We woke up at the Miramar Intercontinental on day 4 of our trip, feeling glad that the heavy travelling and sightseeing part of the trip was mostly over and the next few days would almost be a ‘holiday at the end of this holiday’ – a bit slower paced and more relaxing. I could actually admire my room’s view over the bay in daylight rather than weak dawn light!
We set off on a mini road trip to the Antón Valley, a volcanic area about an hour west of Panama City. On the way we made a couple of cool stops: first to a little roadside farm shop, where we stocked up on local food treats to take home: papaya jam, dried cashew flowers and pots of duche de leche. They also sold a delicious array of fresh soft drinks; I had a tamarind flavour.
We stopped to check out a cashew tree: the nuts are so expensive because each fruit only bears one seed and they need a lot of processing to get rid of the highly toxic shell. We tried the fruit too, it tastes really odd – like a very dry, sour apple.
The second stop was to a typical Panamanian fast food place, where I was overjoyed to find tamales (I think I was the only one who liked them) amongst some other fried delicacies. The Yorkshire pudding type thing was declared the winner.
This Antón Valley is famed for its beauty and diverse wildlife, and lots of people come to hike, cycle or ride horseback.
We stopped for lunch at a really pretty resort called Los Mandarinos, where we had great tapas.
We drove on a little further to the El Nispero Zoo. The tour guide ‘surprised’ us with this stop, which was unfortunate as several of the group were of the anti-zoo mindset. This one didn’t really help matters as it was quite small and unkempt, with several of the animals in what seemed to be too small cages. However I think they rescue and rehabilitate sick animals here too (some allegedly seized from the drug-trafficking ex-Panamaniam dictator Manuel Noriega) as well as researching sickness and diseases in frog populations, so it’s not all bad.
It originally started as plant nursery, and it was nice to see the orchids and other flowers that they cultivate.
Though I did enjoy seeing the frogs, white peacocks, a chatty cockatoo and a beautiful little tigrillo which, sweetly curled up for a nap in the shade, reminded me of my cats. I’d give this a miss if you’re generally anti-zoo though. It was also a shame that we came here instead of the local daily artisan market, which I was looking forward to seeing.
We then took a little rainforest walk nearby and found the El Chorro Macho waterfall. There’s also a pretty natural pool you can swim in.
Nearby is a park containing pools of natural hot springs. The water looked kind of sulphuric yellow so we gave that a miss but had fun applying the local clay to our faces, with youth-defying and/or hilarious results.
In jovial frame of mind, we rocked up to our final hotel, the JW Marriot in Buenaventura, located on the southern Pacific coast in the Gulf of Panama. Our jaws all collectively dropped at how gorgeous and luxurious it was – I’ve never stayed anywhere like it before. (I’m already planning how soon to go back – you can get two weeks all inclusive for about £1200, so I’ll start saving.)
We all made for the pool straight away. There’s a family pool near the hotel and a bigger one a few minutes walk away on the coast.
The beach is less picture-perfect than the Caribbean side, but the water is still clear and calm.
As the sun set, we enjoyed a few poolside (or in-pool) cocktails…
… and star-spotted. It was such a clear night you could see thousands, and even a few shooting stars. We ate in one of the hotel’s restaurants, which was OK but not really to my taste, then tuckered down in the beautiful guest rooms.
One day left, where we’d get an actual (10am!) lie in and see some of Panama City itself…