Hi there, my name is Laurie Daul and I have been in the travel industry for the past 17 years and am currently at Fox World Travel’s Manitowoc office. I recently took a trip to Panama and had a great experience. I would love to share my travel experiences in order to help you plan your own new and exciting travel adventures!
Everyone who enters Panama is given an insurance card. You are covered for your first 30 days of residency for FREE on accidental death, hospitalization, medical evacuation, even dental! We were actually handed a card as we made our way through the airport.
According to “Forbes”, Panama is the #2 place for citizens of the US and Canada to retire. It is very big on “Medical Tourism” as health care is very reasonable-especially for seniors…over age 56 they get discounted pharmaceuticals, dining and other entertainment such as ½ price movie tickets!
Education is free through high school and college courses can be taken for as little as $27/credit. Both Spanish & English are taught in all schools. Panamanians are very well educated and obviously very employable!
USD is readily accepted. Panamanian currency is called the BALBOA (after a famous president). The size, denominations and value is exactly as ours…one quarter USD=25 cents Balboa.
The government wants everyone to “stay connected” so ALL public areas of Panama offer FREE internet! We had no problem connecting!
Panama will be the first Central American country to have a subway. Currently city buses in Panama City are free. They are old school buses painted kind of carnivalish and they are called “Red-Devils”!
As I noticed in the airport, Panama offers LOTS of upscale, designer shopping. We were told there is a 3mile long mall in PTY but we didn’t see it at all…probably a good thing. The city gets very busy on the weekends especially with people from South America (Brazil in particular) as the prices are much better in Panama…they compare to US. (Good destination for shoppers)
The Bridge of the Americas connects the two parts of Panama with the Pan-American Highway which takes you all the way to ALASKA!
Panama has an 8-9 month rainy season with twice as much rain falling on the Caribbean side than the Pacific.
With 79 floors, Trump Tower in Panama City is the tallest building in Latin America.
Walt Disney World is planning to build a resort in the Royal Decameron area (about 2 hours from PTY)
Some animals you might see as you travel through Panama are: Sloth, Coati Mundi, Ocelot, Capuchin and Howler Monkeys, white tail deer and mosquitoes! By the way…aside from a few mosquitoes, we didn’t see any of the above! :o I would recommend bringing some bug spray even though the hotel gardens and woods are sprayed.
Panama has the Caribbean Sea on its North border and Pacific Ocean on the South…this was rather difficult for us to grasp…we were all used to water on the East & West as in Mexico. It was difficult to get our bearings as to what direction we were traveling.
THE PANAMA CANAL
Of course, one of the first things you think of when you think of Panama is The Panama Canal…we got to spend some time at a set of locks and watch how they operate. Currently there are 2 sets of locks and the third will be opened in 2015.
We learned lots of fun facts and were able to go through exhibits on the building of the canal as well as watch 2 ships go through a full transit.
PLAYA BONITA HOTELS (About 45 minutes from PTY)
Because of how the tide is in this area it is important to know that every 6 hours, it goes in or out. The beaches are nice but if you want to swim in the ocean this may not be the best area…at least for ½ the day! On the other hand it is an AMAZING location to watch the ships line up to go through the canal. I thought it was awesome to see during the day but then at night! We were able to watch from our balcony at the Westin…probably a highlight of my trip…no kidding!
INTERCONTINENTAL PLAYA BONITA
Optional all inclusive, 2 buffets & 1 a la carte, 3 bars, 3 pools (zero entry), putting green & golf. There were coffee makers and mini-fridges in the room. Rooms around the perimeter with pool, bar and beach grill are in the middle. This is a good resort for people who want to explore-maybe shop in PTY but want to be on a beach.
WESTIN PLAYA BONITA
Our first host hotel (1 night). All-inclusive with some imported drinks, 24 hour room service, 6 restaurants, 4 bars, 3 pools with swim up bar and children’s pool, kids club. There was also a long walking beach. Good resort for families and those who have been to all-inclusive resorts and want a different destination.
PANAMA CITY HOTELS (20 minutes from PTY)
HARD ROCK HOTEL PANAMA MEGAPOLIS
This was your typical Hard Rock hotel…very contemporary and loaded with rock memorabilia. This is downtown Panama City EP hotel that offers $20/day/room voucher for food & beverage. The place to be at night is the “Who R U” disco. Awesome rooftop pool and a really cool beauty salon makes guests feel like stars! The rooms were contemporary and this is a good hotel for shoppers and the “Hip Crowd”
Right next door to the Hard Rock Hotel but not as flashy and perhaps a bit more affordable was the Radisson Decapolis. The lobby is on the second floor so accessible by either elevator or escalator. There is a bar, sushi bar and a lot of seating in the lobby so it’s a great gathering place. Rooms again are very plain…old fashioned tub & shower. The very small roof top pool (whirlpool & bar up there as well) has windows in the bottom of it where swimmers can look down into the Fusion restaurant…interesting. Good hotel for those who want the Hard Rock location but aren’t looking for luxury.
This hotel is just a little ways from the hustle & bustle of the other two in Panama City. It is across the street from a little park on the marina…it reminded me of the area in Chicago along the drive to Shedd’s and the Museum…grassy areas with people gathering here and there. Rooms have either water view or city view (both are impressive). Lobby is very elegantly decorated with marble and brass…there is a baby grand piano in the dining room and a great sports bar. Pool and tennis court on ground level. Good for people who want to be in the city but want a water view and don’t want to be in the concrete jungle.
GAMBOA RAINFOREST RESORT
Optional all-inclusive plan with one buffet and two a la carte restaurants. One a la carte allowed for every three night stay. This is a very beautiful eco-friendly resort that FEELS like Panama. You go over a one lane bridge on the Chagres River and through a rainforest to get there. There is a section of 4-plex residences that used to house military personnel and then the main hotel. The lobby overlooks the Chagres River and the beautiful rainforest. It is decorated with dark mahogany and many plants. There is a pool with a swim up bar and quite a few meeting rooms. Rooms with balconies have hammocks. Good resort for nature lovers.
PLAYA BLANCA HOTELS (2 hours from PTY…waiting for new airport)
Our second host hotel (three nights). All inclusive with three restaurants, four bars, three pools including a swim up bar and children’s pool with slide. Rooms were very stark…not “cozy” at all…with French balconies and old tub/shower combos. Great walking beach in this area! Good resort for those who are not fussy about décor and elegance, and who want the value of an all-inclusive and like to walk the beach or swim in the ocean.
JW MARRIOTT RESORT
This is a European Plan hotel that had a lot of villas equipped with multiple bedrooms and full kitchens. Very elegantly decorated and much attention to detail…rooms have beautiful hardwood floors and they even had a pillow embroidered with “JW Marriott Panama and FUNJET Vacations”! They have a lot of wedding groups here with families. Lobby to beach is about a seven minute walk. The beach is 11 miles long! They also have boats or golf cart transfers. The beach/pool area had several small plunge pools with lots of beach chairs. Your group can reserve one of these poolside entertainment areas for $50. There is an awesome golf course at the resort. Green fees start at $80! Great resort for golfers, beach walkers, families and weddings.
WYNDHAM GRAND PLAYA BLANCA
This All-inclusive beachfront resort also offers one and two bedroom suites with kitchenettes, large living rooms and private balconies. Zero entry pool, beach beds and many cushioned beach chairs are highlights of the pool area. The beach is very wide and long. Good resort for families or couples looking for the value of an all-inclusive and wanting a nice pool and beach area.
***IN BETWEEN WYNDHAM GRAND AND PLAYA BLANCA there is currently a new Riu Resort being built!***
PLAYA BLANCA RESORT
This is an All-inclusive resort with a little lower rating and it feels that way…not that there’s anything “wrong” with it…just no WOW factor. There are blue & white Mediterranean style buildings with the same colors in the rooms. VERY small bathrooms-shower stalls only. ONLY buildings 1, 3 & 5 have elevators. Buildings 3 & 5 have rooms with three beds! The sushi bar is the only restaurant with air conditioning. Nice beach and pool area. Good resort for families or couples on a budget.
ROYAL DECAMERON HOTEL
All-inclusive beachfront resort built into kind of a cliff. Ocean view rooms are on top of the cliff with LOTS of stairs. Book oceanfront rooms for the beach level and no stairs. There are three main check-in lobbies. This resort has over 1100 rooms and is not overly accessible…qualify! They offer 2 double or 1 king bed with sofa bed and some connect. There is an adults only pool with a swim up bar. The resort isn’t very “deep” but stretches quite a ways along the secluded beach. The pools and restaurants are all located between the rooms and the ocean. 18 hole golf available and they have a great disco. Good resort for those who are young and active and who enjoy nightlife or families.
Overall, I really enjoyed this trip to Panama. I learned and experienced some exciting things! If you are interested in planning your next trip, contact a travel specialist to assist you in answering any questions you may have and we’ll take care of all the details! You can also reach me directly by calling our Manitowoc Travel Agency location at 800-232-1701.