We arrived to Panama in time to bid farewell to 2018 and say hello to 2019…New Year’s Eve in legendary Bocas del Toro, where we expected a crazy party spilling into the streets. What we didn’t expect was for our hotel to cancel on us the day before, leaving us scrambling to find suitable alternative accommodations on the tiny island. But no matter…when there is a will, there is a way! We did manage to find a place for the night, and we hurriedly checked into our rooms, dropped off our bags, and changed into our party clothes before rushing back into town for the festivities. After Bocas, we had a marathon journey by public transport to Panama City, an adventure that yielded stories for years to come. Panama City did not disappoint – we checked out the canal at Miraflores Locks, wandered the streets of Casco Viejo (historic district of Panama), and watched sunset from our rooftop pool. After bidding farewell to BG and Francisco, we extended our stay in Panama with a whirlwind trip to San Blas. Our first foray to Panama was way too short…we could easily see ourselves returning and making Boquete and Isla Coiba a priority on our next visit.
Playa Bluff Lodge, Bocas del Toro: $173.25 for a fan room, private bathroom, WiFi, incl breakfast and access to pool. Easy check in process (although no obvious reception area, just roam around the property until you find a staff member to help), lovely rooms (very big, spacious and comfortable). Nice private patio with a swing to relax in. Full breakfast served in the morning (eggs, toast, pancake, coffee/tea, juice). This area is secluded so it was a very quiet and peaceful night’s sleep. Beautiful gardens. Beach area is beautiful but very wild (cannot swim here due to rip currents but there is a swimming pool). Some negatives: Staff not particularly friendly (except the female host, Stephanie, who checked us in….she was lovely). Some of the rooms don’t feel private because other guests walking by can look into the bathroom/living area (curtains would fix this). The property is solar powered and it lost power when we were there (not a big deal but something to be aware of). No obvious reception area but the host lives in room 10.
Hotel Milan Panama, Panama City: $44 for a double, AC, private bathroom. Good budget option for Panama City. We arrived to Panama City at midnight but no problem for check in since there is 24 hours reception. Rooms are very spacious and clean, comfortable. Very nice hot water showers. AC was great and worked well since it was hot/humid. Late checkout (2:30 pm) and early check in is a huge bonus. Good value for money and property is located in a perfect location for Panama City. Negatives: WiFi signal weak in room and kept dropping in/out. No breakfast included but there is a restaurant in the hotel and there are loads of nearby places to eat so not a big deal.
Aparthotel Sevilla Suites, Panama City: $110 for an apartment for 4 adults. Excellent value option to stay in Panama City in comfort. Our room was very spacious and comfortable. It included a couch, two queen sized beds, kitchenette (microwave, stove, fridge and some dishes/utensils/cookery). WiFi good here. Breakfast is included starting from 6 – 10 am and is self serve with cereal, muffins, yogurt, cheese/deli meats, toast, maracuya juice (yum), croissants. Swimming pool on the roof was fantastic to meet other guests and cool down in the afternoon. Staff even let us check in early!
Carolina Princess Marbella, Panama City: $32.72 for a double, shared bathroom facilities, incl breakfast. This property is in a good location, very safe and secure. The staff is helpful and friendly. Had to do laundry on a Sunday (laundromats closed) so the staff helped me out in a pinch. Need to use a key card to enter the property so it feels much safer than the nearby hostel options where anyone can walk from the street into the property. Staff can help you book tours here (San Blas islands). Breakfast is tasty. WiFi is fast and strong. Pool is lovely. Negatives: Limited shared toilets (one unisex, one for men and one for women) which is tricky when the hostel is full of large groups. Thin walls so bring earplugs if a light sleeper.
31 Dec: Cross border from Costa Rica into Panama. Drive to Almirante and board water taxi to Bocas del Toro in time for New Year’s Eve celebrations. We were supposed to stay here: Carenero Los Tres Pisos, Isla Carenero Sendero Bocas del Toro, 84 Brown Point, Panama (Phone: +507 6530-1970) Cost for a double: $64.4. However, they cancelled on us the day before we arrived, stating our room was under “renovation”. Since it was New Year’s Eve, Bocas was sold out and our sleeping options were limited. Thankfully, booking.com worked with us to find an alternative place to stay, which ended up being 8 km from Bocas Town at Playa Bluff (Playa Bluff Lodge, a whopping $173.25 per night for a double room, but booking.com was taking care of the difference in price from our original hotel). Had to find a taxi willing and able to drive us to Playa Bluff and return (for NYE’s festivities)….not an easy task as most taxi drivers were also partying it up. We did find a willing driver who charged us $40 round trip before midnight and $40 one way after midnight. Extortionate but we had no other options. New Year’s Eve was spent in Bocas del Toro and we just used Playa Bluff as a place to get a few hours of rest.
1 Jan: Long day today! After breakfast, make our way back into Bocas del Toro to catch the water taxi ($6 each) back to Almirante. Hop in a taxi ($1 each) to the local bus station, catch the next available bus ($8 each) to David. Change buses in David ($15.50 each) for a long haul to Panama City. Arrive before midnight. Note: if we had more time in Bocas, we could have coordinated for the night bus which would have taken us from Almirante to Panama City direct, without any bus changes. Sleep at: Hotel Milan Panama, Calle Eusebio A. Morales (just 150 meters from Aparthotel Sevilla Suites, which we would have stayed at but was fully booked for tonight).
2 Jan: Panama City tour: use Uber and visit the Panama Canal at Miraflores Locks. Check out of Hotel Milan and into Sevilla Suites, Calle Eusebio A. Morales – El Cangrejo, Panama City, (Phone: +507 213-0016). After lunch, Uber to the historical old town. Afternoon at the rooftop pool to relax and have a few cocktails.
3 Jan: After breakfast, goodbye to BG and Francisco. Check out of Sevilla Suites and check into Carolina Princess Marbella, Called Las Esmeraldas, Casa 44, Panama City, (Phone: +507 386-3050). Book onward tour to San Blas at Machico Hostel.
4 Jan: Free day in Panama City.
5 Jan: “More Places…More Fun” Tour to San Blas (2 day/1 night for $125 or 3 day/2 night for $145). Sleep at Ina Island and visit Pelican Island, Natural Pool, and Demar Achudup Island. Price includes SUV 4×4 pick up at 5:30 am, drop off to Panama City by noon on last day, boat ride to/from San Blas, 3 meals a day.
6 Jan: Midday return from San Blas, check into Carolina Princess Marbella.
7 Jan: After breakfast, Uber to the airport for onward flight to El Salvador.