Drawing from his trip to Panama, the author offers tips on travel, lodging, and restaurants in this Central American country.
When You Go
Delta via Atlanta to Panama makes sense. Continental goes from Boston to Newark or Houston to Panama City. Check your airline.
Yes, you can drink the water from the tap! The Americans created a perfect filtration system.
They also established the greenback as the national currency. The Balboa is the official monetary unit of Panama, but US dollars are dispensed in ATM’s (lots of them) and are the basis of all transactions. Finding a Balboa is difficult!
Do go to www.panamainfo.com for reliable country overviews and FAQ’s.
Do sign up with a reputable Tour Operator and talk through the kinds of expeditions that appeal. Ancon Expeditions seems to be among the most experienced, and offers reliable customer service, as I found out when an internal flight went snafu. Their guides are trained naturalists and know their stuff. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
IPAT (Panama Tourism Office) is improving its services rapidly and has a major commitment from the government to develop the country’s service and promote its attractions.
Some basic Spanish is helpful if you’re out and about by yourself, but many people speak English, a residual benefit of the long US presence.
Where to Stay
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort (www.gamboaresort.com; 877/800-1690) is the only resort in the rainforest. It’s classy and, yes, pricey. Surrounded by spectacular views, the architects cleverly built the resort’s main building virtually all in glass, bringing the outdoors in. The vaulted ceiling is most impressive as are the use of fabric, wooden walkways and placement of local vegetation and artifacts. Visitors will appreciate the beauty of its terraced pool and personal hammock. The rooms are quite elegant and offer sweeping views of the landscape. I think the US$35 tariff for the forest tram ride is steep, but Gamboa is worth a visit and a night’s stay or two. Don’t hesitate to negotiate a price.
The Canopy Tower, a former US radar installation converted into twelve rustic rooms, is perched above a dynamic and lush rain forest. It attracts serious birders, and I saw sloths in the trees and momma monkeys swinging from branches with their little ones. It’s a real treat; meals are basic but tasty, there’s no TV, but for a night or two, it’s a terrific bonding experience. Check out www.canopytower.com or call 507/264-5720 for more information, rates and reservations.
Where to Eat
Food? Fish, and fresh fruit. There are an impressive number of international restaurants, mostly in the modern city, near the hotels. Food prices are very reasonable.
Best local eateries:
Restaurant Boulevard Balboa, on the causeway, is nothing more than a diner where the locals, business folk, politicians and the like hang out. We found the best banana splits in the country – maybe anywhere, and good energy. Continue down the Boulevard, past the Smithsonian Exhibits (worth a 10-minute visit), along the Pacific Ocean, you’ll come to a cluster of restaurants. Try Mi Ranchito. Sweeping views of the new city, the ocean and very good fish.
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