A man, a plan, a panama canal: Although vital to the global economy, there is far more to see in Panama than a canal. From Panama City’s busy streets, to remote mountain jungles and pristine coastline, there is something in this tropical paradise for everyone. This was our first trip to Central America. We knew little about it and did very little research before boarding the plane. In our opinion, traveling on the fly is the best way to experience a new destination. Not everyone thinks the same, however. And this story is for those traveling to Panama, in particular, Panama City and Bocas Del Toro, for the first time who want more information on what to expect. This is also for those interested in learning about this diverse country and our experience there. So, sit back in your OKAICOS. Grab your Panama hat and enjoy the read.
How to get there: Getting to Panama City is fairly easy as it’s the second largest city in Central America. Flights connect daily through many US airports. We flew through Miami. The neighboring country side jungle villages and beach surfer towns on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are a bit more challenging to navigate. Based on what we know, the best way to travel throughout the country is by air or bus. From Panama City, we hopped on a quick Air Panama flight to Bocas Del Toro located on the Caribbean coast. Travel tip: Uber is available in Panama City and a cheaper option than taxi as you head out to explore the city.
What to expect: Balboa is the official currency of Panama, however, the US dollar is accepted (conversion is one to one). The climate is hot and humid which is typical throughout Central America. We traveled in summer aka middle of rainy season. It was hot but tolerable as the occasional afternoon shower cooled things down. Packing for Panama was easy. All we needed were OKAICOS, a few light linen button downs, a hat, espadrilles and sunscreen. The great thing about our trunks is their versatility. You can keep it casual and wear them at the beach. Or dress them up at night with a button down as you transition to the bar or dinner. Spanish is the official language. Don’t know Spanish? No sweat. We found the people to be warm, welcoming and helpful with questions.
Where to stay, Panama City: There are a number of great hotels that appeal to every traveler in Panama City. We stayed in Casco Viejo at the American Trade Hotel. Casco Viejo is the historic district of Panama City. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, the borough was established in 1673 by Spanish colonialists. The area went on to experience decades of neglect, however, is bouncing back as restoration projects are underway. The American Trade Hotel lies at the center of Casco Viejo. The boutique hotel is hip, modern, relaxed and historic. Check out the jazz bar, rooftop pool and reading room for authentic Panamanian style.
Where to stay, Bocas del Toro: Bocas del Toro, located on the Caribbean coast, was our next stop and a perfect escape from the city. By far, one of the best places we’ve stayed to date is The Firefly on Bastimentos Island. The Firefly is an impressive surf bungalow located right alongside the Caribbean. There are a few bungalow options to choose from. We stayed in the Water bungalow, equipped with a private balcony and hammock overlooking the pool, palm trees and ocean. The rooms are boho surf, comfortable and make you feel every second of your vacation. The food on site at The Firefly was not only impressive for a small island, but could compete with many upscale restaurants in major cities. The staff was also great and we attribute our stay to their hospitality. Thank you Heather and Sean!
What to do: Whether you’re hanging out in the city or venturing to the jungle or beach, Panama is the perfect adventure destination. OKAICOS are also the perfect item to pack for your trip due to their comfort and versatility. Wear them on your hike in Bocas Del Toro, then grab a board for surfing. In Panama city? Wear them around the hotel pool then throw on a button down and espadrilles before heading out for the night.
Fun Facts: We are all for random facts. Here are some about Panama.
- Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic from the same spot. Only 80 kilometers separates the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean from the country’s narrowest point.
- Panama is home to more than 1,500 miles of pristine beach shoreline, impressive for a country of its size.
- There are two basic seasons in Panama, dry season from December to April and rainy season from May to November.
- More than 976 bird species call Panama home, which is more than the United States and Canada combined.
- The Panama Hat originated in Ecuador (not Panama).
- The canal was built between 1904 and 1914 and is considered one of the seven modern World Wonders.