The Central America I Never Knew

posted by Dan Carter December 2, 2017 0 comments

Bridging the gap between the North and South American Continent, Central America comprises of seven small, tropical countries. Over two weeks we ventured across four of them, beginning in El Salvador, ending in Panama. As the days and weeks unfolded, each town overwhelmed us with the most welcoming of communities, delicious local cuisine and many stunning backdrops from steaming active volcanoes in Nicaragua to Panama’s cinematic cityscapes.

Arriving in El Salvador and struck by the intense humidity, we left the capital in pursuit of the coffee farms that lay fruitfully at altitude like a cloth over the surrounding mountainsides. Driving 100km towards the Guatemalan border, we reached the cobbledstone streets of Ataco painted bright with murals surrounding the town’s many churches. One of my favourite places of the entire trip, Ataco was alive with market-dwellers and ‘tuktuks’ pointing me in the direction of House of Coffee, the locals favourite spot.

If street food were the local language of El Salvador, ‘pupusas’ would be their greeting. A simple, traditional dish made from thick corn tortillas filled with beans, cheese and a side of salsa; tasting as good as they sound, we ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Along with great food, the colonial towns of Ataco and Suchitoto showcased this incredible sense of genuine, warm hospitality with Salvadorians proud to showcase their country.

We left El Salvador in pursuit of Nicaragua, known predominately for its mass of lakes and volcanoes, many of which are still active. Arriving at sunset, the light soon faded and we began a steady ascent towards Masaya Volcano, just 10km south of Granada. It was incredible to witness the rising plume of gas disappearing into the sky full of stars which no longer illuminated the mountain surrounds; the burning ambers from Masaya provided enough light to guide us back to the car, by which we travelled back to the city.

While we enjoyed exploring the picturesque churches and view-points of Leon, the highlight was undoubtably sand-boarding down volcanic ash after an hour hike to its peak. Perhaps I left the goggles on my head, forgotten how to break and ruined my trainers but I’d fly down that ridiculous hill again in a heart-beat. It was exhilarating!

Sun, sea and surf all spring to mind when thinking of Costa Rica and yet our experience was so much more than that. Monkeys uprooted flocks of beautiful birds as they swung from tree to tree. The sheer density of tropical forest was as overwhelming as it was magical. While Costa Rica was the most touristic destination of the countries we visited, somehow it maintained a relaxing ‘pure life’ ambience, even on the popular car free island of Tortuguero, vibrant in both colour and character. Palm trees lined the never-ending stretches of black and white sand beaches, there’s still so much more to experience of Costa Rica and I am sure to return soon.

The juxtaposition between Panama City and the island of Tortuguero couldn’t have been greater and after nearly two weeks of travelling South America, returning to a chaotic city filled with a jumble of cultures excited me. We were fortunate enough to experience the old and new city, both charming in their own right.

Panama’s extreme diversity of landscapes was my greatest surprise and because of this Panama became my favourite destination of the trip. As we flew into David, I was amazed that just a couple of hours separated the geisha coffee farms of Boquete from Chiriqui, home to paradise islands of perfect white sand beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters occupied by both whales and dolphins.

Back in Panama City, as our journey drew to an end, there was one thing I was yet to experience: a world class coffee shop. With just one day left, it was my goal to find a café in the city that roasted beans from coffee farms in Boquete, brewed by talented and knowledgable baristas. That’s when I found the Leto Coffee Brew Bar.

The baristas at Leto have won various awards for best baristas in Panama, with two baristas competing on behalf of their country in Seoul at the World Barista Championships. The brew bar was filled with a selection of beans, a La Marzocco espresso machine taking pride of place adjacent to the pristine V60 set up. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited! The quality of coffee was absolutely exceptional and I was able to leave Central America having toured various coffee farms, exploring the process of growing beans and then, tasting them in their greatest form.

Central America truly exceeded my expectations and we were fortunate enough to admire nature that was above and beyond what I imagined. The more we travelled, the smaller the world began to feel as we hopped from one country to the next, driving through vast amounts of the diverse areas we found ourselves in. I look back at our time in Central America with fond memories of the most welcoming communities, great memories of exploration and a desire to return these often undiscovered regions of the world.

This content was created as part of a sponsored trip by CATA

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