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What’s Hot in Panama: Beyond the Canal and into Tropical Paradise

canal panama

The Panama Canal; all photos by Laurie Carr

Panama is on the Hottest Destinations List for 2012 for the New York Times, Travel & Leisure and National Geographic Traveler. So when Laurie Carr, who blogs at Elements of Decor, told me she went there for her New Year’s holiday, I was very excited to hear all about it and gain some insight as to why Panama is so hot right now.

sloth panama

What a sloth!

paradise panamaLaurie’s blog is all about “interior design with an international flair” and she finds lots of inspiration from her travels — especially from this most recent one to Panama, where she delighted in “vivid colors, exquisite and unspoiled flora and fauna and an uplifting, peaceful environment.” And I find a lot of inspiration from Laurie, as she and her husband brought their three kids ( ages 4, 7, 9) on this adventurous trip to the Bocas del Toro region in northeast Panama.

The archipelago of Bocas del Toro, consists of six densely forested islands including Isla Bastimentos Marine National Park. “Think palm-fringed islands, white sand beaches, pristine Caribbean water, mangroves, rainforests and an extensive coral reef ecosystem everywhere on the archipelago. Low-key development helps preserve the authenticity and laid back atmosphere of the area,” says Laurie.

Of course, that is quite a contrast to Panama City, where Laurie and her family spent the first night and the last night of their vacation. They managed to squeeze in an excursion to the famous Panama Canal where they saw the huge ships pass through the locks. (The already massive Panama Canal is currently in the early stage of a multibillion-dollar expansion.) This is one attraction you absolutely can’t miss.

isla san cristobal

Dolphin Bay Hideaway in Isla San Cristobal

The Carr family needed to spend at least one night in Panama City both ways because they were flying in direct from JFK and then wanted to go onto the tropical paradise of Bocas del Toro, which requires a one-hour domestic flight, and the timing didn’t work to do the flights on the same days.

bird central americaAnd once they got to the center Bocas del Toro, their hotel on the Island of San Cristobal required a 20-minute boat ride from the trendy yet laid-back Bocas Del Toro town that attracts young wealthy Panamanians looking to get away from it all.

This wasn’t your typical relaxing beach vacation, Laurie warns. “This is a destination is for nature lovers who enjoy insects, bird watching and are not afraid of mosquito bites and poisonous frogs.” The Dolphin Bay Hideaway is indeed hidden away, a small rustic resort where they spotted a sloth, toucan, boa constrictor, tarantula, eagle, capibara, caiman and tons of birds. There are about 900 bird species and it seemed like a fair amount of them hung out in Isla San Cristobal.

And, yes, she did all of this (fishing, touring a cocoa farm, snorkeling, night-hiking in the rain forest) with three kids. But she says they’re easy to travel with: “They are used to traveling on airplanes, they love snorkeling, boating and seeing animals and plants etc. They’re adventurous with food as well.”

Read more about Laurie’s trip on her blog, Elements of Decor.

2 Responses to What’s Hot in Panama: Beyond the Canal and into Tropical Paradise

  1. Sophie
    Twitter: SophieR
    February 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    We sailed through the Panama Canal a year ago and I’ve been curious to go back and explore that slightly mysterious country. Thanks for the tips here.
    Sophie recently posted..High Tea at the Old Cataract in Aswan

  2. wandering educators
    Twitter: WanderingEds
    February 4, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    oh i’d love to go – excellent tips! thank you!
    wandering educators recently posted..Learning a Language Enhances your Travels

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