6 Months, 6 Countries: Epic Memories from Central America.

Central America travel blog

Last week, I made the long journey back to India from the Americas. Having a glass of wine at the bar on my Virgin Atlantic flight, I got chatting with a fellow passenger from Costa Rica, and began reminiscing about my adventures of the last six months. When he asked me what my most memorable experiences in Central America were, I was torn. Should I tell him about the wild dolphins playing in front of my rancho in Panama? Or how a Tico mugged me in San Jose, Costa Rica? Or living with an indigenous Mayan family in Guatemala?

So I emptied my glass, and promised to tell him this story on my blog!

Boarding down a barren volcano

Leon, Nicaragua

volcano boarding nicaragua, cerro negro leon
Boarding down Cerro Negro volcano!

The best person to travel with is someone who pushes you out of your comfort zone – or in this case, off the peak of a barren volcano, on just a board! I was glad to have company in Leon, Nicaragua, where my friend insisted on us climbing up the barren Cerro Negro, an active volcano covered in black volcanic rocks – the only terrain in the world suitable for volcano boarding, a sport ranked second on the ultimate thrill seekers list. I cursed him on the way up when the wind was so strong it almost blew us into the crater below (!), but boarding down was as exhilarating as it sounds.

Read: Isla De Ometepe: Where The Streets Have No Name

Snorkeling with sting rays and lion fish

Cabuya, Costa Rica and Guanaja, Honduras

Sting rays costa rica, snorkeling costa rica
Snorkeling with a sting ray!

On the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, I waded across the ocean at low tide with my Airbnb host, to a nearby island with a cemetery dating back to the pre-colonial era. Though the snorkeling visibility was extremely low, we spotted a sting ray swimming towards us with its menacing ‘sting’! It was scary and thrilling, with Steve Irwin’s infamous encounter playing on repeat in my head. He also taught me how to pick up puffer fish stuck in the tide pull and put them back into the sea.

A month before that, snorkeling in the world’s second largest coral reef off Guanaja Island in Honduras, we spotted the venomous lion fish. Oh the wonders of the underwater world!

Read: Costa Rica Wasn’t The Country I Imagined

Getting mugged in a cab

San Jose, Costa Rica

Montezuma Costa Rica, Montezuma beach
Recovering with a beer at Montezuma beach.

After witnessing nothing but kind and friendly locals in Guatemala and Honduras – two countries that come with some pretty horrific labels – I completely let my guard down in Costa Rica. Having impulsively booking a cheap flight from San Jose (the capital) to the Pacific Coast, I hurriedly grabbed a cab from downtown and chatted with the friendly driver in broken Spanish throughout the way. When I stepped out after paying, I was horrified to see him grabbing my small laptop bag – the one with all my valuables – asking for more money or threatening to take off with it! I emptied my pockets of all the money it had; he grabbed the money, shoved my bag out and sped off, leaving me stunned.

In retrospect, I’m glad it didn’t cost me my passport, laptop, camera and everything of value I own. It wasn’t even about the money. But it did put a dent in my trust in the world. For the rest of my time travelling solo, I trusted no one and felt like everyone was out to get me. I’ve moved on now, and learnt a big lesson.

Read: Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

Spectacular colors of autumn

New York and California

New York autumn, US autumn
Trees bursting in red in California.

Thanks to being extremely last minute, my trip was ill-planned, and had me flying from India to New York to Guatemala and Honduras, then to California to see family, and back to Nicaragua! It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for I got to witness the fall colors in both NYC and California. Even within the cities, parks and pathways were bursting in red, yellow and orange colors – a sight to behold.

Read: USA Tourist Visa for Indians: Tips and Requirements

Playing basketball with the Mayan people

San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala

Guatemala mayan people, Guatemala culture
A Mayan procession in San Marcos La Laguna.

On a rainy afternoon in San Marcos La Laguna in Guatemala, I found shelter in the public Basketball court. As luck would have it, it was the last day of school before the summer holidays,  and young Mayan boys and girls, many in their traditional dresses, poured into the court for a friendly game. Their coach invited me to join them, and having played basketball back in high school and college, I couldn’t resist. Of all the things I imagined doing on my travels, shooting hoops with local Mayan teenagers (of the end-of-world-calendar fame) was certainly not one!

Read: Living With a Mayan Family in Guatemala

Island living in the Caribbean

Guanaja, Honduras

Bonacca Guanaja
Built on stilts, the town of Bonacca.

As someone who’s always on the move, it isn’t often that a place makes me want to buy a little piece of land and never leave. But I couldn’t get enough of the charming little Guanaja Island in the Caribbean. The only town is built on stilts in the water, the airstrip the only flat piece of land so it doubles as the football court, the only way to get around by kayak or boat, the locals so friendly they welcomed us with a round of drinks at the local bar, and the shades of blue in the Atlantic Ocean so pristine – that I almost burned my return flight ticket.

Read: Sshh… A Secret in the Caribbean

Immigration nightmare in Nicaragua (thrice!)

Rio San Juan Nicaragua, wood house san juan
Worth fighting visa issues for moments like this in Nicaragua.

I tried to do the smart thing by booking a really cheap flight in and out of Nicaragua on the second leg of my trip. But as luck (and my Indian passport) would have it, entering the country was a nightmare each time – even though it was a breeze in all the other Central American countries I travelled to. The immigration officials interrogated me every single time, unconvinced that an Indian would visit their country just to travel! One time, the entire bus was held up for an hour because of us. Another time, the bus driver locked us in so we couldn’t approach the immigration official to clarify things before the interrogation began. And the worst part, they charged us a different ‘visa fee’ (40-60$) each time we entered. Phew.

Read: The Coolest Way to Fly Out of India

Bioluminescence and dolphins playing in the Atlantic Ocean

Dolphin Bay, Panama

Dolphin bay panama
The set of my Nat Geo film in Panama!

Our short visit to Panama was nothing less than a National Geographic film. By day, in the Atlantic Ocean in our front yard, we watched wild dolphins play with their kids, sting rays do backflip jumps, schools of florescent fish pass by and starfish glow bright in the transparent waters. By night, as we walked along the jetty under the starry night sky, the waters lit up like glowing stars, thanks to the bioluminescent algae! Magnificent and surreal.

Read: 10 Awe-Inspiring (yet affordable) Airbnbs to Stay in Central America

Swimming and canoeing from Costa Rica to Panama

Yorkin village, Costa Rica

Yorkin Costa Rica, Bribris costa rica
Getting the canoe and sticks ready to travel to Panama across the river!

That I’d be crossing borders over land in Central America I knew. But that I would swim and canoe across the Yorkin River from Costa Rica to Panama, I didn’t. I caught a rare glimpse of how the indigenous chocolate farmers – the Bribris – of Costa Rica live, deep in the forest, far from civilization and technology, oblivious to national borders. The governments of both countries are liberal in providing access to their native forests on either side. So, I followed them across the river, without my passport, into the forests, waterfalls and hills of Panama! It made me long for a borderless world.

Read: How Guacimo Eco-lodge in Nicaragua is Changing the Way We Travel

A big thank you to all of you who joined me virtually on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Note: Most of my trip was self-funded; I’ll be writing about how I afforded it soon. A shoutout of gratitude to my travel partners Virgin Atlantic, Airbnb and La Giralda, for making parts of this trip possible.

The Shooting Star Academy

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  1. Cool. Really inspiring .

  2. The Traveloholic says:

    After travelling for so long ,how does it feel to be back home???

    1. I’m still getting used to it! A reverse culture shock in some ways, a deep nostalgic love in others 🙂

  3. Really have to say this after reading your blog that u have returned enriched with so many cherishing moments and experiences. Hats off to ur spirit n passion !! Good luck for your journey ahead 🙂

    1. Thanks Richa; writing this post sure felt extremely surreal – I wanted to pinch myself to figure if this trip really happened the way it did!

  4. I was in Central America for three months towards the end of last year. Isn’t it amazing?! I almost missed out on the volcano boarding but I returned to Leon especially to do it and I’m really glad I did! I was annoyed that the guy who’s camera was used to take the photos never shared them though. I was zooming along, despite trying really hard to slow down!

    1. Wow, we must have crossed paths somewhere! It was way different than anything I expected. Glad you could go back to volcano board – what an experience. Though the day we went, the winds were so strong climbing up that that was an even bigger adventure! My board was getting stuck in the sand initially, but once it picked up pace, off it flew. I can still feel my heart racing when I think about it 😉

  5. AWESOME! Just waiting to read how you managed to fund majority of this epic trip….:-)

  6. epic indeed…snorkeling with stingrays is most thrilling of all 🙂

  7. Bioluminescent algae.. On my list too. Someday. Someday… Loved reading the highlights, Shivya. Awaiting the next one.

  8. suvasiniiyer says:

    Your Pictures and your Words!!! –/–

  9. Sounds like a helluva trip. Very enriching, I’m sure.
    Lovely pictures there. And of course, Great account.

    1. Thanks; it was one helluva trip indeed, one that I’m not going to forget in a long long time!

  10. So lucky You are. I am sure this was an awesome trip. And pictures are amazing.Keep Traveling.

  11. Shivya, I try to make time to read your articles whenever I can. They are really inspiring. I have been meaning to make at least one solo trip from a long time but somehow haven’t made the heart yet. But will do it someday !!
    If there is/are any trip(s) you don’t mind female traveler joining you, do leave a message on my email address. Would love to see a life of a person who lives for travelling than travels for living!!

  12. How do you reply every Comment on your blog. On your twitter. on instagram. not your fb.
    its amazing to see as you mildly turning into a celebrity. Youth icon.
    Wanted to be a travel blogger. unsure where to start. after 5 years of dreams. Unsurely i visited dehradun and the freshness open all parts of my mind. now i know your place. and the zeal to fly , where it came from. truely beautiful place it is.
    I am reading you since 2013. last year i saw your blog design turn upside down. i liked the small fonts, less ads.still HD pics makes it wonderful. and this is my first comment. As the world is conspiring me to say to you that i wanna be a part of your team and work with you. as a learning experience and knowing and sorting everything straight in my life by making life upside down.
    i m lost and confused, so i know this is right time to start. Email me : [email protected]

    1. I hope you mean, “and” your fb, not “not”. I set aside some time every day to reply to comments (slow with emails admittedly though) in the hope that I can inspire everyone who reads me to step out of their comfort zone and discover the world too! You can see some travel blogging / writing tips on my blog; hope they help!

  13. What a beautiful journey! It was just wow to read about your last six months. Thanks for sharing, you virtually took me to all those wonderful places 🙂 Your posts/pictures always inspire me Shivya, I feel so happy reading/watcing them. Happy travels! Take care

  14. Hi Shivya,

    I chanced upon your blog yesterday during a casual browsing and must say, I am awe-inspired by it. So much so that I wrote a post on it itself! https://meerablogs.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/great-blogs-5-and-something-new-to-try-out/

    I read many posts from different time periods of this blog. A couple of them were about Kerala, the place I hail from and now feel I hardly knew it until I read about it in your blog. The post about Bangalore – well, I have always wondered what makes all kinds of people love Bangalore, being one among them myself. Its the weather and the cafes, I now know. I am planning to road trip in Rajasthan sometime during this year with my husband. I will surely take help from your posts while planning it.
    I have this habit of reading a blog from start to end when I love it too much. I am sure your blog will make me do the same and I am sure I won’t regret it. 🙂 Thank you for being here and being the inspiration that you are!

    I am too curious and have some queries to you, but lets shift to email for that.

    Wish you a happy time in India! 🙂

    1. Wow, thanks Meera for writing about me on your blog! I hope mine will keep you engaged from start to end 🙂 I had some awesome experiences in Rajasthan you can read here about. Thanks for stopping by and welcome to The Shooting Star!

  15. This is really spectacular. I loved the first para of this post. Keep it up!!

    Umang Trivedi

  16. The post I’d been waiting for: the big round-up with that depth and perspective I now associate with you. 🙂 Thank you, Shivya, for fuelling my desire to travel across Central America! I’ve loved every one of your posts from over there. Travel more, feed my sense of wonder at this marvelous world more! <3

    1. Thanks Ami; I’m so happy to hear Central America is on your wishlist now. That unexplored part of the world is really worth exploring! More coming soon 🙂

  17. This is truly amazing! The way you are living and experiencing different cultures is a dream for me and a reality for you.
    I have been the silent reader for a long time but I have to say that what you do is completely worth doing.Life has to be enjoyed and experienced! I often wish to travel with just a backpack and will do so too.
    Continue on this adventure of yours!
    P.S-I read it one of your articles comments about Iceland.I can’t seem to find it so I am just going to post it here! The exchange price from rupee to Icelandic kroner seems less but the country is costly! You can find articles where the rate of a pack of smoke,water bottle or a street burger when converted to rupee is a lot! I need to find the links but I will post them if I find them!

    1. Thanks Adarsh, for your kind words and for breaking the silence! I love to discover a silent reader 🙂

      About Iceland – yes, based on the comments, I must edit my take on it. I looked more at the countryside and compared it to Europe, but I want to add a caveat there. Thanks for the reminder.

  18. blueberryjane says:

    The autumn picture is gorgeous!!

  19. Sayli Deshpande says:

    Hi Shivya!!
    Seems like you have been living every traveler’s dream in this trip! Wow just one scroll down the pics and half of my bucket list is in there. Teaching before kids is good but making them feel it is rather difficult. I’ve always thought that travel does that job impeccably.
    Every detail included here is breathtaking and you are a sure wild traveler who likes gliding down a (hopefully) dead volcano and cruise with sting rays and lion fishes! Best of luck for your future adventures!

    1. Thanks Sayli! Glad some of these experiences made it to your bucket list. Start packing 😉

  20. Geoffrey Lobo says:

    I am back from a recent 6 month backpacking trip to South America. Nice to read your posts. I am planning a trip to Central America soon. Building my own travel blog/website soon and will send you a link.
    Cheers. Keep on wandering

    1. That’s awesome Geoffrey! Which parts of South America did you go? All the best with your blog 🙂

  21. I found your website by accident and the information is wonderfully showed and described. I’ll be staying for a month in Central America and I’m sure by referring to your guide, I would not miss on anything. Keep up the incredible work Shivya!

  22. Pingback: The Secret Lives of Costa Rica’s Chocolate Farmers. | The Shooting Star
  23. Great travel adventure Shivya! Well I wish to do “Boarding down a barren volcano” I guess it must have been a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing your great travel. 🙂

  24. why not cover high altitude summitters life ..

  25. I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and I’m so glad to have found it! It looks like you’ve basically done a part of my own bucket list with the things you did in South America – maybe apart from getting mugged (I’d rather avoid that :D). I am currently in Poland, working and saving money for the similar journey like you did. 😉 You’ve just gained one more visitor. 😀 Greetings from Poznan. 😉

  26. rajasekar says:

    hey really u r great

    i really love travelling but for me do no what to do without money. how u make fund

  27. Vaishali sanandiya says:

    Just Amazing!!! curious to know about how would you manage funding for this amazing trips with out corporate job!! to afford wanderlust only ,any how ppl have to balance in between 😉

  28. Wow great pictures.My favorite is – Recovering with a beer at Montezuma beach.Please add more .. Thank you Shivya

  29. Please add more photos.

  30. Hi I am really happy to read your blog, your blog is really inspiring to me. It just remind me of my dream of going around the world before I die ( Bagwan k pass jane se pehle ). Can you advise me how did you manage to obtain visa of all central American countries? Did you get them while you were travelling ? or you obtain them before you left India ?

  31. Great Shivya i really appreciate you , how you left your job and just go with your passion and i really like your blog “6 Months, 6 Countries” i think you have traveled almost superb places around the America.

  32. Thanks shiv, i’ m not see ever this type of places, but your photography will give the more excited. thanks for that.

  33. actually one need guts to leave her job and travel around world.
    i need that.
    thanks for inspiring me.

  34. Sad to hear that you have been robbed by a cabbie…don’t loose trust on people , because of one cheater don’t mistrust billions of people who help you on the road.

  35. Kushal Kamra says:

    Ahh…you envy me so much…ever inspiring Shivya…so many adventures…feels like travelling through you…#Cheers

  36. So tough on the robbery thing; do your best not to label a nation or folks in general based on the desperate actions of 1 person. We got taken to the cleaners in Puntarenas during a CR trip but it was 1 bad apple among many kind folks we met in Tico Land. Rocking post. Gotta love Central America.

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