Our travel expert, Julie Bond, gives us the scoop on her recent trip to Panama. Contact her at 1-800-665-4981 ext 7168.
I recently spent some time taking in the sights and sounds of Panama. This was a trip unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was so much more amazing than I could have imagined! My week began with a direct flight from Toronto into the brand new Rio Hato airport. The airport is quite small so it was a really quick process to get through customs. The transfer ride from the airport to my hotel, the Riu Playa Blanca, was only about 15 minutes so I was all checked in with plenty of time to enjoy my first day in Panama. The Riu Playa Blanca is located in the “dry arc” of Panama, which means that it doesn’t get as much rainfall as the higher regions and the downtown do. This was a pleasant surprise for me as the weather networks back home called for thunderstorms the entire week!
My first impression of the Riu resort was great! There was definitely a wow factor when I entered the lobby. It is very modern and open. As I made my way around to the elevators I got my first glimpse of the ocean. It was calmer than I had imagined it would be, though when I later made my way down to the beach I discovered that it isn’t as clear as it appeared and that the black sand is quite hot on the feet! That aside, it is quite lovely. There were locals selling souvenirs and horseback rides on the beach. Not my thing, but some of the guests seemed to really like it.
My room was spacious and very clean. Since the Riu is a newer resort, I wasn’t surprised by this. The bed was quite comfortable and the amenities were lovely. I found the food at the resort to be pretty good. A lot of variety, but not a whole lot of flavour. I suppose when you’re trying to appeal to so many people, this is understandable. The Asian restaurant was my favourite, by far. The Italian restaurant, in my opinion, wasn’t very Italian – most of the options were the same as what was in the buffet. We certainly didn’t go hungry anyway!
My favourite part of the trip would certainly be the excursions I went on. The Old Town City Tour is beautiful. I felt very safe in Panama City. The market had a lot of variety, and bartering was easy. I had the opportunity to have dinner in one of the local restaurants in the Old Town. This was, by far, the best meal of the trip! I highly recommend it if you get a chance to go. The downtown is quite a metropolis! It was much bigger and more modern than I had expected.
The Anton Valley excursion was not as authentic as I imagined. The “hot springs” weren’t very hot and were encased in cement. I was expecting a more natural setting. The mud facial was pretty awesome though. My skin has never felt so smooth! The hike to a waterfall, again was more “man made” than I pictured, but it was a very pretty area. Then there was the Jungle Boat excursion. Hands down, my favourite excursion. We took a boat ride through the canal waterway to Gatun Lake, then hand fed peanuts and bananas to wild monkeys! After lunch, we kayaked down a river to swim under a waterfall. It was amazing!! My final excursion was transiting through the Panama Canal. This was a childhood dream come true for me. I’ve always loved watching the boats go through the locks in the Welland Canal. This was a VERY long day as we had to be ready to go at 3:30am, but totally worth it!
Back at the resort, the entertainment staff are amazing! The night club and the sports bar are pretty cool, but the lobby bar was my favourite place to hang out (when I wasn’t at the beach). A word of caution, most of the resorts in Panama are open to locals in the off season especially. It was very busy on the weekends. This made it harder to get dinner reservations as well. Be sure to book them early!
All in all, I would go back to Panama anytime! It’s not your typical beach vacation, though. You are missing the best parts of the country if you never leave the resort. If you’re looking for an “off the beaten path” vacation, look no further than Panama!