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Help with itinerary

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Princeton, New...
Level Contributor
40 posts
1 review
Help with itinerary

we arrive late in the evening at PTY on New Year's Eve for 7 full days and would like to do the following:

all day sea kayaking trip in Portobello

zip line canopy tour at Panama Outdoor Adventure

hiking in El Valle de Anton

partial transit on the canal and Miraflores Locks

Monkey island and Lake Gatun boating and rainforest hike

Isla Grande for beach and snorkeling

guided or self-guided walking tour of Casco Viejo

My questions:

1. can someone help with the best way to route our trip in Panama? or should we just stay in one hotel in Panama City and do daily excursions? Hotel choices in Panam City are much more to our liking (4-5 star hotels)

2. is it best to rent a car? there will be 3 of us. if so, which airport?

3. the daily tours/excursions are pretty pricey...any suggestions for doing things on our own?

4. is it possible to rent a private boat to take us to and pick us up from Isla Grande

thank you for any help!

Atlanta, Georgia...
Destination Expert
for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
Level Contributor
3,066 posts
11 reviews
1. Re: Help with itinerary

That's a very aggressive itinerary. Here are a few comments:

I would recommend staying overnight in Portobelo and doing the zipline one day and the sea kayaking/snorkeling/beach on the next. It's a 90 minute drive to Portobelo from Panama City.

I would drop Isla Grande from the itinerary. You'll have better snorkeling and a prettier beach if you get a dive op in Portobelo to take you to La Huerta. It's a very picturesque cove with a nice reef across the mouth.

If you do stay over in Portobelo, drop your expectations for 4-5 star hotels ... unless you're willing to shell out $$$$$ for El Otro Lado. Isla Grande has nothing even close to 3 stars. The operative words for lodging in this area are "rustic" and "spartan."

If you're going to El Valle, then keep the rental car and drive there from Portobelo. That will take about 3 hours. Personally, I would overnight there as well and hike in the morning. Even though January is Panama's "summer," if you're going to get rain, it's most likely to hit in the early afternoon. I think you'll enjoy hiking around El Valle much better than the low-country hiking around Gamboa/Lake Gatun -- much less humidity, lower temperature, much, much better vistas and flora.

You can do Monkey Island, Miraflores and the Canal transit as day trips from Panama City.

About tours -- yes, they are expensive. But, for things like Monkey Island, boating on Lake Gatun, doing the partial canal transit -- if that's what you want, it's the only way to go. My wife and I usually go on our own.

If you do end up going to Isla Grande, I can't think of any reason to hire a private boat. There are large, cayuca (dug out canoe) water taxis that will take you the short distance for $1.

Here's a suggested itinerary:

Day 1 - Miraflores and Casco Viejo

Day 2 - Rent car and drive to Portobelo. On the way, go to Panama Outdoor Adventure. Overnight in Portobelo.

Day 3 - Sea kayak, snorkel, beach and visit Portobelo. Overnight in Portobelo.

Day 4 - Drive to El Valle -- short hike in PM.

Day 5 - Hike El Valle in AM, return to Panama City in PM.

Day 6 - Gamboa, Monkey Island, Lake Gatun

Day 7 - Partial Canal Transit

Princeton, New...
Level Contributor
40 posts
1 review
2. Re: Help with itinerary

Thank you for such a helpful reply. Your itinerary for us sounds perfect!

I would like to stay in Portobelo but am having trouble finding hotel accomadations other than in nearby Colon. Would you be able to recommend a place? TA forum seems to all nix staying in Colon due to danger?

Would you also be able to recommend a guide for an all day sea kayaking - snorkeling day in Portobelo? We are all experienced recreational sea kayakers.

After El Valle, is it better to stay at the Radisson Summit Hotel to do Day 6 and 7 activities?

Thanks so much!

Panama City, Panama
Level Contributor
7,444 posts
18 reviews
3. Re: Help with itinerary

One problem with that itinerary - I am not sure if there are any companies that do canal transits in the first few days of the week.

Look at the transit companies and where they start from.

Edited: 1:38 pm, December 11, 2012
Princeton, New...
Level Contributor
40 posts
1 review
4. Re: Help with itinerary

Thank you. I will do just that.

Atlanta, Georgia...
Destination Expert
for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
Level Contributor
3,066 posts
11 reviews
5. Re: Help with itinerary

Colon is not that close to Portobelo. It's over an hour away. And, as you've noted, it's not a well recommended place to stay or visit.

El Otro Lado is close to Portobelo, but far away. It's on the other side of the bay, which means you have to get someone from the hotel or hail a water taxi to take you to Portobelo where you'll have to park your car. It's also very expensive, but people who go there seem to like it.

Anything around Portobelo, such as Sunset Cabins/Scubapanama or Octupus Garden is going to be rustic and definitely not even close to 4 stars. If you can lower your expectations, you can have an enjoyable time. Sra. Chong at Scubapanama is an excellent cook, and you're literally next door to Los Cañones and only 1 km down the road to La Torre.

For sea kayaking and snorkeling I recommend Scubapanama. (Check their website.) They also happen to be based at and run Sunset Cabins. If you stay there, the kayaks are free for use. They are not the greatest kayaks.

But, honestly, you'll be crispy critters if you try to do and all day kayak trip. Taking them out in the shallows around Scubapanama and Buena Ventura, you'll be able to see a lot of interesting sealife if you focus on going slow and looking.

6. Re: Help with itinerary

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