FFF Travels: Panama for $1000 or less

Due to popular demand, Financially Fit & Fab started a new travel hacking series in May: FFF Travels for $1000 or less. Some trips will be much less than $1000 and others will come right to the cusp. The dollar amount spent on the trip will include flight, lodging, food & drink, as well as basic entertainment. The first trip that I featured was a trip to Dominican Republic for much less than $1000.

This month feature is a trip that I took in December to Panama for less than $1000.  I spent 4 nights and 5 days in Panama – 3 of the days were actually in Panama City and one day was at a small island about 40 miles away called Isla Contadora.

FFF Travels- Panama for $1000 or less (1)


My boyfriend and I go on an annual “baecation” right before the end of the year.  Honestly, I wanted this years trip to be to Costa Rica!  At the time, a couple of friends had just come back from Costa Rica and it seemed like they had an amazing time.  So I started researching the best time to visit, the costs of all inclusive resort and flights.  He didn’t seem super excited about Costa Rica as he had been in the past; and I was unable to find a killer deal on anything!  (Rare, right)

We kept our eyes out for deals to Costa Rica (or anywhere else we could find).  And what do you know, a flight deal came to the rescue.  A site I follow posted round trip tickets to Panama for only $200 round trip!  Yes, Panama in Central America for only $200 round trip.  Even though I really really wanted to go to Costa Rica, I couldn’t pass up a deal like that!

One of my most important travel tacking tips is flexibility.  Not just flexibility in dates but also flexibility in location.  About 8 hours after I discovered the deal, it was no longer available.  I was heartbroken but it taught me to act fast if you are serious!  Thankfully, a similar deal appeared a few days later.

The round trip flight to Panama City, Panama was only $250. 


At the time of this trip, my search for lodging started at the following three sites:  Airbnb, Hotels.com, and Booking.com.  (If you’ve been following along lately, you’ll notice that I now try these 6 Cheap Hotel Alternatives that don’t include Airbnb.)  Throughout my research (and a very helpful friend), I was able to find lodging listed at the Hard Rock Hotel on Airbnb!  Unfortunately, none of the Airbnb hosts for the Hard Rock hotel were very responsive.

For the first two nights of our trip, we ended up booking a hotel room at the Royal Sonesta through booking.com which had a refundable policy – i.e. if we were able to find a better deal elsewhere, we could cancel the room.  For the third night, we stayed at an Airbnb at Isla Contadora.  For the last night, we stayed at the Trump International Hotel.  (I know what you are thinking – you stayed at the Trump Hotel?!?  Yes, despite my political preferences it was an awesome luxurious 5 star experience for half of the price – which is mainly why we booked that hotel).

The total price of lodging was as follows:

2 nights at Royal Sonesta: 264.99

1 night through Airbnb: $130

1 night at the Trump International: $130

Since I was splitting the costs with my boyfriend, the lodging for 4 nights was $262.


Isla Contadora, Panama

During our time in Panama, we took a variety of methods of transportation: the metro, uber, and taxi’s.  Taking the metro was the most cost effective method to get around once we learned how it worked.  In addition, the Trump International Hotel provided a free shuttle to local sites like the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and Casco Viejo.

The biggest dent in our transportation budget involved getting to Isla Contadora.  As I mentioned before, we spent one night on an island about an hour and a half away from Panama City.  The island is extremely small – in fact, you can walk around the whole island by foot.  Therefore, there weren’t many options to get to the island.  We ended up taking the a ferry that picked us up from the Trump Hotel.  Therefore, we didn’t have to find transportation back to our hotel since we stayed at the Trump Hotel for our last night.  The ferry alone was $90!

Transportation including the ferry, metro, taxis, and ubers was $150.

Food & Drink

Originally, I was looking for an all inclusive resort similar to my experience in Dominican Republic.  Unfortunately, there were not many all inclusive resorts available in the area of Panama that we were interested in.  I did luck out though – breakfast was provided for three of the days during the trip through our accommodations.  During the rest of the trip, we ventured out to a variety of places like an outdoor fish market and various rooftop bars.

Despite this being a Financially Fit and Fab trip, we did splurge on one meal.  This trip fell on my boyfriends birthday so we enjoyed a 6+ course dining experience at Donde Jose.  The experience definitely was one of a kind in that the restaurant only sat about 16 people and when each course was delivered the chef gave an explanation of the meal at how it related to Panamanian culture.  This meal alone was $50 per person but the experience was well worth it.

Food & Drink for 4 nights and 5 days: $150


I am not a huge fan of tours.  Why you may ask?  Most formal tours involve a large number of people, big cameras, and an experience that is less than authentic.  Despite my feeling about tours, a friend referred me to an awesome tour guide named Joey Bonura from pty.life.  He is originally from the states but has been living in Panama for at least four years.  For an awesome price, Joey not only showed us around the city, taught us how to use the metro and helped plan the rest of our trip.

In addition, for our stay at Isla Contadora I wanted to do a water activity.  The island is literally “off the beaten path” so the only options were swimming, sailing, fishing, and visiting other beaches.  I had never been fishing so we opted for a 2 hour deep sea fishing excursion.  Although we didn’t catch any fish, it was a once in a life time experience.

Most of the other activities that we participated in were free!  For example, while at Isla Contadora we visited a number of beaches (including a nude beach!), swam, and enjoyed talking with the locals.

Guided Tour for 5 hours: $35 per person

Deep Sea Fishing for 2 hours: $20 per person


I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Panama and can’t wait until the next “baecation”.  Despite our splurges like spending a night at a 5 star hotel and taking a ferry to another island, the total cost of the trip ended up being $867 per person.

If you could go travel anywhere (with money not being an option), where would you go?  Interested being featured on a future FFF travels?  Send me a message at [email protected] 🙂

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Traveling doesn't have to break the bank. You just need to know the right travel hacking tips to travel for less. Check out how I went to Panama for much less than $1000!



  1. $200 roundtrip is an incredible deal for Panama! I think I spent under about $600 in the country for a ten day vacation (excluding airfare since I’m an airline employee). It is amazing how much cheaply you can travel if you really do your research.

    1. You are lucky Erika! I wish I got the perks of an airline employee. That is an awesome budget for a 10 day trip!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I am a new convert to your blog. I’m so excited about traveling the world.

  3. I just did some research on Panama for my website! It has such a rich history – I’d love to visit one day. For under $1000? I’m so there…

    1. Panama was awesome! I can’t wait to go back. The people were super friendly and you are right, it has an extremely rich culture.

  4. This is right up my alley. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy several international trips for less than $1100. I have not been to Panama but living in Florida, I often see good deals there. I may have to look into making this one of my destinations for next year.

    1. Yes, Tia. You have to make a trip to Panama! The country is awesome. I recommend everyone visiting. For a brief moment, I even thought about moving there.

  5. I need to get on your level when it comes to booking cheap flights! Seriously love these posts, though – keep them coming 😉

  6. $250 round trip! Can’t beat that with a bat! Panama is definitely on my to go list. You just confirmed it!

    1. Yes, you have to visit Panama! Make sure to come back and tell me how you enjoy the trip when you are able to go.

  7. Haven’t been traveling a lot but I am looking into travel destination spots because I will be accumulating income to spend for vacation. Don’t go out of town often but for vacation, I kinda have to, don’t I? 🙂 Thanks for letting us know about how you got a cheap rate! Finding cheap airfare has always been fascinating to me because the prices are so variable.. Great tips on finding a good rate, btw!

  8. I’ve never been to Panama, but one of my dearest friends is from Panama. We became friends before she could speak a lick of English LOL She’s told me so many great stories about the country she grew up in so I can’t wait to visit. Love these travel tips/deals!

  9. These are killer travel deals for sure. I wish we could be more flexible with our travel schedule.

    But the way these schools are set up makes it tough.

  10. Wow – very cool to get such a killer deal all the way around. This is a great idea for a series. I will definitely be checking them all out!

  11. I’ve heard some wonderful things about Panama and you just confirmed it. Can’t wait to get there myself. I’m waiting on a flight deal too.

  12. That RT price is amazing!!! I love international trips that don’t break my bank, so this is a trip I’d love to take myself. Looking forward to this series!

  13. Love this series Tia and I will be following along. Right now Paris or Abu Dhabi are high up on my list. I plan to make them a reality sooner rather than later.

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