The last bit of Dominical, Costa Rica
Dominical was truly a slice of heaven. We did not do much other than surf, cook food, and hang out with our Canadian travel buddies. Dominical was just big enough to rotate in a few restaurants and rent surfboards to occupy the afternoon. We loved lounging in this small surf town where the dirt roads still keep a majority of the tourists away.
To Quepos, Costa Rica
After Dominical, we needed to head closer to San Jose, so we migrated to a place 80km north of Dominical, called Quepos. Even though the distance to Quepos was short, the bus ride took over 3 hours due to gravel roads. Quepos is really nothing to see, just a bustling Costa Rican community with a large marina on the coastline. No beach to relax on, just a seawall and docked boats in the bay. However the nearest beach, Manuel Antonio, is only a 10 min bus ride away and is a spectacular place to lounge and swim for the day. You can find lodging along the road to and in Manuel Antonio, but Quepos is a bit cheaper, which is where we decided to spend two nights.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
MA is an adorable beach town where the main street is packed with local vendors selling many different souvenirs and tourists lining the beach in lounge chairs and standing umbrellas. Even though there are many travelers walking around the town and lounging on the beach, the town still had a mellow, inviting vibe. It has great swimming, with calm, warm water and beautiful soft white sand. There is also a preserve right around the corner from the main beach that has short hiking trails to empty beaches and lush jungle, however we did not go. On the way back to Quepos we stopped at this cool restaurant called El Avion, which means The Plane. The history of this restaurant is interesting. It is constructed out of an old C-130 plane that the US Government sold to the Contras during the 80’s. The plane is perched on a beautiful hilltop and is a wonderful place to watch the sunset. It reminded us of Big Sur for a moment. We definitely recommend to any travelers in that area to make a stop at MA.
San Jose to Belize City
It took 3 hours on a decent bus ride to get to San Jose from Quepos. We flew to Belize City the next morning at 6:15am. In retrospect we wish we could have had more time to see Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. They are supposed to be the cheapest countries to travel in and relatively safe despite what worried parents, and the embassy may warn you about. We talked to many travelers who felt safe in every country in Central America during their travels. But due to time constraints, a limited budget, and our return flight from Cancun, we needed to head north quickly. The flight to Belize was very short and beautiful from what we could see in the plane. We had a layover in El Salvador, which required the plane to fly parallel to the pacific coast of Nicaragua. All you could see for miles from the plane was white sandy beach. We predict that Nicaragua is going to be the next best thing to Costa Rica very soon; maybe even better because the cost of living is much cheaper than Costa Rica. El Salvador looked lovely as well.
Once we arrived into Belize City, we got a taxi to the bus station. It was a strange feeling to all the sudden be speaking fluent English again (Belize’s national language is English, even though different communities within Belize speak Spanish and many different native languages). We couldn’t help but slip hola and gracias for the first few days in Belize. Belize is actually an interesting country when it comes to its culture and nationality. There are over 6 different languages spoken by Belize citizens. It was very confusing at first; we didn’t know when to speak Spanish and when to use English. However once we began traveling within Belize it became more apparent. Belize is certainly much different than the other Mestizo-Spanish countries. Its rich history in the Caribbean and Mayan culture and Central American/British influence has brought much diversity to the country, making the bus rides certainly interesting. The Caribbean coast of Belize is mostly Garifuna communities where English is spoken but with a much different dialect. Many of the Garifuna are also considered true “Rasta-men”. They have their own distinct language and culture. It has taken us some time to get used to the Garifuna accents and pronunciations. However, Belize also has indigenous Mayan tribes, Spanish immigrants, Creole, Mennonites, and ex-patriots(aka retirees, baby-boomers, and visitors that never left the country, surprisingly a lot of Canadians).
Our first destination in Belize was a small beach town off the Southern coast of Belize called Placencia. The bus ride from Belize City was long and gruesome. It took about 5 hours to get to this small town, but was well worth the trip. There is only one main road through the town, and a long sidewalk that parallels the beach. The sidewalk is where most of the hotels and restaurants are. The town looks like something out of an old Jimmy Buffet video, early Margarita Ville days. Surprisingly we found an affordable room right next to the beach. On the ride over we made friends with another Canadian from Vancouver and an Italian from Milan. Once we got settled in, we were all drinking happy hour rum drinks and kicking back on the beach at the Barefoot bar and grill, where no shoes were allowed. Most of the restaurants in Placencia are reasonably priced, as well as the beach front cabanas for rent. Because it is conch season here in Belize, we got to try conch in Creole sauce for the first time. It was definitely interesting. The conch snail is rather chewy but good in the Creole and jerk sauce. It had the texture of a thick piece of Calamari. Other than a few rain showers throughout the two days we stayed, we enjoyed Belize’s national beer for the first time, the Belikin, while relaxing in the beach town atmosphere.
We were not too sure what to expect at our next stop in Hopkins. There were not many travelers or tourists going to this small beach community of Garifuna people. Our lonely planet book (aka our traveling bible) recommended staying a night or two in this unique town. It was only a 2 hour bus ride north of Placencia. The only surprise was that the bus did not drop us off in the town of Hopkins, but instead at the bus stop 4 miles inland. One of the locals from Hopkins, who also got off the bus, simply informed us that there is an infrequent bus that goes to the town but it is much faster to just hitch a ride into town in the back of a truck. Ok, so we thought it would be no big deal, well that was until loads of locals kept getting dropped off at the bus stop. Before we knew it, there were at least 10 locals and us waiting to hitch a ride into town…the competition was on. Cars kept passing, but no one wanted to attempt that battle, and just kept driving. Finally an empty pick up truck stopped and everyone loaded in the back. It was definitely an interesting start to our stay in Hopkins. When we got into town, we quickly saw that it was a very small community with no tourists in sight. Luckily, there was a tourist information booth with a helpful woman who pointed us in the right direction for a place to stay. Little did we know that we would be stumbling upon one of the most unique experiences of our trip. She made a phone call and two local men on bikes came to meet us with two spare bikes in their hands. With all our gear on, we biked half a mile down the road to a place called Lebeha. We were quickly informed that it was also a drumming center that gave authentic Garifuna drumming lessons to the local youth. Once we got settled in our private, straw roofed cabana, we found out that they have nightly drumming shows for their friends and guests. We spent the afternoon sampling authentic Garifuna and Creole dishes. The native food is actually quite tasty. Later that evening the locals came to our hotel and performed an hour long drumming show for us, capped off with dancing and singing by the drummers. It was a wonderful experience and was the highlight of our Hopkins stay.
The next morning we left Hopkins and headed NW to a town near the Guatemala border called San Ignacio. We were hoping to do some sort of adventure tour in the caves, but were surprised to find out that none of the tours were in our budget. Instead we decided to save our money for a snorkeling trip to the reef in Caye Caulker, which was our next destination.