Total distance travelled: 40,238.2 kilometres (24,992.67 miles)
Picture 4 foreign travelers, all of whom have just had their passports stamped out of Costa Rica. The day is a hot one (not unusual for Central America) and they now stand at the back of what looks a long queue to reach the immigration window to enter Panama.
10 or maybe 15 minutes pass, when Faye (one of our English friends) spots a couple of travelers we’d previously seen back in Costa Rica, already making their way into the country. Somehow, these rogues have skipped ahead of us!
Turns out we were standing in the wrong queue!
Salida (Exit) rather than Entrada (Enter)… in our defence, it wasn’t possible from where we had been standing to see the front of the line, and the relevant signage.
Welcome to our first few moments in Panama!
Another hour and a half on from the border got us to the northern city of David, by which time we figured we’d best stop for the night as Panama City lay a further 8 or so hours further distant.
A solo night was spent in the city, at a rather odd hostel known as Purple House (where seriously everything down to the cutlery was purple), where the following morning when we discovered we could have taken an overnight bus onwards to the capital, we did all kick ourselves a little bit!
As it was, the following day didn’t see us get into Panama City until late in the afternoon, at which time we made a beeline for the Casco Viejo part of the city.
With high season in swing, we had fears finding accommodation might be a task, a challenge we faced from the outset at the first place we tried, Luna’s Castle Hostel where we promptly discovered that for the 4 of us, there were only 3 beds available!
Sarah & I let our friends Chris & Faye have the beds, meaning for us, it was going to be a cosy affair come bed time.
Eventually, after waiting for a couple of hours as the guy on reception was unsure how to enter 2 names for only one bed in the system, we were all very ready for dinner and drink, which we sorted with some delicious chicken and fried yuca from a street vendor and some drinks at a nearby micro-brewery.
We also managed to find a place that could house the 4 of us, so booked in for the following day, comfortable in the fact that we now longer had that worry over our heads.
It did mean that we had to linger around the Casco Viejo area until our 1pm check-in was open, but as far as areas to linger and wander, this is certainly not a bad one!
As a package with the ruins of Panama Viejo (on the opposite side of the downtown area), this old part of of the city forms another UNESCO World Heritage site, and after wandering the paved streets and taking in the many stunning facades it wasn’t difficult to see why.
With a home base now sorted and a morning spent pounding the streets, it was time for us to find a feed, and we had something perfect in mind given the heat.
15 minutes later, we were even hotter for our walk in the hottest part of the day, but our waterfront destination, the Mercado Mariscos (Seafood Market) was set to provide just the tonic.
There, paired with some ice cold beers we tucked into some incredibly cheap, yet incredibly delicious ceviche.
We may have shared a sneaky plate of Papas Fritas (French Fries) as well…
Chris & Faye also wandered by as well, before seating themselves down nearby for an almost identical order, whilst we wandered off to see (and smell) a little more of the market proper.
A little later in the afternoon, the 4 of us reconvened back at the hostel, with a plan of hunting down the ferry office so we could book in advance, our onward tickets to Cartagena, Colombia, our gateway into South America.
It was hot, the walk was long, but ultimately fruitful with a shared cabin booked for our small posse, and some nice and icy Raspados (essentially snow cones/granitas) helping us find the will to soldier on.
Unfortunately the ferry only runs southbound on Monday’s and Wednesday’s, which meant we had a few days here in Panama City still ahead of us.
Fortunately, we still had few places, some obvious, others not so, yet to explore…
* We took local buses from Uvita to the Costa Rica-Panama border (Uvita to Ciudad Neily $1800.00 Colon per person, Ciudad Neily to the border, $400.00 Colon per person)
* Despite advice that there was no Costa Rican exit fee at this border, it actually cost us $7.00 US per person, with a $1.00 US entrance fee each to enter Panama as well.
* Proof of onward travel was also requested by the Panama border officials.
* A microbus from the border to David cost us $2.50 US per person, whilst our rooms at the Purple House Hostel set us back $9.00 US each for a dorm bed (included a basic porridge breakfast).