I can’t believe one week has already passed since I moved permanently onto the road and officially kicked off the Travel Dispatch’s first journey. It feels like I just touched down in Panama yesterday yet as I sit writing this recap, it’s surreal how much I’ve seen and done in such a short amount of time.
Is it weird that I’m already depressed about only having 51 weeks left on the current round-the-world trip?
For those that don’t know, these recap articles are published every Wednesday to provide you with an organized, behind-the-scenes look at everything highlighted in the past week’s email dispatches (psst…don’t know what the dispatch is? My about page fixes this for you!). This breakdown serves as a practical guide for those interested in further information about traveling to the destinations mentioned i.e. how to book the same tour, what gear to bring, how much things cost, where I ate those yummy local delicacies, how to obtain a visa, and more.
Now without further ado below are all the juicy deets for the week of Nov 15 – 21, 2017.
Country and Region: Panama in Central America
Cities: Panama City, El Valle de Anton
Currency: US Dollar (US$)
Visa Info: US, AUS, UK, CAN, and EU Citizens do not need a visa to enter. There’s a US$5 “tourist card” fee but this is included in your flight ticket price and is not a physical card you actually carry. You can stay in Panama for 90 days and then extend this by another 90 days by visiting any immigration office for a max of 180 days.
Proof of Onward Travel: You are required to show this. I didn’t have this as I’m a one-way ticket kinda gal, so before leaving Florida I booked a flight leaving Panama City on Expedia.com, printed the confirmation to hand to the official as I entered the country, and then cancelled my reservation. Expedia gives you 24 hours to cancel with no $$$ penalties so this is my go-to whenever proof of onward travel is needed.
Week 1 Highlights
The majority of this past week was spent in Panama City, Panama. A strange place I found hard to grasp.
It feels (and certainly looks) very American yet is undeniably foreign at the same time. It’s a metropolis that demands a longer stay to really get under its skin and understand the true nature of it. Safe to say 6 days was not enough for me to do this. Instead what I walked away with were snapshots I one day hope to delve further into.
But for now the below highlights will have to do.
Spending a late morning at the Mercado de Mariscos
This was undoubtedly my favorite experience in Panama City. I made it part of my routine to go most mornings and even played Seafood Market Tour Guide for a new Scottish friend I made. This market (close to the old town of Casco Viejo) mixes two of my favorite things – a view into everyday local life and fresh seafood caught straight from the waters lapping against its gates.
The Mercado de Mariscos is the place local restauranteurs purchase their fish and where residents come out to take advantage of their a la carte offerings. Visitors can watch the colorful fishing boats come in and unload the day’s catch where it’s immediately taken in, weighed, and then put on display. On the market’s edge lies a lineup of food stalls specializing in ceviche made fresh on the premises. It is the ultimate in sea-to-table cuisine and it helped me cross off one of my wish-list items on my projected 12-month itinerary – eat ceviche all day everyday!
Walking the Cinta Costera from Marbella to Casco Viejo
Most visitors to Panama City opt for strolling the popular Amador Causeway but I prefer the less-traveled waterfront pathway from the business district of Marbella to the old town. The crowds are few, the views are stunning, and it’s filled with locals out walking their dogs, playing futbol, or jogging in the seriously-how-are-you-doing-this-in-90%-humidity weather.
And if you’re there in late November, you can even sit on Santa’s lap outside while taking in the full panoramic view of Casco Viejo.
Not doing this for the photo alone is my biggest regret in life.
Taking the local transport
You won’t find this on most travelers’ lists either when it comes to Panama City but my favorite sport is people watching and I dare you to find a more iconic venue to view this than on a public bus. Besides it’s cheap. A ride from the airport to the city center is a whopping $1.25 as opposed to a $25 taxi ride and my 3 hour ride to the small town of El Valle de Anton was only $4.25.
Below are just a few sites you’ll come across when riding the local bus:
- A woman with 4 kids under the age of 6 stacked on her lap like Jenga blocks.
- A man roaming the aisles with a cooler of drinks and snacks, selling them to passengers.
- Several gas stations and side streets as the driver picks anyone up, anywhere so long as their hand is in the air.
And just one thing you rarely see:
- Another gringa in the wild.
Name: El Machico Hostel
Location: Marbella area of Panama City
Price Per Night: USD $14
Highlights: Great staff. Fun atmosphere. Full kitchen. Offers the full range of tour bookings in and around the area. Free breakfast. Reception sells snacks and beer. Awesome pool. Super clean. Hot showers.
Lowlights: Rooms are freezing cold at night. I mean FREEZING.
Would I Stay There Again? Absolutely. In fact I’m staying here upon my return to Panama City before my upcoming sailing trip to Colombia. I loved this neighborhood and the atmosphere of the hostel. So many amazing travelers came through (bonus – most of them were my age or older!). I wrote this short dispatch on why I’m glad I stayed in this area over the more popular Casco Viejo.
Things That Got Me Through the Week
I often get asked what’s in my backpack and while I posted an entire article on everything I brought with me for my 12 month journey, I thought it’d be more beneficial to show you week by week exactly when and how I use each item.
This section highlights my most used items throughout Week 1.
15L Pacsafe Venture Safe
So happy I went with this over the messenger bag I originally wanted. I’ve carted this around with my laptop, GoPro, and journal all over town to work in any setting that strikes my fancy. I love a good daypack.
Youphoria Sport Towel
The El Machico Hostel hires out towels but I’m on a budget so am glad I brought my own lightweight microfiber towel. It dries so incredibly quick and has a hook so I can loop it through the bunk frame above mine to dry.
Published This Week
- Day 1: Dispatched From the Wrong Panamanian Bus Stop
- Day 2: Dispatched Over “Un Juego de Pool”
- Day 3: Dispatched While Pandering to the Rain
- Day 4: Dispatched From the Mercado de Mariscos
- Day 5: Dispatched From the Old Town Where I’m Glad I Didn’t Stay
- Day 6: Dispatched Alongside a Change of Plans
- Day 7: Dispatched From Atop a Sleeping Indian
Further Reading on the Current Journey
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
The current Travel Dispatch journey kicked off in Panama on Nov 15 and is showcasing a classic “round the world” loop as I weave my way from Latin America to The Balkans, Eastern Europe to the Middle East, and Southeast Asia back to the US over a period of 12 months and with a budget of $25,000. Finally along live by subscribing below!