[Editor’s Note: The below is a guest post by California-based photojournalist Michael Wesley Titgemeyer.]
Fred, my friend and partner-in-crime, and I were in search of waves and a good time – and considering its great surfing spots, cosmopolitan capital, gorgeous bicoastal beaches and jungle-decked interior, Panama seemed like a good place to find both.
Neither he nor I had ever been to Panama before, though we’d both traveled to Costa Rica a handful of times and were already somewhat familiar with the Central American culture and lifestyle.
While I told Fred I wanted to go on this trip to surf, I was really going to take pictures. I hadn’t traveled internationally since a round-the-world trip in 2010, but our Panama adventure was about to change that. I’d recently upgraded my camera and was intent on getting some interesting wildlife and travel shots of things I couldn’t find at home.
View the slideshow for vignettes from ten days of Panama adventures >>
Panama travel is a chance to choose from an incredible array of experiences. Here are a few of the highlights from my trip:
Overland Journeys in Panama
Upon arrival at Tocumen International Airport just outside Panama City, the first order of business was to obtain a vehicle. We booked a nice 4-wheel-drive SUV and hit the road. Our plan: to head up the Pacific Coast in search of waves, then shoot over to Bocas del Toro province before going back down the Pacific side to finish the trip in Panama City.
The journey from the Northern Pacific Coast over the mountains to the Caribbean side near Bocas has to be one of the most picturesque drives in the world. The jungle-covered mountains look like something out of a movie.
Waves & Wildlife
Fred and I had a blast in Bocas del Toro, a tropical paradise with vibrant nightlife (admittedly, this scene isn’t for everyone, but for two twentysomething guys, it was fun), Caribbean culture… and nature! Wildlife encounters included caimans, predatory birds as well as jungle and marine avian species, iguanas, bat rays, sharks, tons of fish, sea turtles, crabs, and lots of bright insects. While there were no waves in January when we visited, it was still a beautiful place to stay for a few days. Mingling with the locals here has a completely different vibe than on the Pacific side.
The next leg of the trip was spent in Santa Catalina, a quaint surfing community on the Pacific coast near Isla Coiba. This place was amazing: 6- to 8-foot waves, perfectly-shaped, and sea life everywhere. We swam and surfed past bull sharks chasing bait, multiple sea turtles, a couple different types of otter, and lots of game fish. On these Pacific waters in the Gulf of Chiriqui, nothing separates you from a pristine ocean realm that feels very much “alive.”
Upscale Indulgence in the Capital
To wind down our journey, we lived like kings in Panama City, drinking specialty cocktails on the rooftops of Casco Viejo and people-watching from the heights of Panama City’s skyscraper-lined cityscape at sunset.
The rental car was thrashed at the end of the trip. Two speeding tickets, one deflating tire, ten pounds of dirt, and twenty-three hundred miles later, we had completed our tour of Panama. We scored world-class waves, celebrated with Caribbeans, and saw more wildlife than some do in a lifetime.
For a ten-day adventure, I’d say it was a pretty magical experience!
About the author
Michael Wesley Titgemeyer’s journeys have taken him to twenty-one countries on five continents (so far), but the majority of his images are native to California, as is this photojournalist and passionate travel photographer. To see more of Michael’s work, visit his website bluewesley.smugmug.com and follow Blue Wesley Picture Studio on Facebook.
All images © Michael Wesley Titgemeyer 2012.