Central America from Costa Rica to Mexico 1998

7th February 1998 - London to San Jose

.A long flight with an hour or so stop over in Miami so I can sort of say I've been to the US.

8th February 1998 - San Jose

Met up with the tour and had a couple of hours around San Jose. Not much of interest, just another city. Big wide streets and fairly quiet on a Sunday. But it's also dirty and I can only imagine how hectic and polluted it is on a weekday.

9th February 1998 - Monte Verde

Left San Jose early evening headed for The Monteverde Rainforest. On the way stopped at some hot springs. Lazed in the hot spa and all the stress of the last few days drained away. We left tired and light-headed from the steam and finally hit our beds after mid-night.

Spent the next day in the Rainforest. The morning following the Sky Walk, which as described on http://www.skywalk.co.cr/eng/index.html

'SKY WALK is a combination of suspension bridges and platforms built in the cloud forest, that offers an opportunity to explore the forest canopy in a safe and easy manner. SKY WALK allows a vision of the forest from a different perspective which starts with a walk on the ground through the forest, and takes you up to explore the tops of the trees.'

Personally I found it too sterile and US tourist orientated. I spent the afternoon walking around the forest floor on my own. Enjoyed having some time to myself and along the way saw the 'Elusive resplendent Quetzal', woodpeckers, humming birds and lots of other brightly coloured birds.

10th February 1998 - San Juan Del Sur

Travelled from Monteverde through huge valleys and over green hills, soon we were across the border into Nicaragua. Travelling on an old yellow US School Bus. A familiar friend as the holiday went on.

Ended up in San Juan Del Sur, old old port town barely touched by tourism. Lovely evening sat at a beach bar eating lobster and watching the sun-set.

11th February 1998 - San Juan Del Sur

.Next day hired some bikes and found our way down to an idealic beach. On the way back we had 2 punctures. Walking back pushing the bikes a local kid (who spoke no English) waved us down, took us back to his house and fixed the bikes. That sort of thing really leaves you with a warm feeling.

12th February 1998 - Granada

Hit Granada at about mid-day.

13th February 1998 - Granada

A real old fashioned colonial town, unspoilt but has definitely seen better days. Spent a lazy day wondering around.

14th February 1998 - Granada

Next day was spent on the Lake, Lago de Nicaragua. Cruised around, stopped on some quite isolated islands and met the locals. We stayed in Granada for an extra day because of the BIG salsa party in town. It was wild. 1000s of people all hot and sweaty and grinding away to the music.

Saturday made a trip to Masaya, now we are off the beaten track.

15th February 1998 - Estelli, Northern Nicaragua

The scenery again is stunning, rolling volcanic hills and valleys. Very little vegetation except cacti. Wild West Country. Cowboys on horses carrying huge machetes. And passing through every little village gives a great insight into day to day life.

Spent the night in Estelli, a one street town, frontier land with recent bullet holes in the walls. Sunday is church day and I spent a couple of hours sat in the square with a book watching the locals going to and from church.

16th February 1998 - Tegucigalpa

Another travel day taking us across the border into Honduras. More volcanic scenery, flocks of vultures, rough looking Latinos on rougher looking horses. Made Tegucigalpa by mid-afternoon.

In many ways I prefer the transit days to the activity days, despite the cramped conditions on the Yellow School Buses. You can see so much driving through the country in a bus if you keep your eyes open. The area wasn't quite as poor as I had expected. Everywhere seems to have electricity, TV, water. And everyone seems to take care of their appearance and seem well fed. The bus rides themselves are long. In our group most people hate them. But I find them such fun. Grabbing the rail of the seat in front in a mad attempt to stay on your plastic seat while the bus pitches from side to side swinging around the mountain-bends á la Italian Job are just some of the pleasures of Honduran travel. Roads that are half-rock and half-pot hole that wind through every little village along the way. All this in Yellow School Buses that were made for children so you are sat with your knees jammed against the seat in front. When the bus gets full you can expect to have a local child or a basket of chickens sat on your lap.

17th February 1998 - Tegucigalpa

On first impressions Honduras looks richer than Nicaragua and has a better feel to it, but maybe I'm just becoming more used to being in Central America. Tegucigalpa itself is spoilt by American Fast Food joints which stand out like sore thumbs, especially with the armed guards they all have on the door.

18th February 1998 - Roatan

My first sight of the Caribbean and we have a couple of days of diving planned. The people here are Black and speak English a big change from the mainland. I book up 2 days diving, 3 dives a day out on the reef.

We're told Roatan is the largest of eight islands that are collectively known as Las Islas de la Bahia (Bay Islands). To me it's brilliant clear blue water, palm-fringed beaches, exotic plants, and nature trails. And a chance to get some diving and snorkelling in. The Bay Islands are located slap-bang atop the second largest coral reef in the world. The coral here is simply stunning.

19th February 1998 - Roatan

20th February 1998 - Roatan

21st February 1998 - Copan

."America, say historians, was peopled by savages; but savages never reared these structures; savages never carved these stones." - John Lloyd Stephens, Explorer (visiting Copan 1839)

Here I am in the middle of Central America and I spend the day at some amazing Mayan Ruins (more of that below) and the high-light of my day is that I got a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast. It's amazing how it's the little things that you really miss.

22nd February 1998 - Copan

Woke up at about 5:30 (bloody roosters) and a nice slow morning in Copán Ruinas. A lovely cobble-stoned mountain village, a mile from the ruins, steep streets containing some nice restaurants one especially good one does Kellogs Cornflakes for breakfast!

Spent the day at the ruins. Having not been to Egypt or Peru, I've never seen anything as big, grand and old as Copan before and I was overawed. 18,000 people lived here at its peak. How could a city like this rise and fall in about 500 years? How could a city like this end up completely deserted?

In the evening had plenty of rum and something called Anafres, which is a black bean and cheese fondue with fresh tomatoes and chili peppers on the side and fresh, hot corn tortillas for dipping. Absolutely gorgeous. Definitely a good food day.

23rd February 1998 - Puerto Barrios

Our first attempt to find a boat to get us across the border ended in failure. Hit Omoa but there were no boats going to Livingstone. So we over- nighted in Omoa. Where the highlights were a lunch of BBQ fish with banana chips, dinner of fish kebabs by candle light because of the power cut and a big fight between some locals involving machetes!

Up early the next day for want turned out to be the high-light of the trip, although the not so adventurous amongst the group hated it.

Having missed the speedboat from Omoa straight to Livingston we went for the adventurous Jungle Route which involves two canoe trips and a few short hops by bus and pick-up truck and pitches you straight into regions rarely visited by outsiders.

The following is constructed from the notes in my diary and I hope the details are correct.

We set off from Omoa and took the bus along the main road get dropped off at the entrance to a ranch. Here we took a pick-up truck across the ranch to Cuyamelito and down to a small river. After what seemed like forever a small boat arrived we loaded up our rucksacks and off we went. It seemed like we could capsize at any moment.

We then switched boats and this open seemed even less well balanced. And then we hit a massive river (the Río Motagua I think), which we cross. With the boat rocking from side to side and none of us daring to move in case we turned the boat over. Like a scene from a Tarzan film crocodiles were slipping off the banks and into the river expecting dinner at any moment!

Somehow we made it to the other side where we transfer into a more substantial boat, with holes in it. We had to bail out as we went down the muddy river land at a huge banana plantation in the Finca La Inca area. The banana plantation was on an industrial scale. The bananas wrapped in plastic whilst growing, pesticides everywhere and perfect looking bananas. The workers houses, football pitches, basketball courts, but the impression I got was of a concentration camp.

A few bus changes and a really dodgy immigration post and we finally hit Rio Dulce.

24th February 1998 - Poptan

.Poptun is half way from Rio Dulce and Flores and so our stopping off point for the night. It had been poo-pooed by some of the guys on the trip but when we got there I liked it. A bit of a hippy hang-out, an oasis amongst the dust.

Next day we head off for Flores. And it's a surprisingly good trip. Yellow bus, probably 100 people packed in, but I've got a window seat and it only takes about 4 hours including a stop and search by the local police.

Was booked into a top notch hotel. Air Co, swimming pool, view over the lake. And most importantly a chance to get some laundry done.

25th February 1998 - Poptan


26th February 1998 - Flores

Up at 3:30am and a 4am bus to Tikal for the sun-rise on Temple IV. It never really happened because of the mist but still a great and eeire experience. Tikal is huge, temples reaching 40 metres into the sky are certainly a sight to be enjoyed on a cool, misty morning.

For me it's the jungle setting that makes this old Mayan city a truly striking. Screeching howler monkeys and squawking parrots, toucans, scarlet macaws and parrots.

And to top it all, I saw my first Solar Eclipse whilst at Tikal.

27th February 1998 - Flores


28th February 1998 - San Ignacio

.San Ignacio is a unique blend of America's Old West and tropical backwater where wooden shops line narrow streets. It's a great base for exploring the caves, river and hills surounding. And the focal point of the town for backpackers is Eva's Restaurant and Bar. Afternoon was spent canoeing on the Macal River. We paddled up river, up 4 sets of rapids before eventually stopping. It was hard work and by the end I was starting to get blisters on my hands!

1st March 1998 - San Ignacio

Next day I went caving. An hours ride out into the jungle then we donned miner's hats and headed underground into a cave system that runs right through the mountain. Clambering up and down, squeezing through narrow tunnels and at one point having to swim underwater between caverns.

2nd March 1998 - Caye Caulker

.Bus to Belize City and then a fantastic powerboat ride took us to Caye Caulker. This truely was the high-light of my time in Central America.

Manjana. That's a word we heard a lot. We were told not to order breakfast if we had any other plans before lunchtime. Caye Caulker is everything I'd expect from the Caribbean, sun, sea and a totally doped up, laid back raggae atmosphere. Heaven, but don't expect anything to happen quickly.

Spent 2 days out on the reef snorkelling including 'Shark-Ray Alley' where we up close with the Nurse Sharks and Southern Sting-rays. The place was full of the creatures and they readily approached us, having been conditioned to this by numerous other tourist visits.

3rd March 1998 - Caye Caulker

4th March 1998 - Belize


5th March 1998 - Tulum

10 hour journey by boat and bus, amazing how you get used to travel days, I just hope for a window seat, put on my personal stereo and watch the world go by. As soon as we got into Mexico it was obvious that it is more up to date and far more American than the rest of Central America.

"Not more Mayan Ruins" I thought. But Tulum is completely different and although not as magnificent as Tikal I actually enjoyed them more. But that's probably because I'm a sucker for the sea.

6th March 1998 - Cancun

.First impressions of Cancun were much as I expected, glitzy, Americanized, everyone pushy trying to sell stuff to you ahead of the other 10 also trying to sell you the same thing.

7th March 1998 - Cancun

Took a day trip out to a beautiful island. Drank cocktails on the beach ate some great freshly caught fish. But didn't go snorkelling. Bloody Americanised compensation culture safety rules meant we would have to wear a life jacket to snorkel in 4ft deep water! What's the point in snorkelling if you are floating on top of the water?

The holiday finished with shopping for presents and then I was homeward bound.

8th March 1998 - Cancun to London