Panama: a journey through paradisiac beaches and historical heritage monuments.
January 1, 1970
by Michele Ortolan
This is the story of the 17 days trip of a surfer’s couple through Panama. Most of the time we spent at Santa Catalina, a small beach-side town on the Pacific coast of Veraguas, we also knew Panama City, the capital of the country, famous for its dense skyline of mostly high-rise buildings as well as for its historical heritage.
A tropical, beautiful and cheap destination in Central America
There was a special purpose for our trip to Panama, it would be our first international trip travelling together. We begun our travel virtually while planning each detail of the trip and our main challenge on the planning process was to make the trip the longest possible with the low budget we had available. After some web research and some tips taken with friends who had already gone to the same destiny and it was done, we were the most excited with our flights and accommodation booked and the money in cash to spend 17 days travelling through Panama. Panama is located in Central America, and even though we were going during winter (mid-september) the temperature was pretty warm, however we would expect hot and rainy weather. We arrived in Panama city after two flights (Fpolis- Porto Alegre and Porto Alegre-Panama city) by Copa Airlines that last together 7,5 hours.
Arrival in Panama City
When we got at the airport, we picked up our luggage and went straight to the immigration desks. In Panama we brazilians need to get a tourist visa, which is not possible to be requested previously, then it is granted or not at the country’s entry, we easily had our passports stamped and quickly we were released to catch the shuttle that would drop us off at the Hostel Urraca. We had booked a double room with private bathroom that costed us $70/day(american dollars) where we would spend just that night, because our destiny would be a city called Santa Catalina.
The path from Panama city to Santa Catalina.
In the next morning we woke up early in the morning, took our luggage after having breakfast and took the road again, this time by bus. A taxi drive from the city centre till the bus station costed around $20 and the bus ticket for a 5 hours travel until Sta. Catalina cost just $16/adult, so if you are a low budget traveller like us, here is a valuable tip: don’t travel this path from Panama City till Sta. Catalina by shuttle (it is heaps of dollars more expensive, the price of this path is $150 by shuttle).Another important tip for whom want to save some money is: in Panama the taxi drivers don’t use taximeter, so be cautious if someone try to overcharge the price of a ride, as they use to do it if they realize you are a tourist, specially if you don’t speak spanish and don’t try to negotiate the price with them(a ride from the city centre to most malls doesn’t cost more than $5 or $7, and a ride to the airport around $20).Panama’s official currency is the Balboa, but for most trades they accept the american dolar, and everything is reasonably cheap in the country.
Catalina’s surf spot and our front sea lodging.
When we arrived at Santa Catalina, we lodged at Surfers Paradise Hostel, which has a very good structure and beyond the cleaning service for the rooms they also offer 2 meals (breakfast and lunch) included in the daily price, if the guest prefer. Their food is delicious and the price is reasonably cheap ($68,00 for a double room, with air conditioner, private bathroom and a wonderful oceanview, 2 delicious meals included for a couple). The owner of Surfers Paradise Hostel is Ítalo, a brazilian who came to Panama in the 80’s decade, married with Sandra (panamanian) and stayed living there until nowadays. His hostel is in front of the Catalina’s surf spot, there is also an Island (Coiba island) in front of the beach and to summarize I describe this place as the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen in my whole life. Because it was winter, the annual biggest swell and the most rainy season in Panama, 8 ft’ waves hit the coastline with excellent shape while we stayed there. In Catalina the sea floor is rocky and it makes the waves stronger, the surf spot is always crowded when the tide is high. The tide varies a lot during the day, what makes the rocks in the seafloor being apparent when the tide is shallow, so at those moments surfers has to be careful to prevent hurting the feet while are getting out of water.
Santa Catalina’s paradisiac beaches
There is another beach next to Catalina which is called El Estero, this beach has a sandy sea floor and it is one more good option of waves with good strength and shape, specially when the tide is shallow in Catalina, in El Estero having fun on surfing is guaranteed. We also knew Morro Negrito beach, where we went by boat in a rainy sunday. The boat trip until Morro Negrito by itself was an interesting adventure (lol), as beyond the heavy rain we faced huge waves that were coming from the ocean while we were sailing. . . On that small fibre boat, every wave crossed we felt the goose pumps. However it was funny, despite the fear of losing our photographic equipment as there was so much water coming into the boat, hahaha. We had 12 days of lots of sun, hot temperature weather, warm water, coconuts, yummy and healthy food (the typical plate is “Pescado con papas”: fresh fish with potatoes, rice with coconut and salad), a perfect surf and holiday trip.
Enjoying the touristic attractions in Panama city
We came back to the capital of the country (Panama city), where we logged at Latino Hotel, at Cuba Avenue, close to the city centre and Cinta Costeira. During the last 5 days of our trip, we spent some time visiting the malls of the city (the prices are cheaper when compared to Brazil ones, you pay at least 30% less for the same products after converting the currency from R$ to US$, but it is not so advantageous if compared to Orlando’s or Miami’s bargains). We did some purchases (the local handcrafts are amazing), we made some walks through Cinta Costeira and visited the archaelogical site Panama Viejo and the historic district Casco Viejo (also called Casco Antiguo), these two places together form a World Heritage Site from 1997. The history of the city is definitely very interesting. Panamá Viejo is the remaining part of the old Panama City and former capital of the country. It is located in the suburbs of the modern city. Casco Viejo is the historic district of Panama City, completed and settled in 1673, it was built following the near-total destruction of the original Panamá city (Panamá Viejo) in 1671 when the latter was attacked by pirates.
Why we surely recommend you to visit Panama
We catched our flight at the Tocumen International Airport to come back to Brazil, and today while sharing these memories with you I miss this country a lot! If you are a low cost destinations’ explorer like us, I super recommend you to visit Panama. Another good advice I could give you is to visit Panama’s Atlantic Ocean Coastline with its crystalline colour water, our next visit to Panama we won’t let to know that piece of tropical paradise.