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Trip Report Panama Le encanta 4/2-4/12

Great time in Panama April 2nd through 12, 2012. Arrived late at night so we stayed at the Ronde aeropuerto. Did not want to navigate through Panama City on our way out to Chiriqui in the dark, and when we did drive through Panama City, even on a Sunday morning, were glad that we had waited. Rental cars are cheap in Panama, but be careful, the downtown location for Hertz apparently changes frequently and we had great difficulty turning the car back in.

From downtown Panama to Cerro Punta was a 500 km slog. In spite of what we heard, it was an interesting drive and although long we enjoyed it and saved substantial money on airfare. The further west we drove the prettier the Panamericana got. Took us 8 hours to get from Tocumen Airport to the very top of Cerro Punta. Los Quetzales lodge and Spa was good. We had great food there and almost had the place totally to ourselves. La Amistad National Park was a disappointment, and the Sendero los Quetazles was closed. The Sendero La Cascada was in very poor repair, one of the miradors has disappeared and the others had minimal view. We like the private reserve of the Los Quetzales Lodge better. The Sendero de Las Tres Cascades in particular was fun, up and down with guide wires to help over the rough spots, but it is reserved for those staying at the lodge or coming in with a guide. We were disappointed with our guide there. He kept us from getting lost, but that was about it. Finca Dracula was worth the visit to see the orchids. Birds were ok at Cerro Punta but not anywhere near as good as what we saw later in Colce.

Went to Boca Chica/ Boca Brava for lunch on our way back to central Panama. Fodor’s needs to up grade their recommendation for Hotel Boca Brava…. The open air restaurant at Boca Brava has a 270 degree view of Boca Chica and the Gulf of Chiriqui… a most pleasant place to sit and have a delicious meal and a cerveza, the building looked in excellent shape. New owner in place, the german architect sold it out to a Bostonian and his partner (Brad Esteban Baer and Kelly Lupita Clague, hotelbocabrava@yahoo.com). We were very sorry we had not left time to spend the night at this delightful place and hope that Fodor’s give a better steer to future travelers who might want to hang out at the edge of the world in a delightful coastal spot.

But our favorite spot was Cerro La Vieja on top of a hill at 1,800 feet in Colce Province about an hour from Penonome. The road gets worse and worse, thank God for the signs. Just as you almost completely run out of road you find Cerro La Vieja. Perhaps the food is not as good as good as at Boca Brava or Los Quetzales, but the birds and the view are spectacular. We had a superior room and could of spend the entire time hanging out in the hammock taking in the bird sounds, the birds themselves and the karst mountain formations across the plain. We took the guided tour down through the woods, across ridges with great views, through small Panamaian pueblos, past ancient petroglyphs, up a river through a pouring rain storm to the most beautiful cascade I have seen in Cerro la Vieja’s private Tavida Reserve. Fodor’s gave us the right steer here. Ask for Charmello the guide at the front desk. He was excellent.

Three days at a meeting in Panama at the Riu Plaza Panama, a nice new place catering to business travelers. We snuck in a tour to Casco Viejo- the old town and agree with Fodors that Café Rene is the place to eat. Miraflores Visitor Center is a must see, the pipeline trail in the afternoon was a disappointment. Of the 500 bird species there we still have 498 to see. But we did see several howler monkeys in the parking lot. Cost us 27 dollars each way in a Taxi from downtown Panama to the trail head and the driver waited on us.

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