Goodbye Central America, you have been awesome

Sep 21, 2014


So we made it to Panama and likely our final destination in this country and the region, Panama City. Leaving CA (Central America) is exciting but I will miss it a little. There’s something about the steamy, often sweltering, weather and the way of living here that pulls you in. Packed in this relatively small stretch of land between the vastness of North and South America, are seven countries all very unique and all with their own charm. We have seen them all to one extent or another with the exception of one, El Salvador, and from what I hear we shouldn’t have missed it, maybe next time. Here’s a brief recap of each country we did visit…



We made a brief stop in Belize and didn’t really see the whole place but what we did see left me feeling a little sorry for this beautiful country. It is a country blessed with a beautiful coral reef right at it’s front door and loads of other natural beauty but marred by pollution and gang violence brought on by drug trafficking in and around Belize City. My suggestion to anyone traveling to Belize, skip Belize City and check out the Cays. While we didn’t stay in San Ignacio, I heard it is also worth visiting, especially if you plan on visiting ruins around the area and in parts of Guatemala.

My top pick: Any one of the Cays with their tranquil and warm waters and fun Caribbean/creole vibe.


CA_Tikal.jpgAn awesome but unfortunately poor country where you can see what is left of the great Mayan civilization, Guatemala is excellent. The ancient world lives on but you have to keep an eye out for it.

The amazing ruins in Tikal (the best in CA) and the quaint city of Flores were the highlights for us as we didn’t have much time in Guatemala but the rest of the country is incredibly beautiful. As we traveled through the countryside by bus it was simply remarkable how beautiful this place is. Reading the headlines and seeing the photos typically associated with Guatemala, you’d never know that there is so much to see here. Guatemala is home to volcanoes, ruins, incredible Semana Santa celebrations (Easter but better), temperate highlands, good coffee, and some of the best chicken busses you’ve ever seen in your life.

My top pick: The old city of Flores, particularly during Semana Santa.


With most of my time spent in Utila, there are only a few things I can say about Honduras but I’ll do my best to sum it up based on my experiences.

San Pedro Sula is a place you travel through, not to. That being said, it wasn’t all bad. Yes it is one of the murder capitals of the world but if you stay in the tourist areas you’ll be fine.

La Ceiba is a smaller city but with an oddly seedier feel to it than San Pedro Sula. As it was on our way to Utila, we were forced to make a stop and stay a night. We heard that it has a great Carnival celebration but we didn’t attend it. The best part of La Ceiba isn’t in La Ceiba, it’s behind the city to the west, the highlands region which is actually quite beautiful.

Utila was my favorite for many reasons but primarily, the diving. I had been to Utila before and knew what to expect but I left with much more than I expected and had way more fun that I could have anticipated. While diving is the main attraction for visitors to Utila, the visitors themselves are also a sight to be seen. Ask anyone who has worked at a bar in Utila (Matt, Jen, and Elissa) and they’ll probably tell you that the people living on Utila and the visitors are all part of the spectacle.FTDU2.jpg

As for me, the thriving dive-bum lifestyle and the busy dive shop was everything I wanted. A day in the life of a diving professional on Utila goes something like this: wake-up early (5:30am ish), prepare the dive boat with your friends/co-workers, teach some diving or lead dives, break down the gear, pound down a little lunch, prepare the dive boat, teach/lead dives, break down the gear, have a few drinks (assuming you’re not on the night dive) and help entertain guests. This goes on day after day but when a dive professional has the next day off or doesn’t have to dive in the morning, well just extend the last part so that it reads “get rip-roaring drunk with the guests and other pros and party until the sun comes up.”

I left Utila with new friends, a PADI Diving Instructor certification, a ton of great memories, a mild hangover and a tan that would rival the crispiest celebrities in Hollywood. I could have stayed in Utila much longer. There’s nothing quite like being a diving instructor in a place with such a raging party atmosphere and so many fun people to hang out with. Easily some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

While we missed some portions of Honduras (our Visas were expiring again) I was informed that we should have made a trip to the Copan ruins. They look fantastic but after seeing Tikal, I don’t think they could compare.

My top pick: Utila of course! Bring sunscreen, a dive mask and maybe some other dive gear if you have it, money, and board shorts… Anything else and you’ve over packed.


CA_Nica.jpgBetter than I expected, Nicaragua was cheap and fun. We took a shuttle directly from La Ceiba Honduras, a journey not meant for the faint of heart, and found ourselves in Leon. Leon was a very nice surprise, I didn’t know what to expect but I was happy to see this old colonial town with its old world cathedrals and colorful buildings. Leon also had plenty to do, the highlight of which was the Volcano boarding. Basically, you sled down a volcano on a small sheet of plywood with a piece of rope attached to the front and some Formica glued to the bottom. Everything about this little adventure was awesome including the hike up the volcano, looking into the currently dormant caldron, feeling the heat from the mountain (you could literally rub away a little sand/rock and feel intense heat rising from underneath), the view from the top and of course the exhilarating ride down. Even the ride to the volcano and back was fun.

Granada was similar to Leon but in my opinion, not as fun. It was more touristy and a bit larger but it also featured some beautiful cathedrals and colorful buildings. There were several little day trips to do around the area but we mostly hung out and walked around the city. It was hot and humid but it was fun nonetheless.

We made a short trip to a Treehouse Hostel, which was fun for a night or two but quite expensive. The best part about this place was being woken up by howler monkeys after spending the night in a hammock.

San Juan Del Sur is at the south of Nicaragua and is a cool little surf town with breaks for people of all experience levels. It is a picturesque little town on the Pacific backed by mountains and rainforest with cheap food options, a vibrant party scene and a youthful vibe.

My top pick: Volcano boarding in Leon. If you do only one thing in Nicaragua, Volcano boarding should be it.

Costa Rica

After spending months in the CA 4 (the four countries of CA that have a border agreement, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua), Costa Rica was a bit of a shock. Expensive, touristy, and far more built-up, Costa Rica was fun but you had to find cheap ways to enjoy the area on a shoestring. That being said, it can be done and given the shear beauty and biodiversity of this place, you won’t be disappointed.

Our first stop was the booming gringo-ville of Tamarindo or “Tamagringo” as it’s commonly called. It was a nice surf town with a beautiful beach and cheap board rentals but for those on a budget, plan on staying in at night unless you are splurging and don’t mind paying $2-3 for a mediocre beer. While that might sound cheap to the folks at home, in the rest of the region you generally pay $0.50 to $1.00 USD.


Next was Monteverde, high in the mountains and a welcome reprieve from the heat; this place was really nice. Again, not the cheapest place but worth checking out especially if you are willing to pay some money to do a little adventure tourism like bungee-jumping, rafting, or zip-lining.

After Monteverde was Manuel Antonio just outside Quepos. This place was really fun and had a wonderful park. If you’re looking for sloths, monkeys, toucans, and other wildlife in Costa Rica, this is the place for it. The views around town are incredible and the rainforest in the part that go right to the Pacific are quite beautiful.

Next stop, Uvita. This little town on the Pan-American doesn’t really have much but there is an excellent little waterfall coming from the cloud forest above that makes for a nice little hike. My recommendation is to get some wine and pack a lunch so you can sit in the cool waters during the hot parts of the day and watch the jungle move around you.

My top pick: Manuel Antonio but, Uvita was also quite nice.


CA_Boquete.jpgPanama was a surprise, I love this place, well most of it anyway. We started in Boquete high in the mountains and cloud forests and loved every bit of it. There were lots of reasonably priced tours like horse back riding, rafting, and hiking but my favorite thing to do was rent a moped and go out on your own. My brother, Jack, did some touring around the US and into Mexico on his motorcycle and I now understand the allure. I took that little 125cc moped up and down every backcountry road in Boquete, it was incredible. While the town is overrun by US expats, it still maintains it’s charm and you can’t beat the natural beauty of the place.

Next we went to the Lost and Found Hostel, which is along the road headed to Bocas del Toro. This hostel is also in the same hills as Boquete but on the other side of the forest reserve. It’s a cool little place with great views and some excellent hiking.

Next up was Chitre. I wasn’t a fan but it didn’t help that we stayed in a dilapidated building someone called a hostel. Before you go to Chitre, ask yourself “why the hell am I going to Chitre?”

This brings us to now, Panama City, a big city complete with high rises and quaint neighborhoods but unmistakably Central America. You might find upscale shopping and fancy cars reminding you of Miami but you’ll never shake the awesomeness of tricked out chicken busses and the Central American culture.

My top pick: Boquete. Perfect climate, great coffee, good prices and loads of fun.

So now, on to South America where our first stop is Medellin, Colombia. I am both excited to set foot on a continent I’ve never been to but also a little sad to move further away from the great times I’ve had in CA. I suppose that’s just a part of traveling.   

Roam on!




Written by Teague O’Connell
Teague is a Workforce Management / Operational Leadership expert and PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer with a passion for travel, adventure and the magnificent journey that is, life.

Find him on Google | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram





Please add a comment

Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.