was rather a no brainer to spend at least a few days in Panama before hand. And a few days here and there soon enough added up to a full week. Ah well, 2 weeks is doable and it is rather a long way. . . but oh wow look at all these amazing sites in Costa Rica! It looks incredible! And then we had to have another week there (although narrowing it down to just a week was hard enough). So before I knew it, we were looking at a 3 week trip. And why not, after all? We'd consider it an early 10 year wedding anniversary gift. Perhaps what was even more of a surprise was that both our jobs signed us off for exactly what we asked for. The planning process was grand fun, although I think there was a part of me that wasn't quite convinced we would actually be doing this. But here we are and with boarding passes in hand, it finally feels real.
The general outline of our trip looks like:
Day 1 - fly to Panama, overnight in Panama City
Day 3 to 6 - bird watching and hiking in El Valle
Day 7 - transfer to Colon, with a visit to one of the indigenous villages still located in the canal zone on the way
Day 8 - in the morning, visit Portobello; in the afternoon, board our ship for the cruise!
Day 9 - transit the Panama Canal
Day 10 and 11 - Fuerto Amador for the nearby Punta Culebra Nature Centre and the Amador CausewayDay 12 - a stop to explore the Darien National Park by zodiac
Day 13 - the Isla De Coiba (snorkeling! perhaps some kayaking? probably a hike)
Day 14 - Golfito for the Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas and the mangrove forests by zodiac
Day 15 - Puerto Quepos for the Parque Nacional Manuel AntonioDay 16 - Puntarenas where we disembark the ship and make our transfer to Arenal.
Day 17 to 19 exploring the Arenal Volcano, hiking in Arenal National Park, kayaking on Arenal lake hiking Cerro Chato with a visit to swim in the La Fortuna Waterfall among others.
Day 20 - transfer to Sarapiquis with a tour of a chocolate plantation on the way
Day 21 - La Selva Biological Station(to say Stephen is excited about this is beyond understatement)
Day 22 - Whitewater rafting on the Sarapiqui river
Day 23 - hiking the Poas Volcano and transfer to San Jose
Day 24 - flight back to London
Holy cow I have butterflies just writing all that out. In addition to our usual trusty guidebooks* We've worked with a travel agent for the Costa Rica portion, and so I'm keen to see if that comes together as smoothly as the planning process has been. It's rare that we use travel agents, but for this trip it has been helpful to at least to help narrow down the options and locate trust-worthy tour providers. Fingers crossed that all goes to plan!
I'm really hoping to have enough of an internet connection to be able to blog from time to time, so do keep an eye out for that. Also for the first time you very well may get to hear some of the trip from Stephen's perspective and perhaps even see some of his first pictures!
For now though, we need to get ourselves squared away to actually leave on said trip. 2 days and counting. . .
* we've predominantly used The Explorer's Guide to Panama and the usual Eyewitness Guide to Costa Rica. Also hugely helpful for background information has been The Neotropical Companion. It's a few years out of date, but still has excellent background information and is a particularly good primer for non-specialists. For the full list of what we've read in preparation for the trip, have a look here.