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Panama: highlights

Our (almost) three weeks in Panama took us to quite a few places, and on more than one adventure. From all the countries we’ve traveled to, I’ll be honest and admit this one wasn’t my absolute favorite (that spot is still taken by the Philippines) – but Panama sure was beautiful too. There’s plenty of lush jungle to explore, exotic animals to spot, beaches to relax on and lovely colorful towns to get lost in. These are my personal highlights from a trip that took us to Panama City, Boquete, Boca Chica, Las Lajas, Volcan, Bocas del Toro, and Panama City again.

Isla Zapatillas

Needless to say, when you’re visiting tropical islands – you need sunshine. It’s quite as simple as that. After experiencing some tropical downpours earlier in the day (and actually, on our way to this island), we were happy to see the sun break through in full force when we arrived at the beautiful isla Zapatillas. There’s not much to do here but take in the view of the palm trees and beaches – but sometimes, that’s really all you need.

Our stay at Mount Totumas in Volcan.

Imagine a couple of beautiful mountain cabins, a surrounding of nothing but nature and jungle, and your own personal hummingbird terrace. That slightly begins to describe the lovely experience we had staying at Mount Totumas. It is located in Parque Nacional La Amistad, quite close to the border with Costa Rica. The owner of this stay developed several hiking trails here, which take you through the jungle & plenty of beautiful landscapes – and if you’re lucky, you can do some wildlife spotting too. This place is quite secluded and it takes some effort getting up there, but we loved this experience. Don’t forget your hiking gear though, you’re gonna need it!

The red frogs on isla Bastimentos.

These tiny fellas definitely take a prime spot in my list of “cutest animal I’ve seen, ever” (let’s not forget about the tarsiers though). Isla Bastimentos has a beach that is named after these red cuties, but ironically (and tragically) they aren’t to be found there anymore because they were fumed out due to the construction of some fancy resort. However, you can spot them in other places on the island, the garden of our Airbnb stay was full of them and we also saw some at Up in the Hill (a nice coffee shop in Bastimentos). They’re only like 2 or 3 centimeters big, you can spot them in different varieties and – oh yeah – they’re poisonous.

Casco Viejo.

Ahh yes, it’s not the first time I’ve raved about Casco Viejo – the charming old town of Panama City. Even though this place is really quite small, and definitely aimed at tourists – it would be a shame to leave it out of your itinerary. I’d suggest to get lost in the streets, take countless pictures of the (new and old) pastel buildings, grab a bite to eat in one of the many cute spots, have a drink on one of the rooftop bars, and simply enjoy your stay here. My personal favorites? Cocktails at the Pedro Mandinga rum bar (best mojito ever, not too expensive, and a super pretty interior), coffee at the American Trade Hotel (that lobby, though), lunch at Tantallo (hands down the best food in Casco Viejo for the most reasonable price and it’s a cute place to sit too), dinner at Don José (a ten-course culinary experience at the number one restaurant in Casco – go here if you want to try something special and don’t mind spending a bit more). Expect a mini guide for this lovely part of Panama soon!

Rainbows and waterfalls in Boquete.

Yet another mountain town, and more hiking. Boquete is well-known in Panama, but if you’re a nature or coffee lover you should definitely go here. The climate here is cooler (think: not a boiling 38 degrees), and there are a lot of coffee plantations to be found in these green mountain highlands. You can take a tour on one of these, or enjoy one of the many hikes in the area (we did the three waterfalls hike, and loved it). The weather can change by the minute here, so you kind of need to be prepared for everything. We were lucky enough to have super sunny weather most of the time, but also spotted a couple of rainbows thanks to the occasional shower. Simply beautiful! Oh, and if you’re hungry and thirsty after all that hiking, go to the (surprisingly hipster proof) Boquete Brewing Company bar and have some delicious fish tacos at Big Daddy’s afterwards. Successful day guaranteed.

Metropolitan National Park

It may seem a bit strange to add a park that is located in the city to this list considering all the other nature in Panama, but this is actually where we spotted the most wildlife of our trip. Little did we know that when we visited this park on one of our first days there, or maybe we would’ve hung around even longer. We spotted a sloth, a tarantula, stunning butterflies and leaf cutter ants here. On top of the park, you can also enjoy a beautiful view over the city. The hikes aren’t too difficult here, but prepare to break a sweat anyway (as you’ll do pretty much anywhere you go in Panama).


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