4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary

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In early July 2019, we set off on our Harley Davidson motorcycles for Yellowstone National Park. Because our home in Saskatchewan, Canada is about 1000 kilometres from the North entrance of Yellowstone, we took two days to make the drive south.

We stayed one night on the Canadian side of the border, at Grasslands National Park. The following day we drove to Livingston, Montana, with a lunch stop in Lewistown on the way.

It was later in the afternoon when we arrived in Livingston, so we enjoyed a drive through the town and then went to our KOA campground.

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We love staying with Kampgrounds of America! We rented a cabin, so upon arrival we quickly got to work making supper- kabobs over the fire. After supper, we headed over to the pavilion where they were selling ice cream that evening. We went for a walk around the campground to check out our surroundings before getting showered up and heading to bed.

Day One: Mammoth Hot Springs and Beartooth Highway

The next morning we had breakfast at that same pavilion, where KOA offers an a-la-carte selection each morning for a very reasonable price. We drove the hour down to Gardiner, and from there we were just moments away from the park entrance.

Just beyond the North Yellowstone entrance is the area of the park known as Mammoth. Here, there is a visitor centre, campground, gas station, tourist shops, and a couple of restaurants.

The highlights of this area are the steaming hydrothermal features. Enjoying this area can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, or more. There is an Upper and a Lower Terrace. Each terrace includes nice boardwalks for easy and safe viewing of all of the hot springs and other hydrothermal features. The Upper and Lower Terraces are connected by a staircase, but if you want to avoid the steep climb, you can drive up to a parking lot above and explore the Upper Terraces from there.

Mound Terrace
Mound Terrace
The view from the Upper Terraces parking area
Orange Spring Mound

There is a guided, 90 minute ranger-led hike around the Upper Terraces offered in the morning. You can check the park newspaper for times. There is also a short scenic drive when you leave the parking lot for the Upper Terraces. There are some additional parking spots along this drive and in the likely event that the lot is full, you could continue on and try your luck at one of these spots. There are a few more small hydrothermal features to enjoy along this drive.

Once we had walked along the terraces, we headed East towards Tower Junction. Originally, I thought we could stop and see the Undine and Wraith Falls and maybe have a picnic lunch. I was not expecting the falls to be so close to Mammoth, however, and we ended up driving past them without stopping. Being on motorcycles with no way to communicate is not the easiest way to road trip! It did look like the pullout for Wraith Falls had a nice picnic area though.

We drove through Lamar Valley, spotting several herds of bison along the way. Lamar Valley is Yellowstone’s number one spot to view the park’s abundant wildlife, but early mornings and evenings are the ideal time for viewing . We both experienced a bit of motorcycle trouble along this route, but nonetheless made it to Cooke City, Montana for a late lunch.

From Cooke City, we hit the Beartooth Scenic Highway, which is a 68 mile stretch of road that rises to 10 947 feet at the Beartooth Pass in Wyoming. Because we were still experiencing some difficulties with the motorcycles, we only stopped a couple of times during the drive along the Beartooth. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful journey to experience on a motorcycle.

The Beartooth Highway ends (or begins) at Red Lodge, Montana. Once we arrived there, we continued South towards Cody. We camped for the night in Buffalo Bill State Park.

Day Two: Yellowstone Lake

Luckily, by the next morning Travis had remedied the problem with his bike, and we were able to get an early start on our journey back into Yellowstone. Highway 14 from Cody to East Yellowstone is also know for being a scenic drive. We had such a nice drive on a beautiful summer morning.

Once we arrived in the park, we stopped to enjoy Yellowstone Lake. We went to the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center to poke around. We also stopped at the General Store across the road, which was loaded with any kind of souvenir you could imagine. We ate lunch outside the Visitor Center, and walked down by the lake for a bit. The temperature was a bit chilly so we decided to move on.

We headed North and stopped at the Mud Volcano area. It was a slow drive due to vehicles stopping to view large groups of bison- a regular experience on the Yellowstone highways. The Mud Volcano thermal area is an area of muddy hot springs and fumaroles located near one of the Yellowstone Volcano’s vents. It was a pretty awesome stop, with a short trail around the bubbling mud pit itself, and some of the most acidic springs in Yellowstone (think sulphur smell, lots of sulphur smell). 

From Mud Volcano, it was a 16 mile drive to Canyon Village where we were staying at the campground there. We set up camp, cooked a campfire supper, and then headed back out on the road for a bit more sightseeing. We went North to see Tower Falls, and had some ice cream in the store that is located there.

Tower Falls

We ended the evening with another drive through Hayden Valley for some wildlife viewing. We saw elk and bison, but no bears!

Day Three: Canyon Village

The next morning was a morning for chasing rainbows! I was excited to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but even more excited about catching a glimpse of the rainbows that are rumoured to show up on both the Upper and Lower Falls each morning. We started on the South Rim at Uncle Tom’s trail, which is the easiest spot to see the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls drop 109 ft over a lip of volcanic rock. We took an easy walk around to two viewpoints where I had heard that the rainbow can be seen between  9-9:15AM. We didn’t see a rainbow at first, so we walked to the upper viewpoint. But, when we got back down to the main viewing area, we could see the rainbow! It was a bit faint, but beautiful nonetheless.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone varies from 800 to 1200 feet in length, and is about 24 miles long. The upper 2.5 miles, where the falls are, are the most colourful of the whole canyon. Hot spring activity in the area has altered the colours of the lava rock to give it such a lovely appearance.

From Uncle Tom’s Point, we continued along South Rim Drive to the Artist Point parking area to see the Lower Falls. Wow! They were stunning! The deep canyon’s colours popped so beautifully against the river running through it. We spent quite a bit of time here, taking in the sights from all different angles. After awhile, we looked back over the Lower Falls and could see a rainbow there, too! Can you see it??

Lower Falls

After we had soaked up the view, we decided to hike the Clear Lake Trail from Uncle Tom’s Point. The trail is just over 2 miles and takes you through large rolling meadows and forested areas to Clear Lake, which is a hydrothermal area. The trail ended back at the Artist’s Point viewing area, so we enjoyed some really nice views of the canyon along the last bit of the hike.

We spent the next few hours on the North Rim Drive, stopping at all three of the big pullouts: Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone area was by far my favourite part of the trip. It is so beautiful!

We had another KOA booked in West Yellowstone for that night, so we started heading that direction. We took a wrong turn and ended up in a very long lineup heading into Norris. Since we spent so much time waiting to get in, we decided to have a look around. There was a bit of a walk from the parking lot to a lookout point, where you could then walk around on boardwalks to get a closer look at the Geyser Basin. We decided we had seen enough for the day, took a quick picture, and headed out towards West Yellowstone.

We got rained on while riding out to our KOA, and so decided to upgrade from a regular campground to a campsite for the night. Of course, once we had finished checking in the rain stopped, so we got back on the bikes and went back into West Yellowstone for supper at Beartooth Barbecue.

Day Four: Geyser Country

We packed up early and were at Ernie’s Bakery and Deli in West Yellowstone at 7AM when it opened. We had breakfast and also got sandwiches and cookies to have for lunch later.

Our destination for the day was the entire Geyser Country region. To begin with, we started with the Upper Geyser Basin, which is home to Old Faithful. We arrived to the parking lot at just before 9AM, and it was already filling up fast. We walked to the Visitors Center where we found out the Old Faithful was estimated to erupt at around 9:50. Old Faithful erupts every 35 to 120 minutes and lasts from 1 1/2 minutes to 5 minutes long. They can predict the eruption within plus or minus 10 minutes.

We ended up just waiting around Old Faithful area, which has accommodations, shops, and fuel. When it was getting close to 9:40, we moved towards the Old Faithful viewing platform.  There is lots of room to watch it so you only need to be there about 15 minutes early to grab a spot. We weren’t sure exactly where it was going to come up from, but our spots ended up being great, although I am sure anywhere would have provided a decent view. There were people walking along the lower loops and I imagine that would be an interesting viewpoint.

You can spend a lot of time in this area- a half day easily and a full day would not be a stretch. There is a loop around the Upper Geyser Basin which is a paved road one way and a boardwalk the other for a total of 3 miles. To this you can add a small hike up to Observation Point for views of the basin. We got our bikes down and rose the paved portion of this loop, stopping and walking along the boardwalks when there was something we thought we wanted to see more closely.

When we got back from the loop, we ate our sandwiches near the visitor centre, and realized it was really close to another Old Faithful eruption. We decided to go into the Old Faithful Lodge for a quick look around, then we went up to the second story balcony to sit and watch Old Faithful erupt again.

After leaving the Old Faithful area, we went to Grand Prismatic Spring, which is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, and most beautiful. It is 370 ft wide and incredibly colourful. There are two ways to explore Grand Prismatic. We first parked in the main parking lot and walked around the spring:

Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest of Yellowstone’s many colourful hot springs. The high temperature of the water (70 degrees Celsius) ensures that the spring is often cloaked in steam. I had read that the steam often dissipates in the afternoon, making it a better time to explore Grand Prismatic than the early morning. The Spring’s heat come from the magma of an active volcano deep beneath the ground where heated water rises to the surface through fissures in the rocks.

From this area, it was hard to really see all of the brilliant colours of the hot spring. The second option for viewing Grand Prismatic offered a far superior view of the hot spring. We drove just up the road to the next pullout, and biked up the Fairy Falls trail, and then hiked to the overlook. We were rewarded by this bird’s-eye view of Grand Prismatic:

The stunning Grand Prismatic
Could not get enough of this view

On our way back out of Geyser Country we drove along a couple of the pullouts along the way. We got to see the Young Hopeful Geyser:

Young Hopeful Geyser 🙂

We also drove along the Firehole Canyon and stopped to see the Firehole Falls:

We were staying at the KOA again, and on the way to our campsite we stopped in West Yellowstone at the Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon. The pizza here was delicious!

Day Five: Leaving Yellowstone

Even though driving through Yellowstone was not the quickest way to get to Great Falls, our next destination, we were not quite ready to leave Yellowstone, so we decided to take a slightly longer route and got to drive through the park again. We drove from Norris to Mammoth, stopping at the Artist Paintpots, to take in one more area of hydrothermal activity. Artists Paintpots is a small but lovely thermal area with a one-mile loop trail that goes to colourful hot springs, and two large mudpots.

From here, we continued North to the Mammoth area, where we very randomly ran into T’s parents and their travel buddies at a roadside pullout! We spent a bit of time hanging out and visiting with them, and then we were on our way out of the park. I wasn’t really ready to leave Yellowstone, I felt like there was still so much to see and do, but it was time to start making our way towards home.

We enjoyed our time in Yellowstone and definitely see why most people say you need a lot of time to see this park! It is HUGE, with so many things to see in different areas. There is a lot of driving involved in order to see Yellowstone, which takes up a lot of time. That is why it would be better to try and limit the things you do each day to one or two areas- so that you can see more of each area and spend less valuable touring time in the vehicle.

We did not do nearly enough hiking while we were in Yellowstone, which is a huge part of what the park is famous for. When we go back to Yellowstone, our priority would be to go for a longer period of time so that we could both sightsee and do some hiking (maybe even backcountry!) is each area at a more leisurely pace.

Please comment with any questions you have about Yellowstone, I would be happy to share more information!

Also, here’s a link to our YouTube video from the trip. We’d love if you to watched, liked, and even shared both the video and this post! Thank you!

Living With Locals in Bonaire

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On our third day exploring all that Bonaire has to offer, we left the luxury of Buddy Dive Resort to check in to the Airbnb we had booked after much research into affordable accommodations.

We had never before stayed in someone’s home with them- we have always preferred to rent an entire apartment, but the reviews for Joop and Carine’s Airbnb drew us in and we decided their home seemed like the perfect place to test the waters of staying in a private room. Correspondence with our hosts had always been quick and friendly, and they were expecting our arrival. They were immediately warm and inviting, and their home was beautiful. Any lingering worries about the arrangement quickly melted away as we got a tour and then settled into our room.

As lovely as it was there, we didn’t stay long. We had plans to continue exploring the island! Joop and Carine’s home is in the neighbourhood of Belnam, which is towards the South end of the island. From there, we continued heading further South. Along this breathtaking route we made many stops. Here’s some of the highlights:

Salt Pans

Salt

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White Slave Huts

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Kite Boarders

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Yellow Slave Huts

I was thrilled that on this very short drive we had already checked off many of the items that I had wanted to see in person and photograph. This included these slave huts from the 1800’s. Here, slaves would stay during the week while they worked at the salt mines and used small boats to haul mounds of salt from the island to the awaiting ships. Most of the men walked from the other end of the island each week, and would walk back home on the weekend if they had enough time.

As we continued on after taking some time to learn about and appreciate the history of the island and the people that made Bonaire what it is today, we drove toward what I had most eagerly been awaiting… just around the corner at the southernmost tip of the island…

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Flamingos! We hit it pretty big when we drove up to the flamingo sanctuary at Pekelmeer lake and saw a couple of decent-sized flocks.

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After admiring the flamingos from afar, and invading their privacy only through the use of our zoom lens, we continues on to Sorobon Beach area, and checked out the famous Jibe City bar, restaurant, and kite-surfing spot.

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We spent some time here, enjoyed a bucket of beer, and walked along the beach until we found this beautiful abandoned lifeguard stand. My favourite travel blogger had posted some pictures at this stand which was part of what made me fall in love with Bonaire, so I was pretty excited to have stumbled upon it!

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We whiled away the last of the sunshine hours here at the beach, and then headed back into Kralendijk to find a spot for dinner. Again, many places were already full or booked up, but we did find a table at Tasty Bar and Steakhouse. We ordered a combination-for two dinner. It was excellent, and it looked like this:

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One day above water was enough for us. We were ready to get back underwater, and were so excited to dive with VIP Dive.

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The next day brought another exciting opportunity for Scuba Diving. We had booked a Boat Dive with East Side Divers through VIP Diving, a convenient system that the two dive operations have worked out to support their clients. The reason the two outfits work together, is that no other dive company dives on the East side of Bonaire. Dive sites are only accessible by boats, and East Side Divers are the only company set up for this.

After a light breakfast with our Airbnb hosts, we headed to the Sorobon area to meet our boat captain and dive master at Fisherman’s Pier. After making our payments for the dive, and an on-deck boat briefing, we were headed out on the zodiac dive boat. As we were listening to the in-depth dive briefing, I was devastated to discover that our dive camera would not turn on! It was such a disappointing feeling, and I was desperately wishing I had checked the camera’s operation before we had left home in the morning. Trying to swallow my disappointment, I shifted my complete focus on not feeling sick on the mildly choppy ride. Luckily, we were only on the boat for about 40 minutes before it was time to get on our gear and drop (roll!) into the water.

The dive was quite spectacular- we saw 7 turtles and several of them were happy to lay around and let us look upon them in awe. It was a spectacular dive and I found myself gaining comfort and confidence in being able to slow down, take my time, and really take in my surroundings. I got a bit of a thrill each time I discovered a little creature on my own- eels, lion fish, and turtles included.

Due to the depth of our dive, we were required to do a 3 minute safety-stop a few metres below the surface, before it was safe to surface. Unfortunately, the sea can get quite rough at this depth, and today was no exception. Occasionally, this stop can leave me feeling disoriented, dizzy, and nauseous. The week before, while diving on Curacao, I barely made it back on the boat before I got sick over the edge of the boat. As I waited for my turn to climb back on the zodiac I tried to hold it together, and once back on the boat the captain told both Travis and I to focus on the horizon we could see in the distance. Only a few minutes passed before Travis was getting sick over the side of the little boat, so at that point I made my mind up that we both couldn’t get sick on the same dive! I continued to focus on the horizon as we headed back to the dock to swap out our air tanks for the second dive.

Once we got to the dock we made the very difficult decision to back out of our second dive. It was a heart-breaker as the second dive site, “Turtle City” was guaranteed to be an amazing dive filled with all kinds of sea life. Nevertheless, as we were currently still dealing with our sea-sickness, we couldn’t imagine getting back on the zodiac for a further and rougher ride this time, and the possibility of having the same situation happen as we surfaced from the second dive helped us to make our decision.

Although we drove away from Sorobon filled with disappointment, we had just experienced one amazing dive, and were comforted by the thought that after a little bit of rest we would soon be feeling better.

Rest is what we did. We pulled up in the comfortable chairs next to the pool at our much-loved AirBnb until we were both feeling ready to head back out and explore some more of the island.

The problem was, we felt really disappointed at the thought of being finished exploring the underwater world of Bonaire. Seeing as we still had our rental gear until the end of the day, we stopped in at VIP for some advice on how we should spend the few hours we had left with our rented dive gear. As has been our previous experience there, the staff were incredible and recommended that we keep it very simple and dive their house reef, which was only a short walk away from the shop.

I will admit that when I was looking into shore diving on Bonaire, I didn’t think I would like it very much due to the fact that you have to lug around your air tank. I was pleasantly surprised that it really wasn’t that difficult, even when you emerge from the sea water-logged. Instead, I was completely sold on shore diving.

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The shore entry to VIP Diving’s house reef

Months later, I still lament over the loss of what surely would have been our best dive pictures to date. This self-guided dive along the VIP house reef had us giddily pulling at each other to point out all of the creatures that we were now so able to locate on our own. A highlight was the little cow fish that camouflaged right in front of our eyes as it rose from the coral and changed to match the colour of the sea. We were mesmerized with this and could see the excitement in each others’ eyes. As we emerged from the water we could hardly wait to talk about all that we had seen, and the short walk back to the dive shop went by quickly as we listed off all of the critters the dive site had shared with us.

After sadly returning our gear to VIP, aware of the fact that this would be our last dive for an unknown amount of time, we returned back “home” to get ourselves ready to head back into town. We decided on dinner at Diver’s Diner which we had noticed on an earlier walk along the ocean front, but it had been quite full. This time, we were early and had our choice on seats at the outdoor restaurant. We enjoyed the quick and friendly service, the Happy Hour drinks, mushroom triangle appetizers, and the fish tacos and steak as our two mains. We strolled around a bit before heading back home, where we enjoyed a couple of lovely drinks with our hosts.

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The following morning we slept in a bit longer as we had no early diving plans. We enjoyed breakfast with our hosts (including bread with sprinkles– a regular at the Dutch breakfast table!) before setting out to Spice Beach where we planned to catch the Caribe Watersports water taxi to Klein Bonaire.

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Bread with Sprinkles!

Dutch for “Little Bonaire”, Klein Bonaire is a small and uninhabited islet that sits just half a mile from Bonaire itself. There is nothing on the island except one small open shelter to provide shade to tourists. The water taxi dropped us off at the beach and then allowed us to get back on the taxi so it could drive us back to one end of the island where it dropped us off. We literally plunged off the end of the boat into the ocean, and began our snorkel back to the main beach area. We spent about 40 minutes leisurely floating along the top of the reef. We saw a bit of sea life here, but to be honest after our amazing diving experiences on Bonaire, being at the surface of the water wasn’t quite as satisfying. Some families has snorkelled back in the more shallow water, where a couple of sea turtles were spotted.

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Our curious friends

 

Once we got back to the main beach, we had nothing left to do but laze around and enjoy the sun, sand, breeze, and views!

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The views on Klein Bonaire

After about an hour on the beach, the Caribe water taxi was back with their second load of beach-goers. We hoped on and headed back to the main island and tried to hit up the Cactus Blue food truck for a lion fish burger. For the second time, we were too late in the day and the lion fish burgers were already sold out. We settled on some non-lion fish-fair and settled into enjoy more of the beautiful views while we waited for our lunch.

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After another quick stop and change at Joop and Carine’s, we were back on the road. This time, heading north toward the small town of Rincon, which is the only other town on the island of Bonaire, aside from Kralendijk. What attracted us here was the Cadushy Distillery, Bonaire’s very own distillery which specializes in their signature green liqueur made out of cactus. We had a fun time learning about the process of how they make their liqueurs and alcohol, and of course having a few samples!

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After the short tour, we enjoyed a drink and a snack, and continued our northbound route towards Goto Meer, the famous hangout spot for flamingos on Bonaire. It didn’t disappoint, although I let myself down by forgetting my zoom lens back at Joop and Carine’s! Here are some of the photos I got that afternoon, as well as some of the other interesting wild life of Bonaire that we spotted on our way back:

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After our day of exploring the island from below and above water, we joined Joop and Carine once more on their back deck for some special before-dinner drinks. We had made reservations at Donna and Georgio’s, an Italian restaurant that Joop and Carine raved about. It did not disappoint, and we left very satisfied.

On our final day on the island, we were lucky to have most of the day to do “last-minute” things. We left our things at our Airbnb and set off for the day- driving back to Goto Meer, this time with our zoom lens. I could have spent the whole morning watching and snapping photos of the flamingos, but we had more on our list!

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We drove back through Kralendijk, stopping for one last gelato and so that I could finally stop into an adorable shop whose windows I had peered in many times, but we had never been able to make it in during their opening hours. With a few extra souvenirs and our sweet tooth satisfied, we rounded back around to the other end of the island to enjoy the sunshine at Jibe City. We enjoyed lunch there, but mostly just soaked up the sun in their colourful beach chairs.

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All too soon it was time to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts and this beautiful island. We were so grateful for the experience of living and learning from locals who have called Bonaire home for many years. Staying in a “private room” Airbnb had proven to be a huge success on this trip.

We returned out rental car and were dropped off at the airport. It felt like we were leaving a piece of our hearts behind, but this was one place that we were sure we would return to one day!

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Discovering Bonaire at Buddy Dive Resort

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Bon Bini Na Bonaire (Welcome to Bonaire)!

Welcome to Bonaire!

Thanks to a surprise flight change by Insel Air, we (okay, I) was giddily bouncing around the Flamingo International Airport by 8 in the morning. We had just spent a glorious week on Curacao, but were SO excited to see what Bonaire had in store for us. The smallest of the three islands known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire), Bonaire is actually an Antilles of the Netherlands, rather than a country of its own. With under 20,000 permanent resident, and the cutest little airport you’ll ever see, we had a feeling we were about to fall in love.

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We were picked up at the airport by an employee of Caribe Car Rental, with whom we had rented a small car for the week. We were in and out of the rental office with great ease and were on our way to soak up the island sun!

The only problem was…it wasn’t even 8:30 in the morning yet, and we weren’t expected to check into our Resort until 3:00 that afternoon. We decided to give early check-in a shot.

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It didn’t work out. They were unable to check us in until the pre-determined 3:00. So, tired and weary, we decided to hang out in our rental car in the resort parking lot. That decision served us well, as soon after we had hooked up to the resort wifi and reclined our seats, a down pour ensued. It was more of a ferocious rain than any we had experienced while on Curacao, lasting a solid 30 minutes or more. It was just fine by us to wait it out in our Kia. We napped, planned, and soaked up the wifi until we decided to go and find a bite to eat.

As it was a Sunday, and New Years Eve, the centre of Kralendijk was pretty quiet, with the majority of the shops and restaurants closed. We came across Boudoir, a cute little cafe with outdoor seating. We ordered two different styles of club sandwiches, both described as “toast towers,” one with chicken, egg, bacon, tomato, cucumber and mayo, and the other with smoked salmon and homemade egg salad. They were A LOT to handle, but were so delicious. We decided if we came back later in the week we could easily split one sandwich between the two of us!

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We were also lucky enough to be informed of what the Dutch enjoy as a New Years treat each year, oliebollen. The AirBnb hosts that we would later be staying with on Bonaire had sent us an email encouraging us to try this traditional dish. We were grateful for that tip as we would have otherwise never noticed or indulged in this delicious, deep-fried, doughy, apple-filled tradition.

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We spent some time after our brunch wandering around the downtown area of Kralendijk. As mentioned, it was very quiet, as Sunday’s are traditionally family-days on Bonaire and limited businesses are open.

After the fairly short tour of the quaint and colourful downtown and boardwalk area, we headed back to Buddy Dive Resort to check out the property’s on-site dive shop, where we had a dive booked for the following day. By this time, it was close to 2:00, which is when Buddy Dive does their mandatory orientation talk with future divers. Because Bonaire’s surrounding water is a protected National Marine Park, this orientation is required before divers enter the water. We were carefully instructed on the importance of caring for the marine life found right off the shores of this beautiful island. The overall message is to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but bubbles.

One thing that surprised us was that even though we had “booked-in” for a one-tank boat dive via the Buddy Dive website/email, we were told when we got there that we better go and look at the board to see if there was room for us on a boat the next day. Apparently, booking online isn’t a guarantee for the time you want. This information was a bit unsettling as we were only staying at the resort for two nights and would have limited opportunities to do a dive with them. I can see how this system would be sufficient for many guests of Buddy Dive Resort, who likely are staying for a minimum of a week. These guests would enjoy the flexibility of being able to sign-up for boat dives at their leisure, up to three days in advance. For us, it caused a moment of panic, but we were lucky to snag the last two spots of the limited number of dive boats that would head out on New Years Day.

The next morning, we were very excited to do the required “check-dive” on the Buddy House Reef. This dive allows divers to check their tanks and weights before heading off to do shore-dives on their own, and is recommended for divers before going on a boat-dive trip or going solo shore diving. I was very nervous about diving without a dive-master guide, but Travis was more confident, and with a rented dive-computer to let us know our time under the water, we geared up on the docks of Buddy Dive and splashed our way down the steps into our first solo dive.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a small turtle as soon as we descended along the wall of the reef. I wish I would have waited there and spent some more time watching it, but we had a plan to swim along the reef for a certain number of minutes before turning back, and I didn’t want to mess with the plan.

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It was pretty invigorating to come up from our first solo dive with just the right amount of time logged, and more than enough air left over. We knew from that moment that we were going to love diving in Bonaire.

Later that afternoon, we boarded one of Buddy Dive’s five dive boats (we were lucky to secure the last two spots on the boat the day before). We had a group of about 10 divers and only one dive master, who was very quiet and I never did catch his name. Luckily, the boat captain was the one who did our dive briefing, and he did enough talking for everyone on the boat! He did a fantastic job of giving us not only a thorough description of our dive plan, but also shared with us the interesting history behind the dive site he chose for us, Carl’s Hill. We both really appreciate receiving as much information about our dive plan as we can, so for us this is always what makes a dive company stand out.

After another exciting dive where we got to hang around with several lion fish, a lobster, a weary puffer fish, and so many more beautiful fish of the sea, we hit the streets of Bonaire again so that I would have an opportunity to take some photos before the sun set on yet another fantastic day in paradise.

We wandered around until dark, then began attempting to find a place for dinner. Our first few stops in the downtown area where quite full, so we continued on walking down Kaya Grandi to the Japanese Fusion Restaurant, Osaka. We ordered a variety of rolls and each one seemed better than the last! It was a deliciously fresh meal and we were happy with our last-minute choice. We finished off the night with another walk back down Kaya Grandi and a stop at GIO’s Gelateria and Caffe for some mouth-watering gelato.

The morning of our third day, we wanted to soak up as much of the resort lifestyle as we could, as we were due to check out at noon. We were up early to return our gear to the onsite rental shop at 8 am (we didn’t return from the boat until just before 5, when the rental shop closes down, and we knew we wouldn’t be penalized if we decided to return it in the morning). After our panged goodbye to the Buddy Dive Shop, we spent some time lounging around our room, grateful for the comfortable space we had enjoyed for the last two nights. Once we’d had enough lounging inside, we moved outdoors. We decided to check out the resort’s second pool area for what was left of our morning. Have I mentioned how amazing the lounge chairs are at this resort? It might seem silly, but they were one of the highlights of the resort for me!

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We soaked up every last sandy moment we could before checking out of Buddy Dive Resort. We prepared a quick lunch in our kitchenette before checking out just a couple of minutes past noon. Our next stop was an Airbnb we had booked months in advance…

 

Stay tuned to read about the rest of our week in Diver’s Paradise!

 

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Isle de Ometepe

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After crossing the Nicaraguan border from Costa Rica, we headed straight to Isle de Ometepe (Ometepe Island). This island is in the countries biggest body of water, Lake Nicaragua, and is formed of two large volcanoes connected by a flat and narrow piece of land.

We had our taxi ($35) drop us off right at the ferry yard in San Jorge, and had time to buy some snacks and use the washroom after purchasing our ferry passes ($10). When we got to the ferry there were only seats left below the deck. The seats were long benches like pews in a church, and the ride was very rough. I spent the 30 minutes ride with my head between my knees hoping that I wouldn’t get sick to my stomach. I made it!

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We didn’t have solid plans for once we arrived to the island. I had read about San Jose Del Sur, Moyogalpo, and Merida and thought we would see what the first two areas were like before deciding wether we wanted to head to the much quieter and secluded area of Merida.

It must have been the fatigue, but for some reason when we got to the island and found out there was a “chicken bus” immediately leaving for Merida, we jumped on ($2) without much thought or consideration. At the time I don’t think we realized that it would be a two hour bus ride and that about half the trip would be on unpaved road. It was a very long drive but at least we were happy to have some snacks and cool drinks that we had picked up before the bus left the docks.

When we finally made it to Merida it was very easy to find the hostel I had read about online, Hacienda Merida. It was easy because there was essentially nothing around except one little restaurant, a school, a little shop or two, and some hostels and small hotels. We were very secluded.

We were happy, however, to get a private room  for $25 a night, and to be able to enjoy a dinner prepared for us right at the hostel just in time to enjoy the sun setting over beautiful Lake Nicaragua. It was a nice ending to a very long day.

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Our next mistake on Ometepe came the next morning. We were up early to get ready to take the chicken bus back towards town, but during breakfast we decided we would rent bikes from the little shop up the road. These bikes were far from state-of-the-art. And the roads? Oh, the roads. They were rough, to say the least. Here’s a look:

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It was impossible to avoid these large rocks, and therefore the ride was very bumpy. It didn’t take long for the journey to become uncomfortable. It did, however, take a long time to get where we were going. We stopped briefly to look at some petroglyphs, which was mediocrely interesting, and then a couple of more times just to give our bodies a break and get some water. After two hot, sweaty, and painful hours, we finally reached our destination- Ojo de Agua natural springs pool.

We spent a couple of hours here splashing in the cool water. There was a rope swing and a slack line over the water. The pools were refreshing, but the cement bottom was rough and definitely had some algae on it. We ate lunch at the on-site restaurant. It was a plain and simple meal, as good as it seemed to get for our short visit to this island.

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We certainly weren’t looking forward to our return trip, but didn’t have much of an option so set off back on the road. The journey back was no better than the ride there. It ended up taking us 6 hours for the whole journey.

When we got back to Hacienda Merida we took a bit of time to relax and enjoy the many hammocks around the hostel. We tried to go out in the kayaks that the Hostel has, but were told it was too windy. We decided to have an early dinner, and shortly after the lake became a bit calmer. We quickly grabbed a two-person kayak and headed out towards the sunset. Being on the water, looking out over Ometepe, and watching the sunset was our favourite experience from our time on the Island.

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That night was our last night on Ometepe. The next morning we were up early again to catch the 8:30 (8:50) bus back to the ferry. That was another interesting experience but luckily we had made it almost back to the docks before the bus broke down for the final time, and were easily able to walk the rest of the way. We caught the 12:00 ferry and waved good-bye to this unique little island.

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Crossing the Border Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

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We were unable to book transportation into Nicaragua at our hostel in Costa Rica because the shuttle service needed a minimum of four passengers before it would operate. Because we wanted to get on with the next chapter of our travel, we decided to chance public transportation on our own.

Foolowing the instructions from the receptionist at our hostel, which I finally asked her to write down after getting her to confirm twice, we left our hostel in Arenal at 5:30 in the morning (sorry to our dorm mates). We went to the Super Mega grocery store in town, and just down the street we found the bus stop. We had a bit of a wait here, and at 6:30 we caught a bus to Tonque ($2 per person). It was only about a 15 minute ride. When we got off the bus in Tonque, we crossed the street and waited at another bus stop for the 7:15 bus which would take us to the Penas Blancas border crossing ($8 per person).

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We got off the first bus where the person is on their bike, and this picture is taken from the bus stop where we were waiting for the 7:15 bus to Penas Blancas border crossing. 

This was a very long journey. The bus seats were hard plastic and the bus ride was 5 hours long. We had one bathroom break at a road side stop where there was also food available.

When we got to the border crossing we were a bit overwhelmed. We gathered our packs and followed the crowd of people going to pay their exit fees. There were lots of people trying to tell us where to go and I am not sure if they were all trustworthy. We kept our heads down and made it to the lineups where we paid an $8 exit fee per person. Now we had to try and figure out what was next. We headed back across the road and finally decided to go into the building and fill out our paper work, then get in line.

From here we walked across the border and were bombarded by people wanting to help us. One man just wouldn’t leave us alone and insisted on staying by our side. We had to pay our entrance fee of $13 per person at a small hut, and then take a piece of paper into another building that was almost like airport security. Finally, escorted by our “helper” we were outside again and being put into a cab. He wanted a lot of money from us, and we eventually settled on a much smaller price for his “help” then he originally demanded. I am not sure how to avoid these people, but if you can it will save you a few bucks and a lot of hassle.

Once we were in our taxi we were able to settle down from the excitement/anxiety of crossing the border. We paid $35 to be driven to the San Jorge ferry docks. We found the ticket office there and paid $10 for our tickets. We had a bit of time to get a snack while we waited for the ferry.

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It was a short but tumultuous ferry ride over. We were seated in the lower part of the boat and it was a head-between-your-legs kind of trip. Once we got across we almost immediately caught a bus ($1) which would take us around the island to the small town of Merida.

Overall, the process of crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was quite smooth. It certainly cost a fraction of what it would have to pay a travel agency to escort us across. If you are for comfort and ease, don’t go this route. If you are more interested in getting to Nicaragua on the cheap- try it! I feel like if we can do it, anyone can! Good luck.

Pin for later!

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Tourist Adventures in Arenal, Costa Rica

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We flew into the Arenal National Park area of Costa Rica from Bocas Del Toro, Panama via Nature Air. The travel time was a little over 5 hours, partly because our flight out of Bocas was over an hour late. We thought the plane we boarded in Bocas was small, but after a brief stopover in San Jose, we boarded an even smaller plane for the final lag of the journey! It was a shakey flight but we made it safe and sound. From the Arenal airport we took a taxi ($15US) to our hostel- Arenal Backpackers Resort.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we checked into the hostel ($15/p.p for a bed in a shared dorm). Luckily we were close enough to the downtown area that we could walk into the center and stroll around. We settled in for supper at Lava Lounge Bar and Grill where we enjoyed a Santa Fe Wrap and a pasta dish, as well as a pitcher of Sangria.

When we got back to the hostel we booked our tours for the next day ($300 US) through the reception and hung out in the lobby which had a very comfortable atmosphere, complete with bar tables and couch-style loungers. Arenal Backpackers Resort has a restaurant and bar which offers up tasty treats and delicious drinks.

The next morning we were up early to get the shuttle from our hotel to join our Pure Trek Canyoning tour.

The shuttles dropped us off so we could board the back of the trucks pictured above. It was a bumpy but fun ride up the volcano. Once we got to the top we were outfitted with the safety equipment we required and taught everything we needed to know in order to have a safe morning on canyoning. And before we knew it- we were doing it! The tour took us down 3 waterfalls and one rock wall. There was also one point where we had to do a Monkey Drop, which was a zip-line through the air followed by a quick, yet controlled, drop to the ground.

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Once we had made our way through the rainforest we were transported back into Arenal where we enjoyed a lunch prepared by Pure Trek staff. At that time we were able to purchase a CD with all of the pictures from the morning ($25US). Then we were dropped off back at our Hostel.

We had just enough time to enjoy a relaxing few moments in the hammocks at Arenal Backpackers before being picked up for our second adventure of the day.

This time, we were off for a zip-lining adventure with a tour company I cannot remember the name of. We did 12 zip-lines, with one of them being almost 1000 m long, and very high up over a waterfall. It was terrifying, yet exhilarating, like all good adventure is.

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After just one full day of adventure we had to get ready to move on the next morning. We were heading to Nicaragua, and unfortunately were unable to book transportation due to their requirement of having at least 4 people booked. We were ready for an early morning adventure trying to find our way into Nicaragua using Public Transit!

Check out a video of our zip-line adventures here, and a video of canyoning here.

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Discovering Bocas Del Toro

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After crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panama, we were picked up by a tour company booked through Gecko Trail and continued on our way to Bocas Del Toro. We had a short wait in a small port town, and then were loaded onto a boat and off we went to the Islands themselves! We were lucky to have smooth waters for our transfer to the Islands, which took around 40 minutes.

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We arrived at Bocas Del Toro’s main Island without any booked accommodations so we set off to find our home away from home first thing.

Not surprisingly, it was hard to find accommodations. We ended up staying in Hostel Heike, which was one of the hostels we had looked into before arriving. As far as hostels go, this one was just fine. The only availabilities were two beds in a ten-bed dorm, and while it was fine, we did try to find different accommodations for our second night, but didn’t have any luck.  Hostel Heike was a very busy place and there were always a lot of guests trying to use the very tiny kitchen, including in the morning when we tried to make our “complimentary breakfast” which meant a big batch of pancake mix that you made yourself whenever you could get a turn.

Overall, for $15 it was a good place to stay and was on par for most of the hostels we’d experienced in Central America.

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The view from the top bunk

 

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On the third day we were able to find accommodations at Isla Chica, which was a bit more expensive but we had a private room with AC and our own bathroom. It felt like paradise.

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What did we do in Bocas?

We went diving!

Travis was already PADI certified prior to this trip, so I had some catching up to do! Before leaving home, I completed part of the course by signing up for PADI Open Water Diver online.  I did some research using Trip Advisor and by sifting through numerous blogs, and decided to contact La Buga Dive and Surf. Because their responses were both timely and friendly, I felt confident in booking with La Buga to get my PADI certification.

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La Buga’s Dive Boat

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I spent the morning of our first day learning and reviewing in a “classroom setting” (aka sitting on the dock outside of the dive shop) and then we did two dives our first day. My instructor was the owner, Tony, and it was a wonderful experience. I was quite nervous the first time we went under water, and to be honest I only lasted a few moments before going back to the surface. Once I was back above the water, Tony joined me and was both reassuring and comforting. He offered a few extra tips, and then we were able to go back down and complete the first several tasks necessary for certification.

La Buga has a huge boat for going to and from dive sights (the the photo above), and all the staff were there to assure you were safe and having a great time. I would highly recommend diving with La Buga Dive Shop while you are in Bocas, and if you aren’t already, it’s a great place to become PADI certified. After three dives on the second day, I was a certified Open Water Diver!

 

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Now I am a PADI certified Open Water Diver!!

Where we ate:

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Excellent breakfast and coffee selections

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We stopped here for snacks and ice cream

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A great meal at El Ultimo Refugio

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La Bugita is the restaurant attached to La Buga. It has great meal options for any time of day.

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Great Tacos!

We also took a tour to Starfish Beach (we paid to go on a private boat). It was later in the afternoon on the day we went, and we completely missed the crowds, but unfortunately we missed the Starfish as well! We only saw one, which was still pretty cool.

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We actually ended up leaving Bocas for a couple of nights to visit another area of Panama, and then returning for a couple of days before flying back to Costa Rica right from Bocas Airport. We had a great exploring other parts of Panama, but to be honest I think we both would have been happy to stay longer and enjoy more of what the Bocas Del Toro Islands have to offer! It’s already on our list of places to return…someday!

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Reasons to Love Waterton Lakes National Park

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Last June (2015) we took our first trip to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. We loved it so much we ended up going back again this summer. Here’s what brought us back a second time, and why we are sure to return again in the near future:

1. The Views from the Townsite:

 

The town of Waterton itself is uniquely beautiful, the way it is nestled into the mountains that have been sculpted by years of ice, wind, and water. It is a small townsite and is easy to walk the entire town to catch the views from every angle.


2. The Campsites

 

Our first time here, we stay right in the Park, at the beautiful Crandell Mountain Campground. It is a beautiful campsite, and since we were there in early June, we had it almost to ourselves. The downside would be that there are no showers at this campground, but you can drive the 5 minutes into the townsite and use the showers at the Townsite Campground.

We went in July (busy season) this summer, and because camping at Crandell cannot be booked ahead of time, when we arrived there later at night, they were full. We were very lucky to find a campsite at Waterton Springs Campground, which is just a five minute drive outside the park. We had opportunities to camp inside the park after our first night, but we were very happy with what Waterton Springs Campground had to offer, so we decided to stay there for all five nights.


3. Hiking

I am not sure how many trips to Waterton Lakes National Park it would take to accomplish even half of the hikes that they have to offer. Here are a few of the highlights of the ones we have enjoyed:

Crypt Lake Trail-

This is a day hike (6 hours). You have to take a boat to the trail head, and wait for the boat return once you have finished. It is 17 km long and is considered a Double Black Diamond trail. We would definitely agree that it is a difficult hike- lots of elevation gain, but mostly the intense travers along the narrow ledge had are hearts seriously pounding.

Red Rock Canyon Parkway-

This is a short 20 minute hike that allows for views of this beautiful red rock canyon (just like the name says)!

Blakiston Falls-

Another gentle hike, this one is 2 km and takes about 45 minutes. It offers several lookout points to admire the Blakiston Falls.

 

The Bear’s Hump-

A short, but strenuous, climb that offers beautiful views of the Waterton Townsite.


4. It’s an International Peace Park

We were able to cross International Waters upon the M.V. International, which is the oldest boat still operating in Canada. Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company offers a 2 hour scenic tour. You are able to disembark the M.V. International when it arrives at the Ghost Haunt port. If you do disembark, you will find yourself in Glacier National Park, Montana. Here you have several options for hiking.  After passing through border customs (and receiving an awesome stamp in our passports!) we chose to take the Ghost Haunt Overlook Trail. It was a fairly intense climb, but not overly difficult. Unfortunately, the weather turned on us and rather than enjoying a second hike, we huddled into a gazebo to hide from the hail storm.


5. Other Activities

Like Geocaching!

 And Watching the Buffalo Roam

…and Eating!

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6. It can be a Starting Point for Continued Adventures

We had our motorcycles with us and it was just a few hours drive down into Montana and the Eastern entrance of Glacier National Park. There, we experienced the gorgeous Going to the Sun Road.


Overall, Waterton Lakes National Park has stolen a special place in our hearts. Even on a busy July weekend when the park was near capacity, it was still a peaceful and friendly place to be. The quiet beauty beckons us to keep coming back again and again. Until next time…

 

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Crossing the Border from Costa Rica to Panama

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One of my biggest concerns when preparing for our trip to Central America was crossing the borders between countries. Neither guide books nor blogs made it seem like it would be a smooth operation. I was worried about spending too much money, getting tricked into paying someone who wasn’t an official border agent, and basically just about getting lost!

Because I was feeling nervous about it we decided to book our transportation through Gecko Trail. They picked us up at our hostel in Puerto Viejo and drove us to the border crossing at Sixaola. Here’s what happened:

1.We got out of the van and waited in a short line up to pay our Costa Rica exit fee ($16US)

2.We got our bags out of the van, climbed up a small hill, and got into a line up at the Costa Rican custom building. Here we filled out our exit cards and handed them over along with our passports to get them stamped.

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Looking Back to the Costa Rica border

3. Next we walked over a fairly long bridge, and immediately waited in another line up to pay the Panama entrance fee ($6US).

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Walking the bridge between the borders.

4.Up until this point everything was fairly easy. Once we paid the entrance fee, finding the next stop was a bit more tricky. There were quite a few locals standing around, greeting us and pointing this way and that way. We were a little bit leery about who to trust, but we ended up taking a left and going down a big set of stairs, continuing on in the same direction, and then coming across this:

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Panama Migration Services

Here we waited quite awhile to get our passports stamped. When we paid our entrance fee we were given a tiny little piece of paper. Don’t loose this! You will need it when you get here.

5. From here, we went back in the same direction we had come from, back up the stairs again and then down the opposite side to the bus stop. Because we had arranged transfer with Gecko Trail, we luckily didn’t have to wait long before our bus arrived and we were on our way to Bocas.

The worst part of the whole border crossing was probably just dealing with the heat and our heavy bags! Confidence is key, as well as being prepared to ask questions and trust people. Why I would still recommend using a transfer company would be because with a company you do not have to wait for public transport which is sometimes sporadic and unreliable. I wouldn’t have wanted to wait around in the heat much longer than we had to.

The shuttle also ensures that you arrive at the town of Almirante and get dropped off right at a boat dock to take you to the Bocas islands. Public transit would drop you off at a bus stop and you would walk to the docks, having to wait for the next boat to come.

Overall, public transit is a lot more affordable. You will spend a lot of money if you pay a transport company, but it may be worth it if you are looking for piece of mind, reliability, and move from place to place as efficiently as possible.

 

 

What I Loved About Puerto Viejo

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We arrived to Puerto Viejo in February of 2016. We came from Tortuguero (see how we got here at the end of this post), so we were in a shuttle bus that was willing to drive us around until we found available accommodation. We had our heart set on a private room at Hostel Pagalu but unfortunately they had no private rooms available, just a couple of beds in a dorm room. While we were trying to decide if we should take the dorm beds, another guest came and was basically waiting for us to decide if we were taking the last beds or not, so we decided to try another place. We were disappointed because Pagalu looked like a great place.

After humouring our driver and looking at a place that he recommended, we asked him to take us to La Ruka. It definitely had a unique vibe, and they had a private room available. We scooped it up and after our bus left us behind and they showed us to our room. To be honest, it had many of the characteristics of your typical hostel, like the door that looked like it had been kicked in, and the teeny, outdated bathroom. We decided to make the best of it though, and went back downstairs to rent bikes that La Ruka has right on site.

We spent the late afternoon cycling around Puerto Viejo and hanging out on the beautiful beaches.

 

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La Ruka Hostel

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An evening at the beach

We went to KOKi beach for supper later that night. It’s funky decor and ambiance had immediately attracted me to the place, and the food and drinks made us love it even more! This would be a great spot for a beachside meal anytime of day, or a cool place to hang out in either the afternoon or evenings for drinks or coffee.

The next morning we woke up with a plan. We were heading to Jaguar Rescue Center. We got up early and went to a nearby Soda for a quick breakfast, and then made the ten minute bike ride to the Rescue Center. We were there a little before it’s 9:00 opening and there was already a crowd. We waited near the back of the bunch, and when they opened the gates at 9:00 we got to…wait in line behind everyone else to pay the $20 per person. Once everyone had paid, they split us into two tour groups, and away we went.

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La Ruka

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La Ruka

I loved the Jaguar Rescue Center. It was so worth the $40 because you know your touristy-money is going right to the animals. Almost all of the people “working” at the Center are volunteers, so you are surrounded by these kind-hearted people who care so much about the animals. Admittedly, I am a huge softy, but the compassion and commitment to the animals of some of the volunteers brought tears to my eyes. Here’s a few of the animals who were being rehabilitated during our visit:

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After we went to the Rescue Center we continued on down the narrow highway and had a wonderful afternoon hopping from beach to beach to enjoy the sun, sand, and sea.

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When we pulled into one beach area we saw a group of monkeys up in the trees above us. It was such a great afternoon and is one of our favourite memories from our whole trip.

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The fun and easiness of this day was exactly what we had hoped for on our holiday, and made us fall in love with Puerto Viejo.

Puerto Viejo has a lot of cool shops that we spent a lot of time browsing in and out of. It is a small and well laid out city and if you rent bikes it is so easy to get around. There are also lots of cool bars and restaurants that you can stop in for a drink or two or a bite to eat. It is so easy to see why people love it here. It was one of the highlights of our trip and a stop we would recommend to anyone traveling to Costa Rica.

 

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