"Panama looked pretty nice. Panama was never really on my radar, but glad you exposed some of its treasures."
Gerard Bao, from GQ Trippin
Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala are the more popular countries in Central America that attract tourists to its land. And with good reason. But Panama? What's in Panama? The Panama Canal, sure. But what else? I'll tell you what else. San Blas.
A collection of 365 islands that sit along the Carribean coast of Eastern Panama, of which only 49 are inhabited. The indigenous Kuna Yala tribe have self governing authority over the San Blas islands and a part of the mainland. So tourists are only allowed to enter the tribal land without being accompanied by a Panamanian. We snorkeled, island hopped, ate fish and ceviche. The waters were 27 celsius (80 degrees fahrenheit). I remember thinking to myself, "how is this place even real?"
At the start of our trip, Marie, our tour guide for the day, mentioned that the itinerary included a stop at a "swimming pool". And in my head, I pictured it to be traditional swimming pool, or maybe an infinity pool, that lived one of the islands. I was way off! The picture below is what's called the swimming pool, dead smack in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, kilometers away from any island. Your boat docks where the turquoise blue water comes to your knees when standing up. When you walk towards the edge, where the water changes color, the drop is roughly 4 meters. There were roughly 30 of us occupying the space, listening to music, dancing away, drinking champagne or Flor de Cana. Life was perfect in that moment.
After an amazing experience in San Blas it was time to head back to Panama City, specifically the neighborhood of Casco Viejo. You see, I have this ever long affinity with Ace Hotels so naturally we stayed at its Panama location, the American Trade Hotel. It was the perfect setting. Downstairs was an Cafe Unido featuring coffee from Panama's finest farms. Attached to the Cafe Unido, helms the Dining Room where the Sea Bass ceviche was delicious. The library was home to vintage magazines and Panama history books and perfect for writing. The pool, which was open al-day, was home to late night, or rather, early morning conversations which other patrons.
I swear, we did leave the hotel.
Caso Viejo felt like an undeveloped Cartagena, Colombia. A colonial town filled with color, cute shops, restaurants and a nightlife fit for tourists and locals alike. Both Friday and Saturday nights were jam packed with people. There were so many parts of town that were not yet developed and I felt that something special taking place here. So consider it. Put it on your radar. And visit Panama. There's so much more of this country I'd like to explore like Bocas del Toro. Maybe we can all go together?
P.S. Shout out to my road dog, #RPCVacay for making this trip. And everyone we met in Panama, I hope to see y'all soon!