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DansDeals Forum => Trip Reports => Topic started by: Denverite on March 15, 2017, 01:52:28 PM

Title: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on March 15, 2017, 01:52:28 PM
Before I get into all the details of our trip that we took for mid-Winter break.  I just want to let you know that we were traveling with 3 kids from pre-school to middle school so I wanted somewhere where we could both relax and do excursions but at a low-key, non-stressful pace and in a comfortable environment that all my kids would enjoy.

With Panama, I basically found a place that has the ease of vacationing in Miami or Scottsdale but with the adventures you can get in the rainforest and beaches of Costa Rica and Brazil.  On United or Singapore it is also only 35k RT in Economy or 60K in J, with tons of flights out of NY, LA and other markets. Since there are no direct flights from where we live in Denver we booked the outbound through IAH and on the return we did a two night stopover in Cancun.  Because we knew we were going to Cancun we did not make the effort to visit some of the amazing beaches and islands they have in Panama, although I'll try to still provide info on them.

Ok here is it goes (and before I begin, thank you to @Yehuda for helping me with the pictures)...we arrived late on a Sunday and thanks to this AMAZING app called Kosher PTY we had awesome sushi and pasta waiting for us at our hotel!

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/769/33417709646_4e30cb72b5_n.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3669/33302461492_0f0be14f41_n.jpg)

The app is in spanish but a lot of the words are the same and y'all have google translate so you should be able to figure it out!  Also, they do NOT accept payment over the app, it is just for ordering so remember you need to be there at your delivery time (so you can't have food waiting at your hotel for you).

We stayed at the Hilton on Avenida Balboa, and I would HIGHLY recommend it!  Because hotels are so cheap, I actually decided not to waste any points and just paid for the room (Panama City would be a great place to spend less points by booking with your Sapphire Reserve although I will also have info later on one hotel that might be the best possible use of your Marriott 7 night cert in the whole system).  Since it cost less than two rooms, and I don't like being crammed with our kids into one room we booked an Executive Master Suite.  It was HUGE, over 1100sqft. with a full kitchen and 2 bathrooms.

Here are some pics:

Kitchen, Living and Dining Area
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2940/32919957912_2be8de937c_n.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2766/32919957862_d1a232cfd7_n.jpg)

We had a huge bedroom and Master Bath and another full bathroom with shower although my pictures of those are loading her upside down so if someone wants to help me figure out how to post them correctly, I can add some pics of them too!  ;D


Most people don't know that Panama City has more skyscrapers than any city in Latin America (yep, more than Rio and Mexico City) and it has a truly stunning skyline...

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2002/32919957332_990de59d5c_o.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/656/32919956722_d6cd467380_o.jpg)

The hotel lobby was also just gorgeous with stunning two story windows and views of the Pacific Ocean and Bay:

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/725/32919954572_8a1b21c73c_o.jpg)

This is a picture take from our suite of the Waldorf Astoria, one block over (sorry it's showing landscape and not portrait).  You can see it is a row back so it doesn't have water views from most rooms or the pool.  The pool also looks really small.  Because of those reasons and also no breakfast or lounge, I decided to book instead at the Hilton and was very happy with my choice.  The Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Le Meridian and InterContiental are all super close and in what I think is an excellent location.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/767/32919954852_c9ce25e317_o.jpg)

Since it was a long day of outbound travel and we were there a full week, we decided to make the first day a lazy one.  That morning got up late and went to the Kosher Coffee Bean literally a block from the Hilton and enjoyed some awesome pastries and empanadas and they have beautiful salads and sandwiches too (and all those wrapped goods had a hecsher on each product, in addition to the teudah on the store). I have a picture from here but that one also is loading upside down so it's not included.


We then walked a few blocks more to the Multi-Centro Mall to the HUGE Deli K Supermarket.  My kids actually had fun picking out stuff from Israel and all over that we can't buy in Denver.  They also have a sit down meat and dairy restaurants (we did not order from those though).  For those of you that keep CY, they even had shelf stable CY milk.  We didn't do any overnight or extreme excursions while we were there but if you were you wouldn't have to bring anything from the US and I would pick up everything here.  I regretted packing any snacks as they really do have everything!

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/424/32919957422_6829b09e83_o.jpg)

After our little shopping trip and laden down with bags we decided to take a cab the almost mile back to the hotel and it was a whopping two bucks and I didn't even have to bargain (try that in Israel or Cancun where you better be ready to battle the cab drivers over fares)!

We then headed down to the gorgeous Hilton Pool, it's on their 12th floor, with great views.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/601/33065747550_e24a9f500c_z.jpg)


Hope you enjoyed the beginning of my TR, my apologies for newbie photo or other errors and hopefully more is coming soon!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: BarryLincoln on March 15, 2017, 02:30:32 PM
Great start... look forward to reading more...
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: mmgfarb on March 15, 2017, 02:54:59 PM
Nice start! How much did you pay for that suite?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: shulem92 on March 15, 2017, 03:03:12 PM
Looking forward... ;)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on March 15, 2017, 03:39:21 PM
Looking forward... ;)

Thanks!

Great start... look forward to reading more...

Thanks AND if you go you won't have to bring any pans or light any fires in hotel restaurants because there are lots of kosher places here!!  :)

Nice start! How much did you pay for that suite?

I think it was about $220 a night.  They actually have ok C&P redemptions if you only want a normal room. I'm an HHonors diamond and probably could have pushed for an upgrade but with all five of us, I just didn't want to chance it.  Hotels in general, are very cheap here and the Hilton is probably as expensive as you're gonna get.  The only suite bigger than ours was the 3500 sqft. presidential suite for about 3k a night.  The Waldorf even has two story 2 & 3 BR suites.  My friends came a month before us and stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, a couple blocks back, in a 1brm for about $99 a night.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Dan on March 15, 2017, 04:05:07 PM
Great start!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: yuneeq on March 15, 2017, 04:10:18 PM
I stayed in the same Hilton, great place.
Owned by Jews so I was able to get a discount.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yaalili on March 15, 2017, 07:23:58 PM
Great start... look forward to reading more...

+1 good job.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: @Yehuda on March 15, 2017, 09:34:52 PM
Nice start! Making Panama more attractive already! If Flickr doesn't allow for flipping pictures, you could upload them to Aviary.com, rotate them there, save/download back to your computer and then upload to Flickr again. Hope that made some sense.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on March 15, 2017, 10:16:57 PM
Great start to the TR. I find that loading pix from my phone into the Tapatalk app is the easiest way.  I know it is sort of bush league. But it works for me!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Something Fishy on March 15, 2017, 10:17:31 PM
If Flickr doesn't allow for flipping pictures, you could upload them to Aviary.com, rotate them there, save/download back to your computer and then upload to Flickr again. Hope that made some sense.

(https://i.gyazo.com/16ad3e0cf15e45bc2af8779b53941942.png)

You could both rotate and edit in Aviary from within Flickr. You will then choose to overwrite the original or save as a new file, which will be automatically added to your Flickr.

Denverite - great report, looking forward to the rest.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on March 16, 2017, 02:35:03 PM
+1 good job.
Great start!

Thanks, and that's really encouraging from the big guy himself!

I stayed in the same Hilton, great place.
Owned by Jews so I was able to get a discount.

Yeah we saw a number of frum (Spanish speaking) Jews there and a guy at shul told us that it was owned by Jews, as apparently are most of the hotels, all the shopping malls and most real estate in Panama!  :P  Seriously, they were very nice there and without getting into a whole halachic argument about what is allowed (as DDF is prone to do...lol) they front desk guy even proactively offered to send a bell boy up on Shabbos to take us down in an elevator.  On that note, although it's lots of stairs, all the stairwells are open and unlocked and walking up and down wasn't a problem.

Nice start! Making Panama more attractive already! If Flickr doesn't allow for flipping pictures, you could upload them to Aviary.com, rotate them there, save/download back to your computer and then upload to Flickr again. Hope that made some sense.
(https://i.gyazo.com/16ad3e0cf15e45bc2af8779b53941942.png)

You could both rotate and edit in Aviary from within Flickr. You will then choose to overwrite the original or save as a new file, which will be automatically added to your Flickr.

Denverite - great report, looking forward to the rest.

Thanks guys.   I'm gonna try but I figure if I get too worried about the pictures I won't bother to do the report.  Also, I have no idea what I'm doing but the WA picture that shows landscape on my computer looks perfect when I look at the site from my phone.

Great start to the TR. I find that loading pix from my phone into the Tapatalk app is the easiest way.  I know it is sort of bush league. But it works for me!

Well you are one step ahead of me because I don't even have Tapatalk and go on ddf all the time from my phone's browser...I should probably take the 2 minutes to download it!  ;D
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: 3yummyboys on March 16, 2017, 06:54:05 PM
Great start! Looking forward to the rest!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on March 16, 2017, 07:30:50 PM
Thanks, and that's really encouraging from the big guy himself!

Yeah we saw a number of frum (Spanish speaking) Jews there and a guy at shul told us that it was owned by Jews, as apparently are most of the hotels, all the shopping malls and most real estate in Panama!  :P  Seriously, they were very nice there and without getting into a whole halachic argument about what is allowed (as DDF is prone to do...lol) they front desk guy even proactively offered to send a bell boy up on Shabbos to take us down in an elevator.  On that note, although it's lots of stairs, all the stairwells are open and unlocked and walking up and down wasn't a problem.

Thanks guys.   I'm gonna try but I figure if I get too worried about the pictures I won't bother to do the report.  Also, I have no idea what I'm doing but the WA picture that shows landscape on my computer looks perfect when I look at the site from my phone.

Well you are one step ahead of me because I don't even have Tapatalk and go on ddf all the time from my phone's browser...I should probably take the 2 minutes to download it!  ;D
It is only 2 minutes to download Tapatalk, but then you are likely to spend MUCH more time browsing DDF on your phone thereafter.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: lunatic on March 16, 2017, 11:05:18 PM
+1 that's why I unistalled tapatalk  ;)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Aaaron on March 17, 2017, 12:56:35 AM
I just stayed at the WA and wasn't blown away.  It was nice, but not what you'd expect for a WA pretty much anywhere else.

Looking forward to the rest!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Proisrael on March 19, 2017, 01:49:28 PM
Great start!

What are the prices of kosher items? Are they more expensive then normal?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: mgoldhammer18 on March 30, 2017, 06:59:16 PM
Awesome start, can't wait for the rest. If you don't mind me asking, what was the price range of the room? (You don't need to tell me an exact price).
Did you guys go to San blas?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: mmgfarb on March 31, 2017, 12:04:54 AM
Awesome start, can't wait for the rest. If you don't mind me asking, what was the price range of the room? (You don't need to tell me an exact price).
Did you guys go to San blas?
I think it was about $220 a night.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yaalili on April 20, 2017, 08:35:20 AM
Since there are no direct flights from where we live in Denver we booked the outbound through IAH and on the return we did a two night stopover in Cancun.

To start soon - https://www.copaair.com/en/web/gs/new-route-panama-denver in December.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: mercaz1 on April 20, 2017, 08:54:34 AM
Is there Zika in Panama?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Emkay on April 20, 2017, 10:39:17 AM
Is there Zika in Panama?
According to who?
CDC claims there is.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: CZ60 on April 20, 2017, 11:20:47 AM
According to who?
CDC claims there is.

They say Level 2 - enhanced precautions.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/zika-virus-panama
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on April 25, 2017, 07:19:19 PM
If you look at the particular areas where it is prevalent it is in the jungle where some indigenous tribes live.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on April 25, 2017, 07:28:37 PM
Alright I took a long break writing this report so I'm trying to start again and here are some pics of our second day.  We did a city tour and then ate at an awesome kosher restaurant.

We started off at the fish market that my kids thought was really cool.  The boats are literally coming in bringing in their fresh catch daily.
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/657/33408565226_5cf13e96da_k.jpg)

Then we went to the Smithsonian (yep like the one in DC) research institute where we got to see up close tons of fish, frogs, and animals.  There was also a great lookout into the bay.  You can check out their website here:  http://www.stri.si.edu/ (http://www.stri.si.edu/) I thought it was perfect for my kids but would never have heard about it if our tour guide hadn't suggested it.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2889/33310888022_d06c9ffffe_b.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3752/33426214616_07cd0dc710_k.jpg)

Looks like a big coconut but yup that is a sloth!  :P

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3859/33408520846_be7b6c51cd_k.jpg)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on April 25, 2017, 07:40:51 PM
My family isn't really into shopping but there were tons of cool markets and stalls in the city.  Even an outdoor section with just with barbers doing $3 haricuts (I tried to convince my sons to get haircuts where it was so cheap but they said no)!  ;D

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3925/33338573691_9d9a596dd7_k.jpg)



These are the public city buses (old US school buses) that the locals call Diablo Rojos (Red Devils) because they drive so crazy.  My one son really wanted a picture with himself with one so she go out and asked him to wait a minute and the driver let my son pose with a picture with him.  Everyone we met there was super friendly (probably because the country isn't overrun with tourists).

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3766/32605844364_68a3b5e275_k.jpg)



This is a picture snapped from our balcony that afternoon and those islands in the distance that are reached by the causeway are where we were at the Smithsonian Institute earlier in the day.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2833/33294137282_442f435716_k.jpg)



Here is another of the same view just a little later at sunset:
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3744/33066494640_7ae0612898_k.jpg)



And here is the skyline off to the right...the Hilton really had spectacular views:
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/761/33294137402_3286e95683_k.jpg)





Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on April 25, 2017, 07:58:08 PM
For dinner we went to an AWESOME dairy restaurant called Kava.  It is INSIDE the Sortis Hotel which is part of Marriott and you can use your cert there...for those of you guys sitting on Marriott certs, it is only a category 4 or 5 and I think would be a great use of your cert (forgive me for repeating myself because I also wrote this and posted some pics on the Panama Master thread but I did want to also include it here).

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3827/33409388136_ed5c097eef_k.jpg)


I got some kind of specialty sushi and it was insanely good!
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/564/32949112361_da002392bb_z.jpg)



Pizza was great too...
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2533/32949112261_5294ef148c_z.jpg)



I don't have more restaurant pictures to post because my family is in all of them but I can't say enough good things about the place.  The ambience was awesome and they also had great soup, amazing pastas and out of this world crepes for dessert.  It was a great day that ended with awesome food!  It would be cool to stay in the attached hotel and just walk down to the restaurant.  Ok, coming soon, the next installment which was our day trip to the jungle, a hike to a private waterfall for some swimming and then a boat ride to an indigenous Indian village...to be continued!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: chuchem on April 27, 2017, 05:55:05 AM
Wanna go next feb with my kids, so please hurry with your TR
 :-)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on April 27, 2017, 11:48:32 PM
Wanna go next feb with my kids, so please hurry with your TR
 :-)

Working on it...lol!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on April 28, 2017, 09:27:57 AM
To start soon - https://www.copaair.com/en/web/gs/new-route-panama-denver in December.

Just saw this post and yes we are so excited! We're planning to go back next summer so will make it a lot less of a shlep. They tried this daily last year and it stopped after a few months, hopefully this 4xweek will work better!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: maxmiles on April 28, 2017, 01:15:53 PM
Great TR so far! Ddi you go to LULU? That was my favorite place, pricey but good
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on April 28, 2017, 01:24:51 PM
Lula Darna? It was on my list but we never got there. The website looked awesome.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Aaaron on April 28, 2017, 02:11:49 PM
Great TR so far! Ddi you go to LULU? That was my favorite place, pricey but good

+1.  Great food!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: maxmiles on April 28, 2017, 04:55:46 PM
Lula Darna? It was on my list but we never got there. The website looked awesome.
Yep...BH Next year!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 09, 2017, 12:06:55 PM
Yep...BH Next year!

Amen!!  :P
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 09, 2017, 12:25:05 PM
Okay getting started on our Tuesday of Adventure in Panama.

I got up before my kids so I went to enjoy a quiet coffee and empanada ALONE at the Coffee Bean about a block from the Hilton (may not seem like a huge deal to you but that is a huge luxury for me on a family vacation)!  ;D

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/717/32919956422_75a756d898_z.jpg)


About 9AM our tour guide picked us up in our private van for our approx 1hr drive to the Chargres river.  Since she knew would could eat fresh fruit (and not other food she provided) she always made sure to have tons for us.  Instead of getting it herself that day, we made a stop in a little town along the way in an open air market and she let the kids pick what they wanted even though she paid (I'll give detailed info later on the tour guide and company but she was a guide par excellance and I feel she helped to make our trip truly special with these little touches).

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/780/33310895002_1bbe71c01d_z.jpg)

We continued on our way and in about half hour of a very easy ride (not bad roads at all) we arrived within the National Park and emptied at the bank of the river.  I got concerned when I saw a couple of huge tour buses also arriving but our guide explained that they only bother to go to the first Indian Village and head back (usually to their cruise ships) and we would be riding our boat significantly past there to take a little hike to see a water fall and our own private "swimming pool" within the river.  The canoes were super cool dugouts from one tree trunk, made by the Indian guides.  The one modern accommodation was that it did have a little motor so my kids didn't have to row.  :P

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4162/34556485355_261b33afaf_z.jpg)

You can see from the picture you are entering the heart of a rainforest and you have the chance to see cool birds and animals along with way.  Shockingly, we encountered literally zero mosquitos, I guess because we came in the dry season, and the weather was perfect and not to hot at all.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: yuneeq on May 09, 2017, 12:26:25 PM
Did you spot any monkeys?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 09, 2017, 12:47:19 PM
After the maybe 45 minute, very pleasant boatride, we got out to a little path.  Our hike was shorter than other people's (our friends had gone a month before and had to hike a bit farther because the river was down) because the river was high and she knew some of my family members are extremely lazy.  8)  After a few minutes we arrived at this beautiful waterfall.  Because the Hilton's pool was so cold my kid's said that swimming in the river was actually warmer, plus after walking in the heat it was just so refreshing and didn't seem to cold at all.  DH didn't want to swim so that was great because he snapped some great pics.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2586/33034265126_a4743a690b_z.jpg)

I actually brought my daughter's floaties and was glad I did because the pool was quite deep and also you have a current from the waterfall.  Our tour guide was again so awesome and helped me to bring my daughter up to the rocks under the waterfall so we could get some pictures.  My boys were having too much fun playing and couldn't be bothered to come pose for a picture!  ::)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3702/33408594786_c38fe14471_z.jpg)

Don't usually post face pictures but figured this one is far enough away. ;)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2950/32605940614_0905d43514_n.jpg)


Without starting a whole halachic argument here, just a word to the wise about privacy and swimming here.  We swam uninterrupted for about half an hour all by ourselves.  It's my own personal issue but in a different life ages ago, I used to be a lifeguard and really love to swim and dive and covering my hair in the water is just very difficult for me (the frum suit doesn't bother me at all in comparison...lol).  Since I forgot to bring a swim cap, our tour guide was a woman and we were all alone, I was considering taking off my hat so I could really dive down, play with my kids and enjoy myself.  Literally as I'm contemplating this, a tour guide walks up the trail with 3 or 4 people! 

They just were there to see the waterfall and not swim (According to our guide, she is one of the only ones that tells people to come in swim clothes).  So bottom line, if you are makpid on not doing mixed swimming this is an awesome place to go and have fun, even if someone does happen to come they most likely won't swim and will leave after snapping pics for a minute or two.  It IS very isolated and hard to get to but NOT private so I personally would want to make sure I was dressed tzniusly at all times (again, just my personal preference not giving advice).

Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 09, 2017, 12:48:18 PM
Did you spot any monkeys?

Not on this day but saw TONS of them a couple of days later (I'm slowly but surely trying to get through this TR...lol).
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 09, 2017, 01:36:33 PM
After the swim, we hiked back to the boat and rode back along the Chargres river to an Embrera Indian Village.  Since it is deeper into the river area, the big tour buses don't go there and only people on private tours like us, were there.

The entrance to the village from the river and the pictures do include the local people in their native dress. The women of the village all come out to welcome visitors and the kids are visibly excited to have people come.  They don't even have electricity there and the kids all know my tourguide and she brings them treats and toys so they especially got excited to see her!

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3871/33466922495_93f6e0654f_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3757/33426217936_e4f5f3c405_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3680/33408553276_ac8f86f480_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3728/33466935995_cb73238a4e_z.jpg)

It was really sweet how the children wanted to show us everything and how excited my children were (especially my youngest daughter) to run around and play with them.  Because they subsist mostly off of fish from the river, local fruit and vegetables and some subsistence farming, our guide brought them a treat of raisin bread and sliced cheese and they were so excited to get it.  They all waited and shared nicely and you can see their palpable joy and excitement!  My daughter really wanted to be in the middle of everything but was still a little shy.  :)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3752/32634755793_83d85463a1_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3868/33448949355_f9730fe6c8_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/752/33448980335_081eae6b82_z.jpg)




Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 09, 2017, 06:09:10 PM
Great start!

What are the prices of kosher items? Are they more expensive then normal?

I just realized that I never responded to you guys.  The price of food is comparable or cheaper than in the US (although I guess kosher food is expensive in Denver so I might now have the proper perspective).  For example, a pizza was $16, probably more expensive that some places but cheaper than Denver.  A nice steak in a restaurant was $25.  A fancy order of sushi $8-10.  The difference is literally none of the places we went to were "heimishe" restaurants.  :P

They would be considered very high end in the US, with awesome decor, service, etc. so when comparing apples to apples of fancy restaurants in the US it is significantly cheaper.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 09, 2017, 06:53:28 PM
Awesome start, can't wait for the rest. If you don't mind me asking, what was the price range of the room? (You don't need to tell me an exact price).
Did you guys go to San blas?

I did post that our suite was about $220.  We want to go back next summer and I think since I'm not gotta gonna use points I might book an awesome condo in the Trump Tower from AirBnB.  I won't earn points for the stay but can buy their GCs from Staples on my Ink and at least get 5ppd.

We did NOT go to San Blas  but I so wish we did and now that we know our kids are up to it, it's on our list for a return.  If you want to enjoy San Blas and don't want to stay over night (I think we actually would spend one night if we went, now that I know all of the details) you have to leave at about 5AM.  It is a long drive over bumpy, windy roads into an indigenous area.  It is impassable at night so they close it and you must leave from the area at least an hour before sunset (think candle lighting time) which is why you need to leave so early if you want to get to spend any time at the beach.  There are tons of uninhabited islands and they are happy to take to your own private island for swimming and relaxing. 

Good friends did this day trip with 5 kids (youngest was age 6) and said it was the best part of the whole trip and wished they stayed overnight.  San Blas is the area where you can get over-water bungalows for cheap.  The views and water honestly look the same as the Maldives and Tahiti, just without the infrastructure and fancy accommodations.  You definitely need to go with a guide because of the roads and needing to have pre-set arrangements with the indigenous people and boat drivers.

We used http://www.therealpanamatours.com/ (http://www.therealpanamatours.com/) for all our tours.  The owner's name is Sorhay (she's in my pictures) and multiple of our friends from Denver used her to go to San Blas and she is so amazing and now also familiar with so many things about Kashrut and a number of the kosher establishments.  All our tours started later and my kids ate at home but for my friends, she would swing by one of the bakeries (called Jeffrey's) on the way out before they started their day so they could pick up a nice breakfast and coffee and at the end of our tours she would ask us which restaurant we wanted to be dropped at for a late lunch or dinner (they stay open very late in Panama since in the Latin culture they often eat dinner at 9pm).  If you want her e-mail or What's App, PM and I'll be happy to provide her info.  She is extremely professional and I can't recommend her highly enough.  Also, because we were a large number of people, her private tours were cheaper than paying for a big company on an impersonal bus and she offered a really well thought out, curated experience.  So even though I didn't go to San Blas yet, I hope that was helpful! 

Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on May 10, 2017, 09:20:21 AM
Do you know if all the Coffee Bean and Tea Leafs are under hashgacha or only the location you went to? there seem to be a few in Panama City.  I'm mapping out all the kosher places for my trip next week.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 10, 2017, 09:31:26 AM
Do you know if all the Coffee Bean and Tea Leafs are under hashgacha or only the location you went to? there seem to be a few in Panama City.  I'm mapping out all the kosher places for my trip next week.

I'm pretty sure they all are, even the airport.  Also the Sephardic VAAD there is very strict and unlike some of Coffee Beans I've seen in the US that just have teudah on the wall, all their sandwhiches, salads, etc have the tape and hecsher on each items.  All the restaurants did that for takeout or delivery.  The tape wouldn't just be on the bag but also on each item inside.  Also there is a nice Pinkberry yogurt right near the Coffee Bean on Avenida Balboa.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on May 10, 2017, 09:32:16 AM
I'm pretty sure they all are, even the airport.  Also the Sephardic VAAD there is very strict and unlike some of Coffee Beans I've seen in the US that just have teudah on the wall, all their sandwhiches, salads, etc have the tape and hecsher on each items.  All the restaurants did that for takeout or delivery.  The tape wouldn't just be on the bag but also on each item inside.  Also there is a nice Pinkberry yogurt right near the Coffee Bean on Avenida Balboa.

Thanks!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 10, 2017, 12:04:03 PM
Here are a few more pics of that day.  They do a nice presentation showing their native songs and dance, explaining how they live.  Others got a fresh lunch of fish from the river and plantains but for us they had a nice fruit plate prepared.  They survive off of the local food, money from tour groups and selling their amazing hand woven baskets and wares so we bought some to take home.  They showed each different fruit or vegetable they used for each dye to get all the colors they used in the designs and my children really loved that.  The kids were excited to show us their school (the only concrete building) and explained they have a Panamanian teacher who comes and sleeps there Mon-Fri.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2884/33293338782_be71d62e24_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2812/33338579581_b859e2bd06_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/564/32919955472_a09b53f13b_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4184/33733126004_012f6e7bf2_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4172/34414052702_539641305a_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3685/32623457414_328bb79305_z.jpg)

and that was the end of a truly lovely day so we headed out:
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4158/34189808420_a414a88534_n.jpg)


We had an easy drive back where my kids munched a bunch of snacks because they were hungry and then they slept.  We were back in Panama city about 3PM and Sorhay dropped us at Hilel Sport and Grill (the menu is available below) were we had awesome burgers (THIS is what I'm talking about convenience, since we could have such an awesome adventure and get dropped off afterward at beautiful kosher restaurant)!

https://www.facebook.com/Hilel-Sport-Grill-PTY-767719389993809/ (https://www.facebook.com/Hilel-Sport-Grill-PTY-767719389993809/)

Next installment will be lazy day on Thurday and then visiting the canal and Monkey Island on Friday!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: ethana on May 10, 2017, 04:25:13 PM
reminds me of my honeymoon to panama! great country especially san blas
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Something Fishy on May 10, 2017, 04:37:07 PM
Seriously fantastic report. I imagine Panama will pick up steam around these parts now for family vacationers.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 10, 2017, 07:30:04 PM
reminds me of my honeymoon to panama! great country especially san blas

Yes, SUCH an awesome country, can't wait to go back.

Seriously fantastic report. I imagine Panama will pick up steam around these parts now for family vacationers.

Thanks, that means a lot to me and I do hope that lots of frum families see that a vacation here is just as easy as Florida, Phoenix or Cancun and can be way cheaper and more fun!  :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yuey on May 10, 2017, 11:22:53 PM
Great TR! Thanks for sharing.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Mountain Man on May 17, 2017, 05:35:46 PM
I had gotten so excited when you talked about Panama and there were all these advertisements about Southwest's new route from Denver to Panama City. Turns out the Panama City that Southwest flies to is in Florida so I guess I can't use the companion pass for this  :'(.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 18, 2017, 11:51:00 AM
I had gotten so excited when you talked about Panama and there were all these advertisements about Southwest's new route from Denver to Panama City. Turns out the Panama City that Southwest flies to is in Florida so I guess I can't use the companion pass for this  :'(.

ah Mountain Man, all I can say is LOL, no Southwest is not flying directly from Denver (or anywhere) to Panama (maybe you were driving a little too close to the MMJ places and got some secondhand vapors while you heard the ads)!  ;D 

Seriously though, I told you (and figured I would share with others) you can use your companion pass to get you elsewhere really close.  Take it to Cancun and then 10k (or 20k J) Star Alliance each way direct on Copa from there (plus you'll get to vacay in both).  Or take SW to San Jose, Costa Rica and it's a whopping $80 for the one hour flight on to PTY (I know you and you're not gonna wanna spend a dime so fine use Chase Reserve or 10k points for that too).  :P Seriously, just book it because I know you're also sitting on Marriot Certs...I already did all the work for you and I know your DW will be really happy with you, the killer hotel and all the restaurants.   :)

Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 18, 2017, 01:28:54 PM
Ok since the last post got me back in here, I'll add a little bit more today. 

Thursday we just had a lazy day and we actually spent the morning looking at one of the Jewish schools.  We're very interested in the Jewish community for a number of reasons and we also have a friend that had a job possibility at one of the schools so we went to check it out for all those reasons.  I have to say, that I was BLOWN AWAY

The school was so amazing and the things they offer the kids puts American day schools to shame.  One of the schools also TOTALLY teaches in English (one school won't take a child after 2nd grade that can't read and write in English) because they want their children to be able to go on to higher education in the US and Israel.  They have 4 Orthodox day schools there plus a boys' Yeshiva, girls Bais Yaacov HS AND a girls BY type college program (for a community of 12,000 total Jews, can you imagine??).  ...gotta love Sephardim and how they try to keep their WHOLE kehilla involved, even if someone is not so outwardly observant.

To compare, we have 90k Jews in Denver and two orthodox elementary schools, a modern co-ed highschool, BY and Yeshiva, all probably adding up to the kids in one of their day schools.  For someone that has an internet based business or other job, Panama could be an amazing place to live (they also will give residency to all Americans).  Tuition is about the same (a little less than the US), oh and also tuition includes all their meals and snacks at the schools and a live in housekeeper/nanny costs about $600 a month...umm, call me sold, I wanna move!  :P  Seriously, I've looked into a lot of things about living there so if you guys have any questions about schools or other stuff feel free to ask.

Since our school tour took up the whole morning and I obviously didn't take pictures there (but I wish I did because the campus was so gorgeous), I'm just gonna put a few city and food pics for the day.

After the tour we took an Uber over to La Spezia, dairy Italian place.  On the way we passed through a lot of the city and you can see all the Ritzy malls feel all the energy of it being a financial hub.  We passed a super high-end mall and also their famous Corkscrew building (apparently exactly the same as the one in Dubai but Panama's one doesn't spin...lol).

I did NOT take these two pictures below (I have some I took but my family is mugging for the camera in all of them). ;)

(https://drscdn.500px.org/photo/80863337/q%3D80_m%3D1500/65b8bebb79aff2d5e9e33a6c45ce843c)

(https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/ea/8e/c4/ea8ec477cfc806bde815559119a8be44.jpg)


Here is the main mall:
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2068/32919955152_f8176e54e0_z.jpg)


La Spezia is literally around the corner from the Sortis (Marriott brand) hotel and the Kava restaurant inside.  They are all in the Obarrio district.  It is the financial and business hub of the city and where the Jews actually used to live. There are still active synagogues and minyanim there although most of the community has moved the couple miles over to Paitilla and Punta Pacifica to live the new buildings with huge apartments, Shabbat elevators and lots of other amenities.

DH and I agreed that La Spezia offered one of the best thin crust, brick oven pizzas I've had in my life (and that's saying alot since we didn't always keep fully kosher)!  Also, unlike all the other places that were uber-modern and trendy (which is awesome), this restaurant is in an older building with a beautiful courtyard that really gave you a vibe of being in a Latin Hacienda or courtyard of an old building in Europe.  As is a common theme my family is in most of our food pics but we had amazing pizza, great salads, and a killer pasta with Pesto. This was one of the only places that I don't think they had a menu in English but the waiter was helpful and I'd hope people can figure out a basic menu.  :P

We got a great salad (one pizza is in the background) and you can see their brick oven:
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/703/32635671703_d377010f13_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2910/32606752024_b0dc6e0843_z.jpg)

Most restaurants in Panama don't have actual websites but Facebook pages so here is the one for La Spezia:
https://www.facebook.com/La-Spezia-Pizzeria-306501802711500/ (https://www.facebook.com/La-Spezia-Pizzeria-306501802711500/)


After lunch, we walked back over to the Sortis hotel and Kava because I wanted to see how close it really was (it was a two minute walk) and I figured it would be easier for an Uber to find us at the hotel (the old buildings in Panama City literally don't have numbers and people just use cross streets to figure location out).  You can see Kava is such a cool place to hang out and it's also got a great vibe, with a whole bar menu and hookahs if you're not running around like me with a bunch of kids!  8)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3719/33294124872_b6ac016001_n.jpg)


After lunch we took a quick $3 uber back to the Hilton and hung out at the pool.  Then obviously my kids were hungry again...can any other parent relate? So right after swimming we walked the block over to the complex that has the Coffee Bean and inside is a Pinkberry Yogurt with a teudah and everything is under hasgacha.  You can see the teudah in the background along with the menu of smoothies, parfaits, etc.  I believe they even have some parve sorbets for people that keep CY but would eat parve there.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3937/33409388586_40c5de8ca5_z.jpg)

Then we headed back home.  My husband had a business meeting that evening that he got ready for and I just hung out with the kids.  Obviously, in an hour or two my kids were hungry AGAIN so we headed out to get some dinner.  We went to Pita Plus (meat restaurant).  It's actually the only restaurant we went to twice because my kids begged to go back.  It's not super fancy but they have a solid meat menu with Israeli, Sephardic, Panamanian and even Chinese food. I had let my one son get a steak there because it was so reasonably priced and the other one said the chicken tenders were the best he'd ever had so they convinced me to go back.  It's actually in the same little complex in Paitilla that has four kosher restaurants: Prime grill for meat, Pita Pan which is an awesome family, dairy pizza place and bakery (we ate there earlier in the week and picked up bread for Shabbat that same evening) and a parve fish and sushi place called Metsuyan.  The first time we Ubered there but since I knew my way, we just walked this time. 

That tells you how safe I felt that I walked alone with my kids the mile to dinner.  Here is a picture of my Sancochio soup (my friend who had been the month before told me I HAD to order it) which was a really good chicken soup with Yucca (similar to potato).

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2360/32919954722_5ee9d432a3_z.jpg)

You can see the Pita Plus menu here:
https://www.facebook.com/pitapluspty/ (https://www.facebook.com/pitapluspty/)

After dinner it was fully dark, my kids were tired and since I was carrying bags of bread and food and wouldn't really be able to hold my youngest's hand on the walk, I decided not to walk back (but I would have felt totally safe walking) and we "splurged" for another $3 Uber. I hope you can see how compact all the locations and neighborhoods in Panama City are and how convenient vacationing here is with kids and not worrying about food or driving.  We headed back home to the Hilton after another happy day!   

Next Installment: The Canal and Monkey Island on Friday!




Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Something Fishy on May 18, 2017, 01:40:17 PM
Totally agree on your assessment of Pita Plus - the food was absolutely fantastic, yet simple. The best burger I ever had was there.

I'll be in the region next month and I'm actually considering booking TGU-PTY-GUA-EWR over TGU-GUA-EWR just so I can take my wife to Pita Plus.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 18, 2017, 02:00:11 PM
Totally agree on your assessment of Pita Plus - the food was absolutely fantastic, yet simple. The best burger I ever had was there.

I'll be in the region next month and I'm actually considering booking TGU-PTY-GUA-EWR over TGU-GUA-EWR just so I can take my wife to Pita Plus.

LOL...TOTALLY worth the stopover!  ;D

Where did you stay last time you were there and where do you think you might stay this time?  I loved the Hilton but I might try somewhere else when we go back.  Any suggestions?  We're planning a longer, extended trip next summer.  I'll probably do one week at the Sortis on a Marriott cert and then an AirBnb in either Punta Pacifica or Paitilla to really be in the Jewish areas where most of the community lives.  A couple people have mentioned Trump towers as good for Shabbos in Punta Pacifica, and the building and amenities look insane but I didn't know if it's also walk-able to all the restaurants and markets Paitilla.  I may give up some of the over-the-top amenities there and get a normal apartment with a pool in Paitilla.  Any thoughts?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Something Fishy on May 18, 2017, 02:13:43 PM
Last time was a 10-hour layover and this time will be under 4, so I can't really add anything useful regarding hotels.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: ethana on May 18, 2017, 05:52:46 PM
We rented an AirBnb in Paitilla. Was 5 minute walk to shul. Non-Jewish owner even left us a bottle of kosher wine.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 18, 2017, 11:33:26 PM
We rented an AirBnb in Paitilla. Was 5 minute walk to shul. Non-Jewish owner even left us a bottle of kosher wine.

Awesome!  Do you have a link?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: johnshek on May 19, 2017, 01:14:21 AM
Wow. I don't think I even have to go anymore. Feel like I've done it already. Solid stuff.
You mentioned CY in the ice cream place, what about in all the dairy restaurants?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: puddles on May 19, 2017, 11:15:28 AM
Really a great TR, reading and wishing I was there right now!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 22, 2017, 03:03:56 PM
Wow. I don't think I even have to go anymore. Feel like I've done it already. Solid stuff.
You mentioned CY in the ice cream place, what about in all the dairy restaurants?

LOL and thanks but you still gotta go if only for the food!  Aside from like Coffee Bean, Pinkberry, Krispy Kreme and places like that, most of their dairy restaurants are CY and the ones that did have some things that weren't CY have them noted on the menu.  I think the only dairy place we went to that wasn't totally CY was Kava (although I could be wrong) and it was because they had some crepes with dulce de leche and nutella and stuff like that (those crepes were insanely good BTW).  ;D

Really a great TR, reading and wishing I was there right now!

Thanks!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: rediplus on May 22, 2017, 06:57:52 PM
so if I were planning this with 5 kids between 12 and 4, what would be the food expense approximately ?
is it worth it to rent a car instead of uber everywhere ?
can I really go with out bringing any food ?
waiting for the Shabbos installment.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 22, 2017, 08:01:45 PM
so if I were planning this with 5 kids between 12 and 4, what would be the food expense approximately ?
is it worth it to rent a car instead of uber everywhere ?
can I really go with out bringing any food ?
waiting for the Shabbos installment.

Absolutely you can go without bringing any food.  If you wanna bring special stuff your kids like to snack (we take beef Jerky on trips because it's so compact and our kids like it) or something like that, maybe.  Also if you wanna bring one pot just to feel better that's fine (I did and I think I did use it once Motzei Shabbos to make noodles because it was late and I was tired to go out or wait for delivery).  We did order extra at restaurants and use our microwave and paper and plastic to heat up leftovers a lot.

I would plan to spend whatever you would spend let's say on a trip to Miami or Phoenix.  The food costs about the same.  We spent a good bit because we only have two places in Denver, love meat and enjoy eating out, so often went out twice a day.  Our friends with 5 kids who came the month before, got fresh pastries and bread daily at the bakery, ate peanut butter sandwhiches and cheap local fruit while they were out on adventures and mostly ate at dairy restaurants in the evening, where they could order a couple pizzas and pasta family style, w/no drinks where it was way cheaper.  They spent less than us on food but still also didn't cook anything. I think you could get by on less than $100 a day if you planned like my friends did but you'd have to watch your expenditures. We had two less kids and spent more than that.

I personally would not rent a car there unless maybe you are staying in Playa Bonita but even then Uber is less than $10 each way to kosher restaurants.  I have no idea how much rentals are there so you gotta do that cheshbon.  I also wouldn't rent a car in NY, SF or Jerusalem though so maybe others who have rented cars and thought it was worth it (I know people have and discussed it on the Panama Master Thread) can chime in here.  You're gonna have to pay for tours for what we did, or ziplining, going to the San Blas, etc. and they provide transportation, so I'm not sure you need it.  If you aren't gonna really do those tours but want to drive to beaches, Colon, coffee plantations or stuff in the mountains or rainforests, then it might be worth it.  I'd say it really depends on how adventurous you are and how many organized activities you want to do or how much you want to try to do on your own.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: rediplus on May 23, 2017, 08:29:59 AM
thanks for info. good stuff
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on May 25, 2017, 01:16:09 PM
Interesting perspective about the schools. I just came back from Panama and one of the Americans I spoke to was complaining about the quality of schools :-) (and that it cost $15,000/kid but salaries aren't as high as in the US!)

Thanks for all your information. It was helpful for the trip.

Rediplus, drivers in Panama City are pretty crazy. Unless you think driving in NYC is for chumps, you might want to reconsider. Stop signs are suggestions. Lane changing is constant and no one cares who is where. Driving outside of the city isn't as bad.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 25, 2017, 01:28:50 PM
Interesting perspective about the schools. I just came back from Panama and one of the Americans I spoke to was complaining about the quality of schools :-) (and that it cost $15,000/kid but salaries aren't as high as in the US!)

Thanks for all your information. It was helpful for the trip.

Rediplus, drivers in Panama City are pretty crazy. Unless you think driving in NYC is for chumps, you might want to reconsider. Stop signs are suggestions. Lane changing is constant and no one cares who is where. Driving outside of the city isn't as bad.

That is funny about the schools but they are probably comparing to free public school and for us 15k is normal (or cheap) for a frum school (especially HS) and they offer the students SO many more educational options and activities!  ;D

+1 Drivers are very aggressive and insane, parking is difficult and Uber is so cheap, I don't think I'd personally rent a car even for a long term stay.

Where did you end up going and staying?  Anything you definitely recommend doing if we go back?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on May 25, 2017, 02:00:49 PM
That is funny about the schools but they are probably comparing to free public school and for us 15k is normal (or cheap) for a frum school (especially HS) and they offer the students SO many more educational options and activities!  ;D

+1 Drivers are very aggressive and insane, parking is difficult and Uber is so cheap, I don't think I'd personally rent a car even for a long term stay.

Where did you end up going and staying?  Anything you definitely recommend doing if we go back?

We stayed at the Marriott. It was on point savers so 5 nights was 40,000 points. The hotel was very nice but the area was not great and a decent walk to restaurants. It wasn't bad (like 20 minutes) but annoying enough.  We also used a 1 night anniversary cert and 1 night "regular" points.

We loved taking a boat ride through the Panama Canal.  It was absolutely the highlight of our trip (and really the reason we went to Panama!).

We also did Monkey Island, which was amazing. The monkeys come to the boat to eat.

We went to El Valle and that was great. It has a cool zoo of animals in the region, we went on a hike up a mountain (not for little kids! It was really steep).  They have thermal pools with mud masks (not a must). We missed hiking to the square trees and I so want to do that!

We took a tour of San Lorenzo fort and Soberenia National Park and hiked the rainforest. We saw a ton of animals. That was really fun but not a "must see."

We did an overnight in San Blas Islands. It's like pure paradise with amenities to boot (meaning, the light bulb in our room was considered luxury LOL). I'm not sure I would bring little kids along, though you totally could. We snorkeled and swam and toured deserted islands and saw star fish.

We toured Casco Viejo / San Felipe and that was kind of eh. The colonial buildings are pretty cool but the tour was unnecessary.

I would also skip Prime Grill - the entrees were pretty gross there.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on May 29, 2017, 06:27:31 PM
We stayed at the Marriott. It was on point savers so 5 nights was 40,000 points. The hotel was very nice but the area was not great and a decent walk to restaurants. It wasn't bad (like 20 minutes) but annoying enough.  We also used a 1 night anniversary cert and 1 night "regular" points.

We loved taking a boat ride through the Panama Canal.  It was absolutely the highlight of our trip (and really the reason we went to Panama!).

We also did Monkey Island, which was amazing. The monkeys come to the boat to eat.

We went to El Valle and that was great. It has a cool zoo of animals in the region, we went on a hike up a mountain (not for little kids! It was really steep).  They have thermal pools with mud masks (not a must). We missed hiking to the square trees and I so want to do that!

We took a tour of San Lorenzo fort and Soberenia National Park and hiked the rainforest. We saw a ton of animals. That was really fun but not a "must see."

We did an overnight in San Blas Islands. It's like pure paradise with amenities to boot (meaning, the light bulb in our room was considered luxury LOL). I'm not sure I would bring little kids along, though you totally could. We snorkeled and swam and toured deserted islands and saw star fish.

We toured Casco Viejo / San Felipe and that was kind of eh. The colonial buildings are pretty cool but the tour was unnecessary.

I would also skip Prime Grill - the entrees were pretty gross there.

Sounds awesome! We actually considered almost each of these activities and some of them are on our list for next time.  :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: ethana on May 29, 2017, 09:13:01 PM
ziplining in el valle was great!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on June 05, 2017, 11:23:18 AM
ziplining in el valle was great!

Our friends did that and said it was super fun.  On our list for next time.  Did you get eaten by bugs though?  My friends said that mosquitoes didn't bother them the whole time (like us, I literally didn't have one bit) but on that ziplining trip, for whatever reason about the location or something they all got tons of bites, even with using repellent.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: ethana on June 05, 2017, 11:53:00 AM
hmm don't recall the bugs being an issue
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on June 05, 2017, 12:34:41 PM
hmm don't recall the bugs being an issue

I didn't encounter any on my whole trip so it could be they just had a bad day and it's good to hear since I do want to do that on the next trip.  What tour did you go with?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: ethana on June 05, 2017, 12:41:42 PM
we actually rented a car and drove ourselves from panama city. we stopped at the market, then were directed to ziplining and did the zoo after that. The only tour we took was through Barefoot Panama. We also found a driver who took us to San blas for the day.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on June 05, 2017, 01:42:58 PM
Friday trip to Miraflores Locks, the Canal and Monkey Island!

Our tour guide picked us up at around 9AM.  On our way out we stopped at the same market we had on other days.  It was just called the Chinese Market because the owners are Chinese Panamanians.  My kids thought it was so cool how many "native" Chinese are there.  Our tour guide explained that just like Jews and others came in the 1800's many Chinese also came to build the railroad and trade.  This market only had fruit and we made sure to pick up lots of snacks not only for us but also the monkeys!

Our tour guide getting our fruit for the day, with the Chinese store owner:
(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2752/32919954482_afb162694c_z.jpg)


First stop was Miraflores locks with are truly stunning.  It was the only place all week we saw packed with foreigners (from the cruise ships) but you can see why it is can't miss.  The engineering is astounding, how they move these HUGE ships up and down basically with elevators of water.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3666/33321591861_c9bd839416_b.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3830/33409367696_3072aff7c9_b.jpg)

This is when the lock is full of water.  You can't really see because I snapped the picture to late but off in the distance is a huge container ship that they had raised up the equivalent of many stories to travel through the canal:

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2076/32919954162_065bdfb2cb_z.jpg)

And you should know which kids are mine since they wear Broncos clothing everywhere (I thought it was a cute look with a Panama hat)!  ;D  The one picture inside is in the attached 3 story visitor center, below is a model of the control room.  The center was packed but it was REALLY cool.  They show every aspect of how the canal and trade through it work.  They also have a simulator where my kids got to pilot a boat through the canal and see how hard it is to do...they crashed, unfortunately.  :P

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2475/32919954392_8c354d2b60_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/624/33338581861_0bf9fff5d1_b.jpg)


After visiting the locks (I'd say it's 1-2 hours max, including the movie in the visitor center) we headed out on the canal!

This first ship was heading East from Japan (while we were going West), our guide said carrying approx. four THOUSAND cars.  You can see the tugboat pushing it.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/712/33065702510_d39888df9a_b.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3722/32919953772_552b9bc454_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/700/32605909434_193c5b3e67_b.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/748/33065697790_e2b12935f6_b.jpg)

Then some huge container ships:

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3907/32919953582_39c7049d6d_z.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/596/33408551626_0d8196ecb2_b.jpg)



Soon we got to an island that had lots of howler monkeys.  They are these teeny little black monkeys but when they yell they seriously sound like a 400 pound gorilla chasing you in the jungle and if I heard them yelling I would run VERY fast!

They are kind of hard to see so high up in the trees but the black shadow in the middle of these pictures is a howler monkey:

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/733/32634802013_6f0df68f14_b.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4229/34731914590_c77af9820d_b.jpg)


We hung out there a little bit and then headed out to the other islands with the other monkeys.  Forgive me if I mess up any animal species but I think these are the white-headed capuchin:

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/643/33293338592_23ec9efd8b_b.jpg)

They'll come right up to the boat and eat out of your hand but my kids (and me...lol) were a little nervous so we put some fruit on the front of the boat and they come grab it jump back in the trees. It was so AWESOME!

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/760/33065607380_0b79ed8815_b.jpg)


As we were driving among the islands and then on the way back we saw these cool ducks that can basically walk on the water and reeds because of their special webbing in their feet.

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/730/33065653570_5b3ec92fe9_b.jpg)

We also saw a baby crocodile in the water (search hard to find him in the middle of the picture where the hand is pointing) :)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/579/33293308982_b058615423_b.jpg)

On the way back we saw lots more cool ships that everyone enjoyed:

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/768/33065621060_3a16700ffd_b.jpg)


When we got back to the van it was about 2PM so I checked by trusted Kosher PTY app to see what was still open.  Our friends had raved about Aroma Gourmet and we had actually gotten sushi delivery from them via the app, the first night at the hotel, so decided to actually try out their restaurant again.  They didn't close until an hour before Shabbat and our guide dropped us there around 3PM.  The decor and food is great and we all enjoyed the pizza, salads and sushi after another great day!

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4264/34274149994_46c714f95f_t.jpg)

(https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4230/34274179264_2d1df70696_t.jpg)

We then Ubered back to the Hilton for me to arrange our food (which had all been purchased the day before) and shower and generally get ready for Shabbat and services at the Shevet Achim shul...more details about Shabbat to come in the next installment!



Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on June 05, 2017, 02:26:12 PM
we actually rented a car and drove ourselves from panama city. we stopped at the market, then were directed to ziplining and did the zoo after that. The only tour we took was through Barefoot Panama. We also found a driver who took us to San blas for the day.

Cool.  How did you find the driver to San Blas and how much did he charge for both of you for the day? Also how much was the ziplining without transportation?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yordai Dooma on July 06, 2017, 01:31:25 PM
Did you choose the Hilton because it was close to the shuls? I looked at the westin but seems its too far to walk to shul
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 13, 2017, 10:11:40 PM
Did you choose the Hilton because it was close to the shuls? I looked at the westin but seems its too far to walk to shul

I picked it because of the location to shul, it was right on the waterfront, with an awesome pool on a high floor overlooking the water, and I could also walk to a number of kosher restaurants and markets.  If you want to use SPG points, just book the LeMeridian right next door to the Hilton.  ;)

Also, BarryLincoln, I'm giving you a shout out because I have it under good authority that you recently went to San Blas and I know everyone (including me since I didn't make it there yet)  would love to see some pics since it's never been in a TR, so even if you don't want to write up a whole big thing please just post some pictures here (other people, please feel free to to peer pressure him too)!  :P
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on July 14, 2017, 01:11:51 PM
San Blas (https://onedrive.live.com/?cid=6F8315A2EA5907DE&id=6F8315A2EA5907DE%21121588&parId=6F8315A2EA5907DE%21121289&o=OneUp)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 14, 2017, 01:14:17 PM
San Blas (https://onedrive.live.com/?cid=6F8315A2EA5907DE&id=6F8315A2EA5907DE%21121588&parId=6F8315A2EA5907DE%21121289&o=OneUp)

When I click it says something like "this item is unavailable or you might not have permission to see it" :(

Can others view them?  Maybe I am doing something wrong.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on July 14, 2017, 01:14:46 PM
When I click it says something like "this item is unavailable or you might not have permission to see it" :(

Can others view them?  Maybe I am doing something wrong.

Let me try something different.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on July 14, 2017, 01:16:37 PM
https://1drv.ms/i/s!At4HWeqiFYNvh7V0LabuKeWcJZKA0w

Does that work?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 14, 2017, 04:20:48 PM
https://1drv.ms/i/s!At4HWeqiFYNvh7V0LabuKeWcJZKA0w

Does that work?

Yes...stunning picture!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: yuneeq on July 16, 2017, 07:16:02 PM
Anyone visited Pearl islands?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 17, 2017, 09:59:00 PM
Anyone visited Pearl islands?

My good friends did and they enjoyed it but they said San Blas was a whole other league...
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on July 18, 2017, 03:49:44 PM
Wow, I just found this TR! Great write up so far. Looking forward to the rest. You may have convinced me to go there next time we go away.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 18, 2017, 09:38:27 PM
Wow, I just found this TR! Great write up so far. Looking forward to the rest. You may have convinced me to go there next time we go away.

Thanks! It really was great and it would be such easy travel from LA.  Hopefully I'll write up some of the Shabbat and other info soon!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on July 18, 2017, 09:42:13 PM
Thanks! It really was great and it would be such easy travel from LA.  Hopefully I'll write up some of the Shabbat and other info soon!
I know. I'm seriously considering it for our next vacation.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 03, 2017, 04:40:22 PM
Shabbat and Cancun Stopover on the way home:

Just a short little final installment.  We went to Shevet Ahim shul for Shabbat and there wasn't any kiddush there that week.  I just wanted to note that because others have been and had full kiddush lunches there but I wouldn't count on that.

Our return flight was early Sunday morning so we mostly just packed up after Shabbat.  I was having trouble finding good saver flights/connections for us back to Denver so I booked us on a Copa flight to Cancun, with two nights at the Westin Lagunamar and then a direct United flight back to Denver.  We arrived early to the airport but the line to check a bag for Copa was INSANE and in the future, if I have to check a bag I would only fly on Copa out of PTY if I was in J.  The line didn't move at all and was total chaos.  Because our tickets were booked with SQ miles we couldn't check in online and really I can't empasize how bad the experience was.  If you are returning home in Y, try your best to book a flight on United or American where they don't have crazy lines and (hopefully) are more efficient.  The only way we made our flight was my husband losing his cool and literally screaming at an agent to let us go to the Business Class line.  After that, immigration was also super slow so we ran to the gate and got there as they were boarding. 

Once we were on the plane, I think it was nicer than United and they had great IFE at each seat so my kids were super happy.  The flight to Cancun was quick and uneventful.  When we arrived there the airport had all the things that I was worried about in Panama (but never happened there), literally getting rushed by people trying to pretend they were with taxis, selling timeshares, just being shady and causing general discomfort, etc.  In the end we found a taxi and headed to the Westin Lagunamar.

Maybe because we were staying at a huge resort, right in Cancun not somewhere more secluded in Riviera Maya but Cancun was just not what I expected.  I felt like I was in Vegas on the beach and although I do love Vegas, it wasn't what I was expecting.  I guess I'm including this in the TR because SO many people RAVED to me about how great Cancun is before the trip and I just never felt the love.  The hotel was beautiful and huge but you definitely had to be out early to get a seat at the pool and I kind of felt like how I'd assume it feels to be on a cruise with a bunch of people I didn't want to hang out with yet couldn't escape.

Also, a warning to those staying at the Westin Lagunamar in the future.  I booked the larger Premium 1BR for our family of 5 and they are VERY strict about maximum occupancy (and I understand why after going to the pool in the afternoon and finding like one empty chair for my whole family).  They asked for our passports upon check-in and before I could stop him, my DH handed them all 5 passports.  The front desk lady made a big stink about having 5 people in the room and said that we'd have to pay for a 2nd room for an additional $350 a night!  I told her that I totally understood their policy and that they might not be able to accomodate us.  I pulled up my Hotels.com app in front of her, found a teeny room for like $40 on there and told my husband that he'd have to go at night and sleep there after helping us unpack!  :P

After seeing that I called her bluff and that there was ZERO chance of me paying for a 2nd room there she relented and said that they didn't want to separate us and would allow all 5 of us but that we'd HAVE to pay for the rollaway (for like $15...lol) so I thanked her, said I appreciated her trying "so hard" to help us and checked us all in.  :)  So again, just a little warning about the Westin Lagunamar and extra kids.  If you want to bring more people than allowed just be prepared for some real pushback from them. 

Ok, so why DO people rave about Cancun?  Because the water and beach ARE insanely gorgeous!  We had traveled to the Maldives just a few months before the trip and even though neither of us are really dying to go back to Cancun anytime soon we did both agree that the beach and color of the water were as beautiful as the Maldives.  Below are a few pictures of the view from our room and balcony.  It was a truly lovely view.


(https://farm1.staticflickr.com/710/33448916885_ee4b0208cf_k.jpg)

(https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3732/33065616850_ef0d4b32c5_k.jpg)

(https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3814/33321627951_095ed6cf84_k.jpg)

(https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3692/33449755425_61af9f3269_k.jpg)

(https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3849/33294097642_7e5fe9b4c6_k.jpg)

Some final thoughts.  If you are planning to book on Star Alliance, now that United changed their stopover policy, booking on Singapore Airlines enabled us to have this nice stopover in Cancun and if you do want to go to Panama and are having trouble finding flights in either direction, Copa has direct flights from NYC, ORD, SFO, LAX, Roatan island in Honduras (check out SomethingFishy's insane Private Island TR http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=81038.0 (http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=81038.0) where he flew into there), San Jose in Costa Rica, Cancun and lots of other places that might be a fun stopover in either direction.  All in all, this was by far my least stressful family vacation since I've had kids, where we got to have some great adventures AND relax, eat well and have a lovely Shabbos with a minyan. I can't wait to go back to Panama B"H next summer!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: BarryLincoln on August 03, 2017, 04:54:32 PM
Great post!!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on August 03, 2017, 05:24:23 PM
Great conclusion to the TR. I really enjoyed reading it. Are you not going to share what you did in Cancun for your time there?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on August 03, 2017, 05:57:45 PM
I enjoyed my time in Cancun, but I agree with the Vegas comparison. I don't have a great desire to go back.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 04, 2017, 12:19:58 PM
Great post!!

Thanks!

I enjoyed my time in Cancun, but I agree with the Vegas comparison. I don't have a great desire to go back.

Yeah, it was nice but seems like so many other great places to go instead.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 04, 2017, 12:48:59 PM
Great conclusion to the TR. I really enjoyed reading it. Are you not going to share what you did in Cancun for your time there?

We really only had one full day there.  We arrived Sunday around noon and just spent the day at the beach and pool had food delivered from Red Heifer.  On Monday, I did take my older boys snorkeling and although it was a great first time snorkeling trip (which was what I was hoping to do for not too much money), that trip did just add to the kind of bad taste in my mouth I had for Cancun.

I specifically booked it through the hotel concierge because I didn't want to deal with any changes, shadiness, etc. and wanted it all properly organized, since it was gonna just be me and the two boys.  AFTER I had booked and paid through the Concierge he told me that I had to pay a separate "national park entrance fee" on-site the next day.  It's annoying that they nickel and dime that way and especially that the Westin Concierge only told me afterward.  The bus came at around 7am the next morning and took us to the snorkeling place.  They serve a big breakfast there will a full open bar and yes there were plenty of people drinking at 8AM before heading out to snorkel (perhaps not the smartest idea).  The snorkeling trip was actually fine, we saw lots of fish and it was good for me to see that although my kids are still getting older and strong swimmers that it was scary for them (even with life vests) and although they had fun, I shouldn't plan any vacations around snorkeling any time soon.

The guides were nice guys but again I just kinda felt that it was big money cattle car and that there wasn't a whole lot of caring involved.  They took a bunch of underwater pictures to sell later and really emphasize the tips.  I speak Spanish pretty well and they kept reminding the main guy to really explain to everyone that when they come to you to fill out your survey that is the time to pay a tip.  I'm not blaming these guys and did give them a nice tip, as they may not even get any base salary and only live on tips but it just was a little uncomfortable (our taxi driver said the company only pays them like $10 a day but he keeps the job because on a good day he can earn $100 in tips).  So then you come back, everybody drinks more, they take their time and make you wait for all the pictures to be printed so that you will hopefully buy those.  My kids had fun, I'm glad we went but it wasn't a family environment that I'd prefer for mt kids and I just felt kind of blah about it.

When we got back, we changed, took an Uber to Red Heifer (like $5), which had great food, was expensive but nice to have.  When we went outside there was big van taxi, my husband asked him how much to go back to the Lagunamar and he said $20!  I didn't want to wait for an Uber so we ended up paying $12 for it and the guy did have a huge van that would easily hold all of us and our luggage so we booked him ahead for I think $30 to take us to the airport the next morning.  I don't have any pictures of the snorkeling place and can't remember the company name.

I did add in a couple of pool pics from the Hotel in case people wanted to see.  The pool WAS very fun for my kids, it was just insanely crowded.  My littlest also had fun doing art projects in the Kids Club with my husband while we were snorkeling so the Westin does have it's advantages for families.

Really fun and beautiful infinity pool and waterslide!

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4407/36202186212_e466510e66_b.jpg)


\(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4340/35534817254_d727312550_b.jpg)\


One last note about being at the Westin, I thought it was super weird how many obviously frum people were there that seemed to go out of their way to avoid basic eye contact (forget say hello, smile or give a basic greeting).  I figured it was because they were on vacation and didn't want to see other frum people or where embarrased they were at the pool or beach but my friends from NY have assured me that people in Denver are just unusually friendly and Jews elsewhere never acknowledge other people...LOL...either way that was also a little awkward to be at the beach and pool sitting next to other frum people going out of their way to ignore you (btw, I wasn't looking to chat, just normal eye contact, a smile and move on would have been great) so I thought I'd mention that too...and I think that's it folks!  :P
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on August 04, 2017, 12:57:19 PM
One last note about being at the Westin, I thought it was super weird how many obviously frum people were there that seemed to go out of their way to avoid basic eye contact (forget say hello, smile or give a basic greeting).  I figured it was because they were on vacation and didn't want to see other frum people or where embarrased they were at the pool or beach but my friends from NY have assured me that people in Denver are just unusually friendly and Jews elsewhere never acknowledge other people...LOL...either way that was also a little awkward to be at the beach and pool sitting next to other frum people going out of their way to ignore you (btw, I wasn't looking to chat, just normal eye contact, a smile and move on would have been great) so I thought I'd mention that too...and I think that's it folks!  :P
Thanks! I also stayed at the Lagunamar with a friend when we went back in May 2010 and the place felt like club med it was so empty. I guess it's just a NYer thing not to acknowledge other Jews, but my friend and I didn't see another frum person the entire 2 days we were in CUN besides the frum boys on the flight to/from who were obviously on the same deal as us ($10+tax to anywhere they fly). Thanks for sharing though!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Suave on August 07, 2017, 02:20:46 PM
Thursday we just had a lazy day and we actually spent the morning looking at one of the Jewish schools.  We're very interested in the Jewish community for a number of reasons and we also have a friend that had a job possibility at one of the schools so we went to check it out for all those reasons.  I have to say, that I was BLOWN AWAY

The school was so amazing and the things they offer the kids puts American day schools to shame.  One of the schools also TOTALLY teaches in English (one school won't take a child after 2nd grade that can't read and write in English) because they want their children to be able to go on to higher education in the US and Israel.  They have 4 Orthodox day schools there plus a boys' Yeshiva, girls Bais Yaacov HS AND a girls BY type college program (for a community of 12,000 total Jews, can you imagine??).  ...gotta love Sephardim and how they try to keep their WHOLE kehilla involved, even if someone is not so outwardly observant.

To compare, we have 90k Jews in Denver and two orthodox elementary schools, a modern co-ed highschool, BY and Yeshiva, all probably adding up to the kids in one of their day schools.  For someone that has an internet based business or other job, Panama could be an amazing place to live (they also will give residency to all Americans).  Tuition is about the same (a little less than the US), oh and also tuition includes all their meals and snacks at the schools and a live in housekeeper/nanny costs about $600 a month...umm, call me sold, I wanna move!  :P  Seriously, I've looked into a lot of things about living there so if you guys have any questions about schools or other stuff feel free to ask.


Great TR, thanks!

Last week I had a chat with the Owner of Aroma Gourmet (great food). He said he pays $800 per month per child(x3) for tuition and it's his biggest expense by far.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 08, 2017, 03:41:31 PM
Thanks! I also stayed at the Lagunamar with a friend when we went back in May 2010 and the place felt like club med it was so empty. I guess it's just a NYer thing not to acknowledge other Jews, but my friend and I didn't see another frum person the entire 2 days we were in CUN besides the frum boys on the flight to/from who were obviously on the same deal as us ($10+tax to anywhere they fly). Thanks for sharing though!

Thanks our BIL also said it was dead at the Lagunamar when he went like 5 years ago but I think they've built like two more towers and sold the heck out of those timeshares since then, while still just using the same main pool and as far all the frum crowds (seriously like numerous kinds of hassidim, not just Chabad and Modern people) I have to think that is all from DDF and DDMS!

Great TR, thanks!

Last week I had a chat with the Owner of Aroma Gourmet (great food). He said he pays $800 per month per child(x3) for tuition and it's his biggest expense by far.

Thanks!  I'm still trying to figure out a way for my family to have only $800 per month per kid tuition and have that be my biggest expense...that would be awesome!  :P
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on August 08, 2017, 03:42:48 PM
Thanks our BIL also said it was dead at the Lagunamar when he went like 5 years ago but I think they've built like two more towers and sold the heck out of those timeshares since then, while still just using the same main pool and as far all the frum crowds (seriously like numerous kinds of hassidim, not just Chabad and Modern people) I have to think that is all from DDF and DDMS!
That makes sense. They were building new towers when we were there, and apparently it's the place to stay.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 09, 2017, 04:07:32 PM
That makes sense. They were building new towers when we were there, and apparently it's the place to stay.

Yeah it was little nuts and too much for me...lol.


On another random note I still have the Kosher PTY app on my phone and get push notifications.  This popped up a couple days ago:


(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4342/36071194560_3fdcac95b3_c.jpg)

When I clicked into the restaurant on the app, their menu looked insane, with dairy dishes I had never seen in kosher restaurants.  They have pasta with Grey Goose vodka sauce, a four cheese gnocchi, tons of other cool dishes and even fondue service!  I'm adding it to my list of must try places for next time.  It looks to be right near the Marriott and a very reasonable walk from the Hilton, Waldorf and Le Meridian (since they are all right next to each other).  Anyway, I thought I'd share since I know some of you are planning trips right now and also in case anyone has been there and can comment on the food.  :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: yoshapman on August 11, 2017, 01:01:19 PM
Shabbat and Cancun Stopover on the way home:

Also, a warning to those staying at the Westin Lagunamar in the future.  I booked the larger Premium 1BR for our family of 5 and they are VERY strict about maximum occupancy (and I understand why after going to the pool in the afternoon and finding like one empty chair for my whole family).  They asked for our passports upon check-in and before I could stop him, my DH handed them all 5 passports.  The front desk lady made a big stink about having 5 people in the room and said that we'd have to pay for a 2nd room for an additional $350 a night!  I told her that I totally understood their policy and that they might not be able to accomodate us.  I pulled up my Hotels.com app in front of her, found a teeny room for like $40 on there and told my husband that he'd have to go at night and sleep there after helping us unpack!  :P

After seeing that I called her bluff and that there was ZERO chance of me paying for a 2nd room there she relented and said that they didn't want to separate us and would allow all 5 of us but that we'd HAVE to pay for the rollaway (for like $15...lol) so I thanked her, said I appreciated her trying "so hard" to help us and checked us all in.  :)  So again, just a little warning about the Westin Lagunamar and extra kids.  If you want to bring more people than allowed just be prepared for some real pushback from them. 


We were there for 10 days this past Winter break, and have 3 kids (though 2 are very young) and made sure to only give 4 passports and I checked in without my wife/kids, as they seemed pretty strict about the amount of people. 
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 13, 2017, 12:46:10 AM
We were there for 10 days this past Winter break, and have 3 kids (though 2 are very young) and made sure to only give 4 passports and I checked in without my wife/kids, as they seemed pretty strict about the amount of people.

You were smart to only give the 4 passports.  I was shocked how forceful they were about having to pay for a 2nd room.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: rediplus on August 15, 2017, 05:08:54 PM
thanks again for the great TR.
how was the davening at Shevet Achim ?
is there an eruv between the hotels and the shul ?
how did you prepare in the hotel for Shabbos ?
bring a crock pot ?
any hotels or airbnbs really close to a shul ?

Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on August 16, 2017, 10:50:34 PM
Denverite, thank  you for a wonderful trip report.  Panama looks amazing -- definitely high on our list.
Your TR was great, but for this, you are my hero(ine):

" I pulled up my Hotels.com app in front of her, found a teeny room for like $40 on there and told my husband that he'd have to go at night and sleep there after helping us unpack!  :P"
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: shwarmabob on August 17, 2017, 11:07:10 AM
Thanks for the TR. Added Panama to my bucket list, neighbouring Costa Rica was already there. DW will love those milchig places
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 27, 2017, 12:11:29 AM
Sorry for the delayed responses guys!

thanks again for the great TR.
how was the davening at Shevet Achim ?
is there an eruv between the hotels and the shul ?
how did you prepare in the hotel for Shabbos ?
bring a crock pot ?
any hotels or airbnbs really close to a shul ?

Davening was a beautiful Sephardic service.   My husband went a few times during the week also and really liked it and said the guys were friendly to him.  I know there are eruvim but the truth is I didn't really check as we don't have small kids, taped our door and didn't plan to carry anything.  The Hilton, WA and LeMeridian are very close to Shevet Achim but if you want to be closer to the main "Jewish Area" in Paitilla or Punta Pacifica you can stay at the Hardrock, Trump Tower or a number of AirBnBs.  We didn't bring a crockpot and were personally fine to just have a bunch of salads and cold cuts during the day.  For Shabbos dinner we had bought extra from a restaurant that I reheated in the kitchen in our suite and it was still warm when my husband returned.

Denverite, thank  you for a wonderful trip report.  Panama looks amazing -- definitely high on our list.
Your TR was great, but for this, you are my hero(ine):

" I pulled up my Hotels.com app in front of her, found a teeny room for like $40 on there and told my husband that he'd have to go at night and sleep there after helping us unpack!  :P"

Why thank you, it feels good to be a heroine!!  ;D
Seriously, I couldn't believe that she was truly going to try to force the second room on us, especially when we have SPG status and I had already booked the larger "Premium" 1BR with a full kitchen....I don't know where the idea for the hotels.com app came from but I am glad I thought of it and thought I'd share in case any other DDFers ever get in a similar pinch!! My hubby did give me the stink eye for a sec until he realized that I wasn't throwing him under the bus to a ghetto hotel but was actually saving him a ton of money.  :P

Thanks for the TR. Added Panama to my bucket list, neighbouring Costa Rica was already there. DW will love those milchig places

Great, glad you like the report! You might want to write down all the stuff you wanted to do in Costa Rica because it could be that you can do all those same things in Panama, but then your DW will be extra happy with you getting her awesome dairy food each night after your adventures or with your handy Kosher PTY app you can even have milchigs delivered for her and fleishigs for you!  8)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on September 25, 2017, 04:50:41 PM
Just booked my tickets for the family for three weeks next summer so hopefully this trip report will have more adventures and great kosher restaurants added then.  With free tickets and about $300 a week for hotel at the Sortis, we decided its cheaper than paying even for day camp for my kids and way more fun!!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on September 25, 2017, 06:39:00 PM
Just booked my tickets for the family for three weeks next summer so hopefully this trip report will have more adventures and great kosher restaurants added then.  With free tickets and about $300 a week for hotel at the Sortis, we decided its cheaper than paying even for day camp for my kids and way more fun!!
Have fun! I wish we could book for next summer now, but that won't happen unfortunately.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on September 26, 2017, 07:39:00 AM
Just booked my tickets for the family for three weeks next summer so hopefully this trip report will have more adventures and great kosher restaurants added then.  With free tickets and about $300 a week for hotel at the Sortis, we decided its cheaper than paying even for day camp for my kids and way more fun!!

Enjoy! Are you going to go up north too or stay in Panama City?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on September 26, 2017, 05:33:37 PM
Have fun! I wish we could book for next summer now, but that won't happen unfortunately.

Aww, why not? Direct on Copa, 17.5 or 30k!


Enjoy! Are you going to go up north too or stay in Panama City?

Not sure yet, I haven't planned that far ahead yet. :P I'd definitely love to see Boquette and Colon though, maybe a coffee plantation.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Suave on October 16, 2017, 09:24:40 AM
Aww, why not? Direct on Copa, 17.5 or 30k!


Not sure yet, I haven't planned that far ahead yet. :P I'd definitely love to see Boquette and Colon though, maybe a coffee plantation.
I really liked boquete. Can recommend a coffee plantation etc.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on October 18, 2017, 09:10:29 AM
I really liked boquete. Can recommend a coffee plantation etc.

Thanks! Feel comfortable to post the info here?  I'd love to have it.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Suave on October 25, 2017, 03:56:26 AM
Thanks! Feel comfortable to post the info here?  I'd love to have it.

http://boquetebees.com
https://goo.gl/maps/85JDoFrtAi32
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on October 26, 2017, 08:23:17 PM
http://boquetebees.com
https://goo.gl/maps/85JDoFrtAi32

The bee place looks really cool. Did you drive from Panama City to Boquete?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on October 29, 2017, 10:30:09 AM
Iíve already booked my flights and donít want to pay United change fees (yes I know SQ has a way better fee situation but I really needed the expanded inventory from United because of my co-branded cc).  If others are planning trips and want to go to Boquete, Iíd book my flight differently than what I did. Iíd just book my ticket to DAV (about 45 minutes from Boquete) with PTY as the stopover, so that I could get both locations included.  Itís about a six hour drive or $150-$200 RT for the one hour flight on Copa.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Suave on October 30, 2017, 05:25:34 AM
The bee place looks really cool. Did you drive from Panama City to Boquete?
I took a shuttle (Ferry+Van) from Bocas. The way back I took an overnight bus from DAV to PTY.

Boquete has a tiny jewish/chabad community (mostly expats)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on November 20, 2017, 09:48:27 PM
I took a shuttle (Ferry+Van) from Bocas. The way back I took an overnight bus from DAV to PTY.

Boquete has a tiny jewish/chabad community (mostly expats)

Wow, you are hardcore and Iím assuming you werenít lugging kids with you on the overnight bus (although thatís totally stupid of me to assume since my dad planned family trips like that my whole childhood...yup, I got to experience some awesome hostels...lol...which is I guess why my current adventures need to be comfortable)!  :P

Seriously, thanks for all the great info and suggestions!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: StevieZ on January 14, 2018, 02:37:26 PM
@Denverite did you use Sorhay as the tour guide for Monkey Island as well? Was it worth the expense?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on January 14, 2018, 03:15:33 PM
@Denverite did you use Sorhay as the tour guide for Monkey Island as well? Was it worth the expense?

Yes and YES! For my family of 5 it was actually cheaper than paying per person on a big group tour and I love being able to extend parts my family is enjoying or move along when we are done with something. She got special fruit for us (and some special ones the monkeys like aside from bananas...I donít want to ruin the surprise).  I canít say enough good things about her and her company. We went on Friday and she even dropped us at a kosher restaurant (she knows where a lot of them are) to eat a late lunch when we were done.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on February 14, 2018, 03:23:26 PM
#DDFeffect!

Sorhay has gotten so much business from my trip report (and responding to so many PMs) that she decided to make a kosher tour page (gotta love her and capitalism).  I thought you all would enjoy and for those of you that have had questions about the most popular tours, she has listed them here with pricing for couples and for a larger group it isn't that much more (you can still always PM me and I'm happy to help).  I thought y'all would get a kick out of this and some of the pictures she has (spoiler alert, I'm not in any of them but some of my friends from Denver are and I'm wondering who all these other people are and what their DDF names are)!!  ;D

https://www.therealpanamatours.com/kosher-tours-details.html (https://www.therealpanamatours.com/kosher-tours-details.html)

I also just used two Marriott certs to book at the Sortis Hotel this summer.  A friend from here just got back and told me about a few other restaurants super close to the hotel that weren't even on my radar so I'm super excited to go back and try them out!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: chuchem on February 16, 2018, 05:07:44 AM
Just came back und used soray and was super happy. We had a amazing time and alot of the pictures (with 6 boys) are mine
There is a new restaurant aria right across the street of the sortis, probably our favourite in panama
we Did san blas for 2 days as well
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Something Fishy on February 16, 2018, 07:58:42 AM
#DDFeffect!

Sorhay has gotten so much business from my trip report (and responding to so many PMs) that she decided to make a kosher tour page (gotta love her and capitalism).  I thought you all would enjoy and for those of you that have had questions about the most popular tours, she has listed them here with pricing for couples and for a larger group it isn't that much more (you can still always PM me and I'm happy to help).  I thought y'all would get a kick out of this and some of the pictures she has (spoiler alert, I'm not in any of them but some of my friends from Denver are and I'm wondering who all these other people are and what their DDF names are)!!  ;D

https://www.therealpanamatours.com/kosher-tours-details.html (https://www.therealpanamatours.com/kosher-tours-details.html)

Wow, this is great.

But I'm not sure they really understand Jews. On the one hand, half of the conversation is about food, which is good. On the other hand, they say "When we have kosher visitors we only do group tours with other kosher visitors so you feel more comfortable." Do that not know that the last thing a Jew on vacation wants to see is another Jew ;D?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: mmgfarb on February 16, 2018, 09:14:55 AM
Wow, this is great.

But I'm not sure they really understand Jews. On the one hand, half of the conversation is about food, which is good. On the other hand, they say "When we have kosher visitors we only do group tours with other kosher visitors so you feel more comfortable." Do that not know that the last thing a Jew on vacation wants to see is another Jew ;D?
Yea, they probably don't get that.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: BarryLincoln on February 16, 2018, 09:53:11 AM
Just came back und used soray and was super happy. We had a amazing time and alot of the pictures (with 6 boys) are mine
There is a new restaurant aria right across the street of the sortis, probably our favourite in panama
we Did san blas for 2 days as well
Did you overnight in San Blas?  If so, what was that like?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on February 16, 2018, 11:44:48 AM
Did you overnight in San Blas?  If so, what was that like?

+1 Iíd love to hear about doing that with all your kids. My kids really want to when we return but I was nervous. Did you even have electricity? Sorhay, gave you a cooler for all your stuff for two days?  Maybe, Iíd bring one of those porta-grill.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: BarryLincoln on February 16, 2018, 12:48:36 PM
+1 Iíd love to hear about doing that with all your kids. My kids really want to when we return but I was nervous. Did you even have electricity? Sorhay, gave you a cooler for all your stuff for two days?  Maybe, Iíd bring one of those porta-grill.

When we were there in July, we met a small group of frum people from Panama that were overnighting in San Blas.  Noticed a talis/tefilin bag and started shmoozing with one of them... they had tents and brought a cooler of food... definitely doable but you have to be comfortable with the primitive conditions...
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on February 20, 2018, 05:27:10 PM
Wow, this is great.

But I'm not sure they really understand Jews. On the one hand, half of the conversation is about food, which is good. On the other hand, they say "When we have kosher visitors we only do group tours with other kosher visitors so you feel more comfortable." Do that not know that the last thing a Jew on vacation wants to see is another Jew ;D?

That IS funny and SO true! I think what she is trying to say is "you don't have to worry about us mixing up your kosher food and we know you don't like to swim around lots of strangers" although I should probably explain to her that as much as I hated when the tour group walked up when we were swimming in the waterfall it would have been way weirder to have them be frum people!  She took my friends to Los Portobellos and my friend posted on Facebook her shock at two other frum families being on the beach with another guide and although I know my friend would never mean anything badly toward another person, the look on her face was utter horror! :P

When we were there in July, we met a small group of frum people from Panama that were overnighting in San Blas.  Noticed a talis/tefilin bag and started shmoozing with one of them... they had tents and brought a cooler of food... definitely doable but you have to be comfortable with the primitive conditions...

Yeah, that kind of travel is not for me...I need Air Conditioning...LOL...hence, I also can't go to @Something Fishy's awesome private island.  I'm leaning more and more toward sending my older kids to San Blas with their adventurous Grandparent (yep, same person that dragged me all over the world as a kid and traumatized me so that now I need a little luxury, but hey it's good for kids).   ;D
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on February 21, 2018, 06:39:27 AM

Yeah, that kind of travel is not for me...I need Air Conditioning...LOL...hence, I also can't go to @Something Fishy's awesome private island.  I'm leaning more and more toward sending my older kids to San Blas with their adventurous Grandparent (yep, same person that dragged me all over the world as a kid and traumatized me so that now I need a little luxury, but hey it's good for kids).   ;D


Definitely send the kids. It's incredible. Or do a day trip? You don't get the utter overnight quiet but you see a lot!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on February 23, 2018, 12:39:56 PM
Definitely send the kids. It's incredible. Or do a day trip? You don't get the utter overnight quiet but you see a lot!

Thanks for the insight, yeah it'll most likely be just a day trip and I'll stay home with the littlest, that I don't think can handle that long and windy drive there and back in one day.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: sruliL on March 14, 2018, 04:04:52 PM
Wow, what an amazing TR!! I think Panama just moved to #1 on my list for next trip!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on March 21, 2018, 03:21:12 PM
Wow, what an amazing TR!! I think Panama just moved to #1 on my list for next trip!

Thanks!  I hope you go and have a blast!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 04, 2018, 12:39:34 AM
Iím back in Panama right now, in a different hotel, with lots of new excursions and restaurants so once Iím home, Iíll hopefully have lots to add here!  :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on July 04, 2018, 10:06:15 PM
Iím back in Panama right now, in a different hotel, with lots of new excursions and restaurants so once Iím home, Iíll hopefully have lots to add here!  :)
Can't wait!
We are ticketed for February vacation 2019, staying at the Sortis, so your info will be of great help to us.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: brodes18 on July 04, 2018, 10:28:17 PM
Can't wait!
We are ticketed for February vacation 2019, staying at the Sortis, so your info will be of great help to us.

I just got back from there last week. Great place, great food.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Tzadik Nistar on July 04, 2018, 11:53:38 PM
Iím back in Panama right now, in a different hotel, with lots of new excursions and restaurants so once Iím home, Iíll hopefully have lots to add here!  :)
How is the weather in the summer? Is it very humid and hot?
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Something Fishy on July 05, 2018, 12:29:14 AM
How is the weather in the summer? Is it very humid and hot?

Yup.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on July 05, 2018, 08:20:20 AM
I don't think humid and hot even begin to describe it....
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 06, 2018, 12:33:33 AM
I don't think humid and hot even begin to describe it....

Iím here now and although itís humid itís way cooler and more pleasant than most of the East Coast as it doesnít top 85 degrees!  Also because itís rainy season and cloudier I actually think itís cooler than my last trip in Februrary.

Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 06, 2018, 12:42:02 AM
On another note, we went to Islas Las Perlas (they have a ferry from Panama City) and it was truly spectacular and I enjoyed it way more than San Blas. Iím excited to post pictures and a write up when Iím back on a computer as I think so many families will enjoy it and I donít think itís been written about on DDF.  The scenery is amazing, you can easily get a boat to take you to your own private beach on an uninhabited island and the archipelago is where humpback whales mate and give birth so we got to get close to and watch them too!

Also, Iíll try to give details about restaurants near Sortis (and other ones too that havenít been mentioned) for all the people coming soon!  :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: brotha123 on July 22, 2018, 05:20:00 PM
On another note, we went to Islas Las Perlas (they have a ferry from Panama City) and it was truly spectacular and I enjoyed it way more than San Blas. Iím excited to post pictures and a write up when Iím back on a computer as I think so many families will enjoy it and I donít think itís been written about on DDF.  The scenery is amazing, you can easily get a boat to take you to your own private beach on an uninhabited island and the archipelago is where humpback whales mate and give birth so we got to get close to and watch them too!

Also, Iíll try to give details about restaurants near Sortis (and other ones too that havenít been mentioned) for all the people coming soon!  :)
Coming this week with 3 friends! Waiting for the new TR:)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on July 30, 2018, 07:43:00 PM
Coming this week with 3 friends! Waiting for the new TR:)

So slammed with work, I'm gonna try to at least upload pictures.  I saw in another thread you got an upgrade at the Sortis for a 1BR...isn't it the best points redemption deal ever?!  I just love the place.  I hope you went to all the restaurants nearby.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: brotha123 on July 30, 2018, 11:25:31 PM
So slammed with work, I'm gonna try to at least upload pictures.  I saw in another thread you got an upgrade at the Sortis for a 1BR...isn't it the best points redemption deal ever?!  I just love the place.  I hope you went to all the restaurants nearby.
Sortis is great.. payed a friend $85 for 15k points.. Kava sushi was unreal and I loved Aria as well... just leaving there now actually! Moma was also very solid. Got a solid steak with side dish for only $18..
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 01, 2018, 10:02:20 PM
Sortis is great.. payed a friend $85 for 15k points.. Kava sushi was unreal and I loved Aria as well... just leaving there now actually! Moma was also very solid. Got a solid steak with side dish for only $18..

Those three were my exact favorites as well!!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: luv2trvlwithfam on August 23, 2018, 05:40:47 AM
fantastic!!!!!
how long did it take you to plan this trip?
how far in advance did you make your reservations?
thanks for the TR
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 23, 2018, 07:31:43 AM
Islas Las Perlas:

I'm not going to do a play by play of my two weeks in Panama this summer like with my first trip because I think I've given a ton of hotel and other planning info already but I did want to highlight some of the best places that we visited this time.  One of the very best places at the very top of that hit list are the Las Perlas Islands.  I hadn't heard about it at all on DDF or in the day trip offerings from any guides.  A friend of mine from Denver, that I helped to plan a trip to Panama, found out about them from a local in shul while he was there.  The Panama city tour companies don't promote these islands like San Blas or other places because they can't take you in their own boats, you need to take an expensive ferry with a per person fee (totally worthwhile, and I'll tell you how that price can be reduced) and from my perspective, haven't figured out a way to monetize the tours properly because of the transportation costs.

You can either hire a boat yourself once you get to Las Perlas (you must speak Spanish though) or do what I did and use a tour company based out of Las Perlas, on the main island of Contadora.  Our tour company then was also able to get us discounted ferry tickets that depending on your number of adults can go a long way toward reducing the cost of the tour.  We only went for the day but now that I have visited these gems, I would love come back and probably spend two nights there.  Unlike San Blas they have full electricity, nice accommodations and were way LESS crowded.  These islands are off all city tour guides radar and I unequivocally recommend spending a day here!

We used Pearl Island Day tours once we got off the ferry on Contadora island.  The cost was $250 for a half day private tour (which is the perfect amount of time for after you arrive and to catch the ferry home in the afternoon).  It was a solid deal for our family but they will accommodate up to 8 people for this price so if you have a larger group it is a smokin' deal for what you get.  I have nothing but the highest praise for Ilene (her husband also leads tours but he was back in the US while we were there) and her help with booking reduced ferry tickets and giving us a magical day that was by far my boys highlight of the whole trip!

Here is info they provide on how to get to Las Perlas:

https://pearlislandsdaytours.com/getting-there-2/ (https://pearlislandsdaytours.com/getting-there-2/)




We followed Ilene's recommendation and used http://www.sealasperlas.com/en (http://www.sealasperlas.com/en) and instead of the $90 per person ticket price Ilene got it for us for $75 and then the kids were the normal $70. It leaves from Amador Causeway (the other ferry is more convenient and leaves from right near Trump hotel but it was a lot more expensive).

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1818/42406969340_2309eaefc1_c.jpg)


Please do bear in mind if you've got very little ones or any mobility issues that it is a "wet landing" when you get to Contadora as there is no dock.  So they help you you to get on a little boat from the big ferry and then from that little boat you gotta get off onto the beach and you might get knocked around in the surf.  My youngest child couldn't really do it so we just handed her into the little boat and then the guys again handed her to me after I got out into the surf and I carried her to the beach.

Ilene met us on the main beach in Contadora Island which is just beautiful.  These are the little boats that bring you ashore (and are the same boatmen that will take you back out on your adventures):

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1884/30347348168_b25581e534_c.jpg)



We met Ilene, got life jackets on and other stuff and then headed back out for the main reason that I booked this day (little did I know my kids would have as much fun with other parts)...all summer long they've got tons of whales in Las Perlas!

We headed out with Ilene and our boatman Jaime (yup pronouned like Chai-may): :)

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1815/43309138075_dbc07837c1_c.jpg)



Literally within about fifteen minutes, we started seeing whales!  I didn't get any killer NatGeo shots of their tails and jumping and such but it was so cool.  Because you are so close and in such a small boat I started to get a little nervous but my kids were in heaven and Ilene assured me that these boatman do this all day, every day (they are locals from the neighboring Island of Taboga) and have never had an issue, as they know right where to go and the whales are not at all aggressive.  Here are a couple shots showing their fins:

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1895/43497027164_c3456c57fd_c.jpg)


(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1839/42406963380_06a98d7c7f_c.jpg)




This little trip was also good for me and my family as I realized that I never want to do a safari.  We had a great time seeing the whales but we are kinda ADD and need to DO stuff, not just watch animals for hours, so after about half an hour all of us were like "this has been so amazing, we've seen enough whales now, what's next?"  :P  SOOO, Ilene took us to our own private island for family swimming and snorkeling! 

The water and islands are all SO beautiful...I thought the scenery, privacy and experience blew San Blas into the dust.  Here are some pics of heading to our beach.  The color of the water rivaled the Maldives:

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1835/43496993374_b69bfcddbe_c.jpg)

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1840/30347347218_ed71f83a19_c.jpg)

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1837/44166449792_e9d2c28da2_c.jpg)

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1896/44215421751_495a02911e_c.jpg)


Again, no docks (since it's totally undeveloped) and you gotta get out into the surf.  This pictures shows where the boat comes and stays:

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1811/43309148645_8bac1425f9_c.jpg)

Enjoying our own private beach!

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1872/42407002020_c377424d31_c.jpg)


After playing a bit, Ilene offered to take the boys to her favorite snorkeling spot, so I stayed on the beach with my little one and they headed over in the boat to a little protected reef.  She is such a pro that she took underwater pictures and GoPro videos of them with the fish and emailed them to me in the evening.  Obviously my sons thought that this was the coolest thing ever.  This pic shows where they were as you can see the boat waiting right next to the reef a little off the shoreline:

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1835/30347335208_6ab4a4a118_c.jpg)


I hope you enjoyed this little installment and I'm planning to continue in the next one with some more awesome adventures from our day in Las Perlas!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on August 23, 2018, 09:25:23 AM
Wow, so cool! I can't wait until my girls are older so we can go to Panama. This is exactly the type of place we love to visit, just not with kids as young as ours. Thank you for sharing.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on August 23, 2018, 07:58:59 PM
@denverite, great installment! Canít wait to go in February.  All your recommendations will be so useful.  Thank you.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: ludmila on August 24, 2018, 01:39:52 AM
Very well written, enjoyed reading. :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 26, 2018, 05:18:22 PM
Wow, so cool! I can't wait until my girls are older so we can go to Panama. This is exactly the type of place we love to visit, just not with kids as young as ours. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks!  We really did have a blast.  I saw from the pics in your latest TR that you really do have teen ones so yeah this day would have been hard for them.  If anyone is wondering though about ages I think probably even a 3yr old that can follow directions would have had a blast on this day!  Again just have to know that you are going to have to work a little to get any small kids out of these boats and onto the islands as you are basically just jumping into the surf and trying not to get knocked down by waves (so little ones are going to get carried in your arms to shore).
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on August 26, 2018, 05:21:47 PM
@Denverite, great installment! Canít wait to go in February.  All your recommendations will be so useful.  Thank you.

Very well written, enjoyed reading. :)

Thanks, it means to lot to me and I'm happy to help.  Next installment is coming up soon and @zow doing Las Perlas would probably be a blast for your older kids and cheaper than San Blas.  You all could possibly do some hikes and other stuff once you got of the ferry, without even taking a private boat tour.  There was lots of other stuff to do on all the islands but I am limited because of the ages of my kids.  I'll try to give all that info too for you.  :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on August 26, 2018, 07:22:32 PM
Thanks, it means to lot to me and I'm happy to help.  Next installment is coming up soon and @zow doing Las Perlas would probably be a blast for your older kids and cheaper than San Blas.  You all could possibly do some hikes and other stuff once you got of the ferry, without even taking a private boat tour.  There was lots of other stuff to do on all the islands but I am limited because of the ages of my kids.  I'll try to give all that info too for you.  :)
@denverite, sounds absolutely terrific! We will have a week so could conceivably do both, but will will start with Las Perlas. Iím sure we will be in touch as February approaches.   
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Sammie on November 19, 2018, 05:53:53 PM
@Denvertite - WOW! Thank you for all the descriptive information. Planning our trip now mostly based on your suggestions!

Thank you!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on November 20, 2018, 10:22:57 PM
@Denvertite - WOW! Thank you for all the descriptive information. Planning our trip now mostly based on your suggestions!

Thank you!

So glad you enjoyed and I hope you have an awesome trip!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on January 02, 2019, 03:05:28 PM
Hi,
Sounds like you recommend Las Perlas over San Blas.
How about a day trip to Colon via the Panama RR?
And among Sorhay's tours, am I correct that you most recommend the Embera (indigenous people) tour?
Thanks!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on January 03, 2019, 07:38:54 PM
Hi,
Sounds like you recommend Las Perlas over San Blas.
How about a day trip to Colon via the Panama RR?
And among Sorhay's tours, am I correct that you most recommend the Embera (indigenous people) tour?
Thanks!

I do personally recommend Las Perlas over San Blas (it's more cost effective and I feel less commercialized).  My friends just went yesterday and I straight out asked them if Las Perlas lived up to all my hype (they've also been to San Blas) and they said yes.  :)

I think Sorhay's Embrera tour is a must do.  Let me know if you need anything else!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on January 03, 2019, 09:05:38 PM
I do personally recommend Las Perlas over San Blas (it's more cost effective and I feel less commercialized).  My friends just went yesterday and I straight out asked them if Las Perlas lived up to all my hype (they've also been to San Blas) and they said yes.  :)

I think Sorhay's Embrera tour is a must do.  Let me know if you need anything else!
Terrific! Thanks so much.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on January 04, 2019, 11:27:35 AM
Terrific! Thanks so much.

My pleasure! And I just got off the phone with my friend that just came back yesterday and they said they also thought Las Perlas and their tour with Ilene was the highlight of their trip and it ended up being way less expensive than San Blas too.  Also for them, they did a hiking, mud baths, swim in waterfall day trip with Sorhay in Anton Valley.  I've never done Anton Valley (so it's on my list for my 3rd trip...lol) because I was worried the hiking would be too much for my little one but since you have older kids, it might be perfect for you.

Looking forward to hearing about all your adventures!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on January 22, 2019, 05:07:04 PM
Pearl Islands (Continued):

In my last installment, I laid out why I thought Las Perlas was so special and amazing and I do think most people should take a day to visit this magical place.  I left out one of the coolest parts of our day though and something my two older boys have been talking about ever since!  There are some times when I'm travelling when everything seems to be going wrong and I wonder why I bother to make all the effort to drag my kids to far off places and then there are other times when I feel like HaShem has really just blessed us to give us these surreal and amazing experiences and I am just so blessed.  This afternoon was the latter and I know that if we go again the likelihood of having a similar experience is very small.

After we left the island where we were playing on the beach, our tour guide Ilene suggested we throw a line into the water (all these boatman are also fisherman) as she took us around to see some other scenery.  I said sure, why not, as my boys always get excited to try fishing.  The most they had ever caught were some small fish, when fishing with family off of piers on the east coast.  Literally after just a couple minutes of the hook going into the water, we saw a strong tug on the line.

My boys got so excited and headed over to try to reel in the fish...little did we know what were in for!



(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1848/43309115545_293a1e6c95_c.jpg)




They started to slowly reel in the line and we could all see that the fish was really pulling!  They were trying to reel it in and slowly making progress and the boatman was showing them how to do it, as you want to make progress pulling in the fish but also not snap the line.  After a while the fish got close enough that we could see it and it was HUGE!


(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1867/43496997614_2427b6400c_c.jpg)


(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1844/29278572057_60fb8346b7_c.jpg)


(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1860/43309137585_4fdebcf4c7_c.jpg)


This whole process took a good 15 minutes (which is forever when you are "battling" an animal...which I had never done before...lol).  As the fish got closer you could really feel it pulling the boat and I was having flashback to school, when I had to read Ernest Heminway's "Old Man & the Sea" (spoiler alert, the Old Cuban dude dies after a long arduous battle with a huge fish that he is trying to bring in to take himself out poverty...it's basically the most depressing story ever for a child to read...lol) and I was actually starting to get scared.  At one point, the fish swam underneath our boat and I started freaking out that we might flip.  ;D  Obviously, I'm just a crazy Jewish mother and that wasn't going to happen but I literally asked Ilene if there was a chance that it could pull the boat over but she told me to relax, the line would snap first but regardless Jaime wasn't going to let that happen!  :P


Right about then Jaime pulled out a huge spear that I learned you are not allowed to call a spear because it is actually a gaff (but since some of you might be ignorant like me I thought I'd explain that it's a spear).  :)   Ilene told my sons to get back (I was already way back clutching my daughter...lol) and Jaime slowly worked to reel the fish in close enough and then speared it.  This whole time the fish is still fighting.  Even after he speared it with a second huge hook and after he brought it in the boat it was still fighting but as he brought it up, it really was so cool.  I've never understood people's (well mostly men's) whole man vs. nature need to conquer a mountain or an animal but in that moment, I finally got the appeal...it was scary, adrenaline filled and just so flippin' cool!


You can see my son's fist pumping in the air and the huge smile on Jaime's face as he finally pulled it out of the water.  We were all literally screaming and cheering him when he finally pulled the fish in!

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1874/30347341078_bf6eacbbbe_c.jpg)


I actually got even more scared once he got it in the boat.  You can see that Jaime was a huge, strong guy and he was really working to contain the fish as it was flopping and turning to fight him.

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1871/44214983271_89589a8055_c.jpg)

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1855/44166448472_d2764ff395_c.jpg)


I'm not sure if you can catch the motion in the static picture but the fish was still moving in this picture and that's why it's tail is flipped off to the side.
(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1853/30347727408_6934dc9386_c.jpg)



Here are the boys, when we arrived back at Contadora beach, with their "catch" that is almost as long as they are!!

(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1860/30347727428_90ef42e608_c.jpg)


Ilene offered to bring it back to whatever restaurant on the island we wanted so we could have it prepared (all the places are apparently happy to do that) and it was at that point that I explained to her about Kashrut (although if any y'all want to head to these islands and are thinking positively you could bring a pan with you).  ;D  Because it was so funny shaped, I wasn't even sure it was kosher but then we saw that it did clearly have scales.  It was actually a Dorado (or dolphin fish, Mahi-Mahi) and is kosher.  She offered to put it on ice for me but I wasn't about to bring that thing back on the ferry with me.  My husband was flying in that night from the US to meet us in Panama City and I figured he would rather see the pictures than the real, smelly fish, that I had no way to cook in our Sortis suite!  :P 

Ilene was super happy to take it (based on prices that I've since looked up it was worth at least a couple hundred bucks) and she said they would get many great meals out of that fish!

I have other adventures and pictures from the trip but for now, that was my fish story!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Yehoshua on January 22, 2019, 08:13:25 PM
That's a great story! Ilene was one lucky lady. Thanks for sharing.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: @Yehuda on January 22, 2019, 10:19:25 PM
Ha, cool story - I was actually going to say it looked like a dolphin in the water!
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: zow on January 23, 2019, 08:43:35 PM
Thatís a great story.  I hope you have some video, too.  My daughter read it and asked,
ďCan we do that, too?!Ē
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: normathej on January 24, 2019, 11:02:34 AM
@Denverite you have the best trip reviews!  Plus, you do all the research and then we can just copy your itinerary.  Thanks for all of your sharing.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: davidrotts63 on January 24, 2019, 11:04:46 AM


@Denverite you have the best trip reviews!
#oldhock
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: saw50st8 on January 29, 2019, 07:32:46 AM
I need to go back with my kids.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: tzifanya54 on January 30, 2019, 10:29:19 AM
Wow amazing. As a kid I used to go deep sea fishing with my family. We mostly caught small fish, which we would bring bag and eat. I remember once catching a baby shark. I offered it up for grabs on the boat and everyone came running apparently they are pretty rare.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: bostonguy on February 01, 2019, 11:21:15 AM
We also had a tour of Las Perlas with Ilene, but alas we weren't so lucky to catch a fish.  Highly recommend Ilene's tour, but if she asks you, while snorkling at "Exile Island", if you want to swim to the other side of the island - be forewarned that it is a tough swim and meant only for really strong swimmers - lots of current.
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on February 27, 2019, 05:14:39 PM
Guys, thanks for all the encouraging comments.  I still have a bunch of pics and other stuff to post if I can get around to it! :)
Title: Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Post by: Denverite on February 27, 2019, 05:16:53 PM
We also had a tour of Las Perlas with Ilene, but alas we weren't so lucky to catch a fish.  Highly recommend Ilene's tour, but if she asks you, while snorkling at "Exile Island", if you want to swim to the other side of the island - be forewarned that it is a tough swim and meant only for really strong swimmers - lots of current.

Wow, so did she have to come rescue you guys or did you tough it out?  She must have noticed how lazy my family was because this whole "swim to the other side of the island" was never offered to us!  ;D