I usually get one of two reactions when I tell people where we’re going next. The first is, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to go there!” or “I love (insert place name)!”
The second reaction is not so…enthusiastic; “You’re going where? What’s there?”
Our choice of Panama has received mostly reaction #2 so far, very similar to when we told people we were going to Honduras, or Cambodia, or even Vietnam. Funny, I never get that reaction when I tell people we’re going to Italy.
I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about Panama even when we first decided to go. I knew there was the canal, great beaches, jungles and that’s about it. I figured it might be similar to it’s northern neighbor Costa Rica (where we went in 2003), but cheaper and less touristed.
We decided on Panama after I (in one of my desperate searches to find affordable airfare anywhere in July) came across a good fare from Los Angeles to Panama City on Copa Airlines. As far as I can tell, Copa is the only airline to fly nonstop between the two cities, making the flight time only 6.5 hours. I now have about a month to plan a trip to somewhere I know essentially nothing about. I’ve never planned on in such a short amount of time and never to someplace virtually unknown. Let’s hear it for spontaneity (not something I’m exactly known for)!
Tip:Copa allows you to reserve tickets online without paying for a few days. I’m happy I did this, as the price of our tickets went up by about $30 each while I was trying to decide. I got the tickets at the lower price. They also allow you to pick your seats online, in advance, and I was able to select exit row seats. Score!
I’ve spent the last week and a half reading everything I can find on Panama, and let me tell you, there’s not a lot out there, at least not compared to Costa Rica. I had to get myself up to speed pretty fast on the details of the country, the various things to see and go, places to go, and I think I’ve looked at over a hundred hotels online. I found myself more confused than when I started. I finally broke down and ordered a guidebook, Fodor’s Panama, in the hopes it would help me put it all together.
Some interesting tidbits I’ve learned so far:
- Panama uses the US Dollar as the only unit of currency. Convenient, yes, but this makes things a bit more expensive than other Central American countries.
- The “Panama Hat” is really from Ecuador
- Many small hotels and “Eco-Lodges” charge by the person and not by the room. I’m having a hard time accepting $150 a person per night, even if it is all inclusive, for rustic accommodations and questionable food.
- July is no longer the “low” season, it’s now the “green” season. Way to go marketing people!
- Green season rates are usually lower by about 20%. Yay!
- There is a tourist trail in Panama but it’s not as well defined as Costa Rica’s, yet. I’m trying to keep us off the well beaten path, but info is spotty at best.
- Many websites for bed & breakfasts and small hotels seem to be stuck in early web design hell. From the photos, their interior design is stuck in 1986.
- The newer part of Panama city is packed with sky-rise buildings and looks more like New York than a sleepy Central American city. Who knew?
Coming next: some of the web sites I’ve been using to plan the trip.