13-Days Panama Round Trip
Nowadays there are only a few charming countries, which are not flooded by holidaymakers, have no tourist-tailored artificial worlds, and are not influenced by the tourism market. Panama is one of them. This fact and the beauty of Panama makes it one of the last paradises on earth – an unexploited country in every respect.
Among our destinations on our way to Panama City and the Panama Canal, we will see many dazzlingly beautiful perspectives. There are many palm lined, empty beaches, whose colors vary between white and black, countless islands, historical sites and pure nature in abundance.
We will experience abrupt changes of landscapes and temperatures on our tour. In shortest intervals and in constant interchanges, we cross subalpine zones at an altitude of almost 10,000 ft, evergreen rainforests, dry forests, savannas and mangrove woods.
We start early for a long day of driving. From San José we’ll drive over the Pan-Americana south to Boquete. From 3,845′ elevation in San José, the asphalted road winds up to the Cerro de la Muerte, the “death path”. Our trip takes us to the top of the Talamanca Cordillera at an elevation of 12530 ft. At times we have a view like from an air plane, and with some luck we can see the Pacific as well as the Atlantic coastline at once.
After San Isidro de General, our route follows the Rio Grande General, the largest and longest river in Costa Rica. At both sides of the road are vast sugar cane and pineapple plantations. At Buenos Aires, we leave the Pan-Americana and drive on a winding mountain road south to San Vito, a town where many Italian immigrants settled. Here we will have lunch and then head to the Panama border at Sabalito.
First, we will present our legal documents and apply for the departure from Costa Rica. Then, 100 yards to the south, we’ll organize the entrance to Panama.
Over varying country roads we’ll head east to this day’s destination Boquete, a beautiful place at the slopes of the Baru volcano. After this very long day of driving, we’ll relax in a nice restaurant.
In Boquete, we will visit the Monkey Canyon and a waterfall. In the forenoon we’ll continue with a visit to the rum factory Carta Vieja. Here we will learn about the production of rum in a 40-minute tour. In the afternoon we’ll continue on the Pan-Americana to our day’s destination: Playa las Lajas.
We are expecting a wide, dark, fine-sanded beach, one of the most beautiful in the Pacific. Upon arrival at our hotel, there is the option to rest for the day at Las Lajas Beach Resort, or to visit the Guaymi Indians territory on our bikes.
Today’s destination is the small fishing village of Santa Catalina at the Sona peninsula near the Golfo de Montijo. It is an insider tip for surfers, and has some nice hotels and restaurants.
After about 12 miles (20 km) on the Pan-Americana, we’ll leave the highway and turn at the small village of Las Lajas de Tole, heading south. On a well-developed, winding country road, we can enjoy both, plain coastal sections and winding roads. The vegetation is still very green and dense, until the landscape south of the small town of Sona opens and is more and more dominated by large pastures. Within 19 miles (30 km), the color of the landscape changes from all shades of green to the brown and yellow tones of the savanna.
In the early afternoon we reach the electricity- and telephone-free fishing village Armadero. The entire village consists of wooden houses with palm roofs. We can swim or just relax on this quiet beach. Before sunset, we’ll drive to the other side of the bay, to our day destination Santa Catalina.
We have a long and varying driving day ahead of us, so we will start early to the Azuero peninsula. We drive back to Sona, and will then maneuver over bumpy asphalt trails to the west coast of the peninsula.
On a well-developed and interesting asphalt road, we head south to Puerto Tebrario. There we leave the well-developed road and direct our machines through the forest protection area El Montuso eastwards to the small village of Las Minas. There we change our direction to the south and drive our bikes on a mountain road towards today’s destination.
From the higher peaks, we have breathtaking views at the sea and the inland ridges. At Alto de Guera, the Rio Guera has excavated bizarre rock formations. Natural water basins were created, which we can use for a refreshing bath. Again and again we see lovingly preserved colonial houses along our route. In the late afternoon we reach our destination: Playa Cambutal.
We leave the southernmost point of Panama and drive along a well-developed country road to our daily destination El Valle. Again, we experience extreme climate changes over shortest distances.
Yellow-brown savannas alternate several times with succulent forests. Today we pass through an area considered the cradle of Panamanian culture. Many colonial houses, haciendas and typical colonial houses with clay walls and rounded tiles. Many older men wear the Panama hat. Here, Cattle farming is the lifeblood. Young cowboys are doing their work in the pen. The people of this region are proud.
What a difference to our daily goal El Valle. On the peninsula we experience daytime temperatures of up to 95 °F (35 °C), in El Valle pleasant 68 °F (20 °C) degrees. The colonial and cowboy culture on the peninsula, and in El Valle the getaway for rich businessmen from Panama City. Nevertheless, our day’s destination is an excellent place: Highland vegetation, thermal baths, good restaurants, hummingbirds, butterflies, orchids. Unfortunately, we do not have enough time to see everything El Valle has to offer.
Both, in the first half of the day and in the afternoon, we have considerable amounts of curves and slopes on our trip. Only on the short stretch on the Pan-Americana we have somewhat less pleasure. The vegetation becomes greener and greener as we climb up the mountain.
Today is a very special day. We will ride on a relatively gentle mud track to the strait of Panama.
After about 3 hours of a varying ride through secondary forest and pastures, we reach the northern side of the Gatun reservoir. This 267 mi² (430 km²) large, and 85 ft. (26 m) above sea level located lake forms the main stretch of the Panama Canal, with its 52ft. (16 m) deep waterway. By commissioning the new locks, container ships with up to 15,000 containers can pass this canal. This shortcut saves ships about 8,100 miles (13,000 km). The landscape consists of rainforest. For each passage, about 21 million cu ft. (600,000 m³) of fresh water. Only vast forest areas can guarantee that sufficient water is available in the summer.
On the light traffic asphalted quayside, we’ll have a breathtaking view over the lake. Depending on the elevation, we can see the ships in the canal. Another special moment on this day is the crossing of the canal on two 43 yards (40 m) long folding bridges. After a few miles, we reach the 3-stepped Gatun locks. Here we can observe the lifting and lowering of huge container ships.
In the early afternoon, we’ll cross the bridges a second time and drive to our hotel at the marina.
After breakfast, we’ll explore two large military units. On our way we pass a Panamanian checkpoint, behind which is Fort Sherman, a tropical jungle training center, which has been abandoned by the U.S.A. This was used to train special units for the jungle combat.
Then we drive on a gravel road 6 miles (10 km) through dense rainforest to Fort San Lorenzo, a former Spanish fort from the 17th century. The heavy cannons are still directed towards the sea. From the fort we have a fantastic view over the mouth of the Rio Chagres, the unspoiled jungle and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Before sunset we cross the strait for the second time. On the new highway we cross the Central American continent in less than two hours.
Just before sunset we’ll reach the cultural, political and economic center of the country: Ciudad de Panamá. The enchanting mix of chic villas, skyscrapers, green hills, tree-lined streets, giant cruise liners and luxury yachts will surprise us as well, as well as the size of the city.
In the morning, we’ll leave the bike in the park lot, and walk to the old town (Casco Viejo) and to the modern district of Panama City.
In the afternoon we’ll take the motorcycles and drive along the canal zone to sleepy Gamboa, a former residential district for the U.S. Canal Administration. We then explore the small islands of Naos, Culebra, Perico, and Flamenco over a man-made dam.
Due to the constant breeze, it’s much more pleasant here than in the super-hot center of the city. At sunset the whole city lays before us in the evening light.
After a short night we make our way back to Costa Rica. It is an unspectacular driving day over the Pan-Americana. But the visits of the Playa Blanca beach and the Deposito de Chatarra ensure relaxation and amazement.
If we are well in time, we will explore the mountain range around Santiago with a visit to various villages of the highland Indians.
Days 10 – 12:
For the third time, we will cross the continent, this time over the high-pass “Boca del Diablo” (Devil’s Mouth) in the Fortuna forest protection area. Here we experience the fierce continental winds.
Over the mountain crest with an extreme sloping position, we lurch through this section at an elevation of 4,900 ft. (1.500 m). As soon as we leave this section behind us, the vast intact rain- and mountain forests lie before our eyes. We’ll ride through dozens of 180° curves. 270° curves can also be experienced. At the Fortuna lake, we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a coffee break in fresh air.
The temperature is constantly rising as we approach the Caribbean coast. In Chiriqui Grande, we turn north. Another 37 miles (60 km) of winding coastal road lie ahead. To the left and right the coastal rainforest extends with gigantic tree giants. We’ll see very simple Indian settlements.
In Almirante, we park our bikes and hop into a taxi boat. In the late afternoon, we’ll reach our destination, the main island of Colon. Here, a true blast of colors awaits us. The houses are lovingly restored and painted in Caribbean candy colors. The sea shows all color shades from light green to dark blue. Here we will spend the next 2 days and recover from the long bike rides.
Early departure to San José, the starting point of our trip. On the coastal road, we reach Sixaola, the Caribbean border crossing. After we checked out in Panama and officially entered Costa Rica, we can cross the new border bridge.
We cross the Costa Rican Caribbean region along unbelievable vast banana- and pineapple plantations. The landscape is dominated by huge monocultures. But at Guapiles the landscape changes again. The Carretera 32 slices through the Braulio Carillio National Park, but the landscape is very original and unaffected. It becomes noticeably cooler, and at the continental divide, we all should have our jackets handy.