My friend Olivia and I explored Panama this past summer (July)–primarily because it was an extremely budget-friendly option for us but also because we knew it would offer so much in the way of diversity (landscapes and experiences in general). Here you’ll find our 9-Day Itinerary. In no way do I feel that it is a perfect itinerary, but it worked pretty well for us, as we were able to see so much and never feel rushed! Panama is such a unique and diverse country–one where one can experience the whole sha-bang in a reasonable expanse of time: old historic cities and islands and beaches and mountains and valleys.
Before Day 1: Fly into Panama City
We arrived in Panama City late in the evening, so we stayed at the Novotel Hotel. It was actually a really cheap, but very nice hotel. A really nice plus is that we were able to feel confident about leaving our luggage there while we were in the San Blas Islands (you can only carry small packs with you to the islands).
DAY 1-2: San Blas Islands
Very early in the morning we were picked up by some guys (from the tour company) and driven on the craziest ride of our lives to the coast of Panama. It was completely insane. Six of us sat crammed in two rows in the back of an SUV while speeding across the country over under-developed highways and through two military checkpoints. After just a few hours–or what really seemed like an entire night of drinking–we arrived on the coast. There we took a boat across the dreary sea to the islands.
For the first time in our lives, we were able to experience what it was like to truly live as locals of a somewhat primitive lifestyle. We ate island food–rice and fish and fruit. We walked barefoot wherever we went. We slept in a hut with a mosquito net hanging around us. We took a boat to other islands where we snorkeled among tropical fishes, coral, and starfish. We were unhurried, unconcerned, sluggish even as we lounged about the island with no place to go and no one to see. And it was quiet, so, so very serene and quiet–so quiet that one would have to periodically lift her head and search through the palm trees to insure that all the people hadn’t disappeared. When it turned dark, one would have thought all the light had been removed from the world, and I guess it had in ours.
It is hard to believe that we were only here for two days–not even two fully days really. We arrived early on Day 1 (about 10 or 11 am) and stayed until 4 or 5 pm on Day 2, but it felt as though we had been long missing from the hurried civilized world.
DAY 2-4: Panama City
Late on Day 2 we arrived back at the Novotel Hotel in Panama City, and we immensely enjoyed a privilege so often taken for granted: showers (like I said, it felt like we’d been gone forever).
We chose to use Day 3 to make an obligatory visit to the Panama Canal. It was overall an interesting experience, and I’m glad that we went. There is so much intriguing history surrounding the building of the canal!
When we were done, we spent the rest of the day wandering around Casco Viejo–an old, historic part of Panama City that was, for me anyway, oddly reminiscent of New Orleans. And true to my experience in NOLA, it began raining near the end of the evening (Oh, and pretty much every day after that).
DAY 4-5: Boquete
On Day 4 we spent some more time exploring around Panama City before heading to its tiny airport. It’s a 30 or so minute flight to David, which isn’t far from Boquete. We were supposed to arrive by about 5 or 6, if I remember correctly, but instead it was more like 11 p.m. Our flight was “delayed” by five or six hours. Just know–taking a quick flight is your best bet for getting to multiple points in Panama; however, AIR PANAMA is an absolute JOKE. We received no explanations at the time, but we were informed later on that they often delay the flight until the flight is full. The same thing happened to us on our return flight. There’s more I can say, but I’ll contain it for now 🙂
So, since we arrived so late, we really only had one full day in Boquete–Day 5–but it was a wonderful, beautiful day. We didn’t realize when planning that we would love it so much; otherwise, we would have stayed there several days. We went on a hike with Boquete Outdoor Adventures and loved it. Our guide John was so knowledgeable about the area and just Panama in general. He even dropped us off at one of the best places to eat in town afterwards. He was so incredibly accommodating and helpful that he even arranged our transportation to Bocas del Toro the following day!
DAY 6-8: Bastimentos
Early on Day 6, John and another guy from Boquete Outdoor Adventures picked us up in a roomy shuttle (one we didn’t have to share with anyone else!). He pulled over in multiple places along the way to see some really cool things: small waterfalls on the side of the road, one of Panama’s only natural lakes, the continental divide, SLOTHS, and more.
We arrived in Bocas fairly early in the day and took a couple of water taxis to get to our hostel on Red Frog Beach in Bastimentos. We stayed two nights there in the rain forest on the beach. On Day 7, we took a couple of water taxis+a real taxi to Starfish Beach (which is a bit of a walk if you do it that way), but besides that, we were content to hang out there on Red Frog and relax.
DAY 8-9: Bocas del Toro
When we began planning our trip, we were determined to splurge and stay in a real hut on the water for at least ONE night, and that’s what we did. We took a water taxi back to Bocas del Toro on the morning of Day 8 and took a taxi to the other side of the island. We had to take another water taxi to where we were staying at Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge because the huts are honest-to-goodness in the middle of the water (somewhat near to a shore, but it’s just a dense forest). The lodge provided food for every meal. It even lent us snorkel gear. It was incredible. Oh, and quiet once again, so very very peaceful.
DAY 9: Panama City
We sadly left the lodge on Day 9 to catch our flight from Bocas to Panama City. We returned back to Casco Viejo, ate, and leisurely wandered around the rest of the day.
After Day 9: Fly Home
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