Escape To Panama
5 things to do in Panama with Justine
March is a good month for surf in lots of places all over the world. What a dilemma! Where should I go, what should I chose?
Between South and North America there is no better place than Panama to discover Central America. This land neck connects South and North America through the Pan American and the two oceans via the Panama Canal. You hear people say that it’s a country where you land by accident but in the end you might never leave…
There is surf on both coastlines, lots of culture and adventures around every corner – you don’t need much more to convince yourself to give it a go!
Here are my top 5 recommendations for Panama!
- GO GET LOST IN THE ALLEYS OF EL CASCO VIEJO
The old city of Panama City dates back to the 17th century and has been classified UNESCO World Heritage Site for what it is being constantly renewed.
Be enchanted by the beauty of the colonial houses almost falling into pieces and the bright and colorful ones recently restored. The streets are filled with trendy coffee shops, souvenir stalls, wine bars, surrounded by lots of outstanding old churches and historical buildings. This is the time to get a Panama, the famous hat that has never been made in Panama, but in Ecuador. It became famous thanks to the canal workers who wore it during its construction! While you’ll be walking along the ramparts you’ll find white sandy beaches and discover an amazing view over the modern city and its skyscrapers.
Tip: Use Uber to move around during your trip. It’s very common and less expensive than taxis. For all surf-addicts amongst you, there is surf in Panama City… Find out where ;)
- SURF LONLEY PACIFIC BEACHES
The Pacific Coast is wild and tiny villages follow one another between Las Tablas and Santa Catalina: Pedasí, Venao, Las Cañas, Guanico, Cambutal, Morillo… Driving along the coast in a car is the best way to discover the countless wild spots! The roads are safe and in good shape, but in remote places a 4x4 might be handy. Dark-sand beaches stretch out at the bottom of the mountains: beach breaks and point breaks, hollow waves or softer ones all lay next to each other. The best time for the surf is from April to November in the Pacific and from December to March in the Caribbean Sea. This means you can surf all year round in Panama!
Pedasì is a colorful village where one bright, decorated house follows another, mixed up with coffee shops, restaurants and shops all next to each other!
Venao is a beach in full development. Surf camps and surf hostels have set up in the middle of nowhere along this bay where you can surf beautiful right-left peeks. You could be 10 people on one peek and it would already be considered as crowded!
Guanico is an all level beach break and very consistent! A few miles away, Cambutal has evolved in front of a tinier beach break. Find beautiful resorts in well-maintained gardens along the beachfront. To surf the best of waves you might have to go further to find the point breaks of the following bays: 411, Dinosaurus or Corto Circuito.
Tip: when you are in Guanico ask for Los FranCHE, serving the best food in town! Hélène and Agustín are a Franco-Argentinian surf couple who know everyone in the village and make the best pizzas, breads and banana bread …
- RIDE A HORSE ALONG GUANICO BEACH
Between two session you can always go back to the dry and arid landscape of the Los Santos province and discover or rediscover how much fun it is to ride a horse. Wild West ambiance guaranteed!
In the middle of sun-burned yellow fields, you’ll find bulls and horses in search of shadow. When you walk through the rainforest keep an eye on the monkeys in the treetops! They make weird noises… Squirrels, iguanas, giant grasshoppers, armadillos, birds… thanks to its biodiversity, Panama owns one of the richest flora and fauna of the planet! When you come by the beach with the turtle reserve get off your horse and explore the marine caves, hop back onto your saddle after and climb up the mountain to enjoy the view over the ocean and the countryside. Breathtaking!
Tip: The extraordinary fauna unfortunately includes mosquitos: they are tiny as fruit flies but their bites itch like crazy! Protect against those chitras! They are highly active at sunrise and at sunset. During the day they hide from the wind. So by this time, protect yourself against the burning heat of the sun.
- GO FOR A SNORKELING TOUR AROUND THE ISLAND OF COIBA
What about discovering the whale sharks in the natural reserve of Coiba. With its volcanic origins it’s the biggest island of the country and its status is protected since 1991. During almost 100 years Coiba has been used as a penitentiary center; the isolation of the island has allowed nature to develop wildly and species to appropriate the territory. Classified as world heritage by the UNESCO, this archipelago of 38 islands belongs to the same biological marine corridor as the Galapagos Islands.
Its submarine fauna is extraordinary: marine turtles, white tip sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, manta rays and thousands of fishes move around in swarms. The whale shark is the star amongst them but you need to be patient! Whether it’s snorkeling or scuba-diving, you decide!
Back on land, explore the jungles with its palm trees and mangroves where you might get to know another important personality of the island: the crocodile! But don’t worry - as long as you don’t invade his territory, it’s not aggressive.
Tip: The boats to Coiba leave Santa Catalina in the morning: chose one that could give you a tour around the islands going the opposite way… You will be the only ones at the spot!
- ENJOY THE PLEASURES OF CARIBBEAN LIFESTYLE IN BOCAS DEL TORO
White sandy beaches, turquois colored ocean, mangroves and coconut palms – there is no way around a trip to Bocas when you are in Panama! It’s a tropical archipelago with a relaxed atmosphere where backpackers are very welcome. If some of the islands might be pretty busy during certain periods of the year, you can always find a quiet island for yourself. Big yellow pick-ups are used as cabs on the islands but usually people use water taxis, little motor boats that go from one island to another or drop you off right at the line-up for a couple of dollars. Bicycles are another common way to commute as distances are short. But beware of tropical rain falls, they always come as a surprise. While they can be pretty intense, they never last very long!
The surf conditions are extraordinary and there are waves for all levels of surfing, from tiny and easy reef breaks to tubular shore breaks…
If surf is not your favorite thing to do, there’s a lot more to explore on the islands. Go diving or discover the local fauna: redfrogs and starfishes for example!
And don’t forget to check out all the colorful restaurants and bars. Just as the houses, most of them are built on piles to sit above the water. The tiny restaurants serve typical local dishes at moderate prices and truly deserve a quick visit. To really get into the Bocas vibe you have to melt with local culture!
Tip: If you want to live in a house built on piles above the water with a private deck, book with the Bocas Beach House on the main island of Colon. From there you can directly go for a surf by taking a boat to Carnero island just in front or a taxi/bicycle to surf Paki Point, Paunch or Bluff for the most reckless.
- The official language in Panama is Spanish, but you can speak English in touristic places
- Both currencies are accepted, the Balboa and the US dollar. US dollars for the notes and Balboa and US dollars, both for the coins
- Time difference with France is: -6h during the winter and -7h during the summer
- Panama is a tropical country where night temperatures differ from 21 to 26 and 27 to 36 during the day; humidity goes from 50% to 90%. Cool winds are very welcome!
- There are 2 seasons: the dry season “summer” (December/January to April) and the wet season “winter” (May to November). The hottest period goes from March to April
- Security: I felt safe everywhere I went. Panamanian are very respectful and sometimes distant, which surprised me coming from a Latin culture!