Taboga Island, Panama
I love to travel. If I am not traveling, I am planning my next international adventure. So Panama began with a phone call to my old college roommate, Djola (who I know loves to have fun) and my sister, Faith, who needed a stamp in her passport. I wanted to spend a week celebrating my birthday in a different country and with my travel squad set we needed a destination. At first, it was Iceland, then Mexico, then Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Belize. One day I discovered cheap tickets to Panama. I made the call and everyone was ready to finally purchase a ticket…two months before the trip.
Some small tips when travelling with friends.
- First determine a date! Despite my spontaneous plans, I knew that I wanted to go around my birthday (June 18th); however, with it being a Friday, I chose a Monday because tickets are cheaper. I also knew I wanted to travel for a week. I am not the let’s spend three days or a cruise somewhere type of person. Let me explore and learn about the culture; therefore, June 20th-June 27th was the plan.
- Choose a departure city! I live in NC, DJ lives in Pennsylvania, and my sister lives in NYC. With my research at the Schomburg and its short distance to PA, we initially chose LGA or JFK. Choose an airport that is easily accessible to your crew.
- Everyone has a task! After choosing Panama, one person took over travel regulations/what to know before we travel, another took over things to do and cost, and I took over hotel/hostel options.
- Everyone creates a bucket list! We each choose the top three to five things we wanted to do in Panama whether it was nightlife, biking, or hiking. Although it was my birthday trip, I wanted to ensure my squad had fun.
(From front to back–Djola, Faith, and me–Panama Canal)
We traveled during the rainy season, yet only experienced rain on the first day and the sixth day. The first day we explored the area around our hotel, which I highly recommend, Toscana Inn. As a person who supports local and small business, I did not want to stay in a Hilton, Double Tree, and God forbid a Trump hotel. This hotel was only $65 a night for three people (roughly $23 per person) and the staff helped us in so many ways with food recommendations, with taxis (they had a friend who got us around the country for mad cheap), and Panamanian culture. So what exactly did we do? We did a lot in seven days. We biked down the Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador) for miles with waters surrounding us. We danced into the morning at a rooftop club and met so many locals, and a lady from Houston. Dancing is the best way to exchange cultures and the drinks were amazing…although I am not sure what they were.
We dined and had traditional Panamanian dishes. My favorite meals included the oxtails (at a Caribbean restaurant owned by an Afro-Latina), fried red snappers, octopus ceviche, and plantains. Oh and the mojitos! Obviously, I stuck to seafood because it is cheaper in the Caribbean. My favorite memory was a nice karaoke restaurant just behind our hotel. We were the only people there and whatever we asked for, whether it was on the menu or not, they made. About an hour later, we asked about karaoke and probably spent about two hours singing Mariah Carey, Selena, and Destiny’s Child. The owners were cracking up as we dragged our waiter to sing and dance with us.
Of course we traveled to the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo (Old city), a rain forest, and Taboga Island. We paid about $11 for a ferry ride to the islands and spend the day there. It was beautiful. Clear blue waters. Few tourists. Many locals. We befriended a nice couple from Columbia who wanted pictures with us and an American who retired on the islands.
I highly recommend Panama to any black traveler. Its the Caribbean. Surprisingly, we stood out, not in the touristy way or being black in Russia way. There are Afro-Panamanians, so it was odd to receive a lot of the reactions we did. An older Afro-Panamanian who became our informal tour guide said it was our braids and twists that distinguished us from Afro-Panamanians, although I saw a handful of Afro-Panamanians with micros. The cost of living in low, it is easy to get around by taxi or metro ($0.35 per ride), and the food, the culture, and the people are truly memorable. You will want to know some Spanish, it is the language everyone speaks. Everyone wanted to take a picture with us and catcalling is on a whole nother level here. The main difference between American catcalling and Panamanian catcalling is that if you don’t respond here they leave you alone.
We also went on a tour through a former gang area and “ghettos” of Panama with Fortaleza Tours. I appreciated learning the history of Panama from locals on how the country deals with poverty to the formation of gangs in the city’s former red zone. Our tour guide’s parting words, “Stay black”. Oh he was a character.
I will leave you with pictures and if you have any questions or plan on travelling to Panama soon let me know!
We also met the US Fencing Team and supported them at the fencing match (which they won). Two of them are headed to Rio in a few weeks.
We will return again to visit the western part of the country.
Until the next post,