By Daniella De Windt
Latin America, here we come! Two inexperienced 23-year-olds, my friend Sofie and I set off on a great backpacking adventure through Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama, to celebrate the completion of our Bachelor degrees. After many months of planning, receiving tips from knowledgeable travellers, discussing which bikinis to bring, and persuading our protective family members, it was finally time to embark on our three-month trip in September 2019.
I will be sharing our adventures and recommendations over the following weeks in The Weekender.
When we arrived in Panama, the third and last country of our big backpacking adventure, I could not believe it was almost over. We made the decision that we were going to make the most of our last month before we had to go back to the “real world”.
It soon became clear how much more modern and American Panama City seemed. Looking out of the taxi’s window, we revelled at the skyscrapers, broad boulevards, and green parks. We stayed at the El Machico Hostel, which proved to be the perfect base before our trip to the pristine San Blas island group. The hostel staff helped us book our preferred tour via their partners San Blas Dreams and the unlimited pancake and coffee breakfast provided the perfect fuel for the long road- and boat-trip ahead.
After a few relaxing days on the San Blas islands, we thought it was about time to explore Panama City’s lively centre. So we moved to Luna’s Castle, a hostel ideally located in the historic part of town. Not only does this hostel serve free bottomless coffee and pancakes, its outdoor courtyard bar also serves strong and cheap drinks.
For food, we highly recommend Napoli for pizza and sangria. And we loved Nomada Eatery’s for lunch, snacks, and drinks – and its convenient location next to our hostel, because no one likes walking around hungry.
San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands of Panama is an archipelago of roughly 365 islands, of which 49 are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people. Most people visit the San Blas Islands on a sailing trip from Cartagena to Panama City, which generally takes about a week and permits a few days island-hopping. However, since we were on a tight budget and the prospect of open water and seasickness did not particularly appeal to either of us, we decided to go for the cheaper option of jeep and motorboat.
After doing some research, we opted for the La Casa del Papel tour. Not only were we all fans of the show, this trip would give us the most bang for our buck as we would visit four different islands, including Isla Pelicano, where the third season of the famous Netflix series was filmed.
The long and nauseating trip was all worth it when we arrived on “our” tiny island Isla Ina for the next few days – white sand; crystal, clear, blue water; tall palm trees; hammocks; and little sleeping huts. The next few days were back to basics: no emails or social media, just utter relaxation, snorkelling, beach naps, fresh coconuts, eating, rum cokes, games and reading. And of course a daytrip to see some other islands and a large sandbank for snorkelling.
After enjoying island-life on the San Blas Islands and city-life in Panama City, it was time for a change in scenery – we were off to the small mountain town Boquete nestled in the jungles of Panama. Boquete is well-known for its bliss mountain views, beautiful hikes, abundant wildlife, cool climate, and charming little town.
We arrived at our hostel Bambuda Castle with much anticipation. I mean, a castle with a fireplace, Jacuzzi, and indoor pool – sounds like the perfect hostel for two slightly spoiled backpack princesses, right?
After a good night’s sleep in our royal bunkbeds and some gracious granola, we set off on the Lost Waterfall hike. It is one of the most popular hikes in Boquete and it was easy to understand why. The self-guided hike is two hours long, but time really flies as the hike takes you past three gorgeous waterfalls, amazing scenery, and even some adventurous rope-climbing! Sofie and I quickly agreed that this was easily our new favourite hike in the entire world (sorry, Saba).
All those endorphins and adrenaline worked up our appetite, so we ventured into town for some good food. After some indecisive Google and IRL exploring, we sat down at Sugar & Spice – a cute bakery on the main road. Not only do they serve great sandwiches on their homemade artisanal bread, they also offer fresh baked pastries and sweets. I’m not saying we shared three pieces of cake after our giant sandwiches, but I can’t say we didn’t.
To be continued …