(TimesLive.com) While Panama City is often referred to as the Miami of the South and has the same high-energy feel, it is not known for its great beaches. However, only an hour’s drive from the city there are 80km of Pacific Ocean beaches for you to explore. One of the better stretches of beach close to the capital is the Playa Blanca near Farallon town. All-inclusive resorts are gaining popularity here, with the Royal Decameron Beach Resort and Casino one of the most popular (www.decameron.com). A five-star hotel with a great location close to the city is the Hotel InterContinental Playa Bonita. The resort is situated on a small private beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the entrance to the Panama Canal (www.playabonitapanama.com). There are also many islands within easy reach and many offer great value.
One of the most popular for a short break is Taboga Island, a favourite of French impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Known as the Island of Flowers, it is only an hour’s boat ride away from Panama City and has lovely beaches and seafront resorts. You may be interested in some of the charming family-run guesthouses that have a great island spirit. You can book a room from one of the travel agents in Panama City or check www.tabogaislandpanama.com. Contadora Island is another great destination, reached by a 20-minute flight or 90-minute boat ride. A good choice here is the Punta Galeon Resort, which is within walking distance of the airstrip and boasts two superb white sandy beaches with crystal-clear water (www.puntagaleonhotel.com). If you really want to get away from the city and experience a truly natural environment, your best bet are the San Blas Islands. These are picture-postcard islands and offer a truly thrilling experience. Best booked as part of a two-night package, you can meet the indigenous Kuna Indians, go snorkelling and stay in a rustic beach hotel.
I have a seven-hour stopover in Washington DC in May. I have never been to Washington before. What can I see in that time, and what is the best way to get in from the airport? – Neville Armstrong
AI assume you are referring to Washington Dulles International Airport, which is 40km west of Washington’s CBD. It is the biggest airport in the area, although the Reagan National Airport offers many regional flights. Although seven hours sounds like a long time to spend between flights, it doesn’t really give you that much opportunity to explore Washington DC. Unless you have specific interests, your best bet is to take a guided tour of the city’s attractions. Gray Line’s “Taste of DC” tour may be perfect for you. It takes you past some of the city’s top sights within two hours under the guidance of a tour guide. Among the places you will see are the White House, the US Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial, the Holocaust Memorial and the Smithsonian Castle.
Tours depart from the Gray Line office at Union Station at various times during the day (www.graylinedc.com). The best transport to and from the airport is with the Washington Flyer Taxi (www.washfly.com). Taking into account the time it will get you to get to and from Washington and the mandatory check-in times, you are likely to have very little time to spare. If you do, you may want to use this to visit the Smithsonian Institution or the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which is nearer the airport.
I am looking for a cheap hotel at Heathrow Airport in London for a night in May. Are there any hotels close to the airport for less than £50 a night? – Aiden Clirten
The cheapest hotel I could find was easyHotel, which has double rooms for only £33. This is a no-frills hotel (you even pay more for use of the TV remote) and some rooms may not have windows. However, it is clean andfairly comfortable (www.easyhotel.com). Next in line is the Ibis Heathrow Hotel, which offers rooms at around £37 a night. Rooms are on the small side, but have TV, telephone, radio, hairdryer, trouser press, tea/coffee-making facilities, fax/modem point and air-conditioning (www.ibishotels.com). Both these hotels are on the Hoppa Bus route, which is a pay service to the terminals. If you don’t like chain hotels, the Heathrow Lodge may appeal to you. It is a small, independent guesthouse-style hotel. It has rooms (with shared bathrooms) for only £40 a night, while en-suite rooms cost only a few pounds more. An advantage of the lodge is that it offers free transfers to the terminals (www.heathrowlodge.com).