My son, Leygh, first introduced us to Panama when he invited us to come and meet his friends. So my husband, Lowell, daughter, Layce, and I joined him in an all-inclusive vacation at the Royal Decameron, in Farallon. While walking the beach it began to rain and we took refuge in a large bohio where Leygh took out a deck of cards and we played Euchre.
It was here that native Panamanian, Benyi, first caught sight of our daughter. But it wasn’t until the next day that he had the courage to introduce himself. They pursued a long distance relationship until Layce’s job freed her up to travel and work remotely.
Later in our all-inclusive week, we stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City and met many of Leygh’s friends and toured some of the sights.
The Canal of course is quite a wonder but Panama City also boasts North American standard items and restaurants. We enjoyed a historic walk through Casco Viejo where my husband studied the architecture and I took in the market. Later my son and I wandered through Panama Viejo where the tower provided a view of the ruins.
The following Christmas, my family, this time including my son, Leyland, returned to Panama. Given its Caribbean island appeal, Bocas del Toro became our initial destination of choice. We selected a beachfront vacation rental property on Isla Bastimentos and let the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks bring solace to our too busy lives.
The island’s close proximity to Isla Colon and bars like La Iguana, restaurants and grocery stores brought convenience a short water taxi away. On Bastimentos, The Firefly Restaurant, Wizard Beach (a twenty minute hike through town and the forest), Playa Estrella, Red Frog Beach (both via water taxi), touring the bat cave and the Christmas Eve costume parade along Bastimentos’ one sidewalk are must experiences.
The next Christmas, Leygh insisted that we visit one of the San Blas islands. Of the 365 islands under 50 are inhabited by the native Kuna people, who despite globalization have maintained their indigenous lifestyle. The Kuna host tourists by providing huts on the beach and chicken and red snapper dinners on secluded islands amidst crystal blue water. You’ll need to swim for exercise or walk the beach, a mere 686 steps around the island if you stay on Isla Iguana.
For adventurers seeking a break from the heat, the mountain towns El Valle (Coclé) and Boquete (Chiriqui), share breezes, glorious views and markets. In addition, you’ll find waterfalls, zip lining and varied biomes in El Valle, and hot springs, coffee tours and a climb up Vulcan, a strata volcano, in Boquete.
Not to mention early morning rooster wake up calls. We stayed in varied accommodations of hostels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals.
While many people covet the aqua Caribbean waters, Playa Venao, the surfer beach in the Azuero Peninsula, is a family favourite for swimming in warm water and lazing on golden sand. We found a natural rancho of small palms to shade us from the hot sun. Here you can learn to surf, chill out at a beach bar or jump the waves. Pedasi has great appeal as quaint town close to beaches.
Smiley’s, its North American family restaurant, provides tasty meals and later in the evening local bands.
At the fishermen’s beach you can catch a water taxi to Isla Iguana’s white sandy beach. But come prepared as there are no amenities. It was this lush peninsula where we first explored purchasing a home but alas its distance from Panama City dropped it as a contender for a retirement location and relegated it to a great place to vacation.
Las Tablas becomes popular at Carnival and, as we discovered this past Christmas break, on New Year’s Eve as well. Midnight brought the BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG and glorious display of fireworks and colourfully lit floats with queens who smiled and waved.
Playa Uverito and Estero, both Pacific beaches in Los Santos, become deserted through the week. But the locals bring their music and coolers and share welcoming smiles on the weekend. An authentic town with its own Spanish dialect, it is the most economical area to stay and live. Thus it became a point of interest and research when considering a move to Panama. But it is still several hours drive from Panama City.
Coronado’s proximity to Panama City satisfies our number one priority of living close to our children who reside in the city. Its conveniences include grocery stores, banks, medical services and it’s accessible to both airports. You can’t drive to Coronado along the muñecos lined Panamerican Hwy. without stopping to buy Panama’s best empanadas at Quesos Chela. We love them all but particularly the cheese.
There are many beaches with views of the mountains and expat hangouts like Picassos where you can enjoy wood fired pizza, inexpensive drinks and a variety of music. For value in Coronado try the hefty plate of pork, potato salad, plantain and rice and beans at Delicias de Margot for under $6 US. A short jaunt up the highway brings you to El Palmar where we recommend you try the tantalizing chicken Alfredo, steak and glazed pork chops at Manglar Lodge.
We first became acquainted with Inside Panama when our daughter Layce stayed at Sarah’s Casitas. Since Sarah was out of the country, she introduced us to Maudy who graciously showed us homes from Chame to El Espino. While we have yet to make a purchase, we anticipate doing so once the Canadian dollar becomes more on par with the US dollar.
We can see ourselves retiring here, re-visiting our preferred locales, and exploring a few new areas that we haven’t yet seen like the western shores of the Azuero, the Gamboa Forest and Isla Grande as well as countries to the north and south. Indeed we found that Panama holds something for everyone.