Time for our classic overview: we decided to mix the three countries (Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua) for comparison and more fun facts!
First things first, we loved our trip to Central America! The historical attractions are non-existent, but the nature and the culture are worth the trip.
It’s hot in Nicaragua!
Different in each country: Costa Rica is expensive ($6 to $7 dollars for the classic casado) compared to its neighbors (where a meal is around $3 to $4). The worst is actually the transportation cost: since the ground transportation system is not very optimized in Costa Rica, shuttle services can ask you for up to 50$ for a 3-hours ride. However, the local buses are fairly cheap but can easily take double time for the same trip, stopping ever 2 minutes to take/drop someone.
Relaxing time in Ometepe after travelling all day long
The food in Central America is mainly composed of rice, beans, chicken/beef/fish and plantain banana. The main dish in Costa Rica, the Casado, is a mix of the 4 and is usually really good.
Arthur ready for some horse-riding after a good Casado
Plantain banana is widely used: it can be fried, mashed, lightly cooked or deep-fried for banana chips (really good!). you can also find a variety of Latin dishes, such as nachos, ceviches, arroz con pollo/carne, etc.
Ever country also has its own local alcohol: mainly distilled from sugar cane, one drink Rum-Coke in Nicaragua and Panama and Guajo-Fresca in Costa Rica (Gin-like alcohol with a lemon-based soda). The beer industry is huge in Central America, and every country has only one main brand: pretty easy to choose at the bar!
“Coconut hunting” in Bocas, Panama
That’s the main strength of Central America: it’s various activities and natural attractions! The region is full of volcanoes (for hiking, volcano boarding, seeing active craters), waterfalls, awesome beaches and great surf spots both on the Pacific and Caribbean side. Forget about visiting a Mayan site or an old colonial city: instead, hop on a boat tour, follow the trail to an active volcano or stop at a secluded beach to drink coconut water under a palm tree.
Some fun facts:
- Weed weed! Cocaine! That’s the typical sound of the Weed-Man… he is easily spottable, riding its bike randomly along the street or standing in the corner. We were really impressed by the number of people selling drugs openly in the street, especially in Panama and Nicaragua. It rapidly became a game, asking them if they had Sprite instead of Coke!
Strange findings on Playa Grande, Montezuma, Costa Rica
This guy can change currencies, sell bus tickets, postcards and surely find some drugs
A bus in Nicaragua = a supermarket! you can buy anything (from snacks to socks) just remaining seated
- Scam time! Many Central Americans tried to scam us, with more or less success. We had the taxi driver trying to change the price at the end (adding $1 or $2), the restaurant doubling the check because “it was not what’s on the menu, but something more expensive”, or even the border agent asking for some money for stamping the passports back (Arthur experienced that at border Panama-Costa Rica because he had an emergency passport. He didn’t fall for it). Needless to say, we’ve been used to these kinds of scams and avoided most of them.
My face when someone is trying to scam me…
- Strangely, they speak better English in Panama or Nicaragua than in Costa Rica. Many locals only speak Spanish, so we had to work on our Spanish after 2 years of non-practice.
As you can see, we had a great time in Central America! Also, we didn’t get to check out some countries that seem amazing too (Colombian and Guatemala) but that’s yet another reason for coming back!