Day 1: Panama City
Pulsing with the lively beat of history yet completely contemporary and cosmopolitan, Panama’s capital gives travelers a vast array of culture, adventure and leisure activities, including the most famous of its landmarks— the iconic Panama Canal. Panama City also is home to many additional landmarks worth a visit and is home to stellar restaurants, rich culture and abundant street vendors that create an energy found nowhere else on Earth.
During your stay in this historic city, founded in the early 1500s, you’ll find out for yourself why Condé Nast Traveler consistently has named The Bristol Hotel one of the Top 10 Hotels in Latin America and the Best Hotel in Panama. This legendary hotel is located in an historic mansion in the midst of dining, shopping and culture, but still manages to be intimate and upscale. It also is worth noting that the hotel’s on-site fine dining restaurant, Salsipuedes, is famous for celebrating the spirit of Panama’s cheerful and spicy culture. You don’t want to miss a meal here!
Today, you’ll arrive to Panama and check into Bristol Hotel.
Day 2: Colon & The Canal
You’ll begin by embarking on a train trip on the historic railway to Colon. This one-hour trip winds alongside the Panama Canal and through the jungle en route to the Caribbean seaport of Colon (sometimes called Panama’s second city). Although the rail line was completed in 1855, it wasn’t acquired by the French Panama Canal Company until 1880 to help with the construction of the Canal. By 1904, Americans had purchased the lines and continued its operation until Panama privatized and renewed the lines in 1998; however, the lines were not fully passable again until 2001. Today, this beautiful trip is a unique experience.
After arriving in Colon, you will take a private drive with your guide to the port of Portobelo to explore a ruin complex in the midst of tropical jungle, including castles, military bases and fortresses. Once a gathering point for Peruvian treasures and a center of inspection for goods from Spain, today Portobelo is a historical excursion you won’t want to miss.
Once you’ve enjoyed some time in the Portobelo ruins, you’ll continue with your guide to an Embera Indian Village along Rio Gatun. The Embera are one of seven indigenous tribes living in Panama. You’ll arrive at the village after a short boat ride down the river and will be greeted at the pier by the tribe. The chief will talk to you about the history of the tribe, as well as its culture, traditions, beliefs and handicrafts before you’re served a traditional lunch (fish and plantains) by the Embera women. After lunch, you’ll enjoy a traditional dance and have the chance to shop for crafts in the village. The sale of all local products pays for schools fees for the village children. Don’t forget to get a temporary Embera tattoo painted on your arm or leg before you head back to The Bristol for a relaxing evening.
Day 3: Azuero Peninsula
On day three of your Panama Nature and Culture tour, you’ll head out to see more of the wonders of Panama on a privately-guided drive into the Azuero Peninsula. Leaving Panama City, you’ll cross the Bridge of the Americas and set out on the PanAmerican Highway with a view of the Pacific Ocean almost the whole way. Today, you’re heading to the small village of Pedasi, but you’ll see more wonders along the way:
In the Cocle Province, you’ll find the traditional and religious Nata, where you’ll find the oldest church on the American continent— Basilica de Santiago Apostol. It was built in 1522 and is considered Panama’s most important Colonial religious structure.
The day will wind to a relaxing close at the beachfront Playa Venao Hotel Resort. This unique resort is situated on a pristine stretch of shoreline that is entirely surrounded by native wildlife and rolling hillsides. It is infused with the essence of Panama and its people.
After a day of travel, relax on your private balcony for amazing views of the gardens and Pacific, take a dip in the refreshing Infinity pool, take a stroll along the beach or treat yourself to the culinary excellence of the Playa Venao Hotel Resort Restaurant and catch the glistening sunset!
Day 4: Azuero Peninsula
Often recognized as the “cultural heart of Panama,” the Azuero Peninsula is a traditional region where the people live their folklore and culture proudly and celebrate it throughout the year with numerous festivities. Today, you’ll set out on a private-guided tour to discover up close the beautiful hand-crafted detail and hands-on manufacturing processes of the region’s most important products.
You’ll begin by visiting an elder lady who has dedicated her life to the traditional dress of Panamanian women. Here, you’ll see firsthand why the pollera is thought to be one of the most beautiful costumes in the world. Next, you’ll visit a variety of small studios housing local artists who make drums, golden ornaments and even colorful devil’s masks. All are part and parcel of traditional Panamanian culture.
As the afternoon winds to a close, you’ll discover the manufacturing processes of Herrara Province products, including bread, clay, salt, sugarcane and two local liquors (run and seco). See the extraction of salt from the ocean, experience the distillation and bottling of sugarcane, learn about the production of hand-crafted clay pottery and help bake the renowned La Arena bread. When you’re ready, your guide will take you back to Playa Venao for a relaxing free evening at the beach.
Day 5: Chiriqui, David & Boquete
Today, you’ll head along the PanAmerican Highway away from the beach and toward Chiriqui for what is one of the most amazingly scenic drives in the whole country. Along the way, you’ll stop to see two more Panamanian wonders, including a local church in the charming hamlet of San Francisco, which is a beautifully-restored example of classic Baroque architecture and natural wonder of Los Cangilones de Gualaca. This special rock formation found along the Esti River resulted from the last eruption of Volcan Baru (thousands of years ago) to form huge pools that look almost manmade. You’ll definitely want to stop for a swim in the crystal clear waters of this special place.
Untouched and remote, Chiriqui packs a million landscapes into one pretty small region. Here, you’ll find Panama’s longest rivers, most fertile valleys and tallest mountains, as well as spectacular highland rainforests, tropical isles and a two behemoth National Marine Parks, Coiba National Park and the Gulf of Chiriqui Marine National Park. Thanks in large part to its variety of landscapes, Chiriqui is noted as one of the most important ecological regions in all of Central America.
When you arrive in Chiriqui’s Boquete, you’ll be treated to a private coffee tour at Hotel Finca Lerida, which was built the Norwegian countryside style familiar to its original owner. Finca Lerida was among the first to export Panamanian coffee and is thought to have begun the area’s reputation as a fine coffee producer. It is located at 5,500 feet above sea level on the rolling foothills of Volcan Baru, providing rich volcanic soil and fantastic weather that creates the optimal conditions for growing premium coffee. As you tour the grounds and processing facilities, you’ll learn about the growing process, the economics of indigenous labor and culture, what they really think about Starbucks, the shade-grown theory for a better bean and healthier environment, and more. You’ll finish the tour by sampling different flavors, strengths and roasts at the source.
When the tour is done, you’ll be driven to the Panamonte Inn & Spa, where you’ll discover historic ambiance, quintessential charm and an incomparable reputation for excellent service and gracious hospitality.The Panamonte Hotel is a delightfully memorable retreat that has a past hosting VIPs from diplomats and the business elite to politicians and celebrities. Today, the hotel and the town attract explorers, adventurers and nature lovers to its eco-centric property.
Day 6: Chiriqui, David & Boquete
After a delicious breakfast at Panamonte, you’ll begin a private half-day tour of the breathtaking cloud forest. You’ll start at the Falling Waters Nature Reserve to retrace the steps of pre-Colombian natives into the remote virgin cloud forest on the border of Volcan Baru National Park. The trail you’ll take meanders along the gorgeous Quebrada La Boquete Creek and through the valleys and ridges rising above Boquete. Here, you’ll find several hundred bird species that are native to the area, including the ever elusive Resplendent Quetzal. During this trek, you’ll see rare birds and beautiful waterfalls that provide an excellent opportunity to re-invigorate with a rejuvenating shower. You’ll enjoy a picnic lunch along the way.
When you return to Panamonte, we suggest making time for a meal at the award-winning on-site gourmet restaurant called one of Central America’s best by Condé Nast Traveller.
Day 7: Chiriqui, David & Boquete
Today, is a free day in the Panamanian Highlands and the remote Chiriqui province. You’re free to do as little, or as much, as suits your mood, but here are some of our favorite local activities:
Visit the La Amistad International Park, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site where it’s possible to spot 500+ species of tropical birds along the trails.
Enjoy a day of snorkeling, diving, kayaking or just chilling out at one of two National Marine Parks— Coiba National Park and the Gulf of Chiriqui Marine National Park.
Hike alpine-like Volcan Baru or set out on one of the more adventurous activities in this area, including whitewater rafting, zip lining or horseback riding.
Plan a cultural excursion to one of the several indigenous villages nearby to learn more about local history, culture and art.
Day 8: Bocas del Toro
After your last breakfast at Panamonte, you’ll drive with your guide through the Highlands and down to the Caribbean Coast to Almirante. Here, you’ll board a boat to Boas del Toro, where you’ll leave behind mainland life in lieu of a charming Caribbean archipelago whose amazing landscapes and chilled out ambiance will leave you totally refreshed.
There’s no better place to explore the magic of the islands than from the island of Colon and, perhaps, the liveliest and friendliest property there - Hotel Bocas del Toro. The Hotel is a member of Boutique Hotels & Resorts International and is an eco-friendly gem with historic ambiance, simple elegance and colorful whimsy in a prime waterfront locale.
Today, you’ll make the private transfer to Bocas del Toro and check into Hotel Bocas del Toro. If you have the time and inclination, the hotel offers a fairly expansive array of adventure and culture excursions to choose from, and we’re happy to add those on to the trip for you. You won’t want to miss the beauty of the surrounding ecosystem with its national marine preserve and rainforest where you’ll find sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, sloths, monkeys, dart frogs and much more. Or, simply grab a bite and relax at the hotel’s open air restaurant and fun bar.
Day 9: Bocas del Toro
It’s day 9 of your amazing Panama vacation, and you’ll begin your private full-day tour with a brief boat ride to Dolphin Bay. Here, you’ll get an up-close view of dolphins playing in their natural habitat. Next, you’ll head out to Coral Key, where you’ll explore two different snorkeling locations before enjoying lunch at an over-water restaurant with stunning views of the islands.
After lunch, you’ll spent the afternoon at one of the premier beaches in all of the region— Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos. You’ll have until the late afternoon to relax here where the world is designed by nature and you’re surrounded by a private island sanctuary.
When you return to Bocas Town in the evening, why not hit the town to find out how the locals spend their free time?
Day 10: Bocas del Toro
There’s plenty to do in the “Mouth of the Bull,” so we’ve saved time for a free day in the islands. Whether you want to pack in more exciting adventures or practice the fine art of doing nothing at all, there’s no better place than Bocas to kick off those shoes and immerse yourself in island time.
We’re happy to book additional tours for you, including SCUBA diving, standup paddle boarding, more snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and more. Of course, there also are plenty of locally-owned shops to explore and hunt for souvenirs.
Day 11: Panama City
After breakfast in the morning, your guide will pick you up for a private transfer to the local airstrip and your return domestic flight to Panama City. When you arrive back in Panama City, you’ll begin a tour of the city where you’ll note the truly dichotomous nature of the capital city. First, you’ll see skyscrapers and mansions before witnessing a traditional market and the Old Quarter of Casa Antiguo with its old historical buildings and churches. Next, you’ll venture down the Amador Causeway to the Miraflores Visitor’s Center. Here, you’ll find a wonderful vantage point to witness huge vessels being lowered and lifted into the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal.
During your last night in Panama, you’ll find a unique respite at Las Clementinas hotel. Located in the heart of the Casco Viejo UNESCO Site, the hotel is mere steps from some of South America’s most important historical landmarks. Originally built as apartments in the 1930s, the hotel guest suites are spacious and well decorated, with full kitchen, queen bed and access to the roof top terrace and recently discovered gardens.
Spend your last evening people watching at the lobby bar and café, or venture out into the vibrant city to experience some of its one-of-a-kind nightlife.
Day 12: Departure from Panama City
After your last breakfast in Panama, you’ll take a private transfer back Panama’s Tocumen International Airport for the return flight home.