My Casco Viejo Guide
Casco Viejo is an intriguing place. It is one of few remaining colonial areas of Latin America that is World Heritage site. As you stroll through the neighborhood take in the dilapidated facades, recent restorations, and the barefoot children in la calle. You are witness to Casco’s transformation from Panama’s forgotten neighborhood to its cultural heartbeat. Enjoy.
Dining in Casco:
Manolo Caracol: No thinking is required. Simply sit back and enjoy 10 Latin inspired tapas courses that are always delicious and fresh. Food is harvested locally. Walk-in and make a reservation (required). Located on Avenida Central and Calle 3. $$$$
Las Clementinas: A throwback to the 1930s hey-days of Casco Viejo. (Las) Clementinas is famous for fish and cocktails. Try the Seafood Sampler with the Martini containing freshly picked Basil from the garden. Also, Clementinas has one of the best Sunday brunches in Panama City ($27/per head). Located on Avenida B and Calle 11. $$$$
Ego: Nothing is more quintessentially Casco Viejo than dining late night on a plaza. Look no further than Ego (yellow umbrellas). We love the Fried Ceviche, Ego Salad, Chicharrones, and the brownie that has cheese on it! Located on Plaza Bolivar on Avenida B. $$$$
Mercado del Marisco (Fish Market): This was Anthony Bourdain’s first stop in Panama – so it must be good! It’s located about 15 minutes outside of Casco walking along the ocean pedestrian path. Try a number of the different style ceviches from the booths outside. Otherwise, pick your own fish from the market and have it cooked upstairs at the restaurant. $$
Aye Carmela. We are currently obsessed with this mid range charming restaurant! Portions are big and the prices are small! Try the Greek Salad and Patacones (very Panamanian). Located on Calle 9 and Avienda B. $$
Caffe Per Due. For those that love authentic Italian thin-crust pizza, this will be a treat. Very affordable good food. The desserts are homemade and yummy. Avienda A and Calle 2. $$
Mama Chefa: If Casco were to have a grandmother, Mama Chefa would be it. The 40 year resident of the neighborhood serves lunch out of her very own kitchen (11am-12:30am). You will likely rub elbows with Panama’s government workers as you munch down on lovingly prepared $3 Panamanian lunch. It’s located on Calle 4 between Plaza Bolivar and the Presidential Plaza. $ (Chefa’s has no external sign – so ask, “Dónde está Mama Chefa?”)
Pollo de Papo: Papo is another Casco character. The jolly Casqueño occasionally sings Michael Jackson and steps to Salsa while grilling a mean BBQ chicken! Papo sets up lunchtime shop in front of his house on Calle 3 and Avienda B. Bring $4 and beat the noon rush. $
Coke-a-Cola: A former favorite of American G.I.’s during the Canal Period, Coke-a-Cola has seen better days. For those hankering for a no frills, local place to eat breakfast, this is the place. Buy the La Prensa local newspaper and sip on a cafe con leche. Located near Santa Ana plaza on Avenida Central (follow the trolley tracks). $
Pritty Pritty Fonda: A Spanglish play on the English word “Pretty”. You don’t get more local than their chicken, rice and beans for $3. Located next to Las Clementinas on Avienda B. $
Relic: Cleverly tucked under a youth hostel to throw off those without any sense of adventure, Relic has become Casco Viejo’s de facto late night destination. This underground bar/club attracts a young crowd and those that think young. Calle 9 and Avienda B.
Tantalo: This new addition to Casco has quickly become the place to go. The uncovered rooftop bar offers sweeping views of PTY as well as unlimited space necessary to fit the inflated egos of Panama’s Who’s-Who. Expect to pay a cover. Calle 8 and Avenida B.
Havana Panama: The best salsa space in all of Panama. Expect to pay a cover too. Down the hill from Relic.
Di Vino: Casco’s swanky wine bar is a great place to sip a glass of wine with a special someone or mix and mingle. Avenida A and Calle 4.
La Vecindad: A no thrills local hip-hop open joint. Dip into the $8-glass-of-fine-wine world at Di Vino. Afterwards, walk across the street and dip into the $1.50-national-beer-and-Reggae world at La Vecindad. This polar opposite social-economic situation is the essences of Casco Viejo.
Top 15 things to do in Casco Viejo.
1. Eat something from a street vendor (Bollo, Empanada, Tamale, Quail egg, churro, pina).
2. Watch Casco’s most talented play futbolito at 4pm. Calle 4 and Avienda A – head towards the ocean.
3. Wait outside the Presidential Palace to meet the Panama’s President, shake his hand.
4. Buy a ice cream from Granclement. Ask to try every single flavor. They will not get mad!
5. Get your shoes shinned in Plaza Santa Ana – $0.75!
6. Catch a show at the National Theater (near Plaza Bolivar), or at least go in for a look.
7. Work out at the ocean view, local Casco gym. Calle 4 and Avienda A – kinda hidden inside the Santa Familia building.
8. Buy fresh fruit from overflowing carts on Plaza Santa Ana.
9. Accidentally walk into an abandoned building and ask to see a nice one.
10. Look for 2 of the 5 mansions in Casco Viejo. The other 3 have fallen down.
11. Sit on a bench in Plaza Catedral around 4:00pm while watching the sunset across the building facades.
12. At 4:45pm walk the length of the Cinta Costera while nibbling a Dixie cup of ceviche. See the skyline contrast between the new and the old city as well as teenagers romancing on park benches.
13. Barter with street vendors for souvenirs.
14. Go inside the beautiful indoor plaza at Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores on Plaza Bolivar.
15. Get a massage ($40/hour) from super bilingual Andy: 6145-8064.
5 Casco Viejo Reads:
Defending Panamanian Street Food
As I sat down to write this post, the USA Today article, “Panamanian Food: Cover It with Ketchup or Set It on Fire” had 374 comments, 99.3% of them negative. I, too, will pile on the author Brian. Here are some of his comments with which I disagree:
“My experiences with the local cuisine and dining scene in Panama City were vastly different and much less romantic than this optimistic bit of narrative in our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook. Granted, I spent just 2.5 days exploring the city…”
Brian, you should have blasted an email to local bloggers titled, “Hey, I’m doing a Panama City street food article for USA Today. Help me, POR FAVOR!”. Surely, someone in PTY would have volunteered.
A great candidate would have been ThePanamaReport.com’s Matt Landau. He is a blogger that lives in Casco Viejo (Casco) and often posts about food. In 2.5 days, Matt could have given you Casco’s low down.
Street food everywhere? No, hardly anywhere.
Again, this is where a local foodie guide would have been useful. He/she would have informed you that Casco’s street food scene is mobile. For example, Señor Peru sells morning empanadas from his motorbike in Plaza Cathedral. By 11am, he’s gone. Papo cooks up a helluva BBQ chicken. Yet, the grill is only smoking during the weekday lunch rush. A dedicated man on a bike pedals around warm cups of Chichime at 5pm. Casco has street food. You just need to know when and where to look.
Roadside fresh fruit stands and/or vendors with carts overflowing with pineapples, mangoes, bananas, coconuts? Nope.
An angel lady sells freshly sliced mangos for half of the year. She sits under the shade on a Plaza Bolivar park bench adjacent to Simon Bolivar elementary school. However, mangos are not in season right now. During the downtime, she carries around a box of bottled water.
Also, almost all the chinos offer bananas and pineapples daily. It’s not as novel as a overflowing cart of fruits, but it is fresh.
Mounds of beans and rice covered in onions, served with sides of boiled yuca and saccharine-sweet plantains, just like at my favorite Latin American joint in New York on the corner of Spring & Lafayette Streets? Not even close.
Comparing any Developing World city with New York City is just unfair. In NYC, one can eat better Italian food than in Italy; better Brazilian food than in Brazil; and better homemade food than Grandma herself makes! NYC has the world’s highest concentration of talented, energetic culinary kings and queens. New Yorkers, too, have godly high expectations.
In Casco Viejo, the ongoing influx of expat-run restaurants is helping to drive prices up and “cheap and cheerful” hole-in-the-walls out.
This is a simplistic view of Casco’s revitalization/gentrification. True, Casco Viejo has seen a surge of foreign entrepreneurs (Americans, Venezuelans, Italians, etc) arrive on the restaurant and nightlife scene. However, the majority of these newbies are not driving out “cheap and cheerful” local Panamanian establishments.
Remember that Casco Viejo was nearly abandoned in the last half of the 20th century. Swaths of city blocks of buildings were left dilapidated and deserted. The restoration of these uninhabited facilities didn’t displace the “cheap and cheerful”. Instead, they displaced trash and trees that had been accumulating inside the property.
Furthermore, Casco Viejo didn’t (and doesn’t) have high population density. Every street corner of Hanoi is crowded with small plastic stools surrounding a hot pot of Pho. Yet, every square inch of Hanoi is densely populated. This creates a strong demand for cheap eats.
Casco doesn’t have even the neighborhood density (yet) to sustain more than a handful of street vendors.
Panama City’s food scene was kind of a letdown.
Fair statement. You’re entitled to your opinion. But, let’s see where your taste have been formed. According to your travel article page, you’ve spent considerable time in Asia – specifically Bangkok.
Asian and Latin American cuisines are considerably different. Signature Asian street dishes are loaded with greens and lack hearty hunks of red meat and starches. On the other hand, Latin American street food is heavy on both:
Argentina/Uruguay: All sorts of red meats cooked on la parrilla.
Costa Rica: Gallo Pinto the staple breakfast.
Cuba: Ropa Vieja
El Salavdor: Pupusas
Peru: Freakn’ 3,000 different types of potatoes!
A Pescetarian will have a very hard time in most parts of Latin American.
I do applaud Brian for giving his honest opinion. Travel literature is too god damn fluffy and politically correct! Brian, just next time you come to Casco, stay with us. I’ll take you on the cool kid’s tour of Casco. Food included!
Azuero Reforestation Road Trip
<strong>Azuero Reforestation Road Trip</strong>
Most people take vacations at the beach. My friend Jon (a former Peace Corps volunteer living in NYC) had another idea. He convinced me to visit Jake’s (another former Peace Corps member) farm:
Jon: “Evan, lets get outta the city.”
Evan: “Where do you wanna go?”
Jon: “Wanna do some farming with Jake?”
Evan: “Hmmm… Sure.”
Jon: “Vamos pues!”
Jake had been working on a special type of reforestation project in Panama’s Azuero Pennisula. It had been a long time since the 3 of us had shot the shit together.
Jon and Jake are different from most Gringos in Panama. They speak excellent Panamanian Spanish. They are also incredibly knowledgeable about tropical ecology. Lastly and most impressively, they both comprehend the various and complex cultural nuisances of Panamanian society better than 98.7% of the Gringos in Panama. They’re <em>Pana-Gringos</em>.
Jon and I arrived to Albrook Bus Terminal at 6am. The bus ticket for the 5 hour trip to Las Tablas cost $9.75. It didn’t make sense to rent a car.
At Las Tablas we transferred buses. But before we did, Jon knew of a great local eat. The family style restaurant was self-seating with a limited menu. Basically, the waitress tells you what kitchen is cooking — take it or leave it (my kinda restaurant). $5 covered our meal. Parts of Panama are still <em>bien barato</em>.
With full bellys we boarded the next <em>buscito</em> heading to Pedasí. There, we fetched a cab for the remaining 20-minute ride to Jake’s pueblito in Los Asientos. We asked the others on the bus what the approximate charge for the cab needed to take us the rest of the way would be. The consensus cost among the locals was $6.75. Later, the taxi driver repeated the same price. I love the feeling of NOT being treated like a tourist.
Los Asientos is on few people’s maps. The small <em>pueblito</em> sits just about an hour’s horse ride beyond Pedasí (the mode of transportation for many). The few Panamanian city folks and foreigners that do recognize Los Asientos are likely to do so only because their cell phones lose signal while driving towards Playa Venao. Los Asientos is definitely not a tourist destination.
Jake was walking towards his house when we arrived. He looked like he had spent the entire day at the farm. His traditional Santeño sombrero was soaked with sweat. His was wearing an old long sleeve Oxford shirt and full length pants to protect against the sun. On his feet were a hefty set of work boots with tiny plant seedlings clinging here and there. Jon and Jake exchanged Santeño “AJUUUEEEE!!” yelps. I’m still practicing mine.
First things first, Jake popped the top off a couple <em>cervezas bien frias</em>. We caught up with each other’s life happenings as we sat on Jake’s small front porch. Children on bikes and men on horseback occasionally passed by. A complete change from the city.
Eventually, our conversation centered on the general macro reforestation effort throughout Panama. Both Jon and Jake have several years of elite schooling focused on development studies as well as several years of swinging machetes on Panamanian farms. It was a highly educated discussion.
After a couple beers, Jon and I now wanted to see an actual project. We were there to experience the reforestation effort at the micro level. Jake had been working closely with a local farmer on his 2 hecture cattle pasture. It was a demo plot to show the skeptics in the area the benefits of agroforestry. Jon grabbed the sunscreen and I enthusiastically carried the machete. We set out to see Jake’s project.
We walked for about 30 minutes. Along the way, Jon and Jake described the state of Azuero. The rare tropical dry forest has been severely deforested by extensive clear cutting and intensive cattle ranching. The native ecosystems and the biodiversity of the area have been nearly wiped out. Jake has been working with<a href=”http://eltinews.blogspot.com/2011/09/local-farmers-associations-in-panamas.html” target=”_blank”> local farmers to implement silvopastor systems</a>. Arguably, it’s the best chance to reforest the Azuero.
A <a href=”about:blank”>silvopastoral system integrates trees into cattle pasture systems</a> in a mutually beneficial way. Semi reforesting lands utilizing beneficial forage and fodder species in living fences and inside pastures, more efficient rotation of grazing lands will start to restore lost ecosystems. Cattle are still able to graze. And, in more productive systems that provide not just the calories of pasture grass, but also proteins from tree leaves and fruits. As a result the cattle have an improved diet which increases fertility as well as meat and milk production. Furthermore, increasing trees on degraded landscapes restore invaluable ecosystem services. Bottomline: It’s a win-win situation for the farmers and the environment.
Even though silvopastoral systems seem sensible, implementation is difficult. Farmers are resistant to change. Remember, traditionally, farmers view the forest as their adversary. Generations of back breaking hours have been spent clear cutting those hillsides. A deforested pasture is a sign of victory. An overgrown pasture is seen as not keeping your land “<em>limpio</em>” (well maintained). You’re an embarrassment inside the community. Yet, today, international organizations are trying to tell farmers to…. replant them? <em>Estas loco</em>!
To compound the cultural misunderstanding, there is an unusual language barrier. City boy Spanish spoken by a urban Panamanian championing the sustainability of silvopastoral systems won’t sell to local farmers. Ivy-League American interns are even worse. Local farmers don’t culturally identify with them or find them credible. As Jake summarized ,“Evan, not enough people speak Santeño nor understand the traditional and cultural constraints of implementing development projects.”. This fact is often overlooked inside the international development ivory tower.
*** <em>Santeño</em> is a person from <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Santos_Province” target=”_blank”>Los Santos</a>.
On the other hand, Jake <em>is</em> Santeño. Sure, Jake is a Gringo who earned a prestigious masters degree in Forestry. Yet, Jake chooses to live amongst the locals (instead of the highly populated Gringo areas of Pedasí and the nearby beaches). Jake walks, talks, and acts like a Santeño. He has locals sharing the latest Los Asientos gossip with him as well as picking him up while he is hitchhiking along the highway. I’ll say it again, my boy Jake <em>is</em> Santeño.
This is apparent in Jake’s silvopastoral sales pitch to Santeños: “<em>En su sistema convencional, con solamente pasto mejorado su ganado están comiendo arroz pela’o. Con un sistema silvopastoril con leucaena, botón de oro y pasto mejorado, su ganado están comiendo un plato completo (el arroz, la presa, lentejas, y plátanos fritos). Como nosotros, el ganado quiere comer bien también.</em>”
(In your conventional system, with only improved pasture, your cattle are eating plain rice. With a silvopastoral system with Leucaena, Mexican sunflower, and improved pasture, your cattle are eating a complete meal (rice, the dam, lentils, and fried plantains). Like us, the cattle need to eat well too.)
People are taking notice of Jake’s work. Silvopastoral systems are out performing surrounding pastures. The farmer who volunteered for the project can’t wait to bring his cattle to graze. Former skeptics are now asking Jake for agricultural advise during conversations at the local <em>tienda</em>. Jon and I are excited to see our boy doing such a good job!
See photos of the trip <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2770981951893.2127232.1178324321&type=1″ target=”_blank”>here</a>.
Retirement Blog: Brewin’ Boquete Coffee
A tour at Dos Jefes Finca in Boquete.
I am from the Coffee Capital of America, Seattle. Where coffee is truly appreciated. In fact, we proudly boost that we are responsible for the popularity of gourmet coffees, expresso stands, and trendy coffee cafes. Enjoying coffee to me is every bit as wonderful as savoring a fine glass of wine is to someone from France.
Every time I’ve come to Panama I travel to Boquete. I love its cooler climate and lush green hills, but also go to sample fresh coffee. Frankly there is nothing more wonderful than having freshly roasted and brewed coffee made from carefully grown beans. This year was no exception. Once again, I traveled to Boquete anxious to again find the perfect cup of coffee and learn more about the production that makes some coffees so special and others… well, not.
I jumped at the opportunity to join Dos Jefes Coffee Tour. Dos Jefes is located at an approximate altitude of 4600 feet and above the town of Boquete. Its owners are expats, Rich and Dee Lipner, from the United States that a few years back fell in love with Panama as well as a prime piece of coffee producing property that had not been worked in years. They arrived without any prior coffee expertise. Dee would learn everything about planting and Rich everything about production. Boy did they learn!
As much as wanting to produce coffee, the pair wanted to preserve their farm and environment. Their finca which produces Cafe Luna is operated on the lunar calendar and beans are dried on racks in the sun. It is an impressive operation. Our tour allowed us to pick a few beans and taste them in a raw state. We peaked into the drying racks which had been carefully wrapped because rain was on the way. We saw rows of pots of young coffee plants that would be used to replace those that were losing production or traded for a plant more productive in this area. All the while, Rich was explaining the details of growing, the world coffee market, and the importance of environment.
We headed back to the terrace, where Rich set up a taste test. Three cups of coffee were poured. One was a light roast, the second a medium, and the last a dark roast. We were asked to determine which one of the unmarked three suited our personal taste best. We were also provided a taste chart to see if we could discern tastes within the coffee – just like wine. Before taking the test, I was certain that I would pick the light roast. I like my coffee smooth and a bit sweet without adding sugar. Imagine my surprise when I picked DARK ROAST!!! Café Luna from Dos Jefes is DELICIOSA and was recently voted Boquete’s “Best Coffee”! It is well worth another visit to keep a fresh supply.
Next came a very special treat. We enter the roasting room where I was chosen to be the roaster. I measured the beans, set the temperature, and waited patiently as the roaster reached the exact temperature. I put the beans in the roaster and monitored their progress by listening to pops and monitoring the color. I nervously prayed that I would not ruin the batch or break the machine. We were all invested as the roasted beans were poured out. Rich measured us generous packets of Café Luna that we had roasted for souvenirs. How special is that!
This is a Boquete must do tour. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about coffee growing and the coffee industry. You will leave with a new appreciation for the rich tasting liquid, the people who bring it to us, and likely a new brand favorite. You will get more than your money’s worth.
Panama Travel Guide – 2 Weeks
Panama In 2 Weeks – Updated December 2011.
Panama Suggested Travel Itinerary: Only have two weeks in Panama? Here is our action-packed, yet frugal travel suggestions.
Day 1: Fly into Panama City
Day 2: Panama City: See Panama City Sights.
Day 3: Panama City: San Blas for the day.
Day 4: Panama City: Jungle Tour
Day 5: Panama City/El Valle
Day 6: Pedasi
Day 7: Pedasi
Day 8: Boquete
Day 9: Boquete
Day 10: Bocas
Day 11: Bocas
Day 12: Bocas
Day 13: Back to PTY. Pool Crash.
Day 14: Back home. Hasta Luego, Panamá (See ya later, Panama!)
Before the trip tips: 1) Watch this great 1 hour and 30 minute documentary on the building of the Panama Canal. It will make the Canal and Jungle tour sooooo much better. 2) Things to pack. 3) If you plan on driving, watch this video on how not to pay bribes to Panama’s police officers.
How to save money: 1) Don’t take inter-Panama flights. They look cheap but the added taxes “fuel surcharge” basically double the price. Better to use your money on nice restaurants or splurge on accommodation. 2) Wait until Day 8 to rent a car because Panama City is a nightmare to drive and car rentals often scam tourists with lower rates and later hit you with hidden fees. Additionally, cabs in Panama City are fairly easy to find and cheap. 3) Take public buses when traveling outside Panama City. While intimating at first, it is a great way to immerse in the local culture and the tickets are DIRT cheap ($15 bus ticket for a $125 flight). Use your budget on better things like food, accommodation, and activities.
Dry Trips in Panama City:
#1. Panama City SiteSeeing:
Most people can see the Panama City sights in an organized day. The list includes:
- Panama Canal Locks at Miraflores. Perhaps one of the most impressive engineering feats of all time and certainly for the most of its time.
- Cerro Ancon. The panoramic view from this hill will simply take your breath away.
- Causeway. This jutting pennisula was the result of digging the canal and since has become Smithson site describing many of the Panama’s species.
- Panama Viejo. The oldest section of the city which is centuries old. It was actually nearly abandoned because it was too vulnerable to pirate raids.
How To Do It: If you are a history buff, book a guided tour. Otherwise, get a cab to tour you around - $12-$15/hour for a group of two. 4 to 6 hours should be enough.
#2. Day Tour to San Blas.
These islands are owned by Panama’s indigenous Kuna Indians. San Blas is culturally intriguing enough for a National Geographic episode. Its white sand beaches and crystal clear white was voted “Best Beach” in Central America. Even though the roads are rough and the accommodations are rustic, exploring some of San Blas’ 365 tiny island is a Panama must do. Definitely a highlight on your lifetime travel career!
How to Do It: The Kunas are very strict about access to their land. For that reason, we only know one company who does day trips to San Blas. The 4×4 picks up at 5am and returns you at 5pm. The price ranges from $100-$120 depending on the activities you choose to do. Bring small bills, sunscreen, and a smile.
#3. Barefoot Panama’s Jungle Tour.
Kevin’s Jungle Tour is awesome and authentic! He combines two great adventures in a single day trip. The first is cruising Lake Gatun and weaving between the small islands. Monkey Island will be the most famous island where you get close enough to feed these primates. Part two of the tour, you’ll will visit an authentic Embera native village located in the jungle along the Chagres River. Here you will hike a jungle trail. Kevin is very knowledgeable of the plants and their medicinal uses. At the village, you’ll learn about the culture of Embera and see their traditional dances. An amazing experience.
The tour is $120/per person. The experience is worth twice that, at least!
How to Do It: Contact Kevin here.
Things NOT to do: Canal transit tour – a cattle car experience and too long. Train – the route has been overgrown by jungle. Not much to see.
Manolo Caracol: No thinking is required. Simply sit back and enjoy 10 Latin inspired small tapas sized courses served to you. Located on Avenida Central and Calle 3. $$$$ ($30 per person)
La Puerta de Tierra: A steakhouse with great modern spins on local dishes: Yucca fries as well as pork and steak dishes locally sourced from Chiriqui region – Panama’s farm growing region. Located Avienda A and Calle 9 – Plaza Hererra $$$$
Mercado del Marisco (Fish Market): This was Anthony Bourdain’s first stop in Panama – so it must be good! $$
Mama Chefa: If Casco were to have a grandmother, Mama Chefa would be it. The 40 resident of the neighborhood serves lunch out of her very own kitchen (11am-12:30am). It’s located on Calle 4 between Plaza Bolivar and the Presidential Plaza. (Chefa’s has no external sign – so just remember the password, “Donde esta Mama Chefa?”)
Pollo de Papo: Papo is another Casco character. The large jolly Casqueno occasionally sings Michael Jackson and steps to Salsa while grilling a mean BBQ chicken! Papo sets up lunchtime shop in front of his house on Calle 3 and Avienda B. $
Plaza Bolivar: One of Casco’s quintessential dining/nightlife experience. Post dinner head pick one of the five restaurants to have a drink. Ego is our fav!
Relic: Hands down, the best bar in Central America! Cleverly tuck under a youth hostel to throw off those without any sense of adventure. This underground destination attracts a young crowd and those that think young. Calle 9 and Avienda B.
Habana Panama: Best Salsa venue in Latin America. If you body doesn’t move that way, go for a drink. Located next to Relic.
Accommodation: Stay in Casco Viejo. Don’t even think about anywhere else.
Budget: Lunas Castle — Lively hostel in Casco Viejo.
Mid range: Los Cuatro Tulipanes Casco Viejo Apartment rentals — Centrally located upscale apartments.
Splurge: Las Clementinas — Panama standard in upscale, boutique hotels.
***Note on San Blas: There has been a new road cut through the heart of the jungle. Now, it is only 2 hours from Panama City. Many guide books have not been updated with the latest information.
Things to Do In San Blas: Beach bum, snorkel, visit the local town, read, socialize with other travelers, and simply BE.
There are three options to stay in San Blas:
Budget: Contact JUDY at: email@example.com. They have 4×4 transportation to San Blas ($60 rountrip). You can choose from accommodations ranging $20/night – $75/night, depending on the options (floor mat or bed, private bathroom, hot water shower, etc). We recommend 2 full days and only 1 night (unless you have an encyclopedia you are dieing to read).
Splurge: Yanidup — Not accessible overland requires airline ticket purchase. The isolation has help preserve the Kuna culture. One of San Blas’ nicest accommodation (rustic luxury). Con: Inter-Panama flights are outrageously expensive. A roundtrip ticket for 2 people cost $272.63. $75 per flight hidden fuel charge – cough – ASSHOLE – cough.
The flight back from Yanidup lands at 8am at Albrook Airport. Grab a coffee, rent a car and head out to Panama’s countryside. Either a day in El Valle or head straight to Pedasi. Otherwise, take a bus to Pedasi.
Recommended – The Day Trip: See #2 under day trips from Panama City (above). If you only have two weeks, this might be the best option.
El Valle – El Valle is a small version of Boquete: Both have pleasant mountain climates, great native markets, and hidden waterfalls. To be honest, you can do El Valle in a day – 2 hour hike, eat at la brochetta restaurant by the town square, hit the hot springs, shop the towns native market, and fall asleep after a relaxing massage. All can be done in a day.
El Valle is almost half way between Panama City and Pedasi. Spending the night will split up the drive.
**** $6 buses leave from Albrook Mall in Panama City directly to El Valle. Be sure to get the “El Valle de Anton” bus.
Pedasi: This bastion of traditional Spanish culture is home to the country’s most famous folkloric festivals. It is a small friendly front porch community where it is easy to meet the locals. Enjoyable dry climate.
**** Buses do NOT go directly to Pedasi. They stop in Las Tablas and another $2 bus to Pedasi or $25 cab.
Things to Do: Isla Iguana. Deep Sea fish. Surf and/or beach bum on Playa Venao.
Places to Stay:
Budget/Mid Range: Eco Venao – A pebbles throw away from the beach at Playa Venao.
Mid range: Casita Margarita — A charming bed and breakfast in town. Great service.
Splurge: Villa Lilliana — Beachfront private villa steps away from the Pacific Ocean with private pool. (Must bring food if you want to cook or snack)
Boquete – Located in the mountain region of Panama near Volcan Baru. A charming community that is very popular with ex-pats.
*** Again, buses do NOT go directly to Boquete. The stop in David bus terminal. It’s a 45 minute bus from David to Boquete.
Things to Do:
Coffee Tour. If you haven’t heard, coffee is the new wine. And, Boquete produces some of the world’s best. Tour Rich and Dee’s private finca and learn the process of coffee production.
Mi Jardin Su Jardin – an open to public free private garden. Zip line adventures, hiking, coffee finca tours, river rafting, water falls, tropical rain forests, and bird watching. Your accommodation will have the latest and greatest info. Dine out – great and affordable restaurants.
Places to Stay:
Budget: Mamallena — Hostel / budget hotel is located right on the main town plaza.
Mid range: Manana Madera — A coffee finca with bed and breakfast guest suite. Very private and wonderful host.
Splurge: Panamonte – Boquete’s most historic hotel. *Update: We agree with this review of the Panamonte. It is a big overpriced and better options in Boquete.
Instead, splurge like this: Stay at Isla Verde. Lovely riverside properly with charming roundhouses and suites located in the heart of the town. Great value from $60-$120/night. Then, spend the day at Valle Escondido’s spa. Simply amazing. Non guests at the resort only need to buy one spa treatment to have access to the facilities all day. Get a massage and relax poolside in a comfy bathrobe.
**** If continuing to Bocas del Toro, take the bus! The flights are WAAYYY overpriced. Buses are very economical and the drive is quiet scenic.
Bocas El Toro. Panama’s true beach town. Great beaches and hedonistic nightlife!
Places to Stay: We recommend staying on Isla Colon. Hotels will often down play how hard it is to find transportation to and from the main island. It is burdensome to need to arrange for a boat to go anywhere. Stay on the main island and hit the various beaches and activities during the day, and enjoy a variety of restaurants and entertainment of the main island in the evening.
Budget: Heike — One of Bocas’ more subdued hostels. Located right on the main drag.
Mid range: ????
Splurge: Tropical Suites – You can practically jump off your balcony into the water.
Things to Do: Red Frog Beach. Zapitlla. Surf. Snorkel. Bar hop on Isla Colon.
Back To Panama City:
Pool Crash. Yes, we are telling you to sneak into a hotel and crash the pool. We do so often. Just order in cash and generously tip early (when the first drink comes). The two easiest pools to crash are Veneto Hotel – 7th floor, and El Panama Hotel – located on the first floor. Both hotels are located near Via Veneto.
Only 5 days in Panama? Stay in PTY and take day trips or head straight to a destination (Pedasi, Boquete, Bocas).
3 weeks or big group? Save money and rent a vacation rental. Also, adding the Pearl Islands, Isla Grande, and more days in your favorite places to the aforementioned 2 week trip.
Additional tips: Study Panama slang terms, get wise to price discrimination, and buy a $10 local cell phone. Single travelers check out Panama Dating tip articles (another good/funny dating article). Last but certainly not least, subscribe to Eye On Panama!
Chiriqui vs The Rest of Panama
People from the province Chiriquí (Chiricanos) have Panama’s most distinct subcultures and prideful identities. The Chiricanos separatist spirit would make a Texan proud. Their we-are-the-prettiest-people-of-this-damn-country is comparable to Las Paisas of Medellin, Colombia. When you meet a Chiricano, you’ll definitely know it. They are quick to clarify that they are NOT from Panama. They are from Chiriquí, oiste!
Chiriquí is located on the western coast of Panama bordering Costa Rica. It is bordered on the north and east by the provinces Bocas del Toro and Ngobe-Buglé, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Chiriquí has a population of 368,790, approximately 10% of the entire population of Panama. Outside of the capital (PTY), it is Panama’s most developed province.
The area was settled many years ago by people of European ancestry. As a result, Chiriquí is one of Panama’s lightest skinned provinces. Chiricanos have a closer physical resemblance to their fair skinned Costa Rican neighbors than the highly ethnically diverse population of the distant Panama City.
Up to approximately 20 years ago, Chiriquí was virtually isolated. The highway from PTY to Chiriquí was in terrible shape. Limited access effectively cut off Chiriquí from the rest of Panama.
Isolation fostered sentiments of secession. Chiriquí is a relatively wealthy province on its own. It has its own industry and has its own products. The province has sweeping mountain ranges and pristine beaches. Chiricanos consider themselves self-sufficient and ethically different than the rest of Panama.
Yet, Chiriquí failed to secede. In modern times, the separatist movement has lost momentum, in part because PTY and Chiriquí are much more connected today. Physically, there is a modern highway that connects Chiriquí to PTY. The drive is about 7 hours. Culturally, many young Chiricanos have migrated to PTY in search of opportunity. The once distant capital of Panama City is much more integrated with Chiriquí today.
Nonetheless, the rivalry between Chiriquí and the rest of Panama is still exists. It is an intracountry feud that is seen all over the place. It will not take you long to notice. Here are a few observations:
- Baseball. Chiriquí has a very successful baseball team. You either love’em or hate them. All Panameños root against them, even if their team is not playing. They’re as polarizing as the New York Yankees.
- “Ganado Bravo”. Literally this translates to angry cow. It is nickname is given to Chiricanas for multiple reasons: Chiriquí has many cattle. And, apparently, Chiricanas have aggressive behavior because they don’t take shit from their men and they have a high sex drive. Chiricanas are on top of their men, both literally and figuratively.
Most Chiricanas resent this nickname. Yet, in private, many people still make jokes about it…. even fellow Chiricanos.
- Flags. Chiricanos proudly display their flag everywhere. Bumper stickers, hats, during baseball games, and even on the front of department store buildings.
- Racism. You might detect some racial sentiment. As previously mentioned, many Chiricanos are light skinned because of the European background. On the other hand, PTY has a high population of minorities. Some Chiricanos will be quick to tell you they feel uncomfortable in ethnically diverse settings (i.e. bar hopping at night in Casco Viejo).
- Preppy Cholos vs Yeyes. As a Panamanian friend once told me, “The young PTY people think Chiricanos are stuck up country preppies. Chiricanos think PTYers are just a bunch of yeyes.”.
- Respeta! Chiriquí is the only non-indigenous province in Panama where you must show your passport upon entrance. It’s like a miniature border crossing. My amiga once jokingly told me that the reason was because you must, “Respeta a Chiriqui! :)” (Respect Chiriquí).
- “Meto”. A slang word used exclusively by Chiricanos. The term has multiple meanings and is used to express states of sadness, joy, anger, surprise, and almost anything else you want it to mean. For example, “metoooo estas loco!!!” (Damn, are you crazy!) “METO y tu awebason” (Damn your stupidness).
This good-natured sibling rivalry is healthy and fun to observe. Just be sure not to take sides. Simply understand it.
Understanding the rivalry and the cultural differences between Chiriquí and the rest of Panama is important. It provides further context to understanding Panama. It also gives you a great local topic of conversation. Both of which are needed in order to be a Successful Gringo in Panama.
Things To Pack For Panama
Here is my recommended list of things to pack for travelers coming to Panama.
1. Electronic Reader - A E-reader allows you to travel considerably lighter.
2. A Small Cross Body Bag – Women bring small purses and end up not using them at all. Instead carry a very small cross body bag. It fits your passport, phone, credit card, ready cash, and lipstick. You’ll use used this all the time – when walking, when shopping, when sight-seeing. It weighs nothing which is a godsend when running here and there.
3. Snorkeling Gear – I had wished too many times that I had brought my own snorkeling mask and mouth piece to leave it behind again.
4. A Camera With Zoom – Love my Iphone for this. I had nearly 900 photos my last trip.
5. A Dressy Outfit - There are restaurants, clubs, and parties that are very chic in Panama.
6. Antibiotic Ointment - I might have avoided an infected ankle had I packed this.
7. Insect Repellent - You will not need it in the city but will wish for it almost everywhere else to ward off more than mosquitoes. Benadryl tablets and anti itch cream will let you sleep instead of scratch all night.
8. Cotton – It is simply the best fabric to wear in Panama, especially light weight knits that need little or no ironing.
9. Umbrella – one small enough to easily tuck away. When it rains it pours.
10. Beach Mat – The straw kind that fold flat and weigh almost nothing. I so wished we had one when in San Blas and Bocas, it would have made it much more comfortable than sharing the sand and fallen palm leaves with sand crabs and other crawlers.
11. Mister &/or Cooling Neck-Wrap – The morning and late afternoon/evening are perfect for walking in Panama most days. However the combination of heat and humidity during day will make you long to be cooler. I found these neck wraps that you soak in water which kept me cooler for hours.
13. Sun Glasses.
Great books to read while traveling in Panama:
Top 7 Latin America Party Cities
Recently, I’d spent a year traveling south from Guatemala City, Guatemala to the Southern Tip of Argentina and back north again.It was a journey for the ages.During my travels, one of my areas of exploration was the nightlife scene in different metropolitan cities all over Latin America. There was not dance floor in a major population center that did not witness my wicked dance moves!
Before I get to my list, I must throw out a disclaimer.My rankings are based on the experiences I had.From new
people I met, to new music and dances I was introduced to, this city ranking has been formulated to my own personal experiences rather than some type of objective measuring rubric.Also, no cities in Brazil top my list because I was there during Carnival which is the world’s largest, most hedonistic, week long event, which definitely distorts its rating.
The list of the Top 7 Latin American Party Cities:
#7.Managua, Nicaragua.Let’s just get the wildcard on the table.Managua is widely considered a slumtown that ongoing travelers merely pass through, but I had a ball.There is a surprisingly well-maintained nightlife district that offered all you can drink for $8.Let me repeat.You can drink some of the world finest rum, Flor de Cana, all night for $8 — Done deal.
#6.Mexico City, Mexico.The epicenter for Latin America’s electronic scene, Mexico City would have made it much higher on my list, if I had ever been there.However, the reputation is so stellar that I feel confident adding to the list without ever experiencing it.
#5.Cartagena, Colombia.Quickly emerging as the Caribbean’s top tourist destination, Cartagena has bars and clubs that line the ocean-front boulevard.A generous mix of international travelers and local Colombians frequent the area.However, there is a lack of variety with most of what is available being either salsa bars or high end clubs, so be prepared for a lack of options.
# 4. Buenos Aires, Argentina.Most people would rate Buenos Aires higher on the list, but there is a reason I rated it at the #4 position.Buenos Aires claims to be Latin America’s most sophisticated city.Touted as the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires has beautiful and stylish residents, their own style of electronic music called “tango electronic”, and is the birth place of Tango dancing.The city is packed with ridiculously awesome clubs and you feel like you’re in Europe.However, the people from the city of Buenos Aires (Portenos) sometimes believe that they are God’s gift to earth, and being a foreigner, even a European, makes it hard to mix into the local crowd.Also, it’s the most expensive place on the entire list to party thus making it the #4 best party place.
#3.Medillin, Colombia.Medillin is home to some of the most beautiful women in the world, and has a large concentration of major universities.This makes the probability of having a great time every night as likely as falling out of a boat and hitting the water—it’s impossible not to.It is cheap, has great music, perfect climate, and just plain fun.The only downer would be that the nightlife is not as centralized as other cities, which makes the joy of bar-hopping a bit more challenging.
#2. Cordoba, Argentina.The sleeper of the list, I had heard very little hype regarding the nightlife scene in Argentina’s second largest city.Flat out…Cordoba was epic.Half the price of its big brother Buenos Aires, Cordoba nightlife doesn’t even get shaking until 2 am and ends at the same time brunch is called.Youngsters pack both bars and clubs alike and unlike the locals in Buenos Aires, Cordoba’s local guys and girls are open to mingling with foreigners.
#1. Panama City, Panama.I’m biased.This article is being posted on a website about Panama and I live in the country.But hear me out first. One of the deciding factors leading to me ultimately settling down here, instead of any of the aforementioned cities, is because of how exciting Panama City’s nightlife is.I know Panama City doesn’t have the sophistication of Buenos Aires, nor is it as cheap as Managua.It is not a grand university center like Medillin or Cordoba, nor does it match the sheer size of Mexico City.
However, the city has a high energy level, a centralized nightlife district, an emerging yuppy-style colonial district, and has great diversity.From Reggaeton to Rock and Salsa to Electronica, the balance of Panama City’s nightlife has something for all different types of party-goers.Most importantly, the Panama City nightlife scene is only growing.New bars are constantly opening up in Casco Viejo, Calle Uruguay, Zona Viva, and the Causeway.In addition, there is a steady increase of people from across the globe calling Panama their new home, which is transforming Panama City into a dynamic cosmopolitan force to be recognized.I love Panama’s nightlife!
Agree or disagree? Leave a comment, pues.
Panama’s San Blas Problem and Potential
Panama’s San Blas Problem and Potential.
The Kuna people of the San Blas islands are one of Panama’s seven indigenous tribes. All of Panama’s native populations face the pueblo brain drain dilemma. Their best and brightest migrate to Panama City in search of opportunity.
Hopeful native migrants arrive in Panama City energized with ambition but equipped with minimal education and few employable skills. As a result, Panama’s indigenous are limited to working the longest hours for the least amount of pay. Their employment is limited to dead end jobs, i.e. – kitchen hands, maintenance men, cleaning ladies, or street vendors selling crafts to tourists. Indigenous people are regarded by many as Panama’s hardest working people. Yet, upward social and economical mobility for these industrious natives does not exist in rapidly expanding Panama City.
Panama’s indigenous lose touch with their unique heritage when they migrate. Since the indigenous natives are commonly regarded as being the lowest rung on Panama’s rigid social/economic class totem pole. Both native children and adults shy away from displaying cultural customs. They avoid speaking their native tongue in public because of the open prejudice practiced by non-indigenous Panamanians. Sad but true. Timeless native traditions are tragically being forever lost because of the cultural insensitivity of a still rigid class system.
There is real hope that the Kuna’s of Panama may be able to create economic opportunity for their people. Unlike other native tribes in Panama, the Kuna’s have a strategic advantage that has both the promise of considerable economic fortune and preservation of their endangered heritage. The Kuna own the San Blas Islands which literally ooze with tourism potential. In real terms, it is the equivalent to owning Boardwalk or Park Place in Panama’s version of Monopoly.
The San Blas Islands consist of approximately 365 tiny, soft white sand beach, and palm tree filled islands surrounded by the aqua colored and crystal clear Caribbean Sea. It is one of nature’s most beautiful and pristine tropical island paradises. It has the potential to provide tourists with an experience that feels like both joining a National Geographic Expedition and being stranded with the Swiss Family Robinson on a deserted island. No other destination in Latin America can compare.
The San Blas Islands can become a travel destination of international magnitude. This would be an economic cash cow for the Kuna people. Few other native tribes in the world enjoy this opportunity. Tourism may be the Kuna’s last best opportunity to preserve their cultural identity.
The goals of developing a local tourism industry and preserving or promoting cultural traditions are too often mutually exclusive. “Sustainable” development is typically an academic term with little practical usage. For the Kuna people “Sustainable” tourism development would still consist of the traditional development concept; growing the local economy, educating their people to a high level, and improving the quality of health for all. However, for the Kuna protecting and promoting their culture can also be a driver of economic development.
The maintaining authenticity model is more than possible, it’s profitable. Panama tourism experts Casey Halloran and Matt Landau have published articles on the topic. A boutique scale, Kuna owned, environmental conscious, lodging coupled with a well thought out promotion of the “Kuna way” could provide a unique experience that is not only more cultural sensitive but a better long term investment for the Kuna people.
Profits from this sustainable tourism model should be funneled back to support education, health, preservation, and other community projects that will greatly improve Kuna’s quality of life. It will also allow them to showcase their cultural heritage as part of the uniqueness of the tourist’s experience. One of Panama’s best.
The benefits of this community system would be multiple. First, it would mitigate the Kuna’s brain drain problem by providing exciting and diverse opportunities to their best and brightest.
Secondly, properly harnessed tourism dollars could provide a consistent source of revenue more reliable than government subsidies and international aid. Indeed this could provide powerful incentives for the Kuna to enhance the education of their youth and encourage the further development of workforce skills.
Finally, if the fruits of tourism were widely spread throughout the entire community, it would galvanize the Kuna community to ensure that their cultural heritage was proudly preserved resulting in a more united communities. Pride is a powerful force both culturally and economically. Self-esteem is necessary to individual success. A properly developed tourism industry may provide both for the Kuna people.
Panama’s San Blas Problem and Potential — Page 2
With the general architecture in place, here are some of the preliminary steps Kuna communities could incorporate today (some islands have already begun)
Step #1. Educate travelers about the Kuna customs and traditions.
On my first trip to Isla Robinson in San Blas, I was greeted by a local Kuna “dude” who had bleached blonde hair and was wearing a Metallica t-shirt. My two days were spent beach bathing and assisting a group of Germans building intricate sand castles. When I became bored with the first two activities, I joined a group of jocks types to challenge the local Kuna team of 5’4 to a game of beach volleyball (we got WIPED!).
I left San Blas with a bad sunburn, sand encrusted nails, and ZERO cultural understanding of the Kuna people. Indeed, it was a missed opportunity to learn about the one of the worlds last remaining native tribes.
My return trip to San Blas was the complete opposite. My mother and I stayed at the upscale Yandup Lodge. Here too, we relaxed on beautiful uninhabited tropical island beaches. What was different was that the interaction with the local Kuna culture was plentiful. There were daily trips to the Kuna community. There were guides to stroll us around their small village. We observed local town hall meeting. Most rewarding was mingling with the locals. Futhermore, the entire staff of the lodge was willing to share details of their culture. It was a much more rich experience.
I believe communities like the one I visited at Yandup, could go one step further. It could utilize their website as an education portal by including sections about Kuna history, customs, and traditions; photographs of native arts and crafts; and list basic Kuna vocabulary and greetings, much like Hawaiian words and phrases have become part of the English language.
When the guests arrive, provide them opportunities to see Kuna ceremonies, join their fishermen, travel to small islands, visit the mainland rainforests, watch their crafts being made, and interact/volunteer with their community. Promoting the Kuna culture is a win win proposition. The tourist’s experience is enahanced. The Kuna culture becomes more valued and appreciated.
Step #2. Retain Kuna youth.
Meet Luis. Luis is a 23 year old guide at Yandup Lodge in Playa Chinco, San Blas. Luis migrated to Panama City at age 12 to obtain an education. When he finished his schooling, Luis was presented with two choices: a) work at dead end restaurant job where he would be paid relatively well by Kuna standards, but he would be regarded as a member of Panama’s lowest social class; or b) he could return to Playa Chinco and work as a guide at Yandup Lodge.
Since the supply of guides was limited, Luis became a guide. His wages, with the tips, was on par with those he could expect to earn in Panama City. More importantly, Luis has psychological benefit of being a top wage earner for a young male in his community. He is able to educate travelers about his own local Kuna culture. Today, Luis beems with confidence of being an ambassador to his people.
Retaining young men and women like Luis is absolutely necessary to the survival of the Kuna culture. Providing opportunities for the Kuna’s youth improves community continuity and allows the community to cultivate future leaders. It also strengthens the Kuna’s tourism industry. Young, enthusiastic advocates of the Kuna culture make first time visitors into second, third, and fourth time patrons.
Step #3. Support causes.
Small, matching donations for a local cause is a great way to raise revenue and create connections. Las Clementinas in Casco Viejo does a great job of this by matching contributions up to $10 for their local work development program for disadvantaged mothers.
Kuna hotels could start small. For example, Playa Chico is currently trying to implement a recycling program to promote healthier and greener living styles. Ask guests to match small contributions up to $10 to support the recycling program. Update the progress of the program on the website. This allows guests to feel a part of the cause which is very powerful when the guests have seen the need.
Once the donation-to-community project framework is in place, replication becomes easy. Future programs could include ecological projects, micro loans for entrepreneurs, school improvements, health programs, and scholarships to returning Kuna youth. Encourage guests to contribute to what they can so clearly see as a need.
Everyone who visits the San Blas Island wants to return. But, they want to return to the same unspoiled paradise they experienced. This desire to preserve the wonders of the San Blas should make a targeted giving program successful.
Achieving sustainable development will not be easy. Future obstacles will certainty arise. The temptation of hoarding profits for the few will create jealously and resentment of others. That’s human behavior. In order to prevent this negative complex from taking root, local Kuna hotelier should partner with nearby communities and incorporate them into the tourist experience. Spread the tangible fruits of tourism.
I have tremendous confidence in the Kuna people’s tourism prospects. In 10 years, they have turned one of the most inaccessible places in the world into one of Panama’s top tourism destinations. It was accomplished with a shoestring budget. They had practically no political influence. Their islands carried no international mega hotel chain. Yet, the Kuna people are echando pa’lante! (moving ahead) and there is progress to see every year. They should be proud of their accomplishments. If their hard-work continues, prospects for sustainable development are rosy.
Riverfront 3 BR/3 BA Townhouse
Panama Properties. Learn more about this Panama Vacation rental.
Location: San Carlos, Panama, Central America (1 Hr 20 Min from Panama City, 10 Min from Coronado)
Accommodations: Townhome, 3 Bedrooms, 3 Baths (Sleeps 6)
Keywords: Brand New Riverfront Townhome, steps from the beach
Stunning brand new riverfront 3 bed/3 bath townhouse located on the exclusive ‘El Palmar’ Peninsular in San Carlos.
The furnished property is fully equipped with state of the art and ultra modern amenities and finishing’s including a full kitchen, laundry, 3 plasma televisions, Air-con in all rooms, IPod Bose docking station, Wi-Fi Internet and SKY TV with premium channels.
Enjoy the gorgeous spacious open plan living areas with lovely quality furnishings and large outside patio with social bbq and outdoor dining area.
2 of the 3 bedrooms are upstairs so a perfect property for entertaining with children.
The townhouse is located in small, secluded and secure gated development with only 5 other townhouses. It has 24 hour security and private parking. The property has a lovely common pool, bohio with hammocks and entertainment area.
El Palmar is located just 1 hour 20 min from Panama City along the Pan-American Hwy. It is famous for it’s lovely horseshoe bay and excellent surf. Within walking distance there is a small resort with a popular restaurant and bar. The fishing village of San Carlo is just a 2 min drive with supermarkets, bars and fresh fish stalls and is 10 min drive from Coronado, where there is a 24 hour medical center and modern supermarket.
Night $ 150 (2 night min stay)
Week $ 800
Month $ 1600
We do have more than 1 townhouse available, so please let us know if your group has more than 6 people. Resort style living at it’s best!
Las Clementines Hotel
Las Clementines is Casco Viejo’s newest hotel restorations. It is splendid revival of the 1930’s hotel, restaurant, and bar with great attention to the period’s details. Accommodations offer a spacious living area, master suite with luxury linens, beautifully tiled bathroom,and well equipped kitchenette. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and excellent customer service. The single caution about hotel is that it is not handicapped accessible since it is authentic restoration made according to applicable building codes.
Boquete: Wake Up And Smell the Coffee
Wake Up And Smell the Coffee
One of my favorite communities in Panama is Boquete. As a native of Seattle, Washington, Boquete’s climate is comfortable and much like the Northwest’s Spring. It is surrounded by forested mountains and rippling streams, again like home even though these forests are tropical rain forests rather than evergreen. Moreover, for those who are not fluent in Spanish, Boquete has a considerable population of North Americans who seem eager to meet those who are trying valiantly to combine limited Spanish with very deliberate English and the drama of sign language. We never fail to make new friends on our visits.
This year, we were able to book reservations with Manana Madera which is a working coffee finca, approximately one and half miles above the town center of Boquete. Our hope was to unwind in the area’s cooler climate and learn more about coffee which is like wine to many from Seattle. It would be both a learning experience and relaxing stay. We expected nothing more.
We were thrilled when Randy, the owner, opened the door to the guest suite/house. At an altitude of approximately 6000 feet, the view of beautifully landscaped grounds, the valley, and the mountains from full length windows in the bedroom and living room is breath-taking. “Wow!” was all I could manage to say as I took in the view and the suite. The guest suite a beautifully laid out private structure next to the owner’s home. It is ideally suited for a single or couple. The living area is furnished with comfortable seating, a small refrigerator, flat screen television with DVD’s, and book case with variety of reading selections. The bed is dressed with fluffy white duvet and soft sheets. A cozy chair is nestled in the corner of the bedroom providing another great place to read or gaze at the view. There is a modern bath with large walk-in shower. The only thing that some might find missing (not me), is a kitchenette. However, there are restaurants galore in town that offer a variety of cuisines at very affordable prices.
Eating out in Boquete is a great social experience for visitors. This trip we were very glad to meet the Browns while dining. They knew our host and his wife and in little time we considered them our new friends as well. So gracious is this couple, that they track us down while we are trying to find a cab and take us back up the hill to Manana Madera.
With a hectic travel schedule for the past few weeks and long trip to Boquete, we turned in early. My very considerate son, once again let me have the bedroom as he made a bed on the living room sofa. I drifted off in minutes cradled in what felt like a cloud. I awoke in the morning to birds chirping and the sun peaking through clouds as it came up over the lushly forested mountains. It was so specular that I did not want to move being quite contented to stay in bed all day. Lounging a day away is never possible with Evan, who in a few minutes was prodding me to start the day.
I made a pot of coffee. We headed out to a lower deck area to get a closer look at grounds and the view. As we took the first sip of the Manana Madera’s coffee, we both smiled. The coffee was fragrant, smooth, balanced, and sweet without a drop of cream or sugar. It is the very best coffee that I have ever had. As we drained the last drops of coffee from our mugs, our host and his dog Chubs join us on the ranchito looking out over valley with the fragrance of nearby Angel Trumpets in the air. After chatting about the finca, Randy is off to make us breakfast and we put on another pot of coffee. Breakfast is a delicious two course meal. The first course is fresh fruit picked when rip accompanied by ice cold juice. The second course provided our choice of breakfast fares — yummy. I am now ready to move in permanently!
We spent the rest of the morning on tour with Randy, learning more about his delicious coffee, move to Boquete, and the area landmarks. He is a wonderful host and area guide. We then headed to town for the afternoon. We immediately follow his recommendation to tour Boquete’s most famous garden which surrounds a private residence and is open to the public. The garden is literally acres of flower gardens arranged in patterns across manicured lawns. Vibrant in both color and variety there are hibiscus, hydrangea, lily, bougainvillea, coleus, saliva, impatient, sage, and many more that I cannot name. There are ponds filled with koi, lawn statues, bird houses, and a viewing tower. It is charming. We stay until we feel the first drops of rain, and then make a bee line for Le Crepe Cafe. (Good to have remembered the umbrella)
The second day, is our opportunity to learn a good deal more about coffee. Late in the afternoon we hitch a ride with Randy into town who is on his way to pick up his master taster before heading to the roaster. It was great to be able to discuss what we had learned with one of the area’s most respected experts who confides that the Manana Madera blend is among his favorite coffees. Since it is raining hard, when we arrive in town, we opt to have an early dinner followed by a short stroll. When the rain continues, we take a cab back to the finca. We spend the evening curled up reading and talking, knowing we would recommend Manana Madera without hesitation to those visiting Boquete.
In the morning the coffee pickers arrived, giving me the opportunity learn picking techniques from the foreman’s 8-year old son Henri who was much faster. We purchased as much coffee we had room to left in our bags. It is without a doubt, the freshest coffee anyone can purchase. We helped Randy fill and seal each of the bags with the coffee that was roasted the day before. The aroma that filled the room was heavenly. I am looking forward to brewing cups of coffee for friends when I return, especially those that often refer to my house as a bed and breakfast. Indeed, I am anxious for them to wake up and smell the coffee, as I recount the wonderful days spent as a guest of Manana Madera and perhaps, share my new knowledge of coffee.
Boquete Coffee Farm Villa
Longing for a beautiful view while savoring one of the most delicious cups of coffee yet to be brewed. Let us suggest booking a reservation with Manana Madera. Manana Madera as a working coffee finca in Boquete with a stylish guest suite. To capitalize on the view, the guest suite has wall-to-wall windows that provides a panoramic view of the rain forest, valley, and the finca’s landscaped grounds. The suite is cozy and inviting with bed made for sleeping until noon although, waking up to a daybreak from this perch is breath taking. We loved everything about Manana Madera. It is unique and wonderful experience for anyone seeking to unwind. The host, the suite, the view, the fragrance of the Angel Trumpets in the air, yummy breakfasts, and delicious coffee all deserve a 5-Star Rating.
- High Speed Internet
- T.V. and DVD
- Free breakfast
- Airport Pickup from David upon request
- Paid tours and hikes around Boquete
- Most importantly, your staying on a private coffee farm!
For more information, contact the owner directly by filling out the field below.
My San Blas Adventure
My San Blas Adventure
Last year when provided the opportunity to travel to San Blas, I choose Bocas el Toro. Both were on Panama’s Caribbean shore and it seemed evident that Bocas would be more to my liking. We would be able to stay the Garden of Eden on a private island owned by an American couple with lovely rooms, modern conveniences, and a pool. In San Blas we would stay on private island, in a hut, and sans conveniences operated by Kunas. It was an easily made decision for one with my preference for comfort. I would not make the same choice today.
We have just returned from the Yandup Lodge in the San Blas Islands. It is has been a profound experience for me. An experience that I would urge any traveler to Panama to include with the belief that it will both bring you to one of the world’s most beautiful areas and introduce you to an native tribe of Panama. The Kunas are meeting the challenges of the modern world while holding on to their land and customs in spite of many unmet needs of their population. The experience of staying at one of their lodges is very accurately described as a combination of Swiss Family Robinson, National Geographic, and Robinson’s discovery of Crusoe.
The Yandup Lodge is located on one of small islands of the San Blas. The lodge is made up of 8 guests grass huts that are built out over water and connected to the shore by a bridge. Each hut has a thatched roof and with walls that are lattice work of canes. The concession to modern convenience includes a queen size bed and bathroom with sink basin, shower, and toilet (so glad). A mosquito net canopy surrounded the bed, a ceiling fan was provided, and their was a second twin bed with a floor fan near. The door opposite of the entrance led to a narrow deck with hammocks under the shade of the roof’s overhang and above the water. I was almost dizzy with glee and relief since the prospect of sleeping on the either the floor or a cot had been worrying me. This was space with its view of Caribbean and lush islands was breath-taking.
There is large hut designated for dining. The meals are prepared by the staff and are simple and healthy. We dined on fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables, and coconut rice. Our hosts were careful to ask every guest if they had any diet restrictions or food allergies and I assume would have made substitutes to accommodate. Since the meals were served at specified times, tables were arranged with place settings for the number of guests in the lodge. The meals were served by 3 wonderful ladies each wearing their native dress. We became friends with each of them, so much so that when we left we hugged and I choked back tears.
Each day the lodge provided its guests with activities that would take them to their village or to uninhabited islands. Our island guides loaded us into long narrow boats and we skimmed the water to beaches where the swimming and snorkeling were great and we were on the only humans enjoying the beach. The water was amazingly warm and clear. So clear that you can see to the bottom even in deep water. Palm trees provided us shade for those knowing their fair skin would burn with too much exposure. In a few hours, our guides brought us back to the lodge for lunch and relaxation. Later in the afternoon, we were provided the opportunity to see their village.
Our trip to the village was eye opener. This Kuna tribe lives on an island that although larger than that of the lodge, is small. Approximately 3000 men, women, and children live on the island in very crowded conditions. There is a school, a town hall, and a church. The only electricity is provided by solar panels and perhaps a private generator or two. Generally, however, the island is completely dark before ten. There are no paved streets. The houses are mainly thatched although there are a few of made of more modern materials. Children fill the streets. Playing simple games whether raining or not.
When the boats from the lodge visit, the woman hang their art work and crafts outside their doors, hoping to sell a few pieces. Children wave to greet you. Indeed one 8 year old boy came each day to meet the boat to make friends hoping we would take his picture so he would earn a $1. Young girls often carried babies, I always hoped they were siblings rather than mother and child. Large families lived in small houses. I became certain that our meals at the lodge were the best the Kuna could provide and appreciated this sharing even more and the willingness of our guides to answer our many questions.
On our second trip to the community, we were once again greeted by the same 8 year old who did not leave our group during our visit. This visit we attended a council meeting in the town hall. The Kuna are a democratic society with elected leadership. The council was considering a waste management proposal brought to them by a Spanish firm. There is grave concern about the effects of non -biodegradable materials on their lands. The elders want to do something to control this waste and are considering methods to bring it under control. Others explained to us they were concerned about the over crowding of the village, educational opportunities of their children, and preservation measures. Tourism is offering the Kuna’s opportunities that several want to be certain help not destroy this proud population or their islands.
The reverse embroidery work done by Kuna woman is unique to Panama. It is creative, detailed, and beautiful. Many of us can’t resist purchasing a few pieces during our visits. For my part I would have purchased more than dozen, but Evan is always certain to reign in his mother’s impulses. What I did buy, I could tell took hours to complete which would mean under a dollar an hour wage is earned for the modest price paid. If I were more clever I would figure out how to mount this artwork on a Miche bag form and make a mint on providing them to those who want a unique piece of art for a purse and open a new market for the Kuna.
I wish we had clear skies for our entire visit to the Yandup Lodge. We did not. It is, after-all, not the yet the end of rainy season. We instead had the thrill of tropical storms with booming thunder and crackling lighting each night. Nervously I waited for our thatched roof to either blow off or leak buckets when the pounding relentless rain hit the first night. My appreciation for native craftsmanship grew when not a single drop penetrated our roof nor any of the other guest huts. Indeed the experience became thrilling instead with sounds of thunder, hard rain, and crashing waves once the worry of being swept into the sea was calmed.
This was a vacation of a life-time. I did not need to close my eyes to imagine Balboa, pirates, or canal builders traveling to these shores. The scenery is the same. The islands dotting the sea popping up all over, the warm water of aqua blue, and dense jungle mountains almost jutting out of the sea, are all still there. I am so very glad that I did not let this second opportunity go by and urge others to visit the Yandup Lodge of the San Blas Islands in Panama. For those with more adventurous spirit than mine, there are other island lodges allowing a truer native living experience which is of great appeal to my son’s generation who can still manage to move after sleeping on the ground or a cot. Whatever your choice, you are certain to love the San Blas Islands and it natives.
Travel Blog Day 1: Pedasi
Travel Blog Day 2: El Valle
Travel Blog Day 4: Buenaventura
Travel Blog Day 5: Casco Viejo
Located in the San Blas Islands, the Yandup Lodge provides a unique Caribbean vacation experience. The grass hut suites with private baths and decks jutting out into the water are both comfortable and native inspired. More than simply a relaxing getaway in a preserved tropical paradise, the stay will offer guests the opportunity to learn about one of Panama’s indigenous tribes the Kunas and experience their hospitality.
Panama’s Price Discrimination (and 10 ways to fight it)
Panama’s Price Discrimination (and 10 ways to fight it)
Price discrimination is an economic concept with everyday consequences in Panama. Unless you are a local, you have undoubtedly been the victim of price discrimination. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the developing world, mostly in Latin America. A voiding price discrimination has become an essential part of my daily life.
For our purposes, price discrimination can be defined as being charged more for something just because you are not a local. The existence of price discrimination is easy to understand. Everyone wants to make as much money as they can. Local Latinos universally believe that Gringos have “mucha plata” (a lot of money). Thus, it’s easy for a local to justify their thought process: “I need money. The Gringos have lots of money. The Gringos are easy to trick. Hmmm… Lets make the Gringo pay more!”
Every local knows that I am a Gringo. I embody the ultimate Gringo stereotype: I am a Caucasian. I have a stocky build, dirty blonde hair, and green eyes. I speak Spanish with a bad accent. I also have a tendency to get rambunctious when I party. The only component missing to round out the stereotype is the Hawaiian shirt, a pair of cargo shorts and cheap sandals. Basically, I pay more for every good or service solely because I am a Gringo. You will too.
To illustrate my point, here are a few recent examples:
- The Juice Lady – Three days a week, I buy a fresh juice smoothie from the same lady outside the fish market. It’s $1.50. One day a new lady happened to be working. She charged me $2.00 for the exact same drink. It could have been an accident because she was new. But, that wouldn’t explain why the local Panamanian guy directly in front of me paid $1.50 for the exact same banana fruit smoothie.
- Rana Dorada – A trendy new bar on Via Argentina that I frequent. One night, I clearly ordered 4 shots of Tequila “DE LA CASA!” (house Tequila). I was given a bill for $54 for 4 shots of top shelf Tequila. I can assure you it sure didn’t taste like top shelf Tequila. Pissed off, I leaned over the bar and sternly told the bartender “You’re an idiot. Here is $40. Make it work.”.
- Taxi. Ubiquitous cheap taxis are a major draw to life in PTY. On the other hand, they’re the WORST price discrimination abusers.
The Gringo Tax rule of thumb on a standard $3 cab ride:
- Group: All foreigners and English (or any language other than Spanish) is spoken in the cab – $7 plus
- Group: One foreigner the rest Latinos. English spoken – $6
- Group: One foreigner the rest Latinos. Spanish spoken – $5
- Group: One foreigner the rest Latinos. Complete silence – $4
Before getting into a cab, my Panamanian friends will say to me “Evans, callate la boca!”. (Evan, shut up).
***** My real name is Evan. However many Panamanians call me Evans. Not sure why.
Part 2: Panama’s Price Discrimination (and 10 ways to fight it)
Price discrimination against foreigners is annoying and financially burdensome. Out of budgetary necessity, I’ve have developed a tried and true system to avoid the expensive effects of price discrimination. However, incorporate these practices into your daily life in Panama and miraculously your quality of life will improve. First, because the Isthmus will become instantaneously more affordable. Secondly, because of the mini euphoria you’ll experience when out smarting the discriminators.
10 ways to fight Panama’s Price Discrimination.
1. Triangle information. Ask 3 different people the price of a product or service. For example, when waiting for a cab, ask 3 different locals (who do not have interest in the transactions) the price. This is helpful because: A) locals do not know the inflated price because they don’t pay it. B) if the 3 answers you receive are $2.25, $3.75, and $2.75, when the cabbie says $3, you know you have a good deal. Ideal for taxis.
2. Automatically knock 50% off the top. When the price is not stated, automatically knock 50% off the top. A) This is typically the most you can start the price negotiations at without being blown off for a cheap ass. B) This establishes that you are not a fool. Ideal for craft stands and household repairs.
3. Ask for the price first. See the aforementioned Rana Dorada example for importance. Ideal for bars and beauty salons.
4. Tell them the price. Preemptively tell people the price you are going to pay if the price is not clearly state. This works best if you already triangulated information (#1).
5. Demonstrate Panamanian cultural nuances. Liberally use tips from previous articles; No Words Spanish, Phrases to Pretend like you speak Spanish, and Spanish Sweet Nothings. Ideal (and just plain fun) everywhere.
6. Send a local. Have a local call or figure out the price ahead of time. Ideal for doctor visits or buying land.
7. Overstate your time in Panama. If you have been here a two weeks, say 6 months. Never say it is your first time in Panama! Ideal for when cab drivers ask you “Primera vez que estas en Panama?” (First time here in Panama?)
8. Carry small bills. Go to a local Chino and buy a $0.35 pack of gum in order to break your $20 bill. Chinos stores always have change. Carry small bills at all times or else be prepared for people to CONVENIENTLY not to have change. Ideal for the interior of Panama.
9. Wait them out. Many times locals will wait for you to forget about your change. Wait patiently and persistently ask them “El Cambio?” (Where is my change?).
10. Never open tabs. Mysteriously items will appear that you never knew you ordered. Be sure to pay for items as you go. Never accumulate a tab. Ideal for bars and clubs on Calle Uruguay.
Panama is trying to promote itself as a cheaper alternative for business and retirement. It’s a farce! If you are Panamanian, or even Latino, living in Panama will be a cheaper alternative than living in North America or Europe. On the other hand, if you’re North American or European, Panama’s unchecked price discrimination will impoverish you rapidido (quickly).
If you master these tips, you’ll love Panama (or any other developing world country) because you will have learned how to effectively operate. If you don’t, you’ll leave the Isthmus with empty pockets and a sour attitude. Worse yet, you’ll stay in Panama and be slowly transform into that bitching Grumpy Gringo that rarely gets invited to social gatherings.
Night at Las Clementinas in Casco Viejo
Panama Retirement Travel Blog: Day 5 — Night at Las Clementinas
One of my favorite experiences will be the night that we stayed at Clementinas in Casco Viejo. With great affection for old movies and the movie stars of long ago – Flynn, Harlow, Gable, and Leigh, I was thrilled to enter Clemintinas which is the area’s newest restoration. A restoration that is both true the past and made comfortable by today’s standards.
Situated on the border of the Casco, Clemintinas is an intimate hotel that provides its guests with the modern conveniences of kitchenette, living space, and master suite. The attention to period details is evident in each room with reminders of the period either carefully restored, reduplicated, or displayed. The rooms cannot help but make one feel that they have traveled back to a time when the men of Panama wore white linen suits and tight waves of hair framed women’s faces. It is an enhancing atmosphere.
Downstairs there is a lively bar area and lovely tropical garden dining room. Both areas, as well, have been restored with careful attention to period details and customer service. The service staff are a part of the owner’s community project to train the area’s unemployed so they become an active partner in the revitalization effort. It was easy to see the pride that they had in providing services.
Perhaps, just as impressive as the restoration, is the careful attention hospitality and ecology the hotel is committed. Awaiting the guests were details of the area and recommendations of activities, tours, and restaurants in Panama. And while, much of the U.S. offers guests opportunities to reduce their ecological footprint by conserving and recycling, this is one Panama’s first hotels to do so.
My one regret with Clementinas was my stay only lasted an evening. I loved the atmosphere and am certain in a few more days, the face I saw in the mirror would be reflected back looking more like Myra Loy than the grandmother I have become. Has anyone seen Asta?
Travel Blog Day 1: Pedasi
Travel Blog Day 2: El Valle
Travel Blog Day 4: Buenaventura
Panama Thanksgiving — Beachside
My Panama travel blog. Day 4
We are on the move again. From El Valle we head southwest (I think), toward Panama City and to the Pacific Ocean. This time we will staying at the best of the best at the Bristol in Buenaventura. It is a five-star hotel located in a private community that has spared little expense in the creation.
I wish I could say the trip to get there was a wonderful as the hotel. It was not. From El Valle, we first needed to take the local bus to the highway where we would need to flag a cab. Luckily one finally pulled over and we were on our way to what proved to be a long way, making us doubt we had good directions. We checked in at the secure gate and weaved our way through the residential section of the community before finally finding the hotel and then, sorting out the entry.
Once the entry was discovered, an amazingly beautiful hotel loomed ahead with a water series of fountain heads shooting plumes of water and an grand open entrance to the hotel. At the check in desk, we were presented with a scented cold rolled face towel which after a long hot trip was a very welcome gesture. We had immediate attention at the front desk by Evelina who both check us in and escorted us to our room, and willingly chatted with us.
Our room was elegant and comfortable. With beds that were so comfortable it was hard to not want to turn in for the night that afternoon. Even more enticing was the bath that both a large walk in shower and a separate soaking tub with shutters above the tub to allow a view of the room, the view, and the television. Neither of us could resist having a long soak that evening. The amenities of the room were countless — view, luxury white linens, fresh fruit, breath-taking view and balcony, large flat screen television, and simply gorgeous furnishings. We tore ourselves away to go exploring.
The grounds of the hotel are immense and picturesque. Separating the hotel from the pool areas is a canal that has sprouting water fountains and swanky boat complete with a crisply uniformed captain the tour you through the canal. On the other side of the canal there are pool areas, cabana style dining room, and a groomed Pacific Ocean beach. Pinch me, I must have died and gone to heaven.
We had a late lunch near the pool after walking on the beach. It might have been a good idea to have reversed that order since our lunch left us to full to keep our reservations for their Thanksgiving dinner. We order room service instead, later in the evening, after we each had that long soak.
Up early and again ready to explore, we headed down stairs for breakfast. It was somewhat disappointing that the breakfast buffet was not complimentary. It did however have a wide selection to choose from that included fresh squeezed juices and slices of fruit, and Panamanian pastries. One quick dip in the pool, and it was time to leave which was easier said than done. There is no shuttle service to this hotel and no regular cab service. Our cab once called took over an hour to arrive and then, although our driver was charming, was without air conditioning and comfort. Moreover, we needed to catch a bus once we reached the highway back to Panama City. Better luck there, we only needed to wait about 15 minutes and the bus was not full allowing us to sit together in air conditioning for the trip back to Panama City which took about 3 hours.
I do love going from place to place in Panama and its variety. I will remember the Bristol as one of the most elegant places that I have stayed but not one of the most enticing or fun. In spite of staff that provided exceptional customer service, the Bristol is elegant and elite without any attempt to create an environment where their guests can meet and mingle. For that reason, it seems a bit unwelcoming and remote.
Travel Blog Day 1: Pedasi
Travel Blog Day 2: El Valle
Travel Blog Day 5: Casco Viejo