Hi I’m Josias and welcome to my article on awesome things to do in Panama. Let me tell you a little bit about myself before we get started. I was born in Panama City. Yes I’m a city boy who’s heart is in the mountains and jungle.
My mom is from San Bartolo, a small town in the province of Veraguas. She was born in a really poor place and had to walk 2 hours with her sisters (without shoes) to get to school every day. She studied a lot and came to make a life in the city as a professional accountant.
She always wanted to show me and my siblings where she came from. So we usually go to her old house to spend weekends or holidays there without electricity, taking showers on the river, harvesting our food and walking hours to get somewhere.
When I was a child, my grandmother always put on Nat Geo TV and it blew my mind. I realized then that the world is a massive place and I’m just in this small country. I developed an incredible love for the sea and it’s depths, also dreaming about one day seeing the Northern Lights.
At 18 years of age, I started to travel around Panama with my partner. We also did a trip to Colombia and Costa Rica. Then I had this desire to travel all around the world. But first I decided to get to know my own country of Panama because I didn’t want to feel like a foreigner in my own land.
Afterwards that relationship ended and I started to travel alone in my Suzuki Jimny to unknown places in Panama. I would do hikes where nobody goes, chase beautiful waterfalls and sleep in my car next to beaches. Travelling alone is a great experience but sharing those experiences with friends is incredible too.
Then something important happened in my life. I was following Jackson Groves (an Aussie Instagrammer and blogger who takes amazing photos) and I realised he was in Panama looking for people to make a trip to Bayano Caves. I contacted him and he invited me to go with him.
It was an amazing experience. I also met a guy called Jerry on this trip who is now my best friend. Jerry was travelling in Panama as a tour guide. After Bayano Caves, we travelled together a few more times and also jumped on the Adventure Bag Movement with Jackson.
When Jackson left Panama, Jerry and I started to do more trips together in Panama. We would discover new places on the weekends and take people with us to more popular destinations. It was at this point that we decided to start a company: Travelling Souls.
The objective of our company, and tour agency, is to offer experiences to travellers that help the local people of the areas that we visit. Our mission is to show the most amazing places and wild experiences all around Panama. Now I feel like I know Panama like the back of my hand and I am ready to go out and conquer the world.
My Most Cherished Travel Memory
I have many stories and memories from dozens of places in two years of travelling in Panama. But I can tell you one experience. One time we were tired from work and a bit stressed so we decided to take a vacation to explore Calovebora – a small coastal town north of Veraguas in the Caribbean ocean.
Getting there was difficult. There were 5 of us in my Suzuki Jimny. We had to cross three rivers and traverse through some difficult terrain. We spent four days and three nights there totally disconnected from social media. Our car was parked on the beach and we slept in tents.
If we were thirsty we would climb a palm tree and grab a coconut. Sharing with the people of the town, fishing for food, travelling in boats on the river to explore nearby areas. It was amazing to see the beautiful sunrise on the beach every morning and play soccer with the young kids of the town. Overall, it was such a relaxing time.
Top 3 Beautiful Destinations in Panama
Bayano Caves is definitely my favorite place because everything starts there for me. I met amazing people there and the Embera Maje (an indigenous town) in Bayano Lake has a special place in my heart.
I love that people and the children are so lovely. They are always happy no matter how little they have. There lives Maria, my goddaughter. She always runs to me when I go there and always has a gift for me: a bracelet made of branches or some fruit and flowers that she picked especially for me.
And about the cave, it’s just amazing. When you are inside there is water up to your waist and the bats fly close to your head. Then the cave opens and a ray of light falls from the top of the cave. It’s one of my favourite spots to take photos. The light is just insane. At the end of the cave you have a natural pool where you can relax, swim and cliff jump.
Escudo de Veraguas island is another of my recommended places to visit and, for me, is the best island in Panama. It’s on the Caribbean ocean about 3 hours boat ride from the coast with nobody living there apart from fisherman.
It’s also home to the pygmy sloth which are animals unique to the island. The marine life is incredible. You can go snorkelling with all the fish, manta rays, turtles, starfish and coral. At night the sky is full of stars. It’s a place to disconnect from technology and connect with nature. The fisherman will tell you stories about spirits on the island too.
The final place I recommend in Panama is the waterfalls of Chame. In the Chame District we have Nativa, Manglarito, La Gloria, La Tuluvieja and Filipinas waterfalls. The Medina family owns the property where Nativa waterfall is located. But they are so lovely and Gladis is an amazing chef. Everyone loves to eat real Panamanian food there.
All those waterfalls are close to Panama city and are located perfectly for a day trip. The hikes are good but not difficult and the reward is at the end with the view of an amazing waterfall and also swimming inside.
Travel Tips for your Visit to Panama
If you are coming to Panama for a decent period (say 3-4 weeks) then I would recommend the following itinerary. Start from Panama City (as this is the only international airport in the country) and spend a couple of days experiencing Casco Antiguo, Panama Canal and Ancon Hill sunrise hike.
Then I recommend heading straight to San Blas Islands, followed by Bayano Caves, Anton Valley, Santa Fe, Santa Catalina (Coiba), Boquete and Bocas del Toro (Escudo de Veraguas and Colon Island). The best beaches in Panama can be found at Escudo de Veraguas, Calovebora and San Blas Islands (best beaches are on Cayos Holandeses).
A key feature of your trip to Panama will be the food. All tourists agree that Panamanian food is amazing. You have to try Patacones (crushed and fried plantain) with fish. BTW: In Panama we have the Guinness record of the biggest patacon in the world.
The weather can change in Panama fast so you have to be prepared for everything. It’s normally hot and humid in most places. For this reason, the best things to do in Panama are out of the city. I wouldn’t recommend spending more than two days in a city. Get outside and enjoy the adventure!
The Diverse People and Culture of Panama
The people from the city of Panama are much different than the rest of the country. Like all cities around the world, the people tend to be more stressed and running around with their own thoughts and timetables.
On the inside of the country there is a different story. The people are so kind and always say hello and want to help you. They are much more honest and respectful.
I always tell the story of when two of my friends from Germany left their bags on the road when we stopped on the way to Santa Fe. We went to have lunch and then realised that the bags were missing. When we went back we saw that the bags hadn’t moved from the road for 2 hours. All the people from the town passing by didn’t touch the bags.
What I love about the most of Panama is the diversity. We are a country of service, we are a potpourri of culture, and we have people from every part of the world because it’s a good country to live, retire and invest.
Thanks for reading my article on awesome things to do in Panama! I hope to see you here one day.