On this past break, the other interns and I visited Playa Venao which is located southwest of Panama City.
After 6 hours of traveling and switching buses in Las Tablas, we finally arrived at the beach. Playa Venao, which is known to be a great place to surf and a popular place for domestic tourists to visit for the weekend, only has three hotels. Instead of opting to stay on the beach, we stayed at a hostel called EcoVenao. http://www.ecovenao.com/ The first night we splurged and stayed in a new house that was located on a hill overlooking the property. It was so nice to have our own house with a full kitchen, air conditioning and even a hot shower!
EcoVenao was a really interesting place to stay. It is a development which offers visitors the option to stay in houses, dormitories, private rooms, and it also has a bar/restaurant. The development sits on 140 hectares of farmland in which their aim is to “establish a diverse natural forest cover within a financially viable framework” by reforesting the land. I was impressed with the sustainable practices that the developers had implemented such as using local building materials, and employing techniques to deliver clean water to their visitors.
We even got to see some monkeys and other animals!
Since our target market for the tourism project is backpackers, I am very interested is getting to meet more backpackers during my travels. I have stayed at a few hostels in Europe, but never spent a considerable amount of time in one. Although the rooming conditions are not ideal for me, the social situation is incredible. At EcoVenao, despite it being the rainy season, I was able to meet visitors from Panama, Spain, Canada, and Switzerland. It is so interesting to get to know about others careers, culture and past travel experiences.
One night, we went with a staff member from the hostel to see the sea turtles lay their eggs. It was quite an adventure. We squished into a car and drove down a road with no lights which was covered in pot holes. We arrived at an empty parking lot and boarded a small, old boat. After a 30 minute, moonlit boat ride we arrived on Isla Canas. There was currently no electricity on the island so the moon was the only thing providing light.
We walked along the beach in search of the turtles. We were only able to find a few. One had already laid its eggs and was going back out to sea and the other was in the process of laying its eggs. I was shocked that the Panamanian woman who took us there was running after the turtles and taking flash photos of them. She and the local guide were encouraging us to do the same and get in the pictures. Before we went on the trip, we read that you should wear dark clothes and getting close to the turtles was not allowed. Really just common sense rules. I just couldn’t believe that the locals were supporting these awful behaviors as it clearly disturbed the turtles.
The locals have a major issue with the turtle’s eggs being stolen or eaten by other animals. Therefore, they have volunteers who guard the turtles and collect their eggs once they are buried. All of the turtle eggs are put into a fenced in, locked “yard” on the beach where they will hatch. The turtles will stay there until they are strong enough to protect themselves from predators. I thought it was a great practice in order to protect the baby turtles and continue to grow the population of sea turtles. On one hand, the locals have this initiative in practice to protect the baby turtles, but on the other hand they are taking pictures with flashes. Some further education needs to take place with these locals.
For more information on Isla Canas: http://www.panamatours.com/Rainforest/canas_eng.htm
I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in visiting Playa Venao stay at EcoVenao. It is not only the least expensive place to stay in the area, but the staff is very accommodating, the food is delicious and there are a diverse set of activities offered such as surfing, and horseback riding. I would also recommend buying food in Chitre and renting a car to drive there! Here is the official site for Pedasi and Playa Venao: www.pedasi.com
While in Panama, I want to start exploring more. There are so many places to visit right outside the city. Here is the ever-growing list of day trips I want to take:
-Gamboa, and Gatun Lake
-Pearl Islands whale watch
I’m open to other recommendations if you have any. Please leave a comment below and tell me where I should go, be it in the city or outside!