An itinerary for Panama to maximize your vacation!

Gina West, one of Apple Vacations’ Regional Sales Managers, recently returned from Panama. We were able to get her first impressions and now here is a sample itinerary that’s she suggests when visiting Panama:

First stop, Panama City… it’s actually two cities in one.  The historic area of “old” Panama City is experiencing a renaissance. The ornate architecture of decade old buildings are being painstakingly restored to their original condition.  Old Panama City is invitingly charming and yet eclectic with small boutiques, shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and gathering squares.  While it’s still a work in progress, witnessing its rebirth leaves visitors with a strong desire to return again and again.

The newer part of Panama City is home to over 80 world banks, many corporate headquarters and hotels. Dozens of skyscrapers have gone up just in the past 10 years! The city is host to countless corporate conventions in the dozens of trendy, chic sky-scraping hotels.  Currently the 80-story Trump Ocean Club Hotel is the tallest building in Panama City with magnificent views of the new skyline as well as old Panama and the ships in the distance waiting their turn to enter the Panama Canal. A visit or stay in Panama City is a must.  There’s so much to see and do, great restaurants to visit, quiet or upbeat bars and lounges. Stay in one of the hotels in the newer part of Panama City for two nights but be sure to visit both areas during your stay.

Next, head to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and the second lock of the Panama Canal is just a short 30 minute drive southeast of Panama City. The tranquil and serene Gamboa Rainforest Resort is located minutes from the Miraflores Lock (the second lock of the three that make up the Panama Canal). The All-Inclusive Gamboa Rainforest Resort, not yet 10 years old, possesses a casual elegance and charm that you feel the moment you arrive.  The panoramic view of the river and mountains gives this resort the look and feel of a spa retreat. Guests of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort unwind and relax as the pace is much slower than the pulse and energy of Panama City.  Treat yourself to this experience. The Gamboa Tarpen Club at the Panama Canal is connected to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Be sure to take the water tour into the canal which takes guests into the canal waterway and its surrounding tiny islands teeming with wildlife. This was my favorite part of my week in Panama. The tour guides on these small 10 passenger vessels are excellent and able to spot various species of wildlife that inhabit this area. Spending a few days at Gamboa Rainforest while in Panama is an absolute must.

Finally to complete your stay, plan on spending your last few nights at one of the beach resorts in Panama. There is a beach resort to fit every desire and budget. The Westin Playa Bonita is just 45 minutes southwest of Panama City. As you drive further south, the beaches of Panama get even better. From the understated luxury and elegance of the Panama Marriott Hotel to the charm and energy of the family friendly All Inclusive Royal Decameron, there are many great beach resort in Panama. Spending the last few days of your visit to Panama relaxing at the beach!   

There is so much to see and do in Panama, but the good news is it can be done in a week with a little planning. In fact, Apple Vacations offers a 7 night package that incorporates a little bit of each part of Panama. Spend some time with your travel agent to make sure your Panama vacation is the best fit for you. 

 I didn’t expect to fall in love with Panama as much as I did, but I did. Besides the diversity of what Panama offers, there was an intangible element of the Panama experience that I couldn’t quite put into words. I consulted Wikipedia and I found that intangible element. According to Wikipedia, in “a 2012 poll, it was reported that Panama City was the city with the happiest people in the world” – So there you have it! Perhaps the most compelling reason to visit Panama. 

Add Panama to your bucket list and visit the city with the happiest people in the world!

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Top 5 Travel Tips for traveling to Panama

As told by Ruth Daniels

I would consider myself a little bit of a “seasoned” traveler. I’ve been throughout the Caribbean Islands, to several vacation spots in Mexico, and the all over the U.S. So when I was thinking about going away, I definitely wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere a little more adventurous. My friends and I decided to go to Panama! I found that this booming Central American hotspot has much more going on than its namesake canal.

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations – The Westin Playa Bonita Panama

 

Here are my top 5 travel tips for going to this destination:

1.      Fly Non-Stop!

We left from DC where we flew out on Copa Airlines. It was a non-stop flight, which was really nice. They even had blankets and pillows and served meals on the plane! I can’t remember the last time I was on a flight that did that. It definitely added an unexpected touch of luxury.

2.      Private Transfers

For the convenience of Apple Vacations customers, all hotel bookings have private transfers included. Whether you are arriving at the airport or transferring between different hotels in our program, our local ground handler, Gamboa Tours, will provide a private air-conditioned transfer at a time requested by you. This makes booking a double (City & Beach) or triple center vacation (City, Rainforest & Beach) simpler and will ensure you get the most out of your vacation experience in Panama. It’s a really nice added touch, and one less thing to worry about while traveling.

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations – Trump Ocean Club Panama

3.      See everything! – Beach & City

We had heard through various contacts that the best way to experience Panama was to stay for a couple nights in the city, and then, spend a few nights at a beach hotel. The first 2 nights we spent at the Riu Panama Plaza. It’s in the financial district close to a lot of boutiques and shopping malls. I definitely came back with my bags a few pounds heavier! Our rooms were on the 17th floor and we had a breathtaking view of the city. From our hotel in Panama City we were less than 20 minutes from the Panama Canal and the Old City ruins. We went to Miraflores Locks and actually got to see a huge boat go through! It was neat to see the water levels change in the locks to get the boat through. The ruins were great too, because we got to see another historic side to Panama. Our last 2 nights were spent at the Sheraton Bijao where we spent some time on the gorgeous white sand beach and enjoyed the spa, bars and sun!

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations – Capuchin Monkey, Monkey Island Boat Tour

 4.      Monkeys!  (Technically, it’s the Monkey Island Boat Tour)

You can take a boat tour through secret waterways to find hidden islands where Capuchin monkeys and Howler monkeys can be seen leaping in the trees above! Occasionally, they become curious of visitors and venture down to take a closer look. This tour is roughly a ½ day and includes transportation, English-speaking guide and boat ride around the Gatun Lake.

 Last but not least…

 5.      The Panama Canal Tour

This tour begins at the Flamenco Resort and Marina. After a 45 minute motor coach ride to Gamboa, you will board a boat and enter the canal at Gaillard Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal. While traveling the Cut’s 8.5 miles, you will view the new Centennial Bridge. Next, enter Pedro Miguel Locks and then Miraflores Lake. Once in the Pacific Ocean, sail to the Flamenco Marina and disembark. On the way, pass under the Bridge of the Americas. Admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s splendorous skyline. The ½ day tour includes round-trip transportation, bilingual guide, Panama Canal transit with all fees, lunch on board, soft drinks and water. The full day tour includes in addition to the partial transit, you will enjoy a trip through Gatun Lake, which was formed by erecting the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River.

Now you can see why Panama is a top destination for adventurists, eco-tourists, history buffs, beach lovers, families and romantics.  What are you waiting for?!? Go find your paradise in Panama!

 

*Apple Vacations Representatives are provided by Gamboa Tours DMC, an independent destination management company operating in Panama and providing services to Apple Vacationers. All prices are per person in U.S. dollars. Prices and excursions subject to change without notice. Excursions operated by local independent suppliers. Some require physical activity. Please consider the nature of the excursion to ensure it is appropriate for your age and physical condition.

 

 

Panama – One of the hottest places to vacation in 2012!

In what country can you go for an early -morning surf in the Pacific ocean, then have a leisurely breakfast gazing at the Caribbean Sea, about an hour away? You can only accomplish this in Panama!

Panama is home to a sleek city, hundreds of picturesque, deserted islands, densely forested wilderness, active volcanoes and exotic wildlife. A variety of activities are popular in Panama including world – class fishing, surfing, kayaking, jungle and mountain trekking, rappelling and white-water rafting.

Salomón Shamah Minister of Tourism of Panama, Tim Mullen, President of Apple Vacations with Kate Murphy from Wings Travel Group and Ernesto Orillac   Vice Minister of Tourism at the Philadelphia event.

I spent the past few days attending roadshows across the East coast of the U.S. where the Minister of Tourism personally came to meet some of Apple Vacations’ key travel agency accounts, as well as our own staff, to extol the virtues of Panama. He brought along many government officials and hotel representatives as well. I have to say I was very impressed.

Many people think of Panama as just the canal used for transport, and that is true, but the canal is a tourist destination itself.  Panama also has a region for every Apple Vacationer if you want a city, beach or even a rainforest vacation. 

Panama City is sleek and very modern with the backdrop of history.  It is a thriving cosmopolitan city blending contemporary buildings, cobblestone streets and Spanish architecture from centuries long ago.  The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower Panama is an architectural masterpiece in Panama City.  

If you are a beach person, looking for a new beach destination, Panama’s beaches will not disappoint! They have hosted world surfing championships.  The resorts include many well – known names including The Westin, Sheraton and Royal Decameron. 

If you want adventure and majestic beauty then head for the rainforest, where another region with spectacular resorts within Panama’s exquisite natural beauty can be found. 

And, if you can’t decide and want to experience every aspect of Panama, then look no further than the Apple Vacations 7 night highlight tour

But don’t just take it from me, The New York Times named Panama one of THE places to visit in 2012. New York Times – Travel  and Travel & Leisure named Panama one of the hottest travel destinations of 2012. So go ahead, take a look at Panama for your next Apple Vacation.

Panama for Families!

18Gamboa Rainforest Resort (Inclusive). If I was traveling with kids to Panama this would be my choice of hotel. Only ½ hour drive from Panama City brings you into the heart of the rainforest just minutes from the Canal. It has the feel of a really upscale lodge and is set right in the middle of the Soberania National Park. It is reminiscent of a Disney themed property. The rooms are large with a rustic feel and large glass windows that overlook the property and swimming pools.  Some have 2 twin beds and a loft bedroom with a king bed accessed by a circular metal staircase. The bathrooms are nicely appointed and done in white and blue tile. There is internet access, a library, and family’s activities room as well as a world class spa. There are 3 restaurants with the highlight being the Chagres River View, which offers fine dining and an extensive selection of wines. The highlight of the property however is the numerous optional excursions offered by the resort, which include biking, boat tours and aerial tram views of the rainforest and canal. The hotel has a tour desk which co-ordinates all of its excursions.

I did the following tours:

221Monkey Island Tour
Clients travel by boat thru the canal in search of regional wildlife such as alligators, caimans and monkeys. You are escorted by a naturalist guide and are able to observe Capuchin and Howler monkeys at a very close range as they often jump on the roof of the boat. This tour would be great for kids.

Lunch at Los Lagartos Restaurant/Gamboa Resort
The Las Lagartos Restaurant is in a unique setting at the marina with a terrace overlooking the water where you can view turtles, caiman and fish from the dock while you are eating. The menu consists of normal sandwich/hamburger fare as well as locally caught fish. Food and service were both excellent.

monkeyAriel Tram
Clients travel the rainforest canopy in a tram up to an observation tower where they have incredible views of the Canal and Chagres River. You are able to see monkeys and exotic birds both on the way up and down. After the tram trip you are taken by the naturalist to a butterfly farm, an orchid farm, a reptile house and a small aquarium with indigenous fish and turtles from the surrounding area.

Also available at the Gamboa Resort are kayaks, fishing excursions, hiking tours, bird watching, boat tours on the Chagres River and safari night excursions.

Dinner.
We dined at Chagres Riverview Restaurant at the Gamboa Resort. This is their fine dining restaurant. Menu consisted of typical continental fare as well as locally caught seafood. They have an extensive wine list. Food and service were excellent.

Playa Bonitas Inclusive Hotel

rainforestPlaya Bonitas Inclusive Hotel. This hotel is strategically located on a quiet peninsula about 15 minutes from downtown, surrounded by rainforest. The lobby is air-conditioned and is reminiscent of the Marriott in Cancun or the Riu Palace Las Americas. Very elegant and upscale with marble flooring, crystal chandeliers and sweeping vistas of the ocean. The property itself is shaped like a huge U with all rooms facing the ocean. It is spread out but manageable. There are 3 fairly large free form pools in the center of the property as well as a wonderful 10, 000sq foot spa (Bonita Del Mar) and gym. The property is not all-inclusive, but offers a variety of meal plans. There are 3 restaurants including the Lighthouse restaurant for fine dining in a gorgeous setting. The rooms are spacious and mostly white with pops of bright colors. The rooms all have a view of the ocean and have the usual amenities of flat screen TV, mini bar and internet. The beach here is swimmable per the GM but is nearly nonexistent during high tide. During low tide the ocean retreats almost 2 football fields leaving a large mucky area. The hotel has a kids club, which they are looking at expanding. This hotel has the best of both worlds, a quiet, pristine setting but only minutes from the city. With the addition of a few more amenities (another dining option perhaps) this could easily be a 6 Apple resort.

Playa Blanca Part 2

Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca

I had lunch and toured the all-inclusive Playa Blanca. The hotel has a casual feel with a rather nondescript open-air front desk and lobby. The buildings are large and painted white which gives the property a stark but Mediterranean feel. The hotel grounds look a bit older but appeared fairly active. The rooms were modern and done in neutral tones. FYI — the Jr. suites are differently designed — long and narrow with a sitting room as you walk in — strange use of space. There are 2 large free form pools with a separate kid’s pool. There were a lot of dining options (5) and bars including an open-air disco, which was modeled after the deck of an old sailboat. We had lunch at Maki Sushi right on the beach. Food and service were excellent. The beach here is white sand — very wide and very long — really beautiful — I felt like I was in Riviera Maya (almost).

Visit at the Solarium Coronado Beach is a new high rise built on Coronado Beach, the area where many Americans are retiring.  This facility is part hotel and part privately owned units much like the Whaler in Hawaii. The first 5 floors are hotel rooms, which are bright and airy units with kitchens — great for families with kids. (There is a grocery store nearby) This property is EP (no meals) with a small restaurant and bar in the lobby. The main pool is built on a tiered terrace overlooking the sea and would be the perfect place for destination weddings. The view from the top floor that houses the health club and an additional pool is nothing short of stunning. One can do a complete 360 and see the mountains, the coast, and as far away as Panama City. The beach in front of the property is almost a black sand beach and very narrow during high tide. While I liked the look and atmosphere of this hotel very much, the fact that it has only 31 rooms and only 1 dining option makes it much less desirable for a typical Apple Vacationer.

Drive to Playa Blanca

Breezes Playa Blanca

Breezes Playa Blanca

The drive to Playa Blanca was approximately 1 and ½ hours on great highway through scenic areas. It went quickly and was very enjoyable. I checked into Breezes and strolled the property. First impression of the Playa Blanca area — This is definitely what Apple Vacationers are used to when looking for a “sun” destination.  The beach itself is on par with the likes of Riviera Nayarit. The sand is lighter but the color of water is a darker blue as most Pacific beaches tend to be. They do have occasional rip currents and most beaches have lifeguards. Interesting note — because of the way the land curves you can actually see the sun rise over the water on the Pacific coast in this area. The hotel appeared full and was active with families. The first children I’d seen at any hotel in several days! I had dinner at the a la carte Japanese restaurant called Munason. It consisted of the typical tapenyaki/sushi fare. The restaurant tries to seat clients into English and Spanish speaking tables because they seat ten. Food was ok, service excellent.

Breezes Playa Blanca

Breezes Playa Blanca

The hotel is a higher standard than some of the other Breezes properties I have visited.  It is shaped like a U and is compact and easy to maneuver. The open-air lobby is at the top of an incline and offers sweeping views of the pools and beach below. The rooms are spacious and were well appointed with flat screen TVs, iPod docking stations and stocked mini bars. The décor is bright and tropical. The entire hotel itself feels very light and airy. There are 2 a la carte restaurants in addition to the buffet and snack bar (Japanese and Italian). I spoke with clients staying at the resort and most commented on the good service level. There is a kids club and teen center and the hotel appears very active. Good for families and young people. The pool is 3 tiered and houses a large Jacuzzi near the snack bar at the beach. They serve hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos etc.  There is a swim up pool bar.  As I mentioned before the beach is long and quite beautiful.

Royal Decameron

Royal Decameron

I also visited the Royal Decameron which is all-inclusive. This property is so large all guest should receive a map and flare gun upon check in!  It is built parallel to the beach so you are never too far from the water. Also, each section has its own pool, snack bar and restaurants nearby — so you don’t have far to walk for a drink or to grab a bite to eat. They often tend to put families in one section, couples in another etc. The entire resort is built on a fairly steep incline, so those booking an ocean view room should keep in mind that they will have an uphill walk consisting of a lot of stairs back to their room. This is definitely a full service hotel and the type of resort our clients are used to as far as amenities go i.e. 10 restaurants 9 pools, 11 bars, a casino, a spa, shops etc. The rooms themselves are moderate and locally decorated with a Panamanian flair. Nice spa facility. The disco is open air and located at the end of the property to keep the noise away from the rooms. The beach is long and wide and the sand in this area appears very white. The hotel offers a lot of palapas and tented chairs for shade on the beach.  There is a convention center on property. This hotel also has a section of independently owned vacation villas located on a golf course across the street. The 18-hole course is well maintained and designed by Randall Thomson. This would be a great group hotel option and suitable for families, singles and couples.