You could say I am a “work hard, play hard” kind of person. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “when you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all.” This trip falls into the “play hard” category. Ten months ago I traveled with 3 of my best girlfriends to Panama. I went in to this trip with no expectations and it ended up being one of the best experiences I have ever had. Isn’t that the case with so many other situations in life? Managing our expectations of ourselves, our loved ones and even something like a trip can sometimes make or break the situation. Going into it, I had never been to Central America, but I knew there would be a beach and I knew I would be with my best friends so I was on board.
The plane tickets for this trip were purchased on St. Patrick’s day, 2016, while tipsy, at a bar. At the going rate of only $450 bucks round trip and only a 4 hour non-stop flight from Dulles, how could we pass this up? We couldn’t. We left on June 21st and returned on the 4th of July, spending just about 2 weeks in three regions of Panama- Panama City, San Blas Islands and Bocas Del Toro.
This is what I was carrying for the entire two weeks of the trip. The climate was hot and humid so anything more than a sundress, shorts and a t-shirt were not really needed. I brought 2 pairs of sandals, my TOMS and one pair of running shoes (I wore these on the plane as to not take up space in my pack.)
Days 1-2: Panama City
We arrived in Panama City around 2pm, made it to our hostel and then hit the road for some food & drinks. Our hostels ran the price range of 10 dollars a night, to 15 dollars a night and in some situations included breakfast in that price! (I now think of this every time I blow 40 bucks at Target- “welp that was two nights in paradise.”) All of the hostels were clean, packed with travelers from all over the world and everyone we came across was super nice. Everyone is in the same boat: far away from home, unfamiliar with the surrounding areas and on a budget. We stayed at Magnolia Hostel in the Casco Viejo portion of the city. Casco Viejo is a corner of the city that runs right along the water, its super historical and has a mix of beautiful historical buildings.
We set out on foot to explore and went to the local outdoor fish market where you could get Balboas (basically Panama’s Budweiser) for 1 dollar! We sat outside and people watched for a bit and enjoyed many 1 dollar beers. Next we kept exploring and stumbled upon La Rana Dorada, a local Panama brewery. This served as our home base while in Panama City and then again at the end of our trip when we returned to Panama City to fly home.
Days 3-6: San Blas Islands
Getting to San Blas was an adventure in and of it’s self. A jeep picked us up at our hostel at 5am and for $35 dollars, took up on the 3 hour journey to the coast. The ride to the coast was super bumpy and almost all of us got car sick. The only thing I can compare it to was Jurassic Park, we drove along cliff edges, up and down mountains and through forests. Lesson number one: never travel without Dramamine. When we reached the coast, there were a bunch of small boats ready to take us to the San Blas Islands. The boat ride was about 35 minutes and cost $2 dollars.
This was a photo taken on the ride to the coast:
While on San Blas, we stayed in huts right on the beach. During the day we would hang on the beach and island hop (there are over 200 islands within San Blas.) At night, the local Kuna people who live on the island made us a homemade meal, usually a whole fried fish and plantains. We got to hang with all of the other travelers at night and drink rum under the moon. We met people from Europe, Australia, Israel and a few other people from the U.S.
The days spent on San Blas were wonderful, and the only time I have ever felt truly far away and cut off from the rest of the world, in the best possible way. There is no electricity, no cars and no wifi. Staying on these islands was extremely relaxing and a great way to shut off and be present because honestly, its really the only option you have. It was a great exercise in being in the moment that I have tried to bring home to the States with me.
Days 7-11: Bocas Del Toro
Next we spent a day travelling from San Blas to Bocas Del Toro. It was a ten hour bus ride, over night and another 45 minute boat ride-all worth it. Bocas Del Toro is located on the boarder of Costa Rica and Panama. It’s a cool little town filled with surf shops, taco joints and lots of funky bars. This was our hostel, Selina. Let me show you what $15 dollars a night gets you in Panama:
Bocas had amazing night life and lots of different beaches you could visit by boat. While San Blas was more simple, basically just a beach, Bocas Del Toro had more of a vacation atmosphere with lots of fun activities like surfing lessons, scuba and paddle boarding. The water taxi/boats cost about 1 usd per person and they will take you wherever you want. We visited La Playa de Estrellas (Starfish Beach) and didn’t see one god damn starfish, but it was still a great day. We also rented paddle boards, explored on foot a bunch and spent many hours on the deck of our hostel having drinks and chatting with fellow travelers.
Days 12-14: Travelling back to Panama City & back home to the U.S.
We spent one more night on the overnight bus back to Panama City. Our last night was spent again in Magnolia Hostel and at our favorite spot, La Rana Dorada with our new friend Ruth that we met on the overnight bus from Bocas Del Toro to Panama City. Ruth is from Ireland and we are already talking about going to visit her some time soon!
It’s safe to say I fell in love with Panama, the people, the food, the scenery and getting to share it with these wonderful women- I will absolutely be back.