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18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

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18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

2 adults, 2 teens headed to Panama for an 18 day getaway. With this much time, are there any suggestions for can't misses? I would note that after a whirlwind 16 day trip through Spain and Portugal last year (almost every major city - moving daily) we would like to slow it down, 2-3 days per city. Thoughts? Thanks!

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Panama
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Atlanta, Georgia...
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1. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

Before offering suggestions, first a few questions. 1) Do any of you speak Spanish? 2) What sorts of activities do you and your family like ... shopping or hiking? White water rafting or scuba diving? Laying on the beach or walking in the mountains? Visiting an historic fort or an Indian village or a night club in the city? In 18 days, you can do any or all ... and still stay 2-3 days in any location. 3) How budget minded or hang-the-expense-I-want-to-be-pampered do you want to go? (Panama can be very rustic or very luxurious or somewhere in between.)

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Spanish by the River-Boquete
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Panama
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2. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

Thank you for responding. To answer your questions:

1. We speak Spanish poorly but enough so that we functionally managed to drive, eat, and travel Spain and Portugal backcountries for a couple of weeks without incident.

2. Shopping, hiking, adventure travel, beach, mingling with locals. Generally we are not canned touristy people and tend to avoid tourist areas other than obvious things like the Canal.

3. I would say we are more B&B, small hotel types. I prefer even the hostel level however the rest of the family is not quite at that level of simplicity :)

Brian

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3. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

As a new member to T/A, Welcome!

Perhaps this information will help you better your search for your vacation information

As you can imagine, questions like yours are asked all the time.

Please let me help you so you can get around T/A easily and effortlessly:

As a new user of the forums, I would suggest before posting on any forum to read the "sticky" at the top of that forum’s page...that says "Read me First-Welcome to the Panama forum" (or any other forum you will visit anywhere in the world.) There is a "push pin picture" next to this listing.

Clicking on this "sticky" will explain the focus / purpose of the forum, How to use it to research your trip; very important information here, and other details on getting your way around T/A and all its help. Please do post back if you have further questions in your research or are puzzled!

PC pretty much you can do on your own (including traveling to the Canal) with a good guide book. I recommend the newest Moon Guide (one with the ocelet on the cover).

I would suggest B & B LaEstancia on Ancon Hill-the highest spot in Panama City. They will arrange transportation very easily for you also. It is a no frills place, great breakfast, wonderful open common areas on several levels AND wonderful wildlife - you can see monkeys in the trees while eating breakfast on the patio, and resident sloth and exotic birds in the trees nearby. They can also help with tours.

Also wonderful views of the entire city from their open balcony/common area and the Bridge of Americas over the Canal which is spectacular; especially at night when it is lit up in all its glory.

There is a reason B & B LaEstancia stays near the number ONE spot or IS THE #1 Place for accommodations in all Panama City! I have stayed there many times, and you can also read my review on the place!

tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g294480-d317633…

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4. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

Instead of plugging a particular B&B like the post before, let me give you some suggestions as you asked for.

I recommend you spend at least a few days in Panama City.

A nice trip would be to take the train to Colon and have somebody like 'My Friend Mario' pick you up on the other site to visit the Gatun locks, Ft. Lorenzo and it's nice little beach and then return by road to Panama City.

You're kids and yourself will love a visit to an Embera Village or the Gatun Explorer. Another day can be spent visiting Casco Viejo, Amador Causeway and the Miraflores Locks.

Have another day? Hike up Ancon Hill, check out the Albrook Mall (just for comparison sake) and have a look at the ruins of the first European settlement on the Pacific, Panama La Vieja.

If you have a car, I'd drive northwest to go to El Valle de Anton but make a stop at Playa Santa Clara first. Spend 2 nights in El Valle, then on to for instance Santa Fe (de Veraguas). Beautiful area for hiking. La Quia is a nice B&B.

Now, you can move on to DAvid and Boquete. There's lots of info on what to do there. And you can drive to Almirante and spend a few days in Bocas del Toro before heading back.

Driving the interamerican highway is lot easier than Panama City and while it's a long drive, it's a good road. Up to Santiago 2 lanes in each direction.

IF you want to do less driving, you might return to Panama City and fly to Bocas or San Blas.

Have fun!

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5. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

Hacienda Del Mar on San Jose Island is a must, swimming, snorkelling, deep sea fishing, atv 4 wheel tours, mountain bilking, great food, toucans and macaws that are free and fly constantly around the resort. 3 private beaches to choose from......check out the website at www.haciendadelmar.net.

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6. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

Sorry for not responding promptly, but I've been on the road.

Here are my dos centavos. One day, perhaps two, in Panama City is a good way to start your trip. The "must see" is Miraflores locks. There is a good museum there. Just be sure to get there before 10:00am or after 3:00pm. During the hours in between you may not see any ships "locking up" or "locking down" because they're changing direction on the canal. (They go South (Pacific) to North (Atlantic) in the morning and the opposite direction in the afternoon/evening. There is a very good museum at Miraflores and also a very good lunch buffet.

Also in the city, I recommend seeing Panama Viejo -- best in the morning before it gets too hot -- and the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo. The museum is in the original headquarters building of the Canal, and while it does repeat a lot of what you'll see at Miraflores, it's also the best history museum of Panama, going back to pre-Columbian artifacts. It definitely gives a Panamanian perspective on the country's history and illustrates very well why there's this great love/hate relationship with the U.S. Very good for understanding how another country views us and why.

Another of my favorites is Soberania National Park (AKA Summit Park because it's on the summit of the continental divide). There is a very good zoo there featuring indiginous animals like macaws, parrots, monkeys, a couple of crocodiles, a chubby jaguar and Panama's national bird the Harpe Eagle -- big enough to pluck giant slothes out of trees in flight like they were chipmunks. It's a bizarre looking giant of a bird that looks like it's having a perpetual bad hair (er, feather) day.

If you like hiking and want to experience history and a real adventure in the lowland jungle, there is the Las Cruces Trail (Camino las Cruces). It was built by the conquistadores in the 1500s as one of two routes to get Inca gold and silver to Nombre de Dios and after 1600 to Portobelo. It was also trekked by the 49ers on their way to and from California. There are two ways of hiking the trail. The easy way is to continue by car on Madden Dam Road (AKA the Old Forest Road) past Sobernia. The trailhead is marked by what looks like a rest stop on the left side of the road and an old cannon barrel embedded in a concrete post on the right side of the road. On the way, you'll drive through virgin jungle. From the trail head, you can hike a mile or so on the easiest part of the trail.

The other way requires a little more effort. Drive to Gamboa. Hire a ranger to guide you. (Believe me, this trail is not to be attempted without one.) Take a piragua across the Chagres River to the ruins of the town of Las Cruces and hike the 10 kilometers to the Madden Dam Road. This is not and easy hike and will probably take you between 4 to 6 hours. But, it is a spectacular hike not experienced by many visitors to Panama.

In the city, here are a few recommendations for restaurants: El Trapiche -- very inexpensive Panamanian cuisine. Monolo's -- every inexpensive cafes around the city, but consistently good. Siete Mares -- upscale seafood for a younger crowd. El Bodegon -- the Spanish cuisine west of Madrid or Malaga. For a last night out in Panama, I recommend Las Tinajas. It's typical Panamanian cuisine with a show of Panama's folk dance and music. Make reservations.

I think after two days you'll be ready to get out of the city. While the train to Colon is a very nice ride, it also leaves you in Colon (not a good place to be outside of the train station or the cuise ship terminal) dependent on local taxis to get you around. Believe me, there's nothing in Colon you need to see. And, taking taxis to all the points of interest like Gatun Locks or the 17th century fort of San Lorenzo -- site of the massacre by the pirate Henry Morgan -- is going to add up to very expensive. For that reason, I recommend renting a car and driving across the isthmus.

I also recommend visiting and overnighting at Portobelo. While, historically, it's one of the most important locations in Panama, it's not on the tours, so you generally have the town to yourself. Here, you can see the customs house where Inca gold and silver was stored before being loaded onto galleons for the journey to Spain. You can see the Spanish forts and their cannons. And, there is the church of the Black Christ -- a rich legend that became an annual religious pilgrimage and festival. Nearby is Isla Grande -- a possible day trip.

Portobelo is and always been one of my favorite sites. Maybe because there aren't many gringos around. The best restaurants in Portobelo are Los Cañones and La Torre. La Torre is an excellent Panamanian restaurant with the best empanadas I've ever eaten anywhere. For lodging, I recommend Scubapanama. A rustic (operative word here) two-story, two bedroom cabaña with AC upstairs and down will cost you $65 a night. Scubapanama can also take you snorkeling and/or scubadiving on the local reefs. The snorkeling is good here. A resort scuba course is $125.

After Portobelo it's time to move on to other locals. Certainly, you should visit the "highlands" near David. But, while all the tourists and ex-pats go to Boquete, I like Cerro Punta because it has similar climate, geography and sites (alright, there's no world class golf course there) but, it's not filled with gringos. You get to both Cerro Punta and Boquete usually by going through David. Although, if I had 18 days in Panama, I would drive there from Panama. Cerro Punta is where you will find beautiful flowers, rich rain forests, the trailhead of the Quetzal Trail (which ends near Boquete), thoroughbred horse farms that rival Lexington, KY, the Jameson Coffee factory in Volcan and Finca Dracula -- a nursery with perhaps the largest collection of orchids in the world. For lodging, I really like the B&B, Cielito Sur between Volcan and Cerro Punta.

This is getting really long and it's getting late, so enough for tonight. But, the other places I would recommend are El Valle, possibly Bocas del Toro (even if it is filled with European backpackers, surfers and ex-pats) and the Azuero pennisula. More later.

Buen viaje.

Edited: 12:06 am, September 25, 2010
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7. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

Wow! Thanks for a wonderful itinerary. We will be in Panama for the month of January and you have made the planning so much easier. We like to visit places in depth and especially those not over-run with people who look like us.

Could you possibly have the same kind of info about Nicaragua where we'll be for the month of February?

BTW - We have read that February is the best weather month in Panama. Is that true? If so, we can switch Nicaragua to Jan. and Panama to Feb.

Thanks.

wordlover17@yahoo.com

Edited: 7:36 pm, September 26, 2010
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8. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

February or January? Personally, I prefer January. The reason is because of all the "dry seanson" months (January, February and March) January is not as hot as February or March. Plus, February is Panama's big vacation month when all the Panamians flee the city for places like Bocas and Cerro Punta and all the places you will want to be. Actually, I like April the best. Less rain, after the holidays, and not a lot of competition from other tourists.

Edited: 11:25 pm, September 26, 2010
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9. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

December through May where we live in the "dry arc" of Panama near Santa Clara, Coronado area, there is NO rain at all. Hot and very windy. Holiday times will be busy, avoid Christmas, and New Year's dates. Carnaval is in February and you want to avoid that also as everyone leaves the city and goes to outlying beach communities.

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10. Re: 18 days in Panama...what to do...what to do...

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