I took a last minute trip to Panama as a personal getaway. I had only three days to spend in the country and do not regret for a minute that I spent the majority of it in Gamboa at Ivan's. In fact, I was thrilled and the three days felt like 10. Very relaxing. Extremely pleasant.
My experience with Ivan started via an online reservation through his website. (If you have trouble, be patient, the internet service in Gamboa is not reliable and Ivan is plagued by outages.) Ivan was very helpful and even sent driving directions on how to get to Gamboa. If you are renting a car, follow Ivan's directions to the letter. Dead on, didn't get lost, and probably saved myself 45 minutes avoiding a traffic jam.
There's a big resort in Gamboa, but I wasn't looking for a sterile four star experience. I went to see wildlife and relax. That's what Ivan's is ideal for.
I spent a lot of time looking for birds and critters on the Pipeline Road. Ivan is about as knowledgeable on the local wildlife as you could want. There were three men staying there while I was there, one was a very serious nature photographer. On this trip, they had a specific goal. They wanted to photograph a pit viper! Ivan knew just the guide to recommend and although I left before they completed their trip, they came home after days and late nights out very satisfied and excited with what they'd seen.
Since I'm no expert, I usually came back to the house with vague descriptions of what animals and birds I'd seen. Ivan was always quick to grab a bird book or his computer to help me identify what it was.
In addition, Ivan himself can serve as a birding/nature guide. I tended to seek solitude, but did venture out with Ivan on one occasion and his enthusiasm was contagious. He truly loves the wildlife in Panama and can tell you all about it.
Other highlights? There were a lot. Home-cooked Panamanian breakfasts and suppers using recipes and ingredients I'd never heard of before. They were delicious. Another special treat was a brief tour of the town, where Ivan showed me the dugout canoes in the town used for the annual race down the Panama Canal (both of Ivan's children have competed in this event.) Last (and least), there was a mini-fridge stocked with coca-cola and beer with a notebook nearby to log your "purchases." This simple honor system bar was perfect for self-service at whatever time I returned from my Treks.
I could go on and on. To be honest, I didn't even have to leave Ivan's backyard to get some great wildlife sitings: Toucans, all sorts of colorful birds I'd never seen before, and even a family of agoutis who walked around as happily as a family of squirrels would in the states. Just to give you an idea, at one point I was sitting in Ivan's back yard and heard some voices in the yard next door. I glanced over to see a full group of tourists with binoculars raised to their eyes-- apparently Ivan's yard and his neighbor's were a stop on a birding tour. Later in my stay, a mot-mot landed right on Ivan's bar near the mini-fridge and posed for a picture (of course, my flash didn't work.)
The room was clean. The bed was comfortable. Nothing fancy, but just as good as what I have at my own house. They put ice water next to the bed and I was amazed to find it still cold at the end of the day. Extremely hospitable.
As a woman traveling alone, I felt completely secure the entire time I stayed at Ivan's. Basically, you are staying at his house with his family and they are wonderful.
I could go on and on and on, but will close with this: If you like nature and prefer low-key local experiences to cookie-cutter sequestered holidays, Ivan's is the place for you.
PS. Excuse my photos. Disposable camera and inept photographer.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Our B&B was found in 2005 and it is in the historic town of Gamboa located aprox 25 Km from Panama City. The house was built totally in wood under rustic structures in 1936 Our family operated B&B is mostly dedicated to Birding and Nature observation comprised of 4 rooms, 2 rooms located in the ground floor and 2 rooms located in the upper floor all with full privacy & comforts. Our service objective is focused on personalized attention to our guest, The historic Town of Gamboa is mainly a residential area without commercial activity . Gamboa is located within the Soberania National Park offering superb biodiversity of plants, birds, mammals and insects. Please note there are no supermarkets, restaurants, bars and /or cafe's in the residential area ... more less