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Panama itinerary with two toddlers

Fuerth, Germany
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10 posts
29 reviews
59 helpful votes
Panama itinerary with two toddlers

We (a family of four, with 2 young children age 1 and 3) are going to Panama in May 2017. We are looking for a relatively relax itinerary due to the young children. I have some questions and would like to get some feedbacks and ideas on our tentative itinerary.

1. Fly to Panama city from Europe and stay there about a week to acclimate and to allow the kids to adjust to the time difference. Visit the city, Miraflores Locks, Panama canal, local beach, perhaps excursion to Isla Taboga. Any other kid-friendly activities there? Where is the best base to visit the Embera Village?

2. Rent a car and head to El Valle, stay there a few days. Do some hiking, visit the zoo, thermal bath. Further ideas?

3. Head to Pedasi and spend a week there. How far / long is the journey from El Valle to Pedasi? Since we likely won’t be snorkelling (due to the small children), what else to do here other than doing nothing at the beach?

4. Head to David to drop off the rental car to fly to Bocas del Toro. Can anyone tell me how long do I expect to be on the road from Pedasi to David? If it is too long (for the kids), can anyone recommend a nice in-between destination? Is this a better option than driving to Almirante and leaving the car there for a week?

5. Would it make sense for us to go to Boquete, since we cannot do most of the things there (serious hiking, water rafting, etc).

6. Spend the remaining days at Bocas del Toro, fly to San Jose from there. Other than the usual beach time, can someone recommend a tour to visit indigenous groups there?

My question regarding flying is the following, we will try to keep our luggage minimal, but we’ll have two car seats and a stroller. Most airlines in EU accept free check-in for car seats (as luggage for the kids), and the buggy can be checked-in just at the gate (also free). I’m not familiar with the local airlines there in Panama, does anyone have any experience regarding this? Is this a good idea to bring our car seats along? Is a car drop-off at different location than pick-up relatively hassle-free in Panama?

It is a lot of questions. I’d appreciate any feedback or advise to any of my questions. Thank you!

Panama City, Panama
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1. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

1. While I can certainly come up with ideas for spending a week in Panama City, most visitors have found that to be a lot of time. Being with toddlers, you might have time only for one attraction per day if you want to take it easy and not rush things, though. I'd say that you'd be better off planning that whole week and seeing if you find enough things to keep you interested. A few day trips out of Panama City could be the Agua Clara locks in Colón and Portobelo, Soberanía National Park and the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center near Gamboa, and the wildlife rescue center at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort.

2. El Valle is great for relaxing, eating and hiking. Los Mandarinos is an expensive hotel but is beautiful and has a warm pool that the kids would love, by the way. Besides what you mentioned, you can also go to Chorro Macho waterfall, and even do a zipline there. It's a short one, so you and your partner could take turns taking care of the children while the other one does it. If you time your visit with a weekend, you can also visit the handcraft and local produce market.

3. I honestly don't like Pedasí that much. I think the country has much better beach options and Pedasí is far away from almost everything. The only reason I'd go to Pedasí is to see turtles nesting at Isla Cañas, but that's between July and November, especially in the first few months.

4. You can't fly from David to Bocas del Toro, as there are no commercial services. In any case, if you're driving, it wouldn't really make sense to do that if there were scheduled flights. You'd be very close to Bocas. The drive to Almirante is about 4 hours from Chiriquí.

5. Boquete isn't only for adventure seekers. There are some easy hikes, plenty of coffee farms which you can visit and do a tasting experience, and beautiful gardens to see. The zipline in Boquete Tree Trek is the best in Panama, and you could also take turns doing it, although it only has 2 runs every day, one in the morning, one around noon. Alternatively, you could go to Cerro Punta, which is a smaller town that I personally think is more beautiful than Boquete, where you can just stroll around, do some birdwatching, enjoy the gardens and visit a coffee farm.

6. There are not a lot of indigenous groups within the islands, they're mostly in the mainland. I can't really recommend a tour, but searching online should produce a number of hits.

Regarding flights, the only flights you have mentioned are Bocas-San José, and that's done with Nature Air, a Costa Rican airline. I've never flown with them, but they have a FAQ with some of the info you're looking for:

natureair.com/frequently-asked-questions.html

Fuerth, Germany
Level Contributor
10 posts
29 reviews
59 helpful votes
2. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

Thank you so much for your detail reply. Regarding question Nr. 4, if I can't fly from David to Bocas del Toro, I then have two options. The first one is to take the car to Isla Colon with ferry (thanks for the tips in another forum), the other is to return the car at Changuinola, then head to Almirante with a taxi. My questions are the following:

- Do we need a car on the Isla Colon island to get around (to beach, etc)?

- If we return the car beforehand, is it possible for us to haul all of our luggage (normal luggage, car seats, buggy), 2 kids onto the water taxi?

Furthermore may I ask how far is the drive between El Valle and David?

Panama City, Panama
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3. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

You don't need a car to get around Isla Colón, since the only road takes you between Bocas Town and Boca del Drago and you can easily take buses or taxis. Having recently been there with a car with my family and a friend's, I can say that it's a welcome convenience, especially with children, as you won't have to wait for a bus to get back from Boca del Drago to Bocas Town (the wait can sometimes be long). It's not a deal breaker, though. I actually think your second point is even more important. While you can probably pack all of your stuff into a water taxi, that might be cumbersome, and your property might get wet. The owners might want to charge you more for taking up so much space, although I'm not sure about this. I think it's going to be easier to take the car with you to Isla Colón and all of your possessions with it.

The drive from El Valle to David, according to Google Maps, is about 5 hours, but I guess you'll need to spot at least once:

https://goo.gl/maps/TrJNRpeQKmB2

Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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4. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

For the most part, I agree with El_Chiners. Especially about Pedasí. I think you would find a more interesting, entertaining beach location at Boca Brava, which is within a couple of hours of Boquete. It will also be much easier to manage small children there.

1. For me, a week in Panama City is too much. I like El_Chiners ideas of taking day trips to the Caribbean side to see Portobelo, Fort San Lorenzo and the new locks at Agua Clara. The zoo at Summit Park is much better than the zoo in El Valle. But, it does involve a lot of walking, so definitely bring a stroller and go in the morning before it gets too hot.

4. I don't see any advantage of having a rental car on Bocas del Toro. In fact, I don't believe there are any car rental companies on Bocas del Toro. If drive the rental to Changinola, it will have to be an Avis car (which is more expensive than most others) and you'll have to pay between $200 and $300 just for the drop off fee.

Here is another option: Instead of driving to Pedasi and then to Boquete, why not return your rental car to Albrook after your trip to El Valle. Fly to David. ($80 per person.) Rent another car in David. Drive to Boca Brava and Boquete. Return the car to David and take a shuttle to Almirante. You'll save a lot of hassle, time and money.

6. In Chiriquí province, (Boca Brava, Boquete, Cerro Punta) you'll see a lot of Ngobe Buglé. The women are very distinct with their long dresses. If you want to see the Emberá, you should probably visit the Emberá village near Gamboa. They have better facilities (restrooms) and are easier to get to than some of the other Emberá villages.

Panama City, Panama
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5. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

I normally wouldn't see any advantage of having a rental car in Bocas del Toro, but if they're traveling with children, car seats and a stroller, besides their luggage, I see a benefit in having the car instead of hauling everything to buses, water taxis, taxis, etc.

Edited: 10:37 am, March 30, 2017
Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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6. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

You've got a point about convenience, but it may not be practical. The problem is getting a car from Almirante to Bocas and back again. There is only one ferry and it only makes one trip in each direction per day and only Tuesday through Sunday. It leaves Almirante at 7 or 8 AM and the return trip is at 3 PM. To get the car to Bocas, you would have stay overnight in Almirante -- not a very good place to spend the night. Getting the car from Bocas to Changinola is also going to be a two-day affair. With the ferry leaving at 3 PM, there is no way you could get to Almriante, drive to Changinola, turn in the car and taxi back to Almirante in time to catch the last water taxi to Bocas at 6 PM. And, the last flight out of Bocas leaves around 4 PM.

Fuerth, Germany
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10 posts
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59 helpful votes
7. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

Hmm... it seems quite complicated.

I found a website of Bocas ferry: http://www.ferrybocas.com/horario/. I think it says from Tuesday through Saturday there're two rounds of ferry, one in the morning at 7 am and one at 12 (I assume midday). Does this schedule valid all-year long? After reading your inputs our idea was to take the car to the island, and the day before the flight, my husband will take the car across again to return it. But now it seems that this's also a half-day activity, not as quick as we initially thought it'd be.

Is it possible to haul all of our stuffs onto a bus heading to Almirante from David? I read somewhere that the shuttle bus has no luggage space? I assume all tourists will have luggage around, in our case, it'd be extra two car seats and a buggy.

We also briefly consider to all drive back to David and catch a flight there to San Jose. However, as far as I saw all flights transit in Tocumen airport, so the normally 45 min flight turns out to be about 4 hours in total. That also makes little sense to me. The best is still to fly straight out from Bocas.

Lonely planet says that Air Panama flies to David, but I have not been able to access their website (error is "forbidden"??).

Fuerth, Germany
Level Contributor
10 posts
29 reviews
59 helpful votes
8. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

Regarding the days in Panama City. If we want to explore the area around (Portobelo, etc) we'll need to have a car to go in and out of the city. Is it advisable to do this after all the horror stories of driving in Panama City?

Panama City, Panama
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2,018 posts
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9. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

I don't know the buses between David and Almirante, but buses between Panama City and Almirante do have plenty of luggage space. A friend of mine recently took it and told me he almost left his stuff in the luggage space in the bus, so I assume it's the same thing. In that case, it's likely there will be space for your luggage and toddler paraphernalia.

I can enter Air Panama's website without issues. Try this link:

https://www.airpanama.com/

For what it's worth, Air Panama does not fly to Costa Rica from David, only from Panama City (not even from Bocas). From Bocas to Costa Rica, you'll have to use Nature Air.

http://www.natureair.com/

Fuerth, Germany
Level Contributor
10 posts
29 reviews
59 helpful votes
10. Re: Panama itinerary with two toddlers

That's exactly the address I used to access the Air Panama site. I tried it again to no avail. It always says "you don't have permission to access this site".

Right now it seems like the best option to return the car at David and travel to Almirante with a bus, provided space is available for luggage.

Regarding Bocas we'd consider renting a bike to go around the town. Do you know if it is possible to rent the child bike seat easily there? Is such thing available in panama? If not bike is also not an option for us.

Thanks a lot!