Our ambassador Melanie visited this Central American country and shares her favourite spots.
Panama, in my opinion, is an under rated country. I didn’t realize it’s beauty until I started planning the trip. I was blown away by the amazing beaches and islands, breathtaking landscapes, and modern cities. I quickly realized that we would only brush the surface even though we were traveling for a month. Here are my 5 favourite spots that I found in 2017.
If you’re traveling to Panama, you’ll most likely land in Panama City. A modern city, with a spectacular skyline. On our first day in Panama we decided to walk along the Cinta Costera Boardwalk, meaning coastal beltway, it offers incredible views of the city skyline. The boardwalk is 9km of manicured green spaces and coastline, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. As we walked towards old Panama City, we worked up an appetite and decided to have lunch at Mercado de Mariscos, a seafood market. It’s quite the experience. You can see fisherman unloading the days catch and making it into fresh ceviche right in front of your eyes. It’s worth the stop. The ceviche is out of this world! We also enjoyed a delicious whole fried fish, my husband’s favourite.
Our trip to Panama City would not be complete without visiting The Panama Canal, an artificial waterway that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The Miraflores locks visitor centre, has 3 observation decks where we viewed the crossing of boats through the canal. Quite a unique sight. It also has an exhibition hall where you can learn about the canals history and international importance.(Entry to Miraflores locks $15 US)
Our last few nights in Panama City were spent in Casco Viejo, the charming old quarter of the city, and our favourite neighbourhood. The architecture is stunning! Old colonial style houses, beautiful abandoned brick buildings and narrow streets gives this neighbourhood its unique look. Here you’ll find an abundance of trendy restaurants and rooftop bars, and the nightlife is on point! After a hot day exploring the tight streets we enjoyed a refreshing treat at Granclement, an absolute must if you’re an ice cream fanatic like me.
Our next stop, took us to the Caribbean cost of Panama. The San Blas Islands. They are breathtaking paradise-like islands that are mostly uninhabited. There’s approximately 365 islands. One for every day of the year! The larger islands are home to indigenous people called Kuna’s. The Kuna’s control most of the tourism on the island, and we got to spend 2 days living with the locals. They also brought us to different islands where we got to soak up the sun. Since it’s very remote, the amenities are mostly rustic, but the experience is worth it.
We're back on the Pacific coast, but not yet done visiting islands. From Panama City we took a one hour ferry ride to Contadora island, a popular tourist destination for the Pearl Islands. It’s not a very big island either, only 1.39 square Km.
Fun fact! Pearl Islands actually hosted the TV show Survivor. We’re huge fans!
The greatest thing about this island, when we visited in 2017, is that it wasn’t very touristy. We sometimes had a whole beach to ourselves. Our favourite beach had to be Playa Larga, a large sandy beach with clear blue water. Make sure to go at high tide, or else it gets pretty rocky. It also has an abandoned ferry boat which is pretty cool for pictures. If you enjoy a slower pace and relaxation, this is the place for you.
As much as I love relaxing, I can’t sit still for very long. We then booked a island hoping tour with Coral Dreams. We visited 3 different islands, probably our top experience during our trip to Panama! I had never seen water so blue and clear. We got to snorkel and even swim on the same beach as the Survivor contestants. The best food we had in Panama was also on Contadora island. The restaurant is named Casa Tortuga. They serve delicious Italian cuisine, with the option of dinning outside in a beautiful courtyard.
After spending so much time on the coast it was time to go inland. After a 12h bus ride we found ourselves in Boquete.
Boquete is home to numerous coffee plantations and the Baru volcano national park. Because of its rich soil and perfect climate, it’s the main vegetable producer in the country. In the mountains you’ll find lush jungles. At these elevations it’s no longer called the rain forest but the cloud forest. It’s a great place for adventure seekers, and since we love a challenging hike, we decided to climb the Baru volcano.
It’s the tallest mountain in Panama, about 3475 m (11,402 ft). Its an active volcano but it's last eruption was about 400-500 years ago. In order to witness the sunrise, and not hike in the day’s heat, we hiked overnight. We got picked up at our accommodations at about 10:30pm. At a slow and steady pace it took 5h to reach the summit. Once up there, we were lucky enough to see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, which is relatively rare. The view from the top was spectacular!
To witness the sunrise from the top of the world, literally above the clouds, was breathtaking. We both agree that the hike up was easier than the hike back down. It took another 5h to decent, and it was painful. But we felt very accomplished once we finally got to the bottom. If you’re looking for an adventure we definitely recommend this one.
I love hiking so much, that the next day we hiked the Lost Waterfall trail. A relatively short and easy hike, with a slight incline but very rewarding. Not only is the surrounding beautiful since we were walking in the lush cloud forest, but we also got to see 3 beautiful waterfalls. After the morning hike we spent a wonderful afternoon swimming at a mini-canyon called, Cangilones Mini-Canyon. We felt like kids again when jumping from the edge of the canyon into the water. It was a fun and refreshing afternoon.
The province of Bocas del Toro is comprised of 9 main islands. It’s located in the Caribbean Sea at the border of Costa Rica. The Capital City, Bocas town, is located on Colon Island. It’s a popular tourist destination where you'll find accommodations, restaurants, bars and discotheques. Since there’s so many islands, the main form of transportation in Bocas, is by water taxi. During our 11 day stay, we visited three Islands; Colon, Bastimentos, and Zapatillas.
During our stay on Colon, we splurged and stayed in a beautiful over the water bungalow that we rented off of Airbnb. We had a beautiful reef around our villa, where we could snorkel and kayak to explore the marine life. We saw many varieties of fish, star fish and a sting ray. At night the water would light up from bioluminescence, as we walked across the dock.
During our stay we also did a day tour to Star fish beach & Bird Island. From there, we admired the beautiful small island and watched a variety of birds circling the island from the boat. We then spent the rest of the day at star fish beach soaking up the sun. It is a beautiful sandy beach and if you search hard enough you might see a star fish. It has a great tiki bar with delicious tropical drinks and there are also small shacks with Caribbean food available.
Bastimentos Island had to be our favourite spot in Bocas. Red frog beach is the most popular beach in Bocas del Toro. Beautiful white sand with the lush rainforest located at its extremity. Activities like surfing, beach volley ball, and zip lining are available. It also has a great beach front restaurant/hostel called Palmar Hostel. It has eco-friendly accommodations with great vibes and daily scheduled activities.
Plus the food is amazing. Through Palmar we scheduled a day tour to Zapitilla Islands. They’re breathtaking secluded islands that are part of Bastimentos National Marine Park. We spent the day exploring the lush island, lounging on the white sandy beach and swimming in the clear aqua water.