The first stop on our adventure through Central America took us to Panama, 'The bridge to the world' or so they say...
Panama City - Luna's Castle was a great base to explore the old town, Casco Viejo. We filled our first two days with good food, museums, cafés and rooftop bars. A particular favourite being Gatto Blanco in Hotel Casa Nuratti, which is the perfect setting for an evening under the stars with exceptional mojito's, top music selection and delightful city views.
If you're looking for afternoon beers, head over to Finca del Mar and swing the afternoon away with their interesting variety of seating and relaxing atmosphere. A short walk away you'll find the craft market under a pink flowered canopy where you can pick up pretty pieces of handmade jewellery, which of course we loved.
If, like us, you prefer to escape the city, take a trip to the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Gamboa to be at one with nature in the tree tops and trails. Hope to spot sloths, monkeys, snakes and exotic birds. Make sure to get there first thing as before 9am is prime nature viewing time. Drive or take a taxi as there are no signposts, no roads and the locals have no idea of it's existence as we learnt the hard way.
El Valle - two hours from Panama City lies a delightfully quaint town situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. Take a hike on the Indiana Dormida trail for never ending views through the clouds of the surrounding area of Anton. Watch out for snakes on the way down!
We took a packed lunch to El Chorro Macho waterfalls and frolicked in the clear waters after lunch. A hidden gem for anyone who likes greenery and peaceful picnics.
For the best budget accomodation in the village, definitely head to The Windmill hostel on the main street. It has to be one of the finest hostels we've stayed in. The rooms are spotless, there is a lovely pool area, games room and free eggs for breakfast.
Santa Catalina / Isla de Coiba - Santa Catalina isn't the most picturesque place to visit but it's ideal for surfing with consistantly powerful breaks.
The main reason for our stay was to visit Isla de Coiba, a remote island an hour boat ride from the coast. It is part of a beautiful national park and series of isolated, uninhabited 'paradise' islands. Here we saw tropical fish, turltes, sharks, sting rays and several pods of dolphins - our favourite. Watch out for jellyfish, we got stung...a lot!
We stayed at Hibiscus Garden outside of the main town and enjoyed it mostly because of it's resident members: a crocodile, several dogs, a parrot that hates men and a heard of cows that keep you on your toes when coming and going - watch out for those charging udders. It also has an amazing restaurant run by Sven the chef - order the Tuna Steak!
Boquete - A friendly and beautiful place with a 'toy town' feel and great markets for arts & crafts and fresh fruit & veg (a rareity in Panama). Our hostel, Refugio del Rio, sat next to a flowing river which sent us both peacefully to sleep. We discovered The Lost Waterfalls which was a highlight of our tour, which is moderately difficult on a dry day and rather challenging when raining. This three hour hike takes you into the rainforest to three spectacular waterfalls where you can take a swim or just relax by the clear waters. FYI it's very cold!
Chiriqui - Sat in a cloud forest high in the mountains of Chiriqui, Lost & Found Lodge is a mystical hostel is a great stop off on the way to or from Bocas del Toro. Get lost on their treasure hunts and swim in the nearby river. We especially enjoyed playing with their rescued Kinkaju, Rocky, and when night falls (and happy hour starts) head up to their romatically lit, unexpectedly chaotic bar. We played Cards Against Humanity with some new pals from across the globe, an interesting game when faced with many a strange sense of humour.
Bocas del Toro - We arrived in Bocas with a bump, as our driver obviously wasn't too worried about his boat or our spines. Once recovered, we found the best way to get around was to hire bikes and cycled up the coast to Paki's Point. A nice place to relax on beach beds, watch surfers attempt the rowdy waves, sip on nutricious smoothies and play lots of Yahtzee!
We had a delicious dinner at El Limbo on the Sea, a perfect setting by the water. Although the service was terribly slow, all was forgiven when they delivered the goods - Mahi Mahi in garlic butter sauce (highly reccommended!). A few rums later we popped over to Aqua Lounge with some friends - a super club over the ocean with holes into the sea if you get tired of dancing and fancy a swim.
The next day we visited Red Frog Beach and spotted the infamous red frogs themselves. If you dare, hike through the rainforest to Wizard Beach, a picture perfect spot peeping out of the forest. Don't take any valuables as theives are as rife as the snake population, but it's definitely worth the trek. On the way back to town we stopped off an organic café called Up In The Hill for a homemade iced tea and tree top views. Bocas was the perfect way to say goodbye to Panama,
Time to explore Costa Rica...So long folks.
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