Click the dots on the map above to view pictures I have taken in these locations.
I spent only about a week in Panama as I worked my way up to Nicaragua. I had the option to try to see several places very quickly or to really take my time in just a few sites. I decided on the latter. I spent two full days exploring Panama City. The downtown is much more modern than you’d ever imagine, with the skyline looking more like Miami than any other city I’d seen in Latin America. Just down the road is Casco Viejo, the old town, which feels like you’re in Old Havana. The difference between the two is so distinct that you wouldn’t think they’d be part of the same country, let alone just a few miles separating the two.
Just outside of Panama City is the Panama Canal. Although not the most excited place to be, it’s worth the visit to see what it’s all about and to learn the history. It’s been crucial in developing Panama to where it is today. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see a few ships pass through!
I’d heard great things of Bocas del Toro, a few islands just off of Caribbean coast of Panama, so I took an overnight bus up to the northeast part of the country. I was blown away. I ended up staying four days longer than I had planned as I swam, kayaked, snorkeled, and relaxed. I stayed on the more relaxed, more culturally interesting island of Isla Bastimentos. The island is home to descendants of Jamaica, and you’ll like you’re on a Caribbean island rather than Panama. Bachata and reggae music blare from houses, locals speak an English creole, and the laid-back vibe of the island becomes contagious. One beach in particular sticks out in my mind, and I’ll call it one of the favorite beaches I’ve ever visited. Called Playa Polo, it sits on the northeast side of Isla Bastimentos. Relatively undiscovered, the small beach is usually relatively uninhabited. Just about 40 meters off the beach is a reef, where you can snorkel and see hundreds of types of fish and even some manta rays (which may scare the crap out of you). The reef blocks the waves from getting to the beach, meaning that the pristine waters are still and perfect for swimming.
If you make your way to Panama, make sure to get to Isla Bastimentos. It’s a perfect place to enjoy beautiful Caribbean beaches while discovering a new culture with the option of a variety of outdoor activities!