Our Trip to Panama: The Ugly Side of Travel

Our Trip to Panama: The Ugly Side of Travel

On our trip to Panama, we came to the realization that we will not always like every place we visit and things don’t always work out if you just wing it.


Our Trip to Panama: The Ugly Side of Travel


This photo basically sums up our trip to Panama.

I may be exaggerating, but only slightly. We have come to the realization that we will not always like every place we visit and more importantly, things don’t always work out if you just wing it. Our travel style is generally to go with the flow and not make reservations ahead of time. We have found this gives us more freedom and often leaves room for spontaneity.

This time we were not so lucky.

To make a long story short, we did have accommodation booked in Panama months ahead of time since this was supposed to be a relaxing surf trip. We didn’t want to be traveling around trying to see all of Panama in a week, so we instead found an island with a bunch of nearby surf breaks. It wasn’t until we found this “amazing” island that we made the decision to book flights to Panama.

Three days before we embarked on our trip to Panama, we got a surprising email informing us that we could no longer stay on the island. We will go into details about this in a later post entitled, Morro Negrito Surf Camp Review.

This threw a bit of a wrench in our plans, but we decided that instead of canceling our trip, we would just find another beach town to spend our lazy, surf-filled days.

Upon researching a new town to stay in, we realized we would be visiting during a huge Panamanian Holiday. A few of the hotels/surf camps that we emailed before we left said it would be extremely crowded from November 3rd through the 6th. Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave Panama until November 5th.

I told Scott that we could just figure things out once we got there. We had a couple of tentative accommodation options in the town of San Carlos and one in Playa Venao for the first few days of our trip.

Once we made it to San Carlos we found that those tentative places only had accommodation up until the 2nd of November. We spent the rest of our first day in Panama, after a red eye flight from the States and a two hour bus ride, in our room – Skyping, emailing and researching where we would stay the last two nights of our trip.

Our current accommodation wasn’t exactly ideal either. The ocean was as flat as it gets and we were paying $60 US per night. For most of the three days we spent in San Carlos, the town had no running water, which means all of the restaurants in town were not cooking food and our toilet looked like a porta potty.

Our only savior was the owner of this apartment complex who turned out to be a really cool hippie from San Diego.

After two days of plugging away on the computer, trying to find a place to stay and figuring out if we would even be able to catch a bus back to the city during the holiday rush, we decided to throw in the towel. We were exhausted, not having fun and didn’t want to spend any more time on the computer when this was supposed to be a vacation.

Now, if we didn’t have time constraints, this wouldn’t have been a big problem. We could have hopped on a bus to Costa Rica to get away from the holiday crowds in Panama. But the way our life is now, we value time way more than the money we spent changing our flight to come home early.

We already live in a spectacular place and we were lucky enough to come home to seventy degree weather and some really fun waves. We normally don’t get to surf during the day unless it’s on the weekend, so we took advantage and spent time relaxing at home, surfing with friends and eating Mexican food that I had been craving the whole time I was in Panama. Something about speaking Spanish makes me want Mexican food.

We were a little disappointed in ourselves for coming home early, but it’s the best choice we could make when faced with crappy circumstances.

Maybe this was a really expensive lesson for me to learn about researching holidays before I book a trip. For some reason, I always book trips on huge holidays without even realizing it. This isn’t the first time I have made this mistake, but hopefully it will be the last.

If you want to find out more about our staycation in San Diego, you may be interested in this How to Take a Staycation post.



As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I’m also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read my Privacy Policy

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I am a Canadian living in San Carlos. The surf, the people, the sights, the beaches are all top notch as far as we are concerned. I can’t believe what a terrible experience you had! Not reflective of Panama or San Carlos at all! We’ve lived here just under one year.

  2. I agree, definitely give Panama another chance. I am from the States but also have my legal permanent residency status in Panama. That was probably the absolute worst time to schedule a trip to Panama. It seems like Christmas, 4th of July and Thanksgiving rolled in to one and nothing seems to happen during that time. Additionally, I’m thinking that from early Nov until after new years things might not be as desirable there from a service stand point compared to in the US. I really love Panama as it’s a more legitimate feeling country that isn’t set up to mainly cater to tourists there to get drunk (obviously not why you were there).

  3. Lisabel Elsea says:

    I actually found your blog because I am planning a trip to Havuspui Falls since I live in Phoenix now. Being born and raised in Panama, and knowing what an amazing country it is, it really saddened me to read about your experience. This is why most people travel to Costa Rica, and skip Panama. The issues with the not having water happens in the city itself and then the people. In your case, a fellow American. Bummer. Hope that someday you will give Panama another chance. Looks like this trip was a while ago 🙂 Thanks for all your reviews, I am stoked to check out Havuspui Falls!

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      Hi Lisabel. We would definitely give Panama another chance. I don’t like to rule out an entire country because of a couple of bad experiences. It was just bad timing and unfortunate because the company we booked with had changed things on us last minute. I hope you enjoy Havasupai!

  4. Raymond @ Man On The Lam says:

    Sometimes you just gotta cut your losses and hightail it out of there. Sad that you didn’t get what you hoped for though.

  5. suzyguese says:

    I really admire you guys for getting out of there. So often you read travelers telling you to stick it out and just rough it some how. I am a firm believer in leaving if you are not getting the most out of the experience. That is a good travel tip though to keep in mind. Don’t book travels around holidays. I haven’t had this happen to me yet, but it is something to keep in mind once you have those travel dates I guess. Sounds like your accommodations that bailed on you really started the domino effect of this trip’s demise.

  6. You mentioned this to me, but I’m just now reading your post. I’m sorry this happened! I love some festivals, and others can wreck a trip because of crowds, tourists and ski-high prices. Sometimes there is no way to predict… 🙁

  7. Aww I’m sorry to hear that your Panama trip didn’t turn out the way you hope. But now we all know that we got to look up holiday before we go to new places. I usually book my trip at least  1-2 months early. I learned that it’s always harder to book room when it’s getting closer to your travel date through lesson too. But now I know 🙂

  8. Tyler Woychyshyn says:

    I love that you guys acknowledged the trip was sheit and packed it in. So often we’re reluctant to cut our losses. But like you said, time is more valuable than money. Glad you acted on that principle.

  9. Jamie Davy says:

    oh man, nothing worse! at least like you said you were able to get some waves in. 

  10. Technosyncratic says:

    This is exactly what happened to us a few years ago on our very first night backpacking in Europe.  We flew into Paris and originally had a hotel booked, but it cancelled at the last minute.  We just figured we’d fly in and find a place once there, but nothing was available – the cheapest we found was $300/night!  Damn festivals.  We ended up taking a night train to Naples after a red-eye flight and an awful day of hunting, then the train experience was a disaster as well.  *Sigh.*  “Going with the flow and being flexible” can be really over-rated sometimes. 

    Good for you guys for coming home early – it sounds like it was the best decision for you, and sometimes you just have to cut your losses and find something that makes you happier.

  11. Matthew Karsten says:

    I’m a big fan of “winging it” too, but I know one day that strategy will backfire on me. Thanks for sharing.  🙂

  12. Danny and Jillian says:

    I can definitely relate! We came home from Mexico after only 3 days because of the impending storm.  It’s OK to throw in the towel sometimes, especially if you know other activities that can make you happy!

  13. eriksmithdotcom says:

    I got caught off-guard by a couple of holidays when I was in Israel last year, and I was forced to run away from massive crowds. Guess it’s just another thing travel teaches us!

  14. Rease Kirchner says:

    I’m still so bummed for you guys but I think you made the right choice coming home early. I am glad you got a little surfing in!

  15. Mica Ivealis says:

    This has happened to us as well, but somehow we seem to be lucky (*knocks on wood*) and we always find a cheap place to stay and enjoy the festival/party whatever it is. I do know the frustrating feeling when you are just completely over a place (happened to us recently in Singapore) so it does happen and we’ve also made mistakes which have cost us dearly but you know what, if you don’t make the mistake you can’t ever learn!

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      I completely agree. It’s all about what you take from the experience. I try to learn from situations like this and look at the positive things that came from it. We have been lucky in the past and have found places to stay to enjoy festivals, but I think our luck ran out on this trip. 😉

  16. Stephanie - The Travel Chica says:

    There seem to be at least 2 holidays a month in Argentina, so definitely research before you come here 😉

  17. Rachel Whitaker says:

    I can relate to so much of this! My husband and I have been traveling Europe via pet-sitting and housesitting for the past 4 months. It’s been really fun, but we’ve been planning as we go for most of the trip, and we’ve learned that last-minute travel doesn’t really work around here. Way too expensive, easy to find yourself in a crappy gig if you aren’t careful. Even though we’ve had a great time and want to see more, I think we’re headed home soon. We’ve lived and learned. Next trip, we’ll be on top of our planning, instead of the other way around. 🙂