Every year on my birthday I do it big - I take an international trip to a country I've never been. This year, I visited my 33rd country!! I went to Panama with a good friend, and we had an amazing time! I went on a long weekend and spent 4 days there. Let me start by saying that Panama was a DREAM! Every moment was phenomenal and I wanted to share that adventure and journey with you. Below are the details of my itinerary and pictures. I hope they inspire you visit Panama and the they show you that there is tons you can do even in 4 short days. Enjoy!
Day 1: Explore Panama City
Breakfast with a view. We started our day with breakfast with a view at our hotel - from the 26th floor. We had to fuel up for the day ahead. This view was a great introduction to the city. Downtown Panama City has tons of hotels, and my recommendation would be to stay somewhere that is within walking distance of the waterfront. Our hotel was a 15 minute walk away, which allowed us to see some of the city as we strolled there.
Walk along the Cinta Costera. We took a stroll along the park-lined Cinta Costera, which is a picturesque trail along the Pacific Ocean. What I loved about this walk was that you can see the entire skyline of the city, so you"ll def want to bring your camera. It was hot, so my recommendation would be to go earlier in the morning before the sun gets strong.
Take a picture with the Panama sign. You'll def want to take a picture with the iconic Panama sign, which is along the Cinta Costera. I had to take my signature jump shot here, of course.
Take a bike ride down the Amador Causeway. We stopped to get a bite to eat after our walk and then took an uber down to the Biodiversity museum. We didn't actually go into the museum, but its architecture is absolutely stunning, and the views of the downtown skyline from there are breathtaking. We rented some bikes and rode down the palm-tree lined causeway for about 30 minutes. Not gonna lie, it was quite the workout, but the view and the breeze made it worthwhile!
Dinner with city views at Inedito Rooftop Lounge. One thing we quickly learned about Panama City is that there are tons of rooftops! And you know ya girl loves her a rooftop!! On the first night we went to Inedito for dinner because it was right on the water! There were also amazing views of the city. It was pretty low key, but there was a live DJ, which made it fun.
Day 2: Explore Casco Viejo
But first, pool time. Before going to explore Casco Viejo, we decided to have a little pool time. We knew that it would be hot that day and that we would be doing a lot of walking, so we decided to cool off with a nice swim before heading out to explore that day. Our hotel had a pool on the 27th floor, so it was nice to be bougie for a minute and enjoy the view.
Have a rooftop lunch in Casco Viejo. There are no shortages of rooftops in Casco Viejo. We had lunch at Casa Casco, which offers almost 360 views of the city. I highly recommend this restaurant! Not only is the food amazing, it's about 4 stories tall, and each floor had a unique design. I explored a little before having lunch and I felt like a movie star.
Take a walk through the town. I am not kidding when I say that this place is GORGEOUS. Casco Viejo (also known as San Felipe) is one of the oldest parts of Panama City. It is full of colonial style Spanish architecture that will literally take your breath away. This part of the city is undergoing a bit of a renaissance so there is construction everywhere. They have really done a good job restoring the old buildings. My suggestion would be to explore on foot and take in the sites. We met some cool people and immersed ourself as much as we could.
Go rum tasting at Pedro Mandinga. We stopped at this cool rum bar called Pedro Mandigas, just in time for happy hour. This place serves local Panamanian rum, which was delicious. We had the opportunity to do a tasting and try a couple different flavors. You can actually buy a whole bottle as a souvenir for about $25, which isn't bad. However, we were traveling with carry on luggage only, so that wouldn't work. Next time! But seriously, this place was cute and I highly recommend it!
Have a rooftop dinner at Tántalo Restaurant. We were famished after all the walking so we tried another -- you guessed it! --- rooftop restaurant in Casco Viejo. This place was nice because there was music and great nighttime views of the city. We even did the electric slide with a small group of people there. You know me, I gotta make friends wherever I go. We called it an early night because we had a big day ahead of us the next day and had to get up super early.
Day 3: Island hopping in the San Blas Islands
OMG this was the best.day.everrrr!! I arranged a tour to the San Blas islands through a company called San Blas Dreams. This company was about $30 cheaper than all the other companies, and had great reviews. I give them a thumbs up!
They picked us up at our hotel at 5:30am and then we took the 2 hour ride to the port on the other side of the country, (the Caribbean side). The ride took us through the outskirts of Panama City and through a super windy road through the jungle mountains. When I say windy, I am not exaggerating. And the roads don't have any edges, so just expect that. It was quite scary. Luckily, our driver had been making the trip for 4 years, so he knew the roads pretty well. The bonus is the views!
Once we arrived to the border of the Yuna Gala (ie San Blas Islands) we had to do a passport check, so make sure to bring that. There is a little bit more of the windy road after crossing the passport check, but you then soon arrive to the port where you'll get on a boat. The boat ride to the first island is about 30 minutes from there on a small speed boat, so be prepared for some whip lash. The funny thing is, our boat ride was so intense and fast, but the driver seemed unbothered, lol.
We arrived to our first island and it was heaven!! The water was pristine and the sand was so white and soft that it felt like walking on flour. The first island also had a swing, so you know I had to take advantage of that!
The next island stopped at was our lunch stop. They provided a basic meal that consisted of rice, vegetables and your choice of meat (I went with fish). It was VERY basic - nothing to call home about. But we did have time to explore that island a little bit. This island was so small that you could literally see the entire island from standing in a single spot, lol. #tiny
After that we stopped at a sand bank for a swim. For those of you who might not know, a sand bank is a shallow "beach" in the middle of the ocean. It's usually formed from coral that has been broken down over time. It's so shallow you can stand up in it, and the water is only about waste deep, chest deep at most.
After that, we stopped at one more island - this one was full of palm trees and the water was so turquoise!!!
After that last island we headed back on the boat back to the mainland. Overall it was a magical day! We were dropped back off at our hotel around 7, so it was an all day experience, but totally worth it! I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend my actual birthday!
Birthday dinner at Lazotea Rooftop restaurant. That evening we went back to Casco Viejo for my birthday dinner! Yes, this was another one of the fancy smancy rooftop restaurants in Panama City. This one had amazing food AND a rooftop pool!
Day 4: Panama Canal
Try Geisha coffee at Cafe Unido. Before heading to the canal we decided to try the famous Panamanian premium coffee! We went to the famous Cafe Unido in the American Hotel in Casco Viejo. This place was SWANKY! Every corner was an excuse to take a picture.
Now, back to the coffee. The coffee was $9 a cup! YOLO, am I right? I had to try it. I liked it! It was smooth and delicious. I felt like a real Panamanian in that moment. And the caffeine was the boost I needed to get ready for a beautiful day at the Panama Canal.
Miraflores Locks. Ok, so you can't go to Panama without going to the Panama Canal - that would be crazy! We took an uber to the Miraflores locks and went to the 4th floor where the view is the best! Here's a tip: Ships usually come through at 2:30pm, so make sure you arrive a little before then to get a spot! The entrance fee is $20 and you can also have access to the museum and the theater where they show a short film.
Here's a couple time lapse videos I shot of the first two ships coming through. It's so cool to see the water levels go up and down as the ships move through each set of locks. It takes 8 minutes for each partition to fill up - I tried to capture that in the video. It's a pretty cool phenomenon, but you just have to be there to experience it!
Oh, and fun fact - Mark Anthony showed up while I was there! All I saw was a guy in a ponytail and a t-shirt with an entourage and everyone waving and clapping - what are the chances!!
Night Views at JW Marriott. After the canal we decided to be bougie and go to the JW Marriott that evening - and you don't even have to be staying there! They have a swanky lounge on the 66th floor with views for days of the city and the Pacific Ocean. There's a bar where you can order appetizers and drinks, and of course they have a rooftop pool (which might not be open for non guests).
Vegan-friendly ice cream at Keene's Ice cream. My travel buddy doesn't do dairy, so it was nice to be able to try this place that had vegan ice cream! Not all the flavors are vegan, but there are so many creative flavors and choices - a great spot for a nice treat!
Traditional Panamanian Dinner at Las Tinajas. This place was recommended to us a by a local because they serve traditional Panamanian food and they have a dance show with performers in native dress. Tip: their show is only Tuesday-Saturday. We went on a Monday and missed the show. But the food was great nonetheless. I got to try Sancocho, which is a traditional Panamanian chicken soup.
In retrospect, ending our trip with traditional Panamanian food was a great idea! It was like the icing on the cake. At dinner I reflected on how much we did in such a short amount of time. I truly enjoyed Panama and had no idea we would have had enjoyed it that much! I hope my memories inspire you to visit Panama! There's so much more of the country we did not see that I look forward to seeing on future trips.
Cant wait to visit country #34!
I am a world traveler. I like calling myself that - it feels good! I've traveled to over 30 countries on 5 different continents, so getting on a plane is like a drug to me :) It had been a little over a year since my last international trip (to Aruba - stay tuned for that post!) and I was itching to go somewhere. Not to mention, I had been working at my new job for 6 months without even taking a day off! Talk about commitment. I love my job, but desperately needed a break.
So what's a girl to do when the travel bug has bitten her, but an international trip is neither in the budget nor schedule?
Well, because I knew I desperately needed a getaway, I went on Google Travel and randomly picked a city close enough that it was inexpensive to get to but would also be fun. I landed on Austin, TX. Hmm...I'd never been to the great country of Texas other than for a job interview almost 2 years ago when I didn't even leave the airport area. Austin should be interesting, I thought. And I can make anything fun for 3 days. YOLO, amirite? One thing you'll learn about me is that I'm thrifty. This sista likes to save a dollar! Hollar! (See what I did there? lol). To my delight, I had enough airline miles to purchase a ticket, and I was off to planning my trip.
So how did I spend my solo weekend getaway?? I'm about to divulge all the fun things I did, by day. And if you find yourself in Austin or thinking about going, check them out below!
Saturday (Day 1):
Brunch at Moonshine Grill. Of course I arrived hungry. As soon as I got to my hotel, I threw my bags down and found the closest appetizing restaurant within walking distance. Brunch at Moonshine was pretty good. It was a casual yet sophisticated atmosphere. I was trying to be all southern and stuff, so I ordered the Chicken and Waffles. HUGE portion, but it was good. Plus the wait staff was friendly and helped give me recommendation on what to do in the city. (I had a loose agenda, but made sure to solicit the opinion of the locals for other things to do).
Stroll along the Colorado River. I needed to walk off brunch so I decided to take a nice, long stroll along the river. I'm an island girl, so bodies of natural water get me excited, lol. Fun fact: local Austinites actually call the river "Lady bird lake." No idea why. Weird, right? Anyway... I continued with my walk along the river...err...lake or whatever.
I enjoyed the breeze and seeing so many people active (running, walking, biking etc.). It was a great way for me to clear my head. One thing I regret is not doing this later in the afternoon when it wasn't hotter than biscuits. Dang - Austin is HOT! Even in October. Luckily, there are little paths that take you back up to street level to the main street. When I couldn't bear the heat any longer, I found the closest froyo place and planted my behind until I cooled off.
Graffitti Park at Castle Hill. Next up was channeling my inner graffiti artist. There is this super cool spot called Graffiti Park, and I arrived in less than a 10 minute Lyft ride from the froyo place downtown. How do I describe this place? It's a series of walls and nooks where graffiti artists, professional and amateur alike, come to express themselves with a can of spray paint. People literally arrive with can in hand, ready to make their mark. The coolest part of my experience there is seeing professional graffiti artists start or finish off a creative masterpiece. As if that wasn't intriguing enough, it's on a hill so if you climb to the top, you get a panoramic view of downtown Austin. I highly recommend it!
Congress Street Bat Colony. I had heard so much about the bat colony that lives under the Congress Street bridge. With 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats, it's the largest bat colony in North America. I was told the bats emerge from under the bridge at sunset, so I showed up early to make sure I could get a spot. Sure enough, when I arrived, about 50-70 people were already there! We were all patiently waiting for 2 hours for these things to make an appearance! It would have been a chore if I hadn't made friends with a group of girls who were also visiting (from San Francisco). We were cracking jokes and speculating about how the bats all knew when it was time for them all to leave? Did they do roll call? Did they wait for everyone to line up before they made an exit? What if someone forgot their bat shoes? LOL. It was fun, HOWEVER, I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the bat show. When they finally emerged it was dark outside and you could barely see the bats. They were so tiny and flew low below the bridge, so it was hard to take pictures of them. Plus, I was expecting them to come out in sync in a large swarm, but instead they all came out sporadically flying in multiple directions. Needless to say, the fun we had waiting for them was better than actually seeing the bats fly out. Oh well. Maybe next time they'll put on a better show.
Whew! I'm exhausted with just the recap. So what's the moral of the story? You can do a TON on a weekend getaway. Even though it was brief, I got a good feel for the city. But most importantly, I got some much-needed R&R. For me, exploring is actually relaxing and refreshing. Till the next travel adventure...
What weekend trips have you been on lately that you would recommend?