How feasible is it to travel to Panama for two weeks in July? Is it too much rain? I had been to Costa Rica in July a few years ago, and I encountered a few rained out days, but mostly it was for a good part of the day and rained for sometime as well. But I was able to see a lot during the non rain time. And of course there were days with not rain. Would like to know what Panama would be like.
Also any recommendations on budge places to stay? I look for the cheapest place I can get a private room/bath, and clean.
It really depends on what you want to do/see during your visit and your mode of transportation. As for the weather, it should be comparable to what you experienced in Costa Rica.
If you are interested in local culture, I can recommend a few places you may find very interesting. I can not comment on budget accommodations in Panama City as we chose to "splurge" for our first and last two nights there - staying at the Hotel Continental Riande in the financial district. I can also say stay away from the Hotel Isla Grande on Isla Grande. It's cheap but far from clean and the garbage dump is just on the other side of the very high chain-link and barbed-wire fence. Though the vultures love it.
Santa Clara had a very nice beach (Playa Santa Clara) and several places offer kayaking tours from April-November.
Penonome is on the beaten path on your way to other places. The Hotel Guacamaya is the best in town (clean, hot showers, private rooms, etc.) and ran about $22USD/night. They also have an interesting Chinese restaurant next door where the tour buses stop for breakfast and dinner. (We had fun watching a bus load of traveling retirees over breakfast. The food was very good too.)
El Valle de Anton is a very cool community built in the caldera of a volcano. It has a very large "farmer's market", canopy tours (~$45/person). It's an interesting place and because of the location, it has a very interesting weather pattern. There's a strong wind for 10 minutes, then 10 minutes of calm - you just hang onto your beer and don't talk during the wind. We stayed at Hotel y Restaurante Los Capitanes which is owned by a German ex-merchant marine captain. He loves sitting with the guests and telling stories. He will also introduce you to everyone else over meals. The fare is German, of course, and quite good but there are several local eateries available too.
Santa Fe is a very small village with lots of flavor. It is home to the "Orchid Lady" (Bertha) who has the largest collection of local specimens around. She is known around the world for collection. There are also several waterfalls and access to the rivers for tubing and swimming. Horseback riding is available too. There is only one hotel in town - Hotel Santa Fe. It has 21 rooms, all brightly decorated and cozy. Each has a private bath but cold water showers only. (Actually felt good after a day in the heat.) The rooms were very clean. The small restaurant specializes in the fresh fish caught that day. It's a great place for meeting other travelers.
San Francisco is on the way to Santa Fe. There you will find Inglasia San Francisco de Veraguas - a church dating back to the 1700s. It contains a unique mix of christian and pagan symbolism throughout and was renovated about 5 years ago to bring more visitors to the village. There is also the Chorro del Spiritu Santo which great for a swim by the waterfall.
Boquete is located in the mountains and is very pretty. There is a growing number of American ex-pats moving there but they tend to stay in their gated communities and the town isn't so modern that it's lost it's charm. It is elevated enough that there is a constant mist from the clouds passing by but you never get wet. The vapor evaporates on your skin immediately. We stayed at the Hotel Panamonte which ran about $65USD/night - not budget. There are several budget accommodations available in town.
If you are choosing to use the local buses for transportation, the starting point and end point are on the front of the bus. "Panama - Boquete" means Panama City to Boquete with stops in between. Be sure to ask the driver where they stop because not all buses making that trip stop at the same places.
Enjoy planning your trip!
Thanks for your informative and helpful reply.
How much did you pay for stay in Santa Fe?
Also did you take and guides for bird/wild life viewing and parks, and if so what do they typically cost?
And if anyone else reading this can give some info on budget places to stay in Panama city that would very appreciated.
My apologies - I meant to include the hotel charge for Santa Fe.
The cost was $13/night. The rooms are not air-conditioned, but the evenings cooled down nicely so we were quite comfortable with the breeze through the window. The Hotel Quacamaya's accommodations were air-conditioned as were the ones at Los Capitanes in El Valle. With the "breeze" in El Valle, we just kept the windows open again and skipped the A/C.
As for the parks, no - we did not visit them so I can't say about pricing. We rented a 4WD vehicle and did a rather whirlwind tour of the country - covering ~1400 miles in 14 days. We were to visit Bocas del Toro but most of the roads were washed out due to unexpected (and unusual) flooding flowing down from Cota Rica. (There had been major storms which took out whole villages along the border in Costa Rica.) Having that plan squelched, we backtracked a bit and headed to Playa Barqueta on the Pacific side. We happened upon the all-inclusive Los Olas Resort which was virtually empty of patrons. We got a great deal on the room (~$65/night) but it was not budget material. Two swim-up bar pools, great black sand beach, and great body-surfing.
Portobello, in the Colon Province (Caribbean side), is also worth a visit. There are several Spanish ruins (Fuerte San Fernando and Fuerte San Jeronimo), a beautiful harbor and several snorkeling/diving facilities. We did not stay in Portobello but went onto Isla Grande and discovered Hotel Isla Grande is not for the faint of heart nor conducive to sleeping.
the most interesting and beautyful places are the KUNA YALA San Blas Islands,
at the caribbean side of Panama.
I was very lucky to visit first time several Islands there while sailing.later I had a Kuna family who took me to there Island where I was only aloud to stay for a few days because I brought a lot of $ to the community.
there are some places now for tourists but they are on Islands without a village.
also interesting is the region Darien,where you could visit the Embera-Wounan Indios.from La Palma or Sambu ( I was flying to this places)you have to organice on your on how to go on by lancha upriver to a community.
You should speak some spanish!
Isadora gave you excellent infos,I know all the places (ofcourse I had met the Capitan and his lovely wife in Valle de Anton)there are some budget places in the village.
Portobello is a nice place for snorkling/diving,you take a bus from Colon.
Be careful in Colon!!!!
[ Edit: Edited on 17-Jun-2009, at 10:33 by marlis ]
(ofcourse I had met the Capitan and his lovely wife in Valle de Anton)
Marlis, by the time we met the Captain, his lovely wife had passed away. It was just the Captain and his "kids" (employees), as he called them.
Travelman - if you make it to El Valle - if nothing else, stop at Los Capitanes for a meal. Just say some previous guests sent you for some great food and great conversation. He'll understand (and so will you)!
Marlis is also correct - be very careful in Colon. It is the duty-free port and not the safest place by any means.
On our travels between Colon and Portobello, we were flagged down by a police officer standing by the side of the road. He was there with two other officers and one police car. Thinking that we were going to have ourselves and our vehicle searched - since we'd just passed through Colon though they didn't know we hadn't stopped there - we pulled over. Though (my husband) Beerman's Spanish is a bit "rusty" (and mine limited), he was unable to keep pace with the officer. After 10 minutes of (increasingly) frustrating conversation, my husband finally understood what the officer wanted - a ride to the local station. No problem! (And please don't notice that open bottle of seco from the night before sitting next you you in the backseat...) As we drove, the officer asked if we were there on business or for pleasure - we responded pleasure. He then proceeded to tell us all about the influx of American ex-pats buying up fincas (cattle farms) and pointing out which ones where for sale, including cattle. We bid our farewells at the police station and marked it down as one of the more interesting things to happen to us in awhile. I think he was really a real estate agent on the side.