Hola chicos!!!! I just realized that although I wrote this awhile ago, I never posted it! Better late than never though! Here are the stats for Panamá!
Days in Panamá: 10
Money Spent: $286.88
That means we spent $28.66 per day, or roughly $14.33 per person per day. So we were just barely under our target budget of $15 per person per day. I’m very proud of us forfinallybeing on budget again after going over in the last few countries. Rock on!!!!
A side note: I didn’t count our passage on Fritz the Cat here, as I consider that to be between countries and it was so expensive it would totally throw the whole skew off.
As you can see, our spending only fell into a few categories in Panamá. Despite how small the country is, buses are not cheap in Panamá. They seem to run about $2+ per hour of travel.
Food is also more expensive than in South America. The cheapest meal we ever had was a $1.50 plate of rice and beans in Las Tablas. In Panamá City and Bocas del Toro, you can expect to pay at least $3.50 for a decent plate of Panamanian food. We did have hostels with kitchens most of the time so we tried to buy groceries and cook a lot to keep costs down.
We didn’t pay for a single place to stay in Panamá! That’s right, our Lodging cost was absolutely ZERO! Yeah hostel reviews and Couchsurfing!
FYI, Panamá’s currency is the US dollar, although instead of just calling them “dolares”, they are also called “Balboas.”
We might have been. While we were riding on Fritz the Cat, there was a message over the radio that the Cartagena immigration wasn’t letting anymore sailboats with backpackers on board leave port. This was reportedly because they are trying to get the government-run ferry between Colombia and Panamá restarted. We had heard many rumors that this ferry would be starting within a few weeks and cost around $100 and such but it still had no website, information, etc. The ferry would greatly decrease the price of the crossing and would undoubtedly be a blessing for all of us poor fellows searching for the cheapest way across the dreaded Darien Gap. Whether or not more tourist boats will cross is still unknown, but I would just suggest not to have too tight of a schedule if you are trying to sail.
Until the rumors of the ferry are proven true, there are still only two (recommended) ways to cross from Colombia to Panamá: either by private boat (like Fritz) or by plane.
Here is a rundown of the cost of sailing with Fritz the Cat:
$488 per person payed in USD.
$6 for a National Parks fee.
$3 for the boat from Fritz to where the road is
$25 for the 4×4 to Panamá City
Total = $522
Included on the boat are all 12 meals plus unlimited fruit, water, and lemonade until it runs out every night. Activities include the two days cruising around the San Blas Islas. Fritz also takes care of all the immigration stuff and you don’t pay anything to enter Panamá.
For this I’m going to assume that you don’t care which Colombian city you fly from and you want to see the San Blas Islands in Panamá. The cheapest flight I was able to find today was about $350 from Bogotá, Colombia to Panamá City, Panamá. Add onto that the $66 airport departure tax and probably pay for a bag so lets say $450 for the plane.
The trip to San Blas is $50 for round trip in the truck from Panamá City, plus $6 for the boat round trip, plus two nights lodging on the Islands $20 per night.
Rough total = $496
If you add food to all of this then the total will be far over the $522 of sailing. Even if you don’t want to see the San Blas Islands (well worth the money) then the $450 + 12 meals is still going to be more than the $522 for sailing. Any way you look at it, the boat is the better deal.
Sure, there are other ways to get to Panamá. One is by heading to the shady Colombian town of Turbo, taking multiple boats through different mosquito-ridden backwater villages until finally getting into the first town in Panamá, Puerto Obaldia. There is no road out of Puerto Obaldia, so from there you can take a domestic flight to Panamá City for around $100. This is possible, but no one really recommends doing it, so try at your own risk.
The price of these sailing trips has soared in the last few years, but we think it is still a great value and a great time. Maybe the new ferry will start; maybe everything will stay how it’s been, but for now we feel lucky that we were some of the last (or the last) people to experience this amazing adventure.
In the morning of the fifth day aboard Fritz The Cat we anchored off the mainland prepared to cross the isthmus of Panama, near Carti, packed our backs and waited for a boat taxi to come pick us up. The boat showed up on time and we soon had 17 of us and all our gear on board. We puttered a short way along shore, then made our way up a small river that we were told was full of 2.5 meter caymans. The boat dropped us off about 1km inland and we packed ourselves into 4x4s for the journey across the isthmus of Panama. We climbed up through some small rolling mountains full of lush, green, very jungly vegetation. Soon we came to the Pan-American Highway, an old friend that we had lost in Colombia. The first thing that we noticed about Panamá was how nice the roads were.
After just over two hours in the car we came to the Pacific Ocean and the high rises of Panama City. You could place that skyline on any coast in the United States and it wouldn’t be out of place. McDonald’s and KFC were everywhere; we thought that we had gone straight back to the States.
We stayed in a rich suburb near the old town. That night we went for a little walk looking for food and wandered into one of the longest streets of cheap stuff (think Chinatown on steroids). We ate some street snacks and were amazed by the cars which actually waited for pedestrians to cross the street.
The next day we walked towards the old city of Casco Viejo. Don’t walk the wrong way heading toward the tourist center. We accidentally took a wrong turn and made our way through a slummish neighborhood that was very interesting. All colonial building that looked like they were still destroyed by war. Only three blocks from where we were supposed to be, the police came and grabbed us and made us take a taxi the three blocks back because they said we were in a bad neighborhood. In South America good changed to bad over kilometers, here it was over mere blocks. I guess we need to be more careful around here.
Sadly, in Casco Viejo almost every street was ripped up with construction crews everywhere. They are probably replacing the cool old cobblestone with new asphalt. This made it hard to take good pictures and just annoying to walk around. However, we did get to watch the boats in a long line to cross through the Panamá Canal.
Everthing in Panamá City is super westernized, but it is a pretty smelly city. However, even with all the chain restaurants, there were still plenty of the Kuna people walking around dressed in their awesomely colorful (but never matching) outfits.
We only stayed for two nights. On our bus out we crossed over the famous Canal.
DiabloRosso, located in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panamá City, seems like it would be more at home in the hipster-lands of L.A. or New York City. This funky little gallery/store/café is doing it’s part “to fill the void that existed for emerging art spaces in the region,” according to the gallery’s website. Since its opening in 2006, Diablo Rosso has become a hub for young artists, challenging political and social commentary, bold fashion and artwork, engaging events, and great dining.
When you walk into the inconspicuous storefront, you are immediately confronted with a barrage of colorful clothing, neon lights, and a huge wall made of bright red Coca Cola crates, the whole interior popping like one big Andy Warhol piece. The gallery space showcases modern art exhibits which change monthly, while the shop and restaurant feature huge paintings which are for sale, as well as a variety of antique/eclectic furnishings, all of which function as art pieces themselves. Diablo Rosso also hosts periodic events, including weekly “Dinner and a Movie” nights every Tuesday.
The fashion in the shop seems like a mix of cleverly thrifted items and crazily designed masterpieces, such as a dress made entirely of fuzzy pompoms.
As if the shopping and the gallery were not stimulation enough, the food is also fantastic. A menu of international cuisine features delicious appetizers, creative salads, and tasty sandwiches, most of which have clever names referencing pop culture (such as the Kevin Bacon sandwich). On our visit, we started with the Salmon Dice (“Salmon Says”) appetizer, a great combination of toasted foccacia, goat cheese, smoked salmon, tomato, and pesto.
We followed this with two excellent sandwiches: I had the Catalina Grill and Zach had the Tuna de Lobos. The highlight of the Catalina Grill was the amazing homemade chewy bread, although the portobello/pepper/goat cheese filling was also to die for. Zach’s sandwich contained fresh grilled tuna, cucumbers, and an awesome wasabi mayonnaise, served in an overstuffed pita. The wasabi mayonnaise provided the perfect amount of kick! Both sandwiches were huge and came with a serving of zesty, mustard-ey potato salad with green onions. Delectable!
By the end of the meal, we were stuffed and only wished we had more time in Panamá City to try more of the awesome-sounding creations on the menu! Other highlights of Diablo Rosso include the indie-music soundtrack and the professional, English-speaking staff (our server was the BEST server we have had on our whole trip!). This eclectic, progressive gallery/cafe is definitely not to be missed by anyone craving some good culture and good food in Panamá City!