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.