For our anniversary, we decided to rent a room in the only private town in all of Colombia, Cauca Viejo. We arrived just after the Semana Santa festivities to find a tiny, beautiful colonial town that is only accessible to the town residents and those who have made an advanced reservation.
We had traveled from Carmen De Viboral to Cauca Viejo through the back roads which instead of the 2.5 hours back through Medellin took us about 5 hours. However, we encountered so many beautiful vista points, waterfalls and villages that we would have never otherwise seen. We even picked up a man who was walking with two large plastic bags and drove him about 4 miles and dropped him off at his house.
Just before we got back on the main road, we were stopped by the police for the very first time in Colombia. Really they just wanted to talk to us about our travels. We sat there holding up traffic for a good 5-10 minutes while we picked the officer’s brain about places to go and things to see, where he was from and how long it would take us to get to any of the places he’d suggested we go. The other officer was sitting on a bench talking to some of the locals and said “They’re from Washington! The USA!” They were so excited to see travelers driving through and were genuinely interested in our vehicle because they never see them here.
After sharing information, we were sent on our way with smiles, waves and “que la vaya bien!”
We arrived to our destination a few short minutes later and were greeted at the town gate by the guard. He looked up our reservation and told us how to arrive at our accommodation.
Our first impressions were that the town is super cute and very traditional with cobblestoned streets and spanish colonial buildings surrounding a central park. The streets were clean and completely empty. It was a little strange.
We arrived at our accommodation and opened the gate. The property seemed completely empty, though we had been told that there would be someone there waiting for us. Our friend Adriana, who has been traveling with us since we picked Dusty up from the Port in Cartagena, walked in and started calling out for someone. We got the ok to open the gate and park. We drove in and were immediately greeted with a beautiful view of the river just beyond the property line, a beautiful pool and Jacuzzi. There was a pool table, a beautiful courtyard with garden and a ping pong table. We were taken to our room and told that we were the only people there for the evening and that we had the entire run of the place. It was beautiful.
We then went to dinner, took some beautiful pictures of this empty town and retired early to bed since we had driven so many hours to arrive.
The following morning we woke up, dipped in the Jacuzzi and the Turkish Bath, which is really a steam sauna. We had a simple breakfast and headed out to take more pictures of this picturesque town. We spoke with one of the residents who explained that there are only 20 residents in the entire town. There are 130 rentals and during busy times and festivals like Semana Santa, the town swells. However, because there is a limit to how many tourists can enter, the town is never overcrowded, like Antigua Guatemala.
I do have to say, having the town completely empty was a little creepy. I had a completely different feel than Antigua during Covid, but almost the same emptiness. Honestly it was kind of a cool experience and I really felt like we had rented an entire town all to ourselves. We saw maybe 6 other people the entire 16 hours we were there. Though, I will say that because the vibe is so weird and there is really only 2 open restaurants in the whole town, staying for one night was sufficient to get a feel of this 2 block by 3 block town. Super cute, but a little weird. Would I do it again? Probably not, but the experience is a once in a lifetime thing, so it’s worth it if you’re in the region.
This was by far the most difficult and time consuming border crossing that we’v had in Central America so far, and by the sounds of it, it’s been the most difficult and time consuming for most travelers driving the Panamerican Highway.
First things first, if you’re planning on crossing in to Nicaragua, you need to fill out their Solicitud form, which is basically you asking for permission to enter their country. It needs to be filled out by all foreigners. Here’s the link, to make it a little easier for anyone that needs the form. When we were looking for it back in 2021, the website was really discombobulated and hard to maneuver, so much so that when I finally found it (literally after hours of searching on every government website and just googling “Solicitud Nicaragua” and yielding ZERO results), I bookmarked it on my computer for future travels for friends and family that wanted to visit. To save you time and trouble, here’s the site https://solicitudes.migob.gob.ni/. Much easier to find now than it ever was for us.
They like to have this form completed about a week in advance. If you don’t have an entire week, just fill it out as soon as you know you’re crossing the border, you’ll usually receive an e-mail back from the government in Spanish that basically tells you their expectations of you while in country. There’s no “here’s your permiso de entrada” or anything that tells you that you’ve successfully applied and have been granted entry. If you get an e-mail from the government, you’ve been granted entry. It usually takes a day or so up to a week. Keep a copy of the e-mail accessible just in case. The borders don’t always (actually almost never) have reception or WIFI, so keeping a screenshot and saving it to your photo’s is helpful.
Back in 2021 when we crossed over, Covid was still a huge thing and the borders were tightly controlled. Not as bad now as before, but as per usual, when you get to the border, there will be a long line of truckers waiting at the border. Pass the truckers to the front of the line for passenger vehicles, you’ll be directed to park and go see the health inspector. It’s usually just a nurse that takes your temperature and a copy of your vaccination card or negative PCR test. Yes, PCR test is mandatory if you’re not vaccinated.
After the nurse checks that you’re symptom free or tested negative, she’ll hand you a stamped piece of paper, that’s basically saying that you’re free to go to immigration.
Head over to immigration, where they’ll ask you for the solicitud form and that slip from the nurse. Tell them you already filled it out online. They’ll take forever to go check their records and come back maybe an hour or a few hours later. If you have any food in your vehicle, dried goods, you’ll probably want to start making lunch. By the way, the border is HOT. There is NO SHADE and no area in which to stay cool if you leave the immigration building. We literally sat there for 3 hours and were the only ones in there until two bus loads of people came and were processed before we were. It was super frustrating.
When someone finally comes back and stamps your passport, they will take payment in cash only, USD. It cost us $12 to enter, and nothing for the vehicle. They will have someone from Aduana come and inspect your vehicle, they will have you remove everything from your vehicle that is loose and take it in to be scanned. If you have a Drone… HIDE IT! Unless you want to get it confiscated. They are illegal in Nicaragua and you have to have special permission to fly one. If you’re certified commercially to fly one, you have to request permission prior to entry to Nicaragua from the Civil air patrol in Nicaragua and wait for their response.
This is what caught us up for an additional couple of hours. I had to argue (mostly politely) with the customs guy for nearly 2 hours before he finally called his boss and the boss (after having dealt with more than 6 calls) about us, finally relented and gave us a permiso to have the drone. I don’t recommend this option. Just don’t declare it. They will ask you point blank, whether you have one or not. I don’t like lying and when it’s a very pointed question like that, I have a really hard time trying to skirt around the truth.
If you have a pet, make sure all of your paperwork is in order. You should have been issued a health certificate in the country you left from (we left from Guatemala and had 10 days to get to the Nicaraguan border at Guasaule) and on your paperwork they will declare which border you’re crossing at. declare it to the DGA person and they will take your paperwork to the sanitation inspection officer who signs and stamps your paperwork allowing your pet to enter without quarantine. We did see 3 dogs that were in quarantine, and it looked miserable. It’s hot, the dogs have shade, but it’s not somewhere I’d feel comfortable having my pet in quarantine, to be sure.
Once we finally cleared customs, we had to get our Import Permit for the vehicle and the Aduana that issues the permits is right behind where you scan your bags… However, we spent so much time in the immigration office and at customs that when we literally turned around to hand all of our vehicle paperwork to the lady behind the desk, she closed the window on us and left the office. It was after all, 5 pm and the office was officially closed. We spent 7 hours thus far, just trying to get into Nicaragua and we still needed to get our vehicle permit.
The Aduana official took us to the office where the truckers go and we were able to get everything done there fairly quickly. That actually was the easiest part.
Once they clear you and issue you the TIP, you’ll have a couple of checks to go through. First they’ll check that your passport is stamped and that you paid the entry fee. Then they’ll ask to see the TIP. Then someone will come out and try to get you to purchase insurance. We have an international insurance policy from Clements Worldwide and it covers just about everything, so we told them we already had insurance, showed them our documentation and they let us go.
So after almost 8 hours, we finally were legal to drive in Nicaragua! The roads here are exciting. From animals grazing on the side of the road to the horse drawn carriages that take up the lanes and the vehicles parked in the driving lanes, Nicaragua roads will keep you on your toes for sure!
Enjoy the ride and pack your patience.
Boquete, also known as the valley of flowers is a beautiful town located in the western part of Panama. Geographically speaking, Panama to me, sits in a weird position. What you think should be north or south, is actually east and west, and east/west is really north/south. It’s often confusing because I say that Boquete is in the west, but to me because it sits south of Costa Rica, it makes sense that it would be northern Panama. It’s not.
That little geography lesson out of the way, let’s get in to some of the amazing things that we found to do here and if you’re a digital nomad, where you can go for some workspace if you don’t want to take up space others might need to eat or drink their coffee. Many of them are on the tourist route, but are not really taken advantage of.
Since we travel with a bonafide teenager, finding things that are still interesting to him are getting increasingly difficult.
Old School Arcade- We did find Panama Barcade. It sounds weird, but they have old-school arcade games like Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, Pac-Man… Not the remakes if you’re our age and older or if you’ve ever watched Stranger Things, you know what I mean. They also rent PS5, PS3 and Xbox consoles (onsite) if you want to play the newest video games. Anyone ages 13 and up can go in and play, and for the people who don’t want to play video games, they have a bar and occasionally some snacks too. Check out the clip below.
Hot Springs- Caldera hot springs is a short 45 minute drive away, it’s $3 per person to enter and the Hot Springs, while rustic and small, are actually quite hot. We’ve been disappointed by some of the hot springs in Costa Rica and Guatemala and didn’t find any that we were able to access in Nicaragua without reservation, so this was really a great treat. There is a nice river, just a short walk away from the hot springs, the springs flow into them, so the water nearest the shore is actually quite warm. The further away from shore, the cooler the water. Very refreshing. To access the hot springs, you have to take a short walk onto private property and pay the owner directly. We went during the week and it was not really very busy. People don’t tend to stay long, but if you’re looking for a nice soak for an hour or two, you may just be pleasantly surprised. There are no changing rooms or bathrooms, so you might want to keep that in mind. You can check out our video below.
Fairgrounds- The fairgrounds holds the flower festival every Mid-January. After the festival, the fairgrounds still boast a wonderful array of beautiful flower sculpture gardens. The entry fee is $1.00 per person and is a beautiful little walk, especially for little ones, it’s kinda like Alice in Wonderland… Of sorts.
El Explorador- This is a personal garden that the owner’s have opened up to the public. The cost is $5 per person, and you can easily spend a couple of hours just taking in the beautiful backdrop of the mountains as the clouds roll over and shroud the town in a blanket of white. Or just hang out in the little park that has a nice long slide and swing set. The garden uses a lot of up-cycled clothing and accessories to create garden art and sculptures. We walked around for a couple of hours just taking in the beauty of the colors and marveling at all the sculpture-art around. Kaden found a trampoline, like, immediately upon entering and played on that for a good half hour.
Lost Waterfalls Hike- This was one of my personal favorites. There are 3 waterfalls that are pretty hidden. The hike up is not for the feint of heart. To access the waterfalls, you have to hike a pretty easy trail, but it’s long and steep. Once you get to the top, there is a $10 entrance fee (it’s on private property) per person. The trail from there becomes moderately difficult. The first waterfall isn’t too hard to get to, but in rainy season, you’ll really need good hiking boots, and walking sticks as the hike will get really wet, muddy and slippery. Keep in mind, the trails have some steep parts, mostly seen at the 3rd waterfall, where you literally have ropes to help you climb up and down. You’ll use tree roots and large boulders to get up and down in some places. So if you don’t want to get dirty, don’t come to this trail. The trails are pretty well marked, but on the way back at the second waterfall, we did encounter a lot of people who ended up off trail onto something that looked like the trail and had a lot of difficulty getting back up to the first waterfall. It’s not uncommon, you’ll just have to do a little tree climbing.
Boquete Tree Trek Adventure Zipline- Kaden loves to zipline. We’ve done it in almost every country we’ve been to. It’s $65 per person (yeah, expensive), and they shuttle everyone up to their resort where they have a series of 14 platforms and 12 ziplines. They run like a well oiled machine. It’s about 1.5 hours on the ziplines. We had 4 guides and a group of about 20 of us. It was all very safe and organized… Until you get done and you go up to the restaurant. The restaurant was grossly understaffed and the people behind the bar, which was barely big enough for 2 people to work was in a frenzy as 4 people tripped all over each other trying to get caught up with drink orders. Mostly coffee drinks. It took over 40 minutes for us to just order 3 coffee drinks with only 2 people in front of me in line, and another 30 minutes to get them. By the time we got our drinks, our shuttle was ready and nobody advised us that the shuttle was even loading or leaving, thereby stranding us with a beautiful mountain view next to a wood burning fireplace as we waited an hour and a half for the next shuttle. Not the worst thing, unless we had planned something else for the day, which we hadn’t.
Volcan Barú- From the top of the mountain, on a clear day, it’s said that you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. To the “north” you can see Costa Rica, as it’s only an hour away. The road up is steep, and a little treacherous in places.We tried to drive ourselves, but the Park Ranger told us that the road was recently closed to Personal Vehicles for construction and the only way up is to hike and to do that you have to make a reservation 48 hours in advanced. We were all a little sick and still recovering, so we didn’t get to do it. It’s about 8 miles to the top of the crater, an hour by car if you get to go up in one. You can schedule a tour that will take you up to the top too. We’ve heard from a lot of people that the road is really bad on the way up, scary in a vehicle, even. People that have done the hike say the hike is amazing, and if you’re lucky when you get to the top you’ll see both oceans, and a lot of people do the sunrise hike just to avoid the cloud cover, it’s cold at the top, so come prepared.
Gualaca Canyon- This is a slot canyon that you can rock jump from. Clean, refreshing water. Gets busy on the weekend and only $4 per person to enter. Great way to spend a few hours or a day. It takes a couple of hours to get there and either you need to rent a car or book a tour, it’s easily accessible and you can book a tour with a local agency if you need to go that route for transportation and don’t want to try to figure out the bus transport in Panama.
Kiki Waterfall- About 2 hours from Boquete, off of possibly the worst paved road in all of Central America, is the tallest waterfall in Panama. During the wet season, it’s nearly impossible to get down to the bottom of it because there is so much water spray and the trail gets really slippery and muddy. There aren’t a lot of hand rails or safety guards to keep you from slipping right off the edge just yet. It’s on private property and costs $3 per person to get in. You can get a guide if you like, but it’s not necessary and they work off of tips. The man who owns the property says no foreigners go out there because the roads are awful and they don’t know about it. He does get a lot of Panamanian tourists on the weekends. If you have your own gear, he’ll let you camp on his property for $8 per person and that includes access to the waterfall. You can’t tell from the pictures, but as you swim in these waters, we mere humans look like little peanuts. See our video below!
Boquete Bees and Butterflies- They have fresh, local honey. 30 different varieties and adding more all the time. They have honey infusions as well. They offer three different tours, ranging from $6 to $45 for the VIP that includes everything. You get to taste the different types of local honey and learn about the different types of bees and the plants they pollinate. They have a butterfly sanctuary and lab where they breed butterflies, a cafe onsite that sells coffee drinks and snacks as well as an entire storefront dedicated to the local honeys they produce.
Jungla Wildlife Refuge- The amazing staff here will give guided tours during the hours of 11 am -3 pm. These animals are being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild. In the event they can’t be released back into the wild, they will find a forever home for the animal or they will keep them at the refuge until the animal dies. They are always looking for volunteers for just about everything. The cost is $25 per adult unless you’re Panamanian, then it’s $10. Children ages 3-12 are $15 and Panamanian children are $5. It saves to be local…
Mi jardin es tu Jardin– Here is a beautiful garden that is private property opened to the public. We weren’t asked to pay, but the hours vary. They say they open at 10, we drove by at 10 and they were closed, but at 2 pm they were open. You just have to drive up and see if the gate is open. Great way to spend some time taking pictures of the flowers, birds and other creatures making this their home, such as bees and butterflies, hummingbirds etc…
These are just a few things in and around Boquete. They also have an animal rescue called Dog Camp Boquete where you can go and volunteer for a day or an hour or however long you want. They are located out by the Caldera Hot Springs.
Javier Madge: 6965-9423
Magaly Bustamante: 6830-6858
There is the Ecoparque for families with young kids. They have a petting zoo, slides, walking trails and a picnic area. There are numerous coffee tours, a bunch of different hikes, chocolate tastings, rum tastings and there’s even a small artesian market and shuttles to Bocas Del Toro which is about 3.5 hours away. There is no shortage of things to do in Boquete. You just have to figure out how much time you have to explore.
As far as digital nomads, there is pretty good wifi throughout Boquete. Pretty much pick a coffee place and sit down to enjoy a cup and catch up on some work. If you’re looking for a little more private work office and space, there are 2 places I recommend.
1) Selina- They have a co-working space that you can pay for by the day, week or month. They will issue you a key card for access, and there is a nice space where you can get complimentary coffee and tea and you can bring in snacks to put in the fridge. There are even telephone booths if you need to take a call and meeting rooms if you’re collaborating on a project. It’s pretty nice. They charge $10/day or 60/week. Not sure about the monthly rate. Of course, you can sit at the front or in the restaurant and use the guest wifi for free, but at least purchase something, no matter how small. They have two different setups, one that offers private desks and each of those requires a reservation, unless you go on the weekend when nobody is using the co-working space.
2) Dekobe Cowork- They have a pretty nice setup, but they’re too expensive for my taste. They charge $15/hour, $189/week and $499/month. I’ve rented houses down here for a month for just a little more than that and the wifi has been outstanding. I’m not sure it’s worth the monthly price and when you get great wifi for a fraction of the cost at Selina, I would choose Selina. But choose which one is right for your situation.
As always, these adventures may not be for everyone, and some of them are pretty remote. But if you’re up for an adventure, check some of them out.
We finally made it! Albeit, I was a little sick the few days prior and wasn’t sure that I was going to have enough energy to get through the entire 6 hour canyon tour, but we did. And it was worth it! It was only $30 each and included the guide, life vests, an inner-tube for the dog and lunch. A little side note*** This is in dry season, the canyon is nearly impassible in wet season and becomes highly dangerous, make sure your shoes have good traction.****
First, you drive up and park at Somoto Canyon Tours, it’s like its own very tiny village. There are a couple of houses, a tiny hostel and a restaurant. There’s not even really parking for more than 2 maybe 3 cars. We were greeted by a man, who only spoke Spanish, who took us to the restaurant and gave us information about the tour. He gave us multiple different options for tours, there are 4 different ones that vary in length and ability, and allowed us to bring Roxy. He gave us all life vests, grabbed a tube, his dry bag and an additional life vest for Roxy then we set out for the canyon.
It’s a canyoning tour, so making sure you bring the correct footwear is essential. If you have a pair of closed toed shoes that you don’t mind getting rid of, or taking a few days to dry out, bring those. If not, I suggest investing in a good pair of water shoes. When we were walking out of the canyon, we saw a group of people in their brand name clothes, nice shoes and leather purses, Gucci sunglasses and all getting ready to do the same thing we just did and the guide looked at them like they were crazy. Needless to say, they got down the canyon to the water and ultimately decided not to get their shoes, or any part of themselves wet… I don’t know what kind of excursion they thought they were going on, but hey, if that’s what you wear to do rigorous, outdoor exercise and get dirty… Be happy doing it.
The first thing you do is walk about half a mile down the highway to a long dirt road. You walk up this road for quite a while but what’s cool about it is, if it’s just rained and washed away a bunch of dirt and debris, you’ll notice that you’re walking on Jade. Yes… Jade, real, raw, uncut Jade. They don’t want you to take the big stones, but they don’t mind if you take a couple of the small pebble stragglers. After the rains though, the road gets covered with dirt, the Jade gets buried and you won’t see it. All of the green “rocks” you see in this video are all Jade.
You’ll come to private property where the guide will open gates and you’ll walk alongside some cows, and beware of cow poop, it’s everywhere. After a long climb up in wide open spaces and a beautiful view, you’ll begin to descend into the canyon.
It’s a steep trail down and it’s rocky. There are no hand rails or ropes and the views are amazing. From the trail, your guide can point out the border to Honduras as it’s less than a mile away. Many indigenous use the footpath to that border to trade goods with Honduras or visit their families. They say you can cross that border by car, but we never did, so I don’t know how reliable that information is.
Once you’re down the trail, it opens up to the river. You’ll walk along the river for a short time before you come to the first section of rocks that you’ll clamber over. You’ll cross the river and walk up to a 20 ft jump, where you can choose to jump or skip it and just float down the river. We jumped. Of course we did. There will be a few more of these, the highest one being 50 feet. There is one section that you actually have to jump. If you don’t you have to shoot through a “slide” that has been pretty dangerous in the past, where people have been really badly hurt from hitting their faces on the rocks as they’re being shot through. It’s 15 feet high and the guide brings rope, just in case you need to rappel or be lowered down. Roxy, obviously wasn’t going to just jump 15 feet off a cliff into water, so we strapped the life vest on her and tied her up in the rope and lowered her down. This was her least favorite part of the entire trip.
After floating down the river and climbing up rocks to jump off of, we came to a tiny cave and were able to stick our heads in it. We also had the opportunity to climb through a “window” in of the wall of the canyon that had been carved out by water over the centuries.
After a couple of hours of being in the cool and refreshing water, you come to a clearing, where there is a row boat waiting for you. Everyone climbs in and they take you to the end of your tour, where you have to walk back out, practically the same way you came, but it’s all up hill and it’s hot. You walk for about 45 minutes before arriving at the restaurant, where they serve you lunch and a drink. The food is delicious and the company is great. The guides and all the other people on their tours all gather around the table and share stories, talk about their travels and their experience in the canyon. They take your payment and any tip you want to leave, and you walk away with memories of a lifetime. Not too bad for $30/ person, right?
Panama City Scavenger Hunt! Storing and Retrieving your foreign vehicle in Panamá
Nothing in Central America is straightforward or easy. There are a bunch of steps to get anything accomplished and a whole bunch of red tape to get through. Storing our vehicle was our first Panamanian scavenger hunt.
We had crossed the border at Paso Canoas with 4 days to store our vehicle before flying out of Panama City back to the USA to spend the holidays with family and visit some friends. That was a fiasco in and of itself after being told in Costa Rica that our vehicle had to leave because it had overstayed its welcome in their country. So we made a 20 hour push from Liberia to Panama City, knowing all of our paperwork would need to be done there.
The first thing we did was try to locate the storage facility (A). We were told by Overland Embassy that Transbal was a good, secure place to store the vehicle for long term. We found the storage facility, located in Chilibri about 20 mins from the city. We told them we were there to store our vehicle long term. They filled out a bunch of paperwork basically saying that they have our vehicle in their government bonded storage facility.
We then had to take that paperwork back to the city to the other Transbal Administrative Office (B), located at Via Ricardo J. Alfaro, Betania Centro comercial Siglo XXI, which is NOT the storage facility as google lists it. This is where they required bond for the vehicle. We requested bond of $30,000.00 just in case we came back and everything was ruined. She gave us all the paperwork and told us to hold onto it because we’d need it when we came back to retrieve our vehicle. They didn’t quote us a price right then, but everything I’ve read was saying essentially $1.50 per day to store your vehicle.
Next we had to find the Aduana office (C) to suspend the TIP. Once the TIP is suspended, your passport gets stamped with “authorized to leave Panama without vehicle.” Without this, you’ll not be able to board your flight or cross a border. We went to the Aduana building listed on iOverlander because it was a 6 minute drive from the hotel we were staying at. When we arrived it was about 3:00 pm and we were advised that this particular Aduana no longer handles anything for TIP purposes. There was a new building located near the airport that handles all the paperwork for foreign vehicles and they close at 4:00 pm. It’s only a 20 minute drive, but with afternoon traffic it was showing 56 minutes. We opted to go the next morning to cancel the TIP.
We woke up early the next morning, hopped in an Uber who took us out to the Aduana building. It took all of 5 minutes. We walked in, went around the corner to the Control de Vehicluar. I handed the lady all of our paperwork, told her we needed to suspend the TIP as we had a flight back to the USA. She took a copy of the passport, stamped over the “Cannot leave without vehicle” to now say “Authorized to leave without vehicle,” gave us all of our paperwork back and sent us on our way.
We were now bonded, stored and authorized to leave the country without our car.
To get your vehicle out of storage when you return, you just do exactly the opposite, but you MUST get insurance first. You can go to any office that provides seguros. Any bank can get you the insurance you need. We weren’t sure, so we opted to go with the same company that issued ours at the border. This was probably a mistake, because they over doubled the insurance per month, but I was able to get two months of insurance, without needing to go back and renew after 30 days. This also allows you more time on your TIP when you go back to the Aduana for a new permit (minus the days you’ve already spent in country if you’ve suspended rather than cancelled, I don’t know if they authorize cancellation if the vehicle is still in country).
Check out our youtube video to see the process of getting our vehicle back after 64 days.