Lake Gatún

Where have you been?
I went on a familiarisation trip to Panama with my colleague Ben. (Read his Q&A about the Costa Rica leg of the trip.)

Have you been before?
No – this was my first time!

How did you get there?
We arrived into Panama overland from Costa Rica, having flown directly with British Airways.

How long were you there?
1 week in Panama.

General route?
Upon arrival into Panama from Costa Rica at Paso Canoas, we drove 1.5 hours to the pleasant town of Volcán, located on the edge of the Barú Volcano. There isn’t much to the town itself; however it is a great spot to position yourself to hike the Los Quetzales trail towards the town of Boquete. This trail is one of Panama’s most stunning hikes as you walk through some pristine rainforest interspersed by some fantastic view points over the Parque Nacional de la Amistad as you skirt the volcano’s foothills. It’s a challenging walk and depending where you start, can be around 13km though with your guide spotting birds and pointing out interesting along the way, it makes for a great day out.

Which was your favourite…

Place: Panama City – having spent a good part of the trip in the hot and humid rainforest, it was a refreshing change to arrive into Panama City which is a really vibrant city. There’s a stark contrast between the charming old town of Casco Viejo which is seeing some excellent restoration, and the high-rise commercial centre just across the bay. Here you can have the best of both worlds: the historic and the contemporary.

Hotel: Azul Paradise, Bocas del Toro – this archipelago of jungle-fringed islands, with shabby Caribbean towns is a long way from what you find in the UK. Azul Paradise is a new beach front hotel on Bastimentos Island with walkways and bungalows out on stilts above the water. It seems to fill the vacant niche of a luxurious beach-focused property in Bocas del Toro.

Excursion: Panama Canal rainforest boat trip – this excursion surpassed my expectations for two reasons. Firstly, the quantity of wildlife seen and how close you can get was fantastic. Secondly, the feeling of whizzing around Lake Gatún and passing alongside some of the monster freight ships transiting the canal was awe-inspiring!

Appeals to which type of traveller?
A trip to Panama would suit all travellers and can be tailored to you depending on what you’re looking for. There’s a great mix of history, indigenous cultures, rainforest and wildlife and it combines well for those looking to visit other places in Central America.

What did you pack?
A good pair of binoculars can make all the difference. A full body poncho is also a good idea (in addition to a normal raincoat) to avoid your legs getting wet in the case of a tropical downpour.

Any good food, drinks, restaurants or bars recommendations?
Sugar & Spice in Boquete is a great choice if you’re looking for some respite from the Central American favourite of rice and beans!
Panama City has a wonderful variety of bars – check out Tántalo in the heart of the old town, where you can enjoy your drink on the roof terrace with views over the city.

Room for improvement?
I think a non-stop direct flight service from the UK to Panama would be a real plus point.

How would you sum up your trip in a sentence?
A hugely enjoyable trip seeing a wide variety of areas and properties and a reminder that Central America has so much to offer and because of the short distances, combining countries (as we did with Costa Rica and Panama) is very achievable.

Any top tips?
Travelling in the shoulder seasons of November and April/May means you can avoid the busiest peak periods, more tourists and inflated prices, while still benefiting from decent weather. This trip in particular emphasised to me how much I appreciate being able to get away from the crowds.

Browse our holidays to Panama.

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    After graduating with a degree in Anthropology and History and having been fascinated by Latin America since childhood by the book featuring photos of Nazca, Juliet first visited the region in 2003. Since then, Juliet has visited the majority of countries in Latin America but has particularly extensive experience with Peru, a country she loves for many reasons but not least, its incredible archaeological richness and delicious food!

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