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With a coast running along two sides of the country, the Caribbean and the Pacific, there are no shortages of amazing beaches in Panama. They are as varied as the people who visit them.
Which beach would YOU like to spend the day at?
- Boca del Drago – Located in the northwest of Isla Colón, the main island in Bocas del Toro, is one of the best beaches on the island. There are a couple of restaurants where you can get delicious fresh seafood and a cold beer and cabins where you can spend the night. Clear water makes for good visibility and coral growths just offshore offer world-class snorkeling here. Starfish beach is about a 15 minute walk and is known for its abundance of stars!
- Cayos Zapatillas – These are actually two small islands that are part of the National Marine Park of Isla Bastimentos. The beaches have beautiful white sand and the water is perfect for snorkeling and viewing large varieties of underwater life. Hawksbill sea turtles are also known to nest here.
- San Blas – On the other end of Panama’s Caribbean coast is an island chain that is inhabited by the indigenous Kuna Yala Indians. Perfect for exploring native cultures or just relaxing and swimming in the clear water. These islands are also popular among sailors and ecotourism fans.
- Isla Coiba – Located off the Pacific coast of Panama in the Gulf of Chiriqui. Coiba is part of the National Marine Preserve and is best known for the abundance of large fish and sea mammals that are seen here regularly. Read more about the history of Coiba HERE.
- Santa Catalina – Once a secret surf spot but not today. Some of the best surf in Panama has attracted people from around the globe for international surf meets. There are even surf camps where they give lessons for those who are new to the sport. You can also enjoy the peace while sunbathing, reading, and watching the waves.
- Isla Contadora – Part of the Pearl Islands and best known as the place where pirates and merchants stopped to count their pearls before heading back to Europe to trade. A popular tourist destination, Contadora has a small regional/domestic airport and has regular flights to and from Panama City.
- Playa Venao – Another popular surf spot on the Pacific side of Panama, located Southwest of Pedasi on the Azuero Peninsula. Waves break in both directions and there is a soft sandy bottom which makes this spot popular for all skill levels. It’s a bit off the beaten track and the vibe here is relaxed.
- Red Frog Beach – Located on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro. Monkeys and sloths are common in the jungle here, as well as the poison red dart frog that the beach is named after. Great for surfing, swimming and sunbathing.
- Taboga – The island is known as the “island of flowers” and is only an hour from Panama City, making it a popular weekend getaway for the locals. Get there by ferry from the Amador Causeway. The beaches are beautiful on the island. Boat tours for fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, and sightseeing are available, as well as walking and nature tours.
- Isla Grande – In spite of its name, it is actually a small island in the province of Portobelo on the Caribbean side, near Colon. Local water taxi service is available to reach the island. There are no cars on the island, only walking paths. You can enjoy a wonderful meal at an island restaurant, a walk along the beach, or snorkel all day.
Although we have 10 beaches listed here, each is number 1 on someone’s list,
so we’ll let YOU decide the order!
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I found this announcement in a Texas newspaper on October 28, 2016:
“The US fast food company Wingstop has announced that the franchise has plans to open 30 stores in Panama and Colombia, starting in 2017.”
I actually stopped at Wingstop in David (Chiriqui Province, Panama) about a month ago with a friend. We enjoyed a plate of wings with our favorite sauces and a Corona, while sport events were playing on several wall-mounted TV’s. Sound familiar? If this is your idea of an afternoon out, you really won’t be missing much in Panama. The fast-food joints that you have come to know and frequent back in the U.S. are becoming more and more common throughout Panama today.
Panamanians have always had a close relationship with U.S. culture over the years, mostly due to the Panama Canal. As a result, businesses, products and services associated with the United States are popular among the general population.
The economy in Panama has been growing steadily for over a decade. Panama also has the highest per capita income in Central America and the US dollar is legal currency here. With the increased purchasing power comes a desire for more popular (as seen on TV and movies, I believe) experiences and services. This trend has fueled investment by major multi-national food chains in recent years. Most of these franchises and restaurants are still found in Panama City, but they are popping up in the interior of the country as well, and more and more are appearing in Chiriqui, Veraguas, and Herrera. Several large shopping malls have recently opened in these areas, providing a boost to the growth of these franchises through their popular Food Courts.
Here is a sampling of the restaurants and cafes that I have personally seen here in Panama: McDonald’s, Burger King, Smashburger, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeye’s Chicken, Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, Dominos, Little Ceasar’s, Pizza Hut, Nathan’s Hotdogs, Subway, Starbucks, Coffee, Bean & Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, and of course Wingstop.
For the most part, these chains are very similar in pricing and products to their US counterparts. There are some notable differences though.
- Often, there will be additional menu items that are representative of local Panamanian foods, like yucca fries, or Sancocho (local Panamanian soup).
- The menu will usually be written in Spanish, but if you don’t speak the language you can say the order number and the prices are in US dollars.
- Fast food places are very popular in Panama and there can be long lines at certain times. The staff, and customers, are anything but ‘fast’, holding true to the laid back style of the country.
- If you are a woman over 55 or a man over 60 years of age, you can actually get the “jubilado”, or senior discount. This usually requires the manager getting a different receipt with your signature on it though.
- Many fast food restaurants offer delivery services, not just the pizza joints. I have even seen delivery bikes for KFC and McDonalds around town!
You won’t have to worry about getting your fast-food fix in Panama. Watch for my next report where I’ll share some of the popular full service restaurant chains that you can find in Panama today (hint: think TGIF & PF Chang’s).
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Now that the hustle and bustle of the Holidays are over, I finally have the time to reflect on how truly amazing they were! Since moving to Panama, one of the many questions I am asked is, “Don’t you miss your family and friends during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, birthdays, etc.?” Truthfully, this was one of the many subjects that came up when my family and I were considering moving to another country.
Like many families, though, when the matriarch and/or patriarch passes away, the entire family dynamic shifts and every individual “unit” starts celebrating holidays a little differently as well as creating their own new traditions. My family is no different as my husband and I have lost both of our parents: Thanksgiving/Christmas of 2015 was our first without any of them and our first being outside of the U.S. As most “firsts” are, after the passing of loved ones, it was extremely hard.
We were living in a resort area of Panama and there were very few people who lived there full time. Although we made some amazing friends, we spent that first Christmas alone – just my husband, 12 year old son and myself. Right after Christmas, we made the decision to move to another part of Panama where there were more children and a lot of activities for all of us. In January of 2016 we moved to Boquete where we currently live and oh what a difference a year, and new location, has made!
This Holiday season was so very different from last year! The quaint little town we live in was decorated so beautifully especially the town square which had many trees and a multitude of lights! The friends we have made here made it especially wonderful as they have now become our family! My son turned 13 on December 23, so we had one of the first birthday parties he has ever really had, aside from the family dinners with cake and ice cream, and one other nightmare party at Chuck E. Cheese when he was 4! Having a birthday so close to Christmas always meant, at least in the States, that no one was ever in town for his birthday or they were at their own family parties. This year, we had it at a local restaurant in Boquete called Black & White where the owners have become like family to us! We celebrated with a karaoke party with almost 20 people from 5 different countries!
Christmas Eve dinner was spent with our neighbors and friends at a neighbor’s house and Christmas dinner was at the house of the owner of the company where my husband works followed by a huge Christmas parade through the town! New Year’s Eve was very eventful, too!! We rang in the New Year at the same restaurant where we had my son’s party. All of the owner’s family was there and we were treated just like we were one of them! At midnight we toasted with champagne and shot fireworks with the rest of Panama! New Year’s Day, which is also my birthday, was celebrated with a delicious dinner with our neighbors and friends!
I have always heard that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family! Until we moved to Panama, I believed that to be true.
Now, though, the friends we have chosen have become our family. Because of all of them, our holidays, special events, and even our day to day life, have been made so much better! Yes, I still miss my family, especially my parents, but these amazing people remind me I’m not alone. They have become our surrogate moms, dads, abuelas/abuelos (grandparents), sisters, aunts. I am truly grateful to have each and every one of them in my life!