Average cost p/day: $AU50
Time frame: 1-2 weeks
Currency: Officially Balbao – but US dollars widely used
Panama is the ideal place to experience island life and get lost in the jungle, as well as see one of Central America’s most modern cities. Similar to Costa Rica, it’s a bit more pricey than the rest of Central America, but there are some unique experiences that make it absolutely worth exploring.
WHERE TO GO
Bocas Del Toro
These islands on the Carribbean coast are known for wildlife spotting, partying and great beaches. Isla Colon, the main island, has a fairly large town where you can find many hostels, bars, clubs, cafes and markets. A short (but rather rough) bus ride across the island will take you to two stunning beaches – Boca Del Drago and Playa Estrella where you’ll be able to see turtles and many many huge star fish! Bluff Beach offers opportunities to spot turtles laying their eggs each night. Truly amazing, if you’re lucky enough to see it! Another island worth exploring is Bastimentos. It has a much more local, less touristy vibe to it. Old Bank, the only town on the island is quiet and friendly. On the other side of the island you’ll find Red Frog Beach – and guess what cute little animals you’ll find there?! Yes, red frogs! Surprise! But they are TINY, so you’ll have to properly search for them. Without a doubt one of the nicest beaches in this part of the world.
Hostel recommendation – As this is a cluster of islands, there are many options. On Isla Colon, try Selina Hostel; on on Isla Carenero, just a 30 second boat ride from Isla Colon, go for Aqua Lounge – amazing set up; on Bastimentos Island, I recommend either Hostal Bastimentos (cheap and cheerful with a great view!) or Bubba’s House for something a little bit more cosy.
Lost & Found, Valle Las Minas
This is an absolute stand out hostel. A unique experience. With the hostel nestled in the jungle, you’ll have to get off the bus in what seems like the middle of nowhere and climb steeply uphill for about ten minutes before you reach the reception. The hostel offers incredible views, friendly staff, a pet kinkajou, nightly dinners, a lively bar and some fantastic outdoor activities – namely, the treasure hunt! Simple clues will lead you on a trek all around the jungle until you loop back to the hostel and are rewarded with a free drink!! Many other outdoor activities are nearby too.
Hostel recommendation – Lost & Found
Compared to other cities in Central America, Panama City is a gem! There is a mixture of nice, clean, somewhat fancy streets and dirty, run-down, full-of-character streets. A must-see while there is the Panama Canal. You can learn about the history and the construction of this huge engineering feat while watching boats go all the way through the locks. It’s also worth going up the Trump Tower to enjoy an incredble sunset over the city while sipping on a (very expensive) drink. The view is well worth it.
Hostel recommendation – Luna’s Castle (they will help you organise a San Blas trip, too!)
San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands have to rate as some of the most idyllic islands in the world. They are largely uninhabited and therefore the accommodation is often just you and your sleeping bag on the beach, under the stars. Maybe in a hut, if you’re looking for a tad more comfort! The ideal way to see these islands is by boat. Generally, backpackers either go for a three day return trip from Panama City, where you stay on the same island each night but spend the days hopping about between islands – snorkelling, exploring, relaxing. Or if you are heading to Colombia next, this is the perfect way to cross the border. Several options are available to go from Panama to Colombia, either on a sail boat or a speed boat.