Did we like Panama? Or didn’t we? Hard to say.
Panama will leave us with a bitter sweet memory. We were definitely happy to leave Costa Rica, which had been great to us, and discover something new. After a day spent in several and surprisingly confortable buses, we spent our first night in Las Lajas, a desertic beach on the Pacific, not too far from the Costa Rican frontier although still requiring a few hours of bus. The big gate reading « Las Lajas » and indicating the beginning of the spot scared us a little, never a good sign when you feel like entering an amusement park. We then arrived on a huge beach, it was several kilometers long and with very, very few people. After walking for 20 minutes under the burning sun with our bags that definitely feel too heavy, we finally got into a hotel where we rented a camping spot on the beach for $10.
But the atmosphere felt a bit weird. The owner of the place had been away for a few days and the only people in the hotel were four volunteers who worked there for free in exchange of a place to sleep and a shower. Regarding the clients, looked like this place hadn’t seen any since the 1970s. This could have been fun but all four seemed to have their own things to do and we just felt like we were in some kind of ghost hotel. Adding to this the fact that I got sick, that camping on a desertic beach under 35 degrees isn’t the best and that the hotel had nothing to offer us for breakfast, we decided to get the hell out of there.
After only 24 hours without a car we could already feel we were going to miss it very badly. We felt trapped between taxis wilingness to show up and bus schedules and we had to find a solution. But first we had to leave this place and go somewhere with AC. In 5 minutes decision was made : We were heading to Panama City, which was 6 hours from there.
In Panama City, we loved:
- The Airbnb we landed in with the AC had been dreaming of few hours before. Made us happy.
- Getting lost in Casco Viejo, the old town, which is being heavily reconstructed right now and where beautiful Manhattan-like hotels coexist with abandonned colonial buildings
- The Tantalo Rooftop (in Casco Viejo) with its view on both the old and the new cities.
- The guy we met in the street who saw our distress and recommended us to go visit El Valle de Anton
We less loved:
- The Panaviera rooftop at the top of the Trump building – everybody talking business and networking while drinking free champaign, it just didn’t feel right.
- The impressively slow service at Mcdonald’s, slowest service we’ve ever seen actually (yes we do go to at least one Mcdonald’s per country, we think it is our duty to do some quality check)
- The big business made out of all the different tribes : Islas San Blas belong to the Kunas and they will make you pay for anything you do in there, from entering an island to taking a picture of them. The Wounaans, an other tribe, will make you pay so that you can discover how they make their fiber baskets. While we sure can understand that these tribes take advantage of turism (and if they don’t turism will take advantage of them) but the fact that there is no way to bypass that monetary relationship killed a bit of our enthusiasm to meet them, so we didn’t.
So we wouldn’t pay to take part to the tribe show. But where go then? San Blas is defintely THE thing to do when you are in Panama, so what now? Valle de Anton seemed like a good idea and so we went. And we are glad we did. This city set in the crater of a now extinct volcano was the dose of fresh air we needed and one day there hiking around to see things from the top was the perfect timing before heading to Colombia and get the South American chapter started.