Panama City, Boquete, and Miami, November 23 - December 2, 2000

To look at pictures while reading the narrative, please click on the thumbnail photos on the left side of the page.

Map of Panama, with overview of our itinerary (approximate download time: 167 seconds at 28.8 K)

Why Panama?

My friends Keith and Terry retired to Boquete, Panama last year. I had been to Boquete with Keith when I was in Costa Rica a couple of years ago. Keith was doing research into moving to Central America, trying to decide where to live. Costa Rica had been his original choice, but he came upon Boquete on a side trip and really liked the place. He wanted to show it to me and my traveling companion, Felice.

I could see why Keith liked Boquete, and wasn't surprised when he decided to move there instead of Costa Rica. More about Boquete later. Thanksgiving was the first chance I had to make a visit to Panama since Keith and Terry had moved. So Joe and I took a very early flight out of SFO, connected in Houston, and arrived in Panama City at 6:30 PM on Thanksgiving night.

Unfortunately, Terry's father had suffered a stroke a couple of days prior to our trip. So Keith and Terry stuck with their plan to drive from Boquete to Panama City to meet us, but Terry took off for Chicago the morning before we arrived. We didn't get to see him the entire trip. Oh, well, now I have an excuse to go back to Panama.

Our service on Continental through Houston couldn't have been better. Joe and I were able to score upgrades to first class, the food was good, and everything was on time. Coming out of customs, we saw Keith in the crowd waiting outside the international arrivals door and had a happy reunion.


Miscellaneous pictures of Panama City (approximate download time: 75 seconds at 28.8 K)

The former Canal Zone (approximate download time: 174 seconds at 28.8 K)

Casco Viejo (old part of Panama City) (approximate download time: 179 seconds at 28.8 K)


Panama City and The Former Canal Zone

We spent two days in Panama City. The first day, we toured the city, including the former canal zone and the old part of town, called Casco Viejo. On the second day, we took a tour of the Panama Canal on a tourist boat.

I found Panama City surprisingly modern - the most cosmopolitan and up to date Latin American capital I've been in. It reminded me a lot of my hometown of Miami - built on a bay, dozens  of condo skyscrapers, and a lot of the same commercial firms one would see in Miami. The climate in December reminded me of Miami on a summer day - very humid, temperature around 90 degrees. A major difference is that Panama City is fairly hilly, while Miami is completely flat.

Our base was the Marriott, one of the top hotels in Panama City, and nicely located in the center of a commercial district. 

Canal Cruise (approximate download time: 212 seconds at 28.8 K)

Through the locks with a Panamax ship (approximate download time: 152 seconds at 28.8 K)


A Trip Through the Panama Canal 

Keith had purchased tickets on Argo Tours' ( "partial transit" cruise through the Panama Canal prior to our arrival in Panama City. We had to get to the docks early (7 AM) to catch our boat, then spent most of the rest of the day in the Canal.

Our tour took us part of the way up the Canal, then the boat turned around and returned. Watching and learning about the canal locks and other engineering marvels was fascinating. Of particular interest: on our return trip, we traveled through one of the locks together with a huge "Panamax" container ship, so called because it is the maximum size ship that will fit in the Panama Canal. The pictures illustrate exactly how tight a fit is is.

A thrilling trip - I highly recommend it if you ever have the opportunity.

(approximate download time: 104 seconds at 28.8 K)

From Panama City to Boquete

Keith had driven Roxie, the red RAV to Panama City so that we could drive back to Boquete (approximately 300 miles west) and see some of the country. We left around 9 in the morning and headed west on the Pan American Highway, across the Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal, and out of the city.

Our first stop was a nice but unspectacular beach that Keith had heard about called Santa Clara. We took a short walk on the beach before heading west again. 

From there, it was on to Chitre, where we overnighted at the Hotel Versailles. We made a side trip the the town of Las Tablas - a pretty little place, but most everything was closed as we were there on the national day of independence. 

Leaving Chitre, we made a stop at La Arena, a village known for its ceramics. We watched ceramics being made, haggled for our purchases, and again headed west.

We made a short stop for lunch along the way at a typical roadside cafeteria, stopped at the SuperBaru supermarket just outside the mid-sized town of David, then turned right off the Pan American Highway and started up a long grade. 45 minutes later, we were in Boquete.


Keith and Terry's spectacular house (approximate download time: 170 seconds at 28.8 K)

The Coffee Estate Inn (approximate download time: 115 seconds at 28.8 K)

A walk through the rain forest (approximate download time: 187 seconds at 28.8 K)

Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin (approximate download time: 239 seconds at 28.8 K)

A drive through Lower Monkey Canyon (approximate download time: 100 seconds at 28.8 K)


Adventures in Boquete

Boquete is a small town in the foothills of Volcan Baru, an 11,000 foot high inactive volcano -  the highest mountain in Panama. Boquete lies at an altitude of around 3,000-4,000 feet. The climate is lovely - in the 60's, 70's, and 80's year round. Rainy season is in the summer and fall. This year, rainy season had fortunately ended by the time we got to Panama - we experienced only a single brief rain shower the entire time we were in Panama. On my previous trip, it rained cats and dogs for 2 or 3 hours every afternoon.

There's not a whole lot to do in Boquete, but Joe and I both enjoyed our visit there. Some of the time, we just hung out around Keith and Terry's beautiful new house and took in the views of the coffee plantations that surround it. We had nice visits with their friends Barry and Jane, and Carlos Ivan. Barry and Jane own a beautiful inn, The Coffee Estate Inn (, where we stayed the last time we were in Boquete. 

After our visit to the Inn, Carlos took us through a morning hike in the rain forest uphill from Boquete. A good chance to sing "Climb Every Mountain." The path was pretty good except for one part where in got stuck in deep mud to about mid-calf and wondered if I was going to escape or keep sinking. Fortunately, Joe was nearby and helped me pull out of the muck.

If Boquete has anything resembling a tourist attraction, it's Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin. The name of the place is a takeoff on the Spanish phrase, Mi Casa Es Su Casa, which means "my house is your house." Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin - literally "my garden is your garden" - is a huge garden in the back of a man's house that anyone can walk into and enjoy. The man who owns the house is an octogenarian who made a lot of money as president of the electric company in Panama and wanted to give something back to the community. He actually lives in the house that fronts the garden. (The first time I went, we could see him eating lunch. We waved, he waved back.) The garden is large, well kept, and much expanded since I was in Boquete two years ago. There's also a playground for kids, a swimming pool that anyone can use, and a chapel. Part of the house is also open to anyone who wants to walk in.

Another fun part of our visit to Boquete was a drive through a canyon. As far as I know, the canyon didn't even have a name, but it was spectacular. I believe the street we took to get to it was called "Bajo Mono" which means "lower monkey," so I christened it "Lower Monkey Canyon." This canyon has lots of coffee cultivated in it, sheer thousand foot high walls, the entrance to the "Sendero Los Quetzales" (Quetzal Path) trail to Volcan Baru, and the processing plant of Cafe Sitton, Panama's largest coffee company. A very interesting and beautiful drive.

(approximate download time: 134 seconds at 28.8 K)


David, Panama

David is a mid-sized town of around 100,000 people 40 minutes south of Boquete. Our flights back to Panama City left from David, so we drove down to David mid-morning, had lunch, and had a look around. 

(approximate download time: 22 seconds at 28.8 K)

A Stop in Miami on the Way Home

Panama is actually east of Miami. So Miami is on the way home from Panama to San Francisco. I made a stop on the way back to see my Mom.

Some Notes about Panama

Panama is not the swampy, mosquito-ey hellhole that it's stereotyped as, any more than South Florida is. Panama City is a thoroughly modern city. A large mountain range runs through the country. Temperatures were tropical in the lowlands, but very temperate in the highlands.
It was safe to drink water from the tap in all the places we went, except for at Keith's house (he has unprocessed well water, which he boils before drinking). Neither Joe nor I experienced any problems. Keith drinks tap water all the time and hasn't encountered any problems.
The national currency is the U.S. dollar. You don't have to exchange money when you go to Panama from the U.S. In some places, they call dollars "balboas," in other places, they call them "dollares." "10 balboas" is $10 U.S.
Roads are good. The Pan American Highway through Panama is four lanes in some places, two lanes in others, but well maintained. If you've ever been to Costa Rica, it's nothing like that.
Prices in Panama City are rather expensive for Central America - most things cost around 60-70 percent of what they would cost in the U.S. Prices outside the capital are cheaper. For example, a fine lunch in Panama City cost around $8; in David, a very good lunch was around $5.
There's more to Panama than the canal!