Although I have travelled recently, I didn’t get a chance to blog about them since the summer! Yes, we’re well into winter but it’s been a busy few months with a new job, a project I am working on with some friends as well as trying to rethink my blog strategy. Even my Instagram page has been suffering – and that means something!
As I sit here, trying to warm my toes, I keep thinking back to the week we spent in Panamá City back in July. I close my eyes and think of a warm sun and a vibrant city. This was a bit of a different trip for us as we went with my siblings and spent some time with our family while exploring the city. The best part of that trip would hands-down have to be the day trip we took to explore small untouched islands of San Blas.
We hit the ground running as soon as we landed! Our one week in Panamá City itinerary included spending some time at our aunt’s cottage in Cerro Azul (straight from the airport!), strolling along the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Costa del Este off the Pacific Ocean, visiting the Panamá Canal, Old Panamá exploring the vibrant new Casco Viejo, spending a day in the sun at the San Blas Islands, visiting El Valle and taking in a breathtaking view of the city from Ancon Hill. We also visited Panamá Viejo, the old city as well as Coronado, a black sand beach and the Frank Gehry-designed Bio Museum along the Amador Causeway.
The fun thing about visiting a place where you know people is that you get an insight into everyday life and the local lifestyle. As an example, we got to visit a few of our aunt’s farms which is something you wouldn’t get a chance to do as otherwise. And while we dedicated some time to visit family members, I would say one week to ten days in the city is perfect.
The San Blas Islands of Panamá
If you do a quick google search, you’ll find that The San Blas Islands are an archipelago in Panamá and comprise of about 365 islands. Of these, only 49 are inhabited. This was a big thing on my bucket list of things to do in Panamá. To get to these islands are anything but easy. You can drive there, sail in or take a short local plane ride. There are many tour buses that also do day trips to this place in case you don’t drive abroad. If you do drive, it is important to return before it gets dark as there are no lights or completely paved roads on this route. The drive is breathtaking as you are driving through almost untouched valleys and mountains. We stopped a few times to take in the view and get some photos.
If you do plan on getting to San Blas, the most important thing to remember is that you need your passport in order to get through to this beautiful paradise. We drove through the Panamanian mountains and valleys before reaching the border of where the Kuna People’s governance begins. The Kuna People are a tight-knit tribal community that lives on the San Blas Islands, in the Atlantic. They live a lifestyle in the same manner as their ancestors – simple, and technology-free. We spent a full day, leaving at about 7:00 in the morning and heading back before it got dark. The waters are clear, there are starfish at the bottom of the sea floor and the coconuts tasted amazing. We also got a chance to check out the beautiful ‘natural swimming pool’ which was a shallow circumference of water away from the shores of the island, set in the midst of the deep Atlantic waters.
On any given day, there won’t be more than 15 people on the island you visit and you can pretty much walk the perimeter of this island is less than 10 mins time. It truly is a piece of Paradise, something you see in the movies or read about in books. If you do plan on going to the San Blas islands, you should remember to pack lots of food – there are no shops for you to grab a snack and although you can order some fresh sea lobster, it’s not always a guarantee. Seafood is picked daily and you won’t want to just depend on that!
Once you drive out to the coast, you show your passports and then pay to get on a boat that will take you out to one of the small islands. If the waters are too rough, there is a chance that the boats will not run and you will have to return back to the city. I would do a lot more research on this if you were to go on your own. I would also highly recommend going on a tour if you haven’t driven around a foreign country before or if it isn’t something you are comfortable with.
El Valle de Antón
We did another day-trip and this time head up to El Valle de Antón, or more commonly known as El Valle. El Valle a high town in a mountainous region. El Valle (meaning, ‘The Valley’) sits on the floor of the largest crater in the world. This is a small town with lots of outdoor activities for visitors, a countryside getaway for city-dwellers and a popular destination for North American retirees. Those living in the city also have cottages in El Valle as well as farmland.
We drove out to El Valle early on a weekday, making a street-side pitstop to get a taste of a local favourite and must-eat at Quesos Chela. These empanadas were amazing! While at El Valle, we made a quick stop at our aunt’s farm before visiting a local market, going zip lining and taking a mini hike to catch a glimpse of a lovely waterfall. After all the activities, we had a beautiful lunch at a hotel villa-style restaurant called Casa de Lourdes. It was truly like something out of the movies! Not only was the food amazing, but we were surrounded by views of the lush mountains. It was such a fun, relaxing day and had I the time, I would have aimed to stay a night and take in more of the activities and nature surrounding this beautiful place.
Panamá City’s Casco Viejo
The last place I want to highlight is Casco Viejo (meaning old quarter) – a historical part of the city which a unique modern vibe. This neighbourhood is deeply entrenched in history – from the late 1600s to now, it has seen a lot of change in its inhabitants. What was once a place that no local or tourist would want to step into is now a bustling hip area that is also UNESCO-protected.
We went here a few times during our trip to take in the real vibe of the quarter. The place is perfect to grab a pour over coffee, eat delicious desserts, enjoy rooftop bars and have dinner in one of the endless restaurants that line the wide streets. With old colonial buildings, a large church and an even bigger piazza, this European-style quarter has a beautiful view of the modern city of Panamá ahead of it and the futuristic Cinta Costera highway that sits in the Pacific. You can’t help but want to return every night.
Panamá City has a lot to offer including lush rainforests alongside beautiful city skylines as well as some of the best seafood you could have. It is so unique in that you could head to one side and be along the Pacific Ocean while and a few hours later head the to the coast opposite to be on the shores of the Atlantic. If you can spare more time, you can take a few days to go up to Bocas Del Torro as well as Volcán Barú. Both of these are on my list for the next time I head down south!
Below of some photos from our trip and of the places we visited while we were away. Got questions? Just leave a comment below and I would be happy to share tips with you!