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Panama City, Panama from the rooftops..

If you are a backpacker like me you have found many crafty ways to live the dream on a workin mans budget. I have crashed five star pools and parties at pent house bars all around the world! My Central America journey started in Panama City. There are more millionaires per capita then just about anywhere in the world. The local people live on a $500 per month minimum salary but we all just want to take part in the fun! Sky scrapers, luxury cars, and imported European clothes are everywhere. The Panamanian people are better then most at blending in with the wealthy. Women dressed in fancy dress and 5 inch heels. Men in freshly ironed slacks and shiny shoes. I remember my first time in Panama 5 years ago, I was building an office for a guy and the security guard that worked the ground of the property made $22 a day. He would bring his finest slacks, freshly shined shoes and button up to work on Friday and at 4:01 he would be dressed to the 9s to get on the public bus for 60 cents on his way to party with his family. So in Panamanian way of keeping up with the Jones I thought I would like to take part as well.

The 13th floor of the Trump has 5 pools, fantastic steak salads and a $12 pizza to feed two. It is one of the finest pools that I have ever crashed!

Second to the infinity pool on the 66th floor of the casino side of the Trump Towers Panama.

That is the finest pool I have ever crashed! You can sit back and enjoy a Balboa Beer and watch the sun set over Ancon hill and the Panama Canal.

After if you still feel you haven’t worn in your Panama Hat quite yet head over to the Hard Rock Hotel. They have an outdoor infinity pool as well that has an impressive view.

And you can go to the roof top for 360 degree views of all of the city. Probably the best skyline views in Panama!

I suggest the Panamanian red lager the 507. It’s the best rooftop $5 beer you will have!

Getting around-

The Trump is a bit difficult to find on foot. Once you are in that bunch of sky scrapers everything looks the same. You can catch a cab there for $2.

The Hard Rock is in the center next to MultiCentro Mall. If should be easy to walk to from anywhere down town. You can catch a cab from the Trump to the Hard Rock for $1.


Bocas Del Toro, Panama

In 1510 the Spanish settled in Bocas Del Toro, Panama as a port to stop between shipping Peruvian gold and treasures from Peru to Spain. Pirates were attracted to what was called the most dangerous waters in the sea, The Caribbean. The Spanish began rounding Cape Horn straight to Spain to avoid being sacked by pirates. Fast forward to the 1800s. Scottish and English families brought slaves from Jamaica and the Colombian islands of San Andreas to the archipelago of Bocas Del Toro to evade taxes. They came to harvest sugar cane, cocoa, and coconut palms. It is also the base of the banana boom for Chiquita Bananas. There was a tortuous shell and live turtle trade as well. Today islands are inhabited by some of the original Indian families as well as the Caribbean Creole. There are no cars on the islands but the walking streets are full of English speaking Rastafari accents and Jamaican music plays all day long. I haven’t made it to Jamaica yet but I assume it would feel a lot like this… 
I personally wasn’t much impressed by the main Island so I booked 4 nights on Isla Salarte. The island has only one hostel, The Bambuta Lodge.


 I can tell you what kids you won’t find a better place to sleep in Bocas!


Dorm rooms are $17 a night or there is very nice private rooms out back for quite a bit more. Complete with a beautiful pool overlooking the Ocean, full bar and a great breakfast and lunch menu. Dinner differs every night but it is always 5 star. You can book tours here or take a canoe from here to the Blue Coconut..   

Not a bad view I had on the way  either.. 


The Blue Coconut is a little tiki bar on stilts around the corner of the island a bit. They have lobster burgers, tropical cocktails, free snorkel gear and hammocks to use. 


Getting here is only possible by boat or canoe but worth every second! 


Where to stay-

Bambuda Lodge-$17 per night. Breakfast and lunch from $3-$8ish. Dinner options-$8-$12 Beers-$2 (Blue Coconut prices are similar) I also stayed one night on Basimentos Island at Bubbas House but not much to see there. 

Getting there and away-

-From the south. I took the chicken bus from El Valle to David for a night and then a bus from David to Bocas. It took 6 busses from Panama City total to go to el Valle for a night. Not worth it in my opinion. This trip was miserable and really confusing. I would highly suggest to anyone to take the night bus from Panama City direct to Almirante (the port city of Bocas). From the port you take a taxi boat to Bocas main island for $6. From there you another taxi boat to Isla Solarte to Bambuda Lodge for $5.

-Getting to Costa Rica. This can be arranged by any of the hostels. You taxi to the main island and your taxi boat to the mainland is included in your ticket. There will be a shuttle bus waiting that will take you to the border. Get your exit and entrance stamp and on the other side there will be another bus waiting that will take you to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica all included in the $22 shuttle ticket. 

Panama Travel

San Blas Islands, Panama

The archipelago of San Blas is off the coast of Panama. It’s made up of 365 islands that stretch about 100 miles. It was once a hideout for pirates and explorers.


We arranged the trip through El Machico Hostel in Panama City. There are a few options of islands to stay on but they told me Diablo Island was a bit more money but that it was the best. The next morning at 5am a guy in a land cruiser picked us up. After a pit stop at a 24 hour grocery store for supplies we hit the road for a couple hour jeep ride. From Panama City through the jungle from the Pacific to the Atlantic it took about two hours. We drove through the hills and farm land of Panama to the Kuna Reservation. The Kuna have rule of the islands and some of the jungle of the mainland Panama since Spanish conquest. They have their own borders, checkpoints and police. A few “taxes” paid and they welcomed us with open arms to their islands. They picked us up at the shore in basically a motorized canoe. We were taken to Diablo island. If you are backpacking for many months and want the best for less, this is the island for you!

  (the proper ratio)

 When we arrived we were greater and set up with a bamboo and palm leaf bungalow on the water for a few nights to stay.

San Blas like many places can be done on many different budgets. There are over water bungalows on stilts and many islands have 10 or so 40 foot catamarans moored in the waters surrounding them. It is also an option if you are traveling to Colombia to book a 4 day sailing trip. Three nights sailing around San Blas and one final passage from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia. All meals included plus transportation for $400. Next time I will give it a go..


The Kuna people fed us fresh sea food every day for lunch and dinner. I didn’t think a fish with the head still on it looking at me was my kinda thing. Boy was I wrong! These little guys were amazing!

Coconuts were available and snorkeling gear was there for the taking. Next to Diablo is Pero Island. It’s about a 10 minute swim across a really short, really deep channel to the other island. There you will be greeted by hundreds of tropical fish and a huge steel ship wreck!


Much of the ship as rotted away over the years about I bet about 100 foot of it still stands.

The evenings on the island were spend having a group dinner. Usually some kind of white fish, Latin music and many many beers. They also sold bottles of rum for $15 which as a bit of a problem. Watching the sunset in a hammock with a beer in had. This is what dreams are made of..


Waking up to breakfast and to start it all over again..


They also offer a free your every day. Every day it is different. One day they took us to a sand bar with star fish on the bottom. One day they took us on an hour boat ride to the last of the islands in the archipelago Isla Tortuga.


It was the finest paradise I have ever seen!

Where to stay- Isla Diablo (Devil Island) $40 per night per person. All meals, snorkeling gear and tours included. Beers $2.

Getting there- You need to organize your tour in Panama City. They will arrange for your jeep to take you from the Pacific through the jungle to the port on the Caribbean side. Cost-$70. There is also a $20 tax to enter the Kuna Yala land. It does add up but it’s worth every penny! Book through El Machico Hostel. They are very helpful!


Panama City, Panama

The original Panamá City was founded in 1519. In 1671 the governor had it set on fire during the attack by Captain Henry Morgan and his pirates. (Not real sure the logic behind that) And the new city Casco Viejo was finished in 1673. Built on a peninsula complete with a defense system of walls surrounding the new city. Some of the original structures before the fire still stand!

Panama has a lot of history that not many north of the Rio Grand could care much less about. But if you would like to learn a bit about Panama in the late 80s to the current take some time and read about the United States invasion of Panama. I had a huge write up about it but I figure I should just keep it light and let you read and make your own opinions.

Now on the brighter side of things… This is not my first time in Panama. I came down here for the first time about 4 years ago to help a guy I worked with in Florida and California build an office for his concrete company near the Canal Zone. A few years later and much has changed! There is much more small business then I remembered. Also a few years ago the streets were lined with armed police officers. Crossing guards in fatigues with AK-47s across their chest. Every corner in Casco Viejo had armed police at the corners. At that time Panama City was still trying to get bumped up in the ranks from a third world country. From what I was told, for that to happen they have to upgrade the chicken busses to proper public transportation and build a subway system to name a few. Since my return those things have happened and much much more! Entire neighborhoods of skyscrapers have been added. When I was here last the supermarket had a 5 piece band playing on a Saturday afternoon and I couldn’t read a single package on the shelves. Since then my Spanish has gotten 150 times better then non existent and everything is now in English. But all in all the city had the same beating heart. Last time I was here I stayed in Marbella. An upscale neighborhood in the business district where I slept in a 2 million dollar condo on the 26th floor lined in marble with an ocean view. We this time around I am staying in the same great neighborhood but in a hostel with the rest of my fellow wanders.

I stayed a few nights at the El Machico hostel. It is the closest hostel to the center of everything and is ran by a really cool guy from Italy. It was once a mansion now turned high end hostel. The rooms are clean and the bathrooms are good. One bathroom has a massive garden tub with mirrors on the walls and a two person stand up shower. Bow-chicka-wow-wow. The real reason to stay here though is the pool!

From El Machico you are in the vicinity of many great restaurants! And you can walk across Avanida Baloba and take a stroll down Cinta Costera or it also has great bicycle lanes of you want to explore on two wheels.

From there you can walk around the shore to Casco Viejo. This was also a much different place just a few years ago.

A lot of the neighborhood had not yet been remodeled when I was there last. It was one of the more poor rundown neighborhoods and directly next to El Chorrillo. This neighborhood was where Norieagas headquarters was in the 80s. El Chorillo is also the main area destroyed and bombed during the US Invasion discussed above. I drove through the part of Casco Viejo that meats up with El Chorrillo in a car with a Panamanian girl and she rolled the windows up. She told me some of the crazies around there will jump in the window of moving cars and start grabbing things or swinging fists! The times have changed. Now it seems to be just a quiet colonial part of the city for tourists to spend their hard earned bucks in the buildings that once were. Slums were remodeled and turned into high end cafes, restaurants and pubs. Sometimes change is a good thing. But if you stard on the point of the peninsula and look north on the shore line you will see a few buildings not far from there. The slums on the ocean side. Still definitely not recommended to step a toe in El Chorilla.

So stroll the 400 year old streets of Casco Viejo. Buy a gormet Popsicle and a Panama hat and have a beer at a waterfront pub and watch the sun set.

And you can’t come to Panama City without taking checking out one of the 7 wonders of the world! The Panama Canal! The 48 mile long canal connects the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The project was originally started by France in 1881 but because we are always finishing their shit, the US took over the project and spent 10 years to complete it. After the discovery of Gold in California in 1849 it created great interest in crossing from Atlantic to Pacific. The canal would eventually shave weeks of travel off of the trip sailing around Cape Horn rounding South America for the pacific coast of the states. Snakes, spiders, yellow fever and malaria killed an average 200 workers per month. I remember when I was in panama last the local people told me the bottom of the Canal is paved in bodies. The French investors went bankrupt in 1889 after spending almost 300 million dollars and 220,000 deaths. The land was all considered Colombia at the time but after the US showed intentions to influence, they helped the Panamanian rebels to separate from Colombian state. In 1903 Panama was recognized as a country. It is considered one of the biggest blunders in US foreign policy. In 1904 the US purchased the 300 million dollars of work done by the French for 40 million dollars. 10 years, 6,000 more lives, three sets of locks, and a man made lake later and one of the biggest engineering feats in history was complete.

One of the 7 modern wonders of the world, The Panama Canal..
If you want to know what to do with yourself at night in Panama City, read my blog post about crashing pools and rooftop bars! Definitely worth the read..

Where to stay- 

El Machico Hostel- $16 per night, shared kitchen, AC, a terrific pool and $1 beers.

Getting in and out-

From Tocumen Airport take a taxi to the center for $30. Contact the hostel in advance and they can arrange a cheaper shuttle.

Leaving take a cab to the Terminal de Bus and catch a bus there to anywhere in Panama or direct to Costa Rica. You can also catch a collectivo up the Pan American Highway to El Valle or Nitro City. Cab to the terminal was $12.

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