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Waterfalls and surfing in Panama

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If you are looking for some sun, waterfalls and surfing in Panama and don’t mind roughing it in buses or hostels then you will have a blast! After escaping Panama cities hustle and bustle, we instantly fell in love with the beautiful beaches, tonnes of surf and very chilled out culture!

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro

Panama’s Main Destinations

Playa Venao (Surf and snorkelling)

Our favourite destination was a surf beach on the Pacific coast called Playa Venao. It has a lovely beach, surf, waterfalls and tonnes of wildlife! Being one of our first destinations in Panama, this was where we saw plenty of new animals we had never seen before – including fireflies, toads, howling monkeys and a 9ft snake!

Howling Monkey

Howling Monkey

We also loved our hostel which was right on the beach with awesome owners and a great chilled out atmosphere. We highly recommend staying at Venao Cove Beach Hostel if you are on a budget, or you can investigate the private rooms they have available.

At a waterfall with our Venezuelan friends that is walking distance from Venao Cove Hostel

At a waterfall with our Venezuelan friends that is walking distance from Venao Cove Hostel

Santa Catalina (Surf Beach)

Not too much further around the coast is Santa Catalina which is also known for its surf! Most of the accommodation is a 15 minute walk over the hill via the road to the main surf spot. Unfortunately, Moss found it extremely difficult to find anywhere that rented a 6 foot surf board as most companies only hire long and learner boards. Therefore, if you are a serious surfer, make sure you either take your own board, or befriend a local that’s willing to lend you one like we did.

Point break at Santa Catalina

Point break at Santa Catalina

Bocas del Toro (Surf and diving/snorkelling)

It is a long drive to Bocas del Toro! Add on a detour to find a beach and a very foggy drive over the hills, and it took us a total of 12 hours to drive from El Valle to the car ferry at Almirante. We decided to sleep in the boot of our tiny car that night, and as uncomfortable as it was, we heard that we made the right decision because the hostel was pretty gruesome. After an uncomfortable night’s sleep we found the car ferry which costs US$25 to transport a car, or US$1 per person (one way). So, deciding to leave the car behind we jumped on the ferry, which after getting a closer look had far too many coats of paint and was a rust bucket that we half expected to sink at any moment! Note: there are also water taxis available which are much faster than the 2 hour car ferry. However, as you can expect, they cost a lot more than US$1!

Car ferry arriving at Bocas del Toro

Car ferry arriving at Bocas del Toro

Without even realising it, we arrived in Bocas del Toro right as the biggest swell in years was hitting the coastline and this attracted pro surfers including Kelly Slater and Sunny Garcier. It also meant that there was rain, rain and more RAIN! So, putting on our togs (bathers) and hiring bikes costing $2 per hour, we headed off along the road. What we didn’t realise was that the beach was also classed as road in some areas, therefore we were swamped by waves as we attempted to push our bikes through the surf and coral rocks.

The large swell was creating mini islands on the beach/road at Bocas del Toro

The large swell was creating mini islands on the beach/road at Bocas del Toro

It was a neat adventure, with talented/daring surfers to watch, cows with massive ears, moss breaking his jandals that had survived 8 months of travel and having to fix a broken bike chain in the middle of no where. Moss even snapped this awesome shot as a wave hit a log on the beach!!

Panama - Bocas del Toro storm

Sand went everywhere!!

Stormy swells during January 2015 in Bocas del Toro

Stormy swells during January 2015 in Bocas del Toro

Panama - Bocas del Toro ow with large ears

Biggest ears on a cow we’ve ever seen!

Due to the stormy surf stirring everything up, diving was restricted to the sheltered areas and visibility wasn’t amazing, so we befriended one of the scuba diving companies and jumped on board their day trip with our snorkelling gear. We also caught a water taxi to Red Frog Beach. It cost US$3 per person to enter the beach and even though we saw no frogs, it is a lovely beach!

Large starfish at Bocas del Toro

Large starfish at Bocas del Toro

El Valle

About 2 hour’s drive from Panama City, is a small town called El Valle which is built within an old volcanoes crater. We went on a Sunday to make the most of their market and even got sucked into purchasing two hammocks! Aside from the market, we didn’t really like El Valle. Yes you can walk or drive to the top of the hill for a great view of the crater but to be honest everything else was a bit of a disappointment. There are a few waterfalls in the area, including Puente Mama Chea which was far too overpriced costing about US$7 pp. We saw better waterfalls on the side of the road while driving to Bocas del Toro and its natural pool was nice for a cool down, but certainly was not ‘natural’.

El Valle - Punte Mama Chea natural pool

El Valle – Punte Mama Chea natural pool

San Blas

Unfortnately due to me getting sick over new year’s, we couldn’t explore both Bocas del Toro and San Blas, so we will have to explore San Blas another day. From our research the tours look pricey but everyone says that it is beautiful!

The Panama Canal

It is just over 100 years since the Panama Canal was officially opened on August 15th 1914. We couldn’t leave Panama City without learning more about the Panama Canal. The Miraflores visitor center contains a museum which is pricey (US$15pp) but very well set up and we found it very interesting. Moss enjoyed driving a ship in the virtual simulation, and I enjoyed looking up my surname in the database of workers.

View of Panama Canal from the Miraflores Visitor Center

View of Panama Canal from the Miraflores Visitor Center

Panama’s currency and accommodation costs

We were surprised to discover Panama used US currency. In general, we were able to find accommodation for US$15 per person per night. We found cheap hotels for this price in Panama City, and stayed in hostels (with kitchens) for the same price while exploring the rest of Panama. You don’t need to book far in advance either. We generally booked 2 nights in advance (during the new year’s period). However, it may pay to book in advance if you have a specific hostel in mind. But for Bocas del Toro, there is so much accommodation available, we just wandered the streets and found accommodation upon arrival.

Hiring a car versus public transport in Panama

We didn’t realise how good public transport would be in Panama. We were one of few people travelling who hired our own car, costing US$25 day with insurance (as third party insurance is mandatory in Panama). To be honest, if we went to Panama again, I would just use public transport. For the amount of little side of the road stops and drama that we experienced with an immobiliser stalling our car for over 24 hours, it wasn’t really worth it!

Sunset while watching the surfers at Santa Catalina

Sunset while watching the surfers at Santa Catalina

Food in Panama

The side of the road stalls/small outdoor restaurants with food in cabinets are worth stopping at. Most places are likely to serve chicken with rice and beans, but take a look in the cabinet and be daring. I discovered what seemed to be a deep fried sweet corn fritter and they were AMAZING!! Not to mention the road side stalls are super cheap – one dinner we had with a drink of coke cost $7 for the two of us.

Butterfly in Santa Catalina

Butterfly in Santa Catlina

Extra advice for Panama

  • You do not need a yellow fever vaccination to visit Panama
  • We recommend carrying insect repellent with you
  • While in Panama City, do not walk the streets with jewellery or expensive items. We did not have any trouble, but we were warned
  • Christmas Eve is much more of a big deal than Christmas day itself! We flew in to Panama at 2am on Christmas morning and the view from the plane was incredible with fireworks in every direction
  • Keep an eye out for the butterflies!
  • If you do hire a car, petrol is extremely cheap! It cost us about US$30 to fill the tank of our car

 

Since May 2014, Rebecca has been wearing out her jandals. She loves anything that involves the ocean whether it be scuba diving, wakeboarding, jet skiing or more recently - sailing! Consider following her via RSS Feed, Twitter and Facebook.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Erika

    February 10, 2015 at 8:10 AM

    We loved Panama too, and found it a very rewarding and beautiful destination. Too bad you didn’t make it to San Blas, but at least it leaves something for next time…!

    • Rebecca Barlow

      February 11, 2015 at 11:40 AM

      Wow your blog post about San Blas Islands makes me regret not going there. But yes, it certainly leaves a reason to go back to Panama!

  2. Saiful Islam Khan

    February 11, 2015 at 11:36 PM

    What can I say 🙂 I just fascinated seeing whose I didn’t find anywhere else. Especially I liked El Valle – Punte Mama Chea Natural Pool, it was just awesome! 🙂 And yes, it was my first too seeing biggest ears cow though I wish if I could see in real glance 🙂 Thanks Rebecca Barlow for writing & sharing such this huge post!

    Best regards,
    Saiful

  3. arvind

    February 12, 2015 at 1:04 AM

    Waterfalls is realy the natural entertainment.

  4. Katie Featherstone

    February 20, 2015 at 12:16 AM

    Panama sounds like such a beautiful country- I’d really love to get back to Central America one day! Bocas del Toro looks amazing. 🙂

    • Rebecca Barlow

      February 20, 2015 at 10:56 AM

      Hi Katie,

      Yes Bocas del Toro is very beautiful! You will have to go one day 🙂

  5. Amy

    May 21, 2015 at 9:45 PM

    I love Panama. It really a beautiful place. Thank you for your blog.

  6. Sam

    May 22, 2015 at 7:13 PM

    Panama seems to be a cool place to be and being a surfer I am sure I will enjoy its beaches. Thanks for the advice tough I will carry my board.

    • Rebecca Barlow

      May 26, 2015 at 6:56 AM

      Hi Sam, you will have a great time surfing there. Apparently Costa Rica is great for surfing too

  7. Johannes

    May 23, 2015 at 2:37 AM

    There are some beautiful places in the world and again panama is added to my list i will defiantly put it under my top 15 .. Great post love the phots.

    • Rebecca Barlow

      May 26, 2015 at 6:53 AM

      Thanks Johannes, it is certainly an amazing place to visit 🙂

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Adventure Travel

A Beginners Guide To Camping

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There are lots of different options when it comes to time away –  city breaks; adventure holidays or a leisurely escape by the pool. Another popular choice is camping. Whether it’s getting away from it all for a long weekend with friends or having a week’s holiday, camping is a great choice. There are some things you need to know and essentials you should take so we’ve put together a few tips to help you along the way.

Booking a pitch

One of the first things you should do when considering camping is to book a pitch within your chosen campsite. There are thousands to choose from. Some campsites have more amenities than others. You may want a club for the kids or evening entertainment. Some campsites even have indoor pools and gyms. Once you have narrowed down what you want you can make your booking. Be aware that not all pitches come with electricity available so check that out too. Once you have booked, you can start getting all the essentials you need for your forthcoming adventure!

Choosing the right tent

There are loads of different tents on the market these days.  Comfort is important as is space so finding something within your budget that ticks all the boxes can take time. If you are fairly tall you might want to look for a tent that accommodates extra head height. If you have children there are options to have separate bedrooms as well as living areas. Air tents are becoming increasingly popular these days so if you don’t want to spend hours pitching a traditional tent with poles, that might be the right option for you. They come with inflatable air tubes that are pumped up. A few ropes to hold it down and that’s it. Some can be erected in minutes leaving you more time to go and explore your surroundings and start your holiday.

Eating and drinking

One of the great things about camping is cooking and eating outdoors. There are lots of different camping stove options available depending on the size and type you want. There is no point in making lots of delicious food and having nothing to eat it with, or on. Melamine or enamel plates and cups are a good idea as they won’t break and a good set of cutlery is a must. There are lots of different camping utensils available which are compact and thus easily stored. Assuming you have an electricity source on your pitch, an electric coolbox is also a great idea for camping. You can keep foods fresh and drinks cold.

Relax

Whether it be taking the kids to the on-site park, having a few drinks with friends, or going for a long walk, there is always plenty to do when camping. Check out the local area online in advance so you have a rough idea of where you want to go once you arrive. The most important thing is to relax and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful surroundings.

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Adventure Travel

What to Expect from your First Safari Holiday

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When it comes to overseas experiences, it’s difficult to beat the appeal of safari holidays. Done right, they offer up a chance to look at wildlife as it was meant to be: roaming free! While we might instinctively associate the term with the Serengeti, you can actually find safaris in every region on the planet, meaning that there’s something available whatever your budget, and however fit or unfit you are.

Before you head off on a safari adventure, however, it’s worth doing a little bit of preparation to ensure that you’re ready for the trip. Your tour operator should keep you informed of some of the more crucial preparatory steps, but there are other little surprises that you’ll want to make yourself aware of before setting out.

Insurance

When you’re travelling, you’ll need to be appropriately insured. And nowhere is this more so than on an African safari. Many lodges will not allow you to take part in any safari activities if you aren’t insured – they simply can’t afford to take the financial risk. Play it safe, and print out a copy of your details so that you can prove that your insurance is valid.

Water

At many lodges, it’s actually safe to drink the tap water. But sometimes, this isn’t the case. Make sure you ask in advance. If you aren’t so lucky, you’ll get bottled water instead. You’ll need to use this when brushing your teeth. Don’t be tempted to open your mouth when you’re in the shower, either!

Food

On most safari trips, food is rarely a problem; you’ll get three meals a day, in a variety of evocative locations. Most lodges are all-inclusive, meaning that you won’t need to pay extra for your food and drink – but again, it’s worth checking in advance if you don’t want to get burned.

Clothing

There’s an element of truth to the image of the western tourist dressed entirely in khaki. The colour does help you to blend in, and thereby get a bit closer to the animals. If you’re travelling in winter, you’ll need a few jumpers to cope with night-time, while in summer you’ll need to be protected against the occasional shower.

Vaccinations & Tablets

If you’re heading to an unfamiliar part of the world, you’ll need to ensure that you don’t contract an exotic disease. This means getting vaccinated ahead of time. Your doctor might need several weeks’ notice in order to arrange the vaccinations, so make speaking to them a priority.

In Africa in particular , the most pressing danger is malaria. If you’re travelling with very young children, then you might prefer to head to a non-malarial part of the continent. Malaria tablets must be taken regularly, and come with side-effects that must be managed. Read the instructions carefully, and get into the routine of taking them at the allotted times. You don’t want to miss a single dose!

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Adventure Travel

Take A Moment and Go Visit Iceland Today

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We have all been quite busy this year, but have we stopped and taken a breather? We made new year’s resolutions, stuck to a couple of them, made some progress, and stayed relatively healthy.

But the fact is that we like, the fictional character Walter Mitty might be bogged down by our many day to day cares. Tunnel vision, myopic attitudes, and more significant concerns take us away from our dream of exploring fascinating places and countries such as Iceland or other Nordic countries.

We might indeed hesitate and put these trips off to another day. Yet, we know that the things that we keep out of our sight, stay out of our mind. When we push something to tomorrow, it rarely happens.

We continue to look forward to the endless tomorrows that will bring more joy than today.

Wise people reminded us of the importance of carpe diem, that notion of seizing the moment and grabbing life by the horns, thus, basking at the moment.

Don’t delay travel in style with a service such as Voyage Privé, and you will be delighted by your decision.

Remember that we only have concrete evidence of having one life, we must live it in the best manner possible.

Have Fun and Add A Little Flair To Your Year

The year is coming to a close. When was the last time that you did something fun and worthwhile? When was the last time you did something that you can be proud of and can remember for decades to come? For most of us, the answer might surprise us. The memories are distant and might be a bit far off.

Take the Nike mentality, and do it, book a flight to an exotic and delightful place like Iceland.

Iceland offers plenty of activities, scenery, and opportunities for the wandering spirit. We’llWe’ll talk about just a few of these fantastic places that you must visit in the beautiful Nordic nation of Iceland.

Must-See Destinations in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a natural spa. The locals dubbed it the “spa of the volcanic earth.” The natural landscape allows weary travelers to rest, disconnect from their devices, and connect with the beauty of nature.

Travelers may indulge in luxurious experiences and enjoy great dining, events that are undoubtedly much needed in our always-on, digitally connected lives.

Remember to dine at the Lava Restaurant and lounge at the Silica Hotel or the Retreat Hotel.

The Gullfoss

Bask in the breathtaking beauty of the Gullfoss. Remember that the Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most beloved waterfalls all over the world. Additionally, the Gullfoss is open to the public and is free for all to see and immerse themselves from a safe distance. Millions of people have gone to this waterfall to have a glimpse of this wondrous beauty, and you deserve to go as well.

Asbyrgi (Shelter of the Gods)

Do not forget to visit and hike in Asbyrgi. Many tourists come here and set up camp to have a little peace of mind in the general turbulence of the world. Asbyrgi is surely idyllic and is one place you must have on your to-do list.

We have only scratched the surface on the beautiful experiences in Iceland, book your trip today, stay for a while.

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Meet Cole and Adela

Cole and AdelaWe have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...

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