A Piece of Panama With a Bit of Bogota and a Slice of San José

This is the introduction of our Panama trip report, in which we will explore some of Panama’s main sights, and have a quick visit as well to Bogotá, Colombia and San José, Costa Rica.

Where to go?

We all have different goals and objectives when it comes to travel. Some of us might look solely for some relaxation time at a warm beach, while others travel mostly to see more of the world and to learn about other cultures and countries. For most, I fall in the last category, and there aren’t many places in the world which I would not like to visit.

At 70 countries visited (before taking this trip) my travel life has been good to me so far. Yet all those countries which I have managed to visit so far are mostly found in Europe and Asia. Especially Latin America and Africa are terra incognito to me, as so far I only managed to visited Brazil, Cabo Verde and Senegal on those two continents.

Planning a new trip

Even though I know it’s not all about the numbers (I rather visit a few dozen Greek islands or some unknown Italian or Spanish regions before a handful of less attractive countries) I felt the need to make a bit more progress, as I do have the long-term goal to try to visit every single country in the world.

I knew that for this particular trip, my focus would had to be on Latin America or Africa. Colombia and Panama have somehow intrigued me as holiday destinations for quite some years, and I did manage to find cheap flights in that direction.

As I had fairly limited time due to work constraints and felt that Colombia required more than a week to do the country justice, I figured that Panama would be a better fit as the main destination for this trip.

Interesting routings

When searching for flights I saw a few highly appealing and extremely well-priced routings on Air France and KLM. Even though one-stop flights Bucharest-Amsterdam/Paris-Panama were expensive at 900 EUR, a two-stop routing (with an extra stop in Bogota, San Jose or Caracas on the way to Panama) would bring the price down to just 450 EUR for a return ticket.

I was quit tempted by Caracas as Air France is AFAIK the only European airline except Turkish (in a bizarre Istanbul-Havana-Caracas-Istanbul “communist-axis-of-evil” triangle route) which still operates flights to Venezuela. That is massive difference from several decades back, when Air France even flew the Concorde to Caracas!

What was once South America’s richest country got unfortunately ruined by the communist Chavistas. Due to the ongoing economic and political crisis and skyrocketing crime rates I kept my desire for adventure in check and opted for something safer, leaving a Venezuala visit for a future trip.

Booking the trip

After playing a bit more on the ITA Matrix with routings I managed to puzzle together an ideal flight itinerary: Bucharest-Paris-Bogotá; Bogotá-Panama; Panama-San José; San José-Amsterdam-Bucharest in economy class for 450 EUR. With this itinerary, I would now be able to check off three instead of only one country as as I managed to book full day stopovers in Bogota and San José.

Sure, I know that such short stopovers don’t do any justice to the great countries of Colombia and Costa Rica which have so much to offer to tourists, but a quick look in their respective capitals is better than nothing. Besides, I feel sure that one day I will hopefully anyway return to see more of these two countries.

Air France/KLM

My outbound flight to Bogotá would be operated by Air France, while the return journey would be on KLM. The flights in the Americas are two short hops on Copa Airlines. Even though Air France and KLM are in Sky Team and Copa is in Star Alliance, the three airlines do cooperate together and offer codeshare flights.

As I have elite status at both Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue programme as well as with Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles, I would earn valuable frequent flyer miles on all my flights and could also access lounges on all sectors.

The two trans-Atlantic flights would be operated both be operated by Boeing 787s, which would give me the opportunity to directly compare Air France economy class on the 787 with the KLM product on the same aeroplane.

This is how all flights look like on a map:

Bucharest Panama flights
On this trip, I will fly from Bucharest to Bogota via Paris, then travel on to Panama and San José, and fly back via Amsterdam. ©Great Circle Mapper

Highlights

In this Panama trip report, you can expect the following highlights:

– Exploring the bustling Colombian capital of Bogotá
– Admiring the old and the new in Panama City
– A day on beautiful Taboga island
– Visiting the UNESCO world heritage sights of the Portobelo Forts
– Some R&R on tropical Isla Mamay
– A head-to-head comparison between Air France and KLM on the Boeing 787

taboga island
Arriving on beautiful Taboga Island. ©Paliparan
taboga flower
A beautiful wild flower on Taboga, an island in the Pacific Ocean a few miles out of Panama City. ©Paliparan
panama city street casco viejo
Casco Viejo – the old town of Panama City. ©Paliparan
isla mamay beach
Arriving at the main beach of Isla Mamay. ©Paliparan

Trip report index

This trip report consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Air France Economy Class Bucharest to Paris (Airbus A320)
2. Review: Air France Business Lounge Paris CDG Airport Terminal 2E – Hall K
3. Review: Air France Economy Class Paris to Bogota (Boeing 787)
4. Review: Hotel Morrison 114, Bogota, Colombia
5. A Short One-Day Stopover in Bogota, Colombia
6. Review: Copa Club Bogota Airport, Colombia
7. Review: Copa Airlines Economy Class Panama to Bogota (Embraer RJ-190)
8. Review: Tryp by Wyndham Panama Centro
9. Visiting the Panama Canal
10. Panama City and the Casco Viejo
11. A day trip to Isla Taboga – the island of flowers
12. A Panama Day Trip to the Portobelo Forts and Tropical Isla Mamay
13. Review: Copa Airlines business class lounge Panama Airport
14. Review: Copa Airlines economy class Panama to San José (Boeing 737 MAX)
15. A day in the Costa Rican capital of San José
16. Review: Santamaria VIP Lounge San José Airport
17. Review: KLM economy class San José to Amsterdam (Boeing 787)
18. Review: KLM Crown Lounge (Non-Schengen) Amsterdam Airport
19. Review: KLM economy class Amsterdam-Bucharest (Boeing 737-800)

Koen

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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