A Peek at Central America

One of the advantages of going on a cruise is that you get to experience several countries in a short period of time.  One of the disadvantages is that experience is very limited – just a peek at each country.

View from the Roof of Our Lady of Grace Cathedral,
Leon, Nicaragua

On my recent cruise, I visited three different Central American countries – Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. All three countries were beautiful, and it was a little disappointing to spend so little time in each. There were several options for excursions from each port, but it was only possible to choose one.

Guatemala

Docking in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, we were invited to go on a safari, visit a coffee or macadamia plantation, or join several different excursions to the city of Antigua. The ancient city – Antigua means antique – sounded interesting to me, although I wasn’t sure which excursion to choose.  I finally decided on “Antigua on your Own,” hoping to get a taste of the city.

The Darker Gray Smoke (center) is from the Volcano

The bus ride from the port to the old city took about an hour. The view from the windows gave us a glimpse of the beautiful country. We saw active volcanoes spewing smoke – something I never expected to see – and hardened lava streams.

We saw homes, ranging from what I would call middle class to huts with no running water and no electricity. Most of the huts had open windows and rusty tin roofs. I counted my blessings and thought about how I could help.

Jade and Chocolate
Polishing Jade

When the bus arrived in the city, we were dropped off at the Jade Museum. We were directed to sit and listen to a presentation after which we were ushered out through the gift shop. Although I was not interested in purchasing any jewelry, I spent (too much) time browsing.

Taking the insufficient map we were given, my friend and I started exploring the city. The first thing that caught our eyes, was the Chocolate Museum. I love chocolate, but decided not to spend two hours on the guided museum tour. We looked at the displays on our own, then sampled the delicious candy before buying some Guatemalan chocolate.

Exploration and Lunch
Santa Catalina Arch

After walking around and trying to follow the poor map, my friend and I found the central square and Santa Catalina Arch. We were surprised to find the large, green Central Park (Plaza Mayor) among the gritty cobblestone streets. It was a welcome break.

We walked through the famous arch toward Spanish style churches and plazas. The bright yellow arch and buildings gave energy to the city.

My Lunch in Antigua

We found a place to stop for lunch and had a delicious one.  I had Adobado Chicken (pictured), while my friend had green tomato soup – interesting. The meal was the highlight of our day.

Disappointments

Since we had decided to to do the city without a guide, we were not able to take full advantage of our time and missed some of the city’s highlights. Next time I will plan better.  I should have printed a map and done additional research before the cruise, so I would know where we needed to go.

Others from the cruise took the safari trip, but were disappointed because they rode through the preserve on a bus and were not able to get close to the animals. Even though I didn’t chose that excursion, I learned to read the descriptions carefully.

Nicaragua

We were scheduled to stop at the port of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, but due to high winds and the fact that we would have to use the tender boats to get to land, the port was changed. Instead, we docked at Cotinto, where the ship secured dock space and did not have to use the tenders.

Because of the port change, the excursions were changed at the last minute. Passengers were given a refund for the pre-purchased excursion in addition to a small courtesy refund. All were then given the option to book a new excursion if we wanted. I had signed up to go on an excursion with several people from our group (I was traveling with a group 14 people), and as a group we decided on a new excursion.

Leon
On the Way to Leon, Nicaragua

We chose to go to the city of Leon. On the way we stopped at a school for underprivileged students where we visited a cultural museum. It was interesting, although somewhat dry.  As we were leaving, the students’ break started – they all came around so we could take their pictures. They were cute children, but I felt a little awkward taking their pictures.

After this visit, we continued to the city. Because of the last minute change of plans, we ate lunch as soon as we arrived – about 10:30 am. The lunch was delicious, though, so we didn’t care about the timing. I enjoyed eating local food each time meals were included in our excursions.

After the meal, we walked around the corner to the Fundación Ortiz Gurdiá (art museum).  The museum was great! There were two buildings – the first had art covering several centuries, much of it on loan from other museums.  My favorite was a collection of ten pieces by Piet Mondrian. The second building had a collection of contemporary works by Central and South American artists. I would have liked to spend more time in the museum. (No pictures were allowed in the museum).

Our Lady of Grace
Cathedral Interior

Our final stop in Leon was the Our Lady of Grace Cathedral. Our guide gave us a tour of the beautiful cathedral.  At the end of the tour, we had an option to climb the 76 stairs to the roof – I’d definitely recommend it.

View from the Cathedral Roof of Area Surrounding Leon

 

 

 

 

The view was amazing, but the towers on the roof were also beautiful.

I was surprised to run into a missionary from our church – totally unplanned. (Read about our meeting in this week’s newsletter).  No disappointments on this excursion.

 

Costa Rica
Rich Coast of Costa Rica

Our final stop in Central America was Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The name of the country translates to “rich coast,”and that is what we found. I almost wish I had opted for a beach day. Instead, my friend and I had chosen to “Discover Costa Rica.”

Beautiful Orchids

The excursion included a ride along the beach and into the mountains. our first stop was a botanical garden. We started in the bird sanctuary area where we saw several (caged) tropical birds.  They were very pretty. We moved on to the orchids – every color and type – beautiful!

Huge Bamboo!

A walk through the grounds included ponds and fountains, along with several types of flowers and vegetation.  I saw the largest, tallest bamboo that I have ever seen.

Coffee

Our next stop was the Doka Estate, a large coffee plantation. We were told that 70% of the coffee produced here goes to Starbucks – I’m sure the rest is sold to tourists. Since it is a small country, Costa Rica prides itself in quality coffee rather than quantity. The coffee smelled wonderful so I purchased some to try at home.

We toured the plantation and production facilities.  It was interesting to see the similarities between producing coffee and producing the corn that I am familiar with here in the Midwest. We toured the fields, learned about the sorting and drying processes, and finally, saw how coffee is roasted.

Coffee Bean Dryer

After our tour, we enjoyed another delicious lunch focusing on local cuisine – salad, rice, beans, plantains, vegetables, chicken or fish and dessert. After lunch, we visited the Central Church in the town of Palmeres. It was an old church  with a unique design.

Finally, we headed back to the ship, taking a short break at a large souvenir shop. Again, no disappointments on this excursion.

Just a Peek

Although this was just a peek at three Central American countries, it was enough to make me interested in going back to visit again.  I am eager to begin planning my next cruise or tropical vacation.

Have you been on a tropical cruise?  Are you ready to go again?

 

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