Panama Day 14- Boquette to Bocas De Toro

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At this point we were kind of undecided on where to head next.. Neither of us were overly excited about Boquette (which turned out to be pretty cool) but mainly used it as mainly as a means to break up our bus ride.

One of the options was to head to the Corcovado National Park just over the line into Costa Rica on the Pacific coast where there was supposed to be tons of wildlife. The other option was to head to Bocas Del Toro which is a laid back island chain on the Carribean coast.

We only had about a week left until we had to be in San Jose, Costa Rica, so we decided we would have to either head to one or the other, since they were on opposite coasts and with the time constraints.

I wanted to go to Bocas since we hadn’t had much beach and relaxation time whereas we had already done a lot of hiking and would most likely be hiking a volcano as soon as we got to San Jose.

After talking to a bunch of travelers, we hadn’t heard of anyone who went to Corcovado but everyone seemed to be going to Bocas Del Toro.

It sounded fun, so I was able to convince my brother to head there instead. We knew it was directly on the “gringo trail” (not much local culture) but it sounded like fun.

To get there by local bus, we would have had to head South back to David, before waiting to catch another local bus up to Almirante. From here we would have to hire a taxi across to Bocas del Toro. This would have costs us around $15 on what people call “chicken busses”, super crowded over loaded local busses. We had taken only these until this point and they are definitely not fun.

The alternative option was a direct shuttle from our hostel, which cuts across from Boquette to El Fortuna, then cuts up, and included the ferry. Much less complicated, shorter, and more comfortable. This option was $25 but we decided it was definitely worth it in this case.

So we loaded up our things on the bus.

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Once we got near El Fortuna, the bus stopped for a break.

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Beautiful view. There was a hostel here called Lost and Found which is kind of a break in the trip between Bocas and Boquette (or David). It was supposed to be a great place to stop in the rainforest for hiking, but we forgot about this option when we stopped but carried on.

We arrived in Almirante about 4 hours later. This was a crappy port town where they managed to ruin a beautiful Carribean shoreline with garbage.

We waited in the water taxi port where we were loaded into the taxi in the order the tickets were purchased. They called out our names to load in.
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This area of Panama immediately seemed less well off than the other areas we had been to so far.

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The boat ride was about half an hour. Bocas del Toro is on the island Isla Colon.

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We got to Bocas. It was a happening town, a lot of people walking up and down the streets.

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Our last hostel had recommended we stay at Hostel Heike, so we had reservations. Only $10 a night here. We were glad we had the reservations here since the place was booked full.

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It was early afternoon so we decided we would do some exploring. We started walking down to what was thought was the local beach but ended up in a local neighborhood. We could see that outside of the tourism this island was very poor.
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We walked past burning garbage
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Until we found an airplane in someone’s front yard?
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At this point it was evident we were not at the beach, so we asked around until we found our way.
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The local beach was pretty nice outside of the garbage still trending here.

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And they forgot to finish their dock.

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We hung out on this dock for a little while where we met some people and eventually headed back to the hostel.

In the evening, people were drinking in the lounge areas so we joined them with some rum a cokes. There was a big night life scene here, so we joined the others and headed out to a couple bars.

The bars stay open until 5am but we called it a night around 3.

Panama Day 13- Feriade las Flores y Del Cafe

When we got back from hiking Volcano Baru, we were exhausted. We hadn’t slept and hardly eaten. After stuffing down a meal, we passed out.

I woke up a couple hours later, again ravenous. I stuffed my face once again with some lasagne , rice, and chicken, and passed out again.

I woke up later in the afternoon, and we went to the grocery store. I chugged a quart of chocolate milk to my face along with an apple and went back to sleep.

Needless to say, I was in serious recovery mode.

In town was a big event, a flower and coffee festival. This night was supposed to be the big party night with a couple stages set up, so we forced ourselves to head over.

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We crossed a bridge where we got a quick glimpse of the festival.

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The music was so loud we could hear it clearly from our hostel almost a mile away. We paid $2 to enter the festival, then it was another 7 or 15 depending on which stage you wanted to visit.

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Inside, people seemed to be having a good time. It was packed. A lot of people had come from out of town for the event.

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The music was incredibly loud. There was some guy kinda hosting the event and getting people to sing on stage etc and some contests. I was still feeling very tired and wasn’t feeling it at all but we had just paid to get in so we stuck it out for a little while.

Around 3am we headed home, ears ringing.

Panama Day 12- Santa Fe to Boquette

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Getting to Boquette from Santa Fe was easy but took most of the day.

We both got up early and I was ready by 8am so just chilled on a hammock waiting for my brother. Some time passed, and I thought my brother was taking an awfully long time to get ready, but I figured what the hell, whats the rush?

As 10am came, I went to get him, only to find out he thought he had been waiting on me to get ready. This was not a first occurrence.

We waited about 20 mins to catch the bus from the small bus station in Santa Fe back to Santiago.

The ride was short, although unpleasant, as they like cramming as many people as humanly possible into the busses here and I am a big guy.

We got to the Santiago station, which we had already been to and were familiar with, and located a bus headed to the major hub city of David a little North West. Little did we know but we would be waiting for about an hour and a half for this bus to depart at 1:30pm.
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Finally we got on our way. The bus ride to David took about 3 hours, and was by no means any more comfortable. It was $9.

The bus station in David was also fairly small and easy to navigate.

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There was a sign up telling which position each city’s bus departed from so we headed to our platform.
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They were randomly selling chicks in the bus station?

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Our bus from David to Boquette was comparably very comfortable. They ran school busses this route, and we calculated they managed to cram 80+ people into this bus.
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We had a standing position but the windows were open and after being cramped the rest of the way we were glad to be cramped for the hour and a half ride to Boquette.

Boquette was a small city (or big town). We were told it was very americanized and touristy. It was also known for its adventure and outdoorsy stuff.

Initially, we thought we would hit up Santa Fe instead, since they were both mountain towns but Santa Fe was less traveled and smaller. However, while were there people who had already been to Boquette recommended we still go. So go we did.

The bus dropped us at a small square.
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Here, we checked in our book to find a hostel and settled on one called Mamallena that just so happened to be right by the bus station.

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The hostel seemed pretty nice. The main reason we came here was to hike a volcano called Volcan Baru. It is the highest point in Panama and you can see both the Pacific and Carribean oceans from it’s peak.

We signed up for the tour, that night to depart at 11:30pm so we did not check in a room. We showered up and attempted to rest after a long day of traveling and before our soon-to-find out, extremely long hike.

Panama Day 13- Hike to Volcan Baru

Volcan Baru is the highest point in Panama. From the top, on a clear day, you are able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Carribean Sea.

The idea was to get to the top for sunrise. The hostel we were at, Mamallena, offered a shuttle to the bottom of the access road for $5.

We were told to bring money for our return, warm clothes, and plenty of food and water.

Beyond this, we were on our own. A group of about 8 of us were dropped off at the bottom of the road and the driver took off. It was just us and the darkness.

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The only instructions we were given was when in question to go right, not to go to fast so we wouldn’t freeze at the top, and to pay the ranger on the way out. The hike was supposed to take about 6 hours up and the same return. It was 14.5 kilometers (about 10 miles!) each way.

The road was just a dirt road that went on forever. The moon was super bright so in the beginning of the hike we didn’t need flashlights.
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About 30 mins into the hike, we had a nice night view of Boquette.
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However, we still had a long ways to go. We were trying to pace ourselves as he had stated we could make it up in 4 hours but would freeze at the top (32 degrees plus wind chill.)

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People were not happy with me for taking this flash photo in the darkness:
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It slowly began to get cool as we climbed; but I stayed in a t shirt for the first few hours.
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We began using our flashlights as trees started covering our path; we also began to ration our water and food supplies since we were all pretty understocked. There was no one out there except for us.
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Now it was really becoming chilly- I threw on what I had, a fleece, long pants, and a wind breaker. My shirt was sweaty and cold.

Our group ended up breaking into 4 and 4, a slow group and a fast group. Our fast group was charging forward no longer heeding the warning to pace ourselves, only thinking about getting this freezing cold hike over with.

Finally, we came close to the summit where there was a shelter.

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It was 5am and we were close to the summit. The winds were picking up, and the sun didn’t rise until 7. We were in the exact situation he had warned about. We decided to take a break here and try to nap/pass some time.

When we first stopped, we were a little chilly but not too bad since we were working hard climbing straight up the entire time. Our elevation gain by the end of the 14.5 kilometers was to be 2 miles.

Once we stopped, however, we really started to feel that 32 degrees. The sweat wicked the heat from our bodies, we were all lying quietly trying to stay warm. We hadn’t slept from the day before and were just plain exhausted.

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There was talk bout starting a fire but none of us had a lighter. It was starting to get seriously cold. We were talking about huddling together. Finally, we decided just to carry on, keep walking, at a slow pace to keep our blood flowing. This seemed to work well.

We finally reached the summit around 6:30. I don’t know if it was warmer, or just felt warmer from hiking, but it didn’t seem all too cold up here and the wind wasn’t bad. The moon was still shining.
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Slowly, the sun started to rise.
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We weren’t quite at the top. There was about 10 minutes climb left.
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We made it! We were all so glad to be at the top and that the hike was over. The rising sun instantly made us warmer.

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At the top, there were about 10 more people that had taken their 4wd jeeps up the trail and had left at 4:30am to make it there for 7.

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Once the sun was up, we could indeed see both oceans. It was a very nice view and we all sat and enjoyed it.

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As the sun rose, we could actually see the shadow of the mountain. This was something I hadn’t seen before.

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We stayed for probably 45 minutes, but what comes up must come down. We had a looong hike ahead of us.

Now, up sucked. Down was way worst. The 10 miles dragged on and on and on.. it never ended. We ran some of the way, walked quickly, but the signs didn’t lie we were not making progress as quickly as we would have liked.
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On the way down, however, we were able to see the views we couldn’t see during the night before.

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The lead four of us on the way up were also the lead on the way back.
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It was 10:30am. We hadn’t slept, had run out of water hours ago, and were hungry and completely depleted. We finally reached the ranger station at the bottom!

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The man there arranged for our taxi pick up, which we were not happy to walk another 2 minutes downhill to catch it. The guy wanted to charge us $16 for a $5 cab ride, but we were all too exhausted to argue.

We all agreed that we would never do the hike again, would never have done it if we had known what it was going to be like, and that if we were to do it again, we wouldn’t do it for less than $1000. Was it worth it? Probably when I look back on it. At that moment? No way in hell.

I don’t think it was worth hiking it in the middle of the night, freezing, with no sleep, but hiking Vocan Baru with a full night’s rest would probably be worth it. There was a lot of garbage on top and communication antennas. Some people said it was super beautiful, but I have hiked quite a few mountains (that I have not had to go through all this for).

After eating, we finally got to sleep around 12:30pm. Wow. That was intense.

Panama Day 10 & 11 – Bermejo Falls

There is tons of hiking around here, and we found out they are pretty long hikes. Both took us most of the day (6-7 hours). However, this included time to get lost since the directions on both occasion were horrible.

Pretty much you start off walking on the road, where the directions are fine, until you get off the main road where you pretty much are on your own.

The first day I forgot my camera, and we were unable to find the waterfalls we were hiking to. We found the path off the main road fine, however, the map of the trail showed 3 waterfalls in a loop, easy enough. In reality, it was 2 hours bushwhacking through muddy jungle.

The second hike was to Bermejo Falls.

We started off around 10am and started hiking on the road. There are roosters everywhere that don’t shut up from like 4:30am until 10am so it is hard to sleep in.

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We hiked for about an hour on the road leaving Santa Fe and we ran into some cows.
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There were also some nice views since it was so hilly.
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According to the lonely planet, to get to the waterfall, you “follow past William’s inner-tube rentals; after taking the Bulava bridge take your first left to a steep uphill. Here the road becomes dirt; continue until the waterfall, following yellow arrow signs into the trail”

So we took the Bulava bridge as advised and took the steep uphill.

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We came to the part where the “road became dirt” and we were supposed to “continue until the waterfall following arrow signs.”
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So one would think you go straight here, not left, right? We also had another set of directions from the hostel that were equally confusing.

So we went straight here, which was the wrong way, until we were told by locals a couple miles [very steep uphill] in the wrong direction.

When we got back on track, we followed this road for about 25 minutes until we reached a church at a 4 way intersection.
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We took a right here, and walked another 10-15 minutes walk until we came to a house with a sign across from it for the trail.
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Bermejo Falls. This trail was super muddy like the last one even though we were in the dry season.

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We crossed 2 little streams until we saw another sign for Bermejo falls.
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Very shortly into the hike we saw a chicken and some chicks.
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This path was all downhill in mud and worked its way into a little valley.
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There were very few bridges along the way to help keep us out of the muck.
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After a while we came to a fence and were unsure if we were going the right way, but went through anyway.
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By now we could hear the water, although no defined path, we continued to follow the water upstream as instructed from the instructions from the hostel.

Eventually we came to a third, bigger stream. There were tons of banana trees along the way
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I picked some on my own but they were tiny.
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Then my brother found some bigger ones, so I climbed on his back and pulled down a tree and we got a big bunch of them.
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We took some with us and the rest we left hanging on the side of the trail for other hikers.

We kept following this trail along the stream for another 10 minutes or so and we found it- Bermejo Falls!
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We couldn’t see the actual waterfall, so after eating, we started to climb up. It was beautiful.
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It took us less than 10 minutes and we carefully made our way to view the waterfall. Breathtaking.
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Overall the hike was great. Top 10 spots for sure. There were very few tourists here (in Santa Fe in general). The trails were dense rainforest trails and the people are extremely friendly. Oranges and bananas growing everywhere.
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Very relaxed atmosphere. Love this place.

Panama Day 9- Rafting Santa Fe

We left the hostel around 11 to do river rafting. There were a couple options, but we opted for the cheaper place which was $7 per person plus $1 for the taxi ride back. Our plan was to go with one couple, but the European group we had met the night before also wanted in so in the end there were 10 of us.

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It was about 20 minutes walk downhill from the hostel. After crossing a bridge
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We arrived at the tubing place.

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The guy was only expecting 4 of us, so we had to wait while he inflated another 6 tubes
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We were to exit the river just before the 2nd bridge.
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We entered the water and the guide actually came with us. He didn’t have enough life preservers so I opted out. When I saw that even the guide was wearing one, it made me question my decision..
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The ride lasted a little over an hour.. Most of the rapids were in the beginning. It was pretty intense tubing. I think that these are about the fastest rapids I would feel comfortable tubing on.
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We passed the first bridge and it became more flat. How would you like to walk on this walkway?
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At the second bridge we exited and deflated the tubes. Soon after a taxi arrived to pick us up.
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While we were waiting we climbed up onto the bridge.
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Somehow we managed to squeeze 11 people into the taxi (including the driver) for the 5 minute ride back to our hostel.
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When we got back, we did a short “hike” down the road to a river, in the mean time playing a game we had invented, Orange Bowling. The roads were are so hilly and curvy and there are orange trees everywhere. So we would try to roll them around turns in the road and see whose would make it the furthest. More fun than it sounds.
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We got the river and hung out for a few until we started getting bitten and left.
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Panama Day 8- Santa Catalina to Santa Fe

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santa fe panama

In the morning, we decided we would leave Santa Catalina. I was impartial to staying another day and relaxing or moving on. My brother didn’t like that it was super hot (90’s), and wanted to head somewhere cooler.  Santa Fe was in the highlands to was supposed to be cooler.

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hostel surf point

We caught the bus at the same point it had dropped us off in Santa Catalina, in front of Panama Dive Center. We grabbed some snacks from the mini mart for breakfast and jumped on the bus. We would need to catch several busses: One bus from Santa Catalina to Sona, Sona to Santiago (slight backtrack), then one bus Santiago to Santa Fe. Each leg was about an hour and a half.

On the ride from Catalina to Sona, one of the back bus tires blew out and made a loud bang. Everyone was started except for the bus driver that didn’t flinch an eye and was laughing and kept driving on like nothing happened as the tire continued to thump against the wheel well.

As soon as we entered Sona, the bus driver pulled over and called out for Santiago. Across the street, the other bus to Santiago had pulled over.

We all hurried on. An hour or so later we arrived at the Santiago bus terminal.

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santiago bus terminal

Santiago appeared more of a large town than a city. We asked around and found out our bus to Santa Fe left from the other side of the small terminal. We were hungry so headed across the street to a grocery market.
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I also read in the Lonely Planet that Santa Fe did not have any ATMS so we each took out $200 cash.

Hungry, we ate at the diner in the grocery store. The price was right ($3), but the food was pretty gross (cold fried chicken, some shitty panini-type thing, cake, and warm pineapple juice).

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santiago panama bus station

The bus stopped many times on the way to Santa Fe and my brother and I were the only gringos on board. The last stop was supposed to be Santa Fe and the bus was almost empty so we were nervous we might have missed the stop as we assumed most people would be going to Santa Fe. But after verifying with the driver we soon arrived at the bus terminal in Santa Fe and started walking up the road looking for our hostel.
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I had tried (and failed) once again to make reservations for our hostel on hostelworld. There were no hostels listed. So we took the recommendation from the book and headed to La Qhia.

It was really easy to find, there were signs right after we left the bus station.

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la qhia hostel santa fe

The hostel was beautiful, and super relaxing.
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We lied in the hammocks for a couple hours
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and eventually decided to take a walk around town.

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santa fe panama

It was a beautiful place; quiet a little cooler (80’s), and super relaxing. There are supposed to be waterfall hikes, rafting, and mountain hikes all nearby.

We headed back to the hostel and met some people staying here. We had an awkward hostel dinner with an old Dutch couple and a younger couple from somewhere else in Europe. They served whole cooked fish with cold potatoes and soup. We decided we would not eat here after this and grocery shop to save a few bucks since we would be here for several days.

After returning from the grocery store down the road (that sold giant machettes..) we met the other people staying in our dorm room.
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There was a younger European couple, a few girls from Germany, and a couple other guys from Finland.

We all hungout and played some card games had some wine and called it a night.

We had a tubing trip reserved for the next day at 11 am.