One Canal, 379 Islands, and Uber: My 48th Birthday in Panama

I know it’s been a minute since I blogged, but it’s safe to say I have gone through some MAJOR life changes in the first two quarters of 2019. I will spare my Travel Junkies and Wanderlust of my “Transformation” and focus solely on Panama.

First off, as my diehard followers know, July 21st is my birthday, and each year, I find a Caribbean or beach location, to allow me time to reset and commune with GOD. Again, it’s something about the water.


I originally was supposed to go to Brazil and HAD secured a fantastic deal but was asked by a friend if they could join me I TOLD her NO!! Everyone knows this is my YEARLY Solo Trip. She would not relent, so against my tradition, I gave in, I mean HEY it’s been a challenging year. Unfortunately, with the slightest delay, you know you can lose a DEAL, and so Brazil was no longer in my budget. So back to the drawing board, and the travel pointer landed on Panama, and yes, my friend came along.


Here were some things I researched before arrival. July is rainy season/offseason, so the price was reasonable. Although rainy season, it only rains for a brief amount of time, and it’s almost predictable around lunchtime, so don’t let that stop you from going in July. Spanish is the “preferred” language, so you better brush up on it. I am proud to say, I speak it better than I comprehend, but I knew we would be OK. Trust me, they will kindly ask you to speak Spanish and rightfully so. Many did not speak English except for those in the hospitality, tour, and restaurant industries. There is always a translation app. They accept the US Dollar, and most credit cards were approved; I will tell you the glitch with American Express though later in this blog. The flights to Panama on Delta are early morning and early evening. I realized that the stormy rain generally occurs in the early afternoon EVERYDAY, so this made sense. Our direct flight out of Atlanta was delayed by two hours, so we didn’t arrive until 1:00 AM CST. We had booked through Expedia, so our Hotel and Transportation were  already arranged, and our driver was friendly and there with a sign at the time of morning. 😊


We stayed at the Wyndham Panama Albrook Mall. Although a 30-minute drive from the airport and fifteen-minute drive from downtown, it was in the MALL!!!! so let’s just say, it was a win-win. It also came with a rooftop pool, two restaurants, free breakfast, and a Starbucks right outside in the mall parking lot. Not to mention the Food Court had everything from American Cuisine to Spicy Latin, and there was a Casino in the mall as well. We walked to the supermarket which you can reach without even going outside as it is attached to the hotel. There is a refrigerator in the room and a microwave on the main level.


Day One: As always, we do the Hop on Hop off Bus to get a lay of the land. The cost was $35 for two-days. There is a running joke of the bus is on Panamanian time (they are laid back, and the bus was NEVER on time) The bus was also a two-hour loop, so it allowed us to see where we would want to go on our own. We stayed on board and still got amazing pictures and even greater notes.


Friday Evening, we did the Panama Bar Crawl. So we hopped in an Uber and headed over to Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is also known as Old Town in Panama City. Here is the historic district of Panama City, and it has incredible views of Panama City. Wear comfortable shoes as there were a few hills and a lot of cobblestones. Casco Viejo is unique in that you can walk down one street and it looks like Italy, the next China, then Columbia, and Bourbon Street in New Orleans. For $25, you get together with total strangers in Casco Viejo to explore four bars – one club – five drinks – and a WHOLE LOTTA Fun. I guess because it was my birthday weekend, the group that showed up was 18 of us, 13 of which looked like me and was from DC, Atlanta, New York, etc. and Man oh Man did we cut up. Two of the bars were swanky and had rooftops, and the scene was GROWN & Sexy. The skyline looks like Miami. One of the rooftop selections was Tantalo. They are listed as one of the BEST in Panama, and the group left the rooftop and ended up ordering dinner downstairs at the restaurant. The portions were massive, and not one complaint was had. I would highly suggest you add this to your “MUST DO”, even if you don’t drink, trust me; the folks complained the drinks were not at all strong. But this is a place you may want to come back to just for dinner, or during the week when the rooftop isn’t as crowed.

Day Two: We took advantage of the mall and UBER. Uber is AMAZINGly cheap. I promise the most I ever paid was $5, and that was a 17-mile drive. Most of our trips were $3-4 So with that, we opted not to use our second day free on the Hop-on Hop-Off, and just Uber back to Casco Viejo. As I mentioned above, there is so much distinction from street to street, bring your camera, and prepare for some wholesale shopping. I got a Panama Hat for $2 in one of the wholesale shops in a section that looked like Chinatown.

Now that you have worked up an appetite, you can walk less than six blocks and dodge traffic to visit the Fish Market called Mercado de Marisco. This is a Seafood lover’s paradise. I do NOT like seafood, but thoroughly enjoyed the free tour, and the English speaking “unofficial tour guide” whose sole purpose was to get you to visit the restaurant that he was assigned to. He provided an overview of the restaurants, a free sample of Ceviche (I am assuming from the restaurant he worked for) and then took us to the “actual” fish market. There were aisles and aisles of seafood, and since it was the weekend, the locals were shopping and buying it up. You can’t get any fresher than this, according to my friend this was the best ceviche she has ever tasted! I trust her since she devoured both hers and mine. If you can get past the smell, this is an adventure in itself.


That evening I ventured over to downtown to meet a friend I spotted on Instagram that was also in Panama City. Her hotel was gorgeous and had multiple rooftop areas. They had the Manny Pacquiao fight on a projector, great music, and with a glass of wine and even greater conversation; it made for a fantastic start to my birthday. At 5:00 AM, yes you read right, I hopped back in an uber to my hotel. I love to travel and even more encouraging, and uplifting conversation from people that “get it.”

Day three: my birthday, we booked a trip to Isla Taboga “Island of Flowers.” This trip was $65/person which included a roundtrip via speedboat (took about 30 minutes), two chairs, one umbrella, an English-speaking tour guide once we arrived, lunch of fish or chicken a drink and dessert and scuba diving gear. Yes, we took uber there, and because there was an event going on Sunday, the premium cost was $7 each way. It does not rain in Taboga, and the temperature and water were perfect. Be prepared to pay 50 cents to use the restroom, and $2 if you want to shower, but other than that it was a carefree day. There was a lady giving massages, but by the time I wrinkled up and got out the water she was gone. As a FYI, Saturday is the worse day to go to the beach as the locals get there early and populate it. Sunday was a close second, but the tour guide found a less populated area with a great view. It rained on the way back but stopped by the time we arrived in Panama City. The uber wait was over 30 minutes because of the events going on down the pier.


Day Four: we shopped at the mall, and let’s say the 70% off at Adidas every day pushed my luggage to the limit. And this was not an outlet, so the digs we purchased were brand new. We hit the casino, had lunch for $7 (by the way we ate at this same pizza shop every day for lunch when we were local) at the mall. For that same $7/day we got a medium pepperoni pizza and a 20-ounce coca-cola to share, that pizza was so good!!! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We attempted to chill at the rooftop pool, but the pool was packed, so we just laid out on the rooftop on the furniture in preparation for day five.


Day five: we did a tour to San Blas Island. San Blas Islands are made up of 378 islands about 49 of them are inhabitable. We used San Blas Island tours, which was rated #1 with trip advisor., the cost was $120/person RT which included picking us up at our hotel, the 2.5 hour trip to the port, visiting of three islands, and lunch with a drink, you will need to pay another $20 once you arrive in San Blas. Prepare yourself for a long day. Our day started around 5:30 AM, and don’t end until around 7 Pm. Bring plenty of off bug repellent, skin so soft, anti-mosquito creams, etc. I have been home one week and still look like biblical proportions of the mosquitos there attacked me, this is also the only day, we got rained on, but it was for about an hour, and it was a little scary until my friend started singing Gilligan’s Island theme song. I touched a starfish on the starfish island, jellyfish, row boated, swam with fish, kissed a turtle (well not really). These were some of the most beautiful people I have ever met, and the chicken they cooked taste better than my momma’s….real talk…all money collected goes to the island, as most do not have electricity, trash removal, or even hot water. The islands consist of the natives known as the Kuna’s. Slather up with your protection creams and make this “must-see and do” you will not regret it.

That evening, we showered and headed to the Panama Canal for dinner. You didn’t think we would come all the way here and not visit what some argue is one the seven wonders of the world, did you? The restaurant Atlantic & Pacific Co, Panama City, was less than four miles from our hotel. Yup, we took an uber, did not have a reservation (but highly recommend it) and with some research saw that the best time to go was after 5 pm. One reason was it looks great as the sun is going down. We requested a seat on the terrace and arrived around 8 pm. There was already an active ship coming in, so imagine my excitement. The food was over-priced, and nothing to write home about, but the experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so it was worth the $16 cheeseburger. In 90-minutes we witness three ships, watching the locks open and close, inspections, and the phenomenon of watching the ship lowered to get to the lock and watching the water fill back up and see the boat go back to sea level and back out to sea.

Day six: 4:45 AM pick up from the hotel and off to the airport. No lines, and there three VIP lounges should you have a priority pass membership that comes with your AMEX platinum card. Please have the card with you or the app on your phone, I felt the lady at the counter thought I was lying and after downloading the card didn’t even apologize for her rudeness and assumption, but I digress. So as promised the drama was American express. My uber account is attached to my AMEX card, and I could not figure out why I was unable the first 24 hours to secure an uber, but my friend was able to. After I called American Express, I learned that American Express is not the “accepted” card in Panama for uber, because trust me, Adidas burned a whole in that card…lol, so I added my visa and there were no further problems.


Panama was a budget-friendly, beach filled, culture bursting treat for my birthday. Although it was not my first choice, it ended up being the best choice.

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