Panama is a marvelous country for travelers with gorgeous beaches, lush rain forests, friendly people and some mountains. Indeed its highest point Volcan Barú is more than 500 meters higher than the tallest peak of Germany.
Its size equals Bavaria with less than a third of its population. It is famous for its canal which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for huge vessels. But there is a lot more to explore. Soon we felt in love for Panama.
We spent our first night of our lives in Panama and Central America in the area of customs in Colón, after our fellow travelers and we had received all needed entry documents at 9:00PM.
It was a long evening with some spaghetti and lots of beer. Close to the unattractive and dangerous town Colón are the most northern locks of the Panama canal which levels ships 26 meters up or down. The navigation through the three locks is supported by little engines, called Mulas (mules). It was very impressive watching huge vessels passing the Gatun locks.
We spent two wonderful days in the pleasant little village Gamboa, nearly half the way between the two oceans on the canal. It is surrounded by artificial lakes which provide water for the canal, and deep rain forest with extensive flora and fauna. There are some good hiking trails like the pipeline road. On the second evening two younger Ladies invited us for a beer and told us a lot about animals in Panama - They were doing their doctorate in Biology!
In Panama City is a reasonable parking lot between hotel Country Inn Balboa in Panamà City and the mouth of the canal into the Pacific Ocean (GPS coordinates: N8° 56.472' W79° 33.398'). We met other travelers from our ferry adventure and we spent three night there, also due to free and pretty fast WiFi from the hotel.
Panama City is an interesting metropolis with fancy buildings, nice old town and a bigger rain forest reservation within its limits. But there are also slums with poor people and shabby buildings. Police stopped us when we wanted to drive with our bicycles into one of these quarters and forced us to return. But we got there a delicious meal with fresh fish and met nice people.
Approximately 100 kilometers west of Panama City is the beautiful village El Valle de Antón, which is located in an old caldera. It is a superb hiking area with mountains up to 1100 meters sea-level. Its infrastructure is excellent, e.g. we found the best Swiss Cheese so far in Latin America but made in New Zealand! La Casa de Juan offers a convenient campground (GPS coordinates: N8° 35.925' W80° 07.249').
We climbed up 900 meters high Cerro Cara Iguana and the tallest point in this area, Cerro Gaital, where we had to scramble some meters on electrical wires. Fortunately they were quite thick because it was relatively slippery and we needed them to hike up and down. Both peaks provide marvelous views of the caldera and environment in case there are no clouds. The two tracks are included in the GPS coordinates file of Panama.
Our next highlight was carnival 2015, which we celebrated in the smaller city Chitré with millions of other people. We took our bicycles into town and soon were shoot from kids equipped with heavy squirt guns. In the center of the town were road tanker. We could climb up them and had fantastic views to the street life. They were filled with water, which was sputtered into the crowd. Soon everybody including us was soaked totally. But it was a welcomed relief because it was sooooo hot!
Carnival in Chitré is not as famous as in other cities like Panama City but it is authentic. It was an outstanding nice experience for us. Besides the activities in town we found a quiet place for the night on the beach Playa Albina Grande (GPS coordinates: N8° 00.108' W80° 24.248'). The water too muddy for swimming but we saw some beautiful birds.
The last two days of carnival 2015 we relaxed on the beach of Las Lajas, where we could sleep directly in front of the Pacific Ocean (GPS coordinates: N8° 10.037' W81° 51.696'). It is with more than 20 kilometers lenght one of the biggest beach in Panama.
Volcan Barù was our next target, which is located west of the town Boquete. Thanks to a friendly indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé family we could park our car safely at the end of the paved road on the eastern slope of the mountain few hundred meters below the entrance of the national park (GPS coordinates: N8° 47.818' W82° 29.458', not accessible with our car). We took our tent and hiked 6 hours the dirt road to the campsite Los Fogones (GPS coordinates: N8° 48.437' W82° 32.079') which is just half an hour below the summit. Some high sophisticated four wheel cars drove this road with some tourists. At this season no drinking water was available on our way to the summit but we could buy some from the guard of transmitters.
Another stunning trail in Boquete is the Sendero los Quetzales, where we saw one of these shy birds. Also climbing on basaltic columns is possible in Boquete, where we slept well (GPS coordinates: N8° 48.240' W82° 27.150'). Close to these rocks was a bridge to a little settlement which we wanted to cross. But there was a real obstacle.
On our way to the Caribbean coast we had both: Refreshing cold and hot waters. The latter one was in the pools of the hot springs of Caldera (GPS coordinates: N8° 39.957' W82° 20.970'), which were impertinent expensive. With a good four-wheel car it is possible to sleep at the parking lot of the hot springs but we stopped in front of the guard of the sweet water supply channel.
The archipelago Bocas del Toro is a true Caribbean dream: Lots of islands in crystal clear water with terrific beaches, lush jungle and wonderful sea life. We parked our car in Almirante, where the ferry starts to the town Bocas del Toro (GPS coordinates: N9° 17.621' W82° 24.058'). Her owner Leiza is a very nice person, we could also sleep there for the same amount (3 U$ / day). But we could not leave our car between 8:00PM and 6:00AM because there was a big dog outside to prevent the cars from robbery.
In Bocas del Toro we found the excellent hostel Casa Verde, which is located directly on the waterfront (GPS coordinates: N9° 20.130' W82° 14.474'). We could jump directly into the ocean and watch big starfishes (more than 20 centimeters diameter) and other colorful fish around the piers.
In the evening we had excellent life reggae music! On our first day we circled the little island Isla Carena which is a 2 hours hike. The island is accessible by cheap water taxis. On the next day we took the public bus to Boca del Drago in the northwest corner of the main island Isla Colón. We snorkeled at Playa Estrella - star beach) before we hiked nearly 15 kilometers to Playa Bluff. We weer more than happy to find a taxi when it became dark.
The top highlight was the boat tour on the third day. First we saw some Dolphins, after we snorkeled on Punta Coral south of Isla Bastimentos. We never expected such colorful corals. They were shining nearly in all thinkable different colors. Beautiful fish surrounded the corals. It was so peaceful. Unfortunately we could not take pictures in the water. Finally we drove to the Red Frog beach but we did not find them.