Category Archives: Central America/Mexico

Panama – Bridge of the Americas

My last stop of the trip – Panama City, Panama! The old part of the city, Casco Viejo, is very chill and a nice place for accommodations and restaurants. The neighbourhoods of the city vary a lot! Casco Viejo is very nice but somewhat on the touristy side. The next neighbourhood, El Chorillo, is the city slum. Make sure you don’t accidentally wander into this area at night-time – but crossing the police guard may be a giveaway!

I took a nice walk along the waterfront and took in the beautiful views, palm trees, and warm weather. On Sundays there’s a lot of activity going on. Many of the streets are closed to cars so that individuals and families can enjoy the area for cycling. Good idea!

And obviously, I made a trip out to the Panama Canal. It lived up to all my expectations – which were actually very high! Three cargo ships went through while I was there, so I got to see the Miraflores locks in action. These are a set of locks that lowered the ship in stages from Gatun Lake (in middle of canal) to sea level in the Pacific Ocean. The engineering, expertise, and will-power to build the canal and the recent expansion is astounding. The museum at the Miraflores lock and the Canal Museum in the city are both very interesting and worth the time.

Another very unique museum is the Bio-Museum, which reviews the bio-diversity and geography of Panama. It’s a fascinating place as Panama is where the two continents met and exchanged a massive array of fauna and flora. Very cool!

This marks the end of my Mexico/Central America journey. This part of the trip has been a blast, with so many amazing experiences and people. I had so much fun scuba diving along the Caribbean and hiking the many volcanos of Central America.

Now I fly back to my home in British Columbia, Canada. It’s amazing how fast these two years of travel have gone. I’ll be making a post about my reflections of my backpacking adventures – so stay tuned!

Cheers, Shawn

Isla Ometepe – So Many Adventures

What a setting – you’re in the middle of a massive lake on an island formed by 2 volcanoes. There’s so much to do here, such as hiking, kayaking, biking, or chilling on the beach. I stayed in a town near Volcano Concepcion, which is a very tough hike. Our group made it up to the viewpoint, and couldn’t finish due to really strong winds. We had to hike diagonally to keep going straight! After this hike my muscles needed a rest.

For my next set of adventures, I made a full 10 hour tour of the island. My adventures included: climbing to some waterfalls, kayaking through a river between the volcanoes, relaxing at some natural springs, and checking out the sunset. I traversed the island via motorbike, which is the only real way to see all the sights.

The San Ramon waterfalls is a steady hike that takes about 3 hours return. You start walking by farms fields, and eventually wind partway up Volcano Maderas. Even though the water level was low, the sheer drop of the waterfalls was a sight to behold.

The next stop was River Istian, which flows between the 2 volcanoes of the island. This protected area is teeming with life with all kinds of birds, turtles, sleeping bats, and caiman. Caiman are a mini-crocodile creature and live along the river. I also checked out Oja de Agua, a beautiful natural springs pool.

My final stop was the sand bar on the western point of the island for the stunning sunset. I got a double feature, as there was a full moon above Volcano Concepcion. Both of these made for some beautiful photos, if I do say so myself! Check them out below.

I only have one more stop left on the trip – Panama City!

Cheers, Shawn

Granada – Lava, Churches, and Isletas

Granada was a fun place to chill for a few days. It has a laid back atmosphere, albeit is a bit on the touristy side. A bonus of this is great food and plenty of nice accommodations.

I highly recommend kayaking along the Isletas (little islands), which is a 10 minute drive from the city. You can also get a boat tour, but these boats are rather jam-packed. While kayaking you can take your time and enjoy the surroundings. There are 365 mini-islands, one for each day of the year! Check out the many birds, monkeys, and maybe even bull sharks! I’m told that Lake Nicaragua is the only fresh water lake to have sharks.

In the evening I headed out to Masaya National Park, where you can see flowing lava. It’s quite the sight at nighttime, as the lava is glowing bright red/orange with multiple flows converging! Very cool… or perhaps not! Even though you only get 5-10 minutes at the top due to volcanic fumes, it’s so worth it!

Granada is a very nice place to wander around, as it has beautiful colonial architecture, churches, and plazas. Just kick back, buy an ice cream, and chill under a palm tree!

From Granada I head south along Lake Nicaragua, to a double volcanic island in the middle of the lake – Isla Ometepe!

Cheers, Shawn

Corn Islands – Paradise at Sea

I didn’t originally plan to visit the Corn Islands, but I’m so glad I did! Little Corn Island is a tropical paradise, has stellar scuba diving, and it’s possible to walk around the island in a couple of hours. Aside from horseback and biking, walking is your only choice as there are no roads/vehicles on the island!

To get here you can fly into Big Corn Island from Managua, and then catch a panga boat (see photos below) to Little Corn Island. There are stretches of undeveloped beach where you can relax, soak up the rays, and go snorkeling. While I was here I did 3 dives a day with Dolphin Dive, and enjoyed the great diversity of marine life, caves, tunnels, and gorgeous coral.

My lifestyle here was possibly the most chill of the entire trip. I would head out to the diveshop around 8:30am for my first dive, relax for 40 minutes, and do my second dive finishing around 12:30pm. I’d have lunch, snooze on the lounge chair, and go diving again at 2:30pm. Then I’d go to my hotel, get cleaned up, and meet up with some folks for dinner/drinks. Next day hit repeat, and somehow a week and a half disappeared!

I also spent 3 days on Big Corn for some diving and catching my flight back to Managua. Back to the mainland, and to the city of Granada!

Cheers, Shawn

Leon – Volcanoes, History, and Boarding

Leon is my first stop in Nicaragua, after a 15 hour shuttle from La Ceiba, Honduras. The trip went well, and I got a good night’s rest after arriving to Leon at 2:00am.

Leon is a fascinating place. The architecture here is very interesting, especially the overpowering Cathedral. The main plaza is a great place to chill and relax. The city is very important for its role in the Nicaraguan Revolution that ousted the former dictator Somoza. The Museum of the Revolution on Leon’s main plaza has some interesting information regarding the revolution and Leon’s role in it.

In case you’re wondering about the lion statues in the photos, Leon means lion in Spanish – it’s somewhat of a city symbol.

There are some really fun activities around Leon, including – VOLCANO BOARDING! You hike to the top for about 1 hour while carrying a toboggan like board up the volcano. You get some great views at the top, and get to overcome your fears while looking over the edge of the volcano. You hop on the board, give yourself a little nudge, and cruise down the mountain! You’re provided with a jump suit and goggles to keep out some of the ash and rocks – but you’ll be filthy at the bottom no matter what! It’s so much fun, and I definitely recommend it to anyone travelling in Leon.

Another interesting side trip is Leon Viejo, or Old Leon. These are the ruins of the original city of Leon that was destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the early 1600’s. Historically it’s very important as this is one of the few very well-preserved ruins from the colonial era. You can visit the old cathedral, government buildings, and monasteries.

There’s also a newly built monument that shows a proud native resident with dogs biting at his feet. I inquired to the significance of this, and my guide informed me that it commemorates a native rebellion, after which the Spanish defeated. The Spaniards then set their dogs loose on the natives to kill them. Quite a brutal history, but I’m glad that it can be openly presented  and taught. Perhaps Canada can learn a lesson from this about its own brutal history with its native people.

From Leon I head out to the Corn Islands on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Back to the water!

Cheers, Shawn

Roatan – Riveting Reefs

I took the ferry from Utila to Roatan, which runs Friday-Sunday. After the 90 minute ride, I was happy to set my feet on land and let my stomach settle! I took a taxi from the port to the West End village, where my hotel/diveshop was located. This is the best area for diving, which is world-class and quite reasonable. I stayed at Hotel Chillies, which is affiliated with Native Sons Diving. This is a very laid back spot with great divemasters. You just walk across the street and climb into the boat for your dives!

The reefs off Roatan are absolutely stunning. They are very healthy, massive, and contain all kinds of marine life. Check out the night dive where you can see bioluminescence – the plankton glows when you make movement. If it’s really dark without any moonlight, you can see the strings of pearl, which are silk-like beads that glow all around you! It’s such a cool experience to swim through these! From the West End most of the dives are within a 10 minute boat ride, which makes diving more convenient and less expensive. I paid $30US/dive.

If you’re into chilling at the beach, you can check out the West End beach (right across the street), or hop the water taxi to West Bay beach. Both have beautiful, clear, and warm water that are perfect for swimming or snorkeling.

Overall I’d say that the diving is better in Roatan than Utila. The reefs are gorgeous and there’s more life. It is a little more expensive than Utila, roughly about 20% more. I’d definitely recommend travellers making a trip over to Roatan. Note that the ferries between Utila and Roatan run only Friday-Sunday. Otherwise you’d have to go back to La Ceiba and catch another ferry from there.

My time in Honduras is coming to an end. I will catch the ferry to the mainland, and take a 15 hour van/shuttle to Leon, Nicaragua. The journey continues!

Cheers, Shawn

Utila – Enter the Bay Islands

My scuba diving adventures in the Bay Islands of Honduras begin! I hung out at Parrots Dive Center and completed my Advanced Open Water PADI certification. Parrots was a blast with professional instructors, fun divemasters, and amazing dives. If you make it to Utila, check them out!

After this I checked out the local reefs, walls, and sea wildlife for 5 days. All kinds of cool sea creatures, including: nurse sharks, lobster, octopus, squid, crabs, beautiful coral, and so many different fish! There are some great wall dives around Utila where you can see the ocean bottom fall before you. Very cool!

In the afternoons, I made many sweet kayaking journeys. There is a little canal that runs through the island, and you can kayak from one side to the other. You have shade for most of the way through the mangroves, where you can see many bird species, weird-looking crab, and have a chance to snorkel at the east end of the island. This is a very unique and beautiful trip. A hostel/bar called The Venue rents quality kayaks and is well situated to start your kayaking adventure.

Utila was a lot of fun for both the activities and the people. I made a lot of friends during my time here, and am rather sad to leave. But the journey continues to the largest of the Bay Islands – Roatan!

Cheers, Shawn

P.S. Note that I am NOT sponsored by the companies that I mention in my blog. I recommend them because I had great experiences there, and want to share these with my fellow travellers.

Mayan Ruins of Copan

The ruins of Copan have the most exquisite detail of any Mayan site I’ve visited! While it’s not as large as Chichen Itza or Tikal, the site is packed full of beautiful, and sometimes frightening, sculptures and stelae. Many of these represent various Mayan gods and former rulers. Copan was one of the most southern Mayan cities, and makes for a fascinating day of sightseeing!

A center point of the ruins is the massive staircase, full of hieroglyphs, statues, and carvings. While the site is clearly Mayan, the detail and style is very distinct from other Mayan sites. I definitely recommend a visit, especially as it’s on the main travellers’ route from Guatemala to Honduras!

You can wander around several paths in the archeological site, and walk along the tops of several temples. As you’re walking from the ticket booth to the site entrance, there is a wilderness walking trail that takes you through the surrounding jungle where you can see various wildlife, birds, and flora. It takes about 30 minutes, and is worth the time.

I really enjoyed my time in Copan, and am ready to head on to my next destination – the little mountain town of Gracias!

Cheers, Shawn

Boats, Birds, and Butterflies – Monterrico and Copan

I spent Christmas in the chill beach town of Monterrico, my last stop in Guatemala. This was my second beach Christmas, as last year I was in the beach town of Mui Ne, Vietnam! How time flies!

Near Monterrico is a wildlife reserve, where you can see all kinds of birds, fish, and funny 4-eyed amphibians that hop along the water. I hired a boat to tour me around the reserve for sunrise. It made for some beautiful scenery! Aside from this, I really didn’t do too much in Monterrico other than chill, relax, and drink some beer!

From Monterrico I headed into Honduras, and stopped in the town of Copan. This is another relaxed town, with quite a few cool things to check out. First are the famous Mayan ruins right close to the town. I’ll be writing a separate post for these ruins. Second there’s a Bird Sanctuary that takes in abused or unwanted birds with the hopes of rehabilitating them for release into the wild. It has a great jungle location, and has a vast array of birds, including: toucans, parrots, macaws, pheasant like birds, etc.

The third site is a butterfly hatchery, where many species of butterflies are bred for release into the wild. There’s a good variety of butterflies, but one especially caught my attention. On its wing there’s what looks like a giant owl eye. Check out the photo of these butterflies mowing down on some fruit! Pretty weird-looking!

Stay tuned for the next posting about the beautiful Mayan ruins near Copan, including photos of the many statues an stellae!

Cheers, Shawn

Lake Atitlan – Guatemalan Gem

Lake Atitlan is a truly magical place. The scenery is stunning, and is surrounded by several chill and inviting towns. I stayed near a little town called Santa Cruz. After my hikes in Xela, I took the first day to relax and read a book. I even found an English bookstore with A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens! I hope Scrooge learns his lesson this year!

It’s easy to hop around the lake on public water taxis, or lanchas, which only cost around $2. My spot in Santa Cruz was right on the lake, with the little Mayan town perched a couple hundred meters above. The main commercial hub is Panajachel with all kinds of shops, restaurants, and bus connections. I took a chicken bus above Panajachel to Solola that has great views of the lake. The best lookout is from the town’s cemetery, which can easily be spotted with its colourful monuments. Just below this town I wandered around a bunch of little farms with its industrious Mayan farmers hard at work!

I also did my first fresh water scuba dive in the lake! This lake was formed from an old volcanic crater, so the rock formations are really interesting. Some time ago the water level in the lake increased significantly, with the water covering a hotel. I was able to swim in this hotels’ underwater swimming pool, and swim through the old bar!

Next stop is the Pacific Ocean – Monterrico!

Cheers, Shawn