I don't know where to begin. Let me preface this review by saying I have worked in the hospitality field all my life, and for the past 13 years managing hotels in the Northeastern United States. I am easy to please when it comes to service but I am tough to wow. After spending my honeymoon in Costa Rica, and another great vacation in Belize I was not really sure what to expect out of Panama. The Xplora website reallys et themselves apart from other trips from the get go the "Choose Your Own Adventure" layout was exactly what my wife and I wanted. We got to pick all the activities we were interested in and leave out the stuff we didn't want to do and then Xplora put it all together in a perflectly planned itinerary which we recieved quickly with pricing. It was everything we wanted and nothing we didnt (when does that happen?)
We arrived at the airport and met Luis who was waiting for us, He was extremely polite and informative. We inquired about a good place to get dinner after a long day of travel and not only did he have a recomendation but he took us to our hotel, let us check in and then drove us to a wonderful restaurant with epic views of the ships entering the Panama Canal (this was not part of the pacakge we booked, just luis being a gracious host and welcoming us on our first night in Panama). We returned to the Tryp hotel for one of 2 nights and enjoyed a comfortable nights sleep (after hitting the casino located across the street in the Wyndham Grand Hotel)
The next morning Luis promptly picked us up and we were wisked away to the river caving tour, on the way there Luis asked if we minded if another colleague joined us on the day trip as he was new to the company (we did not). We picked up Alex on our way to the cave of lake Bayano. He was also extremely polite. it was about 90 minutes from the hotel and another 45 minutes by boat to the mouth of the cave. Wear good water shoes as the walk is quite rocky but the scenery amazing, and the wildlife abundant, posion dart frogs, river tarpon, shrimp, sloth all in a scene that would fit into any adventure, or fantasy movie and at the end a beautiful lagoon constantly filled by a small waterfall. My wife and I were the only ones on this trip and having 2 guides made for an amazingly personal experience. The history, and in depth knowledge of the flora and fauna made for a memorable begining to our Panama trip.
The next days blended together like all good vacations should, where you loose track of time and even what day it is and just get wrapped up in the moments of awesomness, We had not schedueled a trip to the Panama Canal as we wanted to try and fit all the adventure we could into Panama, but with the tide schedule Luis was about to fit this in, I am glad we did as the massive "panamax" size ship we saw go through the locks was worth it. (thanks again for this Luis). We then drove up the Pacific Coast and I got to attempt surfing on a beautiful and secluded beach (if you choose this wear water shoes). Then up to Santa Fe Panama for the night. We arrived in a quaint Panamanian hotel, the rooms rustic but clean, the bar was small but well stocked and the food was astounding and inexpensive. The Ojaldas (or fried bread) is the best I had in the country and according to Alex and Luis they concur.
The following morning just after sunrise we took a 4x4 on a scenic road, crossing streams and overlooking the beautiful mountains in Santa Fe, we hiked through an organic farm and up a narrow trail to a beautiful waterfall, at its base a cool and large pool perfect for swimming, it was another scene right out of a movie. We proceeded to hike up further and reveal even more waterfalls, beautiful flowers, humming birds etc. This is not an easy hike, wear good hiking boots as the rocks are slippery but the scenery is well worth the effort. Another night in Santa Fe, visited the town which seems to fit perfectly in the mountains that surround it (try the coffee). The next morning we woke to another great breakfast, and then some river tubing which was super fun to float through some rapids and fast water all while surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
We left Santa Fe (reluctantly) and drove to Las Lajas beach, we enjoyed miles of beaches with noone else in sight, soft sand, bathub warm water and a beach cantina (Try the Zombie drink) for a perfect and relaxing afternoon playing in the surf. We then took the drive to Boquete and arrived in darkness. We checked into our hotel the Isla Verde which was magnificent, full kitchen, suite, veranda with hammock, everything about this place was magnificent. We had dinner again the Luis and Alex as we did every night which made the entire experience so real. These gentlemen love their country and love to share it with their new friends.
The following morning we took our first elave of our guides and went on a whitewater rafting trip on the border of Panama and Costa Rica, This was awesome, a great adreneilne rush but not to crazy that I felt I was going to drown before every set of rapids. I recommend this trip for first time rafters of novices like myself. We returned and had dinner with Alex and Luis at an italian restaurant outslde of the city of Boquete, another reason why this trip was so special; we would have never found this place without Luis. The next morning we did the Boquete Tree Trek zip lining tour, I have done this in Belieze, 2 different times in Costa Rica and stateside, but this one takes the cake, both because of the professionalism, and the amazing scenery. The Ziplines are some of the longest and fastest I have ever been on. After this we caught a shuttle to the City of David (make sure you leave yourself enough time to make the taxi, our Zipline tour ran almost 45 minutes long and we almost missed this) And then we flew back to Panama City. (Luis and Alex left that morning and made the 6 hour drive from Boquete, They picked us up at the airport promptly and as politely as ever. and we finished our last night in Panama City.
I know; long review... to recap, Luis is an amazing guide and person so knowledegable about the country he could probably write a set of encyclopedias on it himself. Alex is also so well versed on the birds, animals and plants of Panama that between the 2 of them every question we asked was answered. Look no further than Xplora Panama when choosing your adventure vacation. They think of everything, plan your trip perfectly and are always willing to make adjsutments and additions to get everything out of each day. I know there are other destinations that are more well known for Adventure Travel (I have been there) but Panama should be at the top of that list. Thanks again Luis and Alex and I hope to see you both on our next trip to Panama.
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