Panama City

Since our flight to Chicago didn’t leave till 6:40 pm, we decided to hit the city highlights.  Despite objections from the rest of the crew, we were picked up at 8 am, after a scrumptious breakfast (a reason alone, worthy of stay at Hard Rock hotel ) to go to Panama Canal.
It’s a neat site to watch the gigantic ships go through, lifted by the water when the locks open and close.  Also, a good educational moment for the kids, or so we hope! We stayed there for about an hour and a half, were back at the hotel at 11 to check out, and eating (again!) lunch at Casca Viejo.
Old city is just a few streets, with nice restaurants, a few coffee shops, and some souvenir shops carrying the same assortment of merchandise.  I was finally able to buy an authentic Panama hat and some Panamanian chocolate.
Overall, we were really impressed by Panama City.  The modern architecture of high rise office buildings, condos  and hotels line the downtown and for a a moment, you would think you are driving through downtown Miami. Of course, like any big city, the outskirts are not that glamours, but that’s to be expected.
Check in at the airport was smooth, except that we had to go through an additional full security check again at the gate.  The flight back was uneventful, leaving and landing on time.

Bocos Del Toro – Panama City


Our flight to PC was leaving from Bocas airport at 3:40 pm, which meant we had half a day to spend at leisure.  After making sure the sea was calm to travel, we called Bolo and arranged for a half day trip to Starfish Beach on the other side of Isla Colon.  We checked out, dropped the luggage at The Red Frog Office in Bocas, and were on our way cruising to the beach.  The ride there was a little bumpy and took about half hour.  There is also a bus from Bocas that takes about 45 min. and offers a cheaper transportation alternative.
It’s a neat beach, and you can see starfish underwater just walking along the shoreline.  There are plenty of beach chairs and small restaurants (more like little shacks) all serving pretty much the same menu of grilled chicken, fried fish and boiled shrimp.  There are a few shacks where you can order fresh pina coladas, drinks and tropical smoothies.
There was a noticeable number of security guards walking around, actually, not just on Starfish beach, we saw a lot of security in towns of Bocas and Boquete.
It’s a great beach to visit for half day, the water is shallow, though with a deep drop a few feet in.
We were at the airport, in our swim suits at 2:50 p.m. for our 3:40 flight, changed in the bathrooms (very dirty and gross), went through security and waited for another hour as our flight was delayed.  The airport is one questionably clean room with a tiny overpriced souvenir shop.
It’s a 45 min. flight from Bocas to Panama City.  I arranged for someone to meet us at the airport and drive to Hard Rock Hotel, an impressive hotel in the center of city.  We stayed in a two bedroom suite.  The girls shared a bed, Zach slept on the pullout sofa in the living room, and we had the master bedroom.  The room was on the 38th floor with great views of the city.  We dropped the luggage, took much needed showers after a day of swimming in salt water and traveling, and headed to dinner at 81/2 in Casca Viejo (Old City).
We used Uber to get there and back and didn’t have any issues.  Dinner was delicious – we shared some starters of ceviche, mashed fried plantains with salmon tartar, sautéd mushrooms and mini hamburger with caramelized onions, and tuna tartar.  For dessert, we split coconut crusted, fried pineapple with ice cream, and mini chocolate lava cakes for the kids.  Everything from the ambiance to food presentation was up to par, including a check which made us feel like we are back in the capital.

Bocos Del Toro – Day 2


This morning, we decided to do a guided jungle tour to check out the wildlife.  Willfredo, our guide, mentioned that it may get muddy at times, at which time, I immediately donned my all occasion suede Pumas in favor of a pair of water shoes that Willfredo dug out from somewhere around activities desk.  It got muddy as soon as we stepped off the main road.  Zach decided to save his shoes and change into flip flops, but the rest of the crew just went with the flow, or with the mud.
We saw a few three toed sloths and a lot of red frogs!   Even though we didn’t see that many animals, we had a great walk back along the beach.
Back at the resort, we had chill lunch at Palmyra, an off the beaten path restaurant right on the beach. The adjoining lodge offers morning and afternoon yoga classes for $10 pp, surfing lessons and tours.
For our last night, we wanted to go to Bocas Town and do some souvenir shopping before dinner.  I negotiated the fare with the private taxi (the girls got a free ride which saved us $34 rt ), and 15 min. later we were on Bocas dock after dropping a few folks at Bastimentos – just like a taxi.
Bocas Town
 A town with 2 main streets, supermarkets every two blocks, who are all owned by Chinese and a few tourist shops.  We walked around for a bit, looking for a place to eat and settled on a French restaurant, L’Histoire.  The aroma of something opulent cooking, enveloped us as soon as we walked in and the food did not disappoint, except that my deliciously roasted chicken was not cooked all the way through and had to be re-made, which meant my dinner finally arrived after kids were almost finished with their chocolate mousse for dessert.  The upside is the rest of the diner was quite good, and for $65 including grilled lobster, two glasses of wine and two hamburgers, it was a nice goodbye to the last part of our vacation before going back to Panama City.

Day 1 Bocas Del Toro

After consulting Activity Desk for things to do, we decided to hire a captain with a boat who could take us around.  Best decision of the day!  Bolo spoke great English and is a great captain. We started the day with breakfast of Coconut Crusted French Toast and Huevos Rancheros at Sea Monkey restaurant on Bastimentos.  Bastimentos is one street, a few eateries, poor, Caribbean, authentic and we loved being there.
After breakfast, we went snorkeling to Crawl Bay, passing by the sloths island where we spotted a few sloths from our boat. Crawl Bay has two snorkeling spots.  One is right off the dock, in a very shallow, calm and clear water.  There is a small snack shop and a restaurant. The place is as Carribean and chill as it gets, and only accessible by boat as most of the places on the archipelago.
The second spot is a bit deeper, and has an abundance of coral and smaller fish.  We snorkeled off the boat, the water was a perfect temperature, with just a touch of a current.
We went by the Dolphin Bay, but didn’t see any dolphins, however the kids got to jump in the water and look and touch some starfish.
We came back, kids jumped in a pool while parents got to relax with a glass of wine.

Travel Day

The day started with Ady, knocked over by owners’ two dogs and Max accidentally scratching her ear so it bled all over.  We left later than we anticipated and had a stop over at a hospital Chiriqui Grande to have it looked at by the doctor, cleaned and walked out half hour later with antibiotics, prescription for an antiseptic spray  and a whooping $4 charge for all the services.  The hospital was very basic, but it did the trick for what we needed it.  The drive from Boquete normally takes about 3-3.5 hours through beautiful and lush cloud forest, rain forest and crossing continental divide.  We were on a 2 o’clock ferry from Almirante to Bocas ($6/adult, $2.50 per child under 9), and half-hour later found ourselves on the dock, waiting for the representative from Red Frog Beach Resort, who showed up a bit late to take us to the office.  We ended up dropping our luggage at the office and headed to lunch at Cafe Del Mare, after we learned that we need to take another boat ride to the hotel.

All was good until we had to wait for what seemed like forever at the Red Frog Resort office in Bocas, for the boat to take us there.  By the time we checked in and were in a villa, it was close to 6 o’clock.
We dropped the luggage, took quick showers and went to dinner at one of resort’s restaurants.
It was a long day, but we were glad to be back with all the amenities of a luxury villa.