7 Days in Costa Rica Panama
What better way is there to get into the vibe of Panama City and buy the all important hat, than to stay in the pretty old colonial quarter, Casco Viejo. Safe, friendly and colourful with layers of history and culture to explore.
This was our choice for a pre cruise stay.
Day 1: Warm welcome to our Floating Home M/S Panorama
Boarding the 3 masted motor sailer yacht Panorama floating proudly in the Flamenco Marina, we were met by the attentive and cheerful Hotel Manager Sotiris and settled in before joining our eager fellow passengers at the bar for a welcome cocktail and a chance to meet like minded people from all over the world. Exploring our cabin and decks we soon realised we would have everything we needed to enjoy a wonderful week at sea. With the sheer number of crew, a feature of all Variety vessels, it became obvious what the service to follow would be.
A highly informative and detailed safety drill followed and introduction of each crew member by the Captain Vassilis and Elliott the on board Naturalist and Cruise Director.
Soon it was time to join a group of fellow passengers to be served a sumptuous 4 course dinner prepared by the Head Chef and Pastry Chef, surely worthy of any 5 star hotels I have visited.
From here on each morning we looked forward to a delicious breakfast with such varied homemade choices that would exceed anyone’s expectations. The recurrent question on each passenger’s lips was, how do they do this?
The lunch buffet served each day included a wide variety of freshly cooked dishes, often with a range of very well appreciated authentic Greek recipes. On occasions we were treated to a BBQ lunch on the beach and even an opportunity to share food with an indigenous tribe.
Each evening Elliott would brief us on our next port of call and optional shore excursions and there were also scheduled regular talks and presentations about history, wildlife and the Panama Canal. He made sure that particular groups, such as ‘birders’, would be catered for.
Day 2: Journey begins!
Guests can choose from 2 optional and differently themed excursions or simply spend leisure time exploring Panama City independently.
We chose the full day excursion to the San Lorenzo fort and Panama Canal New Locks with the highly experienced and charismatic guide, Mario who made many stops en route for wildlife sightings including howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys and sloths and a number of tropical birds.
The highlight of the day was rescuing a sloth trying to cross the busy highway.
The day was packed with discovery from tales of the buccaneers, gold route, privateers and pirates to the history of Panama in the making and the engineering feat that is the Canal and its locks. After dinner we sailed to Darien in Eastern Panama.
The day started with the exciting arrival of the Embera men in full body paint and loin cloths to take us in their wooden boats to the remote shores of Playa Muerto where we were welcomed by the shy and curious children who held our hands and guided us to their village.
Our first impressions were of a serene, rainforest landscape, like a pristine lost-world. The village chief welcomed us and participated in workshops for local instruments and crafts and were shown how they used their natural environment to create local crafts. We watched and joined in with their joyful dances each of which told a story such as the Harpy Eagle feeding its chicks or rites of passage.
A short trek through the rainforest with our new friends took us to a stunning viewpoint over the sweep of the palm fringed coast and then a refreshing swim at the waterfalls. The Embera prepared and shared their traditional dishes served in banana leaf pockets washed down with water from the coconuts cut from the trees. How sad we were to leave.
Many of us bought handmade colourful pots, baskets, carving and jewellery. We felt that by purchasing this tour we had made a contribution to their wellbeing and preserving their way of life.
Day 4: Island Hopping
Now for the island hopping off the coast of Eastern Panama, beginning with Granito D’Oro and an exhilarating ride on the zodiacs to a pristine swimming and snorkelling spot where we spotted sea turtles, tropical fish and corals.
On to Coiba island where our beach BBQ lunch was cooked while we hiked with Elliott to the explore the local rainforest and animal life. We saw hummingbirds, flycatchers, eagles, aguti, iguanas and the ever audible howler monkeys, whose call Elliot had Perfected.
After a full delicious lunch we had time to relax in hammocks under the palm trees and swim in the crystal clear waters.
Day 5: Get together - Take a time out
The Osa peninsula has been described by National Geographic as the most biologically intense area on earth in this undisturbed rainforest.
Here the Gold Rush of the 1800’s created the town of Puerto Jimenez, now a laid back ‘one horse town’ with salon bars and open fronted restaurants.
The optional excursion was to the La Gamba field station and had an insight of the work carried out there with the intension to re-educate farmers in sustainable farming methods.
Plenty of leisure time in the afternoon to explore Golfito and have a cold beer in a saloon bar!
Day 6: Whale and dolphin watch
On the other side of the Osa peninsula, we woke up in Drake Bay, named after Sir Francis Drake who supposedly had hidden his fabled treasures here. This spot can only be reached by plane or boat and we felt privileged to be able to experience a full day here with a choice of 3 shore excursions, Corcovado National Park, Mangrove tour Cano Island snorkelling, 2 of which could be combined.
We chose to get up very early and depart for the Corcovado National Park with our guide Charlie, who picked us up in a speedboat and took us to the breeding grounds of humpback whales journeying from 2 different hemispheres! We were not disappointed and enjoyed whale and dolphin spotting galore.
Arriving at the park, we hiked the unexplored beaches and ventured into the rainforest to swim at the waterfalls. To our delight we spotted crocodiles, toucans, macaws, hummingbirds, coatees, agutis and monkeys.
After lunch we took the zodiacs to the village and hiked along the bay to Cocalito beach and enjoyed a cold beer and a crocodile free swim in the Pacific Ocean.
Looking out of our cabin window we woke up to stunning views of the verdant shores of Quepos, a modern state of the art marina, risen from the ashes of the banana exporting industry.
For our first tour of the day we were headed to the world heritage site of the Manuel Antonio National Park where we were guided through 2 of the park’s trails to learn about sloths, white faced monkeys, agutis and a variety of exotic birds.
One of the attractions of the park is opening out to 2 spectacular sandy beaches where we spent time swimming and relaxing under the scrutiny of the cheeky monkeys.
The afternoon zip lining popular tour in the rainforest provided an adrenalin rush to a group of mixed aged guests. Over a mile, the flight included 12 cables almost 100 feet high!
All evenings were relaxed with guests forming conversational groups at the bar and sampling the cocktail of the day or their favourite tipple provided by the attentive, sociable and discreet barman, Vivesh.
Tonight though, we were treated to an on deck sunset music and dance performance by Costa Rican folk group and before dinner we all congregated at the bar for a farewell cocktail and a chance to take photos with our new friends and the crew.
The captain delivered a warm and appreciated speech while Elliot and Sotiris (hotel manager) had some fond and heart warming farewells to send us on our way. This was reciprocated by one of the guests who had us in stiches recounting tales and funny moments of the past week and profusely thanking the crew for how special they had made this trip for everyone.
There were already a few repeaters on board and I think that by the end of this trip there were definitely going to be more!
For our Post cruise stay we hired a car and travelled about 3 hours north to La Fortuna in the Arenal volcano area.
A highlight of this stay was the lush tropical gardens and trails of the hotel set at the foot of the volcano, the many hot thermal springs in the rainforest and the hike to La Fortuna waterfall for a swim. For adventure enthusiasts there is so much to choose from including white water rafting, ziplining, kayaking on the lake and wildlife hiking.
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