Saturday, February 9, 2013


Panama is one of our favorite countries in the world. When work is challenging, or the winter days seem too dark and cold, we pretend we have purchased a couple of acres on Lake Gatun. TH will start a fish guiding business and I will scatter seeds into the fertile soil and all of the fruits and veggies we need to survive will magically appear. Then we will take time off from fishing/farming and revisit the places we love the most.

Panama City

When we stay in PC, we choose Panama Center Apartments.  Why? 
  • Excellent, safe location, a short walk from a variety of restaurants. 
  • Incredibly welcoming and  helpful office staff.
  • $45 per night.
  • Close to cheap laundry and a salon that offers a $5 blow-out that will last for a week! 
Be sure to visit Casco Viejo, or the old town, in Panama City.  We were able to walk (with several cerveza/snack breaks) from our apartment to this lovely mix of old world/new world.  

While in Casco Viejo, don't miss Ceviche, Seviche.  The small, hip dining area includes a Baskin-Robbins style counter, except instead of ice cream there are tubs of ceviche!!  Sample flavors: Passionfruit Curry, Cajun Pineapple, Spicy Mango.  

Isla Contadora

A quick, scenic flight from PC is Isla Contadora.  

arrival onto Contadora, from the plane window

Oh, my, what a beautiful place. We stayed at Contadora Island Inn for around $70/night.  


Contadora is a part of the Pearl Islands, which have been featured on three episodes of "Survivor".  Tony, host at Contadora Island Inn, can tell you drama filled production stories, as well as tales from the days when Contadora was packed with money and drugs.  Although it was once a hoity-toity vacation spot, the island is now laid back and mellow. No one will give you the stink eye if you buy a six pack of Cuba Libres and spend the day bobbing about in the translucent, balmy water.  

Las Lajas

Las Lajas is an easy seven hour bus ride from PC. Buy your bus tickets from the modern bus station and bring along a good book.  The bus will stop midway for lunch, which you might not need if you take advantage of the random snack sellers who hop aboard every few miles. 

Playa Las Lajas is the longest beach in Panama.  It is fantastic for never-ending beach walks, shell collecting, and crab sightings, but not so great for swimming.  

The next best view in Las Lajas is from Finca Buena Vista.  

We've stayed in this lovely hotel twice ($50), enjoying supreme breakfasts on our patio and walking to the friendly village for dinners. It is such a serene, peaceful place.


Boquete is quickly becoming an expat retirement haven, due to its scenic mountain location, cooler temperatures, fertile soil, and access to hiking, birding and rafting.  The flowers, fruits and vegetables are so vibrant and the landscape is verdant and lush.

One day we splurged and dined at The Rock.  After a two hour trek from our apartment (it looked so much closer on the map!) we were rewarded with a crusty loaf of bread (warm and soft on the inside), creamy hummus, coffee infused pumpkin soup, jambalaya, shrimp pasta, and tiramisu.  Unreal.  

La Loma Jungle Lodge

Located on Bastimentos Island in Bocas del Toro (a bus-boat-boat adventure of about six hours), La Loma Jungle Lodge is a secluded treat.  Priced at $100/person/night, this was leagues above our standard room rate, but it included beautiful meals and a unique jungle setting.  Each night, after a gourmet family style dinner, we would sit on our porch surrounded by a cacophony of noises: layers upon layers of birds, insects and frogs.  It was almost impossible to single out a particular sound to speculate on what it might be.  During the days, our wildlife viewing included sloths, giant tree iguanas, hundreds of birds, bats, frogs, lizards, snakes, and crazy insects.

La Loma offers several economical day tours for further Bocas exploration.  We went with Roger (couldn't recommend him more highly!)  jungle-beach hiking, snorkeling, fishing, and bat cave spelunking. Our guest hosts, Karen and Ron, were incredibly welcoming and knowledgeable.  After a day excursion we always looked forward to Ron's special cocktail, served at a pre-dinner social hour.  As we sipped, darkness would creep into the jungle, the candles would be lit, and all the guests would sit down to share a farm fresh meal and stories from the day.  What a special place.

While at La Loma we were treated to chocolate desserts made from the property's cacao trees, local fruits, and garden vegetables.  On our last day we sampled the "miracle fruit", a small red berry that when eaten slowly coats the tongue and makes everything eaten for hours thereafter hyper sweet. Limes tasted like Kool-Aid, made with half the recommended amount of water.

Colon Island (Bocas del Toro)

I have to admit, it took a couple of days for Bocas Town to grow on us.  Initially we felt old (where did all these young, beautiful people come from?) and older (how do they stay up so late?). We worried that we would miss all of the happy hours (12am-1am) and that people would make fun of our roller bags.  But then we rented bikes and zipped away from Bocas Town, exploring the quieter roads and beaches. And a week later, we didn't want to leave. 

We stayed in a little casita called Saigoncito for $45 a night.  It was cute, colorfully decorated, and located in a welcoming neighborhood.  From our place it was a quick bike ride to town, numerous restaurants, the dock for catching water taxis to other islands, and deserted Bluff Beach.  Boca del Drago, or Starfish Beach, is a scenic collectivo ride across the island.

Bocas was lots of fun in July, but I wonder if it might be overwhelming during high season.

San Blas/Kuna Yala

We debated for a long time about visting San Blas.  It's expensive (also $100/person/day), not including the small plane flight from Panama City (around $100/person) to Playon Chico.  After hearing other travelers' stories our competitive flashpacking nature kicked in and we decided that we needed to visit the Kuna Yala.

The Kuna Yala (also known as San Blas) includes 365 islands (one for every day of the year!) that are owned by the Kunas.  They won their independence from Panama in 1930, and continue many of their traditional practices today. No foreigner can own land in the region, which is amazing as I'm sure the Kuna have been offered millions for real estate in this exquisite environment.  There are no hotels or high rises; the only accommodations offered are in Kuna-owned traditional structures.

Our palapa at the Yandup Island Lodge had solar powered lights and a fan available at night. We did not choose the more expensive over the water option, and we were pleased to find out that our cheapness paid off  in a cabana that was located on the breezier side of the island.  We left our doors open to enjoy the wind and avoid suffocating in the heat.

Every morning the Kuna men head out in dugout canoes to fish and lobster hunt.  It was so peaceful to rise from bed, sit on our porch, and watch the men quietly slip out to work.  

Our stay at the lodge included three meals a day and two tours to neighboring beaches and the main town of Playon Chico.  A few tour highlights:

We loved the staff at the lodge and highly recommend a visit to this beautiful area.


  1. Yes, we went on your strong recommendation. Wouldn't you love to do a sailing trip in that area?