Archive for the ‘Central America 2012’ Category

Panama City and the Panama Canal

After Santa Catalina, it was a long drive to Panama City, but well worth it.  The city itself was massive, extremely well developed and has tons of potential.

We stayed in a part of the city called Casco Viejo which is known as Panama City’s old town.  Apparently it is where Panama was originally established back in the 1500’s.  There are tons of old buildings and the area is currently under some heavy renovation and construction.  They are trying to build up the tourism in the area with lots of posh restaurants, shops, and hotels.  It is right up against an extremely dangerous and impoverished part of town which it is squeezing out little by little.  It was a bit annoying to get around with all the construction, especially while driving, but it was fun to walk around and see the old buildings.

The main attraction for us in Panama City was the Panama Canal and the Miraflores Locks.  We got a cab to the locks and paid $8 a person for a view of the canal as ships were passing through on the observation deck, a pass through the fantastic 4 story museum they had set up there, and a ticket to see a 10 minute mini-documentary on the history of the canal.  What a great deal!  We arrived just in time to see a few large ships passing through the locks and even a small sail boat.

The canal has these small carts that help pull the ship through the locks and hold them in place to prevent damage to the walls.  For smaller ships, they just use a couple of guys and some rope.

You can see the grey carts pulling the huge ship through the canal above, and below the guys helping the sail boat along with some rope.

It was fascinating to watch as the water levels lowered and rose to help the boats traverse the canal.  In total it can take anywhere from 8-10 hours for a boat to get entirely through the canal and it’s 3 locks all the way from one ocean to the other.

They are currently working on expanding the canal and building more locks that can help larger ships traverse through the canal as there is currently a limit on the size of ship that can pass through.  The new locks should be ready by 2014.

Panama City was great.  If you love seeing unique cities while traveling, definitely check out Panama.

The Shell Beaches of Santa Catalina, Panama

Before going to Panama City to see the canal, we made one more stop at the beach town of Santa Catalina.  We stayed on a farm just outside of town called Hibiscus Garden.  It was a beautiful place right on the beach and had a restaurant and bar.  They also had lots of animals like dogs, cats, chickens, horses, cows, etc.  It was really relaxing to wake up, have a light breakfast and then go beach combing.  We had a small house with rooms and a kitchen all to ourselves.

We pretty much just hung out for a few days and relaxed by the beach.  We made quick friends with the dogs and a little kitten.  The dog came with us every morning to the beach and loved playing fetch.

Here is a picture of some of the treasure we found.  They had some HUGE shells on the beach.  I made sure to grab at least a few big ones.

Hibiscus Garden was a wonderful place to stay.  We did make it into Santa Catalina, but the town itself wasn’t really anything to write home about.  There were a handful of dive shops which we visited, but found out there were no whale sharks in season there so we passed on it.

Next up is Panama City and the canal!

Boquete, Panama and White Water Rafting

After visiting Bocas del Toro we traveled south toward the city of David.  David is a nice little city, but doesn’t really have a whole lot going on there.  It is however a great jumping off point to other nearby locations and activities.  We stopped over for the night at the Purple House Hostel before continuing onward toward the small town of Boquete, about an hour north of David.

Boquete was very nice, small, and had lots of great people.  There is some fantastic coffee too with lots of local coffee plantations nearby.  Plenty of hostels and hotels and lots of retirees who had set up a base camp there.  Apparently after a US magazine published an article about the top 10 places in the world to retire with Boquete listed, it had a small boom of new residents with tourism sweeping through and is still being developed to this day.  It still manages to maintain it’s small town charm however, and was a treat to visit.

We decided to visit Boquete to do some white water rafting, an activity we hadn’t experienced before on our trip.  We booked the excursion through our hostel and had a blast.  We went with another couple who had also never tried white water rafting before and we all got along great.  There were up to level 3 rapids and Steve even got knocked out of the raft once!  It was so much fun.


Into Panama and Bocas del Toro

We were excited to move onto Panama and get closer to the canal!  Panama is a little bit cheaper than Costa Rica, but not by much.  Panama has a great economy with the canal and it’s cities and towns were a treat to visit.

Our first stop was Bocas del Toro, a collection of islands in the northwestern part of the country.  We had to drive to a small town called Almirante, leave our car parked securely, and then hitch a water taxi over to the islands.  Bocas del Toro has some great beaches, surfing, yummy food, and cheap drinks.  What more could you ask for?!

I loved hopping from island to island with water taxis, it’s always a unique experience.  We ended up visiting Red Frog Beach on the island of Bastimentos and had a wonderful beach day.  Not crowded at all and enjoyed some awesome surf, swimming, and lounging.

The island is also home to the poisonous red dart frog which lived in the jungles.  We didn’t see any in the wild while we were there, but there were little kids roaming around the beach with pouches made of big leaves with little red frogs in them.  They were walking around trying to get money from tourists for pictures of the red frogs.

Bocas del Toro was beautiful and friendly.  Definitely a must see in Panama for sure.

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