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!