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Visiting with young kids - Gamboa? Pearl Islands? Bocas?

Arlington, Virginia
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Visiting with young kids - Gamboa? Pearl Islands? Bocas?

Our family (2 adults, a 5 year old and almost 2 year old) are probably planning a trip to Panama around the first of May, probably for around 9-10 days. We are normally pretty adventurous and off-the-beaten path travelers, but now with the two young kids, we need to make sure we're planning appropriately for them, and would love some advice. We'd like to do a few days in Panama City, a few days checking out jungles/wildlife and a few days at the beach, plus learning more about some of the native Indian cultures would be great too. I'm a little afraid the places I would normally gravitate towards (Guna Yala islands, the Western Highlands, Darien) would be too much for our kids to handle (due to long travel time, or too much boat travel, or safety/health issues).

It seems like the Gamboa area would be the easiest way to do jungle/wildlife with the kids, but it looks like the only hotel that allows kids is the big resort. Are we going to feel like we're trapped on a cruise ship, or would the resort be fun? Are their excursions actually any good, or would it be better to use someone else? I feel like we actually want to stay close, because to travel up from Panama City on a 6-8 hour excursion would be too much for the 2 year old, I'm afraid. Any other great jungle options with kids, either in the Gamboa or another region?

Also, for the beach portion - as I said, I worry that Guna Yala might be too much for the kids, although it sounds wonderful. Would Bocas be better with kids, or should we look at the Pearl Islands? I'd like to be able to get them to beaches/swimming/snorkeling without always having to go on a long boat ride, although a few boat excursions would be fun. Does staying around Bocas require taking a boat trip to do everything? Would the Pearl Islands be easier to get to and navigate with kids? Is there enough to see/do there?

I'd greatly appreciate any advice you all have to offer! Thanks!

Panama City, Panama
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1. Re: Visiting with young kids - Gamboa? Pearl Islands? Bocas?

Gamboa is the closest jungle option to Panama City. So close that you don't really need to stay there. If you want to stay close to it, the resort is the best option, but the Radisson Summit Hotel is a good option too. It's not in Gamboa itself, but it's a 15 minute drive from there.

I haven't done any of the tours that the Gamboa Resort offers, as I think they're a bit pricey. Instead, I've visited the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, in Parque Soberania (close to the world-famous Pipeline Road). It's a great place to visit, very affordable, and you'll help a non-profit organization with your visit. The kids will love climbing up the observation tower in the middle of the jungle. And if you want to experience more of the rainforest, you've got Pipeline Road next to it. Check out the review I wrote some months ago for more information:


Another good jungle option is El Valle de Anton. It's a nice town in the middle of the mountains with plenty of lodging and food options, plenty of trails (India Dormida, Cerro Gaital, etc.) and a zoo that your children might enjoy. If you're sensitive to caged animals, you might want to avoid this, though.

I also agree that San Blas might be too much for your children. If you can spare the flight costs, I think Bocas is the best choice. Plenty of lodging and tours are available. In Las Perlas I've only been to Taboga, and I don't really recommend it, but I've heard that Contadora and San Miguel are nice, even though they're a bit expensive.

Another option is Isla Grande, close to Portobelo, in Colon. It's quite popular among people from the capital, and very close to it.

Finally, although I'm not a big fan of those, there are the all-inclusive hotels in Farallón and Playa Blanca. I prefer the Caribbean beaches over the Pacific beaches, but you can't deny the fact that all-inclusive hotels are a good option when you're traveling with children and want to relax a bit.

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2. Re: Visiting with young kids - Gamboa? Pearl Islands? Bocas?

This involves another flight, but if you all head up to David.

You could look at staying at Pacific Bay resort or at Bocas del Mar. Both are nice quiet family friendly, have food options and are on beach with little or no waves. both have access to easy wild life walks. Boca Chica is just across the way, with island trail and Pacific bay has their own trails.

If you do choose one of these pack your own life vests and masks for the little ones as the local boats may not have their size. It also makes snorkeling for the five year old very easy.

For reliable driver contact panama horizons travel in David, or ask hotel for recommended driver


Bocas del Toro islands, hotels beyond Bocas town are not that far by boat. Just make sure to stay away from beaches with strong currents.

In both cases pack a collapsible insulated bag and pick up snacks and drinks, in towns before venturing off to remote hotels

Kids will love it.

Punta Uva, Costa...
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3. Re: Visiting with young kids - Gamboa? Pearl Islands? Bocas?

My vote for what you have described in Bocas - less hassle for the types of things you seem to be looking for.

That being said, it depends on which island you stay in San Blas regarding the type of experience you have - it is breathtaking! But of course, it's just beach and snorkeling so there are far fewer options for excursions.

Bocas has options for any and all types of travellers and by air it's a short trip from Panama City.

4. Re: Visiting with young kids - Gamboa? Pearl Islands? Bocas?

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