We are having a wonderful stay in San Juan del Sur. It’s nice just to relax and do nothing for a few days before heading to Isla de Ometepe for a bit more adventure.
The town of San Juan del Sur itself can be summed up as “little Canada.” It’s a backpackers’ destination complete with a Sunday Funday bar crawl and U.S. dollars in the ATMs.
It may not have a local vibe, but the travel spirit thrives here. Everyone is very friendly, the food is fantastic, and it feels quite safe.
There are more beautiful beaches a short drive away but we wanted to have access to town without a car. So we are staying just outside of town where it’s a bit more quiet but still close enough to walk everywhere.
It’s too windy hang out on the beaches, so for now we are enjoying the breeze and a few cocktails with a lovely view.
We never wrote anything about our February trip to Panamá. So we are sitting here in our hotel in Bogotá talking about how accessible the world can be if you make travel a priority – and you really don’t have to break the bank.
We’ve heard the question many times: “How do you get to travel so much?”
Of course there are numerous factors that go into the answer: available vacation time, pet sitters and the lack of unforeseen life expenses.
But world travel doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.
We’ve read a lot of articles suggesting that you cut back on expenses, like cable, or brow bag your lunch instead of buying an unhealthy $8 sandwich every day.
These are great ideas, and if those don’t work for you, We have another suggestion.
The next time you get a pay increase, open a separate savings account and have $1 an hour of your paycheck automatically deposited there–or stash $40 every week.
If you work full time, you will have $2080 dollars saved up a year later.
We’ve done many trips around the world for $2,000 or less per person. And it isn’t super budget travel either. We’ve done a bunch of trips for $2,000 to $2,500 for both of us, too!
Our days of staying in dorm-style hostels are over. But we do stay in comfortable, low-cost (sometimes low frill) places in great locations around the world.
Here’s how we did Panama:
We usually like to go somewhere warm in February because it’s cold at home and it’s the dry season in Central America and other locations. So, six months ahead of time, we picked a week we wanted to go and plugged three different destinations into our Hopper app for those dates: Panama City, Lima and Quito.
Then we waited. In the mean time, we watched Anthony Bourdain (Update: RIP, sigh, sigh, sigh), Samantha Brown and Jack Maxwell explore these areas. We searched Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and Viator for suggested itineraries and neighborhoods to explore. This research is half the fun!!
In November, we got an alert from Hopper: “Your flight to Panama is $214. You should book now.”
What?! $214 direct to Panama from Washington, DC? We’re on it!
Through our internet and television research, we decided to stay in the El Cangrejo district for the first three nights.
An Orbitz promotional rate of $75/night including tax got us a nice room at the Riande Granada Urban hotel. Great pool, workout room and beer garden. We would stay here again!
The hotel was in walking distance to casinos and to Via Argentina–which had lots of restaurants and bars. The area felt much less touristy than other places in the city, and there was still plenty to do.
We hired an Uber driver to take us to the Miraflores locks to check out the canal. The driver waited for us for an hour and kept the meter running. It cost us $20 including an extra tip.
We also hired an Uber driver to take us out to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. We should have had him wait for us, because, although the view was beautiful, there wasn’t much to do. In hind sight, we would’ve had him take us to the nearby Soberania park and wait for us. This wound up being about $70 round trip.
After three nights, we relocated to the touristy Casco Viejo area for one night and stayed at Tantalo, a trendy and fun hotel with an amazing rooftop bar. $145/night. It was definitely cool to check out that area for a night!
After that we took an hour flight to Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side for $200 per person.
We stayed in walking distance to Bocas Town in a little rustic cabin on the water–which was $100+ per night, depending on which cabin you rented.
We splurged and got the cabin on the end overlooking the water for $154/night including tax.
Bocas Town is very much a backpackers town. We had fun hanging out in town at a hostel bar, Selina, that had great happy hours, a pool table, friendly patrons from around the world and a relaxing view of the water.
There were lots of excursions we could have arranged from Bocas Town, but we just decided to relax.
There were some great little restaurants in town, and food prices were reasonable.
After four nights in Bocas, we flew back to Panama City and headed home.
It was an amazing trip!!
Factor in an additional $50/per person for taxi/uber to and from the airport and around town.
So there you have it. Here’s the per person breakdown:
International flight: $214
Domestic fight: $200
Sightseeing transport: $50
Airport and other transport: $50
Accommodations for 8 nights: $500
That’s a little over $1,000 per person for flights, accommodations and transportation. That leaves quite a bit per day to spend on food, drinks, excursions and whatever else.
Or you could budget some of that for the next adventure!
Our hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest was incredible. Just as in Manuel Antonio, we got there when the park opened and had the trails to ourselves while everyone else waited for their guides by the entrance.
This was one of the coolest nature walks I’ve ever experienced, even though it was too “cloudy” to see anything from the lookout points.
The misty forest rained consistently, but the dense canopy kept us comfortably covered. We spotted a few agoutis and our favorite Costa
Rican friend, the white faced coati.
Although most of the forest critters were hiding from the rain, we heard the most interesting bird calls.
Our experience is better watched and listened to than read about – so I will post a few videos!
Playa Flamingo had a gorgeous beach – perfect for walking and swimming. The beach resort had an amazing pool, complete with swim-up bar, and great ocean views from the restaurant (although, we preferred Coco Loco and Angelina’s for meals).
Just a short drive down the beach (literally, we drove on the beach), we found Playa Conchal, where you can rent snorkel gear, swim around the rocky coastline, and have a freshly opened coconut water when you’re finished.
Today was a total failure, but they can’t all be perfect travel days, right?!
After three days of relaxing on the beach, we were ready to put the 4-wheel drive to use and explore Palo Verde National Park – home to birds, monkeys, crocodiles and other Costa Rican critters.
We carefully planned, consulted the concierge, plugged the destination into the GPS, and had a map for back up – nonetheless, after hours of driving on pothole filled, unpaved backroads, we hit a dead end at the river we intended to explore, but there were no boat guides or park entrances as promised.
After looping around every possible path on the conflicting directions of locals, we finally gave up and decided to check out a surfing beach with a cool little bar we heard about…
…several hours and several thousand potholes later, we arrived at the cool little bar, which was closed for the season. Ugh! Time to turn around and go back over the unpaved roads.
Finally, we decided just to go to Tamarindo, the most populated beach point in the area, to have some lunch.
When we were almost there, the car started making a funny noise. We gave up and drove back to our hotel. Tired, hungry, and disappointed, we wait the car rental company’s arrival with (hopefully) a replacement vehicle.
Our amazing little condominio at Chaman, Casa de Mariposa, had a fantastic little pool, a full kitchen, a washer/dryer, and plenty of adorable resident cats and purple-orange crabs!
It was centrally located on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. We were just a few minutes drive from the park, as well as great restaurants and spas (raindrop spa was fantastic).
Our only complaint is that the master bedroom bed was pretty old and uncomfortable – so we slept in the other room, which was great. Overall, if you’re on a budget, you can’t beat this no-frills but still comfortable, beautiful, and tucked-away little gem.