Panama – First Impressions

Authors experiences Panama Travel

Our recent retirement journey has taken us to Panama as part of our new “Snowbird” lifestyle. We will be exploring three primary parts of Panama over a few months. Panama City to see the big city sky scrapers and canal, Boquete to see a mountain valley town popular with expats, and Nueva Gorgona on the Pacific Coast in the Coronado vicinity – which is also a popular expat area. More details about the trip in our other article: Exploring Panama’s Mountain and Beach Living – yesRetired

Flying Mexico to Panama

Our trip to Panama was from Cancun, Mexico. We wanted to start with Boquete to feel the stark contrast down to a nice 26C high temperature from the 30C temps in Mexico. The cheapest flight turned out to be from Cancun to Panama City, then to the city of David, then a 1 hour drive to Boquete. We flew with “Copa” airlines, which is the flag carrier of Panama. We were very impressed with the quality of the whole experience from buying tickets online, using their phone app, and the plane trip itself. We left Cancun around 11am and arrived in David around 5pm, staying in an airport hotel, so we could appreciate the drive to Boquete in the daylight.

First impressions of Panama were these delightful “made in Panama” Platanitos (Plantain) chips, and oatmeal cookies with yogurt cranberry filling!

The 2 hour layover in Panama City was a bit confusing, because we had to clear customs upon arrival in the new country (very easy – short lineup), before going to the “domestic” departures area for the connecting flight. There are two airport terminals in Panama City (Terminal 1 and Terminal 2). We came in via international arrival at the newer Terminal 2. Our baggage had been automatically forwarded to the domestic flight to David. So after clearing customs you are outside of the secure area, and at the mercy of the various Taxi drivers wanting to sell you a ride. Since we knew that Terminal 1 was for domestic flights, we took the 5 minute free airport bus to Terminal 1 (after a taxi driver tried to convince us that it was better to take his cab). Then learned that Copa Airlines flight to David is via an “add on” section at Terminal 2. So after returning to Terminal 2 by bus again, we eventually found the add on Copa entry at the opposite end. It has its own security screening since its domestic, but not very good air conditioning. Entry to the plane required walking outside and up a ramp! Arrival in David is a small simple airport, with no need to worry about customs, and a single baggage belt. Our hotel shuttle was waiting patiently for us and all went well. The temperature in David is a little higher than when we were in Mexico – up to around 35C (95F).

Flight from Cancun to Panama City passes over the tip of land where Honduras and Nicaragua meet.

Gallery: Click image for full size:

Hotel in City of David

The hotel we stayed in included an airport shuttle pickup, which made the process easy. The WiFi was ok, but noticed one guy sitting at the elevator to get a good signal. The room was small, and the air conditioning took a while to start cooling, but the “extras” at the hotel made up for the shortfalls. (As we had booked online), in their restaurant it included a free BIG breakfast, we were also provided a free alcoholic drink and a light snack (Panamanian Taco) which was delicious with good service.

Airport Hotel – Aranjuez and Restaurant


Our first impressions are very positive for Panama. It is similar to Mexico in many ways but has a calmer, safer feel to it, perhaps like the younger sibling in Latin American. Most of the businesses seem to have an entrepreneurial way with each one being unique or boutique like. Not many big name brand names here, but friendly, genuine people. Next stop is Boquete as per our overview article: Exploring Panama’s Mountain and Beach Living – yesRetired

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