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Trip Report Panama City and Bocus del Toro

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Just returned from nine days in Panama with my husband and 18 and 21 year old boys and wanted to give a quick report. Took the popular Copa flight 303 from LAX to Panama City. A tip here: airport services at LAX's Terminal 6 are almost all closed by midnight and even way before, so be prepared for that. We brought snacks, cards, etc. to keep us busy until the flight left at 2 am.

Stayed at the Toscanna Inn for one night, wihch we liked because of its central location, safe neighborhood, walking distance to many restaurants and shopping, and comfortable rooms. Ate at Cafe Pomodoro which we thought was nice. Next day we hired a driver with another guest at the hotel for a tour of the sights of Panama City - the Canal, the Old Town, shopping (I forgot my luggage so had to buy a few things. I know . . .don't ask!!). After a tour of the old military base with some interesting history we went to the Canal right when a large cargo ship was just entering the first lock so we got to watch it go through the first two. That was great. Our guide, Ricardo, said that you always will see a ship in the locks as long as you get there early in the morning. Without a ship going through it wouldn't be as fascinating. Also got to see some small boats go through in a group.

After he took us out the causeway to see the view of the city from the furthest out island and to see all the ships waiting to enter the canal. Then off to Casco Viejo through the ghetto (again with informed commentary), which my boys thought was fascinating. As soon as we came to a corner with a Presidential Guard posted we had entered Old Town. We loved walking around here. It is beginning its renaissance and we could see the huge potential for this area. Buildings that have been renovated are stunning. We loved having the local's point of view on everything too. Ricardo had a lot of interesting stories and great info about all of our stops as he grew up in Panama City. We had some delicious ice cream at Granclement in Casco Viejo - ginger, coconut, passion fruit, berry, yum. This is definitely an area where you could spend an afternoon or full morning eating a meal, walking around, enjoying the views, taking photos, and then finishing it off with an ice cream cone.

After a quick trip to the mall to get a few things (remember, I forgot my luggage at home :-() we went to the Gelabert airport for our flight to Bocas. So, total for us to drive around in a comfortable van with Ricardo for 5 or 6 hours was $75.

We loved Bocus del Toro, but then again, we are not hotel/resort type people and tend to like out of the way places. The 90 minute flight was totally worth going to this remote and stunningly gorgeous area. It is so undeveloped - now - but its only a matter of time before its beautiful reefs, great fishing, pristine rainforests that seem to go on forever, abundant wildlife and simple way of life draws more development and tourists. We stayed at Red Frog Beach which was a 20 minute boat ride from town. Our house was gorgeous and comfortable (almost too nice) with its own pool and a five minute walk to a totally secluded white sand beach. While it was remote we did go into town several times for scuba diving and fishing and so did some grocery shopping and banking while there. There is a canopy tour (zip line) which is always fun and experienced a lot of lazy days and nights full of spirited card games. If I were to go back I would take more books, although they do have loaner books up at the restaurant near the hostel, and some dvds . . . and the most powerful bug spray you can find (tons of mosquitos, no-see-ums, and whatever else). Don't miss a Salt Creek tour to see animals guided by a local and snorkeling on the other side of the island on the way to Salt Creek. My husband said that was the best snorkeling he has ever seen - anywhere - with the variety of corals, sponges, and fish extraordinary. There were even some nice little restaurants right on the water that would be great for a leisurely lunch after snorkeling. The staff at Red Frog were wonderful, cheerfully handling all of our requests and bookings for everything we wanted to do. You are in good hands here.

On our flight back to PC it was so fascinating looking out one side of the plane and seeing the Caribbean and the other the Pacific Ocean. Such a narrow country. We had arranged for Ricardo to pick us up at the airport on our return to Panama City and he was there waiting for us. We asked him to take us to an authentic Panamanian restaurant for a late breakfast/early lunch and again he did not disappoint. We went to El Trapiche where we each had an amazing Panamanian breakfast for the four of us (mind you - two growing men included) for $22 total. Then, after a few more sights and one more ice cream cone at Granclement we went to Tocumen airport for our flight home. That's it in a nutshell. Panama was a wonderful and surprising country.

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