Visiting Kuna Yala (San Blas)

April 16, 2010 Category: Travel guide

A very popular destination among our guests is Kuna Yala (San Blas).  Our location near the Albrook airport is ideal to catch the mostly early morning flights.  We also allow you to leave luggage in storage until you return to meet baggage weight limitations (25 lbs /12.5 kg) and if you arrive with an early flight from San Blas, drop of your luggage and go explore town and check in later when your room is ready.


Hotels or better, cabanas and lodges, are generally very basic and rustic while rates vary from very affordable $ …. to expensive ($100 per person) We recommend the following two hotels for their quality service provided in the past.

Yandup Lodge – ranges $80-$100 per person per night.

Kuanidup Lodge- $90-$100 per person per night.

An advisory, as mentioned earlier packages range in price. They usually include accomodation, 3 meals a day, and 1-2 daily tours. However we’ve heard of many experiences where the guests feel like they didn’t receive what was promised, so be sure to thoroughly research where you are staying and to make sure you know what you are paying for. A tip, always bring extra snacks and drinks and small bills. Some questions you want to ask when booking a lodge in San Blas:

1) what does the package include?

2) Are the bathrooms shared or private? Is there a shower, shared or private?

3) Is there electricity? what hours of the day?

4) Is the lodge near a village or on it’s own island? Some people want to see local culture/life and other prefer to be more isolated.

5) Does the lodge have it’s own beach?

Getting there:
It’s very important to book early.  Flights run 1 a day to the different islands. The main stops are Carti, El Porvenir, and Playon Chico so be sure to check with the lodge where you need to fly to. Flights leave usually at 6AM but can be delayed so try to check the afternoon before to confirm the flight time. Flights run about $110 per person with taxes.

To certain lodges you can go by car, it’s a 2-3 hour drive in a 4×4 car. Some people might find flying more comfortable but if you don’t mind a bit of adventure go by car. It runs $50 per person Roundtrip and pick ups are usually done around 5/6AM at your hotel. If you arrange this yourself be sure to confirm the hour and get the cell# of the driver, it has occurred in the past with some drivers that they simply don’t show up or arrive about 4 hours later.

Due to our experience with other drivers, for our guests we use our own trusted and licensed tourism taxi driver, Julian. The trip is $75 per person Round-trip.

Getting to the Balboa Inn

February 18, 2010 Category: Getting here:

Since we are a relatively new kid on the block, few people, including taxi drivers, know our location. Or worse, they think they know, but they really don’t.

So, to help you, or your taxi driver, or friends that plan to pick you up or take you to the Balboa Inn, we created this section, detailing every possible approach.

We don’t think we can make it any clear so if you still can’t find us after studying this section, we will request the competent authority to revoke your driving licence :-).

As a general guidance, below an updated and corrected Google map and two pictures of the important landmark, the “Instituto Marina Mercante”, which is where you enter the street leading to the Balboa Inn.

Corrected map of Balboa area


to/from Albrook Airport

February 18, 2010 Category: - from Albrook airport

Albrook Airport (officially Marcos A. Gelabert) is only a 5 minute taxi ride away from the Balboa Inn. Walking isn’t really an option due to lack of sidewalks and busy traffic in one particular area.

Getting there
To get to Albrook airport we can either call you a taxi or you walk two blocks and flag one down on the street. If you have an early morning departure let us know a day in advance to arrange a taxi ahead of time so you won’t miss your flight.

If you have a rental car, ask our reception staff for a copy of our ‘how to get to Albrook airport’ sheet or print the Albrook Airport info sheet.

Getting to the Balboa Inn from Albrook Airport
Simply get a taxi at the airport. Make SURE you carry a printed copy of this sheet !  The fare should be $ 5.  We can arrange pickup but since the local airlines have a habit of arriving a little after scheduled times, the fee will be $ 5-6, depending on the waiting time.

If you have rental car, it’s easy too. Just print the Albrook Airport info sheet with directions.  If the car has a GPS map, we’re under ‘accommodations’, ‘Balboa Inn’.  But, since the car-rental company may not carry the latest version of the map, better print that info sheet anyway.

Below a few images to show exactly how close we are.  Please note the handmade map (2nd image) is not totally up-to-date except for the area close to the Balboa Inn itself.

- Bridge of Americas

February 17, 2010 Category: - from Bridge of Americas

Finding us when you return from the other side of the Canal over the Bridge of the Americas is very easy.

  • Take the first exit to the right after crossing the bridge
  • Follow the road and continue to the right at the intersection
  • After about half a mile, there’s a traffic light; make a right
  • Take the first street on your left (1/3 mile) where there’s a blue/white building on the corner called ‘Instituto Marina Mercante’
  • At the stop sign continue straight
  • Continue into the neighborhood and pass 5 speed bumps
  • About 50 yards after the 5th speed bump you’ll find the Balboa Inn on your right hand side

The pictures below make it even clearer.

Getting here by taxi

February 16, 2010 Category: - By taxi

If you have not arranged our airport transfer service and come by taxi, especially late at night, these instructions will help your driver find us. Remember, we’re a relatively new kids on the block so few taxi drivers know our location. Or, they simply assume we are another B&B like La Estancia or a back-packer hostel called ‘Balboa Bay’.  And as we still have to meet the first taxi driver who can read maps, they are not of much use either. However, we have included one below for your own reference.

So PLEASE print this page – or better, this PDF file – and take it with you and save yourself from possible frustration.

  • Quiero ir a Balboa (area revertida). Primero al Instituto Marina
    Mercante el cual se encuentra frente la escuela Bolivar. Allí
    entramos. A cien metros hay una intersección: seguimos recto,
    pasando cinco (5) policias muertas .
      Despues del quinto,
    apenas saliendo de la curva esta la casa 2311-A a su mano
    derecha.  Es la parte izquierda de un duplex. 

    Tiene un escudo pintado en la pared de fondo de la cochera que
    dice ‘Balboa Inn’.

    Teléfonos: 314-1520 / 6618-4414    


Getting here from Gamboa & Clayton

February 15, 2010 Category: - from Clayton/Gamboa

If you are in Gamboa, simply drive to the city taking the only road that takes you there.  First you pass the Pedro Miguel locks (on your right hand).  After crossing the railroad there, in about 10 minutes you’ll pass Clayton (former military barracks on your left hand and a big sign “Ciudad del Saber” (City of Knowledge).    The image below gives you an aerial view of this area. 

Continue on this road along the railroad track.  It’s now less than 5 minutes to the first traffic light.  At the 2nd traffic light, about 1 mile ahead, you’ll see a huge sign of ‘Supermercados REY’ on your left.  From then on, the maps of the Albrook airport section will help you.

Panama: Yours to discover

January 23, 2010 Category: About Panama

In this section we provide you with information to help you make the most out of your time in Panama so you can discover this beautiful country in the most enjoyable way.

Panama City is an ideal starting point for several one-day trips (see our travel guide section) but also has its own attractions.  You can easily spend 3 full days to discover the city’s own attractions so plan your vacation accordingly.

For those of you who like history (we do), we have a few interesting leads that will make your trip to Panama even more rewarding when you visit the sites we discuss.

If something you’d like to know more about is not covered here or if you have a suggestion on what we should add, please let us know.  Meanwhile, enjoy this section.

Ancon Hill- Panama City’s landmark

January 02, 2010 Category: Travel guide

When you look from your (back) room window in the Balboa Inn, you can’t fail to see the imposing ‘Cerro Ancón’. Ancon Hill is a steep 654-foot hill which overlooks Panama City, Panama. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the area.


It was under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone for much of the 20th Century, and therefore was never developed like most of the surrounding urbanized parts of the city. The lower slopes contained residences and the Gorgas Hospital. Higher up the hill were the residence of the Governor of the Canal Zone, and Quarry Heights, where the U.S. Southern Command was located. Quarry Heights was named for being adjacent to a large rock quarry on one side of the hill, which left a visible cliff face on one side. The hill contains an abandoned undeground bunker once manned by the U.S. Southern Command.

As much of it was undeveloped, it became a sort of “island” in an urban area, where wildlife still survived cut off from other jungle areas. It is not uncommon to see sloths, coatimundi, armadillos or deer on Ancon Hill which status is now protected. Its name is used as an acronym by Panama’s environmental group, Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (ANCON) which has its offices there.

It’s a really nice hike up the hill – best in the morning – and at just a few minutes from the Balboa Inn its a nice way to get your day started in Panama. If you don’t want to make the sweaty hike have a cab take you up and you can enjoy the views on your walk down.

Miraflores Locks/ Visitors Center

January 02, 2010 Category: Travel guide

The Panama Canal locks at Miraflores mark the Pacific entry of the Panama Canal. At just 10 minutes by car from the Balboa Inn, you don’t want to miss this one.

The Miraflores Visitor Center is the perfect location to watch the operations of the Panama Canal and to learn more about how the Canal works and its history. The facility includes three observation terraces, a full-outfitted theater, 2 snack bars, a restaurant with the best views in Panama City and of course…the gift shop.

The visitor center provides interactive elements that explain to you more about the functions of the canal along with video presentations and actual historic pieces. These elements are divided into four exhibition halls; the History Hall, the Hall of Water, the Canal in Action, and the Canal in the World. Each exhbition hall as evident from its title provides insight into separate aspects of the Canal.

Getting to the Miraflores Visitor Center is easy, its close to Panama City and very popular so grabbing a taxi there will be no problem. And if you can come to the center in the afternoon and have a drink in their restaurant and enjoy the amazing views from the terrace. If you’re staying for dinner be sure to make reservations prior.

The hours for the Visitor’s Center are:
Monday-Sunday, holidays included
Ticket Office: 9am-4pm
Exhibition Halls/Snack Bar/Gift Shop: 9am-5pm
Restaurant: 12pm-11pm

Ticket Prices for Visitors Exhibtion Center (Non Residents):

Complete Package
(exhibitions, observation decks, snack bars, restaurant and gift shop)

Adults- $8

Students/Minors (5 to 17yrs)- $5

Children under 5- Free

Partial Package
(ground terrace, snack bars, restaurant and gift shop)

Adults- $5

Students/ Minors (5 to 17rs) -$3

Children under 5- Free

* Rates for Nationals/Residents are about half these prices, so if you are a Jubilado be sure to bring your carnet.

La Pollera, Panama’s national dress

January 01, 2010 Category: Culture

polleras-blogThe Pollera is the most beautiful and admired national costume of the Americas. There are many tales related about its origin, but the popular opinion is that it was adapted from a gypsy dress worn in Spain at the time of the conquest of Peru and brought to Panama by the servants of the colonial families. It normally consists of a blouse or shirt and a two-tiered full skirt.
The lavish satins and brocades that made up the dress of society at that time were not suited to the tropical climate and the servants’ garb was appropriated by the mistress and enhanced with lace and embroidery. It was not worn outside of the home but gradually the ladies added more lace and ribbons, ornaments for the hair (tembleques) and jewelry for the neck and eventually it made its way into the public eye.

The experts agree that the ground cloth must be white and the 12 yards of material required can be fine linen, cambric or voile. The motifs may be formed by birds, flowers, fruit, vines, garlands or native designs. The height of elegance is achieved when these designs are executed in “talco en sombra” which is hand-sewn appliqué; however, they can be also created in cross stitch or embroidery. The cost of the gala costumes runs into hundreds and sometimes, thousands of dollars, depending on the hand work involved.

The basic pieces of the pollera are the gown or upper part, the skirt or lower part and the petticoat or underskirt. The gown or blouse consists of two ruffles, appliquéd or embroidered in favored color and design edged with valencienne lace and gracefully draped from handmade thread lace insertion at the neckline (this blouse is worn off the shoulder.) Wool is woven in and out of the insertions and two big pom-poms are centered at the chest and back. The wool must be the same color as the shoes, which are heel-less and made from velvet or satin.


The skirt is two wide pieces ornamented with the chosen motif and joined together with insertion and bordered with insertion and lace. It is very fully gathered on a waist band. Four wide ribbons hang from the waist, two in the center front and two in the back–they are called “gallardetes”, meaning “graceful streamers”. The petticoat is often as elaborate as the skirt but is always pure white and the trimming is hand-made thread lace

The ornaments, “tembleques”, for the hair are exquisite. A large tortoise shell comb embellished with pearls and gold is worn on top of the head and resembles a crown. This is the key piece and the gold hairpins and tembleques, which are quivering pins and worn in pairs, are placed on the head to give the appearance of a radiant halo. Two small discs tied to the hair at the temples with black silk thread and large gold filigree earrings with pearls or corals complete the head dress.

The jewelry adorning the neck usually consists of a pearl or coral rosary, a flat gold chain or “cadena chata”, a chain of gold coins and a gold cross on a black velvet ribbon worn as a choker. The jewelry worn with the pollera in the olden days was indicative of one’s wealth and sometimes as many as a dozen chains were worn, all of pure gold and precious gems. A large gold and pearl button or rosetta is worn over the wool pom-pom and a purse suspended from the waistline and fastened with two gold brooches is the finishing touch.

Four days before Ash Wednesday are “carnival” days and La Pollera comes into its own. The streets are filled with merry makers and each Pollera one sees seems to be more beautiful that the last. La Pollera has to be seen to appreciate the work and imagination that produces this loveliest of dresses. The grace and enchantment of the Panamanian women is never more in evidence that when she is wearing La Pollera.