A New Favorite in Latin America
I've just returned from two incredible weeks in Central America's most southern country: Panama
While we hope to have full coverage of Panama on the site in the future, I'll give you a few trip highlights and travel tips over the coming weeks.
Our first stop was Bocas Del Toro, the laid back Caribbean town in the western side of the country, which was once the headquarters for the United Fruit company (known today as Chiquita Banana). Although it isn't clear where the name, meaning 'mouthes of the bull' came from, it is clear that Bocas is becoming a retirement destination of choice amongst North Americans. English is the language of choice in the town of Bocas and restaurants featuring international cuisine are popping up on every street corner (along with real estate agencies).
There is not a ton to do here from a cultural perspective. There are, however, many tiny indigenous villages scattered around the Islands. Salt Kreek is a village that has established a small visitors center/gift shop and hiking trail. For $5, two local children led us through a mud-filled path, snaking in and around the trees in search of monkeys. The monkeys all seemed to be asleep, according to the kids, but it was a fun excursion nonetheless.
As with most Caribbean towns, sailing, diving and surfing are common pass-times. The diving here is some of the best, with regular visibility of up to 80 feet and a good mixture of coral and marine life. Although the only diving I did was after a storm, which poor visibility, I came across all kinds of fun stuff: nurse sharks, lobster, crabs, eels, loads of starfish, and my first spotted goatfish! Twice while on land I saw a ray fly out of the water in a big, graceful dive - that was a first!
Ironically, this weekend's New York Times Travel Section featured Panama's other Caribbean destination, the San Blas Islands. It is definitely on my list for the next visit!
Tips for Bocas del Toro:
- You can't fly directly to Bocas from North America, but it is an easier connection to fly through San Jose, Costa Rica than Panama City. Unfortunately the connections aren't as frequent, but it will save you some time if you're only heading to Bocas. It may even save you some money, since flights to Costa Rica are often cheaper than flights to Panama.
- We had a bad experience with the folks at Bocas Water Sports when planning our diving, but had a decent and friendly experience with Starfleet Scuba
- If you're craving treats from home, check out the Super Gourmet on the main street in town.
- If you've got a weak stomach, avoid flying to Bocas during a storm
- Don't leave without having fresh lobster cooked on the BBQ -- it is outstanding!
- Dolphin Bay is actually filled with dophins and is worth a visit if you want to catch them in action