Below are all the details you need about the locations featured in the videos HERE:
Top things to do in The Republic of Panama
San Blas Islands
As shown in the video there are several ways to experience San Blas. 1) Rustic hostel like bungalows/camping 2) As part of an adventure tour with a charter cruise of the islands and 3) As part of sailing adventure on a boat to Colombia.
For all of these options your best bet is to stop by Luna’s Castle and/or Hostel Mamallena, even if you are not a backpacker. The reason being is, whichever San Blas island you chose, or whatever boat to Colombia you pick, your experience will depend on who is going to share your island or boat. These two hostels in Panama City are the top places for booking so even if you are not staying there you will want to drop by. Hostel Mamallena has its own tour agency, Panama Travel Unlimited and is a reputable company. I lifted the following from their website and it has the most accurate information about San Blas as you can find:
The San Blas islands, or Kuna Yala, comprise of 365 (one for everyday of the year they say) islands located along the Caribbean coats of Panama. Granted semi independence in 1925, the Kuna Yala is run by an elected Congresso. The Kunas have managed to fiercely retain their culture for over 500 years, despite repression by first the colonial Spanish and then Panamanian governments. Life in the islands is still very traditional, many live as their families have done for generations. The Kunas guard their San Blas islands by only allowing Kunas to own property within their areas. Foreign, or Panamanian , owned businesses are not allowed. Only some communities have running water and cooking is still often done over open fires. Most people still sleep in hammocks in communal areas inside their huts. The women still wear brightly coloured clothing, wide skirts and multi-coloured beaded bracelets wrapped the whole length of their lower legs and arms.
Franklin’s: Well known over the last few years by the hostel and backpacking crowd in Panama, Franklins has become one of the places we send backpackers to the most and rarely get complaints. They have a number of cabins and a beach on their half off the island. The island is small but split into 2, although it is hard to distinguish any divide and it seems to be no problem to wander around the islands fringes in the shallow surf. They charge $26.00 per person per night for dorms with 3-5 sharing or $60 for private rooms for two, this includes three simple meals a day, snacks and water you have to either bring it or buy over there. You can organize tours to other islands from $3-$10 per person, just ask Franklin. The boat to and from the island is $10 each way. The island is generally one of the cleanest. There is some very good snorkelling in and around the shore. With plenty of Star fish, Sting rays and more….
Robinson’s: One of the original places in San Blas for backpackers and the hostel crowd, although the location is different to the old Robinsons as they moved to a larger island near the original. This island is larger than Franklins but still relatively small. There are three to four groups of Cabanas and about six Kuna families living on the island. They charge $20.00 per person per night for dorms, or $50 for private cabins for two, including three meals a day, snacks and water you have to either bring it or buy over there, there is a tour to the local Community included in your stay, and others can be organised for a cost. The boat to and from the island is $10 each way. This island was, and still is, popular with backpackers.
Ina’s: Ina is the Nephew of Robinson, although at times you wouldn’t think it….., it boasts the usual shacks with sand floors. It is located just up the beach from Robinsons. Some cabins are shared, some are private. They cost $22pp for dorms and $50 for private rooms for 2 people, including the usual three meals a day, snacks and water you have to either bring it or buy over there. Ina can arrange many tours to Islands like Dog or Estrella so just ask him and arrange a price when you are there. The boat to and from the island is $10 each way. This island is more built up than Franklins but is much bigger and has decent beaches. At the moment Ina is one of our top picks as the reviews coming back about the family and the food have been very positive, but things in San Blas are never consistent and this could change at any time.
Eulogio’s Place: One of the original homestays on one of the main Carti Islands. They’ve recently built an upstairs part to their house which has good airflow, but is still very basic. This is the best way to experience Kuna culture if that is what you prefer instead of lazing on a beach, but do not expect to be there alone, it’s like a hostel. He charges $30 per person per night, and includes the usual three basic meals per day. The main town has a number of small stores where you can buy snacks, drinks and so on. Food is basic and toilets are placed over the sea. Includes daily tours to the local beach islands where you can spend the day swimming, snorkelling and lazing on the beach. Some of these islands have nothing but a local family, a couple of cabins and palm trees. In the afternoon you’ll return to Carti for the night. Eulogio and his brother Germain are great guys but just watch that they don’t try to overcharge you! They are pretty well known for it
Eulogio also arranges accommodations on the stunning Hook Island for $45 per person per night in simple private cabins for two with decent toilets and bucket showers. Hook Island is one of the more untouched islands, very clean and great snorkelling, you will often see fisherman pulling in a catch on the reef around the island. It is less developed and very quiet compared to the other islands and recommended for couples mainly.
Charter Boats and Boats to Colombia
Recently the Kuna Indians banned foreigners without permits from operating in the San Blas islands. Ship captains change and information is updated continuously. For that reason you should contact Panama Travel Unlimited and it wouldn’t hurt to drop by or email Luna’s Castle to ask the names of boat captains… then google the hell out of them. Then ask, at both locations, if they have booked people. Sometimes captains wait for a full boat and the passengers that are waiting are hanging out at one of these hostels in Panama City. Drop by and try to meet them to see if you can spend five days on a small boat with them.
Treasure Hunt at The Lost and Found Jungle Hostel
My favorite activity in Panama and top hostel from The Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor. Not so much a hostel as a location in itself where you can do a lot of the tours you can do in Boquete but at a fraction of the price. Their coffee tour is much more authentic and less touristy than ones you will find in Boquete. It can be used as a base in lieu of Boquete to explore the Caldera hot springs and the Gualaca river canyons and for much cheaper. It is nicely situated as well, breaking up the long trip from Panama City to Bocas. There is also nothing like the free treasure hunt that makes hiking and animal watching an adventure even for those who don’t like hiking. Have a look at their top ten video.. (It’s stung together with mostly footage from me.) More information is HERE AT THEIR WEBSITE.
Climb Volcan Baru
Don't have much to add here. Video says it all. Just do it. If you need a guide 'cause you're a wimp or you don't have gear contact Nico Armstrong HERE He's also the guy to contact if you need transport or a tour from Boquete to Bocas. Flights no longer run between these destinations and you have to take two busses so if you want someone who will take you and show you the hidden secrets along the way then he is best guide for the area (and the best price.)
Often referred to as “Panama’s Galapagos”, Parque Nacional Coiba was established by the Panamanian government in 1991 which protected both Isla Coiba and its surrounding waters as a national park. The legislation also allowed for the penal colony on Isla Coiba to continue operating since its presence was considered a deterrent from development. The penal colony has since closed and the park was expanded in 2004. July of 2005, Coiba was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A Biological Research Station has been constructed and the park now charges an entrance fee to visitors to help fund park protection and maintenance. ANAM, the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente or National Authority of the Environment, helps monitor and protect the area.
The closest access point to Coiba National Park is Santa Catalina, about 1 - 1.5 hours away by boat. Santa Catalina is a top surf destination and hot spot in itself for backpackers and the hostel crowd. Along the main road that leads to Estero Beach there are several tour operators that offer snorkeling and dive trips to Coiba National Park. I won’t bother listing them here as the net is already filled with changing details. As well, bird watching and fishing tours can also be arranged. It is from Estero Beach that all of the dive/snorkel tour boats depart, normally no later than 8:30/9:00 a.m. to ensure you enjoy a full day in the marine park. Tours normally return between 4:30 - 5:00 p.m. If you don’t have a pre-booked tour you can just walk around and consult with the different businesses to see what they have to offer. Some tour operators offer lunch, others don’t, so make sure you know what you’re getting beforehand.
Bocas is hardly off the beaten path so I have few secrets to share. There’s no end to information on Bocas if you google it. It is filled with backpacker hot spots and cheap hostels and there are a lot of things to do in Bocas. The spots you see in the video are Mondu Taitu hostel and Aqua Lounge, both in the top five places to party. A great spot to learn to surf without being self conscious of gawkers is Chica Surf Adventures. But there’s a catch.. women only. Find them HERE
How to Hack Panama City Taxi and Save Money in Panama
For backpackers and those staying in the cheap hostels in Panama there is nothing more exhilarating than cutting out on your own, saving money in Panama and making like the locals. Alas the challenge of using the Metro bus in Panama. It is air conditioned, comfortable and safe.
If you want to use the Metrobus, you will first need to buy a Metrobus card for $2. You have to have the card because they do not accept cash. You can buy this at almost any grocery store or pharmacy or the main Albrook terminal as seen in the video HERE.
The cost for using the Metrobus is .25 cents throughout the city and $1.25 for routes that use the corredor (these routes will say Corredor Sur or Norte on the bus). So if you just need routes in the city, $5 lasts you a long time.
All of the Metrobus stops will have an orange sign that says Metrobus by it. They say the busses go by every 15 minutes but this definitely varies.
When you see the bus it helps to wave your hand, they do not always stop at every stop like they are supposed to. Entering the bus you just need to scan your card at the front and then pick a seat or stand if it is really crowded. To exit the bus, push one of the red buttons and the driver will stop at the next available stop. If you need to transfer busses, swipe your card on the scanner by the exit so that you do not get charged on the next bus (this lasts for 40 minutes).
Top Things to do in Panama City
The Canal is the biggest industry in Panama and source of international respect and fame. The canal cuts 51 miles east to west through the country, the impressive Miraflores locks are the first set of locks closest to Panama City, and it’s the place to see the Canal. The Visitors Center at the Miraflores Locks, is just 20 minutes from downtown Panama City. You can see the Locks in the game Max Payne 3 but the real thing has a museum with interactive exhibits and a short film on the building of the Canal. An outside terrace gives you close-up views of ships transiting through the locks. The big cruise ships usually pass through between two and three so aim for then. There are several terraces to view the colossal container ships being raised or lowered through the locks. Ships carrying over 4,400 containers squeeze through the canal, paying per pound upwards of $400,000 each time to pass. In the mornings ships heading from the Pacific to the Atlantic go through, the direction is then reversed in the afternoons. There are excellent explanations in English and Spanish over the speakers while the ships pass through and you leave feeling very informed about how the Panama Canal (and international shipping) works.
The locks are an easy 20-minute taxi ride outside of town. There is also a bus, leaving from Albrook Bus Terminal, which drops you off at the street leading to the docks (about 100m walk).
Miraflores Locks – $8 all-inclusive ticket.
Taxi from Panama City – $6-$8
Bus from Albrook Mall – $0.50
The restaurant on the terrace overlooking the locks as ships pass through is nice but a little pricey as you might expect.
Cool views of Panama City's skyline, the Panama Canal, rich people’s cruise ships and just watching people in the sun make the Amador Causeway a worth-while place to drop by. The stretch unites four small islands and was built using rocks excavated from the Panama Canal. It also serves a functional purpose as a breakwater to the entrance of the Canal.
Swept by pleasant sea breezes, there are bicycle and jogging paths (bicycles for rent for just $5-10 an hour!), restaurants for a variety of budgets, souvenir shops, a duty-free shopping complex, a cruise port, and a yacht marina. The restaurants are designed to make the most of the ocean and Canal views. Bennigan’s TGIF at the Country Inn and Suites are represented but head to the last island, Flamenco and the only inexpensive place is there with Panamanian fried food and cheaper beer. It’s called Cayucos.
Not yet open at the time of this writing is the Frank Gehry designed Biodiversity museum. It will surely catch your eye and Panama has grand expectations, so check it out.
Pool crashing at luxury hotels is easy in Panama and gringos are not usually asked questions. Some pools, like at the Hotel Panama, allow it. There is nothing like enjoying the view of an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, enjoying the amenities of a five star hotel then crashing at a cheap hostel in Panama. Have to have confidence, and pretend you don’t speak Spanish.
Hard Rock Hotel: Take the elevator to floor AS2 and have a soak in the hot tub. One of the best pools in Panama. You can relax after in the lobby, grab a coffee and use their free unencrypted WiFi. Even if it ends up raining you can take the skywalk to Multi Centro where there are movie theaters… a nice afternoon.
Trump Ocean Club: Great pool and relatively easy to sneak into. When you enter you have to go in the elevator and go to the lobby floor indicated on the panel. When you arrive here you have to go to another elevator that is located across from you go to floor 13 and you just have to walk up a ramp and you’ve made it there. They provide towels for you. Located in Punta Pacifica.
Manrey: Very nice rooftop pool surrounded by cabanas. Elevators are to the left when you walk in the hotel, just head up to the 4th floor and you’re there. Located on Calle Uruguay.
The Venetto: This pool is very easy to sneak into as well. Walk in and then go to the 7th floor and the pool is there. Bring a white towel with you to blend in as a guest because towels are not provided. Located in El Cangrejo.
An uncomfortable moment can come when the staff asks for your room number. If you are afraid don’t order anything. If one of the staff asks for your room number after you order a drink, simply say that you will be paying your account in cash. But it also helps to have a fake room number in mind before you arrive so you can say it with confidence if they persist on you giving one. If for some reason the staff asks you to leave, don’t make a big deal. Just leave your dignity at the pool and go to one of the other many hotel pools in Panama.
Panamericana: This is not likely to be open but is worth mentioning because if you are a backpacker on a budget it’s a great place to stay. Quieter than Hostel Mamallena and Luna’s Castle yet is in Casco Viejo and has a great terrace with great views. And if you are a backpacker staying here and the bar is closed you have a great do-it-yourself rooftop bar on the cheap. Just bring your own booze and do your pre-drinking here. One of the top hostels in Panama City. You turn it into a bar.
BITS: Stands for Bar In The Sky a.k.a. the bar at the top of the Hard Rock. It is the highest nightclub in Latin America. Leave your shorts and flip flops in your bag… you don’t want to look like the dirty gringo here. The entire bar is surrounded by glass walls that let you take in the amazing city views. Go with friends as it’s not super easy to talk to new people here. It’s open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and if you arrive before 11 cover is free for girls and $10 for guys. After 11, cover starts at $20 and goes up from there.
Tantalo: Another classy bar, this time in Casco Viejo and has a great view of the Panama City skyline and historical buildings surrounding Casco. It’s not far from Luna’s Castle hostel so if you don’t mind the cover charge you can add it to a list of bars to hop. It’s open every day but the best days to go are Thursday (free cover), Friday and Saturday ($10 cover).
Barlovento: This is also located in Casco Viejo a little more casual than BITS and Tantalo… nice views of Casco but not really of the Panama skyline like Tantalo has. Cover is free for girls and $10 for guys.
Other cool bars – not on rooftops
Relic: Located on the bottom floor of Luna’s Castle Hostel with a large outdoor terrace and a cave-like indoor bar. These guys managed to continue to run a laid back bar with a good mix of foreigners and locals. No cover and they still manage to keep out the prostitutes (mostly). The one cool bar in Panama if you insist on going out in shorts and flip flops.
Bling: The current top bar in Panama right now – wear your adult clothes. It has a huge lighted dance floor, VIP tables, go go dancers, lights, greats DJs, etc. Send an RSVP email to firstname.lastname@example.org for free cover for girls and $10 cover for guys before 11. After 11 cover starts at $20 and goes up from there. Bling is located on floor AS1 of the Hard Rock Hotel.
Prive: The best bar in Panama’s most well know bar district, Calle Uruguay, and cover is normally free before 11. Best days to go are Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. Worth heading to because there are no less than eight to ten other bars in this thriving nightlife area.
Things to do in Panama City -- Runner’s Up
Nothing beats San Blas for beaches but if you only have a few days in the city, Taboga Island makes fora nice day trip. 12 miles off the coast, this little island does not have much more to offer than a small sandy beach and clear water, but that’s all that’s needed to escape the bustle of the city just a 30-minute ferry ride away. If you get bored lying at the beach, this tiny island paradise also has hiking trails and the small village center has a couple of cheapish restaurants with excellent seafood and ice cold beer. For Taboga Island, take a taxi to the Causeway and then a 1 hour ferry to the island, the ferry is part of the fun. Cost is $11 return
Casco Viejo stroll
If you decided to wimp out on the Casco Viejo treasure hunt you can just stroll through the old quarter, the 341 year old Spanish colonial sector built in 1671 instead of running around hunting. Casco Viejo showcases Panama's Spanish Colonial and Canal-Era history. A vibrant. colorful neighborhood, it's recently undergone a renaissance- restored hotels and restaurants in handsomely restored buildings lie side by side with crumbling old buildings. Casco Viejo is an ocean promontory- enjoy sea breezes and sweeping ocean and Panama City bay views.
Panama City has the only rainforest in the world within the city limits of a metropolis. It is so much more than just a park. It’s an entire rainforest in the city, home to hundreds of animals and an oasis of peace and quiet in an otherwise very busy city. The Metropolitan National Park is around a 15-30 minute drive from anywhere in the city and you can hike up its slopes to enjoy panoramic rainforest and city views. .
On a hike you can spot monkeys, anteaters, pacas, toucans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, turtles, ‘jesus christ’ lizards, butterflies, snakes and many more.
There are four trails leading up to Cedar Hill, which offers fabulous views over the city, and during the week you have the entire park to yourself. We spotted more animals in this jungle than in some National Parks, and here we were right in the city, just a 15 minute walk from a shopping mall to rival any large American mall.
Sex in a Push
From Dr. Hazard of Eye on Panama
Yeah, I know, push-buttons hotels are not unique to Panama. They are fairly ubiquitous in Latin America, especially in Brazil and Argentina, and are popular internationally as well, with Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, the US, and dozens of other countries offering their own take on the concept. Here in Panama, they exist in pretty much every city and town with a population over 500 where people have sex.
Is this article going to be about sex?!
Yeah. Buckle up. We are about to go PG-13 all over this bitch.
For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about. Keep reading. For those of you familiar with the concept of the push-button, I think you are going to learn a couple things anyways.
For those of you that are offended by the content of this article, lighten-up, and read on. I argue for their validity (and the reason your next date night should end up there) later on in the article.
Also called ‘love motels’, ‘autohotels’, ‘love shacks’, or the more blunt ‘sex motel’, push-buttons here in Panama are a unique, fascinating aspect of the culture. I am speculating here, based on a small cross-section of my Panamanian friends, but I would say that a significant percentage of the national population here have used these incredible facilities, and everyone knows about them, where they are, and what goes on behind closed [garage] doors.
Garage doors? Huh?
It is true. Most push-buttons here in Panama use a system where the visitors can drive to one of these establishments, pull into a garage, and push a button inside the parking area which will close the garage door behind them, thus ensuring privacy and anonymity to the engaging parties. At that point, you enter the room and have fun. When you are done, you alert them by picking up the phone located in the room, and letting them know.
At that time, they let you know how much you owe (based on the rate per hour advertised on the wall of the garage), and you can pay either by cash or credit card (kinda destroys the anonymity of the event if your bill has ‘Pedro’s Love Palace- $67.82’ on it) through a lazy-susan-esque door where neither you nor the cashier can see each other. After, you exit to the garage and wait in your car while the staff makes sure you paid for everything you used, did not trash the place, and didn’t leave any dead bodies. As soon as they do their sweep, they open the garage, and you are off.
The rooms themselves range from simple to spectacular. They all come with clean sheets and towels, and most have TVs with free cable and adult programming (oh la la!), a decent-sized bathtub or Jacuzzi, a mini-bar with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snacks and, ehem, toys and other paraphernalia. Sometimes food, drink and the peripherals (from Viagra to condoms to… er, other things…) can be ordered from a menu, which are delivered through the lazy-susan, and added to your tab. The high-end rooms will sometimes have a ‘sex-swing’ that adds a little ‘naugh-tay’ to the experience.
Most of the rooms have a certain theme to them. ‘Heaven and Hell’, ‘Geisha House’, ‘Jacuzzi Room’, ‘House of Mirrors’, ‘The Cage’, and dozens of others (all in Spanish) are there for you to choose from. Some of these are single rooms with a bathroom, and others can be two-story, four room palaces, where you (hypothetically) could throw a pretty cool party. Normally you can tell which are which based on the price.
A basic room will run about $10 for two hours.
A themed room is normally $20 for two hours.
And the love-palaces? They go for $40 for two hours.
Obviously you can stay for more than the minimum, but there are no discounts for overnight stays—these rooms are meant to be used on a short-term basis.
Now, for those of you that are bewildered, offended, consternated or grossed-out by this concept, consider this– push-buttons are regulated by the government. They have basic sanitary requirements, include inherent safety measures (you can’t leave the garage until the staff has checked out the room), and provide a much-needed service for people of all ages, races and faces.
First and foremost, it is one hell of a thrilling place to spice things up in any relationship. Whether you are married, engaged, dating, or complete strangers, going to a push-button for an intimate date is exciting as hell. You know what you are there for. You can play as loud as you want, and it gives you an excuse to get kinky, role-play, use toys, or just let out your wild side. Let your sexually-explorative side blossom.
For married-with-kids couples, it can be really difficult to get alone time away from the rug-rats. By using a push, you don’t have to worry about them walking in on you, or disrupting in any other manner. Just get a baby-sitter, have a romantic dinner, take a moon-lit walk down the cinta costera, and then enjoy your special-time the way you did before you had a family.
Hell, for most un-married Panamanians, the push is their only alternative. I mean, trying to get intimate with your partner in your parents house is awkward. You are trying to be quiet, the bed is squeaking, you can hear your dad yelling expletives at the game on TV through the wall…. It is just no good. And since most unmarried Panamanians live at home, the push becomes essential.
Finally, there are a couple more scandalous uses of push-buttons, of course. It gives bosses and secretaries an anonymous place to have an affair (which happens to be a somewhat common practice here), and they are frequented by professional (read: ‘working’) women and their clientele.
So check one out for your next erotic adventure. They are all 24-hours, and you can find them throughout the city. Just look for the neon hearts and signs with names like ‘Crucero Del Amor’ or ‘Lindo Sueno’. Transismica and Tumba Muerto have them lining both sides of the roads.
My personal recommendation? Royal Garden Suites (motto- “A different place for different people”). My girlfriend and I made a visit a while ago to one of the two-story places. Very, very cool. Well worth the drive.
What to Read
The collection of amazing short stories set here in Panama can be downloaded for free HERE.
Come Back for our next segmente soon -- Cheap hostels in Panama
Video coming soon for top hostels in panama including all the cheap hostels in Panama City, Boquete and Bocas del Toro. Although not finished the video will include top spots for backpackers to lay their packs down. Top hostels in Panama include Hostel Mamallena, Luna’s Castle, The Panamaricana, The Lost and Found on the highway between Boquete and Bocas del Toro, Refugio del Rio and Mamallena in Boquete, Hostel Hieke, Bocas Bound on Bastimentos and Aqua Lounge on Carenaro island.