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PANAMA

Caribbean islands, Pacific beaches, and a lot of jungle in the middle
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PANAMA: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Here below some of the most fascinating photos from Panama. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/panama.htm.

Granito de Oro, Isla Coiba
Granito de Oro. A small islet close to Isla Coiba, very fascinating.

PANAMA TRIP REPORT

If you want to have a relaxing holiday with your girlfriend ad another couple, what's the first thing you think about? Of course, to fly to Panama, rent a 4x4 and explore its wild coasts and jungles. Well... at least, that's what I thought.
We left on the 16th of December. The cheapest flight available had a long stop in New York, so we took the opportunity to visit the Big Apple. It was freezing, but New York under the snow was an amazing sight.
New York under the snow
New York under the snow - For a stopover during the flight to Panama, being able to admire a snow-covered New York was a great luck.
When we landed in Panama, the temperature was 30 degrees higher, and insted of snow we got rain. For our first day at the Tropics we had booked a tour to the archipelago of San Blas, part of the Guna Yala territory in the Caribbean Sea. The bad weather didn't spoil the trip. The car ride from Panama City to the Caribbean coast on a mountain road surrounded by lush vegetation was nice. Then, by boat, we visited the archipelago. There were hundreds of classic sand and palm islands scattered in the sea. The water was clean and full of fish and, sometimes, starfish. Close to Dog Island there was also a small submerged shipwreck.
Dog Island, San Blas
Dog Island, San Blas. A shipwreck is home to loooots of fish
It was interesting to visit one of the villages of the Guna Yala population on the islands. Compared to what we had just seen in New York, the difference was quite remarkable!
San Blas (Guna Yala), Panama
San Blas - The wild independent region of Guna Yala on the Caribbean Sea features also 365 fascinating islands.
Starfish at San Blas
Starfish at San Blas
That evening we had dinner in a commercial center in Panama City, where the local youngsters ate fast-food. We had some (not great) empanadas.
The following day we got our rental car (we had booked a 4x4 and they gave us a lousy Renault; but then we complained and they provided us with a Subaru station wagon 4x4: this experience teaches that you always have to argue with car rental agencies, especially in poorer countries).

By our new shiny Subaru we started our amazing trip... by getting a fine. Actually, at the end we had to corrupt the officer, who was definetely looking forward to the bribery. But it was just part of the holiday.
We had a short hike in the jungle and we saw a waterfall near the Anton Valley. We slept in an elegant and cheap hotel along the road. The following day we reached beautiful Santa Catalina, on the Pacific Ocean.
Santa Catalina, Panama
Santa Catalina. An iguana is climbing to the top of a palm... very tropical!
It was a touristic place, according to the travel guide, and indeed it was: there were at least 10 tourists (including us) in the whole village! Mostly, there were beaches, coconuts and palm trees.
Santa Catalina, Panama
Santa Catalina, Panama - On the Pacific Ocean, this quiet place offers surfing spots and great views.
The bays and the vegetation were as amazing as you might expect. There were fishermen's boats and nice people. One extremely long beach was ideal for surfing. The pace of life was very relaxed.
Santa Catalina, Panama
Santa Catalina. A young local surfer.
Santa Catalina, Panama
Santa Catalina, Panama
Our next destination was Boca Brava, a small tropical (of course) island in the Gulf of Chirichi. We drove there through beautiful landscapes until we reached the small village of Boca Chica. Here a young guy offered us a lift to the island by boat. We paid few dollars and in ten minutes we were on Boca Brava.
There were palms, flowers, monkeys and other strange vegetation. I know, monkeys are animals, but they were hiding in the trees so we could barely spot them and, at first, we couldn't distinguish them from the branches.
Boca Brava, Panama
Boca Brava - A beautiful, wild island with small, isolated beaches.
There were several paths on the island. Some of them were very panoramic and others led to secluded bays with beautiful, tiny beaches. The visibility in the water was zero due to the mud/sand in the sea-bottom. I mean, it was definitely clean water, but you couldn't see your feet... which was a bit scary if you think how many big fish and crocodiles live in the Oceans of Panama. Anyway, apart from the snorkeling our visit to Boca Brava was excellent.
Boca Chica, Panama
Boca Chica
Chiriqui, Panama
Chiriqui. The nature and the clouds of Panama... landscapes that invite to contemplate them quietly.
When we got back to our car we visited another fantastic bay (no tourists around also in this case) and then, through lush landscapes, we drove to Boquete. We arrived there in the evening and it was the only time we had a little bit of trouble finding a hotel room. Boquete is famous because many Americans come to live here when they retire: nice climate and nice landscapes and cheap prices. The nightlife is not very good and at 9 PM the only open restaurant was a typical tavern with cheap (but pretty tasty) local food.
After a short visit to Boquete and its sourroundings, the next day we drove to the Caribbean coast through the usual fantastic roads.
Road with cows in Panama
Road with cows in Panama
Our destination was the full-of-rubbish town of Almirante. Not really for the rubbish, but because it was the embarcadero for boats to the the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.
When we reached Almirante an old man on a rusty bike began following us. Our Subaru was faster, but he was smarter. He knew some shortcuts and he managed to reach us when we drove in a dead-end street.
So, we asked him what he wanted (also because he looked very tired and very close to a heart attack). He said he could help us find the port. Well, that's what we wanted, so we followed him, we parked the car and we walked to the embarcadero. We left him a small tip and we jumped on a pretty full boat. There were mostly Panamanians and some tourists.
When we left, even Almirante looked nice, with colourful huts looking on the river. After half an hour we reached Bocas Town, on Isla Colon. There were several bars and restaurants, which surprised us considering we had seen so few of them during our previous stops in Panama.
At 3 PM we got a taxi-boat to Isla Bastimientos in order to visit the beautiful Red Frog Beach, with its nice sand and the palms. By walking along the coast, we could admire another beach that was even more special. It was wild, deserted, and the palms were right on the water.
Isla Bastimientos, Bocas Del Toro
Isla Bastimientos, Bocas Del Toro - In the Bocas del Toro archipelago, in the Caribbean Sea, the lush vegetation arrives right on the beach... and beyond.
In the evening we had lobster, very good and surprisingly cheap. During the night it rained cats and dogs, but in the morning the sun was up there again, so we went for a boat tour through the archipelago to Cayo Zapatilla. We saw dolphins, many mangroves and green, perfectly clear waters.
Cayo Zapatilla, Bocas Del Toro
Cayo Zapatilla, Bocas Del Toro. Very Caribbean
Cayo Zapatilla was a paradise, with a white beach all along its edge and a thick palm forest in the middle. We walked all along the island and we were alone, as the few tourists were lying on the one beach where all the boats arrived. Why? I don't know. It was like flying to Paris for the weekend and spending all the time at the airport. But still, it was good for us as we had the rest of the island all for ourselves.
Cayo Zapatilla, Bocas Del Toro
Cayo Zapatilla, Bocas Del Toro - A dreamful desert island.
The next morning we left the girls at home and we embarked on a very manly endeavour: exploring La Gruta, a cave in the jungle full of bats and water and insects. The endeavour I was talking about was to reach La Gruta by minibus.
You had to be in the right place at the right time, but there was no right place or right time. Instead, there was a young boy running around Bocas Town, telling people that the bus was about to leave and negotiating the departure time with the ones who wanted to have breakfast first.
In the end, we managed to reach La Gruta. There were no signs, but a woman with three children and two hens collected a small entrance fee and showed us the way. There was a brook and a forest and, in the middle of it, a big hole. We entered the cave, the water to our ankles and sometimes to our hips.
The nice thing about it was that there were no signs, no lights, nothing. So we used our cellphone as a torch and we walked and climbed and explored. There were hundreds of black bats and giant spiders. Indiana Jones was just a novice.
La Gruta, Bocas Del Toro
La Gruta, Bocas Del Toro - Venturing in a cave full of bats and water and surrounded by the jungle is a very interesting break to the beach life.
After we exited the cave we followed the brook and we found another even more adventurous hole in the ground with bats and everything. We kept walking in the jungle and in the end we got lost. After one hour we found the path to the main road.
We got our girls back (as a manly explorer should say) and we travelled to Almirante by boat. Surprisingly, our Subaru was still there. We drove to the Pacific coast through the usual amazing landscape and in the late afternoon we arrived at Las Lajas, a looooong beach with beautiful sunsets that make you wanna jump.
Las Lajas, Panama
Las Lajas - A huge beach on the Pacific Ocean, with beautiful sunsets to dive in.
We slept in a beautiful hotel right on the beach and we spent 20 euros each. We splurged it that night.
In the morning we drove to the Azuero Peninsula, a wild land with small colourful villages, cultivated fields, forests and beautiful, empty beaches.
We liked it so much that at a certain point we drove on a beach and the Subaru got stuck in the sand. We were going to be stuck there forever, we thought, and we were planning to learn to fish and to open coconuts.
Instead, after a while we managed to get out of the sand and the adventure ended happily.
Azuero Peninsula, Panama
Azuero Peninsula - Some 4x4 adventure...
Azuero Peninsula, Panama
Azuero Peninsula
We drove to the Hotel Heliconia, which organized visits to Isla Coiba. We had booked a 3-day tour and it was a great idea. So, the following morning we got a boat to the island. Besides us, there were also two American tourists, the owner of the hotel who was also our guide, the Panamanian man who owned of the boat and his young son. The guide was a funny and kind Dutch man who had lived in Panama for a few years and who was passionate about nature and animals.
Isla Coiba is a National Park and access is limited. It's a natural paradise, a tropical island where man cannot live nor make business. There are just a few bungalows managed by park authorities, where we stayed, and no bars or anything like that.
Isla Coiba, Panama
Isla Coiba, Panama - Isla Coiba is a natural paradise with wild jungle and life-rich seas.
The bungalows were right on the beach, a superb one. Few meters behind the bungalows, there was another great beach. This one, however, was inhabited by Tito the crocodile, so it was recommended not to venture on it.
Our days on the island were great. Snorkeling among tons of fish, trekking with monkeys, boat tours in the mangroves (where we spotted a couple of crocodiles and some parrots).
Granito de Oro, Isla Coiba
Granito de Oro, Isla Coiba
Turtle at Isla Coiba, Panama
Turtle at Isla Coiba
The landscapes were fantastic. The snorkeling, especially, was memorable. We saw thousands of colourful fish, barracudas and moorays. We swam close to the sharks and we survived to tell. We swam with turtles and it was amazing and inspiring.
Fish at Isla Coiba, Panama
Snorkeling among fish at Isla Coiba
Colourful bird at Isla Coiba
Colourful bird at Isla Coiba
Swimming at Isla Coiba, Panama
Swimming at Isla Coiba. Swimming and plunging is the best way to enjoy the beaches of this Natural Park
Shark at Isla Coiba, Panama
Snorkeling with sharks is exciting and safe... if you meet the right sharks.
Giant Turtle at Isla Coiba
Giant Turtle at Isla Coiba - Swimming for two minutes with a giant turtle met by chance is like a dream.
Mooray at Isla Coiba, Panama
Mooray at Isla Coiba
Snorkeling at Isla Coiba, Panama
Snorkeling at Isla Coiba
Our evenings on the island were very quiet. The guide prepared us the dinner, we ate together, we chatted a little bit and then we lied on the hammocks, watching the stars between the palms and listening to the sea.
It was a pity to leave Isla Coiba, even if we had already seen a lot of it. It was really a paradise.
Our holiday ended the following day, when we drove to Panama City, we visited the famous channel and we had a quick view of the city.
Panama Channel
Panama Channel
Panama City
Panama City as seen from Amador causeway.
Panama will stay forever in our memories as a very unique journey. We will get back there, sooner or later. In the meantime, you can go... But don't ruin it! And say hello to the turtles.
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