This past December was a very cool month! My husband, brother, and I went to Panama, where we surfed, snorkeled with sharks, hiked a volcano, and chilled out with some howler monkeys, capuchins, and peccaries.
Normally, I wouldn’t post an itinerary, but I’ve had some interest from people who like to travel, but not to plan. So, here’s a short version of our itinerary (or, if you’d rather, just scroll down and get to the goods!):
Day 1: Arrived and cabbed to Luna’s Castle in Casco Viejo, Panama City.
We went into the local market, in the heavy rain, and ate the best fish and ceviche you can imagine.
Indulged in cheap drinks (.50 a beer) and one helluva good mojito, in the basement bar of Luna’s Castle. It’s 300 years old, and full of magic. Just a heads up though, if you just want to sleep through the night, Luna’s Castle is not the place for you.
Day 2: Got on a bus to Soná, and then on to Santa Catalina. Checked in at Rancho Estero. Ate, enjoyed the lovely weather — it was raining and the power was out, but it was still amazing.
Day 3: First day of surfing with the awesome, Michael, of Fluid Adventures, whom I can’t recommend enough. We surfed again on Day 4, and also enjoyed the peacefulness of the hammocks overlooking the ocean. A perfect reading, and napping spot. I can’t remember a time when I have been as relaxed and content.
Day 5: Day trip to Isla Cohiba (commonly known as the Galapagos of Panama, because of all of the amazing sea life). We saw turtles, rays, and many other awesome sea creatures. Then we dropped by the Island, which was once a jail for gay people. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, and the people who were once prisoners there now run the island and offer some very cool eco-tourism. After that, it was back into the ocean and, this time, we snorkeled with white tipped reef sharks and maybe even a tiger shark (eek!). You might think the sharks would be the element that would get our hearts racing, but actually the scariest part (for me, anyway) was the insanely strong current that started to sweep some of our group out. Everyone was totally fine but, let me just reiterate these wise words you’ve likely heard before: Never swim against the current.
Day 6: We surfed, hammock’d it up, and enjoyed Santa Catalina. I could give you a detailed list of places to eat and what to order but, for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that everywhere we went, the food was delicious and the drinks were strong. If you need recommendations, just ask. 😀
Day 7: We took some local busses to Boquete, a small, gorgeous mountain town. We stayed at Mamallena’s Hostel, and used our time here to go to an independent, and very crafty coffee plantation. Then, deep water bouldering and, after that, a long soak in some hot springs on the property of a local farmer. That night, instead of sleeping, we hiked Volcan Baru. You begin hiking at midnight so, when you reach the top of the mountain at around 5 or 6 in the morning, you can get a clear view of both oceans before the clouds set in, or the sun is too powerful. The view was amazing, but the hike was easily the most arduous thing I’ve ever accomplished. Having said that, I would definitely still recommend it (to able people with at least a moderate level of fitness, and a penchant for pain).
Day 8: We hiked down Volcan Baru, and were faced with a tough decision: do we sleep now, since we were up all night, or do we power through and enjoy the day? We opted for the latter — sleep is for the weak! And, then we took a freezing cold bus back to Panama City. I’m sure we were all verging on hypothermic by the time we arrived. Little travel tip: when all of the locals are wearing lots of layers and carrying blankets, you should too!
Day 9: We arrived in Panama City in the wee hours of the morning, and got to our hostel in time to sleep for two blissful hours, before waking up, and getting ourselves out on a jungle trail walk to see some wildlife. Later, we indulged with some fancy steak dinners.
Day 10: Jordan had to fly home and get back to work. I didn’t cry when seeing him off, and was outstandingly proud of myself. Ken and I strolled around Panama City, and then went back to Casco Viejo, where we spent our rainy day wandering around, sipping coffee, and perusing the shops.
Day 11: We had to fly home. I think I might have missed a day, or maybe my timing is confused from our all-nighters, but you get the idea.
This would not be one of the meals Jordan would recommend. He wasn’t crazy for the spikes on the face.
These little guys were for sale at one of the bus terminals.
An independent coffee plantation in Boquete.
The coffee beans are roasted in a repurposed headlight from a Jeep.
We finally reached the top of Volcan Baru, after our overnight hike; celebrations ensued.
Unfortunately, I didn’t bring any of my telephoto lenses, so these next two images (from our trail walk just outside of Panama City) are highly digitally zoomed. I wanted to share the first one, regardless of quality, because it features a juvenile Ground Cuckoo. Sighting this elusive bird would be a real “feather in the cap,” for most birders, but Jordan has hawk eyes and had no trouble spotting him (much to birder Ken’s delight).
Thanks to Ken, for these shots of me in bliss mode.