San Jose Costa Rica to Puerto Armuelles, Panama

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P1000681We got a relatively early start after a nice breakfast at the Hotel Aranjuez in San Jose. Both of us were anxious to get back on the road and out of downtown San Jose.

Costa Rica is an incredibly beautiful country but the city of San Jose isn’t all that nice and if you’re riding a bike there you feel like a steer in a stock yard – your time to be slaughtered will come. The taxi drivers are extremely aggressive combined with the busses who definitely own the road and then there are the trucks who occasionally have working brakes. Dan was bumped a couple times riding around the city and John doesn’t like riding in cities in the first place.



We headed south out of town on CA2 the “main” road. This road snakes its way up along the ridge of mountains down the spine of the country. As we climbed up into the mountains there were clouds stuck on them and we both chatted back and forth that it was going to be cold and wet. We climbed and climbed – reaching over 10,000 feet and the moisture was getting “thick” and we were starting to freeze… We kept talking about how long this would last, is it rain, is it just foggy moisture, etc… When we got up to almost 11,000 feet and it was definitely raining we broke down and pulled over to put our rain gear on… on Feb 20 at about 11am we ended our no rain streak  of about 39 days of travel without rain came to an end… we rode on in our rain gear trying to warm up and in about 15 minutes as we descended down thru 8,000 feet the rain stopped and out came the sun. By the time we hit San Isidro we were riding in sunshine and mostly dry on the outside, but soaked on the inside due to our stubbornness of waiting too long to put our rain gear on. I think the point at which we decided was when John complained of water running down his leg into his boots getting his socks wet. Looking back thru the comments in the blog it appears the closest guesses are on Feb 14th –  by John’s wife Lynn!!! and by mtrcycllvr – so we will figure out a prize for you guys….

Gassing up in San Isidro we got to chatting with a guy about heading south – he suggested we go out to the coast to Dominical and ride along the ocean instead of down the inland route. It was a very good call – the coastline was spectacular and we had a great road almost all the way to Palmar Norte and enjoyed some nice riding without playing pinball with the trucks.

Working our way into the afternoon we debated whether to hit the border crossing today or not – it would be about 3pm when we got there and it looked like about 45 minutes to an hour ride to a town after the border. We decided to try it – as we pulled into the border a few of the “fixers” came swimming out of the urchin tanks to attack us. They wave you into a parking spot, but we have learned to just weave thru them and choose our own line/parking spot. Which establishes right away who is in charge.

Dan worked the border exit from Costa Rica while John watched the bikes. The exit from Costa Rica was not difficult – just took some time waiting in lines – get your immigration stamps and the exit for the bikes – took about an hour to get out. Entry into Panama was a little more mysterious – stand in line for your immigration stamp in the passport, then be told that you need a $1 sticker stamp from some dude walking around, then back into the immigration line – “oh, no Senor, you need the tourist card ok, go find the mysterious tourist card from some other office – only there is nobody there – wait for a while, wait some more, finally he comes back – $5 each for these papers and back to the immigration line… another 15 minutes waiting for the immigration guy and I’m thinking “ok, let’s see what he can find wrong now” – get up there and he looks it over and stamps our passports and says “Belcome to Panama!” – now, the bikes need to get their papers… over to the vehiculos “department” – more lines, more $5, etc… I start to head to the bikes when one of the fixers tells me that we need to go thru customs …. yea, i know that but where is it? – several of them point to yet another unmarked room – I go in there and there is a chubby little guy with a fancy hat, official shirt, picture id hung around his neck and a sign on the wall, in english and spanish, that says “All services in this public office are free”. He looks over the passports, the tourist cards, the vehicle papers, writes some notes on the vehicle stuff, and then says “$5 for each bike”. I point to the sign and say “gratis?” – he says in very good english “you want to have bikes “inspected” or you want to whiz right through?” – I pulled $10 out of my pocket and the customs machine resumed full speed operation spitting out 2 more gringos and motorcycles onward into Panama.

IMG_0758We got out of the border around 5:15 or so – a little over 2 hours total which wasn’t too bad. We headed down to Puerto Armuelles because it was the closest city and it was down on the ocean. About 35 kilometers (little over 20 miles) and the road was great. We got stopped about 5 miles out of town by some cops to look at our papers but otherwise just zoomed out there. Then we began circling and circling the town trying to find a hotel – it was surprisingly big and but we couldn’t find anything. While riding around a local guy on a played out Suzuki DR125 or DR175 pulled up next to Dan – revving his engine and popping the wheel off the ground a bit – he was excited to see us and checking the bikes out – Dan pulled a big wheelie for him and he lit up like he had fresh batteries installed in him. We stopped to talk to him for a second and Dan asked him where a hotel was – he signaled to follow him and he tore off like he was set on fire – weaving in and out of traffic, down one way streets the wrong way, thru stop signs, thru red lights, eventually taking us back out on the main road the way we had come and pulled into an unmarked and mostly unlit building that looked to be not that nice. His name was Franklin and he knew the owner who came out and gave us a nice welcome – $30 later we had a decent room with running water, A/C, 2 channels of staticy spanish TV, and a couple very nice beds. In the room a sign pointed to the pool and we thought sweet! Lets go for a dip in the morning…. P1000675The bikes went straight into the lobby for safety and we went walking up the road about 50 meters to an outdoor rotissarie chicken place… the food was incredible and John said it was the best rotissarie chicken he’d ever had – only problem was they didn’t have cold beer – they didn’t have ANY beer…. but it was $9 for both our dinners and drinks.

A few games of cribbage and we hit the sack early so we could hit the pool in the morning!! John barely hanging onto his lead now with only 15 points ahead.


Here is a shot of the pool in the morning – John still wanted to swim but I thought the green slime might leave a permanent mark … we decided to hit the road without a swim….

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Great article. We are heading to Costa Rica in December and was hoping to head toward Panama for a few days. We where looking at Puerto Armuelles. Having a hard time finding somewhere to stay, any suggestions? Thanks Pam

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