Brad and I share a love for Latin America and between us we have explored many of its colourful countries. Beginning with my solo adventure in Honduras to become a Dive Master then visiting Guatemala, Nicaragua and finishing with our last adventure in Ecuador and Peru alongside the Team ELM wild women on the Inca Trail. There is something about this part of the world that brings us back and makes us feel at home every time. Maybe it's the tranquillo people, maybe it's the rum but more than likely it's the pura vida spirit. Sun, surf, beautiful beaches, beautiful language, thick jungles, tall volcanos and the best papayas you have ever tasted. It really is the good life.
For the past few years we have been seduced by the aloha spirit in Hawaii and hooked on the 'easy life' of holidaying in paradise. After discovering Kauai, Central America seemed like too much 'work' when we needed a relaxing holiday. This year, we literally had to force ourselves to turn our backs on Hawaii and resist the temptation to return year after year. With so much world left to explore and so little time to do it, we jumped back onto the 'chicken bus', so to speak, and chose to visit new Central Amercian territory this year - Panama and Costa Rica. Vamos amigos!
Panama City: 1.5 million people, 3 days and 2 nights.
I am not a lover of cities. Especially those south of North America. To me, they are all full of too many of my least favourite parts of travelling. Garbage baking on the streets. Booby trapped 'sidewalks' full of broken glass, hidden holes, dog crap, uneven concrete and random rebar spikes, all seemingly set out to take you down. Hot black exhaust and a low cloud of smog. Add 40 degrees and 80% humidity to the mix and you can just imagine the smell. Did I mention how much I like big cities?
Well, Panama City was all that...and, surprisingly, much more. We stayed in the heart of downtown in the banking district in one of many great hotels in the area. The Hyatt, Hard Rock, Hilton were all within a block of our hotel, The Royal Sonesta, which we found through Hotels.com. Luckily, it was a great hotel, complete with an awesome view of the coastal city, rooftop pool, hot tub, gym, spa and it included a bountiful breakfast buffet. I would definitely stay there again and do recommend it. We only stayed in Panama City for two nights so that we could visit the famous Panama Canal. After a 14 hour travel day, it was nice to settle in for a couple of days and explore the city.
The Panama Canal was a great little day trip by taxi from our hotel. It was a $25 taxi ride (each way) and a $15 entrance fee per person to view the Miraflores Locks, visit the 4 level historical museum and watch the info movie in their little cinema. I was expecting the locks to be much larger but learned of the recent expansion project to build locks three times the size to accommodate the growing demand for larger and larger container ships. The biggest ships currently pay $300,000-$400,000 in fees to pass through the series of locks along the 80km canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The canal really blew my mind when I realized that the entire thing had been built by thousands of workers from all over the world, digging the locks out one shovel full of dirt at a time. It is truly unbelievable what they accomplished with the technology of the time in the early 1900s. Definitely worth the visit while in Panama.
Two nights was enough for me, in Panama City, especially as we hit town the same day as the Disneyland fair and absolute chaos with lineups of hundreds of 4 year old Mickey Mouse fans blocking our path in every direction. It was a surprisingly modern city, with a metro train system, massive outlet shopping malls and everything in between. We found an awesome Lebanese restaurant right across the street from our hotel and spent a few meals playing cribbage while sipping sangria and watching the busy city life chaos happen all around us. It was fun to visit but I was more than ready to hit the road when we finally hopped on the chicken bus for the little surf town of Santa Catalina on the Pacific coast. Have you ever spent 6 hours on a chicken bus? Ohhhhhhhhh amigo...