It was with a Robinson Crusoe attitude that we ventured into the Costa Rican jungle. Flooded with pictures of the beautiful, wild Caribbean coast (of Costa Rica and Panama), the trip was something we had been dreaming of for a while. We had gone there with guns blazing: we had decided that we would buy some land on the idyllic coast and build a villa. We felt like the pioneers of old.


In reality, the flooding aspect was accurate: we were presented with a coast of rain and a financial and attitudal battering from both Costa Ricans and Europeans alike. Almost overnight, the trip turned utterly Quixotic.


Let me explain:

Our preconceived notion of a relatively unexplored paradise had been influenced by blogs and visitors extolling the beauty of this corner of the world. In hindsight, the fact that there are only a couple of blogs like this should have set the caution bells ringing.

The first leg of the journey was a seamless flight from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro. The archipelago of islands is the stuff dreams are made of. Remote, tropical, as of yet relatively undiscovered…

The main town, Isla Colon, is where everyone arrives. It is the hub for the islands in terms of supplies and pretty much anything else. The first impression it gives is being akin to what some of the islands in the Bahamas were like some 20-odd years ago. A little shabby, but pleasant, it is the perfect departure point and clearly has potential.


Our arrival was marred by the blatant charlatanism of Hotel Laguna who double charged us for drinks. This kind of tourism shark practice – and attitude – is in fact symptomatic of the entire Caribbean coast from Bocas Del Toro to Limon.


Whilst we were displeased, to say the least, our drinks were fresh and of high quality. Our return to Isla Colon would present a culinary delight (without being swindled!): fresh, melt-in-your-mouth Octopus salad on a stilt restaurant at El Limbo on the Sea perching out onto the ocean….the good life.

From Isla Colon we were taken to the Red Frog Beach Resort. You can read our review of it here.

Red Frog Beach Resort’s proximity to the rest of Isla Bastimentos and neighbouring islands makes it an ideal departure point. The beautiful Zapatilla Island (Slipper Island) with its pristine, Starfish lined beaches is nothing short of idyllic. The attraction for many is Isla Bastimentos, the Old Town. Rugged, fantastical, mesmerising….arriving to Isla Bastimentos is like stepping into another world. Our initial impression was that of fascination.


We decided to meander towards coffee shop ‘Up On the Hill’ due to its stellar ratings on TripAdvisor. What a let down! The 30-odd minute climb, through all sorts of terrain (hilly, muddy, wild, uninhibited growth) was slightly ameliorated by being guided by the resident dog up the rather dubious path.

IMG_4245Up On the Hill is simply a paradise for old hippies. Not that that is a particularly enticing prospect. If you enjoy paying for overpriced drinks (pipa, coconut juice, is typically $1 a pop) and tid-bitts, it’s absolutely worth the trek. If you’re not partial to shabby-chic (more shabby than chic, frankly) surroundings and being extorted, give it a miss. There are plenty of bars serving $1 beers on the beachfront.

So we traversed the climb down….


Which led us to Bubba’s. Bubba’s House is a small, European-owned hostel on the waterfront. Whilst we didn’t visit the hostel itself, we did stay the better part of the evening in the bar area. This place was rocking! With fresh seafood and both lively and live music, this is definitely one of the hubs in town.


The following day we left for the Costa Rican coast. A final word on Bocas del Toro: whilst it may be the number one tourist destination in Panama, there are several things to consider. The lack of seafood was noted and this may be in part due to the raw sewage leaking into the sea. This might deter you from swimming there, too (Saigon Bay on Isla Colon is the worst offender). Whilst Bocas del Toro has a lot of potential, it also has a lot of problems.

These problems crossed the border into Costa Rica. Which leads us to part two.


Part Two

From Panama we entered into Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Our first stop was Cahuita where we stayed at the delightful Kelly Creek Hotel. Cahuita is a lazy, clean town bordering a National Park and the town has a great atmosphere late at night. The main street, lined with quirky bars and whatnots, creates a great sense of community between locals and tourists. Without a doubt, the best restaurant in town (although actually a good 5 minute walk out of town) is Sobre Las Olas. Read about it here.

We spent two pleasant days in Cahuita, drinking fresh coconuts and iced watermelon smoothies; little did we know that Cahuita was to be the only enjoyable aspect of our Costa Rican adventure.


Up next was Puerto Viejo, Old Town. We had done an abundant amount of research on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and Puerto Viejo, as one of the main towns, was something we had been looking forward to. We had images of some fantastical, little explored reggae town dancing in our mind, only to be confronted with a deadbeat town, full of shacks and dubious individuals. Only when back in the UK did we realise that we hadn’t any pictures of Puerto Viejo. Why? Frankly, because there isn’t anything to take a picture of. The only saving grace of Puerto Viejo is a little gelateria, Deelite, run by a squad of young Italians who might help you barter a fair price for a taxi if they’re around.

We had booked to stay at Hotel Formentera Playa. You can read about our stay here.

Needless to stay, it resembled a hostel rather than a hotel. Our next hotel, a string of casitas, which we had believed, in all sincerity, could only be better than the previous, was so dire it made us change our plans for the rest of the trip and we headed to San Jose the very day.

Our bad experience was exacerbated by the triple-fried nachos and some paltry, tasteless ‘guacamole’ at neighbouring Banana Azul….a bastardisation of all that is good and holy of Mexican food. The manager would send us several repeat emails over two days of ‘special offers’ (the same price when we enquired on the spot) to stay there, having said we were journalists.


A note on Puerto Viejo: it is the problem of developing countries, that they only look to immediate returns, rather than long-term prosperity. Our drive from Cahuita to Puerto Viejo – $2 should Uber exist there – cost us $20. The estate agents who we had engaged to show us land showed us only their ‘friend’s nice plot’ and not a single property we had requested. The properties they showed us were as high as $40 square-meter – something we smiled at wryly as we passed roadside signs advertising land for $4-$5 per square meter. It is the unwholsome attitude of squeezing as much money out of you as is possible that permeates every drop of humidity and C02 in Puerto Viejo. Sure, it is possible to bargain a price on everything – and if that’s your forte, then give it a shot – otherwise it’s just a fool’s paradise.

Hammocks for $90, which cost $5 in Colombia hang in shacks of a shop and men ogle you as you sit with an ice cream. Food is overpriced, packaged (only bananas, it seems are fresh), fried….beware of eating salads as it might be fertilised with human manure. Everybody’s in it to win something, and you are the low hanging-fruit for being lured to a place as desolate as it is dirty, with the expectation of some paradise that it never was.
We survived on doritos and coconuts for our two days there.


San Jose is up next and boy were we happy to be going. We had booked a hotel at Hotel and Suites Rincon de Valle. You can read about it here. The journey, about 5 hours with a 20 minute stop in Limon, is seamless. The only terrifying thing is driving through the National Park outside of San Jose at night. It is so foggy that the driver can literally see only a meter in front of him. Shut your eyes: you’ll arrive there safely.

The only irritating thing are the taxis who try to fleece you at the bus stop. They ask for $40 to take us down-town (Uber doesn’t connect at the bus station) and it is NOT metered. We scoffed at this (almost the cost of our hotel!) and managed to stumble upon a Police Station who informed us it was in fact a $4 ride (we ended up paying $6 after they had personally hailed one for us).


The next day we booked a flight to Guadalajara, determind to get out of Costa Rica. Luck would have it that, due to contruction work, we were stuck waiting in traffic for one hour.

Our airline, Volaris, had sent no information on this (as airlines at international airports often do). When we finally arrived at the airport, with 50 minutes till our flight’s departure, we arrived to find NOT A SINGLE EMPLOYEE at the Volaris desk. It took us a good ten minutes to find one only to get an unequivoal answer that they would not put us on that flight, despite only having hand luggage….
A sober reminder that this is not Europe! Any and every European country would do their utmost to put you on an international flight. In Costa Rica, they simply don’t care.

We went to the Volaris headquarters there to see the employees working hard….


We went back to speak to the manager as one of the employees promised to find us and speak to us….over an hour ago. We thanked him for the courteousness shown us. The result was they just laughed. I sincerely hope that Volaris read this – and our other print and digital publications – as frankly, in Europe, this kind of customer ‘service’ would result in the entire team being fired.

In short, we recommend ANY CARRIER BUT VOLARIS. Copa, for example, services the Americas excellently and it is with this superior airline that we took a flight to Panama and then Colombia, which was actual heaven compared to the dastardly habits of those in Costa Rica and the filth of the country. (I flew in with plans of creating a villa development; my flight out was with a vow to never return.)

Is this the definition of a developing country? I wonder. I’m firmly shutting down the lid on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast – and the rest of the country, for that matter.

Read about out connecting trip into the beautiful Colombia.


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