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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!!
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!
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’.
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.
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!
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.
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
Walking the Camino de Santiago Photos
These are my favourite Camino de Santiago Photos from my pilgrimage along the French Way in March. A truly beautiful way to spend a few weeks.
El Camino de Santiago kicked my ass. Well technically it kicked my feet. Turns out my minimal preparation for the Camino de Santiago was terrible. After a miserable effort of only 4 days, the doctor in Legrono told me that I wasn’t allowed to go on until me feet healed. I had walked just over 100 km’s and my feet were bloodied and blistered.
To be honest, I was relieved.
The thought of putting back on my shoes made my shudder. For the last 9 km’s I had stumbled along in jandals and socks. One of the travelling fashion sins I vowed I would never break.
So while I have unfinished business with the Way of St James (an upcoming post), I did want to share with you some of my favourite photos from the Camino de Santiago. Because I had yet to reach some of the more “unsavoury” parts of the Camino that Sherry Ott had discovered, every step of my pilgrimage had been beautiful.
There is no way you can get lost on the Camino de Santiago. Arrows, scallop shells and signs point you in the right direction at every bridge, road crossing and intersection.
Reaching the top of Alto Pedron gave views back the way I had come from Pamplona, as well as views to where I was going. The rocky path on the way down proved to be my ultimate downfall, as my too small shoes caused my toes to smash into the front.
There were so many beautiful old churches along the Camino de Santiago. But since I was walking in early March, it seemed that most were yet to open for the busier summer season.
And between every small village the well-maintained pathways of the French Way wound across the spectacular Spanish countryside.
Puenta La Reina has one of the most amazing bridges I have ever seen. It was also the 1st village I had the pleasure of sleeping in after busy Pamplona.
Most mornings I was up and walking before the sun began to sprinkle across the horizon.
Every village and town was built on a small hill. Sure it looks beautiful until you realise you have to go back up again to go through them all!
While there were only about 20 pilgrims walking each section every day, it wasn’t uncommon for you to encounter them all. The people I met along the Camino de Santiago were some of the most inspiring and remarkable people I have ever spoken to. They are the ones that make the pilrgimage so special.
Every village had at least one ancient church and it wasn’t uncommon to find them dotting the landscape in remote locations either.
I have travelled through Spain in the past, including cycling in Costa Brava and surfing in San Sebastian with both independent planning and a vacation planner. But having the opportunity to walk at my own pace through some of the most beautiful scenery in Spain on the Camino de Santiago has so far topped them all.
Hammock vs Tent Camping
Camping with a hammock is slowly but surely becoming more popular in recent years with new and improved hammock designs being preferred by some campers, compared to the traditional tent.
In this article we will discuss some of the key benefits and drawbacks of sleeping without a tent, and analyze key criteria so that you can choose your preferred shelter choice!
Most tents work well in the rain; however, you’ll need to bring a tarp if you’re using a hammock. Traditional hammocks are not waterproof, and are generally open at the top, allowing water to find itself inside if you don’t have an adequate tarp. Moreover, a decent under quilt is also a good idea so that you can stay warm and cozy during cold and stormy nights.
Packing up your hammock after a long night of rain isn’t too bad, whereas packing up a soaking wet tent is always annoying. You almost always get wet in the process.
For first time campers, pop-up tents are the simplest to setup. All you need to do is find flat ground, and bam, your setup is complete! The beauty of pop-up tents is that you don’t need to worry about figuring out where to insert the poles and erect the tent. Although, traditional tents are usually more robust, and have a longer life span.
Essentially, a tent is simple, but a hammock can become a little more complicated for first timers. You’ll need to find 2 trees facing a good direction and tie each end of the hammock to them. If your hammock setup is too tight, you will generally wake up with sore ancles, but if it’s too loose, you run the risk of the hammock touching the floor, and insects crawling in with you.
If your campground doesn’t have many trees, or if the trees are dead (they could break and injure you), hammock stands come to the rescue! Basically, hammock stands allow you to pitch a hammock if there are no trees nearby. They are portable, adjustable, and are easy to setup. The only drawback is that the ground should be relatively flat, whereas if you were to hang a hammock between 2 trees, there won’t be any stands touching the ground, so a rocky floor wouldn’t be a problem.
One of the main reasons for choosing a hammock is the comfort that it provides you! It has a basically has in-built seat which is arguably more comfortable than a standard blow up mattress. You need to pick your tree’s wisely though! You don’t want a pinecone falling on your face mid-sleep.
If you have constant back pain and find it hard to sleep inside tents, you should give hammocks a try as they cause you to sleep sideways, similar to a banana shape, which a lot people find much more comfortable.
Hammocks are usually lighter and don’t include a wealth of poles and gear that tents do. Depending on the type of hammock that you purchase, they are usually quite similar to tents. You can however, find very cheap tents <$60, but they most likely won’t last long.
A good tent or hammock can cost between $200-500 without accessories. If you need a hammock stand, that will add to your cost, just like a mattress and other tent necessities will to its cost.
Top of Cappadocia day trek – with Middle Earth Travel
Trekking through the valleys of Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys with Middle Earth Travel feels more like the set of a Star Wars movie than a historical region once carved out and lived in by humans. Churches, homes and pigeon houses are scattered throughout the valleys, all waiting to be explored. The best part is, Middle Earth Travel know all the hidden secrets.
Top of Cappadocia day trek – with Middle Earth Travel
On the 26th of July (which just so happens to be my birthday!) Middle Earth Travel took us on their private and guided Top of Cappadocia day trek. From Pasabag, along the top of Cappadocia and down through the Gulludere Rose Valley to Goreme, we trekked 15kms in one day! (We recommend getting your bearings with this map)
Upon arrival to the Middle Earth Offices, we were warmly greeted by our new friend Atil whom we had met a few days earlier while mountain biking through the Kizilcukur Red Valley. We were then introduced to our guide and given a briefing regarding the day. Normally, the Top of Cappadocia tour would start from Çavuşin, however, since we had already explored Çavuşin Castle, they adapted our tour to compensate ensuring we would explore new terrain!
With charged cameras, plenty of water and our running shoes on, we were driven to our starting point of Pasabag. We wandered through the fairy chimneys, coming across camels and markets – then the true hike began.
It was a slow and gentle incline. With no trees to provide shade, I quickly realised why our tour guide had chosen to wear fully covered clothing! As the sweat quickly set in (a waterfall in Moss’s case) we snapped away with our cameras and enjoyed the entertaining shapes of Imagine Valley and the amazing view. We also passed a lot of rock piles, which according to our guide mean ‘father’ and are built to help lead the way.
The higher we trekked, the more breath taking the views became! As we walked along the summit of Bozdag mountain (the Top of Cappadocia) we could see EVERTHING – Pasabag, Çavuşin Castle, Kizilcukur Red Valley, Gulludere Rose Valley and Goreme. We were on the Father of Valleys! After a quick nod of agreement to the guide, we pushed ourselves the extra distance and made our way to the flag, as this HAD to be the highest point and was definitely worth a photo and a selfie or two!
From the flag we looked down upon Aktepe Hill which is known as a popular destination for watching the sun set and could spot Kizilvadi Restaurant, our destination for lunch! Kizilvadi Restaurant is an attraction of its own. With its own historic winery and Grape church, plus some Middle Earth Travel treks even stay there for the night! After having a massive feed of soup, salad and pasta plus a surprise birthday cake, we made our way down into Gulludere Rose Valley.
The scenery is amazing, with strong colours visible in perfect layers on the chimneys, you would wonder what an artist was thinking, had it been a painting. Also, hidden to the side of the track we walked across a little bridge and not expecting anything to be there we were wowed by the massive church carved. It was absolutely huge and hard to believe that its most recent use has been as a pigeon house!
Middle Earth Travel Review
- The team at Middle Earth Travel were extremely knowledgeable and certainly know Cappadocia’s hidden secrets. They have friendships with local tea garden owners which is also of benefit as it gained us entry to locked churches and hidden rooms that we would not have otherwise seen.
- We covered a lot of ground, however we did not feel rushed. The whole day focused on showing us the region, therefore we had as much time as we needed to explore each church and to take ‘just one more photo’.
- It wasn’t all about trekking. With a whole day and 15kms to cover, there were a few silly poses (especially in Imagine Valley), and we learnt a lot about the myths, legends and way of life in Cappadocia.
- In conclusion I highly recommend Middle Earth Travel if you wish to go trekking or mountain biking in Cappadocia.
- Cost: Day treks with Middle Earth Travel range from 50-90 euro, depending on the number of people taking part. This includes lunch, guide, vehicle transfers and entrance fees to historical sites, but excludes alcoholic and soft drinks.
- Middle Earth Travel are outdoor enthusiasts and offer multi-day over night treks, mountain biking, abseiling, or custom made itineraries, in multiple regions throughout Turkey.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a discount for the trek with Middle Earth Travel, however, as always our thoughts on our adventure travel blog our own.
Meet Cole and Adela
We 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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