For Walt’s family

May 2016.

Ancient Andean adventure

Dear Walt,

Thank you for sending photos of your wedding, you both looked stunning. I have organized everything in Panama so that you honeymoon perfectly complements your perfect wedding.

Panama is best known for the canal that is the gateway between the Atlantic and the Pacific, but it is its many treasures in a lush tropical landscape that will make you feel like you are entering a new world, just as you and Brenda begin your new life together.

With this mixed itinerary, you will experience slices of ancient history and colonial history, as well as modern adventures with the Panamanian paradise as your backdrop. I believe this schedule will provide you with a perfect blend of guided activities and time to relax with each other in your surroundings, including a few touches that should pique your personal interests!

Day 1: Arrival at the gateway to paradise

You and Brenda will be welcomed upon arrival at the airport by Jake, with whom you will venture into Panama City to the comfortable abode that awaits you as your honeymoon suite for the night, at Las Clementinas. This intimate hotel full of character and modern updates, nestled in the middle of the Casco Viejo neighborhood, is an authentic slice of this UNESCO World Heritage Site that will charm you with its crisp tropical touches. I have arranged for a romantic sunset on the rooftop with wine and champagne, followed by a relaxing in-room massage to set the perfect tone for the rest of your celebration.

You will find yourselves in the rich center of Panamanian culture, surrounded by all the creature comforts that will make for a seamless welcome to Panama, after all the bustle of your big day. Your room has the added detail of tropical hardwood floors that were sustainably harvested.

Day 2: Panama down low

After enjoying breakfast at Las Clementinas, you will be off to your first adventure, which sets sail from the town of Gamboa for a water tour of the Panama Canal. You and Brenda will embark the Pacific Queen and enter the canal at the north end of the Gaillard Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal, on your way toward the Pedro Miguel Locks. The Gaillard Cut (also known as Culebra Cut because its curves resemble a snake, “culebra” in Spanish) has particular historical and geological value because this section of the canal was carved by the Continental Divide. As you transit the Cut, you will be able to appreciate the continuous maintenance performed on this area to accommodate the shifting Divide, as well as observe the newly completed Panama Canal expansion project, also known as the Third Set of Locks Project, which opened in June 2016.

As you continue to sail toward the Pedro Miguel Locks at the southern end of the Cut, you will pass under the newer Centennial Bridge, the second major bridge crossing the canal, opened in 2004. Upon arriving at the Pedro Miguel Locks, the Pacific Queen will be lowered nine meters in one step. The Queen will continue on into Miraflores Lake, which is a small freshwater lake that separates the Pedro Miguel from the Miraflores Locks, your final step before reaching the Pacific Ocean. At the Miraflores Locks, the vessel will be lowered another 18 meters in two distinct steps, and then the gates open to the Pacific.

The Queen will coast the waters of the magnificent Pacific Ocean on its way to the lovely Flamenco Marina, passing under the Bridge of the Americas, the first major bridge crossing the canal, which opened in 1962. You two will also be able to admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s splendorous skyline as a grand finale before disembarking at the Flamenco Marina. You will arrive back at Las Clementinas late that afternoon and have a bit of time to stroll the city and peruse the local culture, which I know from our discussions is an important part of your trip. I would recommend a walk along the scenic, coastal Cinta Cosera, or the Paseo de Las Bovedas, along the top of Casco Viejo’s walls for some interesting scenery.

In the evening, you will savor a dine-around experience in Casco Viejo. The night will start with a glass of red wine and some appetizers at DiVino Enoteca, just next to your hotel. You will then continue to the French-style café at Las Clementinas for your main course. For dessert, you will head to the Grand Clement for a cool ice cream or sorbet, before topping off the evening with a nightcap at the Tantalo Roofbar.

Day 3: Panama up high

Your second full day in Panama, beginning with breakfast at Las Clementinas, will offer a different perspective of the landscape altogether. You will start the journey with a private flight to David, after which you will venture to the Chiriqui Highlands, and finally to the mountain village of Boquete.

Tucked away on the eastern slopes of the Barú Volcano at 1,200 meters, Boquete is known to produce some of the sweetest oranges and richest coffee in all of Panama, also boasting the sunniest, cool mountain weather. Boquete’s surrounding 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 natives from October through February, and coffee-picking season is a festive time when colorfully clad families come from various parts of the province to harvest the coffee cherries.

In the afternoon, you will visit one of the oldest, most traditional, and most exclusive coffee plantations in Panama, Finca Lerida, where you will learn all about high-quality coffee processes from expert professionals. Following that, the owner-guided coffee tour will take you from the plantation through the entire process, including roasting and brewing, and finishing with a cupping session of the richest nectar of the gods.

In the evening, you will retreat to a junior suite at the Panamonte Inn & Spa back in Boquete, where you can gaze at the plantations and mountainous rainforest from your private, elevated terraces.

Day 4: Boquete

After an early breakfast at the Panamonte, you will be guided through a journey down the unique Sendero Culebra trail, famous for the Quetzals that inhabit the surrounding area. Your naturalist guide will point out local wildlife and, with a bit of luck, you will be able to spot the Resplendent Quetzal in one of the Aguacatillo trees. After completing the Sendero Culebra, you will hike to the Waterfalls Trail and experience the magic of this nature reserve. This remarkable hike retraces the steps of pre-Columbian natives into the remote, virgin cloud forest surrounding the perimeter of Volcán Barú National Park and parallels Quebrada La Mina, a gorgeous creek that meanders through the ridges and valleys above Boquete, falling over wall after spectacular wall of water, and finally spilling into Rio Caldera.

Explore an underground cavern, rejuvenate yourself with an invigorating shower under one of the most exquisite waterfalls in Boquete, and then enjoy the provided picnic lunch while relaxing at the base of the waterfalls.

In the afternoon, you will return to the Panamonte Inn & Spa, and your evening will be free to go on whatever adventure you and Brenda decide, such as a dip in the nearby Caldera hot springs, or simply a gourmet meal at the hotel.

Day 5: Choose your own adventure

A full unscheduled day is your opportunity to rest and enjoy the hotel facilities, or further discover the lush surroundings through one of the many outdoor activities that make Boquete special. Here are some ideas:

  • Glide through the treetops of centuries-old forests, high above the pristine rivers and waterfalls that make up the incredible collection of natural landscapes bordering La Amistad International Park and the famous Barú 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.
  • The Palón Section (literally “big stick”) of Chiriquí Viejo River is a class III and IV raft ride, with nonstop excitement through verdant tropical forest. Considerably narrower than its counterpart and dropping at a faster speed, the Viejo requires quick, tight maneuvering to get through the many rock gardens and enormous boulders, and delivers continuous whitewater, which contributes to its class IV ranking. This is a guaranteed ride of a lifetime for thrill seekers!
  • For something more low-key, all the local guides know the very best spots in and around Boquete to see well over a dozen different species of tropical birds, including the Resplendent Quetzal, Collared Trogon, Orange-bellied Trogon, Dark Peyoue, Silver-throated Tanager, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Black Guan, Violet Saberwing, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, and White-tailed Emerald.

Day 6: San Blas—meet the Kuna natives

 Private air travel to the San Blas Islands will land you in Corazón de Jesús, one of the 365 islands of this archipelago. Circumnavigators consider the San Blas archipelago to be a gem and it is one of their top destinations in the world! You will float through the turquoise waters on your private catamaran, spotting white-sand beaches dotted with palm trees and thatched-roof villages of the native Kuna, one of the best-preserved indigenous cultures of the Americas.

The catamaran’s dinghy, a kayak, and snorkeling and fishing gear are at your disposal to immerse yourselves in the islands over the next three days, with freshly prepared meals featuring fresh catches such as fish, lobster, and the famous San Blas giant crab served throughout, promising a truly relaxing sea voyage through paradise.

Days 7-8: San Blas sea voyage

You will soak up two full days of sailing and activities in the gorgeous San Blas Islands, including a visit to a community of the Kuna tribe to learn about their culture and traditions, and to share a typical local lunch of coconut rice and barbecue.

Established in 1938 as an autonomous territory, Kuna Yala (San Blas) offers both land and sea treasures and is the traditional home of the Kuna. Today’s Kuna natives inhabit the islands in the same way their ancestors did—trading coconuts and fishing for crab, lobster, and snapper aboard their graceful, hand-carved wooden canoes, called “Cayucos,” complete with patchwork sails. Most of the communities speak only the ancient language, and the women still wear the traditional colorful dresses of orange and yellow, highlighted with the world-famous “mola” rainbow-colored patterns, emblazoned with fish, birds, jungle animals, or geometric designs.

The most stunning area to cruise is located between Rio Diablo (Corazón de Jesús) and Porvenir—unlike the rest of the San Blas, most of the islands in this area are far from the mainland, meaning that crystal-clear waters and gorgeous sea life abound. Other treasures worth exploring include the two great reefs of Chichime and Holandes in the northern region of the selected sailing area. Or ask your captain to take you to his preferred lonely island!

You will also have time to visit other traditional villages and learn more about Native American culture. Guided by a Kuna, you will be able to spend a day in the rainforest and venture to a refreshing waterfall near the Rio Sidra, ending by kayaking up a river (either the Diablo, Sugar, or Manglar River). I remembered you mentioned how you had enjoyed kayaking together on your first date, so I think this will be the perfect activity for you in an unparalleled setting.

Day 9: Embera Village encounter

Shortly after landing back in Panama City on your private flight, you will depart for a cultural visit to the Embera Quera indigenous village.

At the end of Gatún River, you will board a canoe (with outboard) and be quickly immersed in the beautiful scenery of the region’s flora and fauna, and then enjoy a delicious traditional Embera lunch. After a special visit to observe monkeys on a small island, you will get to experience an Embera cultural performance, including dances and music that will transport you back in time. You will also get to become their living art, serving as a canvas for traditional body painting (Jagua). I think this should particularly interest you, Walt, given your painting hobby. Later, you can travel down a botanical trail, accompanied by a guide who will explain the important plants in the Embera culture. Finally, before you head back to Las Clementinas, you will have the opportunity to peruse and purchase the one-of-a-kind handmade crafts of Embera artisans.

Day 10: Departure

After breakfast, private transport to the TOCUMEN International Airport for your flight back home will allow you and Brenda the opportunity to spend your return trip reminiscing on the unforgettable memories of your beautiful honeymoon!

Thank you for the opportunity to plan this special occasion for you, Walt, and I hope to plan more trips for you and Brenda as your anniversaries roll by! After all, people are what travel is all about—those with whom we choose to travel and those we meet en route.