Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Panama Adventure – Part I

                Our condo building - Congrejo 507

Our travel addiction does have some structure to it. Prior to retirement we decided that we did not want to go the same place each year, nor be tied into a condo in Arizona, or a time-share in Mexico. Our plan was to go to a different country each winter, preferably to a location where the average temperature was not 30 degrees Fahrenheit, like it seemingly is in Chelan during January and February.

Our requirements for a destination condo have been pretty simple. We require a washer-dryer, a safe location (within reason!), a kitchen, a second bedroom so our friends can visit, a neighborhood with a lot of restaurants and things to do, and of course high speed internet access. So far we have been doing pretty well. In 2007 we totally enjoyed San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; in 2008 we travelled and stayed all over both islands of New Zealand; and in 2009 we have had a lot of fun in Panama City, Panama, a country we had never visited before. Who knows what the future will bring? Do you have a suggestion for our destination next year? If so, send me an email ( with your suggestion.

So, why did we select Panama this year? During the summer and fall planning time, I was somewhat concerned with the strength of the dollar versus the euro and the British pound. Little did I anticipate that the dollar would make great gains (or did they come down to the weak dollar) against both currencies because of the worldwide economic downturn. Panama, although its official currency is the Balboa, actually operates on the U.S. dollar. Panama looked like it would have lots to do, with the growth of Panama City, the canal, and its history. The country is considered the safest in Central America and is touted as having no more of a crime problem than the United States. Panama was picked by Budget Travel Magazine as one of the top 10 travel destinations for 2009. Two bonus factors in our decision were that we could fly here with Alaska Airlines partner frequent flyer miles, and it is warm, warm, and hot!

We were delighted to find a very comfortable condo in the El Cangrejo neighborhood of downtown Panama City. This year I used a website called VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). This site is great for finding short or long term apartment and condo rentals all over the world including the United States. The web pages generally give you the price of the rental and a calendar to check on availability. You deal directly, either by phone or email, with the actual owner of the unit. Our owner lives in Silver Springs, Maryland and was very helpful with local suggestions, and the bonus of Enrique, who keeps track of the property and provides airport pickup and departure service.

Our condo was a two bedroom, three bathroom unit on the 16th floor of a brand new high-rise in a neighborhood with a tree lined boulevard, a nearby park and many of the top rated restaurants in Panama City. The building has a swimming pool on the roof (23rd floor) and it has been fun to watch people and furniture moving in as the building has been filling up. You can look at photos and details of Unit 16A by going to the VRBO webpage at:

In Part II of the Panama Adventure, I will tell you about what we thought were the Top 10 things we enjoyed in our months’ stay in Panama City. For an in depth look at our vacation in Panama check out my travel blog 2009 postings at

For those of you who just like to look at the pictures, Mary Ann has put together a web album on the internet that can be found at:

You can view it as a slide show by clicking “slide show” just below the bold Panama Web Album 2009.

        Tom pounding out all those words on the blog

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