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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

Most Underrated Travel Destinations

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Everyone knows about Paris and Rome and London but there are so many other beautiful travel destinations that are amazingly underrated and they are cities on our list to visit again once the Coronavirus allows. The fact that so many beautiful countries go unexplored by travelers is a tragedy and we want to change that after Coronavirus. Not only because so many people are missing out on rich cultures and picturesque views, but also because a lot of these destinations tend to be a lot cheaper to travel to than popular cities. 

But what a lot of people don’t know is that there are gorgeous, underrated foreign cities one can visit for a fraction of the price of touristy European cities. Forbes recently published a collection of the ten most underrated destinations you should consider visiting. 

Here are a few of them to learn about while stuck at home due to Coronavirus:

Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is known for its magnificent sights of Mount Ararat, historical monasteries, and its many striking temple ruins. Armenian cuisine is other worldly with classic dishes like rabbit stew, sautéed eggplant rolls, and lamb tartare. 

Telč, Czechia

Telč is a colorful town with Italian influences in Czechia. It boasts of Baroque-Renaissance architecture and has a castle of its own with exciting tunnels and passageways that you can explore underneath the town.

Santiago, Chile

Santiago is the capital of Chile and features gorgeous architecture from the neoclassical era. There are towering cathedrals and, of course, plenty of quality Chilean wine. Plus, the city of Santiago is a great place to kick off your exploration of Chile’s wine country. 

Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Rotterdam is often ignored due to the popular neighboring city of Amsterdam, but it is a bastion of underground music and street art. The architecture is strikingly modern since the city was heavily bombed during World War II and thus had to be rebuilt from the ground up. The city is filled to the brim with amazing cuisine and museums.

Lagos, Nigeria

If you are looking for a big city destination, Lagos is a metropolis that has plenty to see and do so that you’ll never be bored. And whenever you need a break from the urban marketplaces, private beaches are just a short drive away.

Con Dao, Vietnam

Con Dao is a Southeast Asian island that makes an excellent beach destination with two resorts and tons of fascinating history. Once host to a brutal French prison, the island is also home to the tomb of the Vietnamese martyr Vo Thi Sau. 

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

This is one of the oldest cities in Uruguay dating back to the 17th century. The city has a vibrantly decorated historic quarter and a three-century-old convent. It’s also only a short trip away from the bigger city of Montevideo.

A majority of Americans, when asked about traveling abroad, will likely shake their head and say they can’t afford such trips. Many people deal with multiple monthly bills, such as mortgage or rent, student loans, and title loans, which are all stress inducing. 

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Adventure Travel

3 Tips For A Luxury Camping Experience

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If you are used to travelling in style and staying in high end hotels, camping is probably your idea of hell. Why would you spend a week sitting in a freezing cold tent, hiding from the rain when you could be relaxing around the pool in a nice hotel? But camping gives you a completely different travel experience and if you do it right, it can be very rewarding. If you invest in the right equipment, you can enjoy all of the good things about camping without any of the downsides. If you follow these simple tips, you will have a comfortable experience and fall in love with camping.

Image From Pixabay CCO License

Buy The Right Tent

The tent is the most important thing if you want a comfortable camping experience. All of those horror stories you hear about leaking tents only happen because people buy cheap tents. If you invest in a good quality tent, it should hold up to the weather and keep you dry and warm.

When you are buying a tent, you need to check the hydrostatic head rating. This gives you an indication of how much rain the tent can stand up to before leaking. The higher the rating, the less likely your tent is to leak. It is also important to consider the size of the tent and how easy it is to put up, especially if you are planning a road trip. You need to make sure that it fits into the car easily, and you also want to avoid anything that is too complicated to put up. However, be careful with pop-up tents because most of them will not stand up to the rain.

If you want the ultimate comfortable camping experience, you should consider a camper trailer instead. There are some great camper trailers that come with all of the same facilities that you would find in a basic hotel, so you can camp in comfort. If you really hate the idea of camping, this is the best option.

Get A Good Quality Sleeping Bag

If you are worried about being freezing cold at night while you are camping, you need to get a good quality sleeping bag. A cheap one will not be comfortable and it won’t keep you warm, so you need to make sure that you buy a good thermal one. Sleeping directly on the floor will be uncomfortable as well, so you should invest in a sleeping mat as well. If you are willing to spend a little more on good sleeping equipment, you will be nice and comfortable while camping.

Pack Good Food

The food is another big issue for people when they go camping, but there is no need to live on beans all week. You can get some great dehydrated camping food packs so, as long as you take a small camping stove, you can still eat proper meals. If you pack a coolbox and freeze some food before you go, it should last a while so you can have barbecues as well. As long as you plan ahead, there’s no reason why you can’t eat well while you are camping.

Camping doesn’t have to be the nightmare experience that you think it does. If you follow these simple tips, you can have a luxury camping experience and enjoy all of the benefits of the great outdoors.

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Adventure Travel

Tips for Planning Your Uluru Tour

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Located in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the magnificent sandstone of Ayers Rock or Uluru stands tall at 1,142 feet above ground. The natural formation is widely known for being one of the most sacred places to the indigineous peoples in Australia. At the same time, it is also popular for attracting tourists from all over the world to the land down under.

If you want to visit Uluru in order to pay tribute to this wonder of nature, then doing so through the right tour is in your best interest. It’s not only because Uluru is located at least a few hours from civilization, but it also because such a tour allows you to enjoy the picturesque sights that come along the way within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

So what sights are there to see along the way and what other general tours suggestions you should keep in mind while visiting Uluru? To help you answer these and some other important questions, here are 5 top tips to keep in mind while visiting Uluru.

Don’t Climb the Monolith

First things first, while it is legal to climb atop Uluru, it is recommended that you do not attempt such an action in order to show your respect to the indigenous peoples.

It is a pretty easy rule to follow when you pay attention to the emotions of the indigenous tribes who have recommended time and again for people to not climb Uluru.

But that doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy the natural beauty that Uluru has to offer. In fact, you are encouraged to visit the sandstone and take in its natural glory by standing right beside the formation. That’s why 4WD tour is highly recommended. The tour guides would be able to tell you what you can and can not do.

Visit During Sunset

Ask anyone who has visited Uluru about the best time to see the formation, and you will instantly get the answer as “sunset.”

It’s because Uluru is not an ordinary monolith, but one that is formed through arkosic sandstone. This allows the rock to actually change its color according to the position of the sun. As a result, you can expect the formation to sport a different color depending upon what time of day you reach it.

At sunset, Uluru projects an amber glow that is surreal to take in, especially when you are seeing the formation in person for the very first time. That’s why, it is recommended that you time your trip in a way that allows you to experience this magnificent sight.

3. Take Your Time to Plan the Trip

Perhaps the best way to visit Uluru is through the nearby town of Alice Springs, which has various amenities and accommodation options for tourists who are making their way to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The drive from Alice Springs to Uluru can take around 5 hours, which is why it is recommended that you arrive at least a day before you are planning to tour Uluru.

This way, you can reach the national park while feeling fresh and rested. This also gives you time to plan longer trips to the park in order to enjoy all that it has to offer.

4. Take in the Sight of the Rock Art

Uluru is not just a wonder to look at by itself, but it also holds several little pieces of wonderful art within it.

The caves at the bottom of the formation hold several pieces of rock art that can only be found at Uluru. If you love learning about other cultures through their art, then this will be a must visit.

Just make sure that you take the time to learn about this art through a local tour guide or via the information provided within these exhibits. This ensures that you have an immersive and informative experience which you can remember for a long time.

5. Don’t Forget the Natural Attractions Around the Rock

Enjoying the breathtaking sight of Uluru sounds rewarding enough for a trip to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. But it’s not all that you can do during a tour of Uluru.

From seeing the red kangaroos and other marsupials to spending some time with the camels, and from seeing the one of a kind formations of Kata Tjuta to taking a walk by the Valley of the Winds, there’s so much to see and do around Uluru.

That is why, it is recommended that you take your time at the park and put aside at least two days to enjoy all of the unique activities that the area has to offer. It would give you a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle of daily life while also allowing you to make the most out of your long journey to the sandstone.

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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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