“Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”
We left Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica early morning with Caribe Shuttle, on route to Bocas Del Toro, Panama. The journey consisted of a two-hour shuttle to the border, where we disembarked the bus and crossed on foot, followed by another short ride to the port and a busy boat ride to Bocas Town. The province of Bocas Del Toro is made up of a portion of the mainland as well as nine islands situated in the Caribbean Ocean. Bocas Town is located on Isla Colon, which is the island on which we spent our four days in the province.
We booked an A-Frame Cabin with private bathroom at Nomad Tree Lodge, about 10km out of Bocas Town. Upon arrival at the lodge we were thrilled with its location, outside of the busy tourist town, within the lush and lively jungle, yet steps from the oceanfront. By the time we got settled in our cabin it was dinner time so we strolled down the sandy road to have a bite at Scully’s, a unique waterfront restaurant and bar with an outdoor pool in and center and a mural you could spend hours gawking at. After a delicious meal we headed back to our cabin for a peaceful sleep surrounded by the sounds of the island in its natural beauty.
The next morning we awoke and had a delicious breakfast at the lodge, surrounded by singing tropical birds and chatty howler monkeys. Following breakfast we walked 5km to Bluff Beach, where we sat on the golden sand, swam in the turquoise waters and watched the surfers for a few hours. For lunch we headed to The Hummingbird, located steps off the beach and recommended by the owners of our lodge. They have a build-your-own-burger menu with every option imaginable and once we got the creative juices flowing we came up with a gourmet delight and enjoyed lunch in a relaxing atmosphere. After lunch we grad the local shuttle bus back to the lodge, where we freshened up before heading into Bocas Town for the evening. We flagged down a cab, which in Bocas are massive yellow pickup trucks, and headed in to stroll the streets at sunset, followed by an extremely disappointing dinner at Buena Vista Bar and Grill. The location, over the water, was prime but still didn’t make up for the mediocre food or the fact that, once our table was clear, at the end of our meal, our server approached us and asked if we had ordered yet haha. Oh well, they can’t all be winners!
The following day we slept in and headed to Paki Point for the day, one of the best beach bars we’ve ever been to. With the chill music, comfortable day beds and amazing service we couldn’t find a reason to leave, and spent the day relaxing and reading in the sun. That night we headed into Bocas Town early to research a day trip for the following day. We decided to book a sailing trip on a catamaran with Bocas Sailing. We ended the day at Om Café and Bar where we indulged in some delicious Indian tasting platers.
Our sailing trip was scheduled to leave at 10am the following day, but when we woke at 9am to the sound of rain outside our cabin we turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. There is nothing quite as peaceful as sleeping, surrounded by nature, during a gentle rainfall. After skipping out on the sailing trip we had a lazy morning and around noon we put on some rain gear and walked to Paki Point, to have some drinks and play cards on their covered deck. It was our only rain day of the entire three-month trip and we were entirely okay with it. For our last dinner on Isla Colon we walked to the outdoor restaurant, Ciao Pizza, and had a delicious home cooked meal, enjoyed at one of their two tables.
The next morning we caught an early flight to Central American metropolis of Panama City. We had found out, a week prior, that the hostel we had booked months earlier had closed and as a result we had nowhere to stay. After some last-minute research, we splurged and booked ourselves in the center of the city at the Ramada Via Argentina. We got early check-in and took full advantage of the fact that we had arrived in the city early in the day, venturing out to explore. After a craving-fulfilling brunch at New York Bagel Café, we walked along Via Argentina, through the boroughs of El Cangrejo and Bella Vista and all the way down to the waterfront. We sauntered, seaside, admiring the city skyline and stopping for a refreshing treat of shaved ice, wherein which a lady literally shaved the ice off a massive block in front of our very eyes. We were feeling energized, being back in a busy and bustling city, and topped off our day of exploring in Casco Viejo, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and historic borough of Panama City. After lunch at the courtyard of a cute café we wandered through the narrow streets admiring the ornate architecture of the borough. A trip to Casco Viejo is incomplete without seeing the golden alter at Iglesia San Jose, the only remnant left after Captain Henry Morgan’s (the Captain Morgan) raid of the peninsula in 1671. I guess we still had Indian flavors on our pallets from Om Café, because that night we dined at Avatar Indian Cuisine. One of the top-rated TripAdvisor restaurants in Panama City and for valid reason, as the food and service were both incredible.
The following day was one we had been looking forward to throughout our entire Central American adventure…we witnessed the wonder that is the Panama Canal. Prior to our trip to the canal, we didn’t know the positive effects it has on everyone and every country in the world, nor did we realize the massive undertaking the people of Central America went through to make this gargantuan feat possible. It is no wonder that the Panama Canal is one of the Wonders of the Industrial World, as its mass alone could captivate almost any audience. We learned in the Miraflores Visitor’s Center, relived its construction in the documentary at the museum and watched the canal itself in action, for hours, on the viewing decks. It was a very memorable day that truly put Panama on the map for us.
Our last day in Panama was St Patrick’s Day! In true Irish fashion we spent the day bar hopping between the only two Irish pubs in Panama City: The Blarney Stone and Paddy Mick’s. We listened to Celtic music, drank Guinness and ate fried food all the day long and landed back at the hotel for an early night before our morning flight the following day.
Panama is certainly the most advanced county in Central America, technologically and industrially speaking. It is quite built up, and tourist friendly which made travelling through the country a breeze. If you’re looking for an effortless and enjoyable vacation in the sunny south, Panama is a great place to go. That being said, if you’re looking for a true Hispanic Central American experience, head north into the more untouched regions of the continent.