Panama Experience Map
Day 1 San José
Arrive in at any time. Check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members.
As it is located in the central highlands, San José enjoys a moderate climate. The heat and humidity of the coast and lowland areas may affect you, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it is simply a reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (cold bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much in any given day. We prefer fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside.
Like most cities, San José has its good and bad sides. It is the centre of government, theatre, and art, as well as of air pollution and congestion. It has beautiful parks and museums, and a few beggars on the streets. It is big and often noisy, but even from its crowded downtown streets, you’ll often enjoy a view of the surrounding lush mountains.
Probably the hardest thing you will do in San José, other than get safely across busy streets, is keep the street numbering systems straight. Street and avenue numbers are posted on buildings at the corners of some intersections. Keep looking as you walk, and you will eventually find one. The plaza is a good place to people-watch. A mime, juggler, marimba band, magician, or storyteller may be performing for whatever is collected when the hat is passed. Artisan booths are common, creating a regular arts and crafts fair atmosphere.
A source of pride for the Ticos (Costa Ricans) is the National Theatre. Inaugurated in 1897, the building was paid for by coffee growers through a voluntary tax on every bag of coffee exported. The National Museum, housed in the Bellavista Fortress, offers exhibits on pre-Columbian art, colonial art and furniture and religious art within a 19th century building that was converted from a military fortress after the army was abolished.
The Museum of Costa Rican Art, located in La Sabana Park used to be the international airport and this museum is in the old terminal building. The Jade Museum is on the 11th floor of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building. In addition to the marvellous collection of jade objects, there are pre-Columbian ceramic and stone works as well as displays with archaeological and ethnographic information. The Gold Museum is located underneath the Plaza de la Cultura. Its spectacular collection of indigenous gold art belongs to the Central Bank of Costa Rica.
The best and least expensive places to buy souvenirs in San José are the markets. The two main ones are the ones in Plaza de la Cultura, which is an outdoor open market, and the Central Market, where handicrafts are sold along with boots, fish, flour, herbal remedies, shirts and everything else you can imagine. Always watch your belongings and be ready for crowds. If you plan on spending a few days in San José prior to or after your tour, there are a number of activities within the city and area that you can participate in, many of them outdoors.
Day 2-3 Puerto Viejo
An incredible bus ride to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast brings us to the picturesque village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Fourteen kilometres of incomparable white and black sand beaches are surrounded by exotic tropical vegetation. There are several optional activities available; rent a bike or hire a boat to Manzanillo, hike to Monkey Point through the Gandoca - Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge or try snorkelling. Or, just take it easy and explore La Isla Botanical Gardens.
Rent a boogie board if the waves are calling, dance the night away to reggae and calypso, taste flavourful Afro-Caribbean cuisine, and succumb to the natural beauty of this tropical paradise. This area of Costa Rica was quite isolated until a road was built a only a couple of decades ago, and it still hasn’t lost its charm.
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Approximate Distance: 210 km
Day 4-6 Bocas del Toro
Crossing into Panama, we travel by means of buses then a boat to arrive at the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro, which means the bull’s mouth. Our time here offers us plenty of opportunities to snorkel, scuba dive, or just relax on the beach.
The Archipelago of Bocas del Toro is made up of 6 islands, only 2 of which have roads and services for tourists. The islands are very unique in many ways. The islands and closest shoreline are an isolated pocket of lowlands, between the mountains and swamps of most of nearby mainland. Because of this, there is much wildlife and fauna ,which are found only in this region and nowhere else! The islands are mostly covered in rainforest, and have spectacular beaches perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling or diving.
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Approximate Distance: 70 km
Day 7-8 Boquete
Back on the mainland we have a long day of travel before arriving at the impressive mountain retreat of Boquete. A plethora of outdoor options await us here, including numerous hikes, whitewater rafting and a tour of a coffee plantation.
The picturesque town of Boquete is nestled in a green mountain valley, with a beautiful river running through it. The town is well-known for its cool, fresh climate and unspoiled natural environment, making it an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are numerous hiking tours to choose from, as well as horseback riding and whitewater rafting. It is also a good place to just relax in the mountain climate as a break from the lowland heat. For the coffee lovers, there are many plantations that offer tours of their factories as well as taste tests.
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Approximate Distance: 340 km
Day 9-11 Santa Catalina
This small, friendly and laid-back town on the Pacific coast is the perfect place to wind down. In addition to relaxing on one of the 2 black-sand beaches, your options include fishing, snorkelling, boat trips, diving and surfing as well as exploring numerous nature trails that lead to other remote beaches and wildlife viewing opportunities such as flocks of parrots which inhabit the hills around Santa Catalina.
The word “panama” is an indigenous word meaning an abundance of fish and Santa Catalina emphasises the origins of this name. Large schools of tuna, wahoo, and other game fish can often be seen as well as white tip reef sharks. Seeing eagle rays, barracudas, and turtles is also quite common. From June to September, sightings of humpback whales, wintering from South America are possible.
Santa Catalina is the closest access point to Coiba Island part of the nation’s largest marine park which has been described as a cross between the Galapagos and Cocos Islands. Time and weather permitting it may be possible to organise an optional boat trip to explore this marine park.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 275 km
Day 12-13 Panama City
Lying in the centre of Panama’s southern coast, the country’s capital is a modern, bustling city, thanks to the enormous trade and commerce that passes through each year. However, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Panama City aside from the world-famous canal. The city has a long and varied history, and the site was an important stop on the “Gold trail” of treasures being shipped from the Spanish colonies in the Americas back to the motherland. For this reason, the early settlement was attacked numerous times and at one time the city was burned to the ground. This part of the city is now known as Panama La Vieja (Old Panama) and still has some great old buildings, as well as some interesting museums that document the history of the region.
After the fire, the city was relocated 8 km away, on a small peninsula planners felt would be easier to defend. This area is now known as the “Casco Viejo,” and is surrounded by sea on 3 sides and a moat on the fourth, making it a very strategic location. The area is beautiful, and great for a glimpse into history with its narrow cobblestone streets and colonial-style buildings. Heading out of the city there is a fantastic 2 km-long causeway linking the city with 4 small islands off the coast. The causeway has great views of the city and ocean, and if you are lucky you can sometimes spot dolphins.
The Panama Canal is a fabulous example of modern engineering and is considered to be one of the engineering wonders of the world. Many times before was a canal attempted to join the two oceans at this point. The first to try were the French, but they encountered endless trials and catastrophes, in the end claiming the lives of 22,000 people—and the canal was abandoned. The United States eventually completed the canal in 1914, and today it extends 80 km across the country. Gigantic lock systems raise and lower the water levels, allowing ships to go from lake to lake (the canal is made up of entirely fresh water), and eventually from ocean to ocean. According to statistics, more than 12,000 ocean-going vessels pass through it a year–over 30 a day! Watching a freighter pass through the locks is something not to be missed.
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours
Approximate Distance: 375 km
Day 14 Panama City
Depart at any time.