Our last port of call in our Panama cruise was Aruba, a place we had visited on a previous cruise around the Caribbean in 1992. We did not schedule a tour on this dusty island but opted for a self tour around the capital Oranjestad. Much has been built here since our previous visit leaving no older buildings of note but just a selection of tat and jewellery shops, bars, casinos and hotels. The marina remains pretty and looking at your cruise ship from a local bar in the High Street is an unusual experience. The bar we selected to use was Mojitos and we found this to be a pleasant experience. There are many scratchings and scribblings on the walls and tables from previous patrons and an interesting photographic ‘drunk’ in residence at the bar. The local lager, Balashi, was quite refreshing.
Stopped here for a few hours and found this modern marina to be very pleasant - picturesque with many bars and eateries. There is quite a bit of hassle from street vendors and tourist touts selling trips to the 'arch' but once their offer is politely declined, there would be no continuance. There were some decent yachts in the marina but the pleasure was obtained from watching the pelicans and the occasional harbour seal. The arch at Land’s End (next stop is Antartica) is the main tourist draw of this town in Mexico but if you don't get your picture early, you will have other people and boats in your sights.
We visited the old city of Cartagena during a cruise tour and were very impressed with the architecture, colour and vitality of the city. It rates as a 'must see' destination but the route through the new city from the dock was uninspiring. Once inside the old majesty was obvious and the loss of major traffic congestion aided this experience. The old colonial verandahs, the church, other major buildings are all impressive. The locals participate in much people watching themselves whilst sitting on benches in Bolivar Plaza, a pleasant garden area with a well photographed fountain. Sit here for a while and observe the tourists following the flag! There are quite a few tourist shops including jewelry and other tat and there are quite a few street hawkers selling even more tat. What we particularly enjoyed was some of the interesting 'rusty metal' statues. Street horse drawn buggy rides are also available. A focal point in the Cartagena walled city is the San Pedro Carver. This impressive structure has a large busy courtyard to the front of the building. Probably one of the most photographed buildings in Columbia and the centrepiece of this grand world heritage site.
We visited the Scarlet Macaw Sanctuary El Manantial as part of a cruise tour. Located fairly near to Puntarenas, the journey, which required an early start, was a mixture of good roads followed by what one would call county lanes back in the UK. The coach stopped on route and we had the pleasure of seeing and hearing a wild howler monkey. On entering the sanctuary we received a warm welcome from the staff and a briefing of the 'don't dos' During the walk around the site in the pleasant, green gardens we encountered scores of free flying Scarlet Macaws, butterflies and other interesting bugs. Within the cages, most of which were fairly large, one could also view other macaws and parrots including the beautiful Hyacinths. However, you were forbidden from interacting with the birds although several were keen to 'catch your eye' and interact, perhaps because they had been rescued from human homes. Therefore if you enjoy that experience with birds, this will not be your ideal venue. The focus of the sanctuary is to release the Scarlet Macaws back into the wild in Costa Rica, but many of the released birds remained free flying at the sanctuary. As part of the tour we each received a complimentary bottle of water and some local fruit. There is a small shop where one can buy souvenirs but please note that these items are much more expensive than the beach market at Puntarenas. The second part of the tour was a boat trip on the swampy coastal rivers but on way the coach driver and tour guide managed to get us lost in the thick mangrove growth and we had to reverse most of the way out but as a consequence we did get to view a lot of Costa Rican countryside! We even drove on the Pan American Highway during this section of our travels. The actual boat ride was fun with an interesting commentary from the pilot. We saw plenty of birdlife including pelicans and egrets as well as a few crocodiles and some locals in their canoes. Following the tour we went back to the Coral Princess and then had a good look around the market and beach at Puntarenas, which was more interesting than we had found in Mexico and Nicaragua.
The Coral Princess is anchored in the bay and a tender ferries you into the old marina. Here you are welcomed by the Nicaraguans. First stop is a bank for some local currency and then some stamps from the adjacent post office. The beach is a blackish sand but with loads of activity and views up to the Redeemer statue on the adjacent hill that overlooks the bay. Look out for the small hermit crabs. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to pass the time of day in. A walk round the town does not take too long but there are many pleasant older houses and a pretty church. We stopped at the Hotel Azul Pitahaya for a really good Café Latte and snack. The service was really friendly and efficient and the cafeteria area was spotless and located next to small courtyard. Other patrons appeared to be using a free Wi Fi service. The coffee and snack was reasonably priced. Or next stop was at the El Timon, a large open dining room and bar with a verandah area overlooking the bay and from where one could sup a nice bottle of the local 'Premium' beer and watch the world go by.