Panama en Enero: Aves de nieve encuentran el sol y el mar!

Jon & I had been to Panama City [Google Maps] for a very short stint on a larger Central & South America trip, and absolutely loved every minute of that adventure. 

Naturally, we would be back for a solid month a few years later. 

Santa Catalina, about 6 hours southwest (mostly west) of Panama City [Google Maps], was a gem we came across in searching for diving in Panama. I can’t say we know anyone that’s been there. We have plenty to say about encouraging all of you to go. A little piece of my heart is there. I think it belongs with a lil cutie named Janis. 

Read on for adventures in paraìso! And Javanti in the city, of course. 

How to get there.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points? You guessed it. A cool 50k points/pp had us to & from PTY directamente. Wowza!

5 hours & change, and we had arrived! 

Only to jump in our lil Hyundai rental for an oh so short 6 hour stint to Santa Catalina. With a 10pm start time and a classic Javanti hangover from the night prior to boot. Holy. Canoli. To this day, I will not know how Jon made that drive. Truly the 8th wonder of the world. Jeff Gordon on steriods. Or Panamanian cafe, I suppose.

Altho… there may have been another speeding ticket in the mix. To the Panamanian authorities out there, we did somehow manage to get this paid. Just before leaving the country. 

Few notes on Copa Airlines. No booze and no wifi. Yowza. I picked up a book for the first time in years. Might keep up the habit. Welcome, 2024!


Superman Drinking GIFs | Tenor


How to get around.

We rented a car for a whopping $41 for the entire 3+ weeks we planned to spend in this gorgeous place. We of course found this stellar deal through the beloved Skyscanner.

How. Ever. Panama requires that you purchase insurance through the rental company. This would’ve run about $500, which we happily agreed to given the length of time we planned to keep our set of wheels. 

Ultimately, we ended up returning the car upon getting to the city, because Ubers are… uuuuber cheap here. So, the total was ~$140 for the 4 days we kept the rental. Not. too. shabby. 

The car was through National, which seems to have a large presence in Panama. Works for us. The customer service was on point. Best we’ve had to date, and very reflective of the cultura here. 

If you’re scratching your heads on the insurance comment, we typically decline insurance through the rental company because our trusty Chase Sapphire Reserve carries this. 

Runabout tip: You might look into whether your CC does as well. Or better, go get that Reserve! You’ll be on your way to Panama in no time.

Where to stay.

Santa Catalina

Hands down, Catalina’s Hideaway. The reviews are stellar, and we are oh so happy to have booked this lovely haven.

Truth be told, when we arrived (alright, after a few hour nap given the treacherous 4am arrival), we realized the place truly is a hideaway, in its own lil area about 25 min from town. And when I say 25 min, it should be known that Santa Catalina is by no means built up with stellar highways and first class roads. Thank goodness, and faaar from it. 

Still, that means Jon was pretty focused in his driving, esp with our lil vehicle that wished to be an SUV traversing these rocky roads. So, did the distance cramp our style? Nope. We enjoyed NYE at the Hideaway, and they did. it. up. Fireworks, DJ Jazzy Jeff in da house, and Anthea’s Dad busting a move all evening ;). We had such a blast.

4 nights at this gem ran us just over $600, inclusive of a most delish breakfast each AM. I was prepared to find some ground space for my beloved T25, sans weights, but enter the light. Becky’s yoga studio had a set of 15 lb weights for this girl! Jon has never seen me so happy. Becky hopefully didn’t mind us invading pre-daily yoga class (free for Hideaway guests – amazing), and this is one of my favorite gym backdrops to date.


  • Ryan & Althea that own the joint truly seem to have put their hearts & souls into this place. And lovely souls they are.
  • Janis! And Tina. And Jimi. The pups were my best friends. A lil bacon never hurt anyone. 
  • Breakfast is legit. 
  • The place is stunning.
  • Basically a private beach (it truly may be?)
  • Everyone that works there rocks. Heyy Nick, Caroline, Becky, and the lovely ladies that served us each morning. 
  • NYE dinner was bomb, and oh so reasonable. 


  • Nada. 

The Hideaway is a distance from town. For us, that worked out perfectly, in part because Jon is such a trooper with driving. I bet you can easily secure transport through the Hideaway as well, and you will enjoy the total tranquility that comes with not being in the thick of it. 

I can go on & on. But won’t. Get over here. Now. 

Daily view from Becky's gym. Gorgeous.

Panama City

I searched Airbnb for a long term rental, and wala, this bad boy popped up. 

We wanted something reasonable but nice, 2 bathrooms (clutch. not sure I can ever go back to sharing with a boy, even Jon. Esp Jon? yowza), and gym was a must. The pool was an added bonus, and as I sit here from my handy desk in the living room, I can tell you that the place is perfect.

At ~$1770/19 nights, no complaints here. After all, escaping Chi in January is priceless. 

The PH Quartier del Mar is exactamente cerca del mar, and it’s conveniently a short walk from everything else. A giant grocery store, our lil Italian gourmet shop, and tons of great grub spots and bars.

The gym and pool are very workable, having wifi in those spots is clutch for T25, and the place comes with a parking spot should you need it. Happy campers, los dos.

Just finished the new pool and deck : r/funny


Panama uses the US dollar as its paper currency, with the balboa for coinage. Doesn’t get much easier than that. 

How far does your dinero stretch? About 40% further in Santa Catalina, and maybe 20-30% in the city, depending on where you’re at. Of course, items that hard to come by here carry a heftier price in light of that fact.

A solid # of places take CC, esp in the city. 

For the San Blas islands, bring plenty of cash. We def effed that up, mi culpa. 

What to do.

Santa Catalina


We chose Santa Catalina for diving on Coiba Island [Google Maps], a national park that felt untouched & was stunning for days. 

Highly recommend Diving Coiba with Boris, a lovely native French dive instructor that had a kind way about him with nervous divers like this gal. We happened to dive with 4 other friendly French folks, and managed to pick up a few French palabras here & there (ish). Heyy Lola! 

A 3 tank dive ran us ~$160/pp, inclusive of equipment, a gorgeous boat ride, and 2 private island stops complete with lunch and alligator spotting (mutually exclusive, people) at the second. 

The dives? I actually wish these were a bit more challenging as to depth, but the water was oh so warm, we saw tons of cool sea creatures, and we did get a fairly strong current on the last one. 

What did we see? Sharks galore, a few turtles, a lobster (woo!), Christmas tree worms, large eels, tons of puffer fish, and truly incredible schools of fish that surrounded us in a way I’ve never experienced, to name a few. 

Fernando was a stellar capitan that never took his eyes off the course, and Andy was fantastic with the equipment. This dive shop is solid. 

Eat & drink! 

Santa Catalina seems, and is, small, but there are options for days. I love places like that.


  • Sobremesa @ the Hideaway – I raved about breakfast above, but lunch & dinner are bomb too. Fresh & made with love. 
  • La Pulperia – Pablo! And the fun crew. Had a blast here, and the bites are solid too. 
  • Villa Coco – Milly the bartender rocks. We did happy hour here and were too early to indulge in Ai Mamita. Very well regarded tho. 
  • El Chillinguito – Super cute, fully outdoors, and deliciously fresh bruschetta & seafood pasta.
  • Inguanito – We had a few seafood forward bites, and this place did not disappoint. Another very well reputed joint in Catalina. 
  • Donde Vianca – One man shop at the moment, altho most places were understaffed. The tuna steak in an awesome coconut curry with a bit of heat was worth the wait. 
  • Fonda de Arena – This place boasts delish fresh seafood. Our shrimp unfortunately wasn’t all that great, but we’d give this spot another shot. 
  • Caricaco Coffee Shop – The name is very deceiving given the large menu that includes Mediterranean flare & burgers. Everything was tasty to these two famished divers, but def not the best meal of the trip.
  • Cafe Panachocolat – Super cute. We’ll give this a go next time!
  • Mana Pizza YOLO – Same deal. The pizzas here looked legit. 
Absolute must – Nativo for sunset & a shot. Obvs. 
There's Always a Shot Billiard Pool Graphic by SonnyDesigns · Creative Fabrica

Other stuff. 

We would have loved to paddle board (when did the world start calling this SUP? I know, I live under a rock), kayak, and explore the other beaches a bit. 

There are absolutely more grub & drink places to explore as well. Next time! 

And finally, we hear through the (reliable) grapevine that a direct puddle jumper is in the works to quickly get you from Panama City to Santa Catalina, perhaps for a mere $120 (each way? Cheaper than a speeding ticket, some might say…). Looks like we’ll be back in Catalina sooner than expected once that bad boy gets up & running.

Panama City

Gym, tan, laundry, what else?

We kept up our work schedules, really enjoyed the outdoors, and had a lil food tour. What better way to immerse ourselves. 

We absolutely indulged in the Panamian food scene. Gasp, I know. Jon’s stellar cooking was on point, and the red wine here tastes simply delicious (odd, because none of it is made here), so our tummies were happy all around.


  • Intimo – The name is fitting. Truly beautiful, dimly lit, warm ambiance. Holy smokes. The food is the best we’ve had to date in Panama. Bursting with flavor but somehow wonderfully subtle at the same time, the beef tartare and octopus curry rice were out of this world.
  • Makoto – Stunning setting, service is on point, and each of our bites hit the spot. The sushi rice is the best we’ve had, so eat up those rolls. On that note, sprawling menu at this joint.
  • Maito – Around the corner from us, lovely ambiance (sit outside, trust us, and better yet, post up at the bar). The pan de la casa is mouthwatering, the strawberries & cream dessert super unique, and the bites pretty damn tasty.
  • Cantina del Tigre – The ambiance did it for us. So. much. fun. However, the food was good, not great. Ceviche – awesome and with the perfect amount of citrus. The chicharones & osso busco were just okay tho. 
  • Caliope – We were blown away by how reasonable this place was. The sommelier is also awesome. Great bites, with super friendly service, and a decent ambiance. Not as cozy as our typical fave spots, but def worth a shot. 
  • 5inco – Another super fun spot with awesome bartenders. Heyy Oscar!
  • Casa Stizzoli –  We stumbled in here on our crawl. I dare the say the bread rivaled my fave back in Chi (gasp! Nat, I don’t mean it, really). The burrata & proscuitto didn’t do a girl wrong, either. 
  • Brazas – This place would be a “suburb restaurant” in Chi. Damn good meats, cheesy af tequenos, and fresh margs tho. Can’t beat it. Oh wait, you can. Dos por uno margs, get it! Basically next door to us, and we’d probably have frequented the joint if we discovered it sooner. 
  • Tsugoi – We grabbed sushi to go on one of our first nights. Super easy to order online (trust me, that means something), and a short walk from us. Try the sushi pizza! Very popular here in Panama City. And not what you think.  
  • Fukuoka – Super close to our place, cute (but quiet) ambiance, and good portions, esp for sushi. Not the best sushi we’ve had, but worth a quiet, cute night out. Maybe on a Monday 😉
  • Parrillada Jimmy – Classic marg was fresh, service was on point, and the steak and octopus not too shabby. Starter garlic bread that the joint provides gratis is solid. Worth a shot. 

Casco Viejo crawl:

  • Kaandela – Wow, definite rival for best meal. The kefta starter, boasting a ridic soft nan, is to die for. That said, the star of the meal was the cazuela de mariscos. The seafood was perfectly cooked, and that risotto just melts in your mouth. Amazing service, and we had the good fortune to interact with Chef. We will see you in Chi! 
  • Fonda Lo Que Hay – Chef at Kaandela recommended this place, and we heard Donde Jose was awesome while open. Damn, the tuna starter and langostinos were melt in your mouth scrumptious. The very casual vibe was perfect, and yet the place screamed perfection. Hats off to the chef.
  • Corcho – Gorgeous and cozy wine bar. Love love love. Perfect spot to wait for your table for Fonda Lo Que Hay (no resos at that joint, and worth any wait they might have). 
  • La Barbara – Upscale Japanese bar with awesome bartenders & staff. Heyy Allison! Homegirl knows how to mix. it. up. 
  • Mahalo – Skip this spot, I’m sorry to say. 

Added bonus:

  • After working up a sweat on our 95 degree Amador bike ride (oh yea, super smart), we hit up the Mercado de Mariscos for a quick bit of ceviche and… a whole fish. What better way to start the afternoon lunch crawl? From here, we walked over to Casco Viejo and painted the town tinto for days. 
  • For the bike ride, highly recommend heading over about an hour or less before sunset & renting from Bicicletas Moses [Google Maps]. Tons of bikes to choose from, including tandems!
Sunset spots: 
  • Casacasca –  Gorgeous rooftop and fun vibe. Perfect spot to see the sun set & bounce out for better food elsewhere. 
  • La Compania – We only did drinks as this impeccably curated hotel. Bit fancy for my taste but worth a visit.

Ah ha, I would be remiss not to mention that we are heading to San Blas [Google Maps] next weekend! This largely uninhabited set of islands is home to the indigenous Guna Yala people. More untouched beauty that we’ve been hearing about for years from Fernando & others. Lucky ducks. 

Ahhhh, San Blas.

We had heard about San Blas from a friend that frequents Panama for ages. Heyy Fernando!

Truth be told, I was skeptical of the “yeah, it’s gorgeous but expect rustic to its fullest. And oh yea, the bathrooms suck.” As a spoiled American and true germ despiser in my old age, I knew living in a thatched roof hut with no aire and an interesting bathroom set up would be a challenge. 

Worth every bit of the 5am journey out, San Blas is a must. You cannot visit this place and not appreciate the true beauty of nature in its purest form. No laptops, no phones (there is service, but we opted out), and pristine island bliss. 

I’d recommend Panama Travel Unlimited, as well as Chichime island, our home for the adventure. There are many choices, and paradise will do you well no matter which you choose. How. Ever. We did hear from friends we met in Catalina that they had a miserable time on an overcrowded island. Of course, they couldn’t remember which. Simply ask when you book, and the response should indicate whether you’re booking with a good operation.

Runabout tips

  • Bring snacks. You’ll be starving by the time you get in, and thrilled to have a lil bit with the immediate beers you might indulge in.
  • Speaking of, seasoned San Blas goers (or first timers that have gotten this far in the post 😉 bring coolers with cervezas, booze, and agua. We didn’t mind supporting Berto with our $2 Balboas but might sneak over una botella de ron o tequila on our next go around.
  • If you’re into reading, bring a book! Sounds like a given, but in our 5am scurry out, forgot ours.
  • Beach towels are a plus. Bring em. Same for snorkel gear if you’ve got it. You’ll do okay without tho. The wildlife is awesome, as you imagine in untouched waters. Go pros would be a nice bonus, again if you’ve got one. 
  • Bring a battery pack charger if you have one easily accessible. That said, we did see plugs in our cabina, despite warning that there wouldn’t be.
  • For us (me, let’s be honest) one night was enough. I think most laid back humans would enjoy two tho.
  • When you book, heed the direction re: who to pay, in cash, and when. I did not & we def had to pivot. Worked out b/c Panamanians are super nice & accommodating. 
  • Otherwise, pack light & enjoy! Your body, mind, and soul will thank you. 


El Fin. 

Ahhh Panama. You’re worth the distance. And we will be back. 

But first, let’s see what the next few semanas have in store!



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