When I decided to leave on a 6 months trip, Panama was high on the list of must see places. I had great expectations from it, but unfortunately I was really disappointed with it. Despite being a top tourist destination in Central America, the services offered to backpackers are dim – I found it very expensive for what was actually offered.
My first stop in Panama, where I arrived from Costa Rica, was Bocas del Toro. I spent one night in Bocas Town, which I found really crowded and terribly dirty (picture garbage everywhere), then made my way to Isla Bastimentos (less crowded, but equally dirty). The weather was not great, and I caught some kind of bug so I was sick for most of my time there. Yet, I managed to go snorkeling and enjoyed seeing some star fish, and I went to Red Frog Beach. The problem with Bocas del Toro is that due to the constant heavy rain the visibility when snorkeling is not great, and the entire place is very muddy and it is not easy to move around unless wearing rain boots. I was so disappointed with all of this, that I looked forward to getting better so that I could move to another place.
When I was finally ok, I moved to Playa Las Lajas. It was so quiet, definitely off the beaten track. Here I relaxed and enjoyed some spectacular sunsets and downtime at the long, sandy beach. I then made my way to Panama City, which I totally enjoyed. I explored Casco Viejo, went to the fish market, and went to see the amazing Panama Canal. I then went to San Blas (another disappointment), before making my way back to Panama City to then fly to Colombia.
Care to know about my adventures in this country? Click here.
My trip to Cuba started in Havana, where I spent two full days browsing around its many museums and places of interest, including the Capitolio, la Cabaña, the Museo de la Revolucion and its famous Malecon. I then flew to Santiago de Cuba, known for its Caribbean attitude. This is a good starting point to hike La Gran Piedra or to just soak in the sun in Playa Sibonay. From there, I took the bus to Baracoa, where I arrived after an eventful trip which included a flat tire. Known as the city of the 29 rivers, Baracoa is purely tropical. Must dos include a hike of El Yunque, a boat trip around Rio Yumuri and the beautiful Playa Maguana. Baracoa is also the gourmet capital of Cuba: I had some of the most interesting food here, including shrimps in salsa de coco.
On the way to Trinidad (the most touristic city in Cuba), I stopped in Camaguey, which I did not really enjoy due to the tremendous heat and the high presence of jineteros and scams. 5 hours away, Trinidad is a perfectly preserved colonial city, with cobblestone streets, music playing at every corner, dancing and good nightlife, museums, good restaurants and a huge variety of daily trips in its surroundings. I particularly enjoyed Valle de los Ingenios and the hike from Topes de Collantes to the Salto de Caburnì.
About 90 minutes north, Cienfuegos is also splendid, and is a great port of access to El Nicho, with its natural pools, and to explore the amazingly clear waters and coral reef of the Bahia de Cochinos and Caleta Buena.
I concluded my journey in Viñales, in the North-West side of Cuba, which felt like the cherry on the cake: a valley where coffee and tobacco are cultivated, where mogotes appear just about anywhere. And it is not far from Cayo Jutias, where I spent a perfect day at the beach.
To read more about my adventures in this amazing island, click here!