The sun rose over the tall steep peaks of the Andes Mountains and from the top, the greenery of each mountain fell almost straight down into the winding valley below, forever being cut by the river. There were only a few distant clouds covering one peak miles away and with a cool temperature fit for a long sleeve t-shirt, we could tell this was going to be a gorgeous day. We trekked along the top of one of the mountain peaks, slowly came to the top, and looked down into the near distance. There it was, resting perfectly on a mountain in between two towering peaks that looked down on it as guardians would. We had finally made it to Machu Picchu! Continue reading
Category Archives: Peru
We arrived in Cusco at 8:00 am Saturday, excited to experience the Andean culture of Peru, but completely exhausted, sick, and experiencing mild altitude sickness. It was only an hour flight from Lima, and not enough time to make up for the lack of sleep we got the night before. Luckily, our room at Hospedaje Kuntur Wasi was ready and we immediately crashed for a few hours. Cusco is located at approximately 11,500 feet, and as our guidebook says, the altitude has to be treated with respect. The fact that we (me about 1 hour, Nick about 3) had very little sleep and have colds, probably didn’t help, but after some rest, Dramamine, and coca tea we were feeling much better. The only other thing we needed to do was get some warmer clothes so we walked down to the San Blas Plaza by our hostel to purchase some alpaca sweaters and leg warmers from the market.
I’m in love with my leg warmers! They add the perfect amount of warmth underneath my lightweight pants. Tomorrow we start exploring this colorful Spanish-built city in the Andes, but now a recap on our time in Lima. Continue reading
So we arrived in Lima last night and decided not to back pack anymore, and stay in Hilton hotels instead. Oh yeah.
Kidding! Because Nick is a corporate/charter pilot, one of the perks is racking up hotel rewards points when he is on the road. Nick had the forethought to begin saving up his Hilton points 3 years ago, and has acquired enough for us to stay in Hilton hotels for about 7 nights throughout the year. We chose to use our first night in Lima and it was amazing. Like Christmas as kid. Like winning the lottery. Like getting your dream car. Like…well you get the idea. When we pulled up to the hotel in the taxi last night we felt so out of place with our dirty back packs and uncool clothes. We were afraid that at any minute they were going to kick us out and call us frauds. We managed to pull it off, and instead of kicking us out, we were offered a warm chocolate chip cookie, an upgraded room, access to the Executive Lounge, free water, and two free welcome drinks. The bellman even took our bags up to the room for us, despite Nick’s offer to take them (I had to remind him that we don’t have to do that here). After the bellman left us in the room, we literally jumped up and down, hugging each other and doing the happy dance. It’s been an awesome 24 hours and we might as well be at the Four Seasons. It will be hard to leave this afternoon and return to the back packing world, but now we are even more excited about staying in the Hilton in Cape Town for my birthday. We will be in Peru for about 2 weeks, but now a re-cap of Panama.
We spent a week in Panama- 5 days in Bocas del Toro, and 2 days in Panama City. In Bocas del Toro, we stayed in Bocas Town, the largest town in the archipelago. Bocas del Toro has been called ‘the Galapagos of the 21st century’ and we can see why. Much of the archipelago is untouched, and you definitely feel like you are separated from civilization. You have a beautiful mountain view of the mainland, while the islands are flat, with nice beaches, great snorkel spots, dolphins, starfish, homes on stilts, mangroves, and a noticeable Caribbean influence. Bocas Town itself does not have much to offer in the way of natural activities, but is the base for exploring the rest of the islands. The town has everything you need- lodging, restaurants, tours, transportations, etc. We stayed in a neighborhood instead of the center of town, which turned out to be a good idea. It was a little quieter, and we got free bikes included with our stay.
Most of our time in Bocas was spent biking around town and hanging out at our hotel, Panama’s Paradise Saigoncito. We had a nice porch with free hummingbird entertainment and hammocks. While we were there, we met two Swiss ladies who took a similar journey when they were our age in the 1970′s. Instead of spending a year around the world, they just did Latin America, and it was really cool chatting with them about their experience. They were so excited for us, and reassured us that we would never regret this experience, that it will stay with us for the rest of our lives as it has for them. It is always great to hear from other people who have done a similar trip, especially people of a different generation. Although we already know, the reinforcement that we are doing the right thing is comforting. Plus, hearing stories about two Swiss ladies illegally scaling the fence at Machu Picchu to get in ahead of the tourist hoards is pretty hilarious.
While in Bocas, we also did do a tour with Transparente Tours where we took a boat from Bocas Town to Dolphin Bay, Crawl Cay, Red Frog Beach, and Hospital Point. The whole tour went from 9:30-4 and was pretty enjoyable. The snorkeling was pretty good, the coral and tropical fish were abundant- we saw a Moray eel, jellies, sea slugs, anenomes, and sea urchins as well. Red Frog beach was really pretty, and the first beach with calm waters and soft golden sand we have been on in a while. It is also the only the habitat in the world with the poisonous red dart frog. Our last day in Bocas we planned to go to Bocas del Drago, another beach area you can reach by bus, but it poured all day.
From Bocas, we took an overnight bus from Almirante to Panama City, which took 9.5 hours. As usual for overnight buses, we were exhausted when we arrived in Panama City at 4:30am, and when we got to our hostel Mamallena, our room was not available yet. They kindly let us crash in one of the dorms until our private room was available, for which we were very grateful. Sleeping on the overnight buses is challenging, as they stop every once in a while and turn the lights on, and often drive erratically which keep me from falling into a deep sleep.
Panama City was a nice change, as it is the only cosmopolitan city in Central America. It is the first time we saw skyscrapers since we started traveling, and felt more like the US than anywhere else we have been. It is a stark contrast to the rest of Panama, which seemed extremely poor. The city is an international banking and finance center, and therefore relatively wealthy and the only city in Panama with a middle class. We spent one day walking around the city, and ventured in the old town section, Casco Viejo, for dinner. Caso Viejo has only recently been renovated, and is a great area to get a sense of colonial Panama. The streets are narrow and brick paved, with plazas, restaurants, and bars dotted throughout.
The next day, we went to the canal. On the recommendation of the hostel, we went to the Miraflores locks, about 30 minutes from the city center. The canal is well worth the visit, and though I wouldn’t call it the most exciting attraction I have ever seen, the impact it has had on the world and on Panama makes it a sight to see. Even though I know little to nothing about engineering, it was pretty amazing to learn about how the locks work, and what it takes to get the ships through the canal, which takes an average of 8 hours to traverse. The Miraflores locks are a good place to visit because it has a very nice visitors center with a theater, museum, cafe, and viewing area.
After we made it back to the city, we went to the cheap shopping district on Via Espana in search of some warm jackets in preparation for our trip to South America. Nick forgot his jacket in Florida, and I left mine on the bus in Guatemala, so we decided to scout out the cheap markets in Panama City. It was an interesting experience to say the least- as per usual, all the shops have security but these not only have security, they make you check your shopping bags in at a desk, and when you try clothes on they send you into the dressing room first without your clothes, then pat down the clothes outside the room to make sure you haven’t hidden anything in them to steal. They then pass the clothes over the door to you one by one. Needless to say, we both found jackets and I even picked up a Charlotte Russe shirt for $3.99.
Overall, we give Panama a thumbs up even though we only saw a very small portion of the country. For about the next 6 weeks, we’ll be in South America and we’re looking forward to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicacca, La Paz, and the wine country of Argentina, just to name a few highlights.
Freeman Fun Fact on Traveling: Bus from Bocas del Toro (Almirante) to Panama City
All of our travel information has been found fairly easy on the internet. However, there are a few travel questions that have been slightly more difficut than other to find the answers to. And even when we find the answer online, it can be quite vague. One such question was information on the overnight bus running from Bocas del Toro to Panama City. So Rachel and I are going to explain to you future travels how it is done, just in case you were wondering.
You can fly from Bocas del Toro to Panama City for about $120. This was the price we found for mid October 2011. Therefore, we opted for the adventurous way via an 9.5 hour overnight bus. The low cost of $27.80 also helped us make this decision. If you are in Bocas del Toro, you can purchase your bus ticket along with your 30 minute water taxi ticket to Almirante at Bocas Marine Tours which is located next to Bocas Water Sports. The bus departs daily at 8 am and 7 pm from Almirante. When you arrive in Almirante on the water taxi, take a short 2 minute taxi ride to the Almirante/Panama City bus terminal which is the size of a large gas station. The cost should be about $1 per person.You do NOT want to stay the night in Almirante.
The bus is a nice greyhound bus with reclining sets. It is notorious for being very cold inside. We did not find this to be the case, but for people who are not used to air conditioning like us Floridians, I can see why they would be freezing. Either way, bring something warm just in case.
The bus stopped twice around 815 pm and 1130 pm for food and drinks. You should have about 15 to 25 minutes at each stop, so no rush to get back on. Unlike most of the buses in Central America, this one did have a bathroom onboard. So drink all the water you want!
You will arrive at the bus terminal at the Albrook Mall in Panama City around 430 am. There are plenty of taxis waiting for you downstairs from where you are dropped. Make sure your hotel or hostel has someone there waiting for you since you will be arriving early morning.
And that’s how it is done! Feel free to email us anytime with any questions. We will gladly answer them if we can.