Located in San Carlos, about an hour and a half bus ride ($3) south west from Panama City (from the Albook Bus Terminal). This little town is a resting point for visits to El Palmar beach. El Palmar is the first beach where I’ve seen a mix of light brown sand and black volcanic sand. As the tide washes in and out a marble effect is done between the two sands where some of it even looks braided.
Do not let the small drive north of the main road fool you. Even I was questioning where exactly we were being taken. The road while paved, does not lead on that you are on your way to a hostel/hotel. However we were surprised to find a very modern, up to date facility with a hospitable owner, Joe.
Main features are The Dirty Devil Cantina. Ice cold beer, wine and mixed drinks. Flat screen TVs, a full kitchen and authentic decor make this a great social area. It looks out on to a yard dotted with palm trees and has a direct path to the pool. After a hot day of doing anything in Panama this pool is an oasis in the jungle. Also, free wifi through out the entire ranch makes sure you can stay connected as you move around.
Features multiple types of accommodation to suit your needs. I stayed on the hostel side, in one of the private rooms for $50/night. Bunks can be taken for $25/night. A huge, mostly English book exchange, a kitchen and laundry and social area of its own. Bathrooms are shared however there are four stalls which each have power outlets, sink & toilets, mirrors and a shower. The only small downside is there is no A/C in these rooms but they do have a massive ceiling fan that on full speed keeps you more than cool. I am one of the harsher critics when it comes to rooms without air conditioning (I simply cannot sleep when it’s too hot) and I had no problems. Honestly, this hostel is one of the best I’ve stayed in.
Next to the pool, the casitas can be rented for $85/night. Each have a private bathroom, air conditioning, a mini fridge and microwave. Consider that because of the popularity of El Palmar beach most lodging close to it is approximately $100/night USD. Ranchos Los Toros is on budget and can arrange transportation to the beach for you.
I challenge you to find someone more friendly, welcoming, personable and accommodating than the owner of Ranchos Los Toros, Joe. An expat from the USA, lover of fine wines and travel enthusiast, he moved to Panama in 2005 and has been here since. Knowledgeable on any topic you throw his way and an encyclopedia of local information you will feel like old friends after he sits to eat dinner with you and share in your conversation. The fact that the owner is so engaging really makes this place stand out.
Rancho Los Toros is becoming popular with locals as well. As Joe hosts a five course dinner and pairs each meal with a complimenting wine. He presents the occasion on the weekends and locals can even purchase a membership to club de vino for discounts on the events. If you’re interested, book early as they fill up quickly.
I discovered Rancho Los Toros by researching surf schools in Panama and couldn’t be happier. Just opened to the public in September 2012 this place has something for everyone. If you’re in Panama it’s worth coming to. Explore the area. I know I will be back as soon as I can.