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The Beach and the Mountains

Coronado and El Velle

sunny 86 °F

We took off last weekend for a trip to Punta Chame and ended up in Coronado. The short version of the story was the cleaning service didn't clean the condo in Punta Chame from the previous guests and we moved on down the beach. However, the benefit of this event was that we were able to visit Gorgona,Coronado, and El Valle. Gorgona is just starting to be developed by condo, land, and hotel speculators. There a few nice place available but most of the new stuff is in the development stages.
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We stayed at the Coronado Bay condominiums for three nights and used that as our base. Besides walking the beach, a very beautiful black and tan sand mix, bird watching and people watching, we explored the community. The places on the beach and the view from the highrise apartments are the best. The homes off the beach are nice but they have difficult beach access and all beaches in Panama are public. Also, once you get off the main roads of the community, it's slow going on the uncared for streets.
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We cruised up the mountains to El Valle on Sunday. A nice mountain town develop in the crater of a large volcano that "blew it's top" centuries ago. It is usually cooler in El Valle than in Coronado just because of the elevation but the humidity was still very high. We ate lunch at a great little restaurant called Bruschetta. A popular spot for tourists. Maxine and Foo-Foo were also having lunch when we were there. We visited the farmers market which was very cool and went to the local zoo. The zoo was disgusting. I'm not a radical animal rights activist, but after visiting that dump I was ready to release all the animals and birds back into the wild. And if you are a "forgiener" you pay extra to get in. The main reason we went there was to see a "Golden Frog". The Golden Frog is endangered and the frog house has two in captivity. I'm glad we got to see them, but the zoo is a place not to visit. Save your time and go to the Farmers Market. Lots of great deals and very friendly Panamanians.

We returned to Panama City on Monday. Kryss had classes to teach and clients to see. It has been amazing to me to watch the development of her business. No matter where we go Dr. Krysstine helps fill the need.

Tuesday night we became real "gringo" tourists. We went to Restaurante-Bar Tinajas in Panama City. They are known for their outstanding show of traditional Panamanian dances, costumes and music. We had heard from many people it was worth seeing the show but the food was just average, much like a dinner theater. Our friends were right. Food average, show great and we're glad we went. The place was filled with tourists from the US, Canada, Columbia, and the UK.
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This coming weekend...the jungle.

Posted by rhislop 10:40 Archived in Panama Tagged mountains beaches birds panama el valle panama_city coronado_beach gordona Comments (0)

What was the best?

Rating our hotels and overnight stays

sunny 84 °F
View Central America on rhislop's travel map.

Since we have been home, many friends have asked us what was your favorite place, the best place you stayed, had the most fun or where would you stay again. Considering the fact that we had a phenomenal time, met some incredible people and made many new friends this question has been difficult to answer in a short statement. So, we created a rating system, using the educational grading systems (A-F) with a 4.0 scale. The criterion we used included price, quality, food (if available, not all places had their own restaurant), the staff, the management (this includes owners if they were involved with the day to day operations) and other (amenities in room, giftshop, nearby attactions, etc). We stayed at nine different hotels or rental properties, each of their positives and negitives were all taken in consideration for our grading system. So here goes...

MI_grunge_1_copy.jpgabstract_p..dited-1.jpgMagnolia Inn, Panama City Panama This was our number one place to stay. It is a brand new hotel and youth hostel in the Casco Viejo district of Panama City. Only a friend's recommendation brought us to this hotel, otherwise we would have been staying in a chain hotel in downtown Panama City. The MI received all A's and A pluses in our evalution, even though they don't have a restaurant but they have a kitchen that guests can use to prepare their own meals. The New Orleans French Quarter like environment, the absolute graciousness of the staff and owners, and the excellent quality of their beds placed this Inn at the top of our list. In the short time they have been open they are already the number two place to stay in PTY according trip advisor. We can recommend the Magnolia Inn quite highly. Be advised if you need the sterile atmosphere of a chain hotel this Inn isn't going to appeal to you. Final Grade A (4.12).

Drake_Bay_view_4.jpgToucan_b.jpgDrake Bay Wilderness Resort, Drake Bay, Costa Rica A very close second. Another place that was also a recommendation by a friend brought us to this resort. An hour boat ride down the Sierpe river, across Drake Bay bouncing over ocean waves, and into a small cove will bring you to this family run resort. You can also fly in and and out from San Jose to the Drake Bay airport and then a four wheel drive transport to the beach, a boat ride across the bay and into the cove and to the resort. We came here with my brother and sister-in-law after spending a week in Quepos, Costa Rica. This resort is a family run affair with many of employees and staff related to the owner. They are very hands on and go out of their way to make sure all your needs are met. The rooms are airconditioned and have hot water showers. Most places in the Osa peninsula don't offer either of these features that many of us take for granted. This is an all-inclusive resort with all the meals served family style in a very relaxed dining area. Eventually, you will meet all the other guests whether you want to or not. Included in the price of the resort besides your room and meals are a number of tours. We ended up going on six different ones. Our personal favorite was the mangrove boat tour, which was featured in an earlier blog. If you visit the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, the best guide for the tours is Tico. Try to make all his tours. You don't need to over pack for this resort, shorts and t-shirts are the only fashion statement you need to make. Final Grade A (4.0)

Sunrise_ne..uma__CR.jpgYY_beach_view_2.jpgYlang Ylang Resort and Spa, Montezuma, Costa Rica We had a long discussion about this rating, and I changed my mind after Kryss made a very strong statement about our stay at YY. We were here for six nights and especially for Kryss this was her favorite. The resort focuses on healthy foods, yoga, and the tranquility of the area.I consider this resort a semi-all-inclusive spot. Breakfast and dinner were included in the price, but no lunch. Also, some foods on the menu were extra. If you are a carnivour this isn't your resort, no cheeseburger in paradise here. Plenty of fish, chicken, salads, sushi, and interesting fresh fruit drinks. Additionally, they do have a fully stocked bar that you can make as unhealthy as you want. The rooms are very comfortable, have very cool outdoor and semi outdoor showers. The wildlife in the area, monkeys, birds, spiders, and coaties(cat like animals with long noses) are plentiful. Tiny little ants are also in abundance. The staff is very friendly and helpful. YY has a nice beach, lots of area for hiking and exploring the coastline. The nearby town of Montezuma has a reputation of being very ganja friendly, it's true. Final Grade B (3.3).

day_view.jpgnight_view.jpgThe Peace Lodge, Poasito, Costa Rica This was our first stop on our great adventure through Costa Rica and Panama. It was also the most expensive. This is a beautiful resort with it's own nature park and wildlife refuge. If you only have a short time in Costa Rica this would be a resort to consider. The rooms are exquisite. King size beds with canopy mosquito netting, gas fireplace, waterfall bath showers, patio hottubs with a waterfall and beautiful views of the rain forest. The wildlife park and refuge is outstanding. You can see many of Costa Rica's native wildlife at this park. The biggest downside to the Peace Lodge is their restaurant. This is a "got ya" place. There is no where else to go. A menu that starts at $20 bucks for pasta and goes up, with a very poor selection. We only ate their twice. A member of the hotel staff took us into Poasita and we bought a few groceries to make our own dinner. Additionally, the buffet lunch at the wildlife park is very good for 12 bucks. Lunch became our main meal while we where at the Peace Lodge. The staff at the lodge and the wildlife park were very good, knowledgeable about their product, spoke English and would help you with your Spanish. Final Grade B (3.2).

Pedasito_Hotel.jpgPedasito_bedroom.jpgPedasito Boutique Hotel & Spa, Pedasi, Panama This is a quaint little hotel and bed & breakfast in a coastal area of Panama. There are seven hotel rooms that are functionally appointed, clean, and have a non-commercial quality. The rooms facing their courtyard are the ones to request if you ever stay there. They have a small patio for relaxation and enjoying their pool. Breakfast is included the price of the room and we considered it very good. On Friday nights they set up a sushi bar in the courtyard and make great sushi that is fresh and tasty. The manager of the hotel was always there, we wondered if she ever slept. She was hard working, customer oriented, and always open for suggestions and comments. The service in restaurant was always good. We practiced our Spanish with them and they practiced their English with us. Final Grade B- (2.6).

Arenal.jpgArenal_from_airplane.jpgLos Lagos Hotel, Spa & Resort, La Fortuna, Costa Rica When we decided to extend our trip to Panama, we needed a few extra days in Costa Rica to make all our flights work. This was our first stop on the extention. La Fortuna is the home of the Arenal Volcano which attracts tourists from all over the world. We used the Costa Rican tourist board to make our reservations at Los Lagos since making last minute reservations was very difficult. We only had three choices and this was the best of the lot. Los Lagos caters to large groups and bus tours. Everything at the resort is average, food, staff, rooms, etc. Only their view of Arenal was better than average. Walking out the patio door of our hotel room was the volcano. However, there are probably other hotels in the area that have a similar view and provide a better than average hotel service. Final Grade C+ (2.5)

Playa_Blan..t_night.jpgPlaya_Blanca_beach.jpgPlaya Blanca Resort, Playa Blanca, Panama A true all-inclusive beach front resort. If you only have one week to vacation at the beach this is a place to consider. The front desk staff were so arrogant and condescending that I was ready to leave right after we checked in. However, we need somewhere to stay for the next three nights and we were miles from anyplace else, so we stayed. As it turned out, we enjoyed our time here. The beach was great, lots of chaise lounge chairs, palm trees for shade, two great pools, three places for meals, plus a sushi bar and the bartenders know that a heavy hand got better tips. The front desk staff should take lessons from the bartenders on customer relations. The place was filled with Canadians and Panamanians. Over all an average resort. The cost per night was similar to Ylang Ylang, but no where the same value. It probably would have gotten a better rating from me if the front desk staff didn't have such an attitude. Final Grade C (2.3)

Las_Olas_beach_4.jpgLa_Barqueta_sunset.jpgLas Olas Resort, La Barqueta, PanamaThis resort has the most unused, beautiful beach we saw on the whole trip. We spent ten days here and their beach was one of the best. Sunsets were colorful and every night we took time to watch it. This resort is 30 kilometers west of David, Panama. It opened in October of 2001, as an all-inclusive resort, but two years later it stopped being an all-inclusive. The resort is owned by a local family, who are also building condos, single family homes and a golf course in the area. All of this sounds great at first blush, but when you stay someplace for ten days the cosmetics start to come off. The resort is badly in need of a facelift. The potholes in the drive into the resort and at the entrance will snap your neck and damage your car. The grounds are poorly cared for, the beach and pool chairs are probably the same ones since the resort opened. The towels in the bathroom and for beach use are frayed and thin. The facade was clean, but a close look and there was a lot swept under the rug. The staff was hit and miss, some seemed helpful and caring, while others were sleep walking through their day. To me, the biggest disappointment were the owners. They live at the resort, can see the poor conditions of the driveway, the worn out furniture, the ragged towels and they don't do anything about. The resort is the flagship of their development and it doesn't say much for their future plans. Final Grade C (1.9).

Sal_s_sail..dited-1.jpg13_of_14.jpgEscape Villas MA-37, Quepos, Costa Rica When you look at this place on the internet it looks fantastic. A seven bedroom house, with a pool, a whirlpool on the top floor, parking, etc. Fourteen of us stayed here for a week, there was no trauma drama, everyone had fun fishing, eating, drinking, and chil-axing. However, for the price of the house, the neighborhood it was in, and the lack of care by the management; next time we're in Quepos, we're staying somewhere else. The internet worked once and a while, only on certain floors, the laundry room was disgustingly dirty, our kitchen was marginally clean and I never saw the 24/7 security. Truly a case of renter beware of what you get on the internet. Our trip coordinator has no dog in this hunt, it is all escapevillas.com, what they promise and what they deliver are definitely two different animals. Final Grade C- (l.5)

The best two places we stayed during the trip can't be measured. The JanKB's house and MLT's house before we left Denver and when we returned. Without these wonderful accommodations our trip wouldn't have started and ended on such a positive feeling. Thank you both!

Posted by rhislop 15:49 Archived in Panama Tagged beaches birds sunset volcano las la costa rica panama hostel costa_rica playa fortuna montezuma david inn drake arenal blanca magnolia playa_blanca drake_bay sierpe ylang casco barqueta olas pedasi escape_villas Comments (0)

180 Degrees

Panama City to the beach

overcast 80 °F

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No it's not that hot in Panama, it's our living pace. For the last six nights we've been in Panama City and the surrounding area. Today we woke up at the beach. While we were in Panama City we visited an Embara Indian village, the black Jesus shrine and the Fort of San Geronimo in Portobello, and a number of local historical sites near our hotel. We are ready for a change of pace.

We've learned about Panama time...if you are told a time to meet, feel lucky if they are there within an hour of the scheduled time. A very frustrating condition when dealing with Panama natives. We had arranged with a travel agent to meet at 6pm, after our trip to the Embara Indian Village, three phone calls later, she showed up at 7:30pm. Not really the way we had wanted to spend the evening. Everyone has an excuse why they are late, but doesn't do anything about it.

We bought a throw away Panama phone. A smart thing to do if you are going to travel here. Having a phone helps in getting things done.

The Embara Indian village is about two hours away from from Panama City. A van ride to a national park and then a canoe (powered by a 15 horse yamaha outboard) ride up a river for about an hour. The boat ride was through the jungle, with lots of birds and other wildlife living on or near the river. About 100 people live in the village, selling baskets, handcarved items, and masks to the tourists. We enjoyed a native meal, dancing, and walking around the village.34bobh_003.jpg61bobh_002.jpg50bobh_001.jpg

The trip to Portobelo was a car ride about 1.5 hours from Panama City. Portobelo is a very small town that was once a shipping port and Spanish garrison, back in the day. Visiting the old fort was interesting and very similar to the Spanish built fort in St. Augustine, FL and Limon, Costa Rica. The building plans must have been like today's shopping centers...here's the plan, build it. Also, the Black Jesus statue is located in a local church. Google the Portobelo Black Jesus to read about him. Lots of interesting rumors. 2bobh_005.jpg

The drive to the beach was 460 kilometer ride on the the Panamerican Highway and a narrow paved country road. At least 60% of the Panamerican Highway was four lane as we headed to David, PA. The other was a two lane highway, with a few pot holes that kept us on the alert. When we got on the county road we realized that it could have been a Costa Rican super-highway.

We'll be here a few days, maybe more than we want, since it is carnival in the big cities and getting rooms is a struggle. All the city folk go to the beaches to get away from the insanity of the carnival. But why not stay at the beach...it's beautiful, quiet, and of course relaxing.

Posted by rhislop 06:12 Archived in Panama Tagged beaches birds indians panama black jesus portobelo embara Comments (0)

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