2024Central AmericaCitiesLandscapesPanama

Panama: Our last country on this part of our world trip

Panama is our 56th travel country with Shujaa overall and the last country on our trip throughout North and Central America. We traveled for almost 15 months (net) and 70,000 km between Newfoundland, New York, Florida, Texas, California, Alaska, the Arctic Ocean, Mexico and Central America… only interrupted by a 4-month travel break where we parked Shujaa in San Francisco. And now it’s getting close the end of this stage of the journey. Like every time in the past, this time too the feelings are mixed: on the one hand, traveling in Shujaa is still a lot of fun and – after a short travel slump in Yucatan/Mexico – we’ve had in the last few months great experiences and actually just want to keep on driving. On the other hand, we are looking forward to our home in Mallorca and especially our friends. Good friends become more and more important the longer you travel around the world.

But before the big farewell we explore Panama. We enter via a small border crossing on the Caribbean side and, as is often the case, the difference from one country to the next is extreme: Panama seems to be much poorer in this area than Costa Rica: the financial metropolis of Panama City with its banking district and the famous Panama channel is far away. From the rather run-down village of Almirante we take a day trip to the tropical island archipelago around Bocas el Toro: even if the weather isn’t quite perfect, we still have a few nice snorkeling excursions, explore various islands and even see Dolphins again. As always on the Caribbean coast, it’s not that hot, but it is very humid and so we’re looking forward to going to the mountain area around Boquete. At a good 1,400 meters above sea level, we enjoy a pleasant climate, beautiful hikes to waterfalls, mountain bike tours and quad excursions in the middle of a great mountain landscape and coffee plantations. The vegetation here is again beautiful and stands up to the paradise of Costa Rica. Just less touristy… primarily wealthy residents of Panama City have their vacation residence here.

Climatically recovered, we head back to the coast. This time on the completely different and much drier side of the Pacific: Playa Las Lajas boasts itself of having the longest beach in Panama. Luckily, we are there during the week – on the weekend there is a lot of party going on. The nice town of Santa Catalina not only has a brilliant Italian restaurant in a great location right by the sea and spectacular sunsets, but is also the starting point for great swimming and snorkeling excursions to the Coiba Islands. They consist of 38 islands of volcanic origin and geologically belong to the Galapagos Archipelago. From 1919 to 2004, various penal colonies were stationed here due to the remote location, which in turn resulted in nature and wildlife being completely protected from tourism and the like. This paradise is located only 30 km from Santa Catalina: The water is crystal clear and during our three snorkeling stops we saw countless sharks, turtles, rays and the “usual” fish. Simply great and you can examine everything in peace as they are not shy at all – also similar to the Galapagos Islands. The beaches are truly Robinson Crusoe and the vegetation is a dream. An absolutely worthwhile detour.

Here in Central America, after having stayed on the cost we always go back to… that’s right: the mountains! The area around El Valle de Anton is located in a large volcanic crater: the drive there is correspondingly steep and we have to use our cutting equipment again. Fortunately, the Panamanians are relaxed and wait patiently until the road is cleared again 😉. Even though we’re not usually fans of campgrounds, we find a great spot here in a tropical garden right next to a river with lots of turtles. Similar to Boquete, the area is ideal for doing sports and exploring nature: a pleasant climate, beautiful waterfalls, a wide range of hiking trails and nice restaurants form a good basis.

We are just on the way to our sailing trip along the San Blas Islands when we receive the message that our RoRo ship we booking has been completely canceled and that we are rebooked on the next ship in 14 days. We were prepared for a few days delay, but that’s just how it nowadays: RoRo cargo shipping becomes more and more unpleasant. Instead of waiting in Panama City and the surrounding area after our sailing trip to the San Blas Islands, we decide to come back to the beautiful El Valle de Anton, give Shujaa a major cleaning and enjoy the nature of the mountain country once again.

Panama City – the richest metropolis in Central America with a skyline comparable to Miami – is our last stop. A vibrant city. We really like both the skyline with the skyscrapers and the old town. The Casco Viejo is very similar to Cartagena in Columbia, which isn’t really that far away and after all, Panama was once part of Colombia. In the old town we discover phenomenal ice cream: the Ice Cream Shop of Granclement. And we have a really great dinner in an absolutely hip restaurant: Azahar. Both highly recommended.

We spend the last two days in a great place near Colon. A remote parking lot in the middle of a lake landscape surrounded by primary jungle. The howler monkeys scream deafeningly, the pelicans fish, the crocodile makes his rounds – simply wonderful… a perfect farewell to Central America.

As always, we drop off Shujaa in the port of Colon with very mixed feelings. There are now many new regulations, unfortunately to the detriment of travelers: The need to take out the build-in lithium batteries on some carriers, an official ban to leave clothing and personal belongings in the cabin on other carriers, etc. For us, these are all pretty stupid rules that we try to ignore. For us everything works as usual and without any problems, only Shujoo has to be shipped separately as advised previously. We now hope to be able to receive both vehicles undamaged in Bremerhaven in a few weeks.

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