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Beautiful Manuel Antonio to Awful Paso Canoas

Coast of Riches: A Journey Through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama Day 5: Exploring Manuel Antonio, going through San Jose then taking a bus to and getting stuck at Paso Canoas the border town in the middle of the night.

Day’s Itinerary

We were up at 8 a.m. and got ready for the day. The continental breakfast was located in the restaurant on the third floor, which had an open balcony overlooking the sea. It was very basic consisting of cereal, granola, fruits, toast and enough bees to make us change seats twice.

The view of the beach was decent and the town looked much less threatening during the day time.
The view of the beach was decent and the town looked much less threatening during the day time.

We checked out and drove to Manuel Antonio a few kilometers away passing themed bars, restaurants and large eco-lodges.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Arriving we parked and hired a guide ($20 pp) for the park. Before heading in, we hunted down my UTS (Ultimate Tourist Shirt) from the row of souvenir shops.

Our guide’s name was Lenny, a well-built Costa Rican obviously proud of his country and culture. His tour included a high-powered monocular to spot hard-to-see creatures. We purchased our park entrance tickets ($10 pp) and went in. We were the only two on the tour.

The hour and a half tour was fantastic. Lenny led us through the park while dropping little gems of information on the way. He had an eagle eye for spotting animals and would show us through his lens after he found them. We could even take pictures through his scope. We saw all kinds of animals including tree frogs, lizards, iguanas, squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, a two-toed sloth and three-toed sloth, crabs, bats and raccoons. The highlights were the bouncing family of endangered Central American squirrel monkeys and the smiling three-toed sloth.

A white tree frog was surprisingly hard to see...
A white tree frog was surprisingly hard to see…
I proudly pointed out a bird asking if it was a pigeon. Lenny looked up and with an awkward look said, "that's our national bird, the Clay-colored Thrush."
I proudly pointed out a bird asking if it was a pigeon. Lenny looked up and with an awkward look said, “that’s our national bird, the Clay-colored Thrush.”
One of the hardest to spot animals in the park, the squirrel monkey.
One of the hardest to spot animals in the park, the squirrel monkey.
And a squirrel monkey baby.
And a squirrel monkey baby.
Somehow a sloth just sitting in a tree brings so much joy to visitors of the park.
Somehow a sloth just sitting in a tree brings so much joy to visitors of the park.
A bright green juvenile iguana.
A bright green juvenile iguana.
Another iguana blending in with the branches.
Another iguana blending in with the branches.

The tour was concluded at Playa Espadilla Sur, where we relaxed and went for a swim.

Sporting my tourist shirt on Playa Espadilla Sur.
Sporting my tourist shirt on Playa Espadilla Sur.
Beautiful natural rocky islands...
Beautiful natural rocky islands…
Playa Manuel Antonio, one of the best beaches of Costa Rica.
Playa Manuel Antonio, one of the best beaches of Costa Rica.
...and possibly of the best in the world.
…and possibly of the best in the world.

Exiting the park, we skipped the boatmen and waded through the waist-deep water. The garbage floating around was a bit disgusting.

Jumping into our car, we were on our way to Panama! We drove through Quepos where we stopped for snacks and drinks at a convenient store before continuing to San Jose.

We only made one other stop at a bridge flanked by a large crowd of camera totting tourists. We pulled over and walked along the busy highway to see a dozen gigantic crocodiles in the river below.

Huge crocs waiting for a tourist to slip and fall in.
Huge crocs waiting for a tourist to slip and fall in.
Not the safest place for large crowds to be wandering around...
Not the safest place for large crowds to be wandering around…

San Jose

We continued through the multitude of tolls to finally arrive at the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. The roads were a bit confusing at first, but we managed to get gas and drop off our rental at the Budget office. They also shuttled us to the bus station.

Getting a ride from Budget to the station.
Getting a ride from Budget to the station.

Cool San Jose graffiti
Cool San Jose graffiti

At the station, we found that we missed the last direct bus to David, Panama which was at 2 p.m., so we opted to go to the border town of Paso Canoas leaving at 6:40 p.m. As it was only 5 p.m., we had an hour and forty minutes to kill. San Jose speed tourism time!

Stepping out of the safety of the police patrolled terminal was uncomfortable but exciting at the same time. We walked along the shady graffiti covered streets with bright sunlight as our only protection.

We walked a block and then another. When we found out that the cathedral was near, we decided to make a dash for it.

City dwellers were getting off work and pouring into the streets to rush home, police were lining up outside of their station about to tackle the night shift as we were running towards the most dangerous area of the city with the sun about to go down.

Excited to set off for a few minutes of speed tourism in San Jose!
Excited to set off for a few minutes of speed tourism in San Jose!
Walking with a mission.
Walking with a mission.
We made it to the Cathedral Metropolitana!
We made it to the Cathedral Metropolitana!
At Parque Central in San Jose.
At Parque Central in San Jose.

We also wanted to buy some food but it was a race against time as the sun was setting. Then we spotted a McDonalds. Now, I felt guilty about ordering McDs in Costa Rica but we did it out of necessity. Bag of Big Macs in hand, we ran through the streets retracing our steps toward the bus terminal as the shadow of night nicked our heels.

We made it to the station just in time and sat quietly in a corner to eat our burgers.

Boarding our bus we found that our seats were the wheel-chair accessible seats, possibly due to when we bought our tickets in broken Spanish and gestures, the lady thought that we were handicapped. Otherwise, she was just being nice. Either way, the ride was comfortable enough to stretch our legs and try to nap.

Handicap seats... sweet.
Handicap seats… sweet.

An hour in, we were both quite delirious due to the cacophony of passengers singing (don’t ask me why), a crying baby, and the noises of the bus driving over uneven roads.

The bus made one 20 min stop for food and restrooms. We sat outside at the truck stop and drank an Imperial beer laughing about the day so far.

Paso Canoas

Six hours later we arrived. It was 12:30 a.m. and we read that the border is open 24 hours, so we assumed there would be some kind of transport to David after we went through immigration. Fortunately we were correct. The border was indeed open, the only problem was that the immigration offices weren’t! A fellow bus passenger offered us a ride to David but he was unsure about the immigration process if we went into Panama.

We thanked him and decided to stay at the border town and cross the next day to go through the proper channels to avoid any problems on our departure.

It was a strange feeling to just cross the border with no one to care. The border crossing was deserted besides some shady characters and wild dogs.
It was a strange feeling to just cross the border with no one to care. The border crossing was deserted besides some shady characters and wild dogs.

The next part was challenging; finding a hotel at this crappy border town while looking like very obvious targets. Mind you, I was still wearing my smiling sloth Costa Rica shirt.

We asked a few locals hanging around and they pointed down a street. We walked over and eventually found a couple of cabaneros, which seemed like motels.

The first cabaneros we saw was a tiny dungeon with a single twin bed occupying 90% of the room at $15. Across the street the property seemed a bit nicer but no one answered our knocks on the dark reception window.

I walk around the corner to see if there were any more options, to find a man sitting on the sidewalk in the dark, carving the label off of a beer bottle with a knife. Hmm… I guess we don’t really need more options.

Finally after rapping on the gate of another gated door, a drunk and sleepy man woke up to show us his cabaneros. The room was a step up from the last one, with two beds and a bathroom.

We asked for the price and he said “How many hours?”
“Uh… seven?”
“$20” he barked after half a minute of computation.

We prepped the room by laying dirty clothes on the pillow and lay on top of the covers, fully clothed.

With the AC producing more noise than cold air and the thumping bass of the neighboring bar, the only thing that could help me sleep was knowing that the faster I slept, the faster I could wake up and leave.

What wonders will Panama have in store for us tomorrow?

David De Clercq

About David De Clercq

Founder and writer at World-Adventurer.com, David is on a mission to travel to every country in the world and has less than 10 countries left! He loves new adventures, unique cultures, historic landmarks, and luxurious hotels. Follow along as David shares a journey of a lifetime!