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Panama – the final leg of Central America

We arrived in Panama on foot, having travelled via bus from Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, to the frontier.

Tom walking over another border (into Panama)
Tom walking over another border (into Panama)

Another bus and a rickety speed boat ride later and we set foot on dry land on the main island of the Bocas del Toro, Archipelago, a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea in northwest Panama. Here we stayed here for just 3 days as planned, before our trip down to Panama City via night bus, to catch a cheap onward flight to Colombia.

The port on Panama mainline where we picked the water taxi up from
The port on Panama mainline where we picked the water taxi up from

Bocas del Toro had been mentioned to us by a few fellow travelers and we are glad we made the trip, the town of clapboard houses was built by the United Fruit Company in the early 20th century. The port town of Bocas sits looking over the channel and neighbouring island of Colon. As we pulled in on our taxi boat, we got first site of the colourfully painted wooden buildings, that sit perched out across the sea, and date back from the fruit trading era. Most of the buildings along the seafront are now hostels, bars or surf shops, so we strolled along and managed to get ourselves a room with a view on the cheap. The ‘hotel’, which was marked up as ‘se vende’ (for sale) had furniture which looked like it dated back as long as the building had been standing. It had an old deck that looked out across the channel and we wiled away a few hours here, drinking Panama lager.

View from our hotel veranda
View from our hotel deck

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The town of Bocas had plenty to offer, in the day time boat excursions to go diving, surfing and to explore hidden beaches were the main attraction. We headed over to the picturesque Red Frog Beach and had a chilled day soaking up the sun and cooling off in the sea – it was like a Robinson Crusoe beach. There were a handful of other travelers on the beach, plus some Rastafarian locals who were there to surf, but did more smoking than surfing. On our taxi boat to the beach the driver cut the engine and told us to look at the side of the boat, there was two dolphins popping up to say hello,  and because the water was so clear you could see every detail on them and their coy facial expressions, it was amazing – a complete highlight for me!

Dolphins
Dolphins
Docking up at Bastemento island
Docking up at Bastemento island
A walk through mangroves to get to the beach
A walk through mangroves to get to the beach

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Hoards of leafcutter ants going about their duties on the path
Hoards of leafcutter ants going about their duties on the path
Red Frog Beach
Red Frog Beach

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For the rest of our time in Bocas, we dedicated our time to our favourite past time, eating and drinking. Speaking to our Caribbean host, with his laid back endearing voice, I could’ve spoken to him all night, anyway, he recommended some places where we could pick up some proper creole cuisine, morning, noon and night, of course we headed straight there. Bocas is switched on to tourism and therefore does offer a lot of options to avoid the local food, but from the Caribbean food we’d sampled, we knew we wanted more.

Creole chicken, coconut rice and coleslaw
Creole chicken, coconut rice and coleslaw
Tom opted for Creole beef
Tom opted for Creole beef

We had Jonny Cakes again for breakfast, numerous times, that we’d first tried in Belize, whole fish fried and tried several different stews/curries from canteens. Nothing disappointed and the prices were approx. £3-5 per main.

Traditional Caribbean breakfast - yuka root, egg, Jonny cake and meatball
Traditional Caribbean breakfast – yuka root, egg, Jonny cake and meatball
Two fried red snappers, with fresh prawns and calamari -  served with fried plantain and fries
Two fried red snappers, with fresh prawns and calamari – served with fried plantain and fries

We worked the happy hours around the town and ended up in a bar run by a Californian, who was extremely liberal with his local rum, pouring shouts down our throat as the night went on, there was a great atmosphere here as well, a Spanish guy and a guy on a guitar entertained us all night with some classic eagles. Special shout out to the bartender who served us two of the best Pina colada’s and Bloody Mary’s, we’ve EVER consumed!

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We could easily have stayed longer. Speaking to a couple of expats who had made the decision to relocate here permanently, we can’t say we blame them, life on the Caribbean coast lives up to the laid back pre-conception it rightly has.

Onwards from Bocas del Toro we traveled via night bus, the driver of which was a mad man and the mountain roads made for a bumpy and windy ride – at one point I honestly thought the bus was going to end up on its side. We’d both forgot to leave out some warm clothes, as the aircon on board makes the bus get like a fridge, so we were both freezing, and resulted in a serious lack of sleep.

We’d picked a luxury hotel by the trips standards for our one night in Panama City, for the reason it had early check in’s and late check out’s available, plus a rooftop pool with a great vista of the city.

Skyline from rooftop
Skyline from rooftop

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We arrived at 5am and managed to check straight into our room! Highlights of our brief stay in Panama City were a tour of the old town, which felt a lot like a renovated mini-Havana and a trip to the phone repair shop so we could fix Tom’s mobile he’d smashed while we were volcano boarding in Nicaragua. Functional times!!!

Vendor selling empanadas
Vendor selling empanadas
The old town
The old town

Next stop: Colombia… South America!

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