Category Archives: News

My Tour of Safarick's Zoologico in Maria Chiquita

Last week, Safarick’s Zoologico invited Caribbean Panama Network for a pre-opening VIP tour of the zoo before their grand opening on October 20th. We have been watching the development of Safarick’s Zoo for the past 3 years and have visited the property a few times during construction and so we were very excited for the opportunity to see and experience the first zoo on the Caribbean Coast of Panama and get to know the amazing family that has built this sanctuary and their animals.

We arrived at the Purificacao family home near the zoo late in the evening and were greeted by Antonio, Rita and their kids: 20-year-old Niko, 12-year-old Diago, and 5-year-old Jenna. The house was full of excited chatter in preparation for the first VIP tours the following day. Diago, Niko and their friends from school had been put to the task of guiding the visitors through each enclosure in the zoo so they were up late into the night studying about each animal and practicing their dialogue in English and Spanish. Quite impressive! Meanwhile, Antonio cooked a delicious dinner for all the house guests and Rita prepared the Safarick’s Zoo polo uniforms for everyone to wear the next day. Antonio’s brother Vic was also visiting from Canada to help out at the zoo’s snack bar. The house itself was quite a zoo!

My Tour of Safarick’s Zoologico

The following day we arrived early at Safarick’s Zoo for the grand tour. Nick, Diago and their friends all wore their brand new polos with the Safarick’s Zoo logo embroidered on the front. They excitedly greeted each guest and expertly answered questions about each animal. I, however, had my own special tour guide for the zoo: Antonio and Rita’s 5 year old daughter Jenna. No one on this earth could have been more excited about the grand opening of Safarick’s Zoo than Jenna! She wore her own polo uniform and just could not wait to show me all of her animal friends.


The first stop was the spider monkey and capuchin monkey enclosure. The enclosures are tall and spacious with plenty of room for the monkeys to swing from tree to tree and also included ropes, “monkey bars” and a pool (hmm, come to think of it, these monkeys have a more entertaining place to live than I do!). Jenna knew each of the monkey’s names (she named them herself) and knew each of their quirks and unique personality. To her, they were not just animals, they were family! Her favorite monkey is Judy, who, like most of the animals, is part of Safarick’s Zoo’s Rescue & Rehabilitation Program. Jenna explained that Judy had been a rescue animal and was very sick and unhealthy when she first arrived, but now she is healthy and happy and thriving in her new home.


Jenna then very excitedly led me to the open air sloth enclosure. She explained that there had been 2 sloths but one of them had recently escaped which was a very good thing because it means the sloth was healthy and strong enough to survive on its own in the jungle! We watched the remaining sloth climb very slowly back to his rancho but he was taking quite long so we moved on to the Butterfly Enclosure. The Butterfly Enclosure is a beautiful enclosed botanical garden filled with colorful tropical plants and flowers. As we walked through, we spotted many kinds of butterflies and even a giant dragonfly with bright blue wings. Jenna, of course, has this magical way with all of the animals and the butterflies just fluttered around her with one one of them even landing on her finger.

And so the tour went on with my little tour guide, happily hopping around leading me from enclosure to enclosure to meet each of her animal friends including the coatis, deers, ducks and Thor the ocelot! The zoo itself is pristine, well-kept and the animals are very well taken care of in their spacious enclosures. To add to the experience, the grounds are beautifully landscaped and surrounded with tropical flowers and plants as well as tiki-style statues made from volcanic ash.

Finally, Jenna led me to the final (and my favorite) part of the tour: the walk-through Aviary. It is Panama’s largest walk-through aviary and features a waterfall fountain and a large pool full of large Koi fish! There are peacocks walking around and you can see toucans, blue and yellow macaws and scarlet macaws up close as they fly from tree to tree and perch on the railings and fountains. It’s quite startling when one of these majestic birds fly right past your ear and land right in front of you! (Just as a warning, it’s a possibility that you get pooped on by one of these birds but I’ve been told that you *may* get a free treat from the snack bar if you provide proof of the incident). At the end of my tour, Jenna and I sat in the cafeteria and had sandwiches and cold drinks. We also sampled the chili dogs, fresh fruit smoothies and beaver tails that are featured on the menu. At the end of it all, I was pretty tired and full from all the food and was quite content sitting in the shade and watching the birds from the cafeteria. Jenna, however, was too excited to take a rest and spotted the next group of tourists to introduce her animal friends to.

Overall, I had a great day Safarick’s Zoologico and I think it is a wonderful addition to the Caribbean coast of Panama. The Purificacao family has really poured their heart and soul into not just the project, but also the ongoing care and well-being of the animals that have been rescued and now live on-site. It was truly wonderful to see an attraction like this pop up in Maria Chiquita and I’m excited for the rest of the country to see this beautiful place. Safarick’s Zoo is only one hour away from Panama City and a fun adventure for the family! If you’re wondering if the kids will love it, just ask Jenna. If you’re lucky you may spot her there on weekends and I’m sure she’ll be happy to give you a tour!

Click here for more information Safarick’s Zoo!

Panama President Juan Carlos Varela Walks to Portobelo for the Cristo Negro Festival

The newly elected President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, has been talking the talk on the subject of improving the Caribbean coast of Panama, and today we saw him walking the walk. The President took the path of countless pilgrims before him and walked the historical rout to the Caribbean town of Portobelo to participate in the annual Cristo Negro Festival held on the 21st of each October. We had the opportunity to greet President Varela twice along the 35km pilgrimage route as he steadily made his way under the hot, tropical sun on a beautifully picturesque Caribbean day, and drove past him along with his entourage a few times while traveling up and down the coast.

President Varela has previously indicated a strong interest in improving the province of Colon, the most notable of which was a trip to the city of Colon on his inaugural day. In his speech to the residents of Colon, he asked the city’s youth to give up the gang violence and crime that has contributed to the negative image of the city, promised to contribute finances to city improvements and increase employment opportunities, develop the touristic appeal by renovating the architectural appeal of the colonial-era neighborhoods and hold the Colon Free Trade Zone more responsible for contributing to the development of the city.

With his inaugural speech appealing to the local communities of Colon, President Varela also promised that he would not forget the Caribbean coastal communities of Panama and today he returned to sweat it out with his fellow Panamanians who make this annual pilgrimage with dedication and passion every year. The journey is a challenge to anyone who undertakes it and while years past have seen police presence and medical services along the route, this year’s route was particularly well stocked with emergency support services represented by the National Civil Protection System (Sinaproc), the National Aero-Naval Service (SENAN) and countless officers from the National Police, Transit Authority (ATT) and other services. No matter how well protected and prepared-for the President may have been, he pushed through what is clearly a difficult journey and we know that he will be feeling it in the days to come!


We can only hope that as President Varela spent the 7-8 hours that it takes to complete the pilgrimage along this beautiful coast, he had plenty of time to take in and reflect on the natural and historical treasures that this region offers, as well as the potential that exists to both conserve and develop this area as a real asset to the nation of Panama. It has been a long time since a Panamanian President took this journey and even longer since Panama took care of its the Caribbean coast. If President Varela is to truly set himself apart from his predecessors as he claims to be doing, developing the Caribbean regions of Panama and building Colon up to once again be the beautiful city it was decades ago may be one of the greatest national legacies that he can leave behind when he passes the torch on to the next leader of Panama.

5 Reasons to Visit Panama's Costa Arriba

Panama’s Costa Arriba shoreline is one of the most underappreciated attractions in the country. Perhaps due to Colon City’s bad reputation as being a “dangerous” city or maybe just lack of marketing efforts to promote the Caribbean side, many tourists and even Panamanians never visit this side of their own country. They are missing out.

Like elsewhere in the Caribbean, this coast is super laid-back, temperate, and teeming with wildlife. Activities, lodging, and just about everything else are cheaper here than on the more highfalutin Pacific side. Whether it’s a historical ruins, a hike through the beautiful jungle or a delicious seafood meal, the Caribbean comes through.

Here are our top 5 reasons to visit Panama’s Costa Arriba – only one hour from Panama City

1. Delicious Food

Pizza at Don Quijote, Costa Arriba, Panama

Gooey, cheesy pizza at Don Quijote

The hardest thing about going to the Caribbean is choosing where to eat. Don Quijote Pizzeria has some of the best pizzas I’ve ever had, but then, there’s also the fresh garlic clams and whole fried fish at Las Anclas Restaurant at Las Anclas at Coco Plum Eco-Lodge. The delicious burgers and thai food at Captian Jack’s Canopy Bar & Grill in Portobelo is also high on the list. Just drive along the Costa Arriba and stop at the many little fondas and restaurants that dot the coast and you’re sure to find something unique and truly Caribbean.

2. So Much History

The forts of San Lorenzo

The forts of San Lorenzo

The swashbuckling adventures of pirates in the Caribbean have long stirred up feelings of adventure and intrigue. Fort San Lorenzo is one of the oldest Spanish forts in America. The fortification was built in 1597 to protect the mouth of Chagres River, which was the entry point for boats that navigated upstream to reach the post Venta de Cruces, from where they walked the rest of the way to Panama City on what became known as the Camino de Cruces. It is a magnificent example of the military architecture of that era, and in 1980 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
And perhaps what is the most well known historical site in Panama, the Portobelo Ruins is comprised of 3 main forts: San Geronimo, Santiago and across the bay, San Fernando. These ruins still boast their impressive batteries of canons and visitors are free to explore the ruins and imagine the many battles that were waged at this site as famous pirates such as Sir Francis Drake and Captain Henry Morgan attacked and pillaged the town.

3. Rampant Wildlife

Safarick's Zoo

Feed toucans at Safarick’s Zoologico

Colón has some of the most accessible rainforests on earth. You will find a wide range of tropical landscapes that are turning Colón into a major destination for eco-adventure with a variety of attractions available to rediscover the breath-taking harmony of nature.

Want to get up close to the animals at a more comfortable pace? Visit Safarick’s Zoologico in Maria Chiquita, Colon and get acquainted with the wildlife of the Caribbean coast of Panama. Safarick’s Zoo is a rescue and rehabilitation program for animals and provides the best care and sanctuary for its animals. Feed a toucan at Panama’s largest walk-through aviary, see hundreds of butteflies in the butterfly enclosure, visit sloths, monkeys, capybaras and different types of monkeys for a unique wildlife experience on the Caribbean coast.

4. Amazing Accomodations

Bambu Guesthouse at night

Bambu Guesthouse at night

The Caribbean coast doesn’t have any large hotel chains which only adds to its charm. What it does have, however, is tons of character. Boutique hotels and B&Bs dot the coastline, with unique options like the comfortable abodes at Bambu Guesthouse that sits atop a small hill in Puerto Lindo. Drift off to sleep to the sound of the jungle and the ocean waves in your big comfortable room and wake up to a delicious homemade breakfast with a view of the Puerto Lindo bay. If you’re heading to Isla Grande, Hotel Sister Moon offers sprawling cabins and rooms spread across the hillside of this island. This retreat features a swimming pool with a view, entertainment room, in-house restaurant, bar and even a pool table. The room layouts range from small backpacker rooms to uniquely designed cabins and even a large suite built into a natural rock formation.

Looking for a touch of luxury in a resort setting? Check out Bala Beach Resort in Maria Chiquita for rooms ranging from a studio, one bedroom, two bedroom to a two-story penthouse loft overlooking the Caribbean. They have a large luxurious pool, a gym and you can enjoy some beautiful cocktails at their onsite restaurant Aku.

5. Adventures Abound!


Nature lovers and adrenaline junkies alike won’t have a problem looking for things to do on the Costa Arriba. Fly through the canopy of trees in the jungle at Panama Outdoor Adventures zip-lining tour. 9 lines of heart-pumping fun as you fly treetop to treetop with breathtaking views of the jungle and the river below.

Prefer to explore undersea life? Panama Divers is a well-established operation with many years experience in Panamanian waters and one of the best safety records around. They are a PADI Dive Center and offer equipment rentals as well as PADI certification. A variety of dive sites are available including a downed propeller airplane, a sunken tanker and Drake Island – named for the famed buccaneer Sir Francis Drake who is said to have been buried nearby in full armor in a lead-lined casket.  For those who want to stay a bit closer to the surface, Panama Divers offers a snorkeling trip which includes a boat trip to a secluded beach where you will be left to snorkel in the bay or lay out in the sun for a few hours until the boat returns to pick you up.


What are you waiting for? See the real beauty and heart of Panama on the Costa Arriba! Stay tuned for a future blog post on our 5 top reasons Bocas del Toro is one of the Caribbean’s best paradise.

Where to Eat on the Costa Arriba

My absolute favorite part of travel is always FOOD. Tasting local cuisine is the best way to really get to know a country and its flavors and textures. The coast along the Costa Arriba in Panama is dotted with little blink-and-you’ll-miss it restaurants serving typical Panamanian fare with a Caribbean twist. While in Bocas del Toro, international cuisine owned and operated by expats are mixed in with fondas and street carts serving “palitos” – barbecued meats and veggies on a stick. I’ve tried a lot of places on the Caribbean and I review quite a few of them on Tripadvisor and Yelp but those places I only usually visit while I’m passing through or just trying out. So instead I’d like to share with you my regular favorite spots on the Caribbean that I’ve been to at least 5 times and I consider a regular stop.


First stop is a chicken joint in the town of Sabanitas in the Colon Province called Rosticeria La Fe. I was first introduced to this place 5 years ago and now we stop here frequently on our way in and out of Portobelo. The second you walk up to the driveway your nose is hit with the strong aroma of spit roasted chicken rotating slowly in its own juices. The roasting spit is placed outside of the shop for all the world to see and smell! We select an entire chicken which is then expertly chopped up in snack sized pieces so you can eat it in the car on the way to the beach without utensils… at least that’s how I eat it! There’s no way anyone can sit in a hot car with the smell of hot chicken and not grab a little piece. Don’t forget to smother it with hot sauce and mustard!

Second stop on the Costa Arriba is Coco Arte for some roasted coconut shavings called Coco Cryspi. Coco Arte is actually a little art gallery/shop selling unique and gorgeous driftwood art. I love to visit this place and run my hands along the smooth, beautifully sculpted driftwood and imagine having one of these pieces in my livingroom whenever I decide to stop traveling and actuallly have a place to live. Then I remember how awesome it is to travel and eat all the things so I go grab myself some coco cryspies instead! These thin crunchy bits are toasted to golden brown perfection and tastes incredible! Want to know the secret ingredients? Coconut and heat. Just shaved coconut expertly roasted in regular ovens…seriously that’s it. And then sprinkled with magic and then goes in my mouth. Tip: if these things are miraculously not devoured before you get home and makes it back to your kitchen, they make excellent toppings for salad, or chop it up some more in a food processor and use it to coat chicken and bake!

Number three of my regular stops on the Costa Arriba is Las Anclas located on the road towards Portobelo. You know that scene in The Little Mermaid where she sings “Part of Your World” in a room with her collection of sunken treasures? This restaurant is that room (and also, that song is now in your head). Every corner and every inch of wall is decorated with fishing relics, antique wine bottles, seashells, driftwood, fishing nets, flags and whatever else has washed up on the beach in the last 50 years. You can’t help but get up and walk around to look at stuff while you wait for your food. The food itself here is just ok… I usually get fried fish with coconut rice that comes with a side of sweet fried plantain, or garlic clams and ceviche. Not the best I’ve had, but a nice filling lunch for a nice afternoon on the coast. What makes this place unique is the appetizer that comes while waiting for the main course. A giant piece of fried flattened plantain with a side of fresh tomato sauce and chutney served in little clay pots. It’s such a simple but special little appetizer that leaves you wanting more. Wash it down with some ice cold coconut water and you’re in paradise.

Regular spot number 4 is good ol Captain Jack’s in Portobelo located a few steps from the Portobelo Ruins. It’s an open air bar/restaurant that sits on top of Hostel Portobelo and offers a beautiful view of the ruins and church steeples yonder. There are 2 giant long tables with a bench on each side to encourage eating together like the pirates we are. Now, I’m asian and grew up in Toronto so I love and miss dearly some good asian food when I’m in Panama…especially some good Thai food. Captain Jack’s in Portobelo might be the last place you’d think to get good thai food but I find myself quite often sitting on that bench eagerly waiting for springrolls, pad thai and chicken satay – 3 of my favorites on the menu. I am also a sucker for a good plate of fries and Captain Jack’s has THE BEST FRIES ON THE CARIBBEAN. Thin sliced, skin on, perfectly fried crispy bits of goodness. Hurry up and pass the hotsauce. Extra special treat is when Captain Jack himself whips out the guitar and serenades everyone with a rendition of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”. You’ll be tappin’ your feet with a big smile on your face while you take a bite of delicious springrolls. Oh and they also have really good burgers.


Well, that’s my little slice of good eats on the Costa Arriba… stay tuned for my regular places to eat in Bocas del Toro!

Life Force Project offers Caribbean Island Yoga Retreat in Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro a Destination for Holistic Healing and Health

The tropical Caribbean islands of Bocas del Toro on the Atlantic coast of Panama are a choice destination for beautiful beaches and internationally-acclaimed surf spots.  Where travelers discover opportunities to connect closely with the natural world, we also find opportunities to connect with our natural selves in the pursuit of a holistic and healing experiences.

Life Force Project Transformational Retreat – Island Yoga

This summer, David Bernstein and his team at Life Force Project bring their retreats to Panama with a focus on yoga. (more…)

Panama Among Top 10 most Gender Equal Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean

Panama Ranks #10 in Latin America and Caribbean, and #37 in the World for Gender Equality

The World Economic Forum recently published it’s Global Gender Gap 2013 report which ranks 136 countries world-wide according to the equality that the genders experience in society. The report focuses on health and survival, education, politics and economic equality as indicators of improving gender equality. (more…)

Discovering Burried Treasure of a Different Kind in the Panama Canal

Workers unearth rich fossil finds as they widen the Panama Canal

Paleontologists working along the construction site of the expanding Panama Canal are discovering a treasure trove of valuable riches that no pirate would have thought to plunder. As construction equipment excavate large areas next to where the new channel will be built and dredge the existing canal, paleontologists working with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and funded by the Panama Canal Authority, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society and a private donor comb the upturned terrain for fossils that provide valuable clues to the natural history of this Panamanian isthmus.

Emergence of the isthmus of Panama created the Caribbean Sea

Exciting discoveries about this important area of Central America are changing previous geological assumptions about when the Caribbean Sea was formed: (more…)

Second in a Sloth Series

Baby Sloths Speak with Sloth Squeaks

As Lucy Cooke, the creator of the website puts it, the sqeaks that a baby sloth makes “goes straight for your ovaries and makes you want to protect the baby sloths.” For those of us who don’t have ovaries, I would have to say it still brings out the deep natural drive to nurture a helpless creature.

In this National Geographic interview, Lucy talks about why the baby sloths squeak like this and also mentions an important tropical forest study that was conducted in Panama that suggests that sloths are one of the most successful mammals in the rainforest. (more…)

The Caribbean Could be a Global Hub

The Panama Canal was originally built to create a through-way connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, thereby eliminating the time and danger of going around the infamous Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. With our global dependence on international trade, the Panama Canal is more important than ever and is now inspiring other Caribbean nations to adjust their perspective on the role that they play in the international community.

David Jessop of Caribbean Intelligence suggests that a new approach is needed in the Caribbean community: (more…)

Panama Ranks #2 on list of “Top 5 Places in the World for Women to Travel Solo”!

Panama shares the #2 ranking on “Top 5 Places in the World for Women to Travel Solo” with our next-door neighbor Costa Rica. The list was featured in an article on FOX News Travel and was written by Susan L. Eckert, the founder and president of AdventureWomen.

The list includes:

  1. New Zealand
  2. Costa Rica and Panama
  3. Vietnam
  4. Iceland
  5. Alaska