PANAMA: Bocas del Toro

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PANAMA: Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro

Neighborhoods: There are three main areas to stay in Bocas del Toro. Isla de Colon, Isla Carenero, and Isla Bastimentos. You can get a different experience if you stay at any of these parts of Bocas, just depending what you want.

-Isla de Colon: Where the party is at and most of the restaurants, bars, and stores. There are places to stay in town and on the water that are very affordable. The town is definitely a fun place to be at night, but we preferred to stay in a quieter environment. By far our favorite place to stay in on Isla Colon is Tesoro Escondido. It's a bit of a drive away from town on a dirt road on the way to Bluff Beach, but completely worth it. The Eco Lodge is surrounded by trees and beautiful beaches and a short walk to many surf spots. 

-Isla Carenero: Definitely the sleepier Island of Bocas. We enjoyed our time spent on this island in an adorable above-water bungalow atCareening Cay Resort. BEWARE! We read numerous warnings of the mosquitos on this island and didn't take the precautions we should have. This island does have a lot more mosquitoes and No-see-ums, called (chitres) than the other islands. Bug sprays don't necessarily help, so at dusk and in the evening, wear pants or a long skirt to avoid the experience I had.

-Bastimentos: This island is has a Rasta feel to it and feels like you're miles away from Panama. Most of the locals on this island speak a Creole English. This is a cool island to stay on if you want to be slightly removed. We enjoyed staying here for 4 nights then were ready to move onto the next. The thing that stood out to us on this island though was the food!! There's quite a few little restaurants on this island that had some of the best food we've had on the trip.

Lodging: 

-Careening Cay Resort: This awesome little resort has the most adorable over water bungalows with private bathroom and AC for a decent price. It's a short walk to the surf breaks and beautiful beaches on the other side of Carenaro and 2 minute boat ride to Isla Colon. They also have a great restaurant with an incredible view for the sunset. Oh, and an insane happy hour with pretty stiff margaritas! 

-Tesoro Escondido: A surfer's dream AND your girlfriend's paradise. Rooms for $45-55/night with incredible views, walking distance to some of the best surf breaks and beaches on the island, and cook your own meals in the kitchen. It is a bit out of the way from any restaurants and the town so it's best to buy groceries and cook meals or get dinner while you're out before you head back for the night.

-The Firefly: We didn't get a chance to stay here, because they were completely booked for a few months, but we had the chance to hang at the boutique hotel and really want to stay our next trip to Bocas. This upscale boutique hotel is by far the coolest place on Bastimentos. It's on the pricier side for a night's stay (and worth it) so if you're on a budget and can't afford it, just stop in for a cocktail, dinner, or yoga on their deck.

 -Tio Toms: We stayed at Tio Toms our first few nights in Bocas and have no complaints. It's a room over the water with private bathroom, windows, a fan, mosquito net, and that's about it. It's very basic but if you're looking for a budget stay, it's a good option for about $35/night. The food from their kitchen is surprisingly really good too! 

Food/Drink:

Try the street food. The empanadas are the best (if they're fresh) and steak kabobs too for $1-3.

-Raw Fusion: This place has probably some of the best sushi rolls we've had on the entire trip. They have an awesome happy hour from 3-5pm that CAN'T BE MISSED! (Drinks=2-for-1, Food=$5/roll)

-Taco Surf: This is definitely one of the most popular spots on Isla Colon for a reason. Really good tacos, bowls and burritos for a good price AND scrumptious cocktails made this place one of our favorite places on the trip. Get the Ginger Margarita!!! (Drinks=$5, Food=$3-10)

-Paki Point: A nice place to lay out on the beach road to get a smoothie and wait while your boyfriend surfs. (Drinks=$5-10)

-Bocas Brewery: A cool local brewery that makes their own beer. Nice to stop in for a drink on the way back from the beach. (Drinks=$5)

-Om Cafe: A little pricey for a dinner in Panama, but worth it. Go here if you're craving Indian food! (Drinks=$3-7, Food=$10-15)

-Coco Hill: Some of the best vegetarian food we've had in a long time! They only use organic products and grow all the produce in their garden so the menu varies. Definitely a must on Bastimentos! Plus the view is incredible. (Food=$8-12)

-Chavela: Best burgers on Bastimentos and only $5! Also amazing fish and Pina Coladas. (Drinks $5-8, $5-10)

-Ciao Pizza: Best pizza in Bocas! It's out of the way, so best to go on your way back to town from the beach. Although it may take a while to get your food, it's completely worth it. All of the pizza is wood fired pizza and melts in your mouth. Get the house made hummus while you wait too! And watch out for the families of monkeys overhead! (Drinks=$3-5, Food=$8-15)

-Selina Hostel: Probably the most popular place to drink for the young backpacker crowd on Isla Colon. Good cocktails, live music sometimes, and a nice atmosphere for a sunset. (Drinks $3-7)

Transportation: Boat taxis from island to island are about $2-3/person each way and more at night $5+. Once you're on land, you can walk to most destinations on all of the islands with the exception to the beaches towards Playa Bluff. You'll need to take a truck taxi which will cost you about $7.50 from Bocas Town. There's a Bocas-Playa Bluff shuttle that leaves from the town square for $3.50 a seat. Renting bikes on Isla Colon is also a cheap option.

Activities: Surfing, obviously, is one of the main attractions in Bocas del Toro. On Isla Colon: Bluff: powerful, consistent beachbreak close to shore. Paunch: Right/Left reefbreak. Dumpers: Shallow Left reefbreak. Tiger Tails: Righthander reefbreak  Isla Carenero: Carenero Lefts: Lefthander reefbreak

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CUBA: Havana to Trinidad

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CUBA: Havana to Trinidad

HAVANA

First things first, as American travelers coming to Cuba, we wish we would have been told...don't bring US Dollars, bring in Euros or any other currency. They take a 10% penalty fee for all US dollars (US dollars are the only currency that gets hit with an additional penalty fee) when exchanging to the CUC. So to avoid this, if you can, withdraw or exchange your money to a different currency. Also, no ATMs in Cuba.

Neighborhoods: Our favorite neighborhood to hang, eat, drink, and sleep was definitely Vedado. We felt that in this neighborhood you really get the feeling of REAL Cuba. It's only a few minutes in a cab to the beautiful, but touristy Habana Vieja, but far enough away for the prices to drop dramatically.  

Lodging: The best places to stay in Cuba are the Casa Particulares. Many families rent rooms or even separate apartments in their home to travelers. We found ours through Airbnb twice and once just through people we met. Like every other Airbnb experience, we've always felt we see a better side of the city that we wouldn't have if we stayed in a hotel. Our rooms we rented were anywhere from $30-$45. Our lovely hosts are below. 

-Hostal Aida y Monica http://www.casaparticular.com/casa/index/id/389/name/hostal-aida-y-monica

-Marcel and Veronica's (email marcelolivadiaz@gmail.com)

Food/Drink: 

-La Paila: Our favorite restaurant in Cuba for authentic Cuban food, huge portions and stiff cocktails.Get the Ropa Vieja! (Drinks=$1.5-3, Meal=$4-6) 

-El Chanchullero: A great hole in the wall spot for lunch and a mojito. Get the Fricase de Pollo! (Drinks=$1.5-3, Meal $5-6)

-La Catedral: One of the local restaurants we frequented for a good dinner with big portions, deep in a Cuban neighborhood (Drinks=$1.15-3, Meal=$4-6)

-Cafe Madrigal: Super cool bar above a house in Vedado with really cool atmosphere and a great Daquiri (Drinks=$3-5)

-Cafe Neruda: Nice place to stop for a drink while walking on the Malecon to soak up the sunset. The restaurant doesn't have a roof so make sure to go when the weather is good (Drinks=$3 and the food is supposed to be pretty good too, we just didn't try it)

-La Reliquia: A nice place to stop for a cold drink while walking through the touristy Habana Vieja, with random antique memorabilia throughout (Drinks=$2-3)

Transportation: You can definitely take cabs around the city but we found for shorter distance rides, that taking Collectivos (those old pretty rough looking 50s-60s cars filled with locals hoping in and out) were much cheaper. Just wait on the side of the curb for one to pull up, tell them where you want to go and they will add your drop off point to the list of where else they're dropping off. Should be 50 cents each, more for longer out of the way rides. ALWAYS negotiate first.

TIP! Internet is VERY rare in Cuba. WIFI just became a thing a few months ago, so you can only get it in a few hotels in the city and have to pay by the hour. We frequented Hotel Habana Libra and Hotel Capri for our internet needs.  

EVEN BIGGER TIP! Hotels will sell you WIFI cards for $5-7/hour. You can buy these exact same cards for $2 at any ETECSA Phone/Internet provider, which is the country's national internet provider. Just look for the building with loads of local people outside on their cell phones or waiting in line. The smart thing to do is stock up with at least 5 that way you have them whenever you're in need of the internet throughout your trip and save yourself some dough!

TRINIDAD

Lodging: We rented a room at a lovely 3-story home, recommended by some local Cubanos we quickly became friends with, called Hostal Barbaro & Andrea. $25/night includes a clean bedroom with private bath and AC and is walking distance to everything. It's run by an adorable younger couple and their baby and spunky animals. Contact them at babaroandrea@nauta.cu or +53 4199 4330 

Food/Drink: 

-San Jose: This place is probably the most popular restaurant in the town. You'll probably have to wait 45min-an hour, but it's worth the wait at least once. The food is pretty good, big portions, and decent cocktails. (Drinks=$1.5-4, Meals $5-7)

Activities: We spent the majority of our Trinidad trip just strolling the rainbow streets, checking out the town squares, people watching, and popping in for beers and mojitos often to cool off. We were lucky enough to catch the town's 502nd Anniversary. There were obviously parties in the street, live music and dancing in the park, and vendors selling anything you can think of and even street gambling. Another fun thing to do is rent bikes and ride down to La Boca and Playa Ancon. Make sure to plan on being gone a whole day...it takes a while. Enjoy!

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