The first impression of Panama City, Panama, as you fly into Tocumen International Airport Panama is a sprawling metropolis with high rise buildings of all shapes and designs. If you plan on driving while visiting, make sure you are bold and patient. Bold because at times there seems to be very few rules of the road, and patient because of the massive amount of cars you will see at any given time. Don’t be surprised if it takes you nearly an hour just to get out of the city.
There are a few must dos while in the city such as watching a ship go through the Panama Canal or wandering the historic streets of Casco Viejo; but if you’re like me, being bombarded by cars and hoards of people is not really the vacation I seek…so get out of the city and head to the beach.
I recommend steering your way towards the district of San Carlos. Here you will get the perfect combination of beach and rainforest.
Coronado is one of the larger towns in San Carlos situated on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The town itself has drastically grown and changed over the years, for the better, and has a wide range of shops and grocery stores to fill your needs and pantry. Parts of Coronado, such as the hotel and BnB listed below are all within a gated community that is bustling in its own right. There are many houses, turned BnB or Airbnb, that you can select while you enjoy the sights and experience a truly relaxing vacation.
Within Coronado, you’ll even find a hot spot restaurant called Luna Rossa. It has a huge rancho, an outside covered area where one can enjoy a meal with a pleasant breeze during the hot months. If air conditioning is more your thing, then enjoy the inside area. Regardless of seating area, you will be served delicious authentic Italian dishes. You can’t go wrong with anything your taste buds are in the mood for that day. One of my favorites is the Tiramisu – the true Italian tasting dessert like you have never tasted before.
How to get around
Despite the heavy traffic in the city, renting a car will be your easiest way to get around, especially while in the rural areas of the country. If you’re the adventurous type, feel free to try the local buses or cabs.
Where to stay
Into the resort and golf life? This is the place for you. Located on the water and slightly off the beaten path you won’t be disappointed with the various room views and amenities this hotel has to offer.
Looking for a more personal touch? Check out this super cute BnB where the owners will make you feel right at home. If you’re in need of some relaxation, they even have meditation and yoga classes that they offer in their outdoor space next to the pool.
Or are you looking for something a little more private or quiet? You can find plenty of beach condos on Airbnb. My personal favorite is Rio Mar. It is especially beautiful with its 4 unique pools and beachfront where one can watch surfers, boogie boarders, or small groups of people enjoying the waves in the morning and afternoon as the tide ebbs and flows. Don’t forget to walk on the sparkling black and white sand beach at low tide where frequently you are the only one around. New to Airbnb? Here’s $40 off your first rental!
What to do
Drive an hour up the mountain to the town of El Valle. This town is situated on the floor of a large volcano crater. There is so much to see and do here that you can stay a couple days or make a day trip out of it. You can experience the cloud forest along with the exotic flora and fauna that call this mountain home.
To see the exotic butterflies of the mountain, head to the Butterfly Haven where you will get to chance to learn about the various types and see them in action as you walk among them in the garden. If you’re lucky enough, they may even land on you! This is also a good time to use the “slow-mo” feature on your phone 🙂
If you want to take to the canopy and fly through the trees, check out ziplining. Canopy Adventure is a great guided hike that takes you up into the forest as you zipline across Chorro.
El Macho Waterfall is the largest in the area at least 100 feet above the forest floor. If zip lining across this wondrous natural beauty isn’t your thing, feel free to hike to the falls to see its beauty instead.
Need a little skin care TLC? Venture to the hot springs and mud baths to cover your body with volcanic healing clay that is said to be extremely beneficial for your skin. Once the clay is dried and rinsed off, enjoy a nice hot spring in the one of the tubs. This is a small area, but for $4 it’s a great experience.
No trip to El Valle is complete without wandering the stalls of the artisans and food market. This is a great spot in the center of the town that is not to be missed as you know whatever you may purchase supports the locals and their craft.
From the beautiful cool canopy of El Valle, head to the water to bask in the warm waters of the Pacific. Depending on your budget check out Vista Mar Marina to pick a water activity or for a budget friendly option, go in search of a fisherman at the Rio Hato
Market to see who may be willing to bring you aboard his boat and show you around the coast of Playa Farallón for a good deal. Personally, this gives you a much more personal experience. The best part of being off the coast of Playa Farallón is some of the history that you get to experience. You’ll see one of Noriega’s abandoned beach houses that has been overgrown with vegetation due to the fact that no one wants to take it over due to possible “bad juju”. Not far off the coast is Isla Farallón which is surrounded by teal blue colored water and filled with great snorkeling opportunities. The water was so inviting that I didn’t even wait for the fisherman to stop the boat fully, that I jumped right in. The island is filled with grottos; but be careful, as the waves can be somewhat strong the closer you get to the island. Also, watch your feet! There are tons of sea urchins that make the grotto their home, so don’t be surprised if you accidentally step on one.
From the beach to the rainforest there is so much to discover, so take your time to explore the beauty of this off the beaten path landscape. Often the most unexpected places leave a lasting memory.