Panama is an incredible city inside an incredible country. Like New York it’s so nice they named it twice.
But today, I don’t want to write about Panama City, I want you to take a journey with me across the bay to the Island of Taboga.
What’s there to do in Taboga? Not much – and that is part of the charm. Ice cold beers, perfect beaches, warm seas to swim in and incredible locals to catch up with. It is an island without “stuff” it is simply a place to experience. A small town on a small rock in the middle of an incredible body of water.
Grab the ferry from Amador Causeway and in 30 magical minutes you are stepping off on a pier in paradise. After the speed and noise of Panama City you will struck by the calm nature of Taboga. It envelopes you, draws you in and you literally end up feeling your stress melt away (or, if you’re a guy like me who looks like he’s wearing a 50lbs weight belt, it could be the Panamanian humidity causing you to feel like your skin is melting away).
You can go to Taboga for the day, swim in the water, drink the ridiculously cheap and tasty local beer and lounge on the beach. That in and of itself is worth the trip. But, what I love is spending the night. If you have the chance to stay, hit Cerrito Tropical up. They are a small B&B with big charm, delicious food and awesome, downhome style service. They simply can’t be beat.
Watch the sunset, and experience a stunning view back towards the city. Lookout over the water and feel the cool breeze as the darkness takes over the sky and the stars shine brighter than you can imagine.
As night takes over the island a calm sets in. The birds become quiet and the sounds of frogs and other night critters take over. It’s an interesting transition to behold, coupled with the intense darkness that is experienced.
As an aside, we visited Contadora Island, known for the Survivor Pearl Island’s, and experienced the similar darkness, but it lacked the charm of Taboga. Instead we were left sitting staring out at the black void of the sea and hearing the crashing of waves. It turned creepy rather than peaceful. I’m not sure how to define the difference, but I think it is the small town charm of Taboga versus the isolation of Contadora.
Waking on Taboga is done to the call of birds and the rise of the sun, bringing the island to fresh life. To witness the sunrise is breathtaking. Or so I’ve been told. Did I mention the cheap beers up top? Yeah – they are cheap at night too, and after the heat of a Panamanian day, you are going to drink too many of them, and you are going to miss the sunrise. So, make sure you enjoy the sunset and maybe take a video and play it in reverse.
Leaving Taboga isn’t easy. Getting on the ferry brings with it a feeling of returning to the strains of life, particularly as you watch the dominant skyline of Panama City approach for so much of the trip. But, like the shock to the system that the peacefulness of Taboga has, the instant rhythm and pull of city life draws you back in to its charms. Panama City has many charms, it is intoxicating and beautiful. But like a sailor on shore leave, make sure you enjoy responsibly, bring a friend, and befriend a trusted local. Cause when you get this combination of factors in a city like Panama your night gets filled with over the top, WTF just happened, no one will ever believe this happened excitement. Especially if you bring a guy named Mark.
Things to see and do:
Panama City –
See the canal – if you are not easily impressed, it will impress you. If you don’t see it people will think you’re an idiot for not seeing the PANAMA Canal while in PANAMA.
Go check out the butterflies at Gamboa, it’s cool. You can also ride the gondola through the treetop of the rainforest. Also cool, unless you are scared of heights like me and then it is a death grip ride through snake infested trees anticipating your death for what seems like hours. Others would describe it as a stunning vista surrounded by nature.
Hit the old City – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it deserves the recognition. It’s stunning, raw and gorgeous
You’ve got to hit Veneto Casino late in the evening. Keep your wits about you and prepare to see a hilarious mixture of people. It will be a delightful evening of chatting with friendly prostitutos to somewhat friendly drug lords to degenerates and folks on vacation who have not a clue what is happening around them. If you want a serious game of blackjack with a Colonel who could kill you with one look this is the place to be after 1am (again see reference to crazy guy named Mark).
But above all – take the island ferry when you’re done and spend a few days recovering. Because after a day or two in Panama, you’re going to need some R&R.