Family Getaway: Five Days in Panama with Kids
With five days to explore, we wanted to split our time between two Panamanian cities. We were set on enjoying some beach as well as exploring Panama City. Panama has beautiful beaches on both its Atlantic and Pacific sides, however, we decided to remain on the pacific side for both cities during our short stay.
Flights from the United States to Panama are usually quite affordable. We booked this trip only a week before traveling. American Airlines had a fare sale, and we were able to purchase our round-trip tickets for a total of $266 per person.
Travel Tip: Panama has their own currency, the Panamanian Balboa, but US dollars are accepted everywhere. Skip the money exchange and bring dollars or use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
We wanted more flexibility in exploring for the first part of our journey so we chose to rent a car. The two hour drive to Riviera Pacifica was straightforward and easy to maneuver. Traffic in Panama City tends to be terrible, so we opted to use Uber, which is widely available throughout Panama, for the latter part of our trip.
Travel Tip: Renting a car in Panama is really cheap. We booked our rental car with Thrifty for $10/day using our Chase Sapphire Preferred card which gives us primary rental car coverage. Doing so allowed us to decline the “Collision Damage” insurance from the rental car company and saved us $15 per day. However, be prepared for the additional mandatory liability coverage of approximately $24.99 per day.
Our first destination was The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort in Riviera Pacifica, Panama. This hotel is a little bit of a splurge at $219/night. We strategically stayed during the week and were able to get a deal at $169/night + taxes and fees. Let me just say that I didn’t find any photos online that could do it justice. We were so surprised at how nice it was, that we wondered if we had arrived at the wrong hotel. The hotel was very empty during out stay which was fine for us. It rained lightly but frequently throughout our stay. We were still able to enjoy the pools and beach as well as the zoo. Entry to the zoo is complimentary with your stay. We spent about an hour observing ducks, turtles, multiple species of monkeys and birds, sheep, and crocodiles to name a few. The resort is so large that you could spend a day or too just exploring the grounds. One potential drawback of Buenaventura is that there are no nearby restaurants or stores. We chose to dine at the resort, which has nine bars and restaurant, but only a handful were open during our stay. If you prefer meals outside, be prepared for 15-20 minute drive. This kids were looking forward to going to the kid’s club, but we didn't get to use it as it was almost always unattended during our stay. One major plus of this resort was the amazing buffet breakfast that was included with our stay. There was a large variety of breakfast foods to choose from; made to order eggs, waffles, fresh fruit, pastries, and even some local favorites. Overall great this resort offers great value and family fun.
We decided on Panama City for the last two days of our trip, but were torn on whether to stay in the beautiful Casco Viejo area or Downtown Panama. Casco Viejo has many historical sites and plenty of restaurants, but can be quite noisy for sleeping. With the ability to easily get to Casco Viejo, we went with Hotel Las Americas Golden Tower Panama which we were able to get for $95/night + taxes and fees. This hotel was centrally located in the Punta Paitilla area and only a 12 minute drive to Casco Viejo.
We wanted to experience authentic Panama, so we ventured away from the resort to a bustling town called Penonomé. We later discovered that this city was at the center of Panama. Upon arrival, we could hear lively latin music and the smells of local cuisine from the cafes, las fondas, filled our noses. We grabbed a bite to eat at spot called Mi Gallito. The sign is barely visible, so if you decided to give it a try, it’s across the street from Supermercado Cocle. Although very basic, the food was delicious and satisfying. Even my picky eater was able to find something he liked, which doesn’t even happen at CiCi’s pizza. Lunch plates came with local favorites like fried fish or pollo guisado, rice and beans. Our total was less than $10 USD for the four of us with drinks.
There was so much to do and see in Panama City. We had two days to explore, so we decided wanted to experience the ships crossing the Panama Canal. The place to do this is at Miraflores Locks, a visitor’s center for the Panama Canal. The entry fee for non residents is $20 for adults, $12 for kids aged 6-12, and Free for children under 5 years old. There are many interactive activities geared for learning about and exploring the Panama Canal. After visiting Miraflores Locks, we headed to Casco Viejo, the Old Quarter, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site. We were able to see the President’s Palace, Palacia de la Garzas, the Plaza de Cathedral, and Bolivar Plaza. There were so many restaurants, bars, cafes and shops to pop in. We stopped for lunch at a little cafe called Fonda Leon. The food was so tasty and cheap. We ended our trip with a hike up Ancon Hill, which overlooks and provides breathtaking views of Panama City.
Travel Tips: As beautiful as it it, I would not recommend hiking Ancon hill with small kids. If you do, be prepared to carry them, as the trek is a little bit too much for little ones.