Las Lajas – Panama – Information

Las Lajas - Walk South - 27

APRIL 2018:


Why not read our Retirement Reviews.


OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at time of writing was US$1 = P$1 (Panama Balboa). Panama uses US$s and only uses Balboa as coins for small change.

I stayed a total of 2.5 weeks in Boquete, Panama.Boquete - Surrounds - 10

I stayed at the Hostal Suenos del Rio on the riverside …Boquete - Suenos del Rio - River View

… in a Double Room with Cable TV, Hot Water Shower, and Shared Kitchen for US$25 / night.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Room 1Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Shared Lounge

Boquete was a bit of a surprise for me – it was much nicer than I was expecting – with a nice crowd of expats.Gualaca - 6

It was, now, time for some beach-life in Las Lajas ….


GETTING THERE:

The bus leaves from the Central Park beside the Baru Restaurant & Bar.Boquete - Walk - 7

A bus leaves every 20-30 minutes. I got there just before 12 noon to find a bus waiting. My suitcase was loaded in the back of the bus and we were underway at 12 noon.

The quality of these busses varies widely. My bus from David to Boquete was new and modern. This one was a tired old school bus. The price to David was the same: $1.75.Boquete - Bus to David

We arrived at the main David Bus Terminal at 1:00pm.David - Bus Terminal

Finding my connection to Las Lajas was easy. They display the bus destinations above the bus docks and the bus drivers help you to find the right bus. I was directed to a microbus that would take me to the Las Lajas road junction.Changuinola - Microbus to David $9.70

We were on the road by 1:10pm. The price to the Las Lajas / San Felix crossroads was US$2.70. We were at the junction by 2:10pm.Boquete to Las Lajas Map

I contacted my Playa Las Lajas hostel in advance. From the Route 1 junction, there is no public transport to take you the 14kms to the beach; you have to catch a taxi. I heard, online, that the taxi price was $10; some people pay $12. My hostel told me that I should only pay $6 … but, they said that they would come and pick me up anyway.

On the microbus I messaged them to say that I would be at the junction by 2:30pm. My ride turned up at about 3:00pm. My driver (Elvis) decided to take me down some mud tracks so that I could see the countryside. We stopped a couple of times to pick fruit from trees. We arrived at my hostel at 3:30pm.


ABOUT PLAYA LAS LAJAS:

Playa Las Lajas is the longest beach in Panama.Playa Las Lajas Map

Playa Las Lajas is a 14km stretch of white sand beach that is practically uninhabited. There is a small beach community. The beach is clean and the people are friendly.

Las Lajas isn’t completely undeveloped … subdivision projects have been progressing for about 20 years … albeit very slowly. One recent project includes all underground utilities, a golf course, etc, etc and is a huge undertaking. They have had trouble convincing buyers to build and have begun building three model homes in order to twist arms. But, the concept doesn’t seem to be working … people are a bit ‘scared’ because there is nothing here …Las Lajas - Construction Project

Part of the ‘draw’ of Las Lajas is that it is quiet and under populated. But, at 1-2 hours from the second largest city in Panama (David), this could be THE tourist beach destination in Panama.

Las Lajas is a swimmers beach. Unlike other beaches, there is no gnarly rip tide and the waves don‘t pound you like the hammer of Thor.

When the tide is out, there is about a hundred yards of sand, when it’s in, the water is about waste deep for a hundred metres.

Las Lajas is a good place for wanna-be-surfers to learn their trade. There are several different breaks. Get a good run in front of the cabins and cantina of La Estrella del Pacifico, or try the breaks at either end of the beach where the San Felix river dumps into the ocean. This is not an established ‘surfer bum’ beach.

Around the beach, there are highland areas with breathtaking views of the entire beach, Isla Secas, and the protected areas of Isla Coiba. There are three very large reforestation projects in the area, which take care of large parcels of land.


PHOTO GALLERY – NORTH:

From the T Junction at the beachfront, we head north. The first place that you pass advertises Ceviche.Las Lajas - Walk North - 1We quickly pass El Rey de Los Mares.Las Lajas - Walk North - 2

And La Estrella de Pacifica (which has a beachfront Restobar).Las Lajas - Walk North - 3

It is, then, open track for the next 5 kms – all the way to the San Felix rivermouth.Las Lajas - Walk North - 4

We pass the Cabana Lajas Beach Cabins.Las Lajas - Walk North - 5

Inland is all open farmland.Las Lajas - Walk North - 6

Near the end of the road, we find the Soy y Mar development.Las Lajas - Walk North - 7

The Sol y Mar is an example of how dreams exceed reality. Most lots are still empty.Las Lajas - Walk North - 9

About 50% of the built properties are up for rental. A beachfront home with pool is going for about $120 / night.Las Lajas - Walk North - 8

Las Lajas - Walk North - 11 Las Lajas - Walk North - 12At the end of the road we find the (up-market) Show Pony Beach Resort (set back from the beach).Las Lajas - Walk North - 10On the beach, we find the (up-market) Apartamentos Brisas Las Lajas.Las Lajas - Walk North - 13

From here, we cut onto the beach. If we want to, we can walk the final 1km to the rivermouth / end of the beach.Las Lajas - Walk North - 21

As we head back south, we pass the front of the Brisas.Las Lajas - Walk North - 22

We pass the front of those up-market rentals.Las Lajas - Walk North - 23

All that we see is deserted, open beach.Las Lajas - Walk North - 26Las Lajas - Walk North - 25

We finally pass the front of the Cabana Lajas Beach Cabins. Las Lajas - Walk North - 27 Las Lajas - Walk North - 28

We pass the front of the Las Lajas Beach Resort.Las Lajas - Walk North - 29 Las Lajas - Walk North - 30

And, finally, we pass the Estrella Restobar.Las Lajas - Walk North - 32

Before returning to the T Junction.Las Lajas - Walk North - 33


PHOTO GALLERY – SOUTH:

Heading south from the T Junction you follow a more inviting road.Las Lajas - Walk South - 1

That leads past Johnny Fiesta’s.Las Lajas - Walk South - 2

And the Plinios Restaurant.Las Lajas - Walk South - 3

There is a big public parking area which attracts day-trippers at weekends with their BBQs and Ice-Boxes.Las Lajas - Walk South - 4

Before you pass a struggling beachfront resort.Las Lajas - Walk South - 5

And hit farm track.Las Lajas - Walk South - 6

There are a couple of accommodation options here.Las Lajas - Walk South - 7Las Lajas - Walk South - 8

You continue down more picturesque farm-track.Las Lajas - Walk South - 9

To find the start of many up-market properties up for rent or sale.Las Lajas - Walk South - 10Las Lajas - Walk South - 11Las Lajas - Walk South - 12Las Lajas - Walk South - 13

The Italian B&B is also up for sale.Las Lajas - Walk South - 15

On the beachfront you pass another pleasant park-up day spot.Las Lajas - Walk South - 14

Before finding yet more places up for rent or sale. Las Lajas - Walk South - 16 Las Lajas - Walk South - 17

We are now at the end of the road so, we cut down to the beach.Las Lajas - Walk South - 18

And walk back north along the same deserted beach.Las Lajas - Walk South - 19 Las Lajas - Walk South - 20

We pass the beach frontage of these picnic spots and beachfront houses for sale.Las Lajas - Walk South - 22 Las Lajas - Walk South - 24 Las Lajas - Walk South - 25 Las Lajas - Walk South - 26 Las Lajas - Walk South - 21

To return to the T Junction.


WHERE TO STAY:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night in mid May 2018 (‘Shoulder Season’) …

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:

Las Lajas Booking

AGODA.COM:

Las Lajas Agoda


PLEASE NOTE: Most of the hotels listed are actually in Las Lajas Town – not Las Lajas Beach.

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 10-15% to the displayed price to get the final price. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s

TRIPADVISOR:

Tripadvisor had nothing within GRANDPAcking price range.

AIRBnB:

Las Lajas AirBnB


PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

There are very few GRANDPAcking options to choose from. On paper, you only have the Nahual near the beach – otherwise, you have to ‘fall back’ to Las Lajas Town.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


WHERE TO STAY:

GRANDPAckers and Budget Travellers only have 1 option (if they want to be in Playa Las Lajas): the Nahual …Las Lajas - Nahual - Street View


MY ACCOMMODATION (THE NAHUAL):

I couldn’t afford these online prices so I got inventive. I used Google Maps to identify all of the hotels and, then, searched the internet for their private websites and Facebook pages. I made contact with the Hospedaje Ecologico Nahual on Facebook; it was the only place that I could afford.

Las Lajas - Nahual - Main Path

The Nahual is located at the T Junction. They offered me a Cabana for $25 / night (including Breakfast) with a ‘Stay 6 nights and Pay for 6 Nights’ special. I took it. We confirmed the booking in Facebook and he came and picked me up from the Route 1 junction.

Elvis (the Owner) has gone totally eco and organic. The grounds are rustic.Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana Frontage

I took a 1st floor Cabana that had a small balcony.Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana Balcony

The balcony had a view over the hostel grounds and surrounding fields.Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana View 2Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana View 1

My Cabana was an average size and rustic.Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana Entry

There as no mosquito net over the bed but it did have a ceiling fan.

There was no wardrobe, so out came my washing line (again!).Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana Room

The ensuite was a reasonable size.Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana Ensuite Entry

And, it came with a cold-water shower.Las Lajas - Nahual - Cabana Ensuite Shower

Elvis has lots of animals around … cats, dogs, chickens …Las Lajas - Nahual - Pets

the cats and dogs are very friendly and always coming up to you for a petting.Las Lajas - Nahual - Bar Area 1

There is a shared kitchen which will help you to keep your costs down.Las Lajas - Nahual - Shared Kitchen 1 Las Lajas - Nahual - Shared Kitchen 2

It is a short 30 metre walk from the Nahual to the beach.Las Lajas - Nahual - Beach Entry


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your accommodation should provide reasonable, free WiFi. My Hostel’s was fast enough to stream video but it could be a bit ‘variable’. The Nahual say that they only have internet in the common areas … however, I was able to pick up a very weak and variable signal in my cabana.Las Lajas - Nahual - Bar Area 2

I bought a +Movil SIMcard in a Supermarket in Bocas Town, Isla Colon. The SIMcard was US$3.55 I top it up with US$15 and I buy a 2GB 1-Month Data Plan for US$14.99. I did not need to top it up in Las Lajas.

I suggest that a better package (for GRANDPAckers) is the 1.5GB 1 Month Data Plan that includes 60 mins talk time and 60 texts (which also costs US$15).

I got an H / H+ signal in the beach area.


TRANSPORT:

You walk everywhere. There is no public transport.

A taxi to Las Lajas town (12 kms) or the Route 1 junction should cost $6.

It is safe to hitch-hike between the beach and Las Lajas Town.


EAT:

There are very few restaurants to choose from.

Hospedaje Ecologico Nahual

The Nahual provided an excellent Free Breakfast each morning. Las Lajas - Nahual - Bar Area

Breakfast comes with a ‘bottomless’ coffee.

Las Lajas - Nahual - BreakfastLas Lajas - Nahual - Free Breakfast

Some days they do wood-fire pizzas. Look for an advertising board at front of the hotel. I had the Pizza of the Day which came with Ham and lots of vegetables ($8).Las Lajas - Nahual - Pizza $8

On another night, Elvis cooked up a fresh Salmon Meal for $9.Las Lajas - Fish Meal $9Las Lajas - Nahual - Fish Meal $9

Sabores del Pacifico:

I asked Elvis where the best ‘local’ cheap restaurants were. He said that most of the ‘locals’ go to the Sabores. I tried it on my first night. I found their prices to be on the high side (for GRANDPAckers). Most mains were in the $10-15 price range.Las Lajas - Sabores del Pacifico - Seating

I decided to go ‘cheap’ on my first visit (just to see what you get for your money). I ordered a Bacon Burger with Fries for $6.Las Lajas - Sabores del Pacifico - Bacon Burger $6

I got what I paid for. Now that I know the ‘ground rules’, I’ll try something different (and costlier) when / if I return.

Refugio Las Lajas:

Located on the main road nearest the T Junction. Their menu prices are mid-range for Playa Las Lajas.Las Lajas - Refugio - Menu

I tried their Prawn Spaghetti for $11.25.Las Lajas - Refugio - Prawn Spaghetti $11.25

Johnny’s:

I went to Johnny’s for a meal twice. The first time, they only had burgers but no cheese – so, I went elsewhere that night. The second time, they said that they did not serve food – only drinks – so, I went next door to the Plinios.

Plinios:

Located next to Johnny’s. Las Lajas - Plinios - Frontage

Main meals range from Fried Chicken ($6.50) to Lobster and Prawn dishes ($13). I had the Fred Chicken.Las Lajas - Plinios - Fried Chicken $6.50

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$7.00 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$6.00 for a cheap Lunch Snack with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$9.50 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


DRINK:

Again, there are very few places to choose from. You may want to bring a ‘tipple or two’ with you to keep back at your hotel.Las Lajas - Nahual - Bar Area 3

The budget restaurants charge $1 for a local beer.


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

There are no stores in Playa Las Lajas. The nearest Stores / Supermarket is 12kms away in Las Lajas town.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are no banks nor ATMs. There is no Bureau De Change.Las Lajas - Sunset 1

Bring enough cash with you.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.Las Lajas - Beachfront Seating

Just remember that a local worker on a coffee plantation earns US$8 per day … even a good person can get tempted if the ‘pickings’ are made too easy.

There were mosquitoes around but they were not a problem. Be careful with sandflies at dawn and dusk.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

Las Lajas’s climate is classified as tropical. The summers have a good deal of rainfall, while the winters have very little. The average annual temperature in Las Lajas is 24.0 °C. The average annual rainfall is 1605 mm.Las Lajas Climate Chart

I arrived in late April on purpose … it is the last month of Dry Season. In 7 nights, we had rain over-night once. We had sunny, sometimes overcast, days.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

Tan up, hammock out, surf it up, fish, kayak, trek through the mangroves to a huge lonely petrogliph rock, eat local seafood, go for a boat ride, or do a lot of nothing on the beach.

Walk the beach and, perhaps, you will be the only person there.Las Lajas - Beach Walk

Join others on the beach during the weekend ‘rush hour’.Las Lajas - Walk South - 27

There is little else to do. The Nahual are talking of setting up some tour options.

I have a travel hammock …Las Lajas - Beach Hammock

so, I was happy swinging on the beach under a palapa with my friends from the Nahual.Las Lajas - Beach Dog


GETTING AWAY:

From Playa Las Lajas I head to Panama City.

This should be a straight-forward journey:

  • A $6 taxi from Las Lajas Beach to the Route 1 junction
  • Flag down a public bus from there to Panama City

On Route 1, there are many long distance busses heading to Panama City. They stop at the junction.

I will tell you more about that it my next post.


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

GRANDPAckers can afford to HOLIDAY in Playa Las Lajas to GRANDPAcking standard … but, only just.

GRANDPAckers are strongly advised to find a hotel that includes a free Breakfast. GRANDPAckers are, also, advised to find an hotel with a kitchenette (or access to a decent shared kitchen) – you will need to eat some of your meals at home.

Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.

SPREADSHEET SUMMARY:

Las Lajas GRANDPAcking Costs

MY ACTUAL COSTS:

My costs are broken down into:

  • Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
  • Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):

I lived in Playa Las Lajas to GRANDPAcking standard.

I spent 7 nights at an average price of US$21.50 / night in a Cabana at Hospedaje Ecologico Nahual.

I didn’t need to spent anything on Mobile top-ups – I still had enough left on my 1-Month 2GB Data Plan.

My Breakfasts were included in my room rate.

I averaged US$0.30c / day on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore so, this was mainly for snacks.

I averaged about US$9.40 / day on Dinners.

Drinking Water was provided free by my hostel.

My COE worked out to be about US$27 / day.

COST OF LIVING (COL):

In / Out Costs: It cost me US$10.50 to get from Boquete Town to Playa Las Lajas.

Living Costs: I averaged about US$0.30c / day. I had an ‘alcohol free’ week 🙂 I bought mosquito repellent and did some shopping.

My total COL was about US$34 / day.

COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:

Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).

COST OF EXISTENCE:

Accommodation: You only have 1 option in Playa Las Lajas: the Nahual. Ask Elvis what rate he will give you for a long-term stay in one of his Cabanas … The standard discount is ‘Stay 7 Nights and Pay 6 Nights’ … a Cabana with Double occupancy normally costs $40 / night). I suggest that you should be able to get a long-term rate of $30 for double occupancy in a Cabana and that you should be able to negotiate the same ‘Stay 7 Pay 6’ deal. This gives a long term rate of $26 / night including Breakfast for 2 people.

Transport: You are ‘beach-bound’. You cannot afford the $12 round trip to Las Lajas Town.

Communications & Fees: I advise you to get a +Movil SIMcard $3.55 and the $14.99 Combo Plan (with 1.5GB of data, 60 minutes talk time, and 60 SMSs).

Food & Beverages: Your budget is US$31 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.

Your COE is US$55 / day (98% of your total budget).

COST OF LIVING:

This leaves you almost nothing ($1 / day) to LIVE on. You will need to deviate from GRANDPAcking Standard if you want to have enough spending money to have more fun (e.g. eat meals at home).

Given the Value For Money of meals in the restaurants, I suggest that you also talk to the Nahual about a meal package. You ar getting a good Breakfast included anyway. Ask them what rate they would charge for a simple Lunch and a proper Dinner each day. I suggest that you may be able to negotiate about $4 for Lunch and $8 for Dinner.


RETIREMENT:

THE GRANDPAcking ACID TESTCan a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? NO.

Las Lajas is still a farming / ranching community at heart. So, if you want to find Panama land for US$0.75c / m2, you won’t find it here. You will be looking at more like US$4 / m2. BUT, you will have to buy a large chunk of it … perhaps 100-800 hectares!

Resultantly, you are looking at staying in an hotel room.

Playa Las Lajas DOES NOT make it into my Retirement Reviews.


CONCLUSION:

There is something wrong here. There are too many properties up for rent or sale … I don’t believe in coincidences.

Playa Las Lajas lacks ‘critical mass’. There are not enough people here to generate the growth that it needs in order to maintain growth. There is no ‘corner shop’. There is no public transport. Dreams do not seem to be maturing into reality. People seem to be selling up and getting out.

It reminds me a lot of Playa El Esteron in El Salvador (a remote, pricey, captured market, beach-side location) and El Cuyo in the Yuchatan, Mexico (a remote surfer location). But, both of these have a village within walking distance of your accommodation. Playa Las Lajas must be what places like Las Penitas, Nicaragua were like about 10 years ago …

This ‘solitude’ won’t last long. Sooner or later it will start attracting more and more people. I would suggest that, for now, it is quiet because it is too expensive. To make it more popular, they need more budget accommodation options and some ‘cheap eats’ options (where you can get a simple meal for $5).

Meanwhile, if you want to get away from it all to a deserted beachfront location … Playa Las Lajas should be on your radar.

TTFN


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