Over the last few years, we have been lucky for the kids to have the week of Thanksgiving off and we have taken advantage of the break to go to a warm place as temperatures cool down in California. We often leave at the beginning of that week, returning on Thanksgiving day, when fares are cheaper.
After a few years visiting Hawaii, we found out that going to Central America is a great idea. Flights are convenient (red eyes), time differences are 1 or 2 hours max, and the ocean temperature on the Caribbean side is much warmer.
After a successful trip to Roatan, Honduras in 2017, we decided to try Panama in 2018.
We picked a nice hotel, Red Frog Beach resort, on a small island in the Bocas del Toro province. We had picked this region for the weather, the combination of jungle in the island and proximity to the ocean for snorkeling and diving, and the promise of a nice little fishing village. We were not disappointed.
The resort was nice, with individual villas and bungalows, a nice accessible beach, a central pool and an excellent restaurant. The kids found a lot of activities just at our front door. The hotel also helped us organize a ziplining tour on the island (which was quite nerve-wracking; there was some steep climbing involved and I stressed out a lot for our 5-year old; although he did brilliantly).
5-year old ziplining; he wasn't as scared as I was!
The beach in front of our villa
Outside of the resort, we had easy access to diving trips (dive shops from the main city could come and pick us up at the resort). We also went on a day tour to visit a bat cave at the end of a cool mangrove forest. It was a dark tunnel with an underground river and bats hanging on the ceiling. A real-life Halloween experience, and quite an adventure.
Coming back from the bat cave
We also enjoyed a one-day boat tour where we saw dolphins and visited the famous Starfish beach (Guess what it is famous for?).
The one drawback of picking Bocas Del Toro as a destination is the transfer from Panama City. We looked into direct flights to the Bocas Del Toro airport; however we read very discouraging reviews about the only airline that serviced this destination. We didn't want to jeopardize our quick trip by having unexpected flight delays. So we ended up deciding to fly to David inland (reliable and comfortable) and take a van + boat to the hotel. While it was a longer route, it allowed us to appreciate the geography of Panama and the mountain range that separates the Pacific from the Caribbean side. We got to see life in rural Panama. And we enjoyed the nice long boat ride from Almirante.
Before our return home, we spent one day doing a tour of Panama City. While it was short, it was a big highlight for us. We started with a tour of the canal in a small motor boat. It was impressive to hang out next to the big boats. We also found out that the canal is still home to a lot of jungle wildlife in the many islands in the bay leading to the canal. This was a real treat! We also got to visit the bridge that separates North from South America (great geography lesson for the kids) and the old neighborhood of Panama City, with all its history and local culture. It was a packed but exciting day, before we relaxed and fell asleep in the red eye back home.
In a small boat in front of the big boat
Feeding monkeys in the Panama Canal
We would definitely recommend visiting Panama in your next adventure.