Panama  June 2012   Pat and I had been to the San Blas Islands off of Panama with our boat, but this was our first time to visit mainland Panama.  We rented a car in Panama City, a busy cosmopolitan city with many high rises. 

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busy, modern Panama City

We decided to visit Altos del Maria (a 1 1/2 drive from Panama City) and Boquete (a 6 hour drive from the city and the coffee region of the country), with a visit to the beaches on the Pacific side.

Our first stop was El Valle de Anton, a small community located in the crater of an old volcano, 1 1/2 hours west of Panama City.  We visited the Sunday outdoor market (smaller than most markets, due to the size of the town) and a lovely orchid nursery and conservation center which was started by the Japanese. 

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driving into El Valle

 

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Altos del Maria is a gated community in the mountains of Sora on 7,000 acres.  We stayed with a California couple who built their home there in 2004.  It was absolutely gorgeous, and the views were stunning.  Their home was chosen to be used in a commercial sales video of the community, and we could see why.  Below are some pictures of their property.

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trail to lookout point on property

Driving in the hills, Pat spotted a sloth hanging on a street sign on the road.  What a nice surprise!  The sloth let me get very close to take a photo.

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Our next stop was Playa Coronado, a popular beach getaway from the city.  We stayed at a small b&b, Togo.

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Coronado beach

Our next stop was Boquete, and we checked into the lovely Boquete Garden Inn.  We were pleased to find that our room was named "Orchid".

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Boquete Garden Inn

The town is situated along a river; it's a small town, but it has all the amenities with several excellent restaurants.

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We took a drive into the mountains.  The drive took us through the largest agricultural area providing most of the country's food and coffee.  Many of the hillsides are terraced, and it's amazing to see people working on the steep hillsides.  We saw waterfalls along the way.

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On the beautiful drive up to Volcan, we stopped by Arte Cruz, a famous wood artist.  He and his family make beautiful art and functional pieces out of the local wood.  When we entered the store, he asked us our first names and started carving our names into a piece of wood, and finished the carving with an orchid flower (upon my request).  He also engraved our names on two glasses. What a treat to see him work.  We also bought a couple pieces take home.

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We visited Finca Dracula, home to over 2200 species of rare orchids (one of the largest in the world) and named in honour of the rare Dracula orchid.  It's located 2200m above sea level on 22 acres.  The grounds are amazing.  We had a lovely and informative tour.  It was definitely worth the visit, and a highlight of our trip.

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Upon our return to town, we had a fabulous meal at the Panamonte Inn and Spa, which began as a small five room hotel by a Texan in 1914, and later evolved to the premier hotel for diplomats and VIPS.  It is now a gorgeous, cozy hotel.  We enjoyed our meal by the fire rather than in the dining room, and it felt we were in our own lodge.  The service was also terrific.

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The Panamonte Inn

We drove down the Azueros Peninsula and stayed in the laid back town of Pedasi, which we really enjoyed.  Pedasi is small and quaint, and it has some neat little restaurants (including a few that had delicious sushi with fresh local fish).  We stayed at the lovely Campo de Pedasi, a family home turned into a b&b. 

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Campo de Pedasi, our b&b

 

We got as far as Playa Desatiladeros, where we rented a small cottage on the ocean at Posada los Desatiladeros.  The location was beautiful, and we enjoyed hearing the waves crashing below.  We heard the owner of the property was an eccentric Frenchman who divides his time between here and France.  Below are pics of our oceanside casita.

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We loved our visit to Panama; the countryside is lovely and the people are so warm and welcoming.  Definitely a place we'd love to visit again!

 

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