Panama’s Caribbean Side

Isla Grande, Isla Mamey, Playa Blanca, Cacique, and Portobelo

Map of the caribbean side of Panama
(Pin is at Isla Mamey; all other locations mentioned are labeled on the map)

Isla Grande
Isla Grande is a great vacation spot on the north side of Panama, though it’s still fairly rustic. There aren’t any roads on the island, only walking paths… so remember that when you pack your bags! As for accommodations, there are a few hotels (which are more of a B&B), a couple of homes on Airbnb, and a couple of hostels. My favorite place to stay is Macondo Hostel– Justina is a wonderful host, and the location can’t be beat! It’s just off the walking path, but is completely surrounded by nature. Get a day pass and enjoy Playa Isla Grande, walk around the island, or take a day trip to Isla Mamey (ask Justina at Macondo to set it up)!

On the beach of Isla Mamey, with Isla Grande in the background

Isla Mamey
This is a great day trip to add on to an itinerary, especially if you’re looking to relax on a pristine beach! There are several lanchas that will bring you here from Isla Grande (ask Justina at Macondo Hostel) or there are a couple from Cacique as well (We always used Adriano- he had good prices if you’re leaving from Cacique. We would go to the convenience store, buy a couple of drinks, and ask for him there). The “entrance” fee is 3 USD/PAB per person, and goes to maintaining the island.

Honestly, there’s not much here… but the Airbnb we stayed at was pretty cool and relaxing (with great views and lots of howler monkeys nearby), and it’s a shorter drive than going to La Guaira + Isla Grande from the city. As I mentioned before, we had our lancha guy in Cacique (Adriano) drop us off at Isla Mamey for the day, and when we had visitors we often just drove here or went to Playa Blanca for a day trip.

View of the private bay at Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca
A secluded white sand beach in the Caribbean only accessible by boat that can be a day trip from the city? Yes, please. You’ll have to plan out the day pretty well, as there are no stores or facilities here, but it’s great! Drive or take the bus to Portobelo, and head to the public dock (by the fort). Ask for a lancha to go to Playa Blanca, and tell them what time you would like to be picked up. Always make sure to ask how much it costs… then, have fun!

This fort town has beautiful ruins, and is the last “larger” town before heading on to Cacique, La Guaira, or Isla Grande. I haven’t spent a lot of time here; mostly visiting the ruins, stopping at the grill cart by the bus stop for a snack, going to Captain Jack’s for a drink or lunch, or heading to the public dock to catch a lancha to Playa Blanca for the day.

How to Get Here from the City

By Bus: Head to the bus station at Albrook Mall, and buy a ticket to Colon. When you’re on the bus and they’re collecting the tickets, let them know that you want to get off at Sabanitas. Enjoy the ride to Sabanitas- you’ll get off at the corner by El Rey (grocery store). If you haven’t gotten food, drinks, etc yet, this would be the place to go! Then, wait outside El Rey on the side of the street (adjacent to the one you got off on… you should be on the street that is going East/West). There will be several other people waiting there too! When a Diablo Rojo (old school bus painted with colorful designs) comes, you can listen for them to say La Guaira, or you can ask if they are going to Portobelo, La Guaira, or the road to Cacique. The bus circuit is only on the main road, so you will not be able to take the bus directly into Cacique.

By Car: Take the Panama-Colon Expressway (Corredor Norte) north out of the city. Be sure to have change as this is a toll road! At the roundabout, you’ll take the first exit and merge onto Route 3/ Carr Transísmica. When you get to Sabanitas, turn right at El Rey (across from the large Sabanitas letters statue that you’ll see on the left). Follow this road (Via Principal de Pilón) until you reach your destination!

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