Four reasons to visit Panama now
The Caribbean is the ultimate destination for relaxation and our Pure Panamania with a dash of Costa Rica trip is the perfect mix of said relaxation, adventure, wildlife and history!
Our “dash of Costa Rica” starts with our welcome meeting and dinner at one of San Jose’s many delicious restaurants. Give the local “casado” a try and wash it down with a “guaro sour.” Make sure to plan a day or two extra in San Jose, to check out any of the museums or perhaps catch a show at the National Theatre.
Day two takes us to the beach town of Cahuita. The beauty of Cahuita is that it’s a little less visited and you have the choice of a couple of beaches – white sand or black sand. Well, actually you don’t need to choose, there is enough time to visit both. That night we generally opt for the freshest seafood restaurant on the beach to enjoy dinner and cocktails. On the way back to the hotel we will spot some sloths. Trust us! On the Caribbean Coast in Costa Rica the sloths really do hang from the lines like Dunlop volley shoes!
The next day sees us in Playa Cocles, near Puerto Viejo. A visit to the Jaguar Rescue Centre is a highlight on this trip and a “must do” in Costa Rica. The Rescue Center, which began as a home for two biologists from Spain and Italy, quickly turned into the place where locals would bring sick and injured animals, with a jaguar being the first. Obviously there are no guarantees but the last time we visited we were treated to snakes, toucans, macaws, sloths, monkeys, deer, an ocelot, a margay, alligators, crocodiles, iguanas and more. If you are an animal lover, the one-hour guided tour is bound to be one of the greatest days of your life!
The crystal clear waters of the Caribbean beckon us back, and we spend another afternoon on the beach. The Caribbean is treating us so well that we might want to just stay, but we’re going to change countries!
Next day, we do the border formalities and cross into Panama, where a quick speedboat ride takes us to the island of Colon, Bocas del Toro. It’s an eclectic mix of locals, ex pats and even sailors who bring their sailboats here because it’s a hurricane safe zone. There is that traveler vibe here too. And why not? With such a perfect mix of people it’s no wonder the vast array of restaurants on offer. What takes your fancy?
For our free day, we can either take it easy, exploring on your own, or take it easy on a catamaran! Our friends at Jager Knights are known to really take care of us and ensure a great Caribbean time, checking out the Coral Gardens, Dolphin Bay and perhaps Starfish Beach. Other options also attract: you can hire a golf buggy or perhaps catch the local bus to the beach and spend the day staring at the beautiful water and gorgeous starfish. In town there are also yoga and massage options. This place has something for everyone.
After all of this Caribbean vibe, we’re going to head to the adventure town of Boquete. A little cooler, Boquete sits at around 1300 meters above sea level–which makes it perfect for our included tour of Café Ruiz coffee producers. There’s much debate as to which Central American country produces the best coffee. In this author’s opinion, Panama has it.
We can confirm that you will be able to try the purest coffee that money can buy: $9 a cup in Panama, $18 in New York and $68 in Dubai. Do you know what the supreme coffee bean is?
Aside from coffee, Boquete is also the place for white water rafting, hiking, horse riding, volcano hiking, and more. If you are a birder, you might want to hike the famous “Quetzal Trail” where you can spot the movie star of the bird world. When you spot him, you’ll see why the Resplendent Quetzal is often referred to as one of the world’s most beautiful birds.
After Boquete we catch a flight to Panama City. Drink in the spectacular views as we fly over part of the Panama Canal.
We spend two nights in surprising Panama City, not at all what you might expect to find in Central America. Ten minutes from the extremely built up skyscraper downtown, you find yourself in Casco Viejo, the beautifully (mostly restored) old town. The incredible contrast is separated only by a good walk along the Cinta Costera (coastal belt).
Our full day in the City is spent either doing the included half-transit of the Panama Canal or a City Tour that includes the Miraflores Lock of the Canal, Casco Viejo and a hike up Ancon Hill for absolutely spectacular views of the canal, Casco Viejo and the New Panama City. The reason for the two options is that the transit is not offered every day; not all departures of the trip link up with a half-transit. But either option is brilliant and gives an incredible insight to the canal.
The half transit of the Panama Canal is, by no means, a half day. Around 7:30 am we’re picked up for a Flamenco Marina, where we board the Panama Canal day cruiser. The journey begins on the Pacific Ocean heading north. We cruise under the Bridge of the Americas, which rises over 100 meters above sea level, reuniting the land divided during construction of the canal and forming a link on the Pan-American Highway.
As the cruise continues we reach the Miraflores locks, the tallest in the canal’s system due to the extreme tidal variation of the Pacific Ocean. The locks raise the ship 17 meters above sea level in two steps, into Miraflores Lake. While enjoying lunch on board, we reach Pedro Miguel locks where the ship is raised 9 more meters. The ship now cruises on toward Gatun Lake at 26 meters above sea level and enters Gaillard Cut, the narrowest section of the Panama Canal. The 13.7-kilometer long portion of the waterway was carved through rock and shale between 1904 and 1914 and is flanked by the backbones of the Continental Divide.
The original Gaillard Cut was 92 meters wide but, in order to accommodate today’s large vessels, the Canal Authority recently completed the monumental task of widening it to 192 meters in straight sections and up to 222 meters in curves, allowing for unrestricted two-way traffic of Panamax vessels, the largest ships that can currently fit in the Panama Canal locks. The majestic Centenario Bridge soars over Gaillard Cut.
The Panama Canal opens up into Gatun Lake where the Chagres River, the main source of water used in the canal operation, flows into the waterway near the town of Gamboa where we disembark.
Returning to Panama City, we head to the Balboa Yacht Club for our final dinner and drinks overlooking the transit lanes of the canal.
The alternative tour sees us spending the day in our air-conditioned private transport for the times we aren’t at our destinations.
Departing the hotel around 8.00 am, we aim to be the first in line to buy tickets into the Miraflores Lock. The boats are due to start coming through around 9am, but we always like to ensure we have an amazing spot to watch the action from. There are various levels of the building where we can watch the boats going through, each point having great views. We have the commentary in English or Spanish throughout and we also have the chance to visit the museum and watch a short film about the fascinating history of the Canal. Make sure your cameras and phones are ready and charged for this!
From the Canal we head to Ancon Hill for epic views of the Canal, Casco Viejo and the new Panama City. If we are lucky, we will spot various bird species and maybe even a sloth or two!
Then it’s down to Casco Viejo for a closer look. This old part of the city is stunning. We can easily spend a couple of hours checking out the beauty of the old buildings, eating in one of the many fabulous restaurants, shopping in the markets run by the indigenous Guna people or sipping a Panama beer while watching the world go by! We will notice a lot of Panama hats for sale – but did they originate from here? From Casco Viejo, we will head to the Balboa Yacht Club for our final dinner and drinks over-looking the transit lanes of the canal.
Either option will make us regret that we couldn’t do them both.
As we stated, this trip is the perfect mix of relaxation, adventure, wildlife and history! It’s one of our favourite trips, bridging two great countries.
Our next guaranteed departure is the 10th of February. Will you join us?