Back on Bikes: Denver through Central America

Written by Evan

We left Colorado, with a goal to cycle to Panama (with some bus assistance through Mexico) during a string of nice fall weather.  While the days were nice enough, the weather only allowed for a few hours of comfortable cycling, with freezing cold mornings, and chilly afternoons as the sun started to set.  Our original route plan was to stick in the mountains through Colorado and New Mexico, but after our first night up high, with temperatures in the teens – we decided to follow a lower route through to the Mexican border.

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Departing Michelle’s aunt and uncle’s house in Denver
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Peaceful fall road through Colorado
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Biking got COLD!  We changed our route from the mountains, and stayed low in the plains
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En route to Pueblo, CO
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Camping at a baseball field in Pueblo, CO – only problem was the sprinklers kept turning on and getting us wet through the night – not a great way to wake up!
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Beautiful camping at a picnic shelter near Timpas, CO, on the Comanche National Grasslands
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Water was quite scarce, but luckily a friendly old man living in an old school house in Timpas, CO gave us many liters of freshwater for the day and night. He also gave us a tour of his home and was very excited to have visitors. He said we were his first visitors in years!
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Eastern CO
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Snowy night south of Trinidad, CO
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Crisp morning biking on a dirt road to New Mexico
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Colorado – New Mexico State Line
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Hike a bike on a road tour?  Skirting dead end roads on what turned out to be gated private property
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Blue skies of NM
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Sleeping under a bridge in NM, surprisingly neither our bikes nor our tent were visible from the road- perfect!

We didn’t reach warm weather until southern NM – instead, we rode through very cold and windy conditions.  Reaching west Texas felt great – and we had very comfortable conditions until crossing into Mexico.

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Camping outside of El Paso, TX
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Mexico just across the Rio Grande
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West Texas
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Chili Fields
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Ice cream at the end of a day of riding with a group of cyclists riding across the country
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Cyclists riding across the country – they had a night stay planned at a church in Martha, TX – and let us stay with them for the night!
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Amazing west Texas scenery, complete with quiet and smooth roads
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Casita stay in Alpine, TX from warm showers. The southern hospitality was definitely warm and welcoming! We really enjoyed all the artsy west Texas towns!
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It got rainy, windy, and cold in Texas, but we were able to stay in this trailer for the night
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Pecos River near Langtry, TX

Having traveled extensively through Mexico last year on motorcycles, we made the decision to bus portions of Mexico, so we could spend more time in Central America.  We caught an overnight bus at the border in Ciudad Acuna to San Luis Potosi.  A week of riding brought us through several Pueblo Magicos, hot and humid mountains, and finally to the Gulf of Mexico and the seaside city of Veracruz.

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Mexico Border
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San Luis Potosi
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Enchiladas Potosinas – local cuisine in San Luis Potosi – very tasty!
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Michelle and Dia de los Muertos
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Mexico riding
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Sierra Gorda mountains in Mexico
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Streets of Jalpan
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Jalpan de Serra, MX
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Jalpan de Serra, MX
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Cooking dinner outside our hotel room in Xilita, MX
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Xilita, MX
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Community concert and dance show in Huejutla de Reyes, MX
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Veracruz, MX
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Gulf of Mexico
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Harvesting Coconuts
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Cool crab on the coast
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Michelle’s birthday morning on Playa Villa Rica, MX
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En route to Veracruz City, MX

Palenque was our next destination, (with the aid of a short bus ride).  Unfortunately, our plans and route changed quite a bit as my knee became quite painful.  I had been neglecting stretching, and began to have sharp and sudden knee pains while riding to Veracruz.  Leaving Palenque, I was not able to ride more than 20 miles out of the city, so we made the decision to take a bus to Playa Del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula, and take some time off and see if my knee would improve.  Luckily it did, and we changed plans and headed into Belize.  Mexico is such a great country to visit – we can not stress it enough!  Endless beaches, mountains, deserts, colonial cities, extremely friendly locals, and great food make it a must visit country – and it is so close and easy for Americans to visit!

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Despining a Nopale (cactus) to cook for breakfast in Palenque, MX
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Palenque – Mayan ruins from 226 BC to 799 AD
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Palenque ruins
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Palenque ruins surrounded by jungle in the state of Chiapas
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Typical meal for us to cook in Mexico – bean and veggie soup, avocado, and quesadilla
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Playa del Carmen, MX
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Caribbean life at Playa del Carmen
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Bird on the beach

Aside from getting ripped off at the border by a border patrol agent, and another careless theft that the hotel staff was most likely part of, Mexico was again great.  Just mind your belongings!

We entered Belize with little knowledge of the country – generally hearing mixed reviews from others – but we really like what we found.  Empty low traffic roads, extremely friendly locals, and the ease of speaking English, as it is Belize’s official language. Locals were relaxed and incredibly welcoming, and it was not uncommon for them to say “You are welcome to stay in our country as long as you wish. Take it easy and enjoy it here!”  Unfortunately, relative to other Latin American countries, Belize is quite expensive, so we did not stay too long.

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Belize!
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Meeting two cyclists from France – on the road for 6 years!  Asia – Africa – S. America – en route to Alaska!
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Dairy bar in Belize – amazing ice cream, cheese, and yogurt- we bought all three mid ride!
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Large wetlands just off the Caribbean coast in Hopkins, Belize – complete with a crocodile!
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Typical thatch house in Belize

Guatemala was next up – via an hour long boat ride from Punta Gorda, Belize to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.  The stark difference between the two countries hit us hard – with loud, fast paced and crowded Guatemala waking us back up!  The riding was bad to horrendous on the high traffic roads we were on, and we did not stay in the country long – but it was okay, as we spent three weeks there last year.

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Taking a small boat from Belize to Guatemala
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Open waters between Belize and Guatemala
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Side road in Guatemala
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This road sucked! Endless trucks, buses, and cars – with very little regard for cyclists!
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Rio Hondo, Guatemala – the pizza place on the side of the photo had surprisingly great pizza – some of the best in Latin America we have had!
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Cooking on a hotel porch
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Cattle Jam!
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Entering into El Salvador

A nice climb, and friendly border officials, brought us into El Salvador, and one of the best hostels of all our Latin American travels, Casa Verde, in Santa Ana.  The best ride of the trip took us up into the mountains above Santa Ana and down to the Pacific Coast of El Salvador, for a quiet, hot, and steep roller coaster ride though the coast line.  One of the most spectacular beaches of the trip was a bonus, in El Zonte.  El Salvador was a great country to visit, and we could easily spend more time there.  Very friendly locals, busy and colorful markets, and very few tourists make for a true Central American experience.

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El Salvador!
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Juicing at one of the best hostels of the whole trip – Casa Verde, Santa Ana, El Salvador
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Sunset and beers with our friend Petra from Hungary- One of the most spectacular beaches of our whole trip – El Zonte, El Salvador – black sand beach with crystal clear waters.
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El Zonte sunrise, with surfers- it was pretty awesome to be able to see the sunrise and sunset everyday from the same beach!
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El Zonte sunset
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Michelle’s great snorkeling adventure, photo credit: Petra
evan beach workout
Pushups on the beach, photo credit: Petra
produce truck combo
Typical produce truck in rural areas of Central America (not our picture, as we failed to ever take a photo of one). It is like Central America’s ice cream truck. They drive around advertising the produce deals through a loud megaphone. You can hear it from blocks away and know to start running! This was one of our favorite parts of spending multiple days in rural areas or small beach towns- we knew we could always get stocked up with cheap, fresh, and local produce!
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Even if we want to spend more money on a nicer place, sometimes we have no other option! As a bicycle tourer, you cannot always make it to the next town if accommodations are less than ideal. We call them “sleeping bag hotels”, as we are thankful to have our sleeping bags to use for the night. This hotel features hourly rentals as well – note the special furniture (and there’s also a mirror on the ceiling!)

Honduras – bad reputation, recent political protests with numerous road blocks – we weren’t sure what we would find.  With only a quick night camping at a fire station on Christmas Eve, we found the best pavement of the trip, and very friendly locals.  Our short stay fortunately gave us a positive experience in Honduras – aside from the last 15 miles of road to Nicaragua, which was the worst road surface of the trip, but it is under construction to be redone!.

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Honduras entrance
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Spending Christmas Eve at a fire station in Honduras. The firemen were very friendly and gave us tamales and dessert!  It was a loud night, with a long fireworks show at midnight from all the locals in town!
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Bomberos de Honduras in Nacaome, Honduras
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Washing a car in the river on Christmas morning in Honduras

Nicaragua was a bit of a change from the rest of the trip.  Our other border crossings have been extremely short and painless, but for whatever reason Nicaragua was painfully slow by foot crossing standards.  The friendly vibe that is so typical in Latin America was not felt, and at times, people were extremely rude.  Luckily at least, the first part of the riding was on very smooth low traffic pavement, albeit, quite windy.  In addition, the drivers seem to show very little courtesy to cyclists and pedestrians (unlike Mexico, in particular).

We first journeyed to Leon, Nicaragua. While Leon was supposed to be a nice colonial city, it doesn’t come close to comparing to other colonial cities elsewhere.  Luckily, we stayed at a really nice and cheap guesthouse owned by an Italian expat.  The guesthouse was complete with lush gardens, an oven we used to bake cookies, and comfortable hangout areas.

A couple more very hot and windy days of riding brought us to Playa Gigante – where we spent New Years – and many days on the generally secluded and beautiful Playa Amarillo.  We then headed to the tourist town of San Juan del Sur, where we ended up spending 10 days, both in town and out at a small house in the jungle, complete with monkeys right out of our door.  Great weather, a friendlier and more laid back location, and gorgeous beaches helped to end our time in Nicaragua on a more positive note than it began. While San Juan del Sur is quite touristy, it still retains some local character and is an easy place to spend some time.

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Nicaragua entrance
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Our Christmas Day meal. We found some street food, as most other stores and restaurants were closed for the holiday. Pupusas are a traditional Salvadorean dish of a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling, and can be found in Nicaragua.  (We forgot to take a picture of them in El Salvador – and we ate alot of pupusas!)
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Volcano in Nicaragua
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Nicaragua smoking volcano
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Scorpion that bit Evan in Leon, Nicaragua- The scorpion was attached to the towel and when Evan wrapped the towel around his body, it bit his thigh!
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Road side cashews (from El Salvador) and papaya. Although we were bummed to not be in Central America for mango season, we enjoyed lots of papaya, watermelon, and pineapple!
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Road side howler monkeys in Nicaragua
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New Years Eve at Playa Gigante- last sunset of 2017!
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We missed pupusas so much, that we started making them for dinner quite a bit. We made them here with a side of butternut squash and bean soup.
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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
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Our casita in the jungle- we stayed here for a week and it was incredible. We didn’t want to leave!
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We woke up to a tree full of monkeys outside of our casita in Nicaragua.
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After a few weeks of beach and jungle time in Nicaragua, we finally made it to the Costa Rican border
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Sunset over the Pacific a bit past the Costa Rican border

Costa Rica greeted us with some extremely strong winds, at multiple times pushing us off the road and even down onto the ground!  While the roads were of good quality, the drivers and lack of shoulders were not good.  I found Costa Rica to be overall the worst riding of the trip – very crowded roads, no shoulders, and unwelcoming drivers which does not make for nice riding.  After a very close call with a truck and Michelle heading towards San Jose, we decided to jump on a bus into the city.  We wanted to secure some bike boxes early to avoid a last minute rush to find some before flying out of San Jose a week later.  With boxes secured, we made our way out of the city on what we hoped would be better roads than the way in.  Wrong we were, as we hit some extreme rain and low visibility.  Endless trucks, buses, and cars, with zero shoulder or courtesy to us.

News Video
Watch our news story!

The silver lining of the ride was that we made it onto the Costa Rican news!  It must have been a slow news day as they gave us over 4 minutes of air time!  Ironically, the video and reporters were following us for the safest and most mellow part of the road – it was much worse higher up.

 

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Taking a break from the pouring rain further down the road….

We reached the Caribbean coast and rode to the Panamanian border, where we settled into a tiny spot in the rainforest to spend our last few days in Central America.  Lots of rain, mud, and wildlife (monkeys, sloths, wild parrots) were in store for us, and we were able to relax, make good meals, and visit some truly scenic spots before heading back to Colorado.

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Beautiful beaches in the Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refugee- just west of the Panama border. We spent a week here prior to flying back to Colorado!
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Wet sloth!
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Sloth up close!
BeFunky Collage
We met up with our friend Petra, who we had originally met in El Salvador, for a few days in Puerto Viejo, CR.  Coconuts found on the beach- a local helped crack it open!
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We made it to the PANAMA border!

While we are very happy to have traveled through Central America, the riding left a lot to be desired.  I would not hesitate to say that Central America is a pretty bad bicycle destination, as there is lots of traffic and relatively uninteresting terrain. Thankfully though, the beaches and climate of Central America are wonderful – and we were very lucky to be able to spend so much time on relatively deserted beaches – true tropical paradise! We are now excited to be back in the US to spend the rest of the winter and spring skiing!

Our approximate route:

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One thought on “Back on Bikes: Denver through Central America

  1. Enjoyed reading about your adventures. You visited so many beautiful places and the food looked great. Some of the riding seemed dangerous at times; a trip of a lifetime. Glad your back in the states!!

    Liked by 1 person

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