Panama - David, Santa Catalina, Panama City
Trip Start Jan 03, 2013
35Trip End Jul 21, 2013
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We arrived in David early evening, and despite being tempted to continue our journey towards Santa Catalina, we decided to stay a night and went searching for a hostel with Alben. After 30 minutes lugging our bags, we found a hostel called Purple house. They only had dorm rooms but we took it anyway as it was only one night and we had had enough of walking. We ate at a local cafe that night with Alben and enjoyed some cheap beers at the hostel. We had arranged to share a taxi to the bus station with a German couple early the next morning. They were also headed to Santa Catalina
After a restless night in the dorm, we caught a taxi to David's bus terminal with the German couple, Benny and Issy. We were there earlier than originally planned and caught a big double decker bus. Although this looked like luxury it was a very unpleasant 3 hour journey as the air conditioning was on overload! We were all freezing in our shorts and t-shirts. Alexa even got the foil emergency blanket out to try and keep warm. Thankfully we arrived in Santiago and warmed up quickly in the sunshine. We met Carman at the bus terminal and the 5 of us got the bus to Sona. In Sona, we decided to get a taxi to Santa Catalina (it was $3 more and meant we would get there before the bus had even left Sona).
We drove into Santa Catalina and immediately liked the feel of the place
As we thought we might stay here for at least 4 more days, we decided to walk to see if there were any better options available. After asking a few places that were out of our price range, we stumbled upon a place that was perfect. For $24 a night we got out own apartment (with kitchen and bathroom) - amazing! We promised we would be back in the morning and walked into the town to check it out. It had a nice chilled village feel to it. We headed the 1km back to the beach and Sean enjoyed a surf on the small waves whilst Alexa had a dip then chilled on the beach. It gets dark that much later here because of the time difference so we were on the beach till 6ish.
Early the next day, we moved to our new accommodation at Donde Viankas. It was perfect and even better than we remembered, all for a bargain price. Sean rushed out for a surf at the point, famously one of the best/longest right hand point breaks in Central America. Alexa went off with Carman to buy some more supplies to make the most of our kitchen while we have one. The food was surprisingly cheap and Alexa stocked up. Afterwards she made her way down to the point to watch the surfers and try to spot Sean. Despite being crowded, he enjoyed some great waves including 2 of the best rides so far on the trip
We headed back and went to the beach with Carmen for some late afternoon sun and waves. The waves were small and fun and Sean was tired from the morning so helped Carman on his learner board passing on a few tips.
We enjoyed a few beers on the balcony as it was getting dark. We headed out to dinner at a local pizzeria and met a group of Germans (Guan and Nadine), Austrian (Sabrina) and American who we had dinner with. It was a really fun evening and the pizza was delicious.
We decided to sacrifice other places in Panama and stay in Santa Catalina. We had been on the move for over 2 months and felt like staying put. This place seemed ideal - great waves, beaches and weather.
The next 5 days followed a very similar pattern: cooking our own breakfast and lunch with Carman using the delicious fresh fruit and veg available, chilling on the beach in the sunshine, drinking smoothies, Sean having at least one surf and spending the evenings at lovely restaurants with people we had met followed by drinks on our balcony. We loved it and felt very at home in this friendly Panamanian coastal village.
One hot afternoon but we decided to hire a foam surf board for Alexa to try again
Another day, we took a snorkelling trip to Coiba National Park. You can dive here but after much discussion, we decided to snorkel as it was half the price and many people have said the snorkelling was amazing.
It was a 1.5 hour boat ride to Isla Coiba but it was a smooth ride with the sun shining. We spotted quite a few pods of dolphins, some just by the boat, rays jumping out the water and lots of flying fish. We went past beautiful secluded beaches on the Panama mainland before pulling into the islands. They are protected and a UNESCO world natural site.
The lush green islands with white sand beaches and turquoise seas were stunning and it looked like paradise. We couldn't wait to get in the water. We stopped at a small island first and went in the sea with the snorkels. It was beautiful - we saw a turtle, white tipped reef shark as well as many big and colourful fish. After the brilliant start, the next snorkel site was a little disappointing as there was a strong current meaning there was less fish which were deeper so we couldnt see them and the visibility wasn't that good
On our last day in Santa Catalina, we took a walk down the beach, exploring a little further down the wild stretch of coastline. It reminded us of beaches in England, particularly Cornwall and Whitsand Bay where we got married. That evening, we ate at the hotel restaurant, enjoying some great cerviche, fish tacos and a few beers with Carman, Chris and Juliet (another German couple we met) We were also joined by Tabia (Swiss girl) who was staying at the hotel. She was also a surfer. It was a nice evening and good way to end a great week in where we all agreed was our favourite place so far. Tomorrow we were heading for Panama City, apparently the most cosmopolitan in central America.
We said goodbye to Santa Catalina and got the 8am bus to Sona with Carman and Sabrina. We all felt a little downbeat about leaving the place we had enjoyed so much over the past week. At Sona, we all caught the direct bus to Panama City
Our first stop in Panama City was Miraflores Locks, on the Panama Canal. We enjoyed a good view of the Pacific side locks, where all ships pass through and were lucky enough to see 2 huge cargo ships pass through. We learnt some interesting facts about the canal, its history, and how important it is for world trade. It takes 8 hours for a ship to get from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side of the canal. We enjoyed a 3D video, and also a self guided tour, before heading in a taxi to the Causeway. There we enjoyed good views of the Panama City skyline, which was littered with skyscrapers and office buildings. Later on we agreed that this part of the city reminded us of Dubai, maybe a little less polished! After walking part of the way back, we jumped in a cab to Casco Viejo, the old town of Panama, and a popular destination for tourists. It was impressive, with attractive architecture, and a nice atmosphere. Unfortunately there was lots of renovation work being done so we didn't get to see the area at its best.
After lunch at a locals cafe, we had a quick escort from a policeman to a pharmacy, which was located in the rougher part if town
There is so much more to see in Panama but we felt so happy in Santa Catalina and didn't want to leave. It is a diverse country, less expensive than Costa Rica with just as much to offer, and the people are very hospitable. We will definitely come back at some point in the future, and explore more of the country.