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panama vs.costa rica

nj
Level Contributor
119 posts
27 reviews
panama vs.costa rica

would like to book a trip in april to one of these two countries.would like advice from someone who has been to both. we will be traveling with a 9 and 13 yr old.pros and cons of each trip would be apprciated.looks as though i will have to fly into san jose so that will figure into any costa rica trip.

long island
Level Contributor
225 posts
24 reviews
1. Re: panama vs.costa rica

I have been to both countries I have traveled with my daughter on these trips, on our first trip to costa rica she was only 8 and we traveled with a small tour of people and visited quite a bit of the country. The following year we went back and rented a car and spent most of the time on the central pacific coast. We are heading to panama for the second time in a few weeks, staying at an all-inclusive (decameron) and then going on to the gamboa. Last time we rented a car and drove to el valle and to miraflores locks on the canal with no problems. I love both places...what are you looking for in a vacation? Will you rent a car? Will you stay in one place? what do you want your kids to experience?

nj
Level Contributor
119 posts
27 reviews
2. Re: panama vs.costa rica

well i keeping changing my mind.i dont want to spend the whole trip driving,not sure if i want to rent a car in costa as i have heard the roads are bad.the flights into san jose are much better then liberia.we have good direct flights into panama city.my kids want to see an active volcano if possible.want to have a few days for just some r and r by a beach or pool.

long island
Level Contributor
225 posts
24 reviews
3. Re: panama vs.costa rica

Well, my next questions would be how much time do you have for your vacation, do you speak spanish, are you interested in rain forest time and finally, how adventurous are you? You could stay in a hotel in either san jose or panama city and use it as a home base and take day tours from there. Or if you really need beaches as opposed to hotel pools you will have to leave the cities. The beach resort in Panama I've stayed sat is the royal Decameron and it is all inclusive, very reasonable but about two hours from the airport.

In Costa Rica in about two hours you can be at the central pacific coast near Jaco.

As far as 'active volcanoes', Arenal in Costa Rica is a possibility as a day trip from San jose. If you give me your e-mail i will respond more specifically

nj
Level Contributor
119 posts
27 reviews
4. Re: panama vs.costa rica

wd love to hear from u-hch1776@earthlink.net

London, Canada
Level Contributor
926 posts
47 reviews
5. Re: panama vs.costa rica

We've been to both Costa Rica and Panama (both in the past 3 years) and I can tell you that hands down I'd take Panama over CR. We liked Costa Rica and don't regret going but there are many things we preferred in Panama.

The first thing that comes to mind is that Costa Rica is very "touristy" while Panama is still very much not a tourist trap (although each year I'm sure it will get worse as more and more people discover all that Panama has to offer). It seemed everywhere we went in CR was crowded with tourists. In Panama we loved being able to go to local towns and soak up the the local flavour and meet the very friendly Panamanian people. In CR at all of the towns we visited we met more Canadians and Americans than locals. One night we went out for dinner at a "local" restaurant only to find it was owned by a Canadian.

We also stayed at the Royal Decameron in Panama and I found it far superior to the resort we stayed at and saw in Costa Rica. I also found the beaches in Panama to be better. The roads in Panama are also definitely better.

There are lots of places to explore in both countries but the shopping in Panama was much better and the prices in some local places was almost unbelievably cheap. I couldn't believe how much more expensive most things were in CR. Of course in Panama you can tour the Panama Canal which is pretty cool. Also, one thing we haven't done yet is take a ferry over to the Pearl Islands which I understand have some incredibly beautiful beaches and crystal clear snorkeling/diving waters. Panama has several indigenous Indian tribes and some very diverse areas (like the San Blas Islands) that offer very different experiences.

These are just some comments off the top of my head - I could likely go on for hours!! :)

We've actually been to Panama twice and will likely go back again next year because we constantly compare the other places we go to Panama and Panama always comes out on top. The last time we went we took a bunch of people with us who were intrigued with our enthusiasm for the country. Between all of us in the group we have traveled to a number of tropical destinations including Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Florida (not sure that one counts in this grouping) and Cuba and everyone agreed that Panama was their favourite. (By the way out of that list of places Panama hands down has the best weather during the dry season but CR is similar).

nj
Level Contributor
119 posts
27 reviews
6. Re: panama vs.costa rica

thank you-leaning towards panama now-where wd suggest i stay? wd like to do some jungle tours and stuff and stay at the beach for part of the time to do nothing but relax and maybe scubaw/ good beaches.

London, Canada
Level Contributor
926 posts
47 reviews
7. Re: panama vs.costa rica

The Royal Decameron is a great spot for relaxing on the beach, has absolutely amazing pools and numerous a la carte restaurants with no limit on the a la cartes (unlike most all inclusive resorts). It is a pretty large beautiful resort with quiet areas and more active areas depending on what you want. It has a very large beach and you can walk quite a distance down the beach which was a plus for me. (If you go try the little bar/restaurant right in the sand called Pipas to the right of the resort facing the ocean - about a 10 minuted walk - amazing huge lobster/shrimp, cheap cerveza and great local people running it). The Decameron is also a reasonably good launch spot for some fun and interesting day trips by organized bus tour or if you want to rent a car.

When we go we like to stay in one place and do day trips from there. Since we only get a week I find it isn't enough time to move around. Having said that there are some great places in Panama to check out that aren't that close to the Decameron so it would be worth it to stay a couple of places if you have the time.

As I recall there are a few non-AI places, more rustic, right in the rainforest (one I think had rooms in a tower - it sounded very interesting and the reviews were good - different experience altogether than an AI). There is also the Gamboa resort (all inclusive) which is in the rain forest and you can combine a package with the Royal Decameron and the Gamboa.

The San Blas Islands are quite a distance away but I hear they are very very nice and are on the Caribbean side so the ocean is totally different obviously and better for snorkeling. For really good snorkeling and diving the Pearl Islands would be good. If you are staying for two weeks you could likely fit most of these things in but highly doubtful for one week.

There is a new AI resort, the Intercontintal Playa Bonita, which is much closer to Panama City and the airport and in a much closer location to catch a ferry to the Pearl Islands (you can also get a flight in a small plane). It has been in soft opening phase since December and at the moment a lot of the amenities aren't available (and there are a few reviews complaining about that) BUT it is supposed to be fully ready by March so if you're going in April it would also be an option for the beach vacation part of your trip. It looks like it will be fabulous when it is completely up and running. We are actually strongly considering the Playa Blanca for next year since we want to go to the Pearl Islands. The proximity to the Panama Canal and Panama City also makes it a better location than the Royal Decameron to check those areas out (although they are certainly within day trip range from the Decameron - just a fairly long ride of 2 hours or so).

At this point off the top of my head I think that there are only 5 all inclusive resorts in Panama (but that will change quickly as tourism develops) - one of those is in the Pearl Islands and the reviews are awful but the other 4 would all be ok I would think. The rest of the resorts/hotels do not offer all inclusive but there are a number of places to choose from in the different areas of Panama so if you wanted to go AI for a relaxing beach visit and mix it up with something else there are lots of different options.

Sorry if I'm rambling but I just got home from work and I'm running out the door again to get to my son's hockey game. If this doesn't make sense or you have any other questions I'd be happy to try to answer them.

Ontario
Level Contributor
297 posts
5 reviews
8. Re: panama vs.costa rica

Hi hch,

We have been to both. We stayed at Playa Tambor in Costa Rica with the plane transfer from San Jose. It was wonderful.

We have stayed at both Decameron and Playa Blanca and visited Gamboa for an over night, and they were all wonderful.

The kids equally enjoyed all. Have done trips at both and I guess a question to ask is what are the kids looking to do and go from there. We as mums and dads have an idea of what we want to do and think would be great, but travelling with the tweens can prove challenging.Just get them to make a list of what they want to see and do. We have found then you can research your location for stuff that everyone wants to partake in.

I'm sure you will enjoy whatever you decide.

Cheers

nj
Level Contributor
119 posts
27 reviews
9. Re: panama vs.costa rica

thanks for everyones help-keep the thoughts coming if anyone can think of anything else good and bad as to where to stay.

Clayton Panama
13 posts
10. Re: panama vs.costa rica

If you plan to rent a car (more freedom), I'd recommmend Panama. Almost no potholes and if you stay in a hotel in the Canal zone (like Country Inn & suites or La Estancia), you will avoid the heavy traffic in the City. Due to the better road system and you can see a lot with little driving in Panama (Canal, Portobelo, San Lorenzo, Gamboa, Casco Viejo, Amador causeway).

I have 3 small kids and lived in Costa Rica for almost 18 year until I moved to Panama last year to start a new branch of our Spanish language school.

Costa Rica was great. Panama is even better.

We love it here!

Thorwald