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The Ultimate Guide to Panama

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One of Latin America’s chicest destinations, Panama, offers a heady mix of old world colonial charm and idyllic paradise beaches interspersed with futuristic skyscrapers such as the world-renowned F&F Tower (El Tornillo). In other places, this clash of architecture, beach appeal, and rich culture might not work, but Panama successfully meshes these unique elements into a beautifully woven tapestry, making it one for the bucket list. The unique appeal of Panama means it is a hotspot destination for a wide range of holidaymakers, from high-end luxury travelers to budget backpackers. Located just 20 minutes from Tocumen International Airport in the San Miguelito district, Panama City is within easy reach of most international flight paths, which makes it the perfect stopover for anyone traveling to South America.

panama city

photo: wikimedia

From lazing on the white sandy beaches to hiking in the stunning rainforest parks, there is something for everyone in Panama. I loved spending time in this gorgeous country, so I have put together a handy guide to cover what you need to know if you decide to visit.

First is safety. The safety levels in Panama vary widely across the country so it is very important to check safety alerts for your intended destinations before you go. While Panama might not be considered one of the world’s safest places to visit, if you keep your wits about you and try to avoid any obvious tourist traps you should be ok.

When to Go

Though it is possible to visit at any time of the year, it’s worth knowing that Panama runs on just two seasons, the dry season, which runs from mid-December to mid-March, and the wet season, which runs from mid-March to mid-December.

Most of Panama’s tourist activity happens during the dry season due to the lack of rain, however, the wet season holds its own distinctive appeal. Prices are cheaper, accommodation is more widely available, and Panama glitters and brims with lush vegetation. Whichever time you decide to visit, be aware that sometimes the wet/dry seasons can get mixed up so be sure to take a few jumpers and jackets in case the weather turns.

What to Budget

Although the official currency of Panama is the Balboa, one Balboa equals one US Dollar, and US Dollars have circulated as legal tender for over 100 years.

While it is certainly possible to stick to a small budget when traveling in Panama, be warned that costs can spiral without you even realizing. If you are a backpacker on a budget, this can be a daunting prospect, although it all depends on how strict you are with your daily allowances.

It is also possible to find hostel dorms for between $11-$13 USD per night, local restaurants and food stalls for around $4 USD per meal, and cheap beer for between $0.50 to $1 USD during happy hour. However, be aware that taxis will often try to take advantage of tourists, so stick to public transport to keep a handle on your finances.

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Where to Stay

Since Panama offers everything from a bustling metropolis skyline to quiet sandy beaches, it’s a good idea to think about what you want out of your holiday before you start to book your accommodations.

Staying in the city will cost more, but the views, nightlife, restaurants, shopping, and landmarks are worth it. If you’re planning on spending a few days in the city, you can expect to pay upwards of $120 USD to stay anywhere with Balboa Avenue, Marbella, or San Francisco in its address. These destinations are perfectly located to the area’s best attractions and are worth every cent, while the areas of El Cangrejo and Casco Antiguo are great for tighter budgets.

If you would rather head to the beach, there are a wide range of options available depending on your finances. Bocas del Toro is a hugely popular destination for holidaymakers seeking the tranquil side of Panama, while Bastimentos Island boasts beautifully idyllic beaches. If mountains are more your thing, however, Cerro Punta and Boquete are both regularly overlooked treats in Panama’s highlands.

Where to Eat

Not surprisingly, Panama City has some of the best restaurants in the country. Effortlessly blending Afro-Caribbean, Latin American, and European cultures, the culinary delights offered in Panama are enough to tempt any palate. Some of the highlights include:

  • Restaurante El Trapiche – For typical Panamanian cuisine, this is the place to go. El Trapiche turns local produce into a range of mouth-watering dishes.
  • Mercado de Mariscos Restaurant – Paradise for fans of seafood, this is the city’s fish market where over 70 stalls sell the freshest fish and seafood delicacies.
  • Las Clementinas – Perfectly fusing international and local dishes while serving them in an enchanting lush garden with indigenous plants, this is a culinary experience not to be missed.
  • Las Tinajas – A wonderfully authentic Panamanian restaurant that offers seafood, tropical fruits, tortillas, and fabulous entertainment.

What to Do

Head to the beach. Panama is home to a wonderful array of white sandy beaches, such as Las Tablas, Boca del Drago, Puerto Armuelles, and the stunning Azuero Sunset Coast. Much of the coastline features the typical palm trees and crystal clear waters, so you will be safe whichever you choose.

Visit rainforest national parks. Just under 30% of Panamanian land is protected by wildlife reserves, national parks, and reserves that protect over 1,000 species of birds and 230 mammals. Soberania National Park is not far from Panama City and offers some of the country’s most stunning rainforests.

Hit the town. It’s no secret that Panamanians love a good party, which means the nightlife in the city is outstanding. Head to Casco Viejo’s historic sector for underground bars, microbreweries, and rooftop parties.

Cruise the Panama Canal. A trip to Panama wouldn’t be complete without a cruise down the famous Panama Canal. Take a trip from the Amador Causeway through the Miraflores and under the Centennial Bridge. You won’t regret it!

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CARIBBEAN

World’s Steepest Zip Line Opens in the Caribbean

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Carnival Corporation and Rainforest Adventures celebrated the official grand opening of the Rockland Estate eco-park attraction on April 11, 2018 in St. Maarten. To mark the occasion, a ceremony was attended by esteemed government officials, as well as Rainforest Adventures president Josef Prescel and key Carnival Corporation officials.

With financing from Carnival Corporation and built by Rainforest Adventures, Rockland Estate is set to quickly become one of the most popular attractions in the Caribbean. It features the world’s steepest zip line, a mountain chair life with gorgeous views, and a heart-racing tube ride. For those that don’t care to get their adrenaline pumping, there’s also a museum that showcases the history and culture of St. Maarten and its people. Guests from eight of Carnival Corporation’s brands with cruises visiting the island will have the opportunity to experience the new shore excursion.

Sentry Hill Zip Line

Here are some details on the rides and attractions at Rockland Estate eco-park.

  • Soualiga Sky Explorer: Soualiga Sky Explorer encompasses 68 four-passenger chairs that take guests to a transfer station for zip line and tubing rides, and then on to the top of one of St. Maarten’s highest points at 1,125 feet for panoramic views.
  • Sentry Hill Zip Line: From the transfer station at the midpoint of the Soualiga Sky Explorer, guests can take a ride on the zip line, where riders traverse a 1,600-foot, four-span line that provides unforgettable mountain views.
  • Schooner Ride: The Schooner Ride at the midway point of the Soualiga Sky Explorer gives guests the chance to surf down the mountain in large 40-inch inner tubes across a specially-designed 657-foot track of heart-pounding curves and fast straightaways.
  • Top of Sentry Hill: One of St. Maarten’s highest elevations, Sentry Hill, offers walkways and platforms that encircle the mountaintop, showcasing 360-degree vistas of the island with views of neighboring Saba, St. Barts, St. Eustatius, and Anguilla.
  • Flying Dutchman: The Flying Dutchman is Rockland Estate’s main attraction and the world’s steepest zip line. It guarantees the ride of a lifetime while securely harnessed in a chair, dropping visitors 1,050 feet from the top of Sentry Hill down the mountain over a 2,800-foot span.
  • Emilio Wilson Museum: Originally built as a plantation home in the 1700s, the museum tells the powerful story of Trace Wilson, who was born into slavery on the property, and her direct descendant, St. Maarten pioneer and preservationist Emilio Wilson. It also highlights the customs, traditions, lifestyle, and stories that have earned St. Maarten the moniker “The Friendly Island.”

Schooner Ride

Carnival Corporation also partnered with Rainforest Adventures to develop Rainforest Adventures Jamaica at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios – a mainstay of Jamaica rainforest activities where guests can travel from the seashore to 700 feet above sea level at the top of a mountain. The company also worked with Rainforest Adventures to design and built the Magical Flying Beach Chair at the Carnival’s Mahogany Bay Cruise Center in Roatán. The chair lift system takes cruise guests from the welcome center to Mahogany Beach via a six-minute ride across nearly 1,200 feet of suspended cables.

Photos: Rockland Estate Facebook page

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CARIBBEAN

Grand Cayman Welcomes Six Ships in Port Today

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Georgetown, Grand Cayman businesses have been preparing for a slew of cruise passengers that sailed into town today on six ships. It’s one of their busiest days this year, and nearly 20,000 cruise guests descended upon the island.

Police have already drafted more officers to the waterfront in the last few months to prepare for the large number of travelers, which has partially been because of the recent hurricanes in the eastern Caribbean. Several cruise lines diverted their ships to Grand Cayman when their original port stops were affected by the storms. The Port Authority expects to see an additional 70 ships, bringing close to 250,000 extra guests to the island through the end of April as a result. This meant that several days this month, the port has already seen up to six ships at a time.

Today was expected to be among the busiest days, with Norwegian Epic, Carnival Vista, Liberty of the Seas, Celebrity Reflection, Marella Discovery II, and Norwegian Pearl all making a call there – in total, 19,722 guests.

Store owners are prepared and glad to see the impact that the additional guests were already having on their businesses, though were sympathetic as to the reason they were receiving so much spin-off traffic. Shops hired extra workers to accommodate the busy cruise days, and the town has been handling the crowds well.

Matthew Bishop, CEO of Island Companies which owns several stores, said its businesses were seeing improved sales across the board. “The arrival of the cruise traffic had been fairly good and our sales have appreciated accordingly. To a certain extent, we expected that but probably an even bigger impact has been from the high-end tourism sector. Some of that is definitely due to the storms that hit the eastern Caribbean.” He went on to say that despite the increase in visitors, there seemed to be very few issues on the waterfront thanks to the increased police presence.

Information: Cayman Compass

Photo credit via Kabir

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BEFORE YOU GO

4 Freeport Day Pass Cruise Resorts

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If you’re docked in Freeport, Bahamas, you might want to check these resorts out if you don’t want to be near the hustle and bustle of all the places most of the other cruise passengers will be.

1. Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach

viva wyndham freeport

Located just 25 minutes away from the cruise port, this resorts features a white sand beach, pools, a Jacuzzi. There’s also land sports like a trapeze and tennis, as well as water sports like kayaking and snorkeling.  They offer unlimited food and drinks, which includes alcoholic beverages.  There’s also programs for kids, and activities for adults throughout the day as well.  This resort has a little bit of everything, so you’re sure to find something for everyone.

Cost: US $89 adult; $55 child

Website: resortforaday.com/Viva-Wyndham-Day-Pass-Freeport-Excursions

2. Grand Lucayan Resort

grand lucayan resort freeport

Grand Lucayan Resort in Freeport, Bahamas.

Located about a 20 minute ride from the cruise port, the Grand Lucayan Resort features a white sand beach and a fresh water swimming pool.  There is a kid’s center as well as activities for the adults throughout the day.  They also offer spa and massage services on site.  One thing to remember is to budget for your food and drinks – those aren’t included in the price.  There are water sports you can do as well, but those are also an additional fee.  If relaxing on the beach sounds like your kind of day, then this resort would be a good, affordable choice.

Cost: US $20 adults; $11 child

Details: https://cruiseradio.net/grand-lucayan-resort-day-pass-option/ 

3. Paradise Cove Beach Resort

Located in the Bahamas Beach/Deadman’s Reef area, Paradise Cove Beach Resort offers day passes for all travelers, including cruise passengers.  In fact, it has direct access to the reef right off the beach.  As a bonus, roundtrip shuttle service is complimentary from the cruise pier when you buy a day pass package.  A day pass includes the use of either snorkeling gear, kayaks, and paddle boards, unless you purchase an all-inclusive – then you have the use of all three.  Also included is a lounge chair, lunch, and one rum-based drink.

Cost: A beachgoer pass is $32. For snorkeling, kayaking, or paddle boarding, it’s $40. An all-inclusive package is $75.

Website: www.deadmansreef.com

4. Bahamas Cruise Excursions

photo: Memories Beach Resort

Bahamas Cruise Excursions’ Memories Beach Resort has the best of both worlds: fun for families, as well as peace for couples looking to escape.  Located across from Port Lucaya, the resort’s day pass includes unlimited drinks at multiple bars on property, a full buffet lunch, beach chairs, wifi, and more.  There are also snacks at their sports bar, a café, and an ice cream bar, so you won’t go hungry!  For those that prefer to take in a pool as opposed to the ocean, the resort also features a pool complete with a swim up bar, pool chairs, and staff for anything you might need.

When it’s time for fun in the sun, the pass includes water toys as well.  This means you have free use of kayaks, paddleboats, Hobie Cats, and more.  There’s also a gym, tennis court, and as a bonus – kids and teens activities and blues as well.  You really can’t be bored here!  The day pass is for 9am to 5pm and works well with most cruise ship arrival times.

Cost: $84.50 for 13 years old and up; $42 for kids 3-11; toddlers 2 and under are free.

Website: bahamascruiseexcursions.com/FreeportResortPass

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: The Ultimate Guide to Panama. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/ultimate-guide-panama/