Wednesday, May 5, 2010

1 Where Next Wednesday: Panama

*Photos courtesy of Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor

To Do List
For such a small little country, Panama's got a lot to offer! Beaches, culture, and the famous canal...
  • Panama City is, of course, home to the Panama Canal. We think it would be awesome just to see it and maybe hit up the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, but we could also take an eight-hour guided trip across by boat for $175 per person. But there is a lot more to the city: historic, colonial buildings in Casco Viejo, old city ruins in Panama Viejo, and bustling nightlife in Calle Uruguay. For a quick getaway, the Parque Natural Metropolitano rainforest full of monkeys, sloths, and birds is just 10 minutes from downtown.  
  • The San Blas Islands are just a short plane ride away from Panama City and sound like a really unique and exciting cultural experience. The 400 some islands are governed by the Kuna and a stay here involves meeting and learning about what might be the most in tact indigenous community in the hemisphere. Some accommodations are as simple as a hammock on the beach, others like the Hotel Kuna Niscua provide private cabins, transportation to and from Panama City, tours around the San Blas Islands, and all meals for $55 per person per day. Buying the local hand-stitched artwork called mola as souvenirs costs extra. 
  • Bocas Del Toro is more about the traditional beach activities. Isla Colon is the bustling center of the action, Isla Bastimentos has remote, picturesque beaches, and Parque Internacional La Amistad is filled with more wildlife than tourists--jaguars, pumas, and anteaters, oh my!
  • For a change of pace, Boquete offers adventurous activities in a cooler, mountain climate. Hikes to see the famous Quetzal, visits to coffee plantations, canopy tours, and whitewater rafting are all on the itinerary. To rejuve, we can spend a day at the Pozos Termales hot springs for just $1. Boquete is just on the eastern side of Panama's tallest mountain, dormant Volcan Baru.
  • One of the really cool things about Panama is that we can do luxury on the (relatively) cheap. We've always wanted to stay in one of those bungalows built right over the water, but those are typically found in French Polynesia (a $1,000+ flight) for around $500 per night. In Panama, we can stay at Punta Caracol in a luxurious, private, over-the-water bungalow for around $360 night for the two of us including candlelit dinners. If you do the price comparison to Tahiti, it's a steal! 
Panamanian cuisine has Afro-Caribbean, French, and Spanish flavors to spice up the Central American rice and bean standard. Some staples are...
  • Sancocho, a stew of meat, yucca, and avocado.
  • Plantains. Lots of 'em.
  • Culantro, a local plant that tastes like super-strong cilantro.
  • Chichas, their fresh tropical juices. If they are half as good as Brazilian sucos we'll be in heaven.
  • Cerveza Panama, the national beer.
  • Seco, the national sugarcane liquor, ordered "con leche" as the locals prefer. 
Get Me There
Kayak shows that flights from Boston within the next six months come in around the $400s. Spirit has the cheapest option at $415 with one stop in Ft. Lauderdale, but based on our bad experience with them in the past we'd be inclined to "splurge" on American's one-stop $435 flight.

There are no visa requirements for Americans traveling to Panama, but we are required to buy a $30 tourist card upon arrival.

Did You Know?
Panama's national currency is the Balboa. Not only is it tied to the US Dollar, but Panamanians actually use US bills and just substitute their own Balboa coins to make change. That should make spending money in Panama super easy!

The Word
Viva Latin America "Panama City is such a shock to the system... It has a skyline at which Manhattan wouldn’t turn up its nose, that astonishing canal, giant mega-malls and whole sections of the city made up of skyscrapers.  On the other hand, it has countless areas into which you advised not to venture after dark, filthy and stinking streets, hundreds of homeless people sleeping in whole families in doorways and everywhere, everywhere, colonial buildings in varying states of decay, from crumbly and peeling to just plain shells of structures."
Hello San Blas Goodbye Panama - "There are over 365 islands in the San Blas, many are inhabited, some have resorts on them, some villages, some only 1 or 2 houses. After being welcomed by a pod of dolphins we dropped the anchor swimming distance from 3 small islands, one of which was where we were to have lunch."

1 comment:

  1. Panama sounds incredible and delicious. If Panama's luxury is fairly inexpensive relatively, how are the cheaper accommodations?

    I'd love to feature one of your posts on Pink Pangea (, a travel site specifically geared towards women travelers. Submit a photo of yourself in one of the places you've visited and write a post about your experiences. You might also want to provide some tips for other women travelers to that country. We will be sure to link back to your site.

    Looking forward to hearing from you,


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