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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.
I stayed at the Hostal Suenos del Rio on the riverside …
It was, now, time for some beach-life in Las Lajas ….
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.
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.
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 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 …
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:
PHOTO GALLERY – SOUTH:
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):
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 had nothing within GRANDPAcking price range.
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.
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.
Have a look yourself:
WHERE TO STAY:
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.
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.
There as no mosquito net over the bed but it did have a ceiling fan.
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.
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.
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.
There are very few restaurants to choose from.
Hospedaje Ecologico Nahual
Breakfast comes with a ‘bottomless’ coffee.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
There is little else to do. The Nahual are talking of setting up some tour options.
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.
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.
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.
THE GRANDPAcking ACID TEST: Can 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.
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.