Epilogue: looking back on my last great journey

Panama City Travel Blog

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Hmm, that sounds rather profound, doesn't it? Well, in a way it is true. This was the last time I travelled extensively for several months, without a job waiting for me back home. After I got back home in March 2003 I had to grow up and get all serious and work on a career and all that shit. And my trips have been limited to a maximum of 4 weeks at the time since then. Still nothing to complain about, but it was often feeling as a restriction of my freedom.

I guess re-reading and translating my original blogs over the past months has definitely influenced my decision to give up my job and start travelling again next year. (have a look at the preparations blog here).

I always like to reflect back and do a brief summary of each country I visited; looking at the best and worst the country has to over. As this trip passed through so many countries I will keep it brief for each and every entry.

Mexico - what can I say. The country I spent the most time in during this trip (over a third of my total time), the one country which I had visited before, and probably the biggest disappointment of the trip. Well, it wasn't so much a disappointment at the time, but each subsequent country turned out to be so much better than Mexico had been. In hindsight a week or two shorter would have been better.

As for the best and worst the country has to offer, well the best is the diversity. Both environmental and cultural. There's great colonial cities, Mayan ruins, big cities, little villages, volcanoes, jungle, waterfalls, mountains, desert, beaches, everything. As for bad things, well the people were a bit of a disappointment. Especially around Yucatán, where most tourists are, the people are just completely indifferent towards foreigners, and take tourist dollars all but for granted. Another downside is the pollution just everywhere. Everywhere you look there are plastic bags and other rubbish lying around, and the people simply do not seem to care.

Belize - Of the many surprises I had this trip Belize was by far the biggest! A little bit of English in a Hispanic region and immediately such a difference in culture. I think Belize would be my choice as ultimate holiday destination in the world. This little country has such a diversity on offer, Caribbean islands, beaches, diving and snorkelling on one end, and trekking, jungle, wildlife, eco-lodges and adventure travel, and none of it more than half a day's travel apart. A perfect place for a two-week holiday in my opinion.

Guatemala - Well, the first description Robbel and I gave Guatemala as we travelled around the country was “like Mexico, only better”. Not entirely fair, but no less true. Here too you get stunning Mayan ruins, a terrific natural environment and great opportunities for activities, only with nicer people and better food!

El Salvador - Another surprise on this trip. Of course my three day stay in the country was too short to form a proper opinion, and compared to its neighbours this little country is lacking any prime tourist destinations. So I wouldn't recommend it as a travel destination on its own, but if you are travelling the region, like for example you're on your way from Guatemala to Honduras, this country certainly merits a visit. The people are most definitely the nicest I have met throughout the entire region.

That said, there are some drawbacks to the country as well. The pollution here is the worst in all of Central America, and gang activity in San Salvador doesn't make the capital the best of places to wander around in at night (though San Salvador is still a lot safer than Guatemala City and Managua).

Honduras - Forget about Copán Ruinas, the most promoted tourist destination in Honduras. The Bay Islands, that's where you want to be heading. The reefs in the pristine Caribbean sea make for one of the best diving destinations in the world. Second in size only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, but with far less visitors.

Though I haven't travelled much of the mainland, what I did see, I liked a lot. Definitely a place to go back to some day.

Nicaragua - This is the only place where I really regretted not having more time to visit. Four days is way too short any way you look at it. And although the shortened visit was a result of my prolonged stay in Utila, in hindsight I wish I had been able to arrange it differently. As for highlights, well, Isla de Ometepe is in my top 5 all-time favourite places in the world, so go figure. Drawbacks? I wouldn't know them. Well, yeah, safety is a bit of an issue in Managua, but outside the capital you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Costa Rica - Mixed feelings about this one. The country's ecological features are unrivalled anywhere else in the world and the amount of national parks that can be visited (and the diversity of wildlife in them) is hugely impressive. But evenso I can't say I really liked the country. It is a clear example of how a country can lose its own identity due to tourism. The influx of (mainly) American tourism have caused that the country just misses that distinct Hispanic feel I have come to love in the rest of Latin America. This notwithstanding the fact that it is indeed a very nice country, but to visit towards the end of a three month trek, after El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, it simply was a disappointment for me.

Panama - Unfortunately another country of which I have to conclude I didn't see as much of as I would have liked. But what I saw I liked a lot. Well, Boquete was a bit of a waste, but Bocas was wonderful, and I truly enjoyed the cosmopolitan Panama City.

Final thoughts about the region

With the exception of Mexico and Costa Rica this region is not as extensively travelled as South America. This makes that a visit to Central America makes you feel every bit the explorer or anthropologist. Of course I never strayed far from the well-beaten track, I am not as adventurous as I sometimes claim to be. But evenso it did feel like one big adventure. I was visiting places most people can't even point to on a map!

I can wholeheartedly recommend the region to anyone looking for. Though I would still recommend South America over Central America, Central America makes a good alternative if you are looking for another dose of Hispanic culture.

fransglobal says:
I agree with Stigen - a great synopsis. Gefeliciteerd.

I agree about Costa Rica being in danger of losing it's identity. Also agree about Isla de Omepete.

Belize I did not like so much as you - I felt it was too Americanised and as you do mention in the detailed blog about the country, it is quite expensive.

I possibly liked Mexico more than you but agree that the people were possibly not as friendly as elsewhere in the region. It is however a very important country and should be visited, whether one likes it or not.

I do agree that I would prefer South America than Central America.
Posted on: Aug 21, 2009
Stigen says:
Thanks for this entry ! it`s a good piece of writing ,and very informative ,especially sonce I`ll be in the region for 5 weeks soon. I know how it is to get caught on the career train. My last great 6 months trip was also in 2003 !
Posted on: Aug 21, 2009
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Panama City
photo by: Biedjee