I began in Panama City where there are now some fabulous boutique hotels in the heart of the old town, ‘Casco Antiguo’, before heading out to the Panama Canal. I had always been intrigued by the ‘big ditch’ and, on my half-day transit, it was almost impossible to take on board the immensity of its construction as well as the complexity of its current operation.
Next on the agenda was a mile-high coffee plantation at Boquete - an enchanting spot in the highlands, dripping with flowers and total heaven for birdwatchers. Then down to Bocas del Torro on the Caribbean coast for a brief but welcome interlude at Laguna Azul, a beautiful private island lodge built on stilts and with just six rooms.
Dolphins frolicking in the sunset and the Manta ray I watched from my dining table are memories that will linger for a while. Nicaragua may be just a short flight away from Panama, but it felt like a completely different country. With no high-rise buildings, it’s rich colonial and indigenous history is still very much evident in the colourful cities of Leon and Granada that are both an absolute pleasure to explore.
An hour on the local ferry from the mainland brings you to Ometepe Island where, after a 5-hour trek across the flanks of Concepcion volcano, I found myself face to face with troops of howler monkey, white faced capuchins, some spectacular birds and, rather alarmingly, a boa constrictor!
One of the special things about Nicaragua is that the tourism infrastructure may be raw but there are still some really lovely hotels. Two in particular stood out - Jicaro Island Lodge on Lake Nicaragua, and Morgan’s Rock on the Pacific coast near to San Juan del Sur.
Complying with high sustainability credentials, both are eco-lodges in the true sense and offer exquisite jungle luxury. Both countries are simply too good to be ignored for long, so get there quickly before everyone else does!