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nfldbeothuk Feb 3rd, 2010 06:26 PM

Panama Questions
I'm thinking about an inexpensive (relatively) Easter break package trip to Panama. I've never been there, and I'm hoping someone with experience can give me a few pointers.

1) I've been vacillating between Playa Bonita resort & Gamboa rainforest. The beach resort has--well, a beach! and that counts, if I'm leaving Canada in April--a more traditional AI resort sound. Gamboa sounds as if it might attract more "nature-lovers with a daquiri" type. Am I reading them right? Both have somewhat mixed reviews, but I definitely can't afford really high-end places, and I want somewhere where either ocean or jungle predominate over traffic.

2) I'm not timid (been to Costa Rica & Cuba solo), but I'm a 50ish female who'll be travelling alone, and I'm not reckless either. Would walking alone in either of these areas be unreasonably reckless? I'm not thinking remote jungle locations, or urban slums, just something like the Pipeline trail.

3) How hard would a day trip to Panama City be from either place? How expensive? I don't like driving alone in countries where I don't know the language, so it would be a taxi or public transit.

4) Is there a guidebook for Panama (something that would be available to order online) that you would recommend? (I'm too distant from large chain bookstores to visit one and browse).

Any comments/suggestions appreciated.

JeanH Feb 3rd, 2010 08:01 PM

I spent one night at Gamboa a few years ago. It's an ok hotel, but there is nothing else around it. You don't have to worry about walking, there is no where to go.

Personally, I'd go to Bocas.

JoniC Feb 4th, 2010 12:50 PM

I stayed at Gamboa and like it. It is not far from Panama City but worlds away.

You could definitely travel to Panama City and the Las Flores Locks to see the Canal from there.

Very quiet and felt remote even though it wasn't. If you like birds and nature, you will really like it. On the other hand if you want loud discos and a lot of nightlife, this would not be a good pick. There are plenty of grounds to explore and it is perfectly safe.

I would not recommend Pipeline Trail alone. When I was there, there was someone with a machete running around in the woods looking for tourists to rob. Mind you, I am not saying it is horribly unsafe but I just wouldn't wander around alone. Instead I hired a guide from Ancon Expeditions. It is better with a guide anyway as they know just where the birds and animals are, and they can really enhance the trip.

Panama is an easy place to get around. Great roads and many people spoke english. You will have a great trip.


ewaltersfactotum Feb 4th, 2010 02:43 PM

Have not been to Panama yet - Comcara Kuna Yala (island) looks interesting. Hotel there all inclusive for about $140 a day - solar powered cabins and the price includes 2 tours or cultural outings daily Website is
We will be going to Panama shortly - and since we are thinking about possibility of retiring there we wanted an overall view of the country so we opted for a tour company - barefoot tours at
Happy Travels

Amara Feb 4th, 2010 05:32 PM

Hi, if you are looking for beach, Gorgona (1 hour from Panama City) or Santa Clara (1 hour 20 minutes from Panama City) on the Pacific Coast are my favorites. These are quiet places, rather rural towns, where beauty lies mainly in the ocean life. Though you might encounter a few partiers around. Some Canadians are even living around Gorgona. In Gorgona we have rented small houses through the web. In Santa Clara a nice stay is Las Sirenas or Villa Botero Bed and Breakfast. You can check in Trip Advisor.

A more lively area is Bocas del Toro. You arrive in Panama City then have to fly for another hour. And then of course Farallon or Playa Blanca at the Decameron is pretty lively and the beach is very nice.

nfldbeothuk Feb 4th, 2010 05:51 PM

I'm not really looking for "lively"--to clarify, a place that attracts drunk spring break types is my idea of the 7th circle of hell! And my "disco" stage was back when discos were new.
"No where" around it sounds fine to me, if there is lots of natural life to enjoy. The crazed criminal with a machete is seriously offputting, however.
Thanks to all for the helpful suggestions and info--any others would be appreciated.

JeanH Feb 4th, 2010 06:38 PM

Believe me, Bocas isn't full of spring breakers. Some surfer types, yes, but it isn't loud and rowdy. At least where I stayed, in a small B&B, right on the shore, a few blocks from downtown. Fell asleep listening to the surf every night.

Not a great destination if you're looking for a good beach though. But, a great place to hang out if you're traveling solo and just want to relax.

hopefulist Feb 4th, 2010 06:48 PM

I haven't been yet but one of our sons lived there in 2004-2005 doing community service work. We're researching a future trip and the Moon Panama is theone that seems best to him:

JoniC Feb 5th, 2010 07:48 AM

Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you with the machete story. I personally always hike with a local guide when I am in Central America, unless I am on hotel grounds. There are too many places you can wander into that might get you into trouble. Well, at least that is just me. Maybe I am overly paranoid. But several times in my travels I have been glad to be with a guide, whether it is fear of getting lost, wandering into a local "herb grower's" territory, stumbling across poachers, etc. I've just always felt safer that way. Plus they are a great help in ensuring you don't miss out on any wildlife because they know just where to look.

The Gamboa area of Panama is by no means a scary area. I would say it is reasonably safe and the machete guy I am sure by now is long gone or caught as this was a few years back. Please don't let that dissuade you from going. It is a quiet area away from the crowds so based on what you write I think you would really like it. Note there is no beach though so you'd probably want to split up your trip.

Besides Gamboa we went to Hacienda del Mar on Isla San Jose. It was a small hotel and very quiet although when we went they had booked a group of nudists and didn't bother to tell us this until the day before we left and we had no time to change our plans. Barring that, it was a nice place although very hot. Note the island was once used as an ammo shelling practice target but it has been cleaned up and we did not see any evidence of this while we were there. Lots of macaws and toucans flying around the hotel restaurant and the staff were great.


nfldbeothuk Feb 6th, 2010 04:35 PM

ammo shelling -- macaws flying around -- nudists -- "herb growers" -- and the guy with the machete. JoniC, you must have some great stories, but it would take a brave woman to travel with you! Usually the worst that happens to me is that I take the wrong path/road/train and spend a couple of hours trying to get back to where I started from.

Seriously, Gamboa does appeal to me. Beaches aren't a requirement if there's a nice pool--and warm weather.
I'm thinking of ending with a couple of days in Panama City. I understand the old city is reasonably safe in daylight.

Some of the out-of-the-way spots, described above, sound wonderful, but it'll take me 24+ hours to get to Panama, so I want to maximize my time there.
Has anyone taken the tour to the Embera Indian village? Is it embarrassingly "staged"? I like to see a different culture, but I'm not keen on people nneding to turn their everyday lives into a show for tourists.

JoniC Feb 8th, 2010 07:36 AM

Yes that was one of the more adventurous and interesting trips I've been on lately. Ha!

We did stay a night in Panama City, (the modern part) but did take a little tour of the old city. It was interesting and it was safe as long as you have a little street smarts. I did see some tourists with giant cameras hanging off their necks and counting out money openly in the street, which was not a very smart thing to do in the old city, and I certainly wouldn't go there at night or stay overnight in that area, but it was interesting for a day visit.


medland Feb 9th, 2010 01:35 PM

We visited Panama in December. Stayed at the Country Inn & Suites at the Panal Canal. We rented a car... you can take a taxi to the Country Inn & Suite...from airport. Stayed on the Panal side of the hotel to see the ships going by. Great place and safe with security on fronts doors. We booked with Expedia.. good room rates. We then travelled down to the resort areas Playa Blana Resort... also booked with Expedia. There are a number of resorts in that area. Beach and Pool also. There is a number of tours that you can book when you arrive at your hotel. Zip lining in the rainforest... trip down the canal...Bridge of the Americans.. birdwatching... It is not a tourist trap yet. It is hot and humid in that area. We enjoy it and found it safe, but like most counties you need to be careful.

Continental_Drifter Feb 17th, 2010 07:54 PM

Do some searches and you'll find my write up of Bocas del Toro. We were there last August and would certainly return. A small fee of $40 or so to one of the boat captains found next door to Bocas Water Sports will get you a day island hopping throughout the area to many beaches and natural areas.

We found it to be safe enough to allow our children, ages 11, 13 and 15 to wander and ride bikes in the town (as long as they stayed together.)

There are many small B&Bs of varying quality, a little shopping, a gourmet grocery, several good restaurants and great nature and wildlife. Rent a bike for the week and do your typical lazy beach vacation.

We can't wait to return.

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