Hostel in Panama City's Casci Viejo area. Probably one of the most friendly hostels I have been to. Great communal areas with hammocks to relax, lots of places to use the internet but good WI-FI also. Amazing views over the old town and the business district from the balconies, great for relaxing and having a beer while watching sunset. Also happens to be a great bar downstairs which is popular with travellers, good happy hour for those staying at Luna's Castle making it really cheap. Overall great place to mingle, find out about other people's adventures in Central America and plan your next places to visit.
They are a group of just less than 400 islands in the Caribbean of which only about 50 are inhabited by the Kuna people. For the most spectacular deserted island scenery, I couldn't recommend it more. Catch a boat for a few days and relax on your own paradise while local fisherman sail up next to you to offer their catch of the day. These islands are so unspoiled and beautiful, you'll never want to leave.
Google map: bit.ly/Anxjww
A boat ride through the bright blue Caribbean Sea, dolphins playing in the water beside you, snorkelling the reef and finally, paradise.
From Bocas del Toro in Panama you can take a tour with a number of companies to Cayos Zapatillas, a small group of uninhabited desert islands. The boat moors and you hop out into the warm sea to splash your way to the shore. The islands consist of a patch of jungle surrounded by a border of white sand and clear water and the afternoon is just spent relaxing in and out of the water (or, in the case of some lads on our tour, dashing in and out of the jungle, trying to knock a coconut out of a tree). It literally looks like the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean when Jack and Elizabeth are stranded on a Caribbean island. Except the whole British army aren't looking for you. Thank God, beacause we didn't want to leave!
A long journey to get there so give yourself five days at least! Fly in to Bocas del Toro, stock up on cocktail supplies then grab a cab along the white sand road through the rainforest to Bluff Beach Retreat - 20 minutes away. The beach is pristine, long, soft, gold and deserted. All yours. All day. Or hire a boat for away day coral dives, dolphin spotting, island hopping and surfing. Then back to the retreat, a v friendly shared kitchen, relaxation and a dip in the pool.
If you're looking for paradise, this is as close as you'll ever get. Unspoiled, uninhabited islands where you can camp under the stars, snorkel in pristine waters and marvel at what a beautiful world we live in.
It is an amazing second hand book shop on the road between Boquete and David, stocked with 1000s of books. It is run by an American who is very knowledgeable and he also provides comfy chairs and a rest room.
On the road betwenn Boquete and David
Beautiful restaurant run by a European chef with an extensive wine list. Have not been able to beat it for ambiance, service, food or price.
Best tip for taxis is just wave one down on the street and pretend you know what you are doing. The rates are set according to a zona mapa and there are no metres. Pay $2 for a small trip or $3 for say El Cangrejo to Albrook Mall. Avoid the hustlers / taxis outside of hotels, they will want up to four times as much. Best decent hotel is the Milan currently at $57 cash, El Cangrejo
Located in El Cangrejo near the Veneto hotel.
Av 2A Norte
Google map: tinyurl.com/35xbneu
Aqua is quite possibly the best backpacker-style beach haunt I have ever come across. It is located on a small island in the group called Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Easily accessible from the mainland by small taxi boat, the hostel/bar has been built above the water with a swimming pool area cut out of the decking. The vibe is chilled out Caribbean with a characterful collection of international staff. Key attractions: cheap accommodation ($10 a night), amazing surfing and snorkelling opportunities accessible by boat, swimming literally off the decking, hammocks to relax in by day, a sea trampoline, AMAZING parties twice a week and easy access to the main island (a $1 taxi or 15 minute swim!) where there are cheap club nights every night. Also, on ladies' night, girls drink for free!
Since "Hats Off to Panama" was written in 2008 there seem to have been a lot of new places opening in the Old Quarter of Panama City. We ended up staying four nights and not leaving the area except to see the Canal. Our favorite places were an art cafe called "Diablo Rosso", the steakhouse "Puerta de Tierra", and a massive live music hall called something like "Music Bunker of Havana". The fish market is not to be missed.
Casco Antiguo, Panama City, Panama
Google map: tinyurl.com/y9gqrq9
For anybody on a backpacking budget, then this place is ideal. Located in the old town, Casco Viejo, the rooms at the front of the hostel have surely, the best views of the city. I found myself just staring at the skyline for half of the day. The actual hostel itself is very accomodating, social and clean.
Casco Viejo has a bad reputation. However, there is a big police presence and everybody I met was charming and wanted to talk.
Also, if he's still there, the guy in the cathedral square sells the best value for money hot dogs-35cents with all the trimmings! Just beautiful!
When in Bocas del Toro you've got to stop by Toro Loco bar and restaurant. It's an American-owned bar that offers free Wifi, darts, delicious bar food including burgers, quesadillas, chicken fingers and wings and chili - all $6 and under. They also have five televisions around the bar that carry sports all day long! Free popcorn for everyone and happy hour is everyday from 3-6pm. A great place in town to have a cold beer and catch up with old friends or make new ones.
Located on Central Avenue, just behind the park in the middle of town.
The lodge is situated on Wichub-Wala island about five minutes' boat trip from El Porvenir airport. It is a rustic, two-storey, bamboo structure and they feed you three meals a day and provide all transport. The price (c$40-50 per night per person) includes a trip for most of the day to the remoter islands for swimming, snokelling etc and then, on the return leg, a sidevisit to a more populated island to see more of the Kuna islanders flogging their locally made molas. The beaches were superb and the lodge was fine - it's not luxury, but there is a cold shower, running water and the hosts are very friendly. So a bit like camping but under bamboo. During my stay the other guests tended to be the more adventurous types of traveller and spanned all ages and nationalities. Recommended for a two-three day visit, especially as there are no mosquitoes here.
My hotel in Panama City made the reservation on my behalf but we went through three different phone numbers. Try 507-2275308 (the host speaks Spanish) Fax: 507-2252568.
Address: Kuna Niskua Lodge, Wichub-Wala, Porvenir, Kuna Yala, Apdo 280 Zona 1, Panama. For flights, www.airpanama.com although another airline does fly from Albrook airport as well.
Getting around Panama City can be tricky at certain times of the day. There are several bus routes that essentially go along the city but the queues for these can be enormous during the rush hour (as many as 100 people). In addition, the buses tend to go to places you don't really want to visit.
The only other alternative is to travel by taxi and while these are numerous during busy periods taxi drivers are picky over where they take you: I have frequently spent between 20 minutes to more than an hour trying to flag one from Ancon to the El Cangrejo area. They also overcharge, especially if your grasp of Spanish is weak, and will not issue receipts so I suggest (a) agree a fare before you get in, and (b) if you need receipts, buy a receipt book from Office Depot or the Rey supermarkets. Taxis hovering outside big hotels will charge at least two to three times the 'normal rate' but they will provide receipts (usually). In summary, just be patient!
Stay at La Coralina. The owner is most hospitable, there's a baby monkey onsite, it's home to a fun deck, and the views can't be beat.
Book a catamaran tour with Catamaran Tours: the captain will take good care of you, the snorkeling is excellent, and you'll most likely spot dolphins.
Book Erwin for a personal tour: Erwin has the best stories in the world. Plus he knows the islands and their inhabitants inside and out.
Stay at the Coffee Estate Inn: the owners are a little difficult, but they run a top-notch operation (fresh coffee, homemade breads, flower arrangements, amazing view, etc).
Eat at the Panamonte Inn in the fireplace room: nice ambience, the people watching is decent, and they serve great food for the money.
Drive to Cerro Punto and walk the trails in La Amistad National Park.
We enjoyed dining at Manolo Caracol (casual, locally owned) and Astrid y Gaston (more formal, originated in Peru).
As for places to see, I recommend the Baha'i temple, walking in Soberania National Park, and visiting Miraflores Locks.
La Estancia is a hotel in Panama City. It's not amazing, but it's a good value, located away from downtown (a good thing), close to the national airport, the service is good, and there's a travel agency onsite.
Canopy Lodge is located in Soberania National Park, a 30-minute drive from Panama City. It's a former radar/observation tower turned into a hotel catering to birdwatchers. I recommend it because it's an opportunity to stay in a tower in the middle of the rainforest, and the views are amazing. I'm not into birdwatching, but I understand that this place is the ne plus ultra for those who are into it.
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com