My First Trip to Panama in 2017

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ITINERARY FOR MY FIRST TRIP TO PANAMA

  • February 7, 2017: 3 nights at Canopy Bed & Breakfast in Gamboa
    • Unguided walk on the Pipeline Road
    • Visited the Rainforest Discovery Center
    • Tour of Lake Gatún, a visit to Monkey Island, lunch, and a kayak trip to a waterfall through Jungle Land Panama
    • Caribbean excursion with Xplora Panama Tours which included: pick up from hotel in Gamboa, boat tour to the islands for swimming and sunbathing, lunch, tour of historic town of Portobelo, and transfer to hotel in Panama City
  • February 10, 2017: 3 nights at Sortis Hotel
    • Biked along the Amador Causeway
    • Explored the historic district of Casco Viejo
    • Visited Miraflores Visitor Center and Miraflores locks

DETAILS ON MY FIRST TRIP TO PANAMA

My first trip to Panama came about after having a couple cocktails at a Christmas Party. My friend Whitney was wanting to go to Panama to see her son who had recently moved there. I like to get away every February and my husband was not interested in taking a trip. This was the perfect opportunity to get away from the cold and see a country I had not visited before. Whitney and I have different tastes in vacations but we both have easy going personalities so we decided to stay half the time seeing wildlife (my choice) and the other half exploring Panama City (her choice).

Flight

On February 7, 2017, we took a 3 hour flight on American Airlines to Miami International Airport, had a 45 minute layover, and then took a 3 hour 15 minute flight to Panama City.

Hotel

We stayed at the Canopy Bed & Breakfast in Gamboa February 7-10th. This was a short 45 minute drive from the airport. We arranged transportation via Canopy B&B to pick us up. As far as hotel reviews go I will say Canopy B&B had its positives being they had a bird feeder out back which attracted MANY different kinds of birds as well as Coatis and Agoutis. There were many birders with huge fancy camera taking pictures all day long!

The hotel was a little overpriced at $462 for 3 nights in a cement bottom floor room with a dehumidifier (there were other nicer rooms on the first and second floors). The breakfast was adequate (nothing to write home about). No one spoke English so make sure if you don’t speak Spanish you have a translator book or app. They did have bikes that we could use for free which greatly helped our mobility getting around the town of Gamboa and the Pipeline Road.

Visiting the Rainforest on My First Trip to Panama

On our first full day there we rode the bikes to the Pipeline Road and the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. The pipeline road was built during the building of the Panama Canal. The road is no longer used by vehicles and is only used for hiking through the forest.

We woke up very early and started riding our bikes while it was still dark. It was good that we got up so early as the trail was empty and it enabled us to see more wildlife. Within 10 minutes of walking the trail we had 40-50 peccaries run across the trail! We heard howler monkeys all around us and the spider monkeys came up to see what we were up to! Birds were everywhere and probably sloths as well although we saw none. This was a great start to my first trip to Panama.

On the way back there were several college students along the trail sampling the vegetation. One of them mentioned that a sloth and its baby had just been seen the previous day climbing down from a tree. We had no such luck.

The Rainforest Discovery Center is worth a trip. There are interpretive signs, trails, and an observation tower which gives a great view of the tree canopy. It’s right next to the start of the Pipeline Road.

Pool Time

In the afternoon we decided to go to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and use their pool (for a small fee). The resort was within walking distance from where we were staying. The resort was definitely dated with cracked concrete and tile in the pool area. We had some drinks at the swim up bar and chatted with other guests.

My first trip to Panama hanging in the pool

Restaurant Options

You can eat lunch and dinner at the Rainforest Resort even if you aren’t staying there. This is one of the only options in Gamboa. We did manage to eat at a local “restaurant” one day that was in someone’s house (you have to ask around to find this place). The owner was very pleasant. There was one meal on the menu (hamburger and fries) and beer was served. Due to my meat allergy, I opted for a beer and fries. You can also eat dinner at the B&B with advanced notice which we did one night.

Other Accommodations

Whitney’s son, Brady, arrived the next day. He rented a room at Ivan’s Bed & Breakfast. This place was only $50 a night and the owner was very pleasant and accommodating. He did have a shared bathroom but he didn’t share as he was the only one there for 2 nights. If it weren’t for the bikes at the B&B we would have preferred to stay here.

Guided Tour

We decided to do a nature tour that day. We found the tour through TripAdvisor. I will say 99% of the time I have great luck with TripAdvisor. This is the one time it failed me (slightly). We booked the tour through Jungle Land Panama. For the most part it got great reviews but there were several mentions of the crotchety owner.

The tour consisted of a boat ride on Lake Gatún, a visit to Monkey Island via boat, lunch on the their floating lodge, and an optional swimming or kayak trip to a waterfall. They also had a boa constrictor that you could hold for a photo. The tour itself was great. I have two negatives. 1) I don’t agree with feeding monkeys, period. It’s just wrong. 2) Clearly the owner had been doing this so long he was ready to retire and could only be described as a contrary, grumpy man. He made it very apparent that he was no longer excited about giving these tours. We still had a great time anyway and the food was fantastic as well.

Caribbean Excursion

Whitney and myself had wanted to have a beach day on the Caribbean side so we organized an excursion through Xplora Panama Tours for $342.40 (both of us). They picked us up from the B&B and after the excursion, drove us to our hotel in Panama City which was perfect!

I was very impressed with our tour guide, Alex. After seeing no sloths in Gamboa I was determined to see one. Alex asked about how our trip was going and I mentioned my lack of sloth sightings. Within 10 minutes of starting our trip he stopped along side the road and pointed one out high in the trees! He also pointed out another one hanging out in a tree right above us on the island we visited later in the day. We ended up seeing both the three and two toed sloth varieties! My trip was complete.

My first trip to Panama and saw a sloth
Sloth above the tree on our island.

Our first stop (after the sloth sighting) was at the historic site of Portobelo. Alex showed us around the ruins, told us about the history, and took a great picture for us.

After that we drove some more and took a boat ride (very small boat) for lunch. I was a little nervous as I’m not a water person but we survived!

After lunch we went to a secluded island to relax for about an hour and then we drove back to Panama City. I think it was around a 2 hour drive.

My First Trip to Panama City!

We stayed at the Sortis Hotel in Panama City from February 10-13th. We did not have transportation so we either took an Uber or Taxi wherever we wanted to go. Ubers are everywhere as are taxi’s and we never had an issue finding a ride. Our first night in Panama City we decided to go to a local karaoke bar, called El Karaoke 50, that my coworker had told me about. It was mostly locals there. We had a great time! The people were welcoming and it was a super fun atmosphere.

Amador Causeway

We woke up the next morning with a slight hangover and went biking along the Amador Causeway. This is a man made road that extends into the Pacific Ocean where the Panama Canal meets the sea. There are many things to do there including visiting the Biomuseo museum (which is on my list for 2020).

Panama Canal

My first trip to Panama wouldn’t be complete without a trip to see the Panama Canal. The next morning we took a taxi to the Miraflores Locks. We were the first ones to get there when it opened (8 am). The people that were not part of a tour bus (i.e. we had to walk there) were able to get first in line so we got a great view of the locks from the observation deck. If you do not get there early enough you will end up behind loads of people unable to see.

Afterwards we went into the visitor center, saw a short video, and toured around the center which not only had information about the construction of the locks but also about the flora and fauna diversity in the area. You can also do a partial transit tour which I plan to do in 2020 through Panama Marine Adventures.

My first trip to Panama seeing the Panama Canal

Casco Viejo

That night we explored the historic district of Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town was established by the Spanish around 1673 and has many catholic churches and cathedrals. This is a pretty touristy area as you can imagine with rooftop bars and a fantastic view of the city.

After exploring the fancy rooftop bars, we went to some lesser known bars a local had told us about. One was down a back alley. As we were walking down the alley, we noticed a police officer following us (we assumed to protect us). It was somewhat of a dive bar with locals playing trombones and trumpets to the music. I conversed with a couple people who spoke broken English. It was a great time. Sometimes the best memories are not at the most well traveled establishments. One thing I always try to do when I’m on vacation is experience the local culture. We definitely did that here!

My first trip to Panama in Casco Viejo
One of the fabulous rooftop bars in Casco Viejo

Poolside at the Hotel

When we weren’t enjoying the city, we lounged by the pool and bar area at the hotel when we weren’t enjoying the city. The hotel was wonderful with great service and an amazing view of the rooftop pool/bar area.

My first trip to Panama: hotel in Panama City

My First Trip to Panama was Amazing!

The trip was a great mix of jungle and city for my first trip to Panama. It gave me just a taste that I have decided to go back there in February of 2020. Stay tuned!

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