During my most recent holiday, I got a chance to visit Panama on my way back home to Canada. After travelling in South America, I noticed that the best way back to Vancouver is to fly out of Costa Rica. And on the way to Costa Rica, I can spend a few days in Panama. To me, this was the perfect opportunity to visit a new country in my quest to visit all the countries in the world. This also gives my girlfriend a chance to see sloths in person as the Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary was not too far from Panama City. Unfortunately, after travelling to Panama, I soon realized that this was not one of my favourite travel experience thus far.
VIDEO – Panama | Exploring the Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary – Country #92 In My Mission to Visit All the Countries
Flying to Panama
To reach Panama, I started my journey flying out of Paraguay and have another long lay over in Bogota. From there, I took Copa Airlines to Panama City. Sadly, Copa Airlines sucks and I would not recommend it to anyone.
Arriving in Panama
Panama seems to be a major airport hub and you can see tons of people from different nationalities populate the airport. The check-in process wasn’t too difficult and they didn’t require us to submit a PCR test. Amusingly enough, the immigration staff seems to be impressed that I knew a little bit of Spanish which further expedited the process.
After leaving the gate, Karen and I got a taxi ride to our hotel. Disappointingly enough, the taxi cost us $33 USD including tip to our hotel. This is very expensive considering we just travelled from Paraguay and Argentina; both of which are inexpensive travel destinations.
Not long after, we arrived in W Panama, a beautiful hotel that we would be staying at for one night. I used up my category 5 Marriott e-certificate for this stay. I thought we should splurge a little after the exhausting hustle and bustle of our last few nights in South America.
While the hotel is beautiful, the vibe was off-putting. This hotel felt very cliquey and pretentious which I absolutely hated.
At the very least, they had a nice fitness centre and I got myself a badly needed workout since it’s been a while since I had a proper exercise.
My goal for staying in this hotel was to catch up on some sleep. Unfortunately for me, it was not meant to be. At 3am in the middle of the night, the room next to us started making a ton of alarm noises. This annoying noise won’t go away so I contacted the front desk and they began the investigation.
After 30-minutes, they managed to figure out the issue. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the sleep I wanted and woke up very tired.
Delicious buffet with slimy service
Despite feeling dead tired, I pulled myself out of bed to grab breakfast. This is thanks to having Platinum Status with Marriott hotel as a result of a pandemic only credit card sign-up bonus promotion.
The breakfast was delicious; however, most of the service was disgusting. During the entire time we were eating, the staffs kept hinting at us we that we need to tip them. This gesture is very slimy and it makes you feel horrible when the staff members is trying to shake some cash from you. Most of the staff members were acting like this disgusting money hungry scumbag. Only this one friendly lady serving the buffet food came across as genuine and friendly. We left a bit of a tip but I should’ve have been more blatant and gave the money directly to the friendly lady serving at the buffet area.
I was fed up with this shitty hotel that I decided to leave as soon as possible. Our next hotel was Hampton Inn and we took an Uber to get there.
This hotel was night and day different from the W Panama. While it’s not as pretty to look at, the customer service was top notch. The staff was friendly, warm and authentic. After getting settled, we ate at a nearby restaurant.
The food here was good and the service was friendly. The only downside is the price which is very expensive. Sadly, Panama is not the best budget travel destination out there.
Thankfully, I finally got some good night sleep. The breakfast buffet in the morning was a free for all battle. For some reason, the “good stuff” on the buffet was extremely limited and people who was lucky get to eat them. Karen and I sat close to the buffet area and managed to help ourselves with some of the good food before only the crappy pastries and bread was leftover.
Uber to Gamboa
After having a good stay at the Hampton Inn, we called an Uber to take us to Gamboa. Finally, we will go to our main destination in Panama which is to see the sloths. Our Uber driver was incredibly friendly, he’s probably one of my favourite Uber drivers of all time. He told us some interesting stories of life in Panama during the pandemic from the local perspective. It was eye opening indeed how much they suffered from the lockdown.
Before long, we made it to our Airbnb. Lucky for Karen and I, before we came here, I bombarded the host with messages that we were headed to this accommodation. From past experiences, some Airbnbs don’t open the door for you because they don’t know what time you’re arriving. Thankfully, we only waited 5-minutes before the son of the Airbnb host came and opened the door for us.
Journey to the Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary
We also heard some great news from the Air Bnb host’s son. During my research, we thought the Sloth Sanctuary would be close the day of arrival and we would have to go the next day. By luck, this online information was wrong and we can visit on that same day! And, the son was kind enough to give Karen and I to the Gamboa Resort where we can catch a tram to take us to see the Sloths.
Upon arriving, the grumpy resort front desk woman told us we need to pay to take the tram. We head over to the tram and the driver doesn’t even bother charging us (good times).
After a pleasant drive, we arrived at the sanctuary.
After purchasing the tickets, we were off to see the sloths!
Karen was very happy to see the sloths and the handlers gave us some educational information about them. We further explored the sanctuary to see other plant life and animals.
It was cool to see the sloths but the other parts of this sanctuary was underwhelming.
Gamboa resort sucks
Not long after, we headed back to the Gamboa resort to grab lunch. Unfortunately, this is the only place open nearby where we can get some food to eat.
The food and service in this resort is absolutely horrible. Do yourself a favour and never stay here. Many of the staff are lazy and can’t be bothered. You can tell from their face they hate this place and are seconds away from giving all the tourists a big middle finger. We were so glad to leave and walk our way back to our Airbnb.
Gamboa Airbnb experience
The walk back to our Airbnb took about 30-minutes and it was pleasant. By the time we arrive in our Airbnb, we relaxed a bit until we noticed someone was outside. We immediately opened the door for them and it turns out it’s a Swiss-German couple who will also be staying in this accommodation for the night. Except they looked pissed off because they’ve been waiting outside for 30-minutes and they haven’t heard from the host.
They should’ve bombarded the host like I did beforehand.
The host came home and we bought dinner from her. While she was preparing dinner for Karen and I, you can see the dark cloud over the Swiss-German couple. They are not a happy bunch. The Airbnb host tried appeasing them but nothing is working, they’re not having any of it.
Karen and I happily ate dinner while observing the drama unfold.
The next day, the couple left in a hurry and even snubbed the fruit platter the host made for them. Karen and I enjoyed our breakfast from the host and she ended up giving us the platter since the couple left.
Minibus back to Panama City
We really liked the host, she was a kind person. I think she made an honest mistake. Before we left, she even contacted the only ride out of town to pick us up outside her house. We got onboard the mini-bus and off we went back to Panama City.
The ride itself was neat as we got to see the Panama Canal and also the locals living their life.
Bus depot and huge mall in Panama City
It was quite a shock when we arrived in Panama City where the bus depot was located. The place was a gigantic mall with thousands of people all over the place.
I was hoping to get food but it was impossible from the sheer number of people here. Seats were impossible to get so Karen and I grabbed an Uber to take us to our last Airbnb. Finding a place to call an Uber was tough. When we finally got one, the drive to our Airbnb was an insane never ending traffic.
Last Airbnb in Panama
Thankfully, our last stop was another friendly Airbnb host. This time, she was a friendly grandma who helped us order take out from a delivery app. Karen and I pigged out on chicken before calling it a day. I’d say this Airbnb was quite good, especially the service. The only downside is that the air conditioner was really cold and was shooting cold air to my face over night.
The next day, we took another Uber to the airport before finally flying out of Panama.
While travelling to Panama wasn’t my favourite travel experience, I still enjoyed my interaction with the Airbnb hosts. I don’t see myself coming back here ever again. If I have a choice on which airport to connect to, I will do my best to avoid Panama and find another airport hub to connect from.