Welcome to the jungle
...And a little bit of Panama Viejo
Before going to Panama, I thought the Canal would be the highlight of the trip. Turns out the jungle tour tied with the Panama Canal as most memorable/amazing. Yes, they’re very different, but I have never been that close to wild animals that were not afraid of people (monkeys). I also thoroughly enjoyed the narrated tour of the manmade lakes and Lake Gatun that Captain Carl gave us, even if he joked a lot and sometimes we couldn’t tell if he was joking.
We visited Panama Viejo the first full day we had in the country. It is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, founded in 1512. The ruins were interesting, and we didn’t take too long to go through them, but I am really glad we went. Growing up in Florida, I visited St. Augustine a lot and Panama Viejo was just a wee bit older (I’m using very technical terms here) but St. Augustine was founded in the 1565 and is the oldest city in the US (founded by the Spanish). So, a lot of the architecture in Casco Viejo reminded me of St. Augustine, but I digress. We paid $8 each to walk the grounds and there is a museum. You can pay $12 to see all of them, we just didn’t have time to do both because we had to get back for our reservation at Donde Jose. Note: I will do a restaurant review post and combine all of the places we ate
We took an Uber to Panama Viejo and was less than $10. We spent about an hour walking around and exploring the ruins - there were police on site because it is not the safest area since it kind of desolate and away from downtown - and then it started to storm so we got another Uber. When I opened the door and sat down the Uber driver looked at me and said “you are very brave, this is a red zone.” I asked what that meant and he said it meant it was a high crime area. We felt safe, I had read to NOT go there after dark. He took us back to our Airbnb in Casco Viejo and it was about $8.
The second day we were in Panama, we booked a jungle day tour through Anywhere Panama. I learned of that company about 5 years ago when I had planned to got to Costa Rica and never was able to go on the trip (just discussed going to CR next year with a friend today, ha!), but I knew they’d branched out and offered day tours in other countries. We started our day early with a pickup at a hotel in downtown Panama City (Uber took us there) and got picked up at 9:30 am. We had about a 45 minute ride with about 12-15 other passengers to a dock somewhere along the manmade lakes in the countryside and then met our Captain.
The boat ride to our floating lodge was about 90 minutes. Mainly beause we got to feed the monkeys and we stopped along the way to see wildlife, (the sloths stayed hidden) and to see birds and turtles. Captain Carl knew a lot about the Canal and the expansion, as well as the cranes and machinery that we saw along the way that were used to build and unload. The most interesting machinery (to me) was a crane that was built by the Germans in WWII (not using the N word) and the Allies took it from the Germans sent it to Panama and it still works.
Once we arrived at the lodge, we had a traditional Panamanian lunch prepared by locals and we got to relax in the hammocks, kayak, or swim. My friends and I chose to swim. We were chatting with a Swiss man about our age who ended up eating lunch with us and sticking behind. A Dutch family stayed behind too because they were spending the night in the lodge and were going to kayak the next day. Everyone else went kayaking. I am so glad we stayed behind because we had an absolute blast jumping off the second story dock, swimming out to lily pads, and hanging out with our new friend Sascha, and the two Canadians that lived there half the year working in the lodge. We were all around the same age and chatting, drinking Balboa beers, and being silly doing yoga and handstands on these giant floating yoga “lilypads” out in the middle of the lake. These lakes are inhabited by crocodiles, but apparently there were underwater bamboo barriers that prevented them from swimming into the litte cove that the lodge was located in. Did I completely trust that there were none? Not really, so I swam AS FAST AS POSSIBLE every time I jumped in the lake. But hey, I still have all of my limbs.
After a wonderful afternoon with new friends, we took a boat back to the the dock, took an Uber in rush hour traffic back to Casco Viejo, and got ready for dinner and our nightly nightcap at Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar (met new friends that night too, of course).