Travel Specialist, Fiona spent over a week exploring Panama’s highlights after travelling through Costa Rica, and found that combining the two countries was easy and a real contrast.
Panama – Costa Rica’s shy sister
“If I’m honest, in all my years of travelling to many varied and interesting countries around the world I don’t think I ever really gave a lot of thought to Panama. However having tagged on a week’s worth of holiday after my Costa Rica adventures I am now absolutely sold on anything and everything Panama.
I returned to the UK wishing I had longer to explore this fascinating country. I really enjoyed meeting the people, exploring the countryside and snorkelling on the coral reefs on the Caribbean coastline. It’s a country abounding in natural beauty, a fascinating history and cultural attractions. From the old quarter of Panama City to roasting coffee in Boquete and then chilling out island style – there is plenty to keep you busy (or not) whilst on holiday here.
The Panama Canal
I didn’t think I was going to be fascinated by the inner workings of a canal… but the tour of the well-known Panama Canal and Miraflores locks had me spellbound. Having spent time on the viewing platform watching a massive ship being guided through the narrow locks I headed to the museum with my guide. He came from a family who had worked on the creation of the docks and told tales of his grandparents and parents and the impact the canal has had on the people of Panama as well as the natural environment.
Exploring the Old Town
Panama City has a few very distinct sides to it. There is, of course, the new city with its high rise hotels and towering business buildings. There is also the American side of the city with wide avenues and spread out suburbs. Last but certainly not least is the lively Casco Viejo or old quarter.
I stayed out on the American side of town on my one night in the city but spent most of my evening wandering around the old quarter. You must get there by taxi as there is an unsavoury part of town to cross through to get there, but once you arrive you cannot feel safer. The tourism police are always present and keep a watchful eye out over the town’s visitors. The streets are alive with music, littered with cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the walkways and there is just a really good feeling about the quarter.
Roasting the local java
I spent a couple of nights kicking back and relaxing in Boquete, located near the town of David, in the western mountains, about two hours from the Costa Rican border. It’s a completely different world when you get up here and a stark contrast to both Panama City and the tropical islands. Life here is still laid back and I jumped at the opportunity to learn all about coffee farms and production, (any guesses as to my favourite hot beverage?!).
After being picked up by the friendly farm manager I was transferred to Finca dos Jeffes. I learned all about how the coffee industry works in Panama, such as how there isn’t Fair Trade coffee as such in Panama as each farm sells directly to their customer and isn’t part of co-operative. You also get to smell, touch and taste the coffee at each stage from fruit to roasted coffee.
Welcome to paradise
One of the highlights of my Panama trip was visiting the beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro, just a hop, skip and a jump from the Costa Rican border along the Caribbean coast. During my stay I booked onto a boat trip for the whole day where we got to see dolphins and starfish in the clear waters of the mangrove channels and fantastic coral reefs. It’s a fantastic place to kick back, relax and enjoy some Caribbean influenced cuisine and chilled out reggae beats.”