For Ralph’s family

December 2015.

Indigenous life and ocean joy

Dear Ralph,

You’ve chosen a perfect spot for your family’s vacation: a link between the Americas, a country offering the authenticity that comes with the balance fragility and beauty that characterizes a place where bold new ways of life meet history and tradition. I have designed your journey with your personal preferences in mind, choosing a blend of classic vacation experiences, from rafting to sailing and snorkeling, and cultural and botanical explorations. You will have a chance to understand the unique and delicately preserved indigenous cultures of the area, both through interaction with the strong people who carry on their ancient traditions, and through interactions with the environment that has so shaped these cultures. When you leave Panama, you will leave with more than just sunny memories: you will depart with an understanding of a way of life that is wild and wholly different from that which you have known.
Day 1: Arrival

When you arrive in Panama, you will be met by your guide, Melinda, who is a representative from Panama Trails. She’ll bring you to the Hotel Las Clementinas, where you will spend the night in a deluxe apartment.

Day 2: Canal transit

You will awake refreshed and ready for a watery adventure, which is just what I have planned for you. Head to the Flamenco Resort and Marina, where you will board a motorcoach for a 45-minute ride to the town of Gamboa, where the Panama Canal Dredging Division is located. After a brief overview of the facilities on land, you will board the Pacific Queen to start the aquatic portion of your tour. You enter the canal at the north end of the Gailard cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal. The Gaillard Cut (also known as Culebra Cut because its curves resemble a snake) is one of the main points of interest for visitors because it was carved through the Continental Divide. As such, the tour will be peppered with not only historical insight, but also with notable geological facts and sights. The Pacific Queen will travel the Cut’s 13.7 kilometres on the way to Pedro Miguel Locks. As you transit the Cut you will be able to appreciate the continuous maintenance that this area requires, because it is very susceptible to landslides. You will also be able to observe the work in process for the Panama Canal expansion project.

Before reaching the Pedro Miguel Locks at the southern end of the Cut the boat will slow, offering a view of the new Centennial Bridge which crosses over the Canal. Next, the Pacific Queen will enter Pedro Miguel Locks, which is one of the two sets of locks on the Pacific side. Here, the vessel will be lowered 9 meters in one step. You will then enter Miraflores Lake, which is a small artificial body of fresh water that separates Pedro Miguel from Miraflores Locks, the final set of locks before reaching the Pacific Ocean. At Miraflores Locks the vessel is loyoured 18 meters in two distinct steps. Make sure your children take the time to observe this remarkable process.

Once in the Pacific Ocean, you will pass under the Bridge of the Americas, and later, you will be able to admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s splendorous skyline. Arrive to the Flamenco Marina and private transfer to your hotel. Finally, the vessel will sail to the beautiful Flamenco Marina, where you will disembark.

In the evening, you will enjoy a dine-around experience at the Casco Antiguo. Tonight you will try a good glass of red wine and some appetizers at DiVino Enoteca, just next to your hotel. You will then continue to the French-style café Las Clementinas, where you will enjoy your main course. For dessert, you continue to Grand Clement offering the best ice-cream and sorbet in town. To complete the lovely evening, indulge in a nightcap at the Tantalo Rooftop bar.

Day 3: Coffee tour

In the morning, travel to Panama City’s domestic airport for a private flight to David. From David, you will transition to an even more exclusive flying experience: a one-hour private flight to the Chiriqui Highlands and to the village of Boquete, offering excellent scenery along the way. You will arrive in the early afternoon and settle into your junior suite at the Panamonte Inn & Spa, taking a short respite from travel before heading out for an afternoon of exploring.

Boquete is a small and charming mountain village, tucked away on the eastern slopes of Baru Volcano at 1200 meters. This village is known to produce some of the sweetest oranges and richest coffees in all of Panama, and is quickly becoming a destination for those visitors seeking the sunny-yet-cool mountain weather. Boquete’s surrounding hills and slopes are primarily covered in shade-grown coffee plantations, providing a rich product recognized by international connoisseurs. Coffee is primarily picked by the Ngobe-Bugle Indians during the months of October through February. Luckily, your trip coincides with the picking season, and so you will get to appreciate this festive time, observing the colorfully clad families who have come from various parts of the province harvest the coffee cherries.

After your rest, you will enjoy a short ride to Finca Lerida, one of the most celebrated Coffee Plantations in Panama, and one of Boquete’s oldest and most traditional coffee estates. Here, you will learn about high quality coffee processes from master farmer. Lerida´s owner will take you on a guided tour, explaining the process, roasting, and brewing, before concluding with a cupping session.

Day 4: Nature walk in the Cloud Forest

In the early morning, you will be met at the hotel lobby to take you to Sendero Culebra, a unique trail famous for the Quetzals that inhabits the surrounding area. With your naturalist guide’s assistance, you will explore the trail and soak up the beautiful nature. Your guide will point out the wildlife of the area and, with a bit of luck, you will be able to spot the resplendent Quetzal in one of the Aguacatillo trees. From Sendero Culebra, you will hike to the Waterfalls Trail and experience the magic of this nature reserve. This amazing hike retraces the steps of pre-Columbian Indians into the remote virgin cloud forest surrounding the perimeter of Volcan Baru National Park. The trail parallels Quebrada La Mina, a gorgeous creek that meanders through the ridges and valleys above Boquete, falling over wall after spectacular wall of water before finally spilling into Rio Caldera.

Explore an underground cavern, enjoy a picnic at the base of one of the most exquisite waterfalls in Boquete and rejuvenate yourself with an invigorating shower. Then, no doubt hungry from your hike, enjoy a delicious picnic lunch while relaxing at the waterfalls.

The afternoon schedule is flexible, allowing you to meander on your way back, bathe again in the falls, or head back more quickly for a spa night at your hotel. In the evening, indulge in dinner at the Panamonte Inn & Spa before settling into your luxurious junior suite for the night.

Day 5: Exploring on your own

After a more structured introduction to Boquete, you will have the chance to put your newfound knowledge of the place to use. Today will be fully at leisure, and so you might just choose to rest and enjoy the hotel facilities—however, you can also strike out on your own. If you choose to do so, I have some recommendations.

If you’re looking for an elevated and ethereal experience, consider gliding through the treetops of century-old forests, high above the pristine rivers and waterfalls that make up the incredible collection of natural landscapes bordering the National Park La Amistad and the famous Baru volcano. A harness, an ultra-resistant steel cable and gravity are the only elements necessary to suspend and propel the fearless rider in this incredible adrenaline rush.

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, try your hand at rafting in the Palon Section (literally “big stick”) of Rio Chiriqui Viejo River, which offers class III and IV non-stop excitement, pristine tropical forest, and more. Considerably narrower than other areas of the river, and dropping at a faster speed, the Viejo requires quick, tight maneuvering to get through the many rock gardens and enormous boulders. This section of the river delivers continuous white water that contribute to its class IV ranking. This is a guaranteed ride of a lifetime for rafters seeking a thrill.

If you’re looking for fabulous fauna, be sure to ask your guide for the best spots in and around Boquete to see many different species of birds. Among them the Resplendent Quetzal, the Collared Trogon, Orange-bellied Trogon, Bellbirds, Dark Peyoue, Silvery-throated Tanager, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Black Guan, Violet Saberwing, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, White-tailed Emerald and many more.

Day 6: Visit the Kuna Indians

In the morning, you will take a private flight to San Blas, with a quick stop at Panama City to change airplane. You will arrive to Corazon de Jesus, one of the 365 islands of this archipelago. The captain of your private catamaran will meet you at the airstrip and take you directly to your boat. Experts consider the San Blas archipelago as one of their top three destinations in the world!

Less than 60 islands are called by the Kuna, a local indigenous tribe. The Kuna is one of the best preserved of all the indigenous cultures of the Americas, in part because tourism is limited to only a few of the islands. But with its turquoise waters, the white sand beaches dotted with palm trees and thatched-roof Kuna villages, the San Blas Archipelago is absolutely worth a visit, sure to broaden your perspective and expand the horizons of your children.

After settling in on the boat—your home for the next three nights—you will head out to explore the marvelous Caribbean archipelago. The catamaran’s dinghy, a kayak and snorkeling gear is at your disposal to explore the islands. When you grow tired, you will be able to return to the boat at any time for a beverage, snack, or full meal.

Days 7-8: Exploring the islands

These two days will balance wild and sumptuous anchorages (such as the Hollandes reef, Chichime or Coco Bandero), and time spent visiting other traditional villages and learning more about Native American culture. Finally, you will kayak up a river, either the Diablo, Sugar or Manglar, according to your preference.

You will get in plenty of sailing practice, snorkeling and will have ample opportunity to revel in your extraordinary surroundings. The captain and his stewardess will be glad to help you with the state of the art snorkeling gear and fishing lines. The best area to cruise is located between Rio Diablo (Corazon de Jesus) and Porvenir: unlike the rest of the San Blas most islands are located far from the main land offering crystal clear waters and gorgeous sea life. The two great reefs, Chichime and Hollandes, lie in the north of the selected sailing area: these are the most beautiful anchorages following guest’s choice. Be sure to ask your captain to take you to his preferred lonely island!

You will also visit a Kuna community to learn about their culture and traditions. Established in 1938 as an autonomous Indian territory, the land and marine park of Kuna Yala (San Blas) offer both land and sea treasures. Today’s Kuna Indians inhabit the islands in the same way their ancestors did: trading coconuts and fishing for crabs, lobsters and snappers aboard their graceful hand carved wooden canoes complete with patchwork sails, called “Cayucos.” Most of the communities speak only the ancient Indian language and the women still wear traditional colorful dresses in orange and yellow, highlighted with the world famous “mola” rainbow colored patterns, emblazoned with fishes, birds, jungle animals or geometric designs. While there, you will have the chance to enjoy a traditional lunch of coco rice and barbecue, and will spend a day in the rainforest, discovering a refreshing waterfall near Rio Sidra.

You will truly fall into the rhythm of life at sea s you enjoy meals are prepared with the catch of the day: fishes, lobsters and the famous San Blas giant crabs!

Day 9: Embera Village

After an early breakfast, you will fly back on a private plane to Panama City. After checking in at Hotel Las Clementinas, you will depart for a cultural visit to the Embera Quera Indian village.

This adventure takes you to Quera Embera community, at the end of Gatun River, where you will board a canoe (with outboard) and enjoy the beautiful scenery, flora and fauna of the region. Upon arrival, you will indulge in a delicious traditional Embera lunch, followed by a chance to know their dances and music—an experience that will truly transport you back in time. Your children will also surely enjoy the chance to learn about—and wear—traditional body paint. With the stage set by these traditional activities, dive into the forest again, exploring a guided interpretive trail, where you will learn the importance of plants in the Embera culture. At the end of your visit, you will have the chance to pick up some handmade crafts by community residents—a unique and meaningful souvenier option!

You will return late in the evening in time to enjoy one final night in Panama City at your leisure. Go out if you wish, or enjoy a relaxing evening with diner in the hotel.

Day 10: Departure

After breakfast you will be transferred to the Tocumen International Airport for your flight back home.

Ralph, it has been a pleasure planning this journey for you and your family. Please do not hesitate to reach out, should the need arise.