Hiking in the Tropical Rainforest
Panamá is a hiker’s paradise and there is a huge variety of options from easy birding trails to multiple day hikes in the Darién or crossing the Isthmus along the Camino Real Trail. One of our favorites is the world-famous birding trail Camino del Oleoducto (Pipeline Road) only 40 minutes from Panamá in Soberanía National Park. Armed with machetes and accompanied by our Park Ranger Guide (Ernesto) we saw dozens of different birds including three types of Toucans, were spooked by the noisy howler monkeys, and saw families of gato solos and white tailed deer.
Other favorite trails include El Gaital and La India Dormida (sleeping Indian woman) in El Valle; as well as legendary Los Quetzales in Chiriquí and the cloud forest trails of La Amistad Parque Internacional that borders Costa Rica.
Mountain Escape to El Valle
El Valle de Antón (Anton Valley) is one of our favorite places to escape the heat, humidity, and rat race-like pace of Panamá City. At an altitude of 2500 feet, it’s only about two hours by car from the city and the scenery driving up the mountain road is spectacular. In addition to the great hikes we have done up La India Dormida (Sleeping Indian Woman) and conquering El Gaital, we got our adrenaline rush by soaring through the canopy on one of only two zip line adventures in Panama. El Níspero Zoo is well-kept and the highlight is seeing Panamá’s beloved Golden Frog. Another favorite pastime is simply relaxing and enjoying the spring-like climate and phenomenal mountain views at Los Capitanes.
Visiting an Indigenous Embera Community
Half the fun was getting there after a member of the local Emberá tribe picked us up on the banks of the Chagres River. Then we navigated up river in the shallow waters of the Chagres, with our guides having to get out on occasion and push. We were greeted by the local children, explored their community, shared a traditional meal of fish and patacones, and experienced a traditional dance. It was truly a day in paradise!
Spending the Day in Panama City
Normally I don’t like cities so much but Panama City is not to be missed. On a recent trip we explored the ruins of UNESCO World Heritage Site Panamá Viejo which was sacked by the infamous Pirate Henry Morgan and left in flames. After shopping for traditional handmade souvenirs we discovered another UNESCO site, Casco Viejo which is where Panama City was rebuilt two years after it was burnt to the ground. We finished the night off at Las Tinajas where the Ropa Vieja or the Arróz con Pollo is to die for. The typical folkloric show with the extravagantly beautiful “Polleras” is the best I have experienced anywhere in the world.
Relaxing at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is one of our overall favorite places in Panamá. We love watching crocodiles and tropical birds from Los Lagartos restaurant on the banks of the Chagres River, venturing out on the jungle cruise to Monkey Island, taking the only aerial tram to the roof of the canopy for a bird’s eye view of the Canal, or simply relaxing in a hammock from our balcony overlooking the Chagres River.
Experiencing a Secluded Eco Resort
Penonomé is the capital of Coclé Province in central Panama and it’s one of the least visited by tourists. Better for us. We stayed at secluded Cerro la Vieja Eco Resort and Spa and enjoyed raw nature at its best. After surviving one of the most challenging hikes we have encountered and ultimately conquering the “old hill,” we were rewarded with our own villa and cascading waterfall in the middle of the rainforest. Our hosts picked us up and whisked us off for dinner at the main resort before returning to the villa and retireing to the tranquil sounds of the waterfall as we fell asleep.
Island Hopping in Las Pearlas
We still laugh out load when reminiscing about the day I was attacked by a hungry pelican at Executive Beach on the beautiful island of Contadora. Fans of Survivor may recognize the name as the first episode of Survivor was filmed there. The highlight of the day was hiring a motorboat and being dropped off on a pristine virgin island that we had all to ourselves with a picnic lunch and cooler full of ice cold beer.
Watersports in Bocas del Toro
We knew we loved Bocas del Toro when our first stop of the day on a snorkeling trip was to place our lunch order of lobster at a floating restaurant in the middle of the archipelago. After swimming and snorkeling the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, lobster and an ice cold Cerveza Panamá was just what we needed. Later we passed the spectacular Bird Island and roamed freely on then deserted Red Frog Beach.
Experiencing the Panamá Canal
While there is so much more to Panamá than just the Canal, a trip to Panamá is not complete without a visit to the eighth wonder of the world. We’ve visited all three locks but our favorite and the best viewing point is the Visitors Center at Miraflores Locks. We love the dinner buffet and relaxing over a tropical drink as colossal mega Panamax tankers are graciously raised and lowered through the locks is an experience never to be forgotten. Then when we took the partial transit of the Canal, we had a completely different perspective that we still envision two years later.