I’m still longing to get out on my board, but in the meantime I’m filling my mind with past SUP trips. Panama was one of those memorable SUP Yoga retreat destinations for me, led in conjunction with the shop I work at, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. We went twice and had different but great adventures both times. Hint, if you’re looking for a phenomenal experience off the beaten path, check out Panama. Here are my suggestions:
First, spend a few days in Panama City. The city is really cool–I believe around 11 million in population. It has a modern financial district with skyscrapers and the whole 9 yards (or in this case…some number of meters? Ha!). Do yourself a favor and check out the “old town” or Ciudad Viejo. It’s got a European flare, due I’m sure, to Panama City’s fascinating history. The area was under major renovation when I was last there and it was incredible to see extremely run down dwellings right next to beautiful, remodeled buildings. The city comes alive at night and even if you’re not into dancing/clubbing, do yourself a favor and go anyway. It’s 100% eye candy. Everyone is dressed to the 9’s. It’s incredibly fun.
Another “must see” is the Panama Canal. But don’t be lazy and do your research before you go. Learn what an incredible feat this canal was to build. Pretty amazing.
After you’ve had enough of city life, you could do what our crew did and head the 5-7 hours to Santa Catalina. It’s a small but growing surf town. Really cool and really friendly waves to surf at Playa Estero. If you don’t want to venture farther out you can let the waves catch you just off shore, and at least experience the feel of surfing. Views are stunning and the people are great.
Tumalo partnered with a couple of businesses in Santa Catalina to make this trip happen– beautiful Michelle (inside and out) who owns La Buena Vida, a wonderful small hotel with individual cabanas and an outstanding restaurant boasting local, organic foods. Michelle and her husband are artists, so not only is the stay comfortable and well-located but also adorable and unique. While there you can experience yoga on the hillside in the jungle…one of the coolest outdoor yoga studios I’ve ever seen. You can also get a massage. For a rural experience, you’re really getting luxury!
The other partner was Fluid Adventures run by long-time Santa Catalina resident from Canada, Michael McKenzie. Our first year Michael chartered us out to another must-see…Isla Coiba, considered the cousin to the Galapagos. A beautiful island with indigenous animals we’d never seen or heard of, a resident crododile, immense jungle and outstanding hikes. The sea-kayaking was mind blowing with crystal clear waters–visions that looked like they came straight out of a wall calendar. I assure you, this wasn’t photoshopped.
The second year I took my SUP clients to various locations off Santa Catalina. Michael made my life easy and essentially followed us wherever we wanted to go with a boat, as support. We paddled out to Santa Catalina island (unsupported), El Banco and El Gobienero. Each a different experience but equally gorgeous. For example, from El Banco we paddled up a tributary through Amazon-like canopy, more than likely with crocodiles swimming around us, but I didn’t see any that day. No, the trips didn’t disappoint (aside from losing my camera during one of the excursions and the corresponding photos…sad face….I lost the camera, not Michael).
On a personal side note, one of the most enjoyable aspects of leading retreats is being a part of the clients’ experience. I’ve observed transformations in days, before my eyes. The second year in Panama was one-such situation and to this day I still remember warmly, a client (I’ll call her “Betsy”) who unwound from her highly uptight and anxious approach to…well…life. She looked physically different from the time she arrived. She left glowing, with a twinkle in her eye.
Many many great memories, too numerous to share and some falling under the category of “what happens in Panama stays in Panama”. However, if you’re interested in learning more, feel free to contact me directly. I’m always up for a Panama chat. Also, it’s not a place I’d recommend just “going for it” without a guide or extensive knowledge of the area. It’s equatorial jungle and there are plants and animals that can (and will) kill you if you are unaware. Shouldn’t scare you away from the experience, just saying know before you go. Or during. There are local guides that can be chartered to help.
Thanks for listening!