Incredibly stoked to write this blog post as this was one of my favorite trips I have been on! Central America is underrated and I can’t wait to explore more. And to set the record straight, no, Van Halen is not ‘God’ down there. Only Americans were singing the song…
Traveling over New Years actually worked out great – a steady, dry 85* every day. We hit the jackpot. Said jackpot also comes with extreme sun exposure – lather up, over and over and over again. This is coming from a bronze babe, trust me on this, dat sun is pretty close to your skin and wants to destroy it!
The ease of traveling in this country was shocking. I speak a bit of Spanish, but you really don’t need it to get around. They have uber, but we just hired drivers for a similar price. The currency is US dollars, but most places take credit cards anyway. I would suggest having cash on you for gratuity, though.
This trip was a mix of culture/indigenous and relaxation – the perfect combo. I truly enjoyed every moment of our adventure. Itinerary below, steal at leisure:
Panama City | The Bristol Hotel
Meh. One or two days is plenty, but the adventure is out there! We even had trouble finding food open at 8p on a Wednesday night. The hotel was VERY nice, I would stay here again.
- Panama Canal Miraflores Locks (be sure to time this out right so you can see a boat go through, and watch the video that comes with your ticket!)
- Panamá Viejo (this was phenomenal history and ruins of the old city)
- Casco Viejo (they were preparing for the Pope’s visit when we were there so there was a lot off limits and under rehab, but it is a very quaint place with narrow streets, sunny squares and tourist shops)
- Cinta Costera for your ‘PANAMA’ sign insta pic
Gamboa | Gamboa Rainforest Resort
Not going to sugarcoat this, the resort needs a little renovation. Aside from that, it is a really cool experience. Decent sized pool, swim-up ish bar, stained hammocks on each balcony – in theory this place was probably amazing 10 years ago with no chipped paint or dead frogs in the one. single. elevator. in. all. the. resort. The food was just meh, and a bit overpriced for not having many eatery options. Alas, we still had our humid-filled, mosquito-biting fun! (This place is perfect for kiddos, btw)
All the stuff we did below you can book right through the resort.
- Nighttime safari ride
- Aerial tram – best view of the jungle, panama canal and individual guides (not for the those afraid of dee heights)
- Frog, butterfly farm, orchid nursery and sloth sanctuary – tours were a bit too crowded to hear, but you can sort of roam around yourself as there is signage
- Gatun Lake expedition IN the Panama Canal, right next to the cargo ships! – don’t stand up to feed the monkeys. or the crocs.
This indigenous community is so welcoming and fun! It is a peaceful 30 minute canoe ride down a river to the middle of nowhere. I may or may not have taken a little snooze. I would not recommend this trip to those who lack mobility. There is a bit of climbing and uncomfortable positions. We hired an English-speaking guide to manage everything for us, and he was excellent, so I bought him a snack on our way home at the gas station! (You can book this through the Gamboa Rainforest Resort)
The residents explained their culture, food, music, their way of life and showed us around. They cooked us a tasty fish and fruit meal, showed us a traditional dance, and painted tattoos on us. (do not suggest, learn from my mistakes) You have the opportunity to buy overpriced gifts that some of the women made before you head home. It was extremely interesting to see the children in flaps of cloth only, having never of left the land before – there is a school in the community. I saw my first toucan IRL!!! (do not pet)
Panama| Dreams Playa Bonita All-inclusive Resort
Overall this was a pleasant experience for an all-inclusive over the holidays. The resort had a VERY nice buffet on New Years and outdoor DJ, fireworks and champagne party. Winner: grape tree as party favors. There are not many all-inclusive choices in Panama, and this was legitimately overlooking the beautiful ocean and the Panama Canal. Just sitting right there. The boats, all lined up to go through the locks as you sip a beverage in the infinity pool. Crazy cool! I would go back here, but make the following changes:
- Eat at senior citizen time or there will be a wait – they do not take reservations.
- Wake up before the sun and grab beach chairs so you don’t have to lay on the grass in the middle of the life-sized chess game.
- Do not order the chicken from Portofino restaurant.
- Put on more sunblock.
- Invite new daily pool friends to karaoke so we don’t sing alone.
- Eat more gelato.
- Walk along the beach in the daylight.
- Request thicker pillows for snoring roommates.
- Notify smoking friends they will be smashed into a tiny pavilion ‘smoking area’.
- Bring waterproof money case to pool to tip the bartenders at the swim-up.
- Schedule a massage the moment I walk in to the resort.
We hopped off resort one day and it was a nice break from all the entitled Americans with bad attitudes. The catamaran day trip was clutch – book through Red Cat Catamaran Panama Sailing. This was so much fun – all inclusive drinks, lunch/snacks, good music and friendly staff. Aside from the European sibling sexy photoshoot happening on the boat to the right, it was an enjoyable ride, perfect weather, tasty food and phenomenal view. We did the Taboga Island trip. A few things to note –
- You have to pay to use the bathroom on the island.
- You have to fill the bowl up with water to use said toilet.
- You have to pay for shade on the island.
- You can’t go back to the catamaran early if you can’t find said shade and are frying like bacon.
- Catamaran ride is child-friendly so watch your alcohol intake.
- Bring tips for the boat peeps, they really do a nice job and are hospitable.
- You must show your passport before getting on the catamaran.
Update: since staying at the Dreams Panama, we have since stayed at another resort by this same hotel chain: Breathless. And now my all-inclusive standards are through the roof. Brace for impact.
Overall, Panama is truly an amazing place full of so much rich culture and history. I loved learning about it all, and the impact that the U.S. had on shaping it (for better or worse) into what it is today.