Earlier this summer, ZipSetGo‘s culture-loving Rachel Wolery interviewed our own Laura Moller about the expat life in Panama. The Destination Expert: Panama post was originally published as part of the #TNI (Traveler’s Night In) community forum, which convenes on Twitter to discuss a different travel topic every week.
If you’ve got Panama in your sights, be sure to jump in on the July 12 #TNI chat — members of The Resort at Isla Palenque team will be joining the discussion of Central America travel! All who participate are certain to come away with scores of insider tips on visiting this region known for its ecotourism and indigenous cultures.
If you’re curious about #TNI or have questions regarding participation, feel free to leave us a comment on The Ambler or Tweet us at @AmbleResorts. You can Tweet Rachel Wolery at @ZipSetRachel — you’ll find her an obliging resource who loves to assist her fellow travelers.
ZipSetRachel interviews Laura “Isla Palenque” Moller for insider tips on where to stay, play, and dine in Panama City and the beautiful surrounding areas.
1. What makes you an expert on Panama?
After spending a year living in the country, I’ve had a chance to experience daily life in Panama as well as seek out the hidden gems this country holds. I also consider myself an unofficial Panama Ambassador and never pass up the opportunity to talk someone’s ear off about how much there is to love – I’ve even prompted several friends and family members to make the journey to see firsthand what all the fuss is about!
2. What makes Panama unique?
I love that Panama allows you to travel from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean, from the jungle to the beach to the mountains – all in one day. It’s impossible to get bored when traveling in Panama; there’s always something spectacular to see.
3. Where are the best places to eat? What should visitors order?
When I’m in Panama City, I’ll often grab lunch at the fish market on the outskirts of Casco Viejo – you can even pick out your own catch of the day from a local fisherman and bring it to the restaurant upstairs to be prepared. The ceviche is also a must!
One of my favorite eateries is Quesos Chela, an empanada joint about an hour outside the city. It’s the perfect stopping point on the way to Panama City’s neighboring beach town.
4. What are some must see/do activities in Panama?
Visitors should definitely take advantage of the wealth of flora and fauna in Panama and schedule a guided jungle tour or hike. There’s amazing hiking in Chiriquí, where Isla Palenque is located, and fantastic birding and monkey-spotting!
5. Where are the best places for nightlife in Panama?
Panama City is a hub for vibrant nightlife with plenty of hopping discotecas and upscale watering holes. I prefer a more laid-back atmosphere, so I usually spend evenings wandering around Casco Viejo for its terrific restaurants and open-air bars, great people-watching, pleasant ocean breezes, and cold drinks.
6. Name three/five of your favorite places to stay. High-end hotels? Budget-friendly places?
Los Cuatro Tulipanes in Casco Viejo is a great boutique hotel featuring apartment-style lodging steeped in the history and charm of the old city.
For those on a strict budget, I recommend traveling during Panama’s rainy season (July-December) when hotel rates are often lower, but there are still plenty of sunny days. There are also a number of great hostels in Panama City – I’ve met happy travelers staying in Luna’s Castle and hostel Mamallena.
Camping on the islands in the Gulf of Chiriquí is also really fun – I recommend camping on Isla Bolanos or Isla Gamez, then stopping by Cala Mia for some fresh, delicious cheese from local cows. As much as I love old-fashioned camping, I can’t wait until I can stay in the luxury camping suites on Isla Palenque later this year – the best of both worlds!
7. What is Panama’s best kept secret?
World-class coffee! Panama’s mountainous region surrounding Boquete (about an hour from Isla Palenque in Chiriquí) is host to some of the best sustainably-harvested coffee in the world, at amazingly affordable prices.
8. What souvenir should everyone leave with after visiting Panama?
I love hand-woven chacara bags made by the indigenous Ngobe-Bugle of Chiriquí. They’re all-natural (made from plant fibers), incredibly suitcase-friendly, and they make great gifts. Also, there are wonderful handmade jewelry and tapestries, made by the Kuna Yala people, for sale on the Guna Yala comarca and by street vendors in Panama City.