With reasonable roads and much to see along the way, a self-drive holiday in western and central Panama makes good sense for the independent-minded traveller. This varied route even suits adventurous families.
Day 1 You are met on arrival and driven to your preferred hotel in Panama City for a 3 night stay.
Day 2 B Today you have a private guided tour of Panama City and Miraflores Lock on the Canal.
Day 3 B You are driven to the station for the excellent train journey to the Caribbean, running mostly beside the Canal, and across Gatun Lake on a causeway. At Colon a guide meets you and takes you to see San Lorenzo Fort and Portobelo. The late afternoon train to Panama City avoids the busy highway.
Day 4 B Your hire car is delivered to you this morning. It’s about 2hr to your first stop at El Valle where you spend 2 nights at a charming family-run guest house in lush gardens.
Day 5 B A free day to explore El Valle, ringed by the lip of an extinct volcano. There are hiking, horse riding, biking and birdwatching options; flowering plants bloom in its ‘eternal spring’ micro-climate. Small scale attractions include waterfalls, thermal waters, mud baths, and petroglyphs. The excellent, totally chi-chi, Los Mandarino restaurant is a must.
Day 6 B A few hours of pottering in the car down the Peninsula de Azuero, a cowboy ranching region fringed by Pacific beaches: the heart of traditional Panama. Stay 2 nights at an attractively furnished guest house by Playa Venado: a 1.5km crescent of soft dark sand.
Day 7 B Simply relax on the beach, a good surfing spot, or explore the area. Good options include Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge off the coast at Pedasi, and Isla Cañas Wildlife Preserve–a sand spit with mangroves and turtle nesting site.
Day 8 B With a leisurely start from the coast you can loop inland via Tonosi and Macaracas (check out the saddle-making workshop) to Santiago, a bustling town. A small side trip leads to the church of San Francisco de La Montana. Built in 1727 this pilgrimage site has elaborate carvings and vibrant frescos mixing Catholic images with indian folklore. Stay just outside Santiago at a Mexican-themed hotel school!
Day 9 B The drive on the Panamerican Highway from Santiago west towards David is picturesque though a little long. You pass grazing horses and cattle in the fields, sparkling rice paddies, coffee plantations and rivers tumbling down from the central Cordillera. After about 3hr you turn up towards the cloud forests of Barú volcano and the mountain resort of Boquete for 2 nights at a delightful old clapboard hotel dating from 1914, set in pleasant gardens.
Day 10 B A free day. There is plenty to do: hiking, bird-watching, whitewater rafting, zip-lines and hot springs and some extraordinary gardens. Coffee estates run good tours.
Day 11 B Drive via David up the western flank of Barú, where the scenery above Volcán is most appealing. Pottering through rural villages, where neighbours vie with each other as if in a ‘Panama in Bloom’ competition, you might pause at Sitio Barriles to see petroglyphs and gardens planted by the family who live there. Higher up at Cerro Punta, Finca Dracula orchid farm is an excellent stop. Overnight at a quirky hotel caught in a 1970s time warp.
Boca Brava island
Day 12 B In the morning drive down to the Pacific coast to the fishing village of Boca Chica (where you leave your car)and take a short trip by boat to Boca Brava Island in the Gulf of Chiriquí for 3 nights at Cala Mia – a beautiful eco-lodge of 11 cabañas. Boca Brava is one of 100 islands in the Chiriquí archipelago: a marine national park with many secluded white sand beaches. The forested islands are home to howler monkey, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, raccoon, ant-eater, and coyote; in the bays and ocean there are leatherback and hawksbill turtles, dolphin and whale. Spend the rest of today by the hotel’s infinity pool or on the beach.
Day 13-14 B At Cala Mia. Guests have free use of kayaks, windsurfing and snorkelling gear. Boat trips to explore the archipelago are at an extra charge.
Day 15 B A short boat ride to Boca Chica then drive to David airport to drop your hire car and catch a morning flight to Panama City local airport. You will be met on arrival and transferred to the international airport for your flight home.
Guide price from £1,725*
*What do guide prices cover?
Guide prices are per person based on 2 people travelling together and sharing twin/double accommodation.
Please ask us for prices for families, threesomes, singles, etc.
Guide prices do not include international flights, travel insurance, Panama departure tax (allow £15pp) or items of a personal nature such as drinks, tips, and laundry, or optional excursions taken locally in Panama.
See the current brochure insert for booking conditions.
2 people sharing a room, RAV4: from £1,675
3 people sharing a triple room RAV4: from £1,395
4 people sharing 2 rooms with a Fortuner: from £1,440
Children (7-11 years) sharing room with 2 parents: £720
Children (3-6 years) sharing room with 2 parents: £610
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Geodyssey brings you an exclusive selection of thoughtfully designed holidays in amazing locations throughout our destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Our holidays focus on what is natural, authentic, comfortable, stylish and affordable, and on what works best in each country. Our tailor-made holidays are individually designed by our experienced team on the basis of in-depth knowledge, a real enthusiasm for our destinations, and a desire to make sure we get it right for each and every customer. All our customers have 100% financial protection. All the land-based holidays on this website are exclusive to Geodyssey. Geodyssey is an independent company managed by its owners, based in London, founded in 1993.