It’s also ideal for groups with teens or tweens. While younger children are
happy with the organized activities of a Kid’s Club, it’s trickier to find travel
experiences that satisfy older kids’ needs for independence and excitement.
Our base in Panama City is the 307-room Dreams Delight Playa Bonita, an
all-inclusive resort situated across Panama City’s Bridge of the Americas, on
a palm-fringed stretch of sand known for impressive Pacific tides. The location
offers the conveniences of a buffet and beachfront vacation along with the
flexibility to enjoy offsite adventures.
Its setting at the edge of a rain-forested peninsula means you don’t have to go
far to experience nature. Our first evening, we watch a condor swoop past our
terrace, spy a giant walking stick insect and fall asleep listening to the surf roll in.
The next morning, we opt for independent exploring. The receding tide has
left tidal pools along the shoreline where budding marine biologists can scout
for urchins, crabs and shells. In the afternoon we adjust to the hot, humid
weather by participating in the resort’s activity program, which includes
kayaking, archery lessons, Latin dance lessons and guided jungle hikes.
Ultimate Family Vacations | SPRING 2018
SPRING 2018 | Ultimate Family Vacations
Traditional dishes such as
soup), offer an authentic taste of local cuisine.
Ready to explore beyond the resort, we
head next to Casco Viejo, Panama City’s Old
Quarter, a 15-minute shuttle ride away. Founded
in 1673, this UNESCO World Heritage Site
features beautifully restored buildings on
Panama Bay. We step inside the Iglesia de
San Jose to admire a mahogany altar covered
in gold leaf that survived the sacking of Old
Panama by pirate Henry Morgan and then
marvel at the atmospheric ruins of the convent
of Santo Domingo.
While much of the Old Quarter has been
restored, it’s scruffy around the edges with
pockets of poverty. Yet it pulses with life. We
watch a father set an inflatable swimming pool
in a barrio alleyway and fill it with water for two
toddlers who splash happily.
The urban images of inequality stay with us.
Back at the resort, my grandson meets up with
his pals playing water volleyball. He gets ready
to join them but then stops to help a young
employee who is pushing a cart laden with wet
pool towels up a steep hill. They talk — mostly
hand gestures — but I hear a few Spanish words
Over the next few days we immerse ourselves in
the natural landscape north of Panama City near
Soberania National Park. An organized tour
begins at the Gamboa base camp at the edge
of the Chagres River, the world’s only river that empties
into two oceans. Towering trees and big-wheeled trucks
in camouflage colours lend the place a
It’s a short hike through the rainforest, surprisingly cool
beneath the leafy canopy. A blue morpho butterfly flits
across our path and we’re soon at our objective, gliding
through the treetops on an aerial tram. From a lookout
tower, we see the Panama Canal, a blue slash through
During an earlier stop at the Panama Canal Miraflores
Visitor Center, we’d learned about the construction of the
77-kilometre canal, a challenge that began in the 1880s
and cost the lives of thousands of workers as they carved
this route through the jungle. While we’d gained an
appreciation of this engineering marvel at the museum,
seeing the canal within its primordial setting is humbling.
Donning life jackets and armed with binoculars, we begin the
next phase of our Gamboa adventure: A boat journey to Monkey
Island across mirrored Gatun Lake. We don’t wait long before we
encounter wildlife. A crocodile slides from the shallows. A snail kite
with a hooked bill alights from the branch of a tree and a turtle basks
on a log. Then, a rumbling noise shakes the trees.
“Howlers,” says my grandson who recognizes their cry from our
travels in Costa Rica.
“Panama is home to seven species of monkeys, “ says the guide
allowing our boat to drift closer to shore. We sit silently waiting
for the elusive Geoffroy’s tamarin, the smallest monkey in Central
America, to make an appearance. We’re soon rewarded by the sight
of a troop of tiny monkeys, each no bigger than my hand.
To learn more, we spend the next afternoon exploring the Museum
of Biodiversity, situated on the Amador Causeway near Dreams
Playa Bonita. Designed by the celebrated Canadian-born architect
Frank Gehry, it contains colourful galleries such as The Great
Exchange depicting the migration of species across the Isthmus
of Panama, a land bridge connecting North and South America.
Life-sized sculptures of extinct creatures such as the woolly
mammoth and the dire wolf, the largest canine the world has ever
seen, tower over us.
It’s dismaying to face the scale of the planet’s disappearing species.
Yet the exhibits also offer hope. New species are being discovered
and others are adapting.
“It’s all part of the cycle of life,” I say.
“Just like the swimming iguana and those duck eggs,” says my
DREAMS PUNTA BONITA ON PLAYA BONITA BEACH ©AMRESORTS
LOOKING FOR MONKEYS NEAR MONKEY ISLAND
ON GATUN LAKE PANAMA ©MICHELE PETERSON
CARGO SHIP ENTERING THE PANAMA CANAL
IGLESIA DE SAN JOSE CHURCH