GUIDE TO GETAWAY
While Central America has long been hailed as a vacation haven for adventurous travelers, with tourist hotspots such as Costa Rica and Nicaragua, we believe that Panama may just be a secret weapon for the perfect getaway. Panama is the up and coming destination for travelers seeking the best of both worlds: cities steeped in history and tropical islands filled with opportunity for adventure.
With nine provinces that each offer a distinct culture and take on life, Panama has far more to offer than the Panama Canal. Our Panama Guide has Top 5’s for our two favorite provinces: the Panamá region, where you will find the urban and multifaceted Panama City, and Bocas del Toro, where gorgeous beaches and rainforest hikes await you. We recommend taking two weeks in order to visit both locations, while a week’s vacation in either Province would still make a fabulous getaway. The Panamanian people are generous, social, and excited to show what their country has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.
Hungry for reinvention.
No where else in the world can a traveler clearly see the difference between the old and the new. An instant combustion of ascending modernity and rustic vintage. Standing near the fish market called: Mercado de Mariscos, a Dubai-esque skyline of Panama City is on the left. Glance over to the right, the same city’s skyline is symbolized by Spanish colonial architectures on the coast of Panamanian waters.
Panama City is hungry, yearning for reinvention toward the next level. It is relishing on the introduction of gastronomy, meanwhile its people celebrate the colors as well as the ruins from a complex history. We highly recommend you to enjoy the differences between downtown business district and the charm of the old Casco Viejo. Take in both sides of a rising city, thriving on the glory of a changing face.
Here’s the 411:
Geography: It’s located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. It’s somewhat in the center of the country.
Population: Approximately 880,691 inhabitants, metro population of 1,272,672.
Best time to visit: November through April are beautiful. Other months may be rainy as tropical storms hit the Caribbean coasts.
- By plane: Tocumen International Airport (PTY) – 20 minutes from Panama City by car. Tip: You shouldn’t pay more than $30 from the airport to your hotel. And the rate can be negotiated down to $10 if you have more than 2 people in the car. Email us for a taxi driver recommendation: firstname.lastname@example.org
- By car: It is possible to drive into Panama City by car, coming in from other parts of Panama. There are rental car companies (Hertz, Budget) that are stationed at the airport and near major hotels.
- By train: A daily train runs between Panama City and Colón along the Panama Canal. The train goes out to Colon in the mornings then come back to Panama City in early evenings. If you’d like a view of the Canal, this would be a great option.
- Walk: Do-able but not recommended as neighborhoods are still quite far away each other.
- Taxi: Most highly recommended. BUT always know how much your taxi should cost to avoid getting upcharged. Drivers don’t use meters, they use zone maps, so don’t be afraid to ask to see how much getting from point A to point B should cost. It should never cost more than $10! Also, negotiate the price with the driver before you get into the taxi. You may have to let a few go before you get one who agrees on the proper price, but it’s worth it. An important tip: never allow a hotel to hail a taxi for you. It will always be at least twice the price of what you’ll get on the street. Walk a few blocks; there are taxis everywhere.
- Bus: Ceap and convenient. Fares are $0.25 and the destination of the bus is written across the front windshield in large letters.
Your “Bocas” way of life.
Visiting Bocas del Toro, the natural beauty of the islands is disarming in the most incredible way. The jungles are some of the most biodiverse in the world, hosting numerous species of monkeys, frogs, birds, and immeasurable plant life. Bordering the jungles are pristine white beaches, where visitors snorkel, scuba dive, and take boat trips to local islands. A getaway to Bocas del Toro is different than your typical all-inclusive vacation; you can feel the richness of the culture from the second you step foot off the dock. Bocas del Toro has an incredibly unique spirit, owing to the diversity of ethnicities that have brought their cultures to the islands.
The laid-back Caribbean atmosphere that characterizes the capital city of Bocas Town harmonizes with the culture of enduring indigenous communities that have lived on the islands for thousands of years. There is much to see on the nine inhabited islands of Bocas del Toro, from discovering the origins of chocolate on a cacao tour to hiking the natural caves of Isla Bastimentos. Taste the seafood caught just off shore, watch the sunset over the Caribbean Sea, and embrace the inherently “Bocas” way of life.
Geography: Bocas del Toro is located on the western side of Panama, and the island archipelago scatters the Caribbean Sea. To the west, Bocas del Toro shares a border with Costa Rica.
Population: Approximately 125,000 people inhabit the Bocas del Toro Province, including the mainland and archipelago.
Best time to visit: The most popular time to visit Panama is from December to April, during the dry season. If you’re only visiting Bocas del Toro, however, the tropical rainforest climate is fairly consistent year round!
By Plane: Bocas del Toro has it’s own small airport, Bocas del Toro “Isla Colón” International Airport, on Isla Colón, the main island. There are usually two flights a day from Panama City.
By Boat: From the mainland, Bocas del Toro can be accessed by water taxi from the town of Almirante. If traveling to one of Bocas other islands, the water taxis usually pick up from Isla Colón.
Walk: The capital city of Bocas Town, on Isla Colón, is easy to navigate on foot. It is extremely small, so almost anyone can direct you where you’re going.
Taxi: Taxis are extremely easy to find in Bocas Town, and trips around town never cost more than one dollar, even to the airport!
Water Taxi: When traveling to and from Isla Colón and to the other islands, water taxis and private boats leave from the docks periodically. Prices depend on the distance between the islands you are traveling to and from, just ask your hotel what you can expect to pay and they will let you know.
Private island pronto!
Luxury travel options are thriving in Panama. A trip to the country wouldn’t be complete without a few days on a private island. And let us tell you, there are quite a few in Panama. Our favorite is Isla Palenque, on the gulf of Chiriqui. It’s a 5-hour drive east from Panama City. You can also fly from Panama City to the airport in David (the main city in Chiriqui) and Isla Palenque will arrange a staff member to pick you up at the airport, or at a dock (if you’re driving.)
The privately-owned eco-resort is perfect for honeymooners, with many activities to do: hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming. The hotel offers guided tours (by a wonderful staff), where you can be surrounded by wild animals in beautiful rainforests. Meals served at Isla Palenque are delectably prepared from their very own organic garden. We highly recommend enjoying their tasting menu, relish on every dish paired with a tasty cocktail. Gastronomy well arrives at Isla Palenque’s romance and peaceful getaway.
Chill out in a fishing town.
Just an hour away from Panama City is an old Spanish fishing town – Portobelo. As a sleepy port town located in the Colon Province, it was used as a center for silver exporting before the mid-18th century. Portobelo is ideal for a relaxing retreat. It can be reached by car or a metrobus that runs from Panama City.
We highly recommend spending a few nights at El Otro Lado boutique hotel. There’s something incredibly charming about being secluded from the rest of the world and immerse yourself in a mini staycation at a four-bungalow hotel. Each is custom designed and decorated with local artisan crafts. Located near a National Park, in midst of a tropical forest, El Otro Lado even offers activities guests can do to integrate within the local community, such as: visiting the Portobelo Bay Foundation, Rhythm School, Carpentry Workshops, Cong Arts Centre, Community-focused Hotelito Rayo Verde!
Let our curated content help dot your I’s and cross your T’s.