Cahuita’s a long way down the Caribbean coast, although if you look at the guidebooks you reach the conclusion that it’s best to just crack on down there… Puerto Limon is a rare example of a town that Lonely Planet has virtually nothing positive to say about. There was some talk about getting to Moin and doing it independently, it’s undoubtedly cheaper however in the end convenience won out- As well as the desire not to spend too much time in violent Central American hellholes.
Herein lies the other great feature of shuttles- That you get taken straight to your accommodation, rather than dumped in the middle of town and left to sort it out. Home in this sense was El Colibri Rojo, a well-reviewed place a few kilometres out of town. We reasoned that the main reason we were in Cahuita was to visit the National Park anyway, and this was very close to the park entrance. It’s run by a French couple and is a decent enough spot. It has what most of the town-based places lack, namely a lovely pool to cool off in…
No time for that though, it was already getting late and we were HUNGRY. It’s slim pickings out here, the option is the restaurant next to the National Park entrance or a cab back into town. So, we headed there. You can’t miss it, it’s right on the access road to the park entrance and you’ll hear the owner well before you reach him, a big crazy (er, actually let’s go for ‘Ker-Azy!’) Italian guy and his quiet Costa Rican sidekick.
There wasn’t any choice- You want antipasti? Sure, why not. No menus either. But right now I’d have eaten anything, so we went for it. And it was indeed a delight, with huge chunks of bread, along with decent ham and cheese. Nicely washed down with cold beer… Would have probably been fine to share one. With the bill coming out at about £20, the overwhelming conclusion was that it really was stupid not to have shared one. Not a huge amount in the scheme of meals, but for a shack on a main road, it was SCANDALOUS.
Not that I’m bitter, but the owner was also one of those ‘characters’ you find in out of the way places- ‘been in the military’. Not just a washed up alcoholic tourist-scamming Italian Walt, you understand.
We headed back for a bit of RnR, and to reflect that when you’re out in the sticks, beggars can’t be choosers… I’d have eaten a scabby dog by the time we pitched up here, but I would have preferred it to cost less than £20. I acquainted myself with the super-cute young hostel dog, who took this as her cue to eat my hand. This dog’s name was the subject of intense debate over our 2 nights in Cahuita, with Pips adamant that I’d simply mis-understood and that her name wasn’t “Only You”. The dog’s name, readers, really was Only You. I initially found this out from the persistent but cute hostel itinerant French child, who got very angry at Pips not understanding her, even though she was speaking VERY LOUDLY in a mixture of French and Spanish, and instead chatting to me in Spanish. So I was accused of mistranslation, despite it being clearly not my fault that it was just a stupid name.
We headed into town. Luckily taxis are pretty cheap here, and the standard rate of £3 into town was honoured every time we went in. I can’t remember the last time I had a scammy taxi experience actually- I think partly it’s due to using Uber a lot, but also NEVER doing the ‘just jump in and hope for the best’ gig.
Cahuita town wasn’t amazing by most stretches of the imagination. Neither particularly dirty nor unsafe, just a slightly charmless touristy place which has sprung up thanks to its proximity to amazing nature. That said, there were some decent enough bars and we ended up with a decent, relatively cheap meal. Mustn’t grumble and all.
The next day we resolved to actually get some exercise, and got a lift from the hotel owner into Cahuita town, from where you can pick up the trail through the small, accessible National Park. This was a great thing to do, although definitely best in the relative cool of the morning. Entrance is a reasonable $5 per person, paid at the gates in.
I’m staggered at how much the guidebooks over-estimate time on walks- Lots of them make out that this is a full-day endeavour but actually it’s very doable in about 3hrs or less. Maybe I just like walking fast.
The trail through the National Park is ace- Half boardwalk through the jungle, and the other half a mix of mangrove and beachside path. If you’re beach minded it would be definitely worth taking a packed lunch. Unfortunately we had to check out of the hotel by 12, and Pips is practically albino in sunburn terms, so it was a shorter visit for us. Still managed to see a great selection of wildlife including sloths and a couple of troupes of monkeys.
Passing the Italian’s shack whilst exiting the National Park, he tried to lure us in again. I gently informed him that he’d taken all our money the previous day. And may have possibly added, under my breath, something about scamming bastards. Possibly. In any case, the next stop was calling- 2 nights in Puerto Viejo a few kilometres up the coast. About $10 in a taxi… I was dead set on getting the bus but actually, with mild gastrointestinal meltdown the easier route was much appreciated!
Puerto Viejo wasn’t the last word in unspoilt seaside real estate, but actually it’s a really decent place to pitch up for a few nights. Dare I say it, but a great ‘vibe’ and loads. And loads. And loads of decent places to eat and drink. I suspect, with the sheer number of Bob Marley-alia and indeed a Reggae Supermarket, that you’d probably not go short of herbal substances if you required it too. Maan.
The washed up yacht on the reef just off the beach is an intriguing aspect of the town too… It’s almost become something of a symbol and no doubt features in a million and one tourist photos. According to a local it washed up well over a year ago. I think the owners gently departed the country when they realised how screwed it was, and the thousands it would cost to recover.
Thai for our first night in PV… ace food. Girding our loins for the next day of bicycle exploration…
…All I will say is that everything in 33 degree heat feels harder than it really should be. For today was the day of epic fail, making the decision to pass by the Jaguar Rescue Centre, reasoning that we would have a drink at Punta Uva (one of the further points on the coastal road) and come back. Bikes are pretty cheap to hire here, $5 a day from loads of shops in town.
Well, we had the drink at Punta Uva, and it was bloody lovely as expected, however the ride back felt alarmingly uphill. Pulling up at the JRC, we found that the vital information we’d missed was that there were only 2 tour times a day, and we’d missed the second one. We returned to town in defeat and vowed to drink past the disappointment.
This we managed alarmingly well at Kaya’s Place, a staggeringly well-positioned microbrewery at the end of our road. A lovely few pints later… quite a few pints in fact. Pints tend to be a bit of a rarity in any case outside the UK, but when filled with craft beer, they’re like rocking horse shit. Marvellous.
We chatted with the other inhabitants of this corner of paradise- A super keen, apple pie American youngster behind the bar, and also a very strange lady on our side of it who told us at great length and in great depth how she enjoyed a Costa Rican ‘length’. And then a cockney geezer who was Banksy’s art dealer, no stranger to the UK criminal justice system and who was randomly over in Costa Rica for a month. Well, I suppose there are worse places to overwinter.
Magnificently hung over the next day, the only tasks to achieve were breakfast and departure. The former provided in a grubby bar which probably doesn’t look half as bad under dark and disco lights. The latter by Caribe Shuttle. It seemed worth it to save hassle, although it’s a pretty well-worn route to the Panamanian border and not too difficult to achieve independently. It’s also vastly cheaper too.
Sixaola is a classic border crossing that makes you feel like you’re travelling proper. In fact, it’s probably my favourite American border crossing so far. Some of it is smoothed over by shuttle connections, however it still involves completely incomprehensible steps that all seem a bit overkill, and you really do have the thought that this could be done a bit…easier.
First, you have to go to a certain local shop and to pay your departure tax, only a few bucks. That gets you a stamped ticket that you then take to the Costa Rican immigration office. Why the shop? Pass. Straightforward enough so far, but you then have to walk across the border with all of your worldlies on your back. No shuttle bus privileges here! Unfortunately, since the authorities here are officially NO FUN they have closed the rickety old railway bridge (I saw it, it was properly fall-downy…) and have opened a brand spanking new one.
The other side though, you’re back to small hut border bureaucracy… The first hut down the unlikely, spooky alleyway is customs, where you hand in a carefully crafted form to a man who scowls at you, dismissively flicks through your passport and places the unexamined form on a big pile of other such forms. Then you go to a slightly larger, posher hut where your passport is stamped and you’re off into Panama. Apparently another small benefit of the shuttle is that passengers don’t get accosted on Panama Alley by semi-official officials demanding a $3 entry tax which apparently doesn’t exist.
Phew, back on the (Panamanian) bus… next stop, Almirante for the boat to Bocas del Toro…