Laura Grier from Beautiful Day Photography is here today to share with us her recent trip to Panama, scouting the trendy new destination for honeymooners everywhere.
All I ever really even knew about Panama was that it had a canal that connected the North and South Seas otherwise known as the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. But it has been on the horizon as the next “it” spot to travel to for the past five years. This influx of popularity is due mainly because of the massive expansion project of the Panama Canal by 2014. This anticipation of the new and improved canal is causing excitement all over the country and it is almost palpable in the energy that you feel there. Everywhere you look there is new construction, causing an often surreal juxtaposition between the third and first world.
You can be standing in Casco Viejo, the old section of town and now a protected UNESCO Heritage Site, with churches and buildings dating back to the 1600’s and be overlooking the Panama City skyline that now resembles a mini Dubai. You can go visit a five star resort in the jungle and get spa treatments, then take a canoe to visit the nearby indigenous tribes, still living in huts, wearing loin cloths. This constant contradiction is prevalent in all areas of Panama, a country that boasts so much more than just a canal, and to me is the very essence of what gives it its charm.
We spent a couple of days in Panama City biking around Casco Viejo, taking photos and enjoying their local food. I was obsessed with Casco and all of the colors and textures of the old buildings. As a photographer I was in heaven there.
At one point we decided to take a detour through the Jungle to go visit the nearby Embera tribe. You park at the edge of a river and a hand-carved canoe with an Embera tribesman in nothing but a loincloth paddles up to collect you. We were then paddled out to their village through crocodile infested waters and glided through a sea of gorgeous green lily pads in order to cross over to their village. Once we were there they took us on a hike through the rainforest explaining the flora and fauna and what they use for herbs and cooking. Then they toured us around their village, performed their native dances, prepared us a meal from fresh fish and plantains, and then showcased their gorgeous carvings and weavings that you can purchase to help support the tribe. They weave these pots from palm leaves that are so perfectly woven, that they can hold water without leaking. It was pretty impressive. I attempted to dance with them, and epically failed, but it was truly a unique experience and so amazing to think that people still live like this only minutes away from a major bustling city like Panama City.
We also decided to visit Panama City’s three closest islands, Maos, Perico and Flamenco where a causeway connects all three of them to the mainland and it is a quick bike ride or taxi there. If you have time for a few extra days, I suggest going to the San Blas islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama. You can either charter a yacht or take a jumper plane there, but these islands have pristine white beaches and turquoise water with amazing coral reefs to go snorkeling.
I suggest you take time out to stay at Nitro City, an Extreme Sports Resort nestled in Punta Chame, Panama. It is only about an hour and a half outside of the city and is basically an adult playground where you can learn kite surfing, wake boarding, surfing, BMX, motocross, skydiving, or just do nothing and relax by the pool. I felt like we entered the strangest adult summer camp when we got there, but once you were around the sporty energy of everyone else, it was addicting! We even saw a lot of pro athletes there training and just trying out new sports for kicks. The rooms were all themed with different famous X-Games athletes or their sponsors, each with their own private deck and hot tub. It was such a fun getaway from Panama City, but close enough to do as just a day trip.
And of course when back in Panama City we took a tour of the canal (a must do)! It’s amazing to have lunch and watch these Mammoth Ships pass by and to learn its history. You can sit at their restaurant and order lunch as you watch the massive ships go through and it’s not as easy as you would imagine. Each ship takes an enormous amount of man power and about 45 minutes of technical maneuvers to get these ships through the locks…Amazing.
I am going to go back and enjoy it there as often as possible while it’s still Central America’s best kept secret!
All Photos by Beautiful Day Photography.