Rio Hato Panama
The Rio Hato resort area is on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama. Located just 90 minutes out of Panama City, it consists of a number of tourist towns starting with Nueva Gorgona, Coronado, San Carlo, Santa Clara and Farallon and extends about 50 miles to Rio Hato. Each town has their own beaches, resorts, hotels, vacation rentals, beach bars and grills and restaurants.
The area is not busy like many of the Mexican resort areas we have been to. It is a lot more laid back and things move at a slower pace. Things are spread out with a variety of accommodations and great local food. The beaches are practically deserted. The restaurants and grocery stores were not crowded. We felt very safe where ever we went.
The water is warm for swimming with an average temperature of 78F (26C). The air temperature was in the 90s (30+C) so air conditioning is necessary in accommodations if you want to sleep at night. There are all the recreational activities available like golf, horseback riding, off-road rentals, fishing, sailing and more.
The best time to go is from January to March during the driest time of the year. It is sunny almost every day. It is a wonderful place to get away from the winter in the north.
Our Budget for 10 Days
Getting To and Around in Rio Hato
This area is very easy to get to for eastern Canadians. Air Transat and Sunwing both fly direct from Montreal and Toronto. The local airport is the Rio Hato International Airport with the call letters – RIH.
There are no direct flights from the USA, which is odd because the airport was built by the US military and was most recently used by them for the 1989 Invasion of Panama. You can catch a local flight from Panama City but most people flying into Panama City rent cars to drive the 90 minutes to this area.
A car is necessary to get around because things are spread out and you have to drive to go to the beach, to the grocery store, to restaurants and for sight seeing. We rented a car in Panama City from Hertz for 20 days to drive to our other vacation rentals.
The car rental was cheap at $12 per day but then there was compulsory insurance of $20 a day. The cost was $700 with taxes split two ways. The car was a full size Nissan Camry and was very economical with gas. We only filled up three times for the whole drive up to Boca Chica and back. Our cost for the rental and gas ended up being $380 or $16 a day.
Check out your car rental here.
The Panamerican Highway is four lane all the way from Panama City to Costa Rica. The speed limit is 90 kilometers per hour (55 mph) and there are police every few miles. They sit on their motor cycles under the shade of a big tree with their radar guns. Even with all these police with radar guns, we still had people flying by us at 70-80 mph. We would see them pulled over at the next police radar. Sometimes they got by because the police were busy writing up other speeders.
You never want to have anything to do with law enforcement in Panama. The law is based on the doctrine that you are innocent until proven guilty but the criminal justice system can be harsh, impersonal and a complete maze even for the average Spanish speaking person. If you are visiting from the US or Canada and get in trouble with the law you could have a very unpleasant experience. It is best not to speed.
Each town has several brand name resorts, golf courses, tourist restaurants and vacation rentals. We stopped at a modern supermarket in Coronado, an hour out of Panama City and purchased our food and beverages for the week. Our turn off to the house we rented was a 20 minute drive North from there.
We rented a house in Anton Valley about 15 miles above the beach. We could see the Pacific Ocean from the house. It was far off the beaten path. So far, that there was not an address and the owner sent us the GPS coordinates to navigate to the house. It was actually easy to find and was located about 3 miles off the main road. The house was over 7000 square feet on 3 acres of garden with a pool.
Problems with the Accommodation
The house was built by a US expat. He had died a few years before and his widow was renting the place to vacationers. The cost for the week was $900 or $450 for each couple. Unfortunately, the owner moved back to the USA and the house was in need of key repairs. The air conditioning did not work properly, there was no hot water, several of the toilets did not work and it took us an hour to clean the kitchen so that we could use it to cook.
When we contacted the owner she took offence and wrote a nasty email back. The 2nd day the water stopped running completely and we had to use the water from the pool to flush toilets. We ended up staying only 3 nights out of the 7 we had paid for. We had rented through AirBnB so we were able to get our money back for the last 4 nights.
Tip: Only rent through a reputable property manager or property management company or Internet company like AirBnB, Expedia, Booking.com, or HotWire. Things can go wrong pretty fast and you can be left hanging to dry with a disreputable owner or an awful property manager. You should feel comfortable with the person you are dealing with and they should have a track record in the vacation rental market.
You are paying a extremely high premium over long term rentals. The cost is generally double or triple what you would pay for an accommodation on a 1 year lease. For that extra money, you should expect top notch service from the people you are dealing with when renting your accommodation.
Unfortunately, there are a significant percentage of vacation rentals that are being run by amateurs that are in it for a quick buck. For some of them it is their dream to have a place where you want to rent and they are sold on the idea that vacation renters will pay for that dream. The furniture is generally cheap with minimal amenities for the guests. They do not reinvest in their properties because they bought it with a lot of debt so all the money goes to paying the mortgage and yearly expenses. They do not hire professional property managers to look after the property and rentals. You want to stay away from these owners.
Budget Slow Travel Tip for AirBnB Refund
Budget Slow Travel Tip: If you have any problems with your AirBnb, you only have 24 hours to contact them to mediate on your behalf. They want you to take pictures to show them the problems. Make sure you do all your communication with them and the owner through the AirBnB messaging system so that they can access the communications and have a record.
In our case, they could see the nasty emails from the owner and our polite emails, along with pictures and the fact we did not have water. AirBnB mediated in our favour and they refunded us our money for the last 4 nights even though the owner did not want to give us a refund.
Farallon Beach on the Pacific Ocean is a half hour drive from the Anton Valley house. We found a beachside bar and grill that we liked called Nicos.
Beer was $2 and mixed drinks $4. Bar food ran $4-12. If you drank and ate there, you could use their shade structures on the beach with beach chairs and tables.
The servers spoke some English and the cashier/owner spoke English if you had any problems with your bill or wanted to ask questions about the area.
It was here, swimming in the ocean that we ran into another Canadian from Newfoundland on the 3rd day of our stay in Anton Valley .
She had been living in the area for past 10 years after she retired from the military. She went down to Panama on her retirement holiday and fell in love with the area. She had a house built. She bought the bar and grill called Nicos. When she owned the place it was called Woody’s.
She told us that there was a house with a pool for rent two doors down from her. She knew the property manager and called her. It was available for the 4 nights we needed. We paid $75 per night for the 4 nights for a total of $300 or $150 for each couple.
We were lucky that it was also available for the 3 nights we needed on our way back to Panama City after Boca Chica.
The property was perfect. A newer house with 3 bedrooms with ensuites, a large open kitchen and dining, a large covered deck area attached to the house, a wonderful pool and 1/2 an acre of beautifully landscaped property beautifully lit up at night.
The property manager was wonderful. She texted us the code to get in the property then later dropped in for an hour. Some lights were burnt out so she went and got some and we put them in for her. We also met the gardener and pool man when we were there.
The house was located on a small street with 4 houses less than a half a mile from the Panamerican Highway at San Carlo and a 10 minute drive to Nicos Bar and Grill.
Along the way to the beach was a great fish market and a gigantic 99 Supermarket that had everything we wanted for food and beverages.
Resorts in the Area
We spent some time checking out the resorts in the area. The Playa Blanca, Hotel Riu Playa Blanca and the Wyndham are all-inclusive resorts. We have stayed in Riu resorts before and found them to be 4-5 star. This one looked the same.
The Playa Blanca Resort has been around for 30 years. It is a large resort with a 3-star all-inclusive section and a vacation rental section. There are numerous pools throughout the property and they have a pool that looks like a massive lake with sandy beaches. It is by far the largest pool I have ever seen.
Thousands of Canadians fly direct from Toronto and Montreal every winter to the airport only 10 minutes away and vacation at these resorts or have winter homes in the area.
The Buenaventura Resort
The Buenaventura is a huge resort complex run by the Marriott Hotels Group. It has resort packages, condos, and vacation rentals. The resort is so large and expansive we thought we were going to run out of gas while we were driving around it.
There is a whole section of large palatial vacation homes on large acre and 2 acre lots. They come up for sale from time-to-time in the $5-10 million range.
If I was going to stay in a resort in this area, I would pick this one. It has a wonderful swimming pool and beach area with a great restaurant that has lots of ambiance and reasonable prices. The beach has white sand, unusual for this area where most of the beaches have black sand running through them.
Accommodations in Rio Hato
HotWire Will Find Your Perfect Accommodation
Hotellook Lets You Check Many Different Hotels
Rio Hato Area Restaurants
La casa de Lourdes
Located in el Valle it is a highly recommended restaurant. It is a bit of a drive up the windy mountain roads into the caldera of a volcano. The small town is a popular place because it is so much cooler than the beach area.
The restaurant is located in a Spanish Villa hotel. We ate outdoors next to the pool and tropical garden. They had a great menu and some wonderful wines.
I started with a curry seafood soup, followed by salmon on whipped potatoes and Sticky Toffee pudding. All three courses were delicious.
I give it two thumbs up.
T XOKO Restaurante
The T XOKO Restaurante is located on the Panamerican Highway at San Carlo. It is a locally run restaurant with a simple menu that includes fish, chicken, beef and pork dishes.
I had the fish special and a glass of wine to go with it. Our dinner cost was under $40 for our meal and a couple of drinks.
I give it a 1 thumb up.
Travel Gear You May Need For Your Trip to Rio Hato
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