A New Year’s Blast in Panama

If you’d like to show your family a Spanish-style New Year’s spectacle but can’t quite get that far away during the holidays, try Panama. You’ll appreciate the sophistication of Panama City, love the colonial architecture, marvel at the canal, explore the jungle, take your pick of beaches (Pacific or Atlantic?), and bathe in the warmth of Panamanian culture and 80-degree January weather all the while.

Click on the image below to see a slide show of highlights from our family vacation and some ideas that might work for your’s. Then read on below for more tips on how to maximize your winter break in Panama.

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How Much Time? If you have 10 days, I’d recommend about 5 days in Panama City for the town and nearby excursions. Then I’d spend 2 nights/3 days in the mountains and 2 nights/3 days at the coast.

Panama City Time Be sure to save enough time for Panama City – I would say three days at a minimum. It is surprisingly urban – like San Francisco or NYC – with lots of things to see and good opportunities for day trips just outside the city. It is safe to explore the tourist areas but like any city, Panama City has some sketchy parts so be aware.

Fireworks Time Don’t miss New Year’s Eve in Panama City. We had a fun-filled, late, late night of fireworks and celebrating with locals.

Baseball Time Panamanians love their baseball so be sure to catch a game at Rod Carew Stadium. The season begins in the early part of January. A Panamanian game is very fun and very different from one in America with lively crowds and blasting music.

Canal Time The canal is worth the trip. You can do it in a day from Panama City with time for the canal museum, lunch and watching boats go through. You can also take trips on the canal that we’ve heard are nice but haven’t yet done ourselves.

Jungle Time The Punta Culebra center at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute gives you a good sense of Panama’s exotic fauna and flora. It is the Smithsonian’s only facility outside of the U.S.

Caribbean Time We did a really long day trip from Panama City to Portobelo, Colón on the Caribbean side. It is a beautiful, old city with islands to visit offshore and it is the home of the famous “Black Christ” chapel.

Mountain Time We loved our two-night road trip to the Pacific side, seeing the beaches of Santa Clara and the mountains of El Valle de Anton.

Island Time Bocas del Toro, right on the Costa Rican border, is the perfect archipelago for your family to settle in and relax or explore the islands’ reefs and jungle.

Meal Time You’ll spend every night eating very, very well. Wait to start your New Year’s diet resolutions until you get home.

Ocean Time We were happy that we got a taste of both the Caribbean and Pacific sides of Panama. In terms of beaches, the Pacific’s are cleaner and look wilder, with jungle and bigger waves. Both their water and weather are cooler. On the Caribbean, I think we liked the beaches better at Santa Clara than Portobelo but they were both nice. You have to be careful swimming on the Atlantic side. There is a very strong, rough rip tide and there are no lifeguards.

Time of Year? Panama is great because it is one of those destinations that you can often book at the last minute. The Christmas-New Year’s holidays are at the end of Panama’s wet season and the beginning of dry season that runs through April. We’ve made two trips to Panama over the holidays: the first had only two days of rain and the second rained every day for a short time, Hawaii style. But it’s not really bothersome – you’re in the jungle, baby!




by Lawrence Swiader, September 2016

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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, panama family vacation, panama with kids, holiday in panama, new years in panama, winter family vacation


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