Panama City – Santiago – Boquete – Boca Chica
Planning a trip by car with small children always seems daunting, do we have enough toys and entertainment for them, have we packed the favorite teddy, how do we keep them entertained whilst driving for hours on end? These where our concerns during the planning of a long recent long holiday weekend here in Panama. This seemed like the ideal opportunity to make visits to some of the hotels we sell to our customers, little did we know we where to test the facilities and management skills of some of these hotels beyond what is normally required of them.
The two families consisting of three children between the ages of almost 4 and 6 set off from Panama City in two vehicles. The first portion ended in Santiago, the capital of the Provence of Veraguas, a small town of about 55 thousand. Its known as the gateway to the Provence of Chiriqui, our ultimate destination. So its an ideal stop as its around half way and has all the amenities yourselves and your children might need, McDonaldâ€™s and KFC. We actually stayed at a Mexican themed hotel called the La Hacienda, its a rambling brightly colored hotel which is geared for families, it has its own pool and play area and next door they have opened a huge water park where you can spend the day for a few dollars, and also have snacks by the pool, no alcohol is allowed. The Hotel as good amenities, internet, TV etc, its comfortable, the food is good and the price is reasonable for a 4 star hotel.
The next morning we set off for Boquete, which is nestled in the highlands of Chiriqui on the slopes of Volcan Baru. As we left Santiago it started to rain, it wasnâ€™t to stop raining until our holiday was almost over. Boquete has grown tremendously these last 7 or 8 years due to the influx of foreigners looking for a piece of heaven. A huge amount of investment has been made in the construction of gated communities, golf resorts and new hotels, one of them which we stayed at called Hotel Ladera. This particular hotel was recently totally rebuilt after getting washed away, along with the only bridge to it, during heavy rains a couple of years earlier. You certainly wouldnâ€™t recognize it since the rebuild and renovations. The banks of the River Caldera have been substantially fortified and a brand new bridge has been installed, actually a great improvement over the old road and bridge.
During our journey up into the highlands, the rain was bad, traffic was slow and I was braking so much so that I wore the brake pads on my Jeep down to zero. Fortunately, we had just about reached the Hotel Ladera. This raised the question, its a national holiday, we are essentially at the top of a mountain and the only major garage is at the bottom of it! The Hotel manager, Alexander Stewowitsch and his staff set to work ringing around for some mechanics. We left the car at the hotel and piled into our friends MPV so it was fortunate that we had friends with room in their vehicle.
On our free day we took the new road to the other side of Volcan Baru to Volcan, Paso Ancho, Bambito, Cerro Punta and Guadalupe. Here we met up with some friends and family who where staying tin the Casa Grande in Bambito. The ride across the mountain was stunning, even though it was raining with the occasional break of clear weather. As you can imagine, on these fertile slopes of Volcan Baru is grown most of the produce of Panama and also a lot is exported. At Guadalupe we tasted the sweet strawberries dipped in luscious mild chocolate, great! Guadalupe is also well known for its National Park where bird watchers flock (no pun intended) to search out the elusive Quetzales. There is also an aptly named hotel called the Los Quetzales Lodge & Spa. We have stayed here before and its quite an experience sat in front of a log burning stove in Panama! They have tour guides who will take you for rambles through the rain forests or you can relax in the heated Jacuzzi and be pampered by the Spa facilities, well worth a visit. There is so much you can do with a family in the highlands, horse back riding, zip line tours, river rafting or tubing, but not when its raining. Best time to go to the highlands is definitely from the 15th December through April. This year the weather in Panama has not being good, they have had 300% more rain than normal and a state of emergency has been declared by the government for the people who have experienced the worse flooding within the interior of the country. Although Panama City has not seen any problems to the extremes as other parts of the country, having said that, we are glad we are in Panama right now and not our native Europe, so much snow!
When we arrived back at Hotel Ladera it was evident that our vehicle wasnâ€™t going to ready for our next journey back down the mountain towards Boca Chica, a two hour ride at best. So we relaxed in the surroundings of our hotel and had a few cocktails whilst the children played games and generally ran amok much to the amusement of the staff. That evening we strolled over to El Oasis Hotel to eat at the restaurant. As it was wet and cool the staff organized our own personal covered patio area with its own log burning open hearth. The children helped our waiter carry huge piles of logs to keep the fire roaring all evening whilst we eat a fantastic meal, we had a rack of Lamb whilst the children had Pasta. The food, wine and price was exceptional in my opinion, highly recommended.
We didnâ€™t get away from the Hotel the next day until quite late, and it was raining hard. This slowed us down somewhat and by the time we hit the pier at Boca Chica is was almost dark. Our destination was a boutique hotel called the Cala Mia, this can only be described in these few short words: Boutique Hotel Cala Mia, a luxury Eco island Resort in the archipelago of Chiriqui, Panama, winner of Fodorâ€™s Choice Award 2010: an unforgettable total immersion in nature: palm-lined virginal white sand beaches, private boat trips to uninhabited islands, kayaking into mangroves, bird watching, whale- and monkey-watching, swimming, snorkeling or surfing.
This was taken from their website but does describe the hotel and surroundings eloquently, if you are looking for a honeymoon retreat, this is it. From the pier the boat ride is about 20 minutes and our captain made sure our baggage was kept dry with water proof bags.
Although they donÂ´t specialize in young children we managed to keep them busy in the persistent rain. We fashioned waterproofs out of plastic bin liners, after first making a note to pack waterproofs next time! This kept them dry during a hike around the virgin beaches and rain forests of the island; we did actually see howler monkeys and a few tropical birds even though it was raining.Â The children managed to accumulateÂ a huge collection of insects and various indescribable pieces of the islands eco system, some I had never set eyes on before, quite terrifying really! later on in the afternoon we relaxed with the children by the infinity pool, we couldn’t get much wetter, but at least it was warm. Our friend Stephen managed to get a reasonable massage whilst his children looked on, the spa was set on atop of an island outcrop connected to the hotel area by a Tarzan style suspension bridge.
Most island resorts we have been to usually run out of something, either water, electric, food or even worse, beer! Not this island resort, its Eco friendly powered by solar energy with its own water collection system. The owners live on an other island close by where they grow all their own vegetables, make cheese, raise chickens and harvest sea food. You have to place your particular order for the evening meal early, but you get a reasonable choice and the preparation and presentation is excellent. The wine and alcohol choice is world class and always nicely chilled with plenty of ice on hand. Breakfasts all come with fresh Chiriqui grown coffee and local fruit juices, eggs any style with bacon, sausages, cereals breads.
The next day we took the hotel boat out for a tour of the pristine mangrove swamps, this was very interesting, just like motoring around a flooded forest. Absolutely in the middle of nature without a sign of civilization anywhere to be seen.
Driving back to Panama City at the end of a holiday can be tiring and you need to take regular breaks, not to mention stick to the speed limit, there are a lot of traffic police monitoring your driving. Again we choose to spend an hour at the water park in Santiago, the kids where able to clear some excess energy and have a snack before hopefully, falling asleep in the back of the car for the last half of our journey back to the City.
We really enjoyed our break, although the weather was not the greatest, at least it wasnâ€™t arctic conditions and deep snow!
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