Day 1: Fly into Panama City
Day 2: Panama City: Panama City Tour
Day 3: Panama City: Train / Caribbean Beach and Jungle Tour
Day 4: Panama City: Lake Gatun Monkey Island
Day 5: Panama City: El Valle
Day 6: San Blas
Day 7: San Blas
Day 8: Pedasi – (rent car or take the bus)
Day 9: Pedasi
Day 10: Boquete
Day 11: Boquete
Day 12: Boquete
Day 13: Back to PTY. Finish with a VIP Movie in Extreme Planet.
Day 14: Back home. Hasta Luego, Panama (See ya later, Panama!)
Additional days: Add a day to Pedasi. Or go from Boquete to Bocas del Toro for 2-3 days.
Options: Move Day 5 El Valle to Day 7 by going from San Blas (Albrook airport) to El Valle for a night heading to Pedasi in morning. This will divide the drive 5 hour drive and provide ample opportunity to see El Valle.
Tips to save money: 1) Don’t take inter-Panama flights. They look cheap but the added taxes basically double the price. Better to use your money on nice restaurants or splurge on accommodation. 2) Wait until Day 8 to rent a car because Panama City is a nightmare to drive and car rentals often scam tourists with lower rates and later hit you with hidden fees. Additionally, cabs in Panama City are fairly easy to find and cheap. 3) Take public buses. While intimating at first, it is a great way to immerse in the local culture and the tickets are DIRT cheap ($15 bus ticket for a $125 flight). Use your budget on better things like food, accommodation, and activities.
1. Panama City’s Casco Viejo – You will see the historic French district of the city and its current revitalization movement. It’s one of the worlds last remaining colonial towns and is Panama City’s cultural and culinary heart. Panama City is a central location to see most of the sights. Here are some MUST DO’s:
Things to Do While In Panama City:
- Panama City tour. This knocks off the Canal, Causeway, Ancon Hill, and maybe even Panama Vieja. Either book a guided tour with Barefoot Panama or rent a cab $10-$12 hour to drive you around.
- Caribbean Tour. While we are not big fans of guided tours, this Barefoot Panama package tour is the exception and includes the historic train to Colon, snorkeling, historic sights, and the option of a zip line adventure (the best in Panama). You can also coordinate this yourself but Colon is tricky.
- Monkey Island. Wake up early and walk Panama’s best national park (Parque Soberiana), followed by a tour of Lake Gatun on a small lake boat. Lake Gatun, is the second largest man made lake in the world, has the feel of venturing down the Amazon River combined with passing cargo ships traversing the Canal. It is ridiculously easy to catch fish on the lake. Monkey Island is located in the lake. The monkey’s will eat out of your hands. Be certain to bring enough snacks to share. Cab $50-$60 to and from. Boat about $30-$35/per person.
Places to eat in Panama City: Manalo Caraol, Ego, Ciao Pescao, El Trapiche, Fish Market, and Mama Chefa. All are a unique Panama experience.
**** If you are looking for value, stock up on OfertaSimple dinner coupons. It’s Panama City Group-On equivalent. Great deals!
Places to stay:
Budget: Lunas Castle — Lively hostel in Casco Viejo
Mid range: Los Cuatro Tulipanes Casco Viejo Apartment rentals — Centrally located upscale apartments
Splurge: Las Clementinas — Panama standard in upscale, boutique hotels.
2. El Valle – Charming town in the crater of volcano. Great native market place, hikes to water falls, and hot springs (more like luke warm). We think this is a day trip rather than a 2 day stay because you can see all the sights in 5-6 hours. In addition, Boquete and El Valle are similar, but you’ll enjoy your time in Boquete more.
**** $6 buses leave from Albrook bus terminal in Panama City often. Or booked a guided tour that knows all the local secrets. This could also be a pit-stop between Panama City (returning from San Blas) to Pedasi.
3. San Blas Islands. Staying in San Blas is unique and cultural experience — one of the last in the world. It’s like combining National Geographic with Swiss Family Robinson.
Things to Do In San Blas: Beach bum, snorkel, visit the local town, read, socialize with other guests, and simply BE.
Places to stay:
Budget: Isla Franklin — San Blas most rowdy island.
Mid range: Kuanidup
Splurge: Yandup — Not accessible overland requires airline ticket purchase. The isolation has help preserve the Kuna culture. One of San Blas’ nicest accommodation (rustic luxury).
**** The flight back from Yandup lands at 8am at Albrook Airport. Grab a coffee, rent a car and head out to Panama’s countryside. Either a day in El Valle or head straight to Pedasi. Otherwise, take a bus to Pedasi.
4. Pedasi – The heart of Panama culture. Pedasi is near the Pacific Coast on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula. It is a small friendly front porch community where it is easy to meet the locals. Enjoyable dry climate.
*** Buses do NOT go directly to Pedasi. They stop in Las Tablas and another $2 bus to Pedasi or $25 cab.
Things to Do: Isla Iguana. Deep Sea fish. Surf and/or beach bum on Playa Venao.
Places to Stay:
Budget: Pedascito — Hostel in the center of town.
Mid range: Casita Margarita — A charming bed and breakfast in town. Great service.
Splurge: Villa Lilliana — Beachfront private villa steps away from the Pacific Ocean with private pool. (Must bring food if you want to cook or snack)
5. Boquete – Located in the mountain region of Panama near Volcan Baru. A charming community that is very popular with ex-pats.
*** Again, buses do NOT go directly to Boquete. The stop in David bus terminal. It’s a 45 minute bus from David to Boquete.
Things to Do: Mi Jardin Su Jardin – an open to public free private garden. Zip line adventures, hiking, coffee finca tours, river rafting, water falls, tropical rain forests, and bird watching. Your accommodation will have the latest and greatest info. Dine out – great and affordable restaurants.
Places to Stay:
Budget: Mamallena — Hostel / budget hotel is located right on the main town plaza.
Mid range: Manana Madera — A coffee finca with bed and breakfast guest suite. Very private and wonderful host.
Splurge: Panamonte – Boquete’s most historic hotel.
**** If continuing to Bocas del Toro it is wise to drop it off in David. Pay the small fee. Take the $8 local bus from David to Almirante. Otherwise, book at $100 – plus flight or arrange for private cab also expensive but should be less than airfare.
6. Bocas El Toro. Let’s be clear, we love Bocas del Toro. Located in northern Panama, Bocas is more convenient to Costa Rica than Panama and might be better combined with a trip to Costa Rica’s Puert0 Limon. In our opinion, Bocas has little cultural identity with Panama and is largely a separate Caribbean archipelago of islands. Therefore, we more strongly urge travelers to experience San Blas than Bocas. However, it is without a doubt a very beautiful part of country with great beaches and new development that is attracting ex-pats, especially those wanting a private island get away.
Places to Stay: We recommend staying on Isla Colon. Hotels will often down play how hard it is to find transportation to and from the main island. It is burdensome to need to arrange for a boat to go anywhere. Stay on the main island and hit the various beaches and activities during the day, and enjoy a variety of restaurants and entertainment of the main island in the evening.
Budget: Heike — One of Bocas’ more subdued hostels. Located right on the main drag.
Mid range: ????
Splurge: – Tropical Suites
Things to Do: Red Frog Beach. Zapitlla. Surf. Snorkel. Bar hop on Isla Colon.
Only 5 days in Panama? Stay in PTY and take day trips or head straight to a destination (Pedasi, Boquete, Bocas).
3 weeks or big group? Save money and rent a vacation rental. Add the Pearl Islands, Las Tablas, and more days in your favorite places.