Cruising Notes - El Salvador to Panama from Gwen & Don sv Tackless II
Western Caribbean/Panama Area Nets
Central American Breakfast Club ? 7083 LSB at 1300 UTC -- Ham Net, Willie, TI8ZWW of Pacific Child, irregularly comes up to give weather. He is very knowledgeable about this coast. Hehas been based in Golfito when not cruising.
Panama Connection Net ? 8107 USB at 1330 UTC ? SSB Net for both sides of Panama.
Pan Pacific Net ? 8143 USB at 1400 UTC?SSB Net for Boats cruising Pacific side of Central America.
North West Caribbean Net ? 8188 USB at 1400 UTC ? SSB Net for NW Caribbean
Other Nets/Eastern & Central Caribbean
Caribbean Emergency WX Net ? 7165 LSB at 1030 UTC ? Earliest weather report, from Barbados & Trinidad. Note: Can't participate without and Extra License
Alex's Net ? 8155 USB at 1130 UTC ? more informal chat net by Alex of sv Albatross, usually based in Margarita. Does a brief but good weather report for southern Caribbean right at start.
Cruiser's Hailing Net ? 8104 USB at 1200 UTC ? Open boat to boat contact for 15 minutes, mostly eastern Caribbean
Safety and Security Net ? 8104 USB at 1215 UTC ? Slightly obsessive report monitoring theft and security problems throughout the Caribbean.
David Jones (uses call sign ?Misstine?) Weather -- 8104 USB at 1230 UTC - Rapid fire delivery of comprehensive weather for Caribbean and SW North Atlantic. This is the net you have to pay $100 (or whatever is current) to be able to talk to him. He offers the useful emergency contact service. If you wait til the absolute end of his broadcast you can call as a non-subscriber to get info about his service. He also has a very good website at www.caribwx.com.
David Jones Weather Redux -- 12359 USB at 1300 UTC - David does a second broadcast aimed at Western Caribbean. Same deal. (Also does one on 16 megahertz.)
Bahia del Sol: Although we did not stop in Bahaia de Sol, which is about 30 miles west of Barillas, we have had many good reports of the facility, with the chief reservation being the approach across the bar. The resort will come out and guide you in in daylight hours, and slack tide is the preferred time. In any kind of sea, it would be prudent to give it a miss. The advantage of Bahia del Sol over Barillas is said to be more ?independence? with public buses outside the gate, plus a very attentive hospitality. Neener 3 sent us this informationfor getting into Bahia del Sol.
? The stand by waypoint for Bahia del Sol is: 13'15.7N 88'53.48W which is 2 miles offshore, we anchored 3/8 mile from shore, with offshore breeze, at: 13'15.050N 88'52.190W which is 1/4 mile east of the entrance, in 38' good holding sandy bottom.........if it is blowing, the depth at the waiting waypoint is still only 58', 2 miles off, possible to anchor with plenty of room to the beach, try to time arrival to high tide (La Libertad +40 minutes), we went out Monday on the hotel 700 hp boat and check depths, found 2 channels through bar, never saw less than 16' at either channel, the channel is deep at the narrowest part, 30-50', it's were it(sand) fans out in front that gets shallow and moves around like sand dunes on land.....the 2 big tides a day move lots of water through the bar, both ways.......also flushes the lagoon and you can go in the water at the higher tides, some boats make water then too, not us.............there are lots of people here on weekends, only an hour to San Salvador by car, 2 by bus, many wealthy Salvadorians have beach homes here, with hot boats and jet skiis......-FRI, very quiet again.......The lagoon is huge, will handle many boats, ranges from 15-30' depth and runs beyond the hotel for 16 kilometers, paralleling the beach on other side of peninsula, that's about it, oh, their building 16 slips at the hotel, 2 showers by pool for cruising boats, this is going in now, as we speak, 30% discount on all meals, drinks, internet, laundry, have a few moorings you can hook up to to go inland, the hotel picks up at the airport and brings them to the hotel to do your check-in/out......?
Barillas Marina: Rendezvous waypoint is 13*07.126N; -88*24.977. Call Barillas Marina one hour before reaching waypoint and panga will meet you to guide you in behind the reef and up the maze of mangrove channels. Reef entry is wide and easy. Manager is Heriberto Pineda. You can email him in advance at email@example.com, but it is not necessary. Marina has 75 moorings along the mangrove channel at $8 per night. Very tranquil with lots of bird life, cool nights and only about an hour of bugs before sunset. Hourly panga service to shore. Compound has lovely pool, jacuzzi, palapas with Internet hook-ups, air-conditioned computer room with a dozen or so machines, tiny convenience store, laundry service, fuel dock (Diesel @$1.75) and a pretty restaurant facility with very limited and pricey choices as well as limited hours. Assume all services to cost you, except for the Tuesday and Friday shuttle to Usulutan for shopping. Nice supermarket and great street vegie vendors, especially back in. Very nice golden cage! If you want to do a tour to San Salvador or anywhere, including Guatemala, inquire about Discover El Salvador. The guides, Celina & Max, are truly special people, with a very nice air-conditioned van. A trip to San Salvador can include a stop at Price Smart.
?No Name?: (about 30 hrs at 5kts from Barillas) pretty much as presented in The Forgotton Middle. For offshore waypoint use 11*30.036N; 086*12.572W. You can turn in a little earlier if you can see. Waypoint in the book is the at-anchor waypoint. Try to get in before dark and note position of buoys marking traps if planning a pre-dawn departure. We found clear passage out before dawn from the anchoring waypoint on a course of 260*C.
San Juan del Sur: We enjoyed our stop here. Very dramatic entrance with big cliff on south side. Lots of fishing vessels on south side of anchorage. As you enter try calling ?Ivy Rose? on VHF !6. Sid is a cruiser who has been hanging out there awhile. We anchored in 28' (HT) at 11*15.390N 085*52.590W. The surf will break in front of you, but the wind will hold you steady. The Port Captain & aide will come to your boat in blue camies! Their Spanish is hard to understand, but very welcoming. They will do a search. I called the Capitania on VHF 16 out of politeness as we anchored. Capitania is the brown A-frame on the hilltop. If you just want a quickie rest stop, with maybe a meal ashore, he will probably let you stop with no paperwork. If you want to stay longer, you will have to take a taxi (around $15) to ?frontiera? for Immigration.. This allows you to see Lago Nicaragua with its two impressive volcanoes in the middle. Fees were $15 Port Captain arrival, $9 pp Immigration in-and-out; $15 for the boat at Immigration (?Customs) and $10 for the zarpe.
San Juan del Sur is a charming beach town, relatively upscale for Central America. A launch ? a be-fendered local fishing boat ? will collect you and carry you to port facility. From there an easy walk into town. No supermarket, but there are corner tiendas and there is a fresh market about two block in. We bought Flor de Cana rum by the case for about $4.80 a bottle from a corner teinda (ask Sid) and you can do a $1 better if you are there on a Wednesday buying from the truck (See the gal at Riccardo's Bar ? burgers ?real and tofu -- etc and young beach scene.) Good breakfast at Sunrise Café (aka Iguana Bar) offered by Canadians morning through midday. We had a great shrimp diablo from El Globo.
?Bahia Santa Elena.? As per the book, but definitely one of the most beautiful bays we have ever anchored in. We anchored in NE corner near fishing camp as shown in CC. No bugs. We snorkeled out at mouth of bay on the rocks to the east. OK. There is a river you can explore by dinghy, and a road along coast to west you can walk. Paper nautilus shells have been found on western beach.
Key Point, Cabo Santa Elena. If you need or want to stop at Cabo St. Elena, we overnighted at key Point only we anchored to west of the rocks (10*53.790 085*54.95W) instead of east of them (like the book indicates) based on the advice on Jim McVeigh of Flamingo Marina. We did not feel we were more protected from the hefty gusts, but holding was good with lots of scope. The Bat Islands are very dramatic, and small rays leap like popcorn. Snorkeling was so-so.
Bahia Huevos has a good report, but we didn't stop
Bahia Culebra has several well-protected anchorages. We spent several days at Play Iguanita. Almost as restful as Barillas. The beach to the west of Playa Manta is said to have good clams (little thumbnail-size ones.) Playa Panama had great reputation with Sid & Manuela of Paradise, but seems to be closed by reports?
Playa El Coco is a required stop for entry into the country. Anchorage is no great shakes, beach is 50% dirt, and town has reputation for theft. Lock boat up, don't leave it at night, and chain your dinghy to the dock when ashore. Official offices a little hard to find, but officials very friendly. From the dock, walk along the beach to the right. There will be a small park. Take a left after park. Your will see the post office on your left. Port Captain is behind post office. He will direct you to Immigration, which is along that same street but on the right, just before the Tequila Bar. Had good meal at The Tequila Bar. There is an Internet Café across the street.
Supermercado fairly well stocked, but poor on vegies. I think Tuesday is vegie delivery day.
Bahia Portrero/Marina Flamingo: We liked this bay a lot. Maybe because we had such a rough trip in around Cabo Velas, and it's a big change from points to the south. Very gringo/ resort area. Winds can set up a bit of a chop, but holding was good with lots of scope. No roll. Jim McVeigh runs the marina and small chandlery. Can orchestrate needed parts with patience. Dinghy dock in marina proper. Not much dockage available for transients. Fuel dock in the second basin to the right. Fuel dock easy to get on, but only about 7' of water at low tide! Fuel around $1.50/gal. Water free. Hangout was the Spreader Bar at Mariner Inn, bunch of gringo transplants. Internet at Costa Rica Diving. Good dinner deals at Marie's. Hair cuts and all luxury salon services available at the Paris Salon at Flamingo Beach Hotel. There are no flamingos around, but there are said to be roseate spoonbills. Rental car was available for $28 a day. Nearby is Brasilito. We had a great dinner at the Happy Snapper there (we won it in a raffle!) Also in Brasilito, a top notch Internet café that will allow you to bring in floppies for uploading and downloading. They also have nice breakfasts. An hour away is Santa Cruz which had a surprising market ? Kion ? with some gourmet items, including wasabi, nori etc. While we had the car, we checked out Tamarindo a surfer dude town. (Tamarindo is a popular spots with cruisers that surf. Anchorage looked rolly.)
Bahia Carillo is the recommended stop to break up the trip from Portrero to Gulf of Nicoya. Although the bay is pretty, it's an awful anchorage. The book shows two spots. We chose the one on the left for the room. Very rolly, albeit with good holding. The other spot near the handsome hotel seemed cramped for two boats, esp. with hotel boats there on moorings; also the bottom was billed as sand and rock.
Note: We caught three tuna between Carillo and Cabo Blanco. Also a couple of mahi in gulf of Nicoya.
Bahia Ballena: Delightful stop. Medium pretty, but very calm with howler monkeys in the hills. We anchored in western corner off the cement dock. There is said to be fuel, although none of us did any. Excellent dinner at the Bahia Ballena Yacht Club ? great ceviche, and pargo a la plancha with garlic yum!. On Fridays you can buy organic vegies from the owner of the restaurant (Honey aka Mrs Heart Interface). ?Tambor? itself is down the road, bear to the right. You can walk along the main road or along the beach road. There is a Swiss restaurant towards town called Perle Tambor (on the main road look for obscure sign with a tiny Swiss flag/on the beach road it is a white two story with dense gardens.). Their food was quite different, not local. Doris can arrange horseback riding, which we did when our daughter was visiting. Small horses but well cared for; very good value at $5/hr/pp. Great ride out along beach with howlers overhead. If you can survive a 5-hour ride, you can go to a nice waterfall that drops into the sea!
Islas Tortugas Very pretty spot with the clearest water in Nicoya. Where CC shows ?public access?, many day trip boats anchor during the day and small fishing boats often pass the night. ?They? charge for you to come ashore at the beach! We anchored instead off the near corner of the other island ? Alcatraz ? just on the other side of the cut. Snorkel boats do the little islands to the east. First visit was quite calm; second visit quite rolly. Gorgeous sunsets!
Punta Leona: A really worthwhile rest stop. Anchorage was mostly settled when we were there, but others have chosen to use stern anchor. The Resort is an older one, with development scattered around the huge property, which include both primary and secondary rainforest. Highlights are the nice walking trails and the free nature tours available 3x day (not every day) Sign up at front desk. The pools are nice and there are so-so restaurants and bars. Grounds are gorgeous. Beach access by dinghy, and roll it up. Playa Blanca is a nice beach accessible by stile at SW end of Playa Mantas, and there is a little waterfall on the beachlet on the east side of anchorage.
This is a good place to leave the boat for short inland trips, especially if there are other cruisers in the anchorage to keep an eye on things. You can arrange for rental cars, either National at the front desk, or Budget by phone. Both will deliver the car to Punta Leona. We made several trips to Jaco, a surfer dude town to south with a good supermarket and produce market and Internet. We also did a day trip down to Quepos, managing to get in to ?The Rainmaker?, a fabulous private park with the suspension bridges in the treetops without a reservation. Not cheap but we paid about half price making do with a local Spanish worker as guide rather than the bi-lingual naturalist. We had the place to ourselves! You can email for info at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 506-777-3565. Quepos is a sizeable little town with stores and restaurants for gringos. Nice feather art store. We did not do Manuel Antonio.
We also made a day trip to San Jose (Price Smart and MegaSuper supermarkets, also Ace hardware) about 1:15 hr drive on good roads with some beautiful mountain views. Later we took an overnight (two nights would be better) to Monteverdi. This is supposed to be cloud forest, but when we were there it was crispy clear. The turn to Monteverdi is a fast hour north on the InterAmericana until you turn off and then it is 37 kilometers and 3 ½ hrs on a mostly dreadful 4WD road. Hard to believe this is their major tourist destination! Still it was terrific. We stayed at the Sunset Hotel in Santa Elena, neat clean and I think about $40. Fabulous sunset view. Avg food. We did the Monteverde Canopy Tour (in Santa Elena) and it was a BLAST. Good value, as canopy tours go (this is the cable ride thing.). The sleeper highlight was a turn down a side road between Canopy Tour and Sunset Hotel north to little Tico restaurant which I fear I don't remember the name. The sign has a knife fork and plate on it. The road is dreadful, but the reward is a nice simple meal and (depending, of course on clear weather) a truly awesome view of Vulcan Arenal and Lake Fortuna, a real bonus if your aren't going there independently.
Bahia Herradura/LosSueños: The new Marriott Hotel/Marina has a fuel dock. Otherwise a rolly anchorage and a pricey marina (eg $80/nite for a 44' boat!), although many people like it. Mostly full of sport fishing boats.
Quepos & Manuel AntonioNational Park: We did not stop in at Quepos or Manuel Antonio in the boat. Said to be really rolly and it was really rainy when we passed by. However our sistership Siesta made a stop there in March '03, so I include his information here.
After our stop at the glitzy Los Sueños mega marina in Bahia Herradura described on our previous report, we SAILED (does not happen very often in these light winds) to a beautiful beach anchorage, right off the Manuel Antonio National Park. The anchorage is well marked on Charlie's Charts.
The port of Quepos is right around the corner from this anchorage, and can be easily reached by bus from the village just outside the park. The buses go by every half-hour and the one-way trip costs 90 cents US. Quepos is a quaint town, with reasonable provisioning, Internet access, hardware stores, good Tico food, and a nice walk along the harbor. It used to be an important port in the days of the United Fruit banana plantations. Not much is there now in terms of commercial shipping. The harbor is reported to be rolly, but we did not go there by boat. It did not seem that way from shore.
The picture postcard setting at our anchorage off Manuel Antonio was one of the best we had seen so far in Costa Rica, and one of the best stops ever, including Mexico. The beach was clean, the lush tropical vegetation surrounding it was something you read about, and the water temperature was warm. We spent a lot of time in the water, relaxing and enjoying the sights. We also did some boogie boarding off the next village by the park. Good sized waves!
You come into the anchorage between the two prominent islands well marked on Charlie's, on an approximate bearing of 70 degrees magnetic. Stay between the two islands and anchor as close as you can to the spit on the SE end of the park beach, to minimize the swells, which were very mild when we were there.
It costs $8 a day to anchor off the park. If you want to go into the park, walk the trails, and take a look at the other beautiful bays that are within easy walking distance, you pay $7US per person at the park gate, which is to the left of the anchorage. The park is closed on Mondays. One ranger did not want to have us beach the dinghy. The others did not have a problem with this.
You can dinghy outside the park, in front of a small town by the park, and anchor outside the surf (we grabbed a buoy there). We swam ashore, took a shower across the street for 200 colones/person (385 colones to a US dollar at this time), and got in the bus to check the town out.
In addition to one of the best anchorages we have seen yet (with some modest rolling, we did not put out a stern anchor), we thoroughly enjoyed our hike through the park. It is here that we first saw many monkeys in the wild, macaws, sloths, and all kinds of other birds. Take your camera, and your camera shutter will not get a moment's rest. The sights are postcard quality. The trails are well-marked. There is a lot of public touring the park, since it is easily accessible from Quepos. Ed Marrill, sv Siesta
Drake Bay: We did an overnight trip between Punta Leona and Drake Bay.. Lots of fishing boats, lit but no running lights. Drake can also be rolly, but was settled when we were there. Nice rest. Fringed by wilderness resort camps, simple to elegant. The resort to west reputed to have nice happy hour. Again, I will include Siesta's report from March '03:
BAHIA DRAKE/CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK
After such a tropical experience in Quepos and Manuel Antonio, very different from northern Costa Rica, we were ready to head for Golfito. We needed to check out of Costa Rica there, and move on to Isla Parida. Doug and Lisa of MAMOUNA, buddy boating with us for the last few days, wanted to stop at Drake's Bay, so we figured we would break the trip to Golfito into two day trips and go along. We motorsailed to Drake and arrived there in the middle of the afternoon, expecting to spend an uneventful afternoon and evening, and then head out the next day for Golfito.
As we approached Bahia Drake, we noticed the fairly large Isla del Caño on starboard in the distance, and a mega cruise ship, anchored off Corcovado National Park, about 6 or 8 miles SE of Drake's Bay. This area of the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is one of the most pristine, unpopulated areas of Central America, with few roads, no electric service, but with awesome flora and fauna.
We anchored in 15 feet of water, with good holding, right next to some buoys. We dropped the dink and talked to a panga driver, Alejandro, who agreed to take us to Corcovado the next day round trip for $15/person. You can call Alejandro on VHF 16. A lot of communications in Agujitas, the small town, is done on VHF 16! They reserve tours and even negotiate commissions on channel 16!
After negotiating our visit to the park, we went exploring around a breaker into a small river, between two small tourist resorts. There, we found the pier for the Aguila Osa Resort, stepped onto their dock, and climbed the steep stairways to check the place out. We loved the architecture and the use of richly-finished Costa Rican woods all around. We inquired about dinner, and they told us we needed a reservation by 2pm. Well, it was 4:30pm, and there were six of us. With just a slight bit of coaxing, we got our reservations the same day for a family style dinner, with hors d'oeuvres starting at 6pm.
What a spread, and what ambiance! They started with the best black bean dip Daisy and I have ever had. It included tocino (bacon), plantains, garlic, onions, cilantro and Tabasco. Oh, my! We got the recipe. The banana daiquiris were not included, but we tried them and they were expertly prepared. They sat us, along with the 20 or so guests at the lodge, on three large wooden tables, that were works of art themselves. The silverware and the settings were worthy of some pictures. Then came the carafes of white and red wine, pitcher of refresco de guanabana, freshly baked french bread, and luscious rich salad, all served family style. Serving plates were placed on each table, and they were passed around. Then came the filet mignon's nestled in bacon and the shrimp. The desert was rich chocolate ice cream with banana flambé. Oh, yes! And then a Tico salsa teacher showed up to teach the guests the fine art of salsa dancing. Daisy and I got up and had some fun.
We returned to the boat to get some sleep, and get ready for our next day's adventure. Alejandro picked us up at 9:15am at the boat (we were beginning to wonder, gringos that we are). He took us along one of the most enchanting coastlines we have ever seen. PERIOD! The combination of beautiful beaches bordered by reefs, crystal clear water, and lush tropical vegetation rising into sharp rises in terrain were hard to be matched. We were excited as we proceeded toward the park.
Alejandro skillfully got through the surf, turned the boat around, and then backed in, lifting the big Yamaha outboard, just in the nick of time, as a wave came in. We stepped off just getting our feet wet, ready to start to explore this remote pristine national park. We asked Alejandro to pick us up at 3pm, giving us 5 hours of hiking, exploring and goofing off under the shade of some trees overlooking the beach and the surf.
We paid $8 per person to spend the day at the park, and went exploring on our own. There are market trails there, as well as showers and restrooms at the ranger station. We started our trek through the rain forest, and it did not take long for us to see several species of monkeys, including the reddish endangered spider monkeys. The vegetation was so thick and so varied that is was sensory overload. After an hour or so of walking we saw another group of tourists with a guide, and asked to follow them. The trail lead to some waterfalls, and we all went swimming in this clean, clear and cool water that was very refreshing. We needed this since we were pretty sweaty hiking in the damp rain forest. We had lunch off the waterfall and went back in the water again. It was hard to leave this spot. Words do not do it justice. Neither do pictures, though we took quite a few.
We walked back, retracing our steps, to the ranger station, where we sat by the beach to wait for our guide to return. There were other pangas loading and unloading tourists there, but only a small number. It is difficult and expensive to get here. We saw four college kids on Spring break who had walked from Drake to this station, the same trip we did by boat in 30 minutes. It took them six hours at a brisk pace all over the mountains. They were pretty tired! There is no road to get to the station, not even the beach. Either a 6-hour strenuous hike or a boat ride. The isolation is a big part of the magic of the place.
A little after 3pm, and after another magic maneuvering trick from the panga driver to dodge the surf, we headed back, with the four college kids grabbing a ride with us (they paid $40 for their return trip, which the panga driver was glad to receive), and we all stopped at Playa Jesusito, where a small inn is located. This is where the panga driver lived. There it was more protected and easier to step off the panga. We had some drinks there, and were given a tour of a botanical garden. Armed with a printed list of over 80 species of flora, we walked for almost an hour matching the numbers on the trees with our list.
What a wonderful day in Drake! It rates as one of the highlights of our trip from California to Florida. And to think that we were going to skip it!
San Jose. This, we felt, was a drawback, since the heavy traffic is beginning to take its toll on the resources there. But, the park was still in excellent condition and makes for an unforgettable experience.
We asked about the RAINMAKER rain forest tours in Quepos ($50/person with transportation and lunch), but decided to move on, having done a cable canopy tour in Montezuma, near Ballenas, and loved it. We would have done it, had we had more time. Ed Marrill, sv Siesta
Puerto Jimenez: We were here twice. We liked it. Narrow anchoring shelf between deep and shallow! Plan ahead. Crocodile Bay is a nice sport fish resort, but we've heard they are back to discouraging cruisers using their facilities as high season is back in swing. The town is full of backpackers, Internet Cafes and tour operators to Osa Peninsula. If you hike, a day trip is well worth it. We saw all four monkey species, a huge flock of scarlet macaws up close, toucans, sloths, etc. We booked our hike through Escondido Trex in Restaurant Carolina, but you can get the same guide ? Pedro -- through the beauty salon next door (his girl friend) for less $.
Golfito: A pretty bay gone shabby. We disliked it our first week there (in August), but when we returned everything seemed much nicer, albeit rainier. The bay entrance is buoyed and there is a range. There are three places to go after you turn right past the last buoy (almost ashore!). Samoa is the first ?marina? on your left, The docks are really in poor shape. I stepped between them one night! Can you say disappearing act! But the restaurant is good. Second, you can anchor or take a mooring off Banana Bay Marina for $7/nite which entitles you to their services, including check in and out (we think @$35) their 2-for-1 happy hour, and laundry service, and the best efforts of the security guard. Vulnerable time is in rain showers. Or you can take a slip if available. Quite pricey, but very good facility; we left our boat there for two months. Only really secure option. If you crave a burger this is the place to get it. $5, but definitely, $5's worth! Other cruisers anchor off Las Gaviotas Hotel farther along in the bay. Quite nice facility with good weekend BBQs and a nice pool. Willie of TI8ZWW weather fame, often hangs out here on Pacific Child with his young wife and her son. Prettier, but downside is no security and vulnerability.
Golfito has surprisingly good provisioning. Vegie truck come 2x a week, I think Monday and Thursday, but ask. A Monteverde ?cheese product? truck comes about once every 9 days. Great cheese and yogurt. (Try the smoked cheddar.). Most convenient Internet Café is Coconuts Café. They have a GREAT vegie burrito. Bought a lot of meat from the butcher (; its on the side street that slopes up from the main street just before Coconuts) and it's the right hand (uphill) of the two side by side meat markets.) Pork and Lomito. 3 supermarkets, the first on the left being the best. Mike's Restaurant, out of town to the south, has excellent Hungarian type food, and Mike makes real sausage, breakfast and Italian, the you can buy in bulk. Order ahead.
Also you have the Free Zone. Taxi to the zone with your two passports and obtain your ?tarjeta? (looks like an invoice). Then window shop and make your list of what and where. 24 hours later you can return and buy two cases of beer, two cases of wine, one case of liquor, and $500 of other merchandise per person for good prices. There is one little store that sells Planter's Peanuts, candy, and sundries (shampoo, sunscreen etc) for good prices too.
Panama is well documented by the Zydlers' Panama Guide. Be advised before you leave Golfito that Western Panama does not have any easy access to shopping. There is very little development along the coast, which of course is what makes it so beautiful. Most cruisers clear out of Golfito for Balboa and skip checking in at Puerto Armuelles.. Panama doesn't seem to care that you are in their waters for months before checking in. We cleared out there, and it had some charm, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.
Only options for civilization on this coast are, first, Pedregal and David, and second, Puerto Mutis. Getting up the river to Pedregal is a pain in the ass, either in your own boat (for which you need a pilot and maybe two days), or by panga (3-4 hours on a hard bench in the hot sun!) David, however, is a nice little city, and should you need to leave the boat or make a plane connection Pedregal with its small marina and moorings is a reasonable option. Another alternative is Puerto Mutis, accessed up the Rio San Pedro in the Bahia Montijo just before Punta Mala. This is a relatively easy trip on your own. Go on a rising tide and follow Zydler religiously. A nice sidetrip is Boca de Trinidad. Puerto Mutis is a tiny town (eat at Gladys) in a muddy stretch of river. We anchored in 13' on the opposite shore. There is an hourly bus to the city of Santiago. The bus goes right by the Super 99, a modern supermarket. If you buy too much to carry on the bus you can hire a taxi/pickup for about $12 to bring you back. You can get fuel in Puerto Mutis (there is a dock, but we jugged it). You can even clear into Panama in Puerto Mutis. If you need to leave the boat, (via bus through Santiago ; its about 3 hours to Panama City ) ask around for Carlos Iguana. He is a fisherman who can watch your boat and even run the engine to charge batteries. There is also a young American ? Tom Yust- with a sportfishing business based up the river to chat with. The Port Captain can call him. They don't get many cruisers up here and are tickled when you come.
Punta Burica - A rest stop, protected to west. Anchor waypoint is 08*04.16N; 082*50.84W in about 22', another narrow shelf!
Isla Gamez ? Small island west of Isla Parida. Gorgeous stop. Anchor on North side of palm lined beach.
Islas Secas- Clearest water in Panama. Anchor near 08*04.931N 082*01.897 in front of isthmus. Nice snorkeling on south end on the little island to NE.
Bahia Honda - Gorgeous Bay in the same league as Bahia Santa Elena. Sounds like its still rainy, even in the dry season. That should be slowing down. There is a little island in the center of the bay with a village on it with some stores, ice and a telephone. Where the book shows ?Yacht Club? is a private construction project, part of a huge private development taking place in several locations inside and outside of the bay. They don't seem to mind curious visitors, and we got a tour of the whole premises, including a jaunt out to the residence going up on the island just north of the bay entrance. We chose to anchor away from the construction, way in the sw corner of the main bay off a little honeymoon beach. Gorgeous.
Isla Catalina - Nice lunch stop with yellow sand.
Isla Gubernadora ? In July we had a good anchorage on the east side of the island. We did not like any anchorage along north coast of Cebaco.
That's where we came in from Cocos, having taken the ?long way? around Punta Mala. We have no knowledge of the Punta Mala anchorages.
Gulf of Panama - By the time you get this far there will be many contacts with people who have spent time there. Anchorages change with the season and we were there in March. We liked Contadora, off the nude beach on the south side. We went next to Pedro Gonzales to the southeasternmost anchorage which is a gorgeous palm-lined beach. This can get bouncy if the wind shifts a little east of north, and be sure to stay enough offshore that you can swing. We especially liked Isla Bayoneta (p. 260, the anchor is actually between La Vivienda and Isla Malaga, although it takes some careful navigating to get in. We approached from the south (do not go between La Vivienda and the reefs, although it looks possible, several boats that did hit reef. Take those reefs to port.) and departed, after reconnaissance by dinghy up through Canal Gibraleon at high tide. It is very protected, and a dinghy trip around La Vivienda and to the beach is really nice. Finally, a truly peaceful spot is Isla Espirto Santo, on the east side of Isla de Rey. Launch the dinghy and drive around to the east side and to the tiny unnamed island to the east. It is full of white ibis and we caught some snapper.
We also spent a few nights at Isla Taboga. It is pleasant during the week, but on weekend is plagued by jetskiis and runabouts. Best as a close-to getaway from Panama City.
I won't go into all the Canal Info, as you will get fresher info as you get closer. Simply suffice it to assure you that you don't need an agent. Balboa Yacht club is more expensive than Flamenco anchorage, but a lot more convenient. Your best source of info in the area is Pedro Miguel Boat Club, which is worth visiting for Saturday Night potluck even if you don't plan to stopover there. Good people and a reliable maildrop. They have a Miami address for shipping in parts. Very efficient.
Do try to take in the Canal Museum, especially if you have been able to get through David McCullogh's The Path Between the Seas, a fat tome on the history of the canal, which I found fascinating.. Available in Panama City.
Shopping is outstanding in Panama City. Special highlights. Mini Max for vegies and any Japanese or Chinese product you can imagine! Nearer to Pedro Miguel for daily vegies is Fung Sick, nice vegies and fruits, often all cleaned and diced for you. Nearby is Super Kosher, only place for whole wheat flour, but has many other gourmet items (Try the Syrian breads in the freezer and great canned hummus and eggplant dip, bulk spices, couscous etc.) Price Smart and Mega Max for bulk buying, but Mega Max canned stuffed all too big. Down from Mega Max and Abernathy's (marine supplies and fishing supplies) is a great supermarket with a women's name (escaping me at the moment.) In El Dorado neighborhood, large Novey Hardware store. Just beyond it is a small plaza with a corner grocery that stocks canned chicken and turkey. Only one anybody found! Good Rey Supermarket, too. Liquor can be bought duty free from Motta in Panama City, but its is most economical in a group. (There's a $50 customs agent fee.) If going through Canal, duty free is more readily organized from Free Zone in Colon.
CARIBBEAN SIDE & SAN BLAS
Colon: The marina at Panama Canal Yacht Club isn't bad if you need it. Most people anchor in the flats (be sure you are within the buoys!) and dinghy in. Colon is not quite as bad as its reputation, but it isn't great. Always use a taxi. Shopping is much less good than Panama City. Cruisers occasioanlly organize busses to PC. Colon is best for getting into a buying group for the Free Zone. Very cheap liquor. Double check with the locals boats, but I think you just clear out from Colon to wherever your next major destination is, regardless of plans for the San Blas
Rio Chagres: Although to the west of Colon, this is a lovely getaway. The entrance takes some attention, but the river is goregous. We liked the first major bend. We did motor all the way up river almost to the dam and then came back down. It was not as tough getting back to Colon as we imagined.
Colon to San Blas: It is a bit of work to get east from Colon to the San Blas, but it is well worth it. The San Blas are very special islands with a fascinating culture trying hard to hold on to their own ways. The farther east you can get, the purer your Kuna experience. If you are squeamish about less than US sanitary conditions, don't go. Go open-minded and you will have a delightful time.
Portobello: first anchorage headed east. Gorgeous in its own right. Be sure to hike the forts. Easy busses to Colon, too.
Jose Pobre: Funky little moored ?marina? for boat storage behind a reef, popular w/ Europeans. Not much anchorage outside. Memorable octopus in Jose Pobre restaurant.
Isla Linton: Another nice spot but crowded. Tuck as far in behind Linton as you can to avoid roll. Half tame spider monkey on the island's dock. Keep a distance, can get nasty. Great birds on private estate ashore. Wait here for weather window to go east; leave early. Head for Chichime. Need to get in daylight. Forget Porvenir.
Isla Grande: Busy local vacation hotspot. Rolly anhcorage. Striking pass out towards San Blas (pay attention to charts, submerged reefs.
San Blas Islands: The are several important things you need to know about San Blas. To start, I highly advise you to color in your Zydler charts for the San Blas. There are reefs all over. Zydler is your most dependable resource. Use a different color for islands, for reefs, for recommended anchorages and then highlight the route that looks best for you. This is a huge help.
Next, you need to know about Julie Arias and Panama Yacht Services (email email@example.com; 507-229-7110 or cell phone 613-6337. Julie can help with anything from shopping for you and air freighting it to a strip in San Blas to meeting guests and getting them from one airport to connecting flights etc. She is a delightful person and worth every penny! Fortunately food is so reasonable in Panama City that even with freight and her service fee it is not out of line with the Caribbean. Last, don't try to avoid paying the silahs. Paying the silahs gives you rights in the community.
You could spend years in the San Blas (and many people do) and not see all the islets and anchorages. We'd recommend Chichime Keys, Nuinudup in Eastern Lemon Cays, the Hollandes both West and East (don't get stuck in the ?Swimming Pool?), Coco Banderas, and Green Island and its surrounding islands. (Great dive at western end of Ogopsibudup). You can get some provisions in at Rio Diablo. As you see we missed a lot. We did not do much on the mainland as it was rainier there. If you have time to go farther east, we liked Snug Harbor and Los Pinos particularly.