Panama was a complete last minute adventure. My friend Greer suggested we run away to somewhere warm for the month of December and I couldn’t say no. This would be the perfect opportunity to explore a new country in a completely new way, with a different partner in crime! Stefaan was busy out in Portland, OR working on his start-up, Incomparable Things, so it made perfect sense to have a girls expedition! We booked our flights just 3 weeks before our departure and with little planning aside from booking a rental car and an Airbnb apartment to stay on our first night, we were ready to go. I threw some clothes in a bag, strapped my Poler Stuff tent to the back and we were off! After traveling for over a year, one would think I would have learned to avoid arriving late at night on an empty stomach. But, of course we landed in Panama City close to midnight and hungry with no idea where we were going. We went to pick up our rental car and learned quickly that Panamanians don’t use addresses because they don’t even really exist. And to our surprise the rental car guy, spoke no english and had no map. We were left to our own devices to translate his directions using our very rusty spanish and navigate our way to the apartment. Needless to say, what was supposed to be a 20 minute drive turned into a 2 hour long adventure with many stops along the way for more directions in spanish. When we finally made it to downtown Panama City we had a whole new set of problems to deal with. One way streets, traffic and an address that no one had ever heard of! When we were close to giving up hope, we came across a security guard and asked him for help. Without any hesitation he hopped on his motorcycle and gestured for us to follow him. Within 15 minutes we were outside of our apartment, and off he rode yelling “para servirle” or in english, “to serve you”. This was just a precursor to the warm hospitality of the Panamanian culture. What a way to start our adventure! It was only going to get better from here.
The next morning we got up and met up with an old friend, David, who lives in Casco Viejo, the beautiful historic district of Panama City. He moved down to Panama 5 years ago and opened a successful Spanish school called Casco Antiguo. We spent the day together exploring the school and surrounding area and that evening caught up over delicious food and drinks. We spent the night on David’s couch and were off to the Guna Yala (formerly known as San Blas) early the next morning.
Guna Yala is home to the indigenous group known as the Gunas and is located in a province in northeast Panama. We had heard of sparkling crystal waters and tiny uninhabited islands but nothing could have prepared us for the beauty of the land and people. We originally planned to take our own car to Guna Yala but without 4 wheel drive we were told we wouldn’t make it through the mountainous terrain. We opted to leave our car in Casco Viejo and have someone take us there. So after 3 hours on winding roads and a 30 minute boat ride we were finally in paradise. We wasted no time dropping our bags in the sand and jumping in the ocean. After lazing away the day, we finally set up camp and fell asleep in our tent under the swaying palms. That feeling didn’t last too long as we were woken by a torrential downpour. We scrambled to get our belongings inside the tent and somehow managed to stay dry enough to fall back asleep. After a few days of playing in the calm, clear waters and eating grilled fish and rice we were ready to change our scenery. We thanked our Guna family for their hospitality and headed back to Casco Viejo to meet David and some friends for a trip into the mountains. We spent the night in El Valle de Anton, a magical mountain village just 2 hours from the city. The next morning set out for the black sand beaches of the Pacific!
After driving all day through the most green farm land we had ever seen, blasting our favorite songs, we finally reached Santa Catalina. Santa Catalina is a small welcoming surf community located on the Pacific coast of Veraguas. We spent the day playing in the waves at Oasis Surf Camp, and had quite the adventure getting to our hostel that evening. We made a wrong turn (surprise, surprise) and ended up stuck on a muddy dirt road. All of the villagers came out to see what the commotion was. As humiliated as we were, all we could do was giggle and continue trying to dislodge ourselves from the mud. After about a 20-point turn we were free and the townspeople were as excited as we were! Then we were off to freshen up and head out to the most delicious and memorable meal of the trip at Chano’s Point. The next day we decided to enjoy the beach and leave in the afternoon for Pedasi where our dear friend Sasha lives. We somehow successfully made our way through a 7-hour drive that afternoon without getting too lost. By the time we were feeling like we might be getting close, it had become dark. It was smooth sailing until, BAM! We had hit the hugest pot-hole. We pulled over and hopped out of the car to see the damage and to our dismay all we could could hear was the hissing of our tire losing air, and fast. Looking at each other panicked we thought of our options. We were potentially stuck on the side of the road, in Panama, in the dark, with no end in sight. We could hitch-hike or flag someone down…our moms would not be happy about that. We could walk, but we could have been 50 miles away for all we knew. The last resort was getting back in the car and driving carefully until we couldn’t anymore. Luckily, after about 5 minutes, we finally saw a sign for Pedasi and in only 7KM! We were so relieved. We called Sasha from the local hotel and she and her boyfriend Seth saved the day. We spent the next few days exploring their beautiful land where they have built their own houses from the ground up. When it came time to leave, Seth made sure our tires were repaired and ready to go. Thanks you two for the amazing hospitality!
We spent our last few days back in San Blas and then it was time to head back to the USA. A trip that is hopefully the beginning of many more lady adventures to come!
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Great post! Had so much fun looking though your pics. Thanks for sharing. Off for our Panamanian adventure next week. Can’t wait.
Amazing post! Very inspiring!
Absolutely loved reading through this. I was born in Panama but moved to the US when I was 4. I’ve only been back a few times. It’s beautiful to see Panama through adventurous eyes. Thanks for giving me a little peiece of home.
Hi Sarah! Your photos from Panama are absolutely stunning, as are the rest of the photos you guys share on your Instagram accounts. I work for a non-profit organization located in Bocas del Toro, called Give & Surf, and wanted to know whether you had the chance to check out the Caribbean side as well? We’d absolutely love to share your photos with our community if you have! If you haven’t then we’d love to host you guys here in Bocas! All the best!
Hi and thanks for the kind words! Love what you guys are doing as well! Panama is such an amazing place, I can’t wait to go back. I did make it to the Caribbean side when I was down there, but only to the Guna Yala, we ran out of time before we could make it to Bocas! I’ll have to make another trip down there to see it soon!