We returned last night from our trip to Panama and it was definitely a wonderful experience. We will be providing specific details about the tours that we took and the sights that we saw. It is an interesting country in many different ways and we look forward to seeing how eco-tourism grows within the country as they receive more attention from the outside world. We had several specific items on our agenda such as visiting the canal and seeing the locks, getting into the rainforest to catch a glimpse of the wildlife, as well as exploring Panama City and the old town area. It was a successful trip on all counts.
We arrived late in the evening, so we were only able to grab a quick bite before heading off to bed to rest for an early start the next day. Knowing that November is still part of the rainy season, we were prepared for whatever the weather sent our way, but the reality was that when it did rain, it only lasted about 15 minutes and then it cleared up again. We spent our first day exploring the old town area, Casco Viejo, and made sure to see all of the important sights while also enjoying a couple of Panamanian restaurants, of which there were many. It was a relaxing day with plenty of heat and humidity as well as an aforementioned cloud burst, which we watched from within a restaurant while enjoying a beer (cerveza).
We got up early the next day for our “ocean to ocean” tour, which included seeing the locks, going to Monkey Island, hiking in a national park, seeing the San Lorenzo Fortress, and getting our fill of wildlife. We saw monkeys, tree sloths, an anteater, and birds galore, including a toucan. To say that this was a long, yet fulfilling day would be an understatement. We travelled by boat, van, and foot as we went from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and back again.
Panama City is rather unique in that it sits between the ocean and the government protected green zone that lies on either side of the canal, so the city grows up instead of out. What this means is that you are never very far from the rainforest and there is even a rainforest park within the city limits. For our third day in Panama, we decided to hike through the Metropolitan National Park where we encountered more sloths, agoutis (which are like a rabbit and rodent hybrid), and more birds. The true highlight of the park, though, is climbing to the second highest point in the city to see wonderful views of the skyline from above. We ended our day by once again heading into the old town for a well deserved glass of wine and beer before having dinner.
As if we hadn’t had our fill of the rainforest, we spent the following day on a tour that took us to an Embera Village, which is an indigenous tribe within one of the national parks. In order to reach the village, we traveled in motorized dugout canoes that had been had carved by the villagers. On our way to the village, we stopped to enjoy a waterfall within the jungle where we could go swimming if we desired. By pure chance, we were the only ones on the tour this day, which was a very happy surprise. Once we arrived at the village, we explored, interacted with the villagers, and ate fresh fish and plantains served in a banana leaf. Afterwards, their was a performance of traditional songs and dances with the opportunity to buy some handmade crafts from the village. Needless to say, we made sure to come home with a couple of unique items that we will treasure.
By our last day, we were pretty exhausted, so we went out to the causeway (a bridge that leads to a few small islands in the harbor) in order to have some lunch and see views of the water. We then walked the streets of old town once again before heading into the heart of Panama City for a meal of traditional Panamanian food that is indicative of what the locals eat. After several very busy days, it was nice to enjoy a more relaxing day before heading back to the States.
There are definitely a lot of places within Panama that we would like to come back to see sometime in the future. We didn’t spend time on any of the beaches, partake in water sports, or visit some of the many islands that are off of the coasts. There is also a dormant volcano and a mountainous region as well. We were absolutely thrilled with our trip and will definitely be an advocate for people finding time to visit this wonderful country.