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Panama Trip Report 1/13 - 1/17

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Jan 28th, 2007, 07:28 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Jan 2006
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Panama Trip Report 1/13 - 1/17

Flight -
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From New York to Panama on Copa, return on Continental. I had a $500 coupon on Continental, so it only cost me $71. The flight on Copa was awful. I reserved a seat in advance and confirmed it the day before, but still didn't get it. The seats were hard and very cramped. The food sucked. They came around literally five minutes before landing to see if anyone needed immigration forms, but they asked only in Spanish. Since I don't speak Spanish, I didn't know what they were asking, so I didn't get the forms and got delayed at both immigration and customs. The Continental flight was in a different league entirely. They still give you food (unlike most US airlines) and came around three more times with drinks. And because we were delayed by air traffic in Newark, they showed a second movie.

Hotels -

Hotel Costa Inn in Panama City - Excellent and highly recommended. Reasonably clean rooms with good A/C, cable TV, hot water, refrigerator and rooftop pool with free breakfast and free transfers to the airport (normally $25 by cab) - all for $36 a night.

I stayed one night at Las Veraneras in Santa Clara. It was OK, but hardly worth $79 a night. But the location on the beach is great.

Highlights:

1. Panama City - Its a bit short on sites (the Casco Viejo was no big deal), but its a fun place to spend a few days.

2. Parque Natural Metropolitano - A nature reserve just 10 minutes from downtown, it make for a good two hour hike. Not exactly roughing, but worth the visit.

3. The Beach at Santa Clara - A mostly empty, very relaxing beach. There are a couple of hotels, but otherwise its still a fishing village with roosters in the streets.

4. Cost - Everything is dirt cheap. A cab ride anywhere in the city is $1.50 or less. A few empanadas and juice for breakfast is little more than a dollar. A 2 hour bus ride is $3. And 30 minutes at an internet cafe is 25 cents.

5. The lack of tourists - Panama is still largely undiscovered by tourists, which means few hassles or scams and people who are still welcoming and honest. Cabs are unmetered but the drivers were all completely honest. One guy who drove me to the canal did not have change so he said he would wait for me there and to my surprise he was still there two hours later with my $20 bill. At the same time, the lack of tourists means that little English is spoken. It can be a bit challenging if your Spanish is limited to what you learned on Sesame Street.

6. You can actually drink the tap water, which is pretty rare for a third world country.

7. Got to see two huge ships going through the canal. Between 3 and 5 PM seems like the ideal time to go.

Disappointments -

1. I heard great things about the Amador Causeway, but it was all built up with restaurants and whatever else. Not the unspoiled nature I was expecting.

2. Copa Airlines (see above)

Guidebook -

The Moon Guide. Written by an American who grew up in the Canal Zone, he was pretty much right on about everything.

Gay Scene -

The one gay place I was looking for had closed. But I found that the internet cafes are a hotbed of homosexuals. I was a good boy this time, but I did meet a few nice guys there.

Safety -

Despite Panama's reputation for being dangerous, it did not seem that way at all to me. I pretty much gave up my idea that Latin America is dangerous, and walked all over the city, including on dark, empty streets and never felt uncomfortable. No doubt there's a reason that so many places have armed security cards, but it never felt dangerous to me.

Next trip -

Israel (I hope) - in April.
trebex is offline  
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Jan 29th, 2007, 05:56 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
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Thanks for sharing on this forum, too.
hopefulist is offline  
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Jan 29th, 2007, 12:20 PM
  #3
Amy
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,474
Thanks so much for the trip report! I'm hoping to spend about a week in Panama in June, so I'm avidly reading all that I can. Sounds like I'd better practice my Spanish a bit, eh?
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