When talking about the Chiriqui highlands... agriculture, adventure, exotic birds, spring weather, flowers and coffee are just a few things that come to mind. Within this region lies Boquete, a valley situated below Baru Volcano (the highest mountain in Panama at 3,475 meters) and a place where you con literally almost smell the coffee.
The highlands have a relatively young period of colonization. Apart from the original colonizers that descended from the indigenous Ngabe ethnic group, the area began to fill very quickly, especially during the second half of the 1800's when adventures in search of gold decided to stay in this beautiful valley. Americans, Germans, French and some Swiss settled in the fertile slopes of the volcano, leading to a variety of small villages where subsistence farming combined with cattle were the source of income for many families.
The first coffe plants come to the area between 1880 and 1894, for personal consumption production. People like Mr. J Thomas brought the first orange plants from California. Also, a few years after the official founding of the town in 1911, it started to become a tourist destination due to its characteristic climate of "eternal spring" which lead to the first hotel founded by Pop Wright to be built, which later became the well-known Panamonte Hotel. Subsequently, small hotels linked to the coffee plantations were built, giving the characteristic aspect that today identifies Boquete.
In an area of 448 square kilometers and population of just over 22,000 inhabitants, this small valley has been positioned in the center of the world for coffee growing thanks to its climatic characteristics, altitude and fertile soil that is rich in minerals provided by the former eruptions of the volcano.
Arabic varieties are grown ranging from Caturra, Pacamara and several other varieties. But the queen of the coffee beans is Geisha, a little known bean that is now listed as one of the best and most expensive in the world. Its background, as with all Arabic coffee, started in Ethiopia passing through Kenya and Tanzania until reaching Costa Rica in 1953 and finally brought to Boquete in 1963 by Don Pachi. However, it wasn't until 2003 that Panama entered into the market of "specialty coffee", producing approximately 200 thousand sacks of coffee of which only 100 thousand are exported. Today, these coffees have earned a place worldwide and the little town of Boquete, Panama has become famous for its coffee.
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is still one of the engineering wonders of the world, even by today's standards it is awesome to see a container ship gliding through massive locks and past a rain forest.
Put the Canal in the context of turn of the 19th century technology and the feat of its construction is staggering.
But you cannot help noticing that the container and cruise ships squeeze through the looks nowadays with only inches to spare on either side. These are known as Panamax ships built to the maximum beam and draft which the Canal can handle.
Many ships are too big for the Canal. These ships, known at Post Panamax, comprise only a small percentage of the world's fleet but the future promises even more and bigger ships, the cargoes of which, if they cannot transit the Canal, will seek other routes including the "dry canals" across other countries of the continent.
The possibilities of a waterway linking the Atlantic and the Pacific in this region had been well appreciated for four centuries before anyone started to dig. Spain's King Carlos V ordered a survey of the Canal route in 1524 but it was presumably decided that cutlasses would not be adequate for the job.
The French started a Canal in 1880 under de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, but after 20 years of struggle with the jungle, disease, financial problems and the sheer enormity of the project, they were forced to give up.
In 1903 Panama seceded from Colombia and the U.S.A. signed a treaty in which the concession for a public maritime transportation service across the Isthmus was granted. The following year, the U.S.A. purchased the French Canal Company's properties for $40 million and began to dig. On August 15 th, 1914, the U.S. cargo ship Ancon made the first transit.
The story of this gigantic task is best told in the book, "The Path Between the Seas", by David McCullough. The story is also told dramatically in the murals of the rotunda of the Administration Building at Balboa Heights.
The Canal entered yet another phase of its history on Oct. 1st. 1979 when the process of handing the Canal the the Republic of Panama began, under treaties signed by Panama's former head of Government, the late Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
The Canal and all of its infrastructure in the former Canal Zone was finally under Panama's control as the 21st century dawned.
How much does it cost to go through the Panama Canal?
The average toll for ships using the Canal is between $ 200.000 and $ 300.000 in the old locks and $ 500.000 in the new locks but many save about ten times this figure by eliminating the journey round the Horn. Record tolls: $ 829.000 in the new locks and Richard Halliburton who swam the Canal in 1926 and was charged 36 cents after his displacement tonnage was calculated.
Where and what time do you see boats at the Panama Canal?
To see the Canal at work-every year handling more than 13,056 bluewater ships, under the flags of about 70 nations - go to the spectator stands at Miraflores or Gatun locks.
There is a magnificent Visitor's center and Canal Museum here which has been recently remodeled. Bilingual commentators there are brimful of information and statics.
A film of the Canal's operations is shown in the theater of the Visitor's Center.
For informaion as to when there will be ships in the locks visit the official website of the Panama Canal.
The Canal is about 50 miles long and ships are lifted 85 feet in three lockages as they cross the Isthmus. The journey through the Canal takes about eight hours and a ship is normally in Canal waters between 14 and 16 hours.
When was the new expanded Panama Canal inaugurated?
To ensure future competitiveness, the Panama Canal Administration has built an extra set of wider and deeper locks.
The construction the new locks (Agua Clara on the Atlantic side and Cocoli on the Pacific) of the expanded Canal began on September 3, 2007, and the works were inaugurated on June 26, 2016.
The expanded Canal doubles the capacity of the interoceanic way to meet the growing demand of world trade.
The Expansion entailed the construction of two new lock complexes on the Pacific and Atlantic sides. Each complex features three chambers, nine water-saving basins, and rolling gates. The project also included the construction of a Pacific Access Channel, improving the navigational channels and increasing water supply.
To ensure the social and environmental viability of the project, the expanded canal complied with environmental impact studies that included mitigation measures such as reforestation, wildlife rescue, archeological and geological rescue.
We have a tour at Agua Clara Locks available every day departing from Panama City, you can see it here.
The San Blas Islands Travel Guide
Even if you have heard about the San Blas Islands in Panama, do not be surprised if in your first encounter reality surpasses the dream.
That's how fantastic your first impression will be.
The mind is reluctant to believe that they have been able to remain so beautifully primitive despite the progress of civilization.
Within this territory, the Guna people, people of great simplicity and charm whose ancestors popullated these shores long before Columbus landed, govern themselves in a virtually autonomous society.
The pattern of their lives is simple and comfortable. They live on tiny, palm-fringed islands, hundres of which dot the surface of the blue and emerald sea. The Islands are totally free from animals or snakes and have a perfect, breeze-cooled tropical climate.
The men either go to the mainland to cultivate corn, yucca and coconuts, or go fishing or trading around neighbourning islands.
In recent years with the growth of tourism, the owners of the islands are hosting the people who come here every day. Only the Guna population is allowed to work in the Comarca.
Many of the islands are unihabited except for a “caretaker” who guards the coconut trees and their precious crop, which is the basic live-lihood of the Guna.
No land is individually owned in San Blas, but the coconut trees are. Any disputes are setled within the village itself, and each village has its congress all, a large hut where the people make their decisions.
There is a Government outpost and police station on the island of Porvenir but the Police Force doesn’t do much business. The Guna deal with their own problems.
For all the simplicity of their lives the San Blas Guna remain very aware of their rights to their own territory and they guard their rights passionately.
Where are San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands are located in Panamá, an archipelago of over 365 islands, stretch along approximately 200 miles of Panama Caribbean coast-line.
How to Get to San Blas Islands
There are several ways to access the Guna Yala Region from Panama City, the most used is in a 4x4 vehicle, it is approximately 3 hours from the City (includes a stop of approximately 30min to buy snacks in a supermarket), the route is fully paved from 2010, making access easier for travelers and members of the Guna community who use this route every day, the departure time of our tours from the city is at 5:30 am, the San Blas tours from Panama City are available every day from your accommodation in the city, when you arrive at the port you take the boat corresponding to the tour you have booked, either Overnight Tour or Day Tour.
Another way to access the San Blas Islands is through a Sailboat that makes the route to San Blas from Panama to Colombia or Colombia to Panama, this trip must be booked in advance as it has become very popular with travelers who want explore this bridge between Central America and South America, for some it is the best border crossing in the world, usually it lasts 5 days and 5 nights, on our website you can see the fleet of these Sailing Boats.
The last way since it is the least common is by air, in the islands of San Blas there are several tracks and you can get there with one of the main airlines of the country Air Panama.
Where to stay in San Blas Panama
San Blas are about 365 different islands all the way from Panama to Colombia, some of them are for tourist and some others are for the "community" so you can explore a lot of different ones without interfering the Guna normal life, therefore if you decide to sleep over on one of the islands you must know the accommodation is very basic, the preferred islands by travelers and Panamanians are for example: Chichime Island, Diablo Island, Cayos Holandeses, Aroma Island, Ina Island, Dog Island, Yanis Island, Guna Community.
What to do in San Blas Panama
If for you it is not enough just to chill and contemplate the astonishing landscape laying on a hammock drinking from a coconut , on the islands you can do also some activities you could find interesting, from snorkeling a sunken ship to swim around in the crystal water or even play volleyball with the locals, you will have a real challenge here, since they play very well. Just keep your eyes open if you are lucky enough you can spot dolphins, turtles and a lot of birds.
Are the San Blas Islands safe
As the country itself san blas is considerer quite safe, you can feel it also on the islands, where based on our experience of more than 4 years have never complains about this particular issue, anyways we recommend to have normal safety precautions to avoid any inconvenience.
Are the San Blas Islands worth it
These remote islands are one of the most searched places for traveller and adventurers all around the world, the awesome landscapes, the turquoise water, white sand beaches and the contact with the Guna Culture make this experience unique, you won't see anything like this in other place, making this caribbean corner once of a lifetime experience.
San Blas Islands vs Bocas del Toro
This is a question we get very often from our costumers, and the answer could be quite easy, both are super nice destinations with beautiful beaches, the main difference lies in the calm you can breathe on the San Blas Islands, since Bocas del Toro is a more developed town, you can find grocery stores, bars, restaurants. Totally the opposite on the San Blas Islands that is still a very virgin area, where you will eat whatever the Guna offer and instead of stores you can buy Molas from the locals to help with their economy
Weather on the San Blas Islands Panama and Best Time to Visit
In the San Blas Islands as in all of Panama the climate is tropical, with a rainy season, from June to November, where you can also have a lot of sun since it is not very common to have very long rains, and at this time of the year it is where the sea is quieter and is ideal for sailing. From December to May it is the dry season, where the blue skies take over San Blas although there is also a windy season. These characteristics make the San Blas Islands an ideal place to visit all year round, so our tours are available 365 days a year.
What to bring to San Blas Islands?
We advise you not to bring along the whole bag of the trip, during the boat trip it could get wet, we advise you to leave it in your hotel/hostel/apartment and bring only with you:
Snacks & Fruit
Your own drinks: Water, Rum, Beer, Wine, Soda
Passport (Entry to Guna Yala may be denied without it)
Fully charged camera
There is no ATM in San Blas, so be sure to bring enough cash
A light jacket for boat transfers
Your smile 😃
At first glance, the dress of the Guna women appears to be a "primitive" costume of vibrant color, pattern and intricate design. The focal point of their dress is the "Mola" a blouse constructed around two elaborate panels of finely stitched fabric.
"Mola" which means "blouse" in the Guna language, is now also used to refer to the panels the blouse is made of.
During the early years of European presence in the New World, references spoke of Guna women as converting their lower body in a skirt-like garment made of homespun fabric while the rest of their bodies were painted in colorful designs. These designs were representations of their culture.
Geometric in design, they often formed labyrinths that included people, flora, and fauna. The labyrinth embodied the story of the Guna people, representing the paths of their lives as a symbol of connectivity to mark their beginnings and endings. Over the next few hundred years, the influence of missionaries and the increasing availability of trade goods saw the mola evolve from body painting to fabric painting and, eventually, to stitching their traditional designs in layers of colorful cloth.
It was not more than 150 years ago that "molas" similar to those of today began to appear as access to fabric, needles, thimbles, thread, and scissors increased. The Panels were much larger, designs less complex, and stitching less fine, yet they repeated their traditional shapes and designs. Thus, the "mola" became folk art and the cultural expression of Guna women.
"Mola" designs themselves, like the entire textile medium, have also evolved over time. By the early 20th century, the classic geometric representations of their world had begun to evolve into more realistic renditions of flora and fauna, of life's celebrations and events. By the 1930's and 1940's politics, western religions, trademarks, and industrial icons began to appear. By the end of the century, history had been recorded - aviation, space travel, moon missions, moon walks, sports, and celebrities often intertwined with the underlying and very traditional geometrics and labyrinths.
"Molas" are made of two or more layers of colored cloth with the complexity of design affected by the number of layers. The quality of a "Mola" is general judged by the number of layers, the quality of stitching, the proportions of cutwork, finishing details, the art, use of color, and balance of the design.
Once design and colors are decided upon, the layers are basted together and outlines are sketched onto the top layer as a guide: the most common top colors are black and red. The process is a form of cut work appliqué with each layer cut and stitched to the reveal the color of the layer underneath.
Additional color is achieved by slipping leftover scraps of colored fabric between the layers and, as the work progresses, the imagines of the final picture begin to appear. The "Mola" is ready once the finishing touches of any standard appliqué or embroidery are added.
"Molas" are traditionally made in pairs because they are produced as part of the blouse. While the pairs are always very similar, they are never identical; trade "Molas", produced specifically to be sold to tourists or other enthusiasts, can be found in singles.
A dominant aspect of the "Mola" as folk art is that it is not only a unique piece of art, but also a daily part of Guna life and an expression of ethnic identity.
The Guna women use their needlework tho showcase their creativity and talent, and contribute to their community's economy. The "mola" is not part of a primitive costume. Instead, it is a unique, complex, and intrinsically sophisticated creation that tells the story of the Guna people and an enduring culture that is unwilling to let go of tradition, yet flexible enough to survive in the modern world.
What are you waiting for to come and discover the Guna Molas? Search on our San Blas Panama Map and choose your Island.
Bocas del Toro Panamá
The Bocas del Toro Province lies in northwest Panama and includes an archipelago (of the same name) consisting of seven large islands and hundreds of smaller ones. The region is characterized by its landscapes, amazing variety of aquatic species, coral reefs, mangroves, tropical forests, beaches with crystal clear waters, and undisturbed jungles.
The origins of the provinces name are unknown but despite this, among locals there are several stories that are said to be true, such as, when Christopher Columbus, was sailing towards Isla Carenero, he observed a rock similar in shape to that of a "bull lying with its mouth open". it is also said that the sound of the immense waves that hit a large rock in Isla Bastimentos, makes a sound comparable to the roar of a bull. In turn there are those who say that the last native chief of the region was known as "Boka Toro".
Its capital is located on Isla Colon, where you will find its main airport, once there you will be able to explore the island by bicycle or reach to surrounding islands on their charming water taxis. Bocas del Toro offers amazing adventures for nature lovers or those who prefer a laid-back island experience.
These islands are also very popular among divers, birdwatchers, and surfers. They have great seafood and Caribbean cuisine restaurants. Bocas del Toro is known for its Afro-Caribbean vibe blended with the regions indigenous culture, which translates into a joyous and relaxing atmosphere.
This province is home to some UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Panama's first marine park.
Bocas del Toro is considered one of the best ecotourism destinations in the country. Known as the "Galapagos of the Caribbean" it is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.
Cayos Zapatillas, Red Frog and Playa Estrella are the 3 most beautiful beaches of the Archipelago, a must visit.
Bocas del Toro is known by many young people who attend it throughout the year as a fun place with the many clubs and party hostels, among the many parties available in Bocas del Toro surely the most famous is Filthy Friday, is Central America’s first and only island hopping day party experience – happening every Friday at 3 picturesque locations across 3 tropical islands in the Caribbean paradise of Bocas del Toro, Panama.
How to get to Bocas del Toro from Panama City?
There are daily flights of about 40 minutes with Air Panama from the "Albrook Marcos A. Gelabert" airport, (also known as the Albrook airport).
The other option (cheaper and more popular with tourists) is the bus journey, lasting about 10 hours. There are departures every day from the Albrook Terminal, the departure times are 6pm, 6:30 pm, 7pm, the ticket cost of only one way is $ 27.80. We recommend buying the ticket the day before the journey directly into the Albrook Terminal, The return reservation must be made at one of the offices in Bocas del Toro, as it cannot be done in Albrook Terminal.
Just a few minutes away from Panama City, and only reachable by "pirogue" (a motor canoe), is the Community of Emberá Querá, located at the mouth of the Gatún River. This indigenous group is native to the Darién, and have come from Chocó, Colombia. The live at the edge of the river in little communities of thatch-roofed palafittes named tambos, which counteract humidity and are made to avoid floods. Men dedicate themselves to manufacturing the famous pirogues, which are canoes made by shaping logs and used to navigate, even during the dry season. Women make splendid baskets, plates, and masks out of vegetal fiber and delicate knitting. They wear collars known as chaquiras that are made out of old silver coins. All of the members of the community use genipa juice to paint their bodies with geometric designs; apparently, that works very well as repellent and has healing properties. The Emberá are also opened to receiving tourist and telling them about the history of the tribe, its cultural wealth, and its traditions.
Our Emberá Community Tour is available every day, visit our Emberá Tour.
Also known as the San Blas Islands, it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Panama. Famous for its amazing white sand beaches, its clear waters, art and the magnificence of the Guna culture. It is composed of 365 small islands near the Darien coast.
The area was formally known as San Blas, along with the indigenous name of Kuna Yala. In 2011, Panama recognized the wishes of its people and changed it to Guna Yala, since their native tongue the is no phoneme for the letter "K". Guna Yala means "Guna Land" or "Guna Mountain".
These majestic islands are characterized by their beautiful white sand beaches, clear blue-green waters, amazing reefs and aquatic life which include dolphins that seem to greet visitors. It is no wonder that tourists from around the globe flock to these islands, especially during the dry season which spans from December to April. Most of the islands are very small and those that are inhabited are made up of mostly rustic huts.
The Guna women's main pastime is the making of molas, which constitute the main source of income for many families on the island. They are a matriarchal society with a socialist system, where women stay at home sewing and men take care of the coconut plantations along the coast. Some islands are greater in size. As society they are resourceful and independent, operating many of their own island tours and "cabañas". Even though they do not provide all the comforts of the western world, the fish and seafood are some of the freshest most will every try. Traveling between the islands is very easy, our tours to the San Blas Islands are available every day, you can see them on this page.
These islands are truly unique and the perfect place to relax in a hammock between two palms.
Casco Antiguo Spanish School
Casco Antiguo Spanish School is the only language school located in the UNESCO world heritage site of Casco Viejo, the safest neighborhood in Panama City and one of the coolest in Latin America. The Small Group Intensive is the school’s most popular course and is the fastest way to learn Spanish in the shortest time possible.
The small class sizes, average of 2 to 3 students per group and maximum of 4, ensures you get the personalized attention and practice needed learn how to speak. From total beginners to advanced speakers we offer groups at all levels. The classes are very interactive and focused on conversation, to ensure when you have the confidence to speak the language when you walk out of class.
The course includes a workbook / textbook, free coffee, tea, wifi, and all the material we use in class as well as free daily activities such as sunset bike ride, brewery tour, salsa lessons, and volleyball. These activities are a great way to meet other students and practice your Spanish outside of class.
Cost of each week of Small Group Intensive Course varies depending on the number of weeks you sign up for. The prices for the course are as follows:
1 week: $249
2 weeks: $479
3 weeks: $679
4 weeks: $859
Additional weeks after 4th week: $195
The Casco Door Project
The Casco Door Project is an event organized by the Association of Neighbors and Friends of Casco Antiguo (AVACA by its initials in Spanish), in order to raise funds to promote projects that will culturally and socially improve the essence of Casco, boosting the quality of life of neighbors and residents, while working with public entities to ensure compliance with the law and thus preserving this emblematic historic center, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.
This event represents the essence of Casco Antiguo, where each door is unique, beautiful and has its own historical and cultural value. All these doors are collected from remodeled buildings of the neighborhood and, it is trough the touch of each artist that their value and authenticity are enhanced.
This emblematic event has grown over the last 5 years and this edition will feature 30 doors painted by a wide range of national and international artists. The exhibition will take place at Casa Pérez Alemán in Casco Antiguo on September 18,2019.
Among the artists that will be participating is Achu Kantule, a painter born in the region of Guna Yala, who is internationally known for his works inspired by the geography, beliefs and traditional arts of Gunas, where the colors of Panamanian molas are combined with textures, under an environmental and ecological approach. Kantule's door reflects his concern about turtles disappearing by plastic pollution, featuring a "nuchu", or sacred element in the Guna culture traditionally carved in human form and used to take care of the house, but in this case, it will protect the turtles.
Ian Begg captures the essence of Casco Antiguo in two original doors. The first one features giant Monstera leaves that represent the abundant nature of Panama; giving new life to the door with acrylic techniques and oil bars. The second door celebrates history by capturing six architectural images of Casco Viejo. The event will also involve Pablo Arosemena, Markelita Reyes, Harry Siegel, among other artists and after the exhibition, a silent auction will be held where it is possible to participate through an app that AVACA will soon release.
Panama City - Why Go?
The most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, Panama City is both vibrant metropolis and gateway to tropical escapes. Many worlds coexist here.
Welcoming both east and west, Panama is a regional hub of trade and immigration. The resulting cultural cocktail mix leads to a refreshing ‘anything goes’ attitude, more dynamic and fluid than that of its neighbors.
Unflinchingly urban, the capital rides the rails of chaos, with traffic jams, wayward taxis and casinos stacked between chic clubs and construction sites.
A center of international banking and trade, it has a sultry skyline of shimmering glass and steel towers that is reminiscent of Miami. In contrast, the colonial peninsula of Casco Viejo has become a hip neighborhood where cobblestones link boutique hotels with rooftop bars and crumbled ruins with pirate lore.
Escape is never far away.
Day-trip to sandy beaches (Pacific or Caribbean), admire the canal, or explore lush rainforests of howler monkeys, toucans and sloths.
All people can be part of this blog, tell us about your experience in San Blas Islands or some tips for traveling to Panama.