This trip is one of my wife and my favorite adventures. Not only did we get to visit three beautiful and diverse areas, but almost everyone treated us extremely well. In fact it took us a while to lower our guard, although we still didn’t do anything stupid.
This trip started out like all the rest, with a great deal of research. We looked at all the travel books we could find. Unfortunately there are not many books in circulation on Panama. The best we could find was by Lonely Planet. It was printed in 2001 which means some of the Restaurants might have changed, so use the web sites to double check before you head out. We were told that a new travel book would be coming out soon, but the exact date is not known. It should be sometime in 2005.
We found 2 great areas besides Panama City to visit. One was Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean Ocean and is touted as on of the last undiscovered gems in Central America. The other, Boquete, was suggested by one of our favorite resorts in Costa Rica.
I was fortunate enough to have a flight to Panama city before our vacation. This allowed me to arrange certain items in person instead of over the phone or internet. The first contact I tried to make was with the station manager. Since our trip was to entail several flights, finding someone with local airport insight was invaluable. That contact added greatly to the ease of our vacation.
The next contact I made was with the hotel my company put the crew up in for the overnight stay. This person not only helped me with the rate, but explained what benefits are available. This face-to-face contact was worth more than my Platinum Priority Club Rating on my Credit Card ever would be.
Finally, I talked to the driver about who I could get for tours of the city. It turned out our driver, Ivan, was very reasonable and eager for the business. Since he had a contract with the company I work for, his quality was guaranteed. All this research paid off to make this one of the most memorable trips ever.
The first day of the trip focused on one all encompassing goal, getting there. Like the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” my wife and I fought extremely overbooked flights. While we did everything possible to guarantee we would have no problems, non-revving turned out to be very challenging. To assure the successful completion of our connection, we took the 6:00 AM flight out. .We took advantage of our experience and travel when others don’t want to, that is when it is inconvenient. The downside of this strategy is the fact is we had 8 hours between flights, but it turned out to be the only way get there.
Having all this spare time allowed us to relax. Also, we introduced ourselves as nonrev employees. Being nice and helpful to those working for the airline makes a huge difference. Since people have not discovered Panama, there were some first class seats available. The gate agent has the power to give those seats to nonrev employees or not. Be friendly and you will be in First Class.
When we arrived in Panama, it was too late to continue on to Bocas del Toro. The crew was nice enough to let us go with them and the driver happened to be the person we talked to about touring Panama city. We arranged for him to take us to the other airport the next morning for about 10.00 which was very reasonable.
The next morning we went to the Alberto airport to catch our flight to Bocas. We traveled on Miaplex which is the only airline to have pressurized aircraft, Jetstream 31′s. This allowed them to get above the bumpy weather. When we arrived at Bocas del Toro, a taxi took us from the airport to the dock so we could catch the hotel boat to Punta Caracol. After about 15 to 20 minutes, we arrived at what was ranked one of the world’s most romantic hotels.
After settling in, we toured the city of Bocas del Toro. The quaint little village took about 2 hours to walk through. That night we ate at the restaurant at Punta Caracol which not only was delicious but very romantic. It is probably the best restaurant in the area.
The next day, we went on a boat tour of the inland waterways with one of the area’s best know tour guides, Gallardo Livingston (See Lonely Planet P.204.). Along with the beautiful scenery, we had the opportunity to see many dolphins at Dolphin Bay. We then went to snorkel on a couple of reefs. The last reef, Cayo Crawl, had some of the best coral I had ever seen. It looked like a dense jungle underwater.
For lunch, we went to Alfonso, a group of thatched roof huts with good food and lots of character. Then we weaved our way through the mangroves to a place called Red Frog Island. It is named after the small red which inhabits the area. To get from the dock to the beach, a two dollar fee is required per person. This allows you to go across private property and a tour to find the very small Red Frog.
After our stay on the beach, we took a water tour of Bocos del Toro. This water tour was well worth going on and I highly recommend it. Livingston also gives a tour of the islands further out in the Atlantic which we heard was just as good.
The next day we left for Boquete, a 45 minute plane ride or 3.5 hour drive. If you have the time, we were told the drive is well worth in. For our transportation from the David Airport to Boquete, we took a taxi for around 30 Dollars. This is reasonable, but we discovered it would have been more economical to have the hotel arrange for transportation. We arrived at the city at lunch time and grabbed something to eat while we waited to check in. We ate at a great place called Bistro Restaurant. Once we were full, we went to our hotel, The Coffee Estate Inn (See Lonely Planet P. 231). This place was recommended to us by other resort owners who go here for their vacations. Basically we had a house on the side of a mountain for about 90 Dollars a night. This also includes fresh fruit and coffee to brew while you are there. The grounds are well maintained and worth exploring. They also prepare some very good dishes and serve it in your room.
The next morning we had a guided tour of the mountains around the town. It included several stops to take photos of the waterfalls and valleys. We ended the tour at Mi Jardin es Su Jardin, a wonderful garden to explore ( See Lonely Planet P. 224). We then had coffee at Café Ruiz which also gives tours. Next we had lunch at Hotel Panamonte, an old world Spanish restaurant. The afternoon we spent exploring the city.
Our last day we went with a guide climb up The Rock. The climb is very strenuous but scenery is well worth going. Once finished, we had lunch in a great little Mexican restaurant called La Casona Mexicana ( See Lonely Planet P. 224). Then the coffee estate gave us a tour of its coffee plantation which ended with the roasting and packaging of our purchased coffee. They also arranged for our trip back to the airport at David for the most reasonable price===.
We were finally on our way back to Panama City on Miaplex which was arranged by our Station Manager. It was only pressurized aircraft back, which allowed us to get above the bad weather. We were then met by Ivan who took us back to the Hotel Intercontinental.
The next day, we boarded a ferry to the island of Taboga. The ferry cost 11 dollars and lasts about an hour. We were dropped off at Hotel Taboga and had breakfast at the resort which charged 7 dollars for the use of its facilities including pool and changing area. They also give 5 dollars credit to be used for food and drink. The ground also has exotic birds like cockatoos and peacocks roaming the grounds.
Our tour book, Lonely Planet, had a great self tour on page 166 called ‘Casco Viejo Walking Tour.’ It gives a great description of the town if you want to do some light walking. For those more adventurous, take the hike to the old WWII bunker. It has the best view but is advised; it is tough and takes about 1.5 hours from the edge of town to the top.
After our trip back to Panama city, we left for dinner. We were driven to the causeway, a manmade landmass created by the sediment from the creation of the canal. Restaurants on the causeway have the best view of the skyline.
The next morning we had the hotel’s breakfast buffet which was very good. Ivan then picked us up for a tour of the canal. Within the last year, the government put in new viewing facilities including a new museum. Watching the boats come in the canal from the grandstand was worth the entrance fee, but the museum with its freighter simulator makes it something you don’t want to pass up.
The afternoon we spent touring old Panama City starting with the area around the French Embassy. We then parked at the square and walked to the President’s Offices.
The afternoon we spent looking for emeralds. We ended up at Alessi Joyeros in Downtown Panama city. This store made us feel like we were royalty. In other words my wife was extremely happy and that made me extremely happy.
All in all it was a great vacation and any one of the three places would be a great vacation. Not many people know about this place yet. Better go there before everyone finds out how great Panama is.
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