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Our Trip to Panama this summer was one of our BEST! Our Trip to Panama this summer was one of our BEST!

We are a family of 6, 4 boys ages 14-5.

I was looking for a trip with a bit of adventure/sightseeing but didn’t want to spend a ton of time researching, nor did I really have time for that as this was a bit of a last min trip. My first thoughts were Europe but we only had about 5 vacation (week) days left and we didn’t want to deal with the time change/loss.
Panama was suggested and after a quick check on Dans deals trip destinations it looked like it would be a perfect fit. Only about 3 ½ hours flight from Miami, only a one hour time difference and cheap beautiful hotels. After a few trips to the Bahamas I was done packing suitcases of food and wanted a destination with that included. Panama did not disappoint, it has MANY kosher restaurants (that were great!) and all in city center.   The BEST part (other than the food) was that we hardly did any activity planning. Per the recommendations of many from DDF we were able to book with THE REAL PANAMA tours, and that took care of basically all our excursions.

PACKING: I assumed we would not be able to or want to find/take time to do laundry so I did a little over packing and brought a set of cloth for every day, and 2 sets of swimwear. We didn’t end up using all the cloths, but in this situation I think it was better to be safe than do laundry ;D Swim shoes were a must and ordered some of those on Amazon for the whole family. Only other super important thing to pack was waterproof phone case (for those of us whom have not upgraded ;)).

FLIGHTS: We booked BA Avios 11K and like $5 tax per person to Panama and flew on AA. I wasn’t sure if we had to pay for baggage as it seems our AAdvantage card, citibusiness Plat Select, does not cover international baggage fees. (We learnt this at the airport when they charged us for our bags to the Bahamas). But we were pleasantly surprised that they did not charge us, nor on our return flight. Maybe someone can shed some light one why???  We booked our return tickets with chase Reserve as the return on BA Avios would have been 11k points with $150 tax per ticket. With Reserve it was just 16K with zero $$$ outta pocket…

HOTELS: I was trying to find a hotel that we could stay at for our whole 7 night stay, however I kept reading great things about the Sortis (thanks DDF) and using the apps, Kosher GPS and Kosher near me, I was able to see it was located near 4 highly recommended restaurants. So while it’s super annoying to pack up 6 ppl we stayed at Sortis for the first 4 nights and then moved to JM Marriot for Shabbos. JM is closer to the shuls, has a nice ocean view and very Shabbos Friendly. It is also pretty close to some nice restaurants but price was a bit more than Sortis.

     Since I am extremely stingy with points rather than use my chase Reserve to book my rooms (not familiar with the Marriot rewards or their free nights, will need to read up on them a bit more) I booked with the Marriot App and then attempted to do a price match guarantee, with the 25% back if you find a lower price. I say attempted because while JM price matched easily and we paid between $90 and $110 depending on the night they did not as easily price match the Sortis. Before I booked with Marriot I searched to see if I was able to find these rooms cheaper at any other sites. For Sortis I found a lower price at Amoma. After my initial email the price match team responded saying that the website Amoma’s description of a double room is actually referring to a single bed…yes weird as it gave the same “tittle” description as Marriot. However, after a few phone calls and emails (we were a bit short on time as we were booking this the Friday before we flew out on Monday) I got someone that “matched it”. However, the way you book with the Marriot app you put flat out how many people per room, they don’t let you differentiate between kids and adults, so you auto incur an additional adult fee. When you show up to the hotel and they see the kids they will take it off. Unfortunately for us, Marriot gave us the price match at $30 higher than the website, which included that additional “adult” fee and since they structured the price to include that fee, the hotel was unable to see/refund the fee once we got there.  Sortis was no help as they have no clue what the price match guarantee is in the first place. As it is we paid $86 per night for the room, the price we were attempting to match was $84 which after the match and 25% off should have been about $60 a night. Still working on getting that refunded… When they matched JM for us, they kept the additional person fee separate and when we got to the hotel they were easily able to remove it. Looking back I probably should have just used points… Oh well…

AIRPORT TAXI: While some people arrange for drivers to pick them up we decided to wing it and get a cab at the airport. We paid $50. We heard of the other services that would have been $60/$70, so was a small savings but also went with my theme of doing as little prep for this trip as possible ;D

DAY ONE: We arrived late Monday night, Sortis hotel was Vagas quality but a bit smaller. We went right to bed, or as straight to bed as you can get 4 boys ;)

DAY TWO: Since we got in late we didn’t want to do anything too crazy the first day so as my husband said “you are flying all the way to Panama just for the food???” ME: “YUP” We spent the day finding the Kosher food and walking around the city. We originally tried to find an Uber large enough for 6 ppl… NOT EASY so we canceled and walked. Also we brought a 2 piece booster that uses a shoulder strap for our 5 year old… total waste as almost none of the cars in Panama use shoulder straps.

   After a late start we decided to just start the day with lunch and went to La Spezia Pizzería Really tasty food, the whole family enjoyed. The owner was super friendly and the place looked great!  The walk from our hotel was less than 20 mins, just keep in mind it’s hot and the sidewalk are not like back home. There are man size holes all over the place. Definitely not a place to walk with your face in a phone. Also may want to avoid using a stroller if you can as the journey was not stroller friendly.

   Next stop was the grocery store to stock up on some snacks and food for lunches on the go. Again wanting to avoid Uber we walked. Was less than a 20 min walk to Superkosher. We did note that right across the street was the recommended bakery, Jeffrey’s.

   With all our new goodies we couldn’t walk back to the hotel so we waited a bit under 20 min for a “6 passenger uber” that didn’t end up being a six passenger vehicle so we had to reorder. Next was 6 passenger but JUST fit the family along with the food. Lesson learned the next round of uber we would just order two. Prices were so cheap it didn’t make a big difference.

   Once back kids spent the rest of the day swimming and I hit up the spa. All was very nice and surprisingly well priced.

   For dinner we walked to Kava, maybe a 5 min walk. Very nice décor and the food did not disappoint.

DAY 3: Up and out by 8 to start our day with Sorhay from The Real Panama Trs.  She is super upbeat and friendly and you can’t help but enjoy your time with her. First stop was Jeffery’s to grab some food for the morning and Sorhay grabs some food to snack for the day.

Destination: Embera Indian Village. Getting out of the car we were greeted by several homeless dogs (they are everywhere in Panama). They were very eager to eat any left over breakfast (as well as our fingers;), they are not mean just not domesticated at all, so no manners... We took the boat ride to the village and could have just spent the rest of the day there. The village we went to has a baby spider monkey in residence. My kids, myself included, couldn’t get enough. He ate our bananas, jumped and played with the kids and even took my son on a walk with his tail… I could imagine if you are not fond of animals this would not be for you, but for us it was amazing. Never have we had the opportunity to interact with an exotic animal so freely. We came back to that monkey, whom followed us around a bit, several time while at the village.

   Lunch at the village, Sorhay and the natives take care of everything. New pots, knives and spoons are provided, and lunch is served. Fried trout, plantains and a tasty selection of Panamanian fruit. Sorhay has a great relationship with all the village kids and they followed us on our tour and one even joined us when we left the island and headed to the waterfall.

   The hike to the waterfall was amazing and so much fun. It started to rain and that just added to the excitement. We crossed a stream, over rocks and the very best part; the MUD! Waterfall at the end was beautiful however the water was a bit cold, my kids didn’t seem to mind. The timing was amazing as we had the whole area to ourselves. All the other tours headed there before us so we missed the groups which was great.

   After the hike and boat ride back, we headed back to Panama city, kids and hubby too exhausted to go out for dinner. So the kids ate PB sandwiches and I dragged hubby out to Aria ;)  Food was great and again a 5 min walk from our hotel.

DAY 4: We had a friend in panama that planned Thursday for us. He got us a driver with another tour company and we visited Gamboa, Monkey Island and the Panama Canal. Was a much more touristy type adventure, but when in Panama you have to check out the canal. Lunch we brought with us and Dinner we Ubered from Pita Plus.

DAY 5: Moved over the JM Marriot, stunning hotel. For breakfast walked 5 min to Darna, was delicious and then spent the rest of the day prepping for Shabbos. Kids were exhausted so was a good recoup day.

DAY 6: Shabbos davening at Sinagoga Beth El, get them your passport info before you go or they won’t let you in, and we enjoyed a light lunch there.

DAY 7: Our last day in Panama we went out with Sorhay again. Started off at Pita Pan ate a quick breakfast, Sorhay picked up some food for snacks/lunch. Again food was great!
For the trip we didn’t find anything else on list of tours we thought was feasible to do as we didn’t want to wake up at 5am for San Blas (and the more I hear about the winding road kind of happy we didn’t do it) or drive 2 ½ hours to Anton Valley. So Sorhay just put together something special. We started heading to the rainforest for tubing and horseback ridding but on the way we saw a truck on the side of the road with sheep in the back. So Soray did what anyone would do, and pulled over and asked if we would pet the sheep;) My little guys loved it. The driver saw the kids were enjoying and invited us to his farm to check out all his other animals. SO we did what anyone would do and followed this complete stranger to his farm.  Kids loved it! They even took out a horse saddled it up and took my kids ridding around the property. The view was beautiful as the farm was right at the base of the mountains/jungle. None of this was planned but that’s just how Sorhay rolls, go with the flow and do whatever makes her guests happy. 

     Once we were back on the road we stopped by this little shop along the way that sold kosher Yogurt and cheese. As mentioned Sorhay does whatever she needs to keep her guest happy, and she knew feeding my little army was the key to a successful day.

     Water rafting was cold, and bit of a trek so my kids spent the rest of the time jumping off the cliff to the water and horseback riding. Not American style horse riding, the kind where they put us on the horse told us to kick our heals and let us go… My 5 year old thought he was the horse whisperer and almost gave us a freak attack as his horse almost ran off with him. And I thought Israel was lax :D  This part of the trip was especially cool as we were the only tourists. Everyone else were just regular Panamanians enjoying their Sunday.

     After lunch Sorhay gave us a bunch of different hike options one being to visit 5 waterfalls along about a 20 min trail. While this adventure was AMAZING and definitely one for the memory books the trail is very steep and my heart was running overtime until we got back down. Sorhay had an extra helper whom basically acted at my 5 year olds personal guide, taking him on the more difficult parts and Sorhay was also great with keeping an extra hand on my 9 year old. On the way back down she even took my 5 year old on her back, like a monkey, for the steeper parts of the trail. He was oooo oooo ahhhhing the whole way down. He loved her!

We ended with stopping by a picturesque view of the mountains and city below, for my husband to daven mincha and then headed back to the hotel. It was a full and amazing day and we were very sad for it to end.

The next morning we had a super early flight and headed home.  FYI don’t buy coffee in the airport unless you are able to finish it before you bored as they do a second security check and take away any liquids, even those your purchased in the airport!

Side note: the tours are not cheap but since flights were points, and hotels were super cheap (could have been $$ free had we used points, the only real expenses were food and our trips. Well worth every penny as without a guide it would be pretty hard/impossible to get around outside the city especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

All in all this trip was full of adventure and great food;) And Best Part we (I ;D) had to do very little preplanning thanks to Sorhay. We were VERY last min and VERY lucky she had availability, next time, and there will be a next time, we will be sure to reserve her well in advance.

September 03, 2019, 11:44:16 AM
Re: Our Trip to Panama this summer was one of our BEST!
Super trip report! You said it was pretty last minute- can you share when you went and when you booked flights?

 So I looked into it for about two weeks on and off. I was waiting for my husband to get the OK from his boss that we can take the days. I booked on Friday, August 16 and we flew out Monday night August 19 😬, went home one August 26. We ended up with one vacation day to spare 😀👍

September 03, 2019, 06:17:09 PM