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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

What To Do If You Have A Car Accident While Traveling

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Travel is exciting. Generally speaking, this is a good thing. But, sometimes a trip can turn out to be eventful for the wrong reasons. 

The last thing you need is to have a car accident, even a small one, while you are traveling. It puts a real dampener on things and if you do not take the right action an event like that can carry on having a negative impact on your life even after you get home. With this in mind, I thought I would put together a few tips to help you to navigate what can be a tricky situation.

Call a lawyer

Regardless of where you are, it is wise to seek legal help after an accident. In particular, if someone has been hurt or it looks like there could be a lot of damage. 

You can never be sure where these cases will lead, so having the support of a lawyer is useful. Most car accident lawyers offer a free initial consultation. So, you can use that to ask them what to do next and ascertain if you are likely to need their services. 

It is best to start by explaining that you have had your accident while vacationing. This will enable them to advise you about whether you need to hire a lawyer close to where you live or where you had the accident. 

Notify the insurance firm

Also, ask them about what to say when speaking to the insurance firm. You will definitely need to contact them. Usually, there is a time limit for doing this, so be aware of this and make sure you comply.

But, you will need to be careful about what you say. Regardless of where you are in the world, it is not wise to admit blame.

Notify the car hire firm

If you were driving a hire car, at the time of your accident, you normally have to notify them too. Again, your lawyer will be able to advise you about what to say. 

This will ensure that you do not inadvertently end up taking the blame or agreeing to pay for something you shouldn’t. You need to speak to your car hire firm within the timescales agreed when you signed the contract.

Follow the local rules and regulations

Before you leave home, you need to have familiarized yourself with driving rules of the area you were traveling to. There are differences. For example, you have to understand how serious an accident has to be for it to be obligatory to call the police to the scene of the accident. In some parts of the world, you have to deploy warning triangles and put on high visibility vests. Not knowing and complying with these special rules can get you in a lot of trouble.

Contact your travel insurance provider too

Wherever you travel to you should always buy a good travel insurance policy that includes cover for medical emergencies. Most of the time, this is how your medical expenses will be covered. But, as you can see here if you are held responsible for the accident you will almost certainly be liable for the other party’s medical expenses. That is why it is very important to only hire a car if good car insurance is included.

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Adventure Travel

Three Reasons You Need To Try Camping

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Holidays are that point of your working year when you finally get to relax, finally get to step away from the laptop and finally get some much needed time to recover from the stresses and strains of work.

It’s the pin on the calendar that gives you something to look forward to and the point where you know all that planning and work was worthwhile.

But are that person who finds it hard to put down the laptop and step away from their phone. Perhaps, you find it hard to switch off and worry about how the business is functioning in your absence.

In this blog, we take a look at three reasons why camping is the ultimate getaway for the stressed out executive.

Image from Pixabay: CC0 licence

Why Basic is Better

What’s the first thing you do when you check into your luxury hotel? That’s right, you ask for the wifi code and make sure your charger is plugged in. A home from home environment is great but when that home turns into an extension of your office, then you’re not going to be able to switch off and focus on where you are, even with the best will in the world.

Taking yourself out of your comfort zone and limiting your options is a bit like tough love, hard to do but ultimately a decision that everyone benefits from.

Gone is your focus on charging a phone and instead you’re thinking about when to fire up the BBQ or how many blankets you’re going to need that night.

Great for All Types of Families

Including couples, friends and those with children. Simply put camping brings people together. The campfire toasting marshmallows, the walks into the countryside and the late nights talking and playing cards together. No phones, no TV and no distractions, just you and your family remembering what it’s like, just to talk and be together.

The Great Outdoors

Watching your kids or your dog enjoying bounding around outside is great for the soul. Just taking time to enjoy the views at a campsite such as Rest Point Caravan Park in Walpole will help you to reconnect with the great outdoors and remember what’s it like to forget your responsibilities, just for a little while at least.

You might also give yourself the opportunity to try a new sport, get back on your bike or just enjoy some gentle exercise in the fresh air with the prospect of a tasty BBQ at the end of the day.

You might not feel like a natural camper but if the alternative is being cooped up in your hotel pouring over your emails, then make this an option that you add to your list. Be brave, go and buy a great tent or go to a site where you can rent them and take a chance on the great outdoors. Breathe some fresh air, admit there’s no wifi and enjoy a holiday reconnecting with the people and pets you value most.

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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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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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