Category Archives: Essentials

Nicaragua Essentials

Wifi – 3 /5

Pretty great coverage and speed in major hubs, however the power grid in Nicaragua seems to be only loosely tied together (or loosely tied around tree branches… true fact) and entire towns go black for hours (days) at a time. Specifically San Juan Del Sur and the beach towns. Northern surf towns also have very limited wifi, if at all. This is a very poor region and we are sure all their other needs will come first before fast wifi.

Transportation – N/A 

We’re driving now bitches!

Road Conditions – 5 / 5

Absolutely shockingly wonderful. Brand new highway systems south to north. Not a single pot hole to be had. Even the newly built cobblestone road around 80% of Ometepe is spectacular.  No tolls to be found, only one police checkpoint by the border and seriously smooth sailing. Great job Nicaragua.

Food  – 4 / 5

One word: smoked cheese. Wait maybe two words. Also, the arepas (thick mais cakes) have been getting progressively thinner and turning more tortilla-esque as we travel north.  We are okay with this. Especially when combined with cheese.

Nicaraguan food is extremely flavourful, largely portioned and at least the street food is cheap. The markets are a great place to shop for fresh produce, and there were papayas that were larger then small children.

Safety  – 4 / 5

We had no issues in the cities, beaches or highways. Not to say we didn’t here about some issues (particularly on beaches) but we found everyone very friendly. The only place we felt a bit concerned about safety was after dark in Granada. There are too many gringos  in town partying too hard, it seems to draw in the lurkers just waiting to pick off an easy one.

 

Street Dogs – 3 / 5

Not as many as some places we have been, but generally healthy looking. Most people, most of the time seem to mostly be pleasant towards them. Unlike most other places we’ve traveled we didn’t make any dog friends, maybe because we were cat sitting?

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Panama Essentials

Wifi – 3/5

The wifi in Panama is less prevalent than in Colombia. It doesn’t usually exist within bus terminals, parks or other public spaces. If it does, its annoyingly complicated to login or issues the statement “Connected, no internet” which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  Within the few hostels we have connected, it is easily bogged down by the number or users and is difficult to make calls. Typically the more remote the hostel, the better the connection. Right now we are at Playa Venao, a surfing paradise and the Wifi is great!

Transportation – 4/ 5

Urban transport is efficient within Panama City, there is a new Metro and new modern buses going into place. The old form of chicken buses are going out of style (although still incredibly stylish with 2pac painted on the back, weird 90’s cartoons over the sides, purple bubble windows on the top and only about 6 inches of visible windshield after taking all the insane stickers into account).

The main form of medium distance travel here are collectivos. Easy to figure out by the to & from locations listed on their windshields (“Anton – En Valle”); easy to catch (wave your hands frantically at the side of the road); and cheap. To travel from Panama City to the ecolodge in Coronado only cost $5.50USD and it was 2 collectives over 2-3 hours. Much cheaper than Colombia!

Long distance travel is always a nightbus, which from what we can tell are modern with bathrooms and on time. We have no experience with this nonsense anymore though – we have our own long distance transport now suckers!

Road Conditions – 3.5 / 5

The Pan-American highway is a dream here. Smooth sailing, divided and beautiful.  Not to mention there are only tolls in Panama City which are electronically monitored with stickers. So maybe, if you have an foreign plated vehicle you can just drive past them without issue! Don’t trust us on this one though, we inherited a sticker with our Panamanian truck.

The traffic congestion within Panama is absolutely atrocious though. We assume to be frustrated within every latin american city but Panama City is our first and we dislike it. The city is small, the streets are well paved but the traffic planner must have been drunk. Every street, including the thoroughfares are one way, and without a well-laid grid pattern its not exactly easy to get from one side to the other. Shaped like a banana, its sometimes easier to from one end to the other then through the middle. Also, a quick trip can take literally hours during peak traffic.

Food  – 2 / 5

Pretty boring if we are honest. Fresh fruits are good but variety is limited; standard Pollo Asado (BBQ chicken) is good if a little repetitive; the remaining food is a bit bland for us. For the record if anyone tries to suggest the local version of KFC to you “Pio Pio”, just skip it. The versions served by mom & pop establishments are far superior.

Street food is typically a steamed hotdog, maybe a stale empanada if you are lucky.

One thing we can say is that western food is very prevelant here, thanks to the huge expat population. As long as you have money, you can find any kind of sustenance you want! Want some fancy bread? French Cheeses? Kraft Dinner Mac and cheese? You got it! This is only appealing to us because we have reached the part of our trip where we (specifically Jessica) is going a bit crazy for the tastes of home.

Sorry Panama!

Safety  – 5 / 5

Great! No issues yet (knock on wood). Some neighbourhoods in Panama City are not safe at night, but also not really interesting to see so why even go there? We haven’t heard about anyone getting robbed, or assaulted and certainly have been easily keeping out of trouble ourselves.

Just don’t try to invest money here, seems you might get in trouble or something.

Street Dogs – 3.5 / 5

There seems to be better stray dog control here, as there are fewer within city limits than other countries. The dogs we do see are again very well cared for, and maybe too well fed. Hostels tend to start collecting them and we haven’t stayed anywhere that hasn’t had a few dogs kicking around.

Yellow Fever Requirements & Advice on Traveling to Panama

We recently discovered a very interesting fact about the Yellow Fever Requirements for countries that do not require it. Although we did not need Yellow Fever vaccine to travel to Colombia from Canada, nor to any other country on our travels…. we neglected to sort out that we would be traveling from Colombia which is a yellow fever infected area to Panama, Costa Rica etc. This means we did in fact need a yellow fever vaccination.

We heard from a few of our fellow travelers horror stories of being rejected outright from Costa Rica, and from being temporarily denied to the Bahamas.

We discovered this about 2 days before our flight to Panama City.  Cue – Panic mode.

After extensive Googling, we found little to no advice about how to either fake a yellow card (sorry we thought it was a good idea at the time) or to receive a vaccination in Colombia. However, after speaking with many friends and our own experience we found some solutions that we should pass along for anyone else in this position.

  1. Fly out of Bogota: The El Dorado airport in Bogota has a clinic, where they hand out free Yellow Fever Vaccines to all the silly travelers who are rejected from their flights at the check in. It seems to require some discussions, but it is available and our friends were allowed immediately on to their flight with a new proof of vaccination.
  2. Find a Clinic: They should be available everywhere, but we know of access in Cartegena (a fellow traveler), and Medellin (our experience). If you plan ahead, and book an appointment (ask your hostel to assist if you don’t have the necessary Spanish skills) you should actual get the vaccine for free.
    • We went to Previnm in El Centro Medellin . Since we obviously didn’t plan ahead we had to get an emergency vaccination and the price was 56000COP (23$ CDN). A steal considering in Canada you will pay $160 + appointment fee and have to wait 6 weeks. Apparently nobody cares of the time frame here. We highly approve of this clinic, they know whats going on.

Our advice if you are traveling to Colombia, do not get the vaccine until you arrive. You will literally save 100% of the costs if you plan ahead. Also, even if you don’t plan on traveling to another country that requires the vaccine, still get it. One day you may need it, so why not get it while its free.


 

Another cheat code we figured out is a way to circumvent the requirement to have a “proof of exit” out of the country. Something which Panama, among other countries, needs before you enter.  Some travelers are rejected, some are forced to buy a expensive ticket last minute at the airport, some spend time trying to fake a ticket but we’d recommend making a reservation with Copa Airlines. You can make a reservation and receive a reservation code on an official looking email without entering any credit card information. A free and hassle free solution. Ta da!


 

The moral of the story is that we are thankful to have both the vaccine and the fake ticket, the ticket worked like a charm and nobody asked us for our proof of vaccination on arrival to Panama…..

 

 

Colombian Essentials

Wifi – 4 / 5

Our opinions may change as we travel (its been a few years for both of us to see the affects of wifi on traveling), but Colombia has wifi everywhere.  Literally. Buses, bus stations, nearly every hostel or hotel, even city parks have wifi. The quality is not always consistent, but wifi is ever present.

Transportation – 4 / 5

From our wide range of international experience, Colombia has efficient, uncrowded and extremely friendly transportation options.

Buses for example are nearly always on time. Most have wifi, none have been over-crowded. The classic chicken buses do exist here, but generally most people take privately owned and operated buses/collectivos between cities. Or for longer travel, fancy aircon mega buses. Drivers of all these options are less crazy then we have encountered elsewhere, but there have been a few who are causing nightmares for us still.

Transportation terminals have been clean, safe and everyone is very willing to help you figure out where you want to go and how – even if Spanish is not your forte.

City transportation as well has been easy to figure out and efficient (save Medellin, which I am sure if efficient but operates on privately run city buses which have no schedule or map as far as we can figure out…. and therefore we  literally just did not figure out the buses).

Road Conditions – 3.5 / 5

Although we are not overlanding yet, we have been on a lot of roads, so we might as well report on them. Road conditions are relatively good. Highways are smooth and fast. There are many tolls (sometimes our bus crosses upwards of 5 in a 6 hour journey). Seem to cost between around $5CDN on average.

But there are so many god forsaken speedbumps, sometimes in the middle of a highway that was otherwise traveling smoothly. Colombians care more about their shocks then their breaks, be warned! But, drivers mainly follow a set of common rules, and traffic patterns are pretty easy to grasp.

Not many military/police checkpoints on the roads, for example you may encounter one on an all day journey. However, in regions where there is more guerrilla activity the police activity also increases. We have not encountered any problems, they will check your info maybe your bags but leave you alone. Police here are someone you want to run to not away from in 99% of cases.

Food  – 2.5 / 5

As reported before, the food in Colombia is great but limited. Mostly the same mixed plates (which are really good) but consistently chicken/pork/carne, rice, platain, ensalada, aprepa. Repeat. Also, if spending the day in transport or on the move it becomes more restricted to deep fried everything, mostly bread.

Fruits here have been spectacular and would get a 5/5 on their own right. That being said, if you are a vegetarian, or worse a vegan, you will basically need to cook every single meal yourself. Even if you are not, you will likely end up cooking many meals simply to avoid scurvy. Love you Colombia! But Veggies in restaurants are not your strong point

Safety  – 4 .5 / 5

If we were reporting on only our time here, we would report a 5/5 . We have never encountered a thief (yet), a corrupt official (yet), or a threatening situation (yet). We have been very mindful of going out late at night and what we bring with us, and avoiding some higher risk areas.

That being said we have heard from friends about a terrifying trip across the Ecuadorian border where the bus broke down and the entire bus spent a few nail biting moments screaming at the driver to “GO GO GO” to avoid any attention from guerrillas (this was at night, not traveling in a convoy which is not the norm). We have also heard of a friend of a friend being robbed at gun point in Cali (thankfully he literally just dropped his pants to show he had nothing), and we have also been warned by literally everyone in Medellin to get out of Centro before 6PM before the real sketch creeps in.

Street Dogs – 5 / 5

In her many years of loving, and petting street dogs around the world, Jessica has never come across as happy and as healthy of dogs as run around Colombia. The dreaded mange is seemingly absent, dogs love all people and seem to be loved by most. Restaurant owners take the scraps right off our tables to feed their favorites. We’ve even come across happy street pigs (Mompos) and happy street roosters.  Interbreeding between dog breeds has led to some amazing creations here, but street dogs can also be of a high pedigree. Many friendly pit bulls, or retrievers roam the streets and you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the feisty little chihuahuas marching up and down the road like they own it.