Travel Planning | An Amazing Trip to Panama

by Liz Allen

I'm the type of gal that enjoys the anticipation and planning of a trip almost as much as the trip itself. I could spend hour after hour online researching on Blogs, YouTube and Social Media. Seriously, until a trip is taken, there's always a working itinerary. 

Now the funny thing is, once we arrive to our destination, often times the itinerary goes out the window. My intention is never to follow it step by step, but having an outline (and a few cool destinations) is always a good idea. In October of 2018, my hubby and I booked a trip with our dear friends to Panama City, Panama for March of this year.  It was a bit on a whim - but I was immediately intrigued. What's Panama all about? What are the MUST-DO things in Panama. And so, a friend referred me to an amazing article by Rachel at Hippie in High Heels about What to Do in Panama - and the thrill set in. So many opportunities. As I kept reading the conclusion unfolded that Panama was home to City, Jungle, Mountains and absolute Isolated Paradise! How could you ask for more? 

San Blas Islands

The Plan: Hippie in High Heels inspired me to channel my inner explorer (she's in there somewhere...deep, deep down) when she spoke so highly of a string of Islands called San Blas. I'm not joking when I say these islands are the islands that Corona commercials are made of. While Rachel stayed on a yacht for her experience, I stumbled across a vlog by Lost LeBlanc where he stayed in a literal sand hut in the Islands. Far from our normal all-inclusive setting - yes, but I immediately craved the experience. Luckily, our friends were TOTALLY on board and so we booked a sand hut (for one night) on the Franklin Islands of San Blas. 

The Pursuit: When you book to visit the San Blas islands, your AirBNB host handles everything (but for a hefty price-tag). From the city, our transportation arrived just before 6:00am and drove us through the city, out into the country and then (drum roll please) through the jungle / mountains - for the most terrifying ride of my life. I am not joking when I say I thought for certain we would go off of the edge. The ride got faster, bumpier, curvier and crazier as we increased altitude.  Now, the drivers are experienced and they take this route multiple times per day, but boy oh boy, there wasn't a moment that I wasn't holding on for dear life. 

We were all thankful to arrive to the tiny canal - the last leg of our trip. Great to be in fresh air and so excited to be nearing our exotic destination! They packed us like sardines onto a wooden boat, and we took off. The ride was bumpy but exhilarating. After about 45 minutes of boat travel, we spotted our island. 

Our hosts didn't speak English, so we relied on translation from some of the other island guests. We checked in and reality settled. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. On the most beautiful island in the dinkiest little sand hut (literally sand was the floor people!!). The water was clear, the sand was soft, the food was fresh and amazing - it was paradise. We spent the day relaxing, listening to music, playing cards and chatting with other guests. As the night fell, we enjoyed the most incredible spectacle of stars lighting up the night sky by the thousands. I've never seen so many stars in my life. Over and over during this day - I kept saying to myself "don't forget these moments."

Now, for anyone interested in pursuing this - let me warn you, the bedding arrangements are less than mediocre and the bathroom situation is for the birds. But, bring a plastic liner, some folded sheets and bug spray - you'll be okay. Oh yes - and maybe your choice of spirits, too ;) 

Our trip to Panama was just a few short weeks ago, and when my hubby recently asked me "what's the one thing you think of when you think of our trip?" my immediate answer is our experience on the San Blas Islands. 

Panama City

The Plan: Wanting to have a city experience as well, we ended up booking the Hard Rock Megapolis which was overall well rated and reviewed - and bonus points it had a pool with a stellar view of the city and the ocean. Seeing the Panama Canal was an absolute must - as well as walking down Cinta Costera to the Panama sign (#tourist) and local Fish Market. 

The Pursuit: The Panama Canal is an absolutely feat of engineering. The museum was fascinating, and if you get lucky - you'll get the chance to see a boat go through the Canal. But, you'll have to be patient, it is NOT a fast process. Cinta Costera was beautifully manicured, and though it was a scorching 90+ degrees out, we enjoyed the walk. The Panama sign is bigger than you'd imagine and the food at The Fish Market was out of this world. As a big fan of ceviche - and a new fan of pescado frito - this place is an absolute must visit.

Casco Viejo

The Plan: While perusing the internet for the best places to eat while in Panama City - every result showed up in an area referred to as old town, or Casco Viejo. With luxury hotels like the American Trade and coffee shops serving the world famous Geisha coffee - I knew this little old town had to make the itinerary. Almost every "instagrammable" picture on social media of Panama City is from this adorable place. Those cobblestone streets, incredible views and stringed lights create an ambience that was hard to refuse!

The Pursuit: From the moment we pulled up to Casco Viejo in our UBER, we were all certain the night ahead would be amazing. Crowds, lights, unique restaurants galore - this place could not be more beautiful. And evening after evening, we kept coming back. To try a new restaurant, a new dessert - and - to visit the same rooftop bar (Tantalo) that had the most incredible views of Panama City and an amazing vibe. My only wish is that I would have researched Casco Viejo in more depth - as I would have definitely preferred to stay here rather than in the city.


The Plan: Another tidbit I learned from Lost LeBlanc's Panama Vlogs - is that there is a cool place to hike called Ancon Hill. He heard about it from a local, which adds some merit for sure. The views of  Panama City and the Old Town looked amazing from this vantage point - and so - it was added to the list.

The Pursuit: I mentioned before that once we arrive for a trip - the itinerary, at least in part, goes out the window. That was the case for the hike. We initially hoped to do the hike on Friday, but ultimately felt like we were too crunched for time, and so we planned it for Saturday. Overall the hike was amazing despite the sweat reminiscent of Friday's nights cocktails. Once we made it to the top, we all knew it was worth the 45 minute uphill climb.

Ancon Hill

Overall, our trip to Panama was an absolutely unforgettable one. I'm so glad I planned ahead as much I did - because we were able to create the most memorable experiences from sand huts to skylines, and everywhere in between. If you have plans to visit Panama, AMAZING - you're going to love it. If you don't - it may be worthwhile to add it to your bucket list. 

Where are you traveling next?