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If you’re a college student who wants to travel during their vacations, then you’re most likely always on the hunt for a good budget destination. If you haven’t booked your trip for winter break yet this year, then let me tell you why you should start looking at Panama. Because even though it’s not the most popular place in the world, I truly believe that Panama is the next budget winter break destination. Why? Here are twelve reasons!
Why Panama should be your budget winter break destination:
1. The Food
My number one consideration when thinking about somewhere to go is whether or not the food is delicious — and won’t break the bank. The food in Panama definitely fits the bill for this. You can easily get a big plate of chicken and rice for under $5 in a restaurant, or less than that as street food. And no matter where you get that chicken and rice it is guaranteed to be the best chicken and rice you have ever eaten.
Also: patacones. Patacones are literally the most delicious things on the face of the earth.
2. The ocean is stupid beautiful
You know how you always see pictures of crystal clear turquoise water and long for the day you’ll have to money to see a place like that? Well today is that day, because Panama is not only cheap, but it is also drop. dead. gorgeous. Literally every time we went to the ocean the water was the perfect crystal clear turquoise and I was pretty sure we were living in a dream.
3. Beer costs $1
I’m not the biggest beer fan. But if you are, you definitely can’t argue against visiting a place where the stuff only costs $1. Unless you’re a beer snob, of course. But let’s be real, if you’re looking for a budget winter break destination then you’re probably not a big beer snob. Just be sure to go for the local beers (Panama, Atlas, & Balboa) to keep your beer budget down.
4. You can go on a dank coffee tour
If you’re still in college, then you’re probably addicted to coffee (I certainly know I am). If you decide to head to Panama for your winter break, then there are opportunities all over the place to go on a coffee farm tour to learn all about the process of growing and making some of the best coffee in the world. And of course, you’ll get to taste some coffee at the end!
I highly recommend the Fica dos Jefes Boquete Coffee Tour if you find yourself in Boquete, Panama. For $30 you get transportation to the farm, a talk about the making of coffee, a tour of the farm, a coffee tasting lesson, a beer, and a bag of your favourite roast to take home with you. AND you get to play with the four cute af dogs that roam the grounds.
5. You can visit secluded beaches like this one:
If you love beaches, then Panama is the perfect budget winter break destination for you. Wizard Beach on Isla Bastimentos, Bocas del Toro is one of the most amazing beaches I have ever visited. Hands down.
It is also completely impossible to reach unless you make the short half hour hike from the main town, Old Bank, or go on a boat tour. That means that it is almost completely deserted — especially if you arrive in the morning. That, combined with that picture-perfect white sand and clear turquoise waters means that you definitely won’t get enough of it.
If you like to surf, then Wizard Beach is definitely the place to go. The waves are fantastic!
6. Or go on drop dead gorgeous hikes like this one:
If you’re not a beach person (or even if you are), then you have to be sure to visit Bouquet while you’re in Panama. While you’re there, you can go on amazing hikes like the Lost Waterfalls Trail. For an entrance fee of $7/person (as of 2017), you can make the 3 hour hike past three different drop dead gorgeous waterfalls and through some pretty crazy Panamanian cloud forest. Plus, there’s a really cool dog named Rocky Balboa who hangs out by the entrance to the trail.
For more information, be sure to check out my post on the Lost Waterfalls Trail!
7. The hostel life is amazing
I have yet to stay in a hostel I liked more than Hostel Mamallena in Boquete (hello, unlimited pancake breakfasts). Since most people staying in hostels in Panama are towards the end of their backpacking route through Central America, they are generally incredibly friendly and so much fun to hang out with. PLUS, hostels in Panama are ridiculously cheap. We stayed in private rooms for $30/night on average, and dorm beds can cost as little as $10 a night per person.
8. You won’t break the bank
This post is all about why Panama is the next budget winter break destination, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how cheap Panama is. From inexpensive hostel beds, to plentiful cheap food, to affordable public transportation, you can travel Panama on a budget pretty dang easily.
9. You can hike up a volcano to see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the same time
While we didn’t get to do this while we were in Panama (the trail was closed due to mud), hiking up Volcan Baru is a must do while you’re in Panama. The most popular way is to start just before midnight and be at the top for sunrise. Then, if it’s not too cloudy out, you can see BOTH the Atlantic and Pacific oceans from the summit. How freaking cool is that???
Check out this post on hiking Volcan Baru to see what it’s all about!
10. You can practice your Spanish
Remember that time you just barely passed high school Spanish? Well, it’s time to break out the old text book (or DuoLingo) because you’ll definitely want to brush up on your Spanish before traveling to Panama. Although people working at tourist establishments will likely speak at least a little bit of English, if you ever have to ask for directions be prepared to use your best broken Spanish and a lot of hand movements. Just look at it as the perfect opportunity to practice your Spanish!
11. If you’re there on New Years, you might lose your hearing
Chances are, if you’re traveling during your winter break, you might be in Panama on New Year’s Eve. And let me tell you, no one knows how to celebrate the New Year better than the Panamanians. I spent my New Year’s Eve last year in Santiago in a house packed full to the brim. At midnight, the entire sky lit up with fireworks — and they didn’t stop until about 7am the next morning. If you want to have a good time on New Year’s Eve, go to Panama.
12. You’ll definitely come back with some crazy stories
No one likes someone who is always talking about “this one time, in Panama…” but you will definitely love being that person. I have yet to travel to a place that has provided more “this one time, in…” opportunities than Panama has. From stories about the amazing food we had to eat, to that one time we got stopped by the Panamania Coast Guard (complete with v. Intimidating looking guns) on our rinky-dink taxi boat in Bocas del Toro (we weren’t wearing life jackets. Oops.), Panama is the place to go.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to make Panama your next budget winter break destination!