In July, Daniel and I spent 10 days exploring Panama. While it wasn’t as long of an adventure as we would have liked, and filled with far more mishaps than usual, it was a great adventure practicing our Spanish and enjoying the beauty of humid, rain-filled days in Central America.
When we first arrived in Panama City, we headed straight to the old city, Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo has the unique allure of new world restoration amid crumbling buildings and cobblestone streets. We stayed in an apartment we found through Los Cuatro Tulipanes, easily the nicest place we rented the entire trip. Upon entrance to this pristine apartment, we knew instantly that this was shaping up to be a very different type of traveling experience than our times in SouthEast Asia and India…a real vacation, if you will!
Fortunately, we arrived right in the middle of the World Cup, and watching futbol with a bunch of locals who are as passionate about the game as I’ve ever seen (even without their team in the tournament) was a real treat. The second day we were there we caught up with a group of American ex-pats who took us to an abandoned theater-turned-bar to watch USA play Belgium. USA’s loss aside, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to watch (aside from maybe Brazil..at the game?).
After two days in the city, we decided to rent a car and drive to the mountain town of Boquete, about 6 hours North-West of Panama City, appropriately dubbed the “Napa Valley of Coffee.” However, it took us far longer than 6 hours to get there. I thought that we could “rough it” and just use the maps we were provided with to get out of town, but it proved to be a far more difficult than we could handle. After driving in circles and asking countless people in broken Spanish the way out to no avail, I bucked up and called AT&T to get an International data plan on my phone. Despite my best efforts, I am a modern girl in a modern world who can’t get around without Google Maps.
Once we got out of Panama City, the drive to Boquete was rather straight forward. We passed over the Panama Canal and headed into the mountains. As nightfell, we had a few run ins with wandering cows on the country roads, but finally made it to our destination a million hours later. We stayed at an Air BnB we rented from a retired American couple up a steep hill…apparently, Boquete is a big retirement town for Americans. The allure of fresh mountain air, beautiful vistas of the nearby volcano and copious coffee plantations is one I fully understand.
Boquete was fun to explore – but unfortunately I came down with a pretty bad cold halfway through our stay. It may have been the hour we spent standing in the rain, waiting out a huge thunder and lightening storm on our hike up to the Caldera Hot Springs, just outside of town. We were prepared for rain, we knew were visiting the country in the rainy season, but the forecast for this particular day didn’t indicate that it would dump as much as it did. After waiting the storm out and hiking the remainder of the trail, we arrived and spent a good hour enjoying the natural wonder of the hot springs. It was a beautiful spot, and worth it the impending cold.
Boquete, it turns out, is home to the second-best fish tacos I’ve ever had in my life (the first being the lion fish tacos on the island of Roatan in Honduras). Big Daddy’s Grill is well worth the stop if you ever find yourself in the mountains of Panama!
On our way out of town, we stopped at this little hillside coffee joint – and sipped some world-class espresso before heading on our way to the island of Bocas del Toro.
After we parked our car and hopped on the boat that took us over to the island, we arrived at Jon’s House, a bungalow we rented right on the water. It was a charming little joint with a neighborhood cat we adopted for the next few days and perhaps the most perfectly situated hammock of all time. In Bocas, we spent our days biking around the island, watching soccer with the locals, eating at some great restaurants, swimming, paying way too much to rent a jet ski (which, in the end, was TOTALLY worth it. Who doesn’t love a jet ski!?), and surviving a pretty rough bout of food poisoning.
On our drive back to Panama City the day before our flight out, we decided that the country has far more to explore than we were able to fit into our short trip-and that we’d definitely be back.