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Just Back From: Panama

by Jasmine Moir

Just Back From: Panama

Pelicans swooping at sunset. All photos by Jasmine Moir.

Editor Jasmine Moir wanted a boho chic getaway — no fuss, just fun and easy and relaxing — for her honeymoon. She found it in Panama.

So, what brought you to Panama? My honeymoon.

Was it your first time? Yes.

What what the best tip you got before you left? My husband's colleague recommended La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm in Bocas Del Toro, the archipelago in northwest Panama. The lodge turned out to be closed for the month we were there, but we emailed back and forth with the owner, who recommended another ecolodge, Casa Cayuco, which was incredible. Much better than blindly searching TripAdvisor, the personal recommendation (even a thirdhand one) sealed the deal.

Panama Sunset

Our favorite pre-dinner, sunset-watching, cocktail-drinking spot at Casa Cayuco.

Bocas

Bright colors, water taxis, and lots of bustle in Caribbean-inflected Bocas town.

What's the best advice you'd give a friend who wanted to go?
1. Don't spend too long in Panama City, since there's so much more to see on the coasts and in the mountains. Stay for a night or two in the Casco Viejo, see the Panama Canal, eat your way through the cobblestone streets, and get out of dodge.

2. Same goes for Boquete, a gorgeous mountain town that's oddly full of expat retirees. Go to a coffee farm and a hike through the jungle (the guys at Beyond Adventure Tours are the best), but one full day or a day-and-a-half is enough. I would have stayed longer on the islands instead.

Boquete

The lush hills of Boquete.

Panama Boquete

A hike through the jungle in Boquete, with howler monkeys and quetzal sightings.

Coffee

Hand-stamped coffee bags at an artisanal coffee farm in Boquete.

Panama coffee

Learning (and tasting) the difference between dark, medium, and light roast at the coffee farm. It ruined Starbucks for me forever.

How did you get there? It was surprisingly easy to catch quick flights on Air Panama and change our connections as we changed our minds, at least during the off-season. Which made it perfect for see-where-the-trip-takes-us, non-type-A travelers.

Where did you stay? In Panama City, at Casa Del Horno and in a penthouse apartment run by Los Cuatro Tulipanes (both were beautiful). In Bocas, at Casa Cayuco (rustic but very relaxing). And in Boquete, at the Boquete Garden Inn (totally serviceable).

Boquete Garden

Jasmine in the pretty gardens at Boquete Garden Inn.

What did you do? Two nights in Panama City, three nights in Bocas Del Toros (the islands), and a last-minute trip to Boquete. We caught a ride with a woman who normally transports groceries, since there aren't any flights from Bocas to Boquete.

We ate our weight in ceviche in the city, snorkeled and paddleboarded and unplugged on Isla Bastimientos, and toured coffee farms and hiked to hot springs in Boquete.

Panama

Nick contemplating whether to try out the paddleboard, hike to the nearby village, or take a nap at Casa Cayuco. (He chose the nap.)

This was especially great: Traveling through a smattering of islands to Isla Bastimientos in the pitch blackness on a tiny motor boat under a full moon — with no idea what was waiting for us.

But this wasn't: Eating at the highly overrated Panamonte Inn in Boquete, with its weird white picket fence, retiree clientele, and stodgy table linens.

Let's talk about stuff.

1.Glad you packed: Lots of books.

2. Wish you'd packed: A nicer dress for the very tasteful, stylish restaurants.

3. Didn't need: As much bug spray as I thought. They weren't nearly as bad as people said they'd be.

4. Brought back: Coffee.

Casco Viejo

The peculiar mix of historical architecture, decaying buildings, and stylish remodels in the Casco Viejo.

Casco Viejo

Again, the juxtaposition that is the Casco Viejo: a crumbling church surrounded by incredible restaurants and chic bars.

Ceviche

A local giving us the stinkeye at the tourist-free fish market. Order your ceviche Peruvian style (raw, cured with citrus) or Panamanian style (lightly cooked), but order it wherever you go (we did!).

Panama crabs

Crabs galore at Panama City's seafood market. Buy one, and the cafe upstairs will cook it for you on the spot. 

Speed round of favorites.

1. Meals: Octopus ceviche and coriander-crusted tuna at Ego y Narciso on Plaza Bolivar, gelato at Granclement, the outstanding ten-course prix fixe at Manolo Caracol, barbecued pork spring rolls made by the owner at Casa Cayuco.

2. Neighborhood to explore: Casco Viejo in Panama.

3. Thing you did: Snorkeling off Zapatillos Island.

Zapatillas

The view from the beach at Zapatillas Island, where we lounged with our guides after an incredible snorkeling trip.

4. Cafe/casual hangout: Las Clementinas in Panama for the old Havana-style setting and free iPad use at the bar.

What's the local speciality? We were all about the seafood and the coffee. The craft specialty is embroidered pillow cases (molas), but they weren't my thing.

Cayuco

The "lobby" at Casa Cayuco resort.

Were you there for the right amount of time? Yes. Eight days was perfect.

A place you didn't get to visit but wanted to: The islands on the Pacific side, where all the surfers go.

Any surprises? It was all much more reasonably priced than I expected. Maybe that's just a symptom of being in New York too long?

Would you go back? Yes, but not anytime soon — we saw a lot, and now it's time for somewhere else.

READ MORE ON FATHOM

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The Most Romantic Hotels in Latin America
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Jasmine is the executive digital editor at Martha Stewart Living. She travels for the change of perspective. And the food.

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