Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Our recent 18-day trip in Panama was the second adventure planned by Pierre Gedeon, and it was fantastic! Pierre tailored the trip plan to our preferences, which lean towards spending a few-to-several days at each stop, and his selections generally worked very well.

Starting in Panama City, as most visits do, we greatly enjoyed 4 nights at the Hotel La Compania in Casco Viejo, also a favorite of Pierre’s, and ideally situated in the Casco Viejo historic quarter. This gave us three days to explore the city, and included a very interesting VIP tour of the Miraflores locks at the Panama Canal (tip: arrive early to see an entering ship), a tour of Casco Viejo and a boat trip on Lake Gatun to “Monkey Island” (skip this if your Panama itinerary includes any other monkey sighting opportunities).

Next stop was 6 nights at the Isla Palenque Resort, certainly the highlight of the trip. We cannot recommend this enough, noting it’s a splurge but rates vary considerably by season. The 400-acre island is shared by just 8 casitas (typically around 16 guests) and every possible need is met, from 4 meals a day from comprehensive daily-changing menus to a wealth of outdoor activities and tours. The all-inclusive meal package deserves the highest praise. Four meal settings per day (the basic 3 plus afternoon snacks) never disappoint; every single dish is a magazine-grade plating and the kitchen will accommodate any diet restrictions or preferences. Fresh seafood, delivered daily to the IP dock, is included in every daily-varied menu, as well as many Panamanian preparations. The overall setting is sublime, with several private beaches (you’ll never see anyone who is not a guest or employee) that gently slope into the water, constantly changing due to the large tidal variations. The surrounding waters are always pleasantly warm and inviting, with typically gentle surf. Plentiful kayaks, SUPs and snorkel gear are available at any time. The island jungle is lush, with monkey families moving overhead and a variety of other mammals, birds and reptiles, and there is a well-documented pre-Columbian story that is told well. The hard-working and amazingly well-coordinated staff that make the resort function deserve the highest praise, always eager to please and genuinely dedicated to the satisfaction of their guests.

Tearing ourselves away from IP, next stop was the Mount Totumas Lodge, transitioning from 90F sea temps to mid-70s in the 7000’ highlands on the West side of Volcan Baru. The “transition” going uphill from Volcan requires an hour-long 4WD trip on an extremely rough road. We’re no strangers to rough off-road 4-wheeling, but this is a seriously torturous route. For serious birding enthusiasts, MT is nirvana, with opportunities to see quetzals, 3-wattle bellbirds and other iconic species of the upland cloud forest, and very capable guides are available. Keep in mind that this is a mountainside property, so the hiking trails are on steep terrain. Mount Totumas could be described as a bit rustic, and we suggest avoiding the otherwise-appealing upstairs rooms on the second floor of the lodge if the howling of hurricane-like winds sweeping over the metal roof all night (as if it will be torn from the building) seem bothersome. MT is too remote to leave for meals (or anything else) once you’re there, so a creative kitchen/staff provides 3 square meals a day; some were quite good, but there is no selection other than a vegetarian option to the main course. Beer and wine (only) are available for reasonable prices. There is a significant (award-winning) coffee-growing operation onsite and the tour was very worthwhile, though expensive.

Next stop was the highland community of Boquete on the East side of Volcan Baru, arranged to highlight and explain the Panama life that has attracted the many expats who enjoy this area. We stayed 3 nights in the Riverside Inn, a very pleasant and desirable hotel on the edge of the community, alongside the river that runs through the valley. The adjacent restaurant, The Rock/La Roca, is upscale for the community and offered some great meals, including breakfast that comes with the hotel stay. We spent a full day touring the Boquete area with Raul, the very capable “relocation expert” that Pierre arranged to be our guide. Seeing the variety of neighborhoods and facilities in the area through his eyes was extremely valuable and provided a perspective we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Then back to Panama City for another wonderful night at La Compania in Casco Viejo before returning to the US. Throughout the entire trip, the logistics were unfailingly perfect, with always on-time car/boat/air transit arrangements.

We were absolutely thrilled with the spring break trip that Pierre planned for our family. From the very first call he proved that his instincts were spot-on with what would work best for our family. Most people tend to visit multiple places when they come to Costa Rica, but we wanted one place that we could enjoy for a week that offered both a beach and rainforest experience. Manuel Antonio and the Arenas Del Mar hotel were absolutely perfect for that. I cannot say enough good things about the hotel. The wildlife sightings there were far and away better than in the national park. There were squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, scarlet macaws, iguanas, and two- and three-fingered sloths right outside our doors. But what really set the hotel apart was the staff. I have never visited a place with kinder or more caring staff. At the end of the week our son announced that he would not be leaving and would henceforth be living there. The activities that Pierre planned for us were perfect (zip lining, a waterfall hike, surfing lessons), again with guides that could not have been kinder or more accommodating. I’ll never forget our son’s 7th birthday and watching him leap from a platform hundreds of feet in the air to swing on a Tarzan rope while our zip-lining guides sang happy birthday to him. Pierre and his team were extraordinarily responsive to us during the trip when we completely changed one of our plans and asked for an additional surfing lesson. Overall we can’t wait to use them to book another trip.

Travelers taking a selfie with their balcony view in the background at the Red Frog Beach Resort, Panama.

Jackie and Kevin Hope got upgraded to a Cliff Condo with this balcony view at the Red Frog Beach Resort.

Wow! The best way to describe our trip in one word.

Thanks to Pierre and the whole team, my wife and I had a fantastic trip in Panama from Feb 22nd to March 3rd, including 3 nights and 4 days in Panama City, 3 days and nights in the beautiful mountains of Boquete at the Valle Escondido Resort Golf and Spa, 3 days/nights at beautiful Bocas del Toro Red Frog Beach Resort and a final night and half-day back in Panama City at the old city.

We loved how the trip was thoughtfully split up almost like three separate adventures! The itinerary was very well put together and really took the pressure off us with all of the scheduling and planning pre-arranged so all we had to do was just enjoy all the sites and experiences of Panama.
There were a couple of thoughtful surprises along the way, like when we checked in to our cozy little bungalow in Valle Escondido Resort to find a welcome bottle of wine with a nice card and a couple of glasses by the bed ready to drink after a busy day of sightseeing and travel! A delicious charcuterie board with local meat, fish, fruits and veggies plus a bottle of wine at our condo (upgrade) upon our arrival to Red Frog Beach Resort. Thanks Pierre!

It was a pleasure to meet and travel with our destination drivers and guides — Juan in Panama City, Luis at the Boquete Tree Trek, Robin who drove us from Boquete to Almirante Port (stopping for numerous sloth sittings!) and Cesar our guide to the three lost waterfalls. All were so knowledgeable and engaged in their mission and usually going out of their way to make sure we got to see and experience the occasions to the fullest. Thanks so much for the wonderful memories and photos!

There are so many wow moments on this trip we could write a small adventure novel but to summarize, Panama was awesome, and we are definitely looking forward to going back.

A few of our highlights:
– Bristol Hotel and Restaurant Salsipuedes. Delicious dining and breakfast buffy!
– Sailing through the Panama Canal — Monkey Island and Sloth Sanctuary (Lunch with our guide Juan at Gamboa Rainforest Reserve!)
– Hanging Bridge and Lost waterfall tours — Stunning views and experience with our great guides Luis and Cesar!
– Boquete Transfer to Almirante Port with our driver Robin who made numerous stops along the way for pictures and cool points of interest including 4 sloth sightings!
– Red Frog Beach Island resort — Dolphin Bay — Coral Key and Islas Zapatillas!! We didn’t want to leave at this point
– Final night at the Hotel La Compania — wow luxury at its finest! And our last day at the old city market where I picked up my 1993 Panama License plate!

A big thank you to Wendy, Pierre and the whole team at Monkey Adventures, Panamazing, Cloud Forest Travel, Boquete Tree Trek Resort, Red Frog Beach Resort. (Sorry if we missed anyone!)

We had an amazing time and look forward to another adventure soon!

The Pacific coast of Costa Rica seen from a small-plane flight.

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, seen from a small-plane flight. Traveler Judy Calvert

Pierre and Michael were a pleasure to work with, very empathetic and engaged. My trip started out for my husband and I, but I ended up going solo and any necessary changes were seamlessly handled. We had a couple of minor issues while I was in country, but the beauty of having a WOW Lister was that I wasn’t stressed at all as I knew they would handle it for me—which they did! Unfortunately, I brought the rain with me, during a time of year when the weather should have been great, so it did limit some of my wildlife viewing. My recommendation to anyone going who really wants all the sloths, birds and frogs is to do as many tours as you can so you have more opportunities. The Sloth Institute daily property tour at Tulemar for a $25pp donation is so worth it—Sarah found all the sloths including moms with babies BUT it’s all about timing as to whether they are awake, moving and showing you their faces—so doing it again may be worth it the next day.

I had small-plane transfers (12 pax) and vehicle transfers, and all was incredibly smooth and easy and professional. To be able to crisscross the country, see both Caribbean and Pacific and have lovely properties (with yummy welcome amenities) and experiences is entirely due to Pierre. At Tabacon in La Fortuna, the Himalayan Salt Scrub Rock massage is a MUST and all the thermal spas are so great. El Silencio in the mountains gave me an amazing hummingbird experience. Arenas del Mar provided such easy access to walk down to the main Manuel Antonio beach—absolutely stunning. The food was extremely good everywhere I went. I’m torn about reviewing Golfito and the Playa Nicuesa Rain Forest Lodge—it wasn’t for me—turned out to be more rustic than I am now comfortable with, and on my own. BUT, I can certainly see how in better weather they would have the birds and frog viewings I was craving—I did manage to see about 6 huge red macaws in the tree by my cabin! Icing on the cake was Pierre himself picking me up at 6am to take me to the airport in San Jose for my departure—service!

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