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Trip Report Trip Report- Panama, including San Blas and Gamboa

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Recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Panama, here are my experiences and thoughts-- we spent 2 nights in Panama City, 3 nights in San Blas, and 3 nights at Gamboa Resort, before moving onto Colombia for a family visit.

PANAMA CITY- spent just 2 nights and one day. Stayed at La Estancia-- we liked it, it met our needs perfectly for this trip-- the rooms are spare but clean, the ample public areas make up for the small rooms, the location was tranquil.

MIRAFLORES LOCKS- arrived at about 11:30am, and staff directed us to the observation deck, as last ship of the morning was passing through. I found the process much more fascinating than I would have thought. There was a lull until about 1:30 pm, then they started the ships from the other side. We had lunch buffet at their restaurant ($21, plus drinks were extra)-- food average, except the cakes were quite delicious, I got my $21 worth in desserts, and to be able to sit in a/c comfort to watch the canal was a plus.

SAN BLAS- 3 nights at Yandup Lodge. We enjoyed it, but we also went there with properly managed expectations. I advise anyone who is comtemplating a visit, to spend an hour reading the posts and reviews on TA to know what to expect, and if it is for you, as it will not be your typical island/beach vacation. The cabanas themselves are basic, there is a proper flush toilet, the shower is cold, and water pressure varied from minimal to moderate(if you have long, thick hair, do as I did, wash it GOOD before you arrive, and wash it again when you get back to "civilization", and just don't care in between. ) We found all their staff to be friendly and helpful. The English is limited, you will do better with Spanish. Being on a small, relatively isolated island, was such a wonderfully unique experience, and lazing around on a hammock, outside your overwater cabana, just listening to the water-- paradise. (Though for me, longer than 3 days, would have been too much vegging out). Two excursions offered a day. First day, we went to another island,that had a beautiful, small beach and lovely swimming, and in the afternoon, to the mainland for a short walk up the hill to the cemetery. Second day, hike to a small waterfall and with a nice pool-- the last 1/3 of the hike was difficult footing, and crossing 2 shallow rivers, it was about 2 hours each way (with guide stopping to explain things), in the pm, we visited the village. Third day, went to a different island/beach, did not find this one as nice as the first one. We skipped the pm visit (cruise among the mangroves) in favor of one last afternoon vegging out. The unfortunate thing is that the area is not completely pristine--- the staff keep Yandup clean, but on the other islands, on the shore, if you walk around, you will find some litter, and you will find alot near the village on the mainland. It poses quite the ecological question. They told us the night before we left, that our flight would be delayed until 10:30am, it actually came after 11am. A number of people from the village turn out for the flights-- to send their own off or welcome others back, and some of the youngsters, just to watch, I found it to be kind of a "the plane, the plane" fantasy island moment.

GAMBOA: 3 nights at Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Yes, it is expensive, yes it is away from any action, yes it is a "rainforest light" experience compared to where we stayed in jungle lodge in Ecuador--- but that being said, we found it beautiful, had wonderful service from hotel/restaurant staff, relaxing, and the food costs were not as bad as I anticipated. ( You can eat cheaply at the bar or pool, or order off menu instead of the buffets, and bring your own water from a grocery in Panama City). Most of the staff on the tours and the restaurants/front desk could speak English and Spanish. The only paid tour we did was Monkey Island-- we had to do it the afternoon we arrived, as they said it was booked up for the following 2 days (.My husband had tried to call them 3 times before we left the US to try to reserve a spot in advance, but could never get through to anyone at the tour desk. ). We also did their free morning nature walk and a free evening night tour on the truck.Other free activities offered were kayaking and bicycling. We did a lot of walking about the property on our own, the property does not seem to cater toward do it yourselfers, but it is possible. Spent 2 afternoons just lazing at the pool, enjoying sunshine and warm weather. Since we live in a city, to have these days to view green hills , trees and water instead of tall buildings, was a welcome change.

TAXIS: Here is a rundown of taxi fares we paid:
We used La Estancia's airport pick up service- they charged $30 from the international airport, and $6 to the domestic airport. Miraflores, taxi to there charged $7, there were drivers waiting to take people back, we were charged $8 for the return trip. Taxi driver from domestic airport charged us $27 to go from airport to La Estancia to pick up luggage, and then onto Gamboa. He gave us his card, and said he would charge $40 to go from Gamboa to Int'l airport, but when we tried to call him the day before leaving, could never get through to him, so we had Gamboa book us a taxi for $50 (it was bigger and nicer than the other guy's, so I guess we got something for the extra money). Only one time did a taxi driver try to take advantage-- we went one evening from La Estancia to Albrook Mall, the driver there charged $4, when we left mall, the first taxi driver we approached wanted $8 and would not do it for less, we just went to another driver, who readily agreed to do it for $4.

Last thought is to say that overall, we found the local people we encountered, be it restaurants, or tourist sites, or taxis, etc, to be friendly and of good spirit. It is a place I would return to again.

Then it was off for a family visit in Colombia-- but that is for another discussion.

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