Gone are the days of the crazy party-filled spring breaks. Let’s be honest, I was never that cool. But now our spring breaks are an excuse for family vacations. Luckily, everything has reopened within the country. However, travel is still a bit complicated internationally, so we wanted to take advantage and explore some areas of Panama we had never seen before. We also have discovered the best way to travel is to bring part of our “bubble” with us so the kids have their friends to play and we get to enjoy time with our friends as well.
For our first stop, we rented a really cool eco-friendly house in El Cope, Panama. This place had room for us and two other families, multiple decks with epic views, and a tree house wonderland for the kids. We celebrated Easter here with the kids complete with egg dying and an egg hunt.
I had never heard of this area of Panama, but I feel in love and definitely want to return. First of all, while it wasn’t chilly, there was less humidity so I could actually stop sweating for once. Secondly, the landscape is breathtaking. Beautiful tall hills covered in greenery, rushing rivers, and even dramatic waterfalls. It is close to Omar Torrijos National Park. Unfortunately because of Covid, most of the trails were closed and the only one open was about a 15 minute walk. On a clear day, there is a trail that takes you to a peak in which you can see both oceans. There is also a viewpoint where you can supposedly see the airplane ruins of the crash that killed former leader Omar Torrijos. Unfortunately, our day was very foggy and we couldn’t see anything, but the walk was still beautiful.
We also took time to explore the river that was within walking distance to the house. It was heart stoppingly chilly, but “refreshing” once you got used to it. The kids loved jumping off the large rocks, but we had to be careful as the current was actually pretty strong.
The second day we explore Las Yalas Waterfall which was completely majestic. Waterfalls are always BC’s happy place, and this one did not disappoint.
From there we left our friendship bubble and headed toward the Carribean side of Panama. This is an area that we have not explored much. About fifteen years ago, we spent a couple days in Portobello, but we had really only scratched the surface. This area, like much of Panama, is complex. It has so much to offer. Portobello is rich with history. It has a walled fort complete with cannons that was built to protect the city from pirates and invaders in the 1700s. It also has the Common House that was used to inventory all the gold collected by the conquistadors before sending it back to Europe. This area also is rich in culture- bright, colorful art, the center of rhythmic drumming for the country, amazing Caribbean cuisine, and deep lore. The town’s church has one of the only black Jesus statues in the country. Legend has it that it was found in the sea and brought to the town after it was discovered-no one knows how it ended up in the bottom of the ocean. The natural beauty is astounding too- clear waters, thick vegetation, and plenty of tropical fish. However, all of these riches are almost hidden. You really have to seek them out. Panama does nothing to celebrate or preserve these jewels. Not even historical landmarks like the common house are preserved- there’s not even a sign saying what it is. Beyond that, this area lacks basic services. It seems like there is no trash collection because months worth of trash bags sat outside of each house. It’s also one of the few places where it’s not safe to drink the tap water in Panama. It was evident that the people are deeply inhibited by their poverty and lack of basic services. The government has really left these people behind. It’s sad to witness, especially when this area should be preserved and celebrated.
Beyond the complexity of the region, the trip was a bit tough with the kids. The drive was long, the air bnb wasn’t super luxurious, sharing beds with the kids was difficult, and I think we were all tired from our previous fun in El Cope. We were cranky and mostly ready to go home. I wish we would have enjoyed it more. It’s an area I’m glad we visited, but I don’t think we’ll rush to return. On Friday, we embarked on the long journey home. We were happy to get back to the comfort and familiarity of our own home. Apparently with Covid, our travel endurance has gotten a bit rusty. Hopefully we’ll get back into the groove as the year goes on so we can continue to explore.