I love to travel, and I love the smells when I travel.
I like going on a quick vacation for a couple of days or weeks to get away and unwind, but I love to travel and stay in places for extended periods to meet people who live there and learn their customs.
One of the places I have lived in and visited is Torio, Panama.
I have been to Torio many times. Each time I go for a visit, I stay longer. One of these times, I will head back not only for another vacation but permanently.
My sister and her husband have a fantastic Airbnb I stay in (I highly recommend it). Katie (my sister) and Scot take care of me and show me a great time each and every time I go. We’ll get to Torio in a minute, but first, let’s find out how to get there.
The Smells of Travelling
When flying in, we have to land in Panama City. It is by far the biggest city in Panama and the central place to fly internationally.
I love the smell of an airport and when I get on a plane. Everything smells different and better when you go somewhere new. Panama is no different.
Smells and odors go directly into our limbic system, including the amygdala and hippocampus, the regions responsible for emotion and memory. I love smells when traveling because, in the future, odors can activate your memory and take you right back to where you were.
I don’t know if you can smell humidity and heat, but coming from Canada, I sure can. And I love it. When I walk out of the Tocumen International Airport and smell the palm trees blowing in the warm wind off the ocean, I know I’m in my happy place.
Once I landed, I hopped in a cab and went to Casco Viejo, or Old Town, where my mom (who arrived on an earlier points flight) and Katie and Scot were waiting for me at the beautiful Magnolia Inn.
We spent the next few days seeing Old Panama City's sites. We took in the exotic smells of the open-air markets and fish stands. We ate in magnificent restaurants, including our favorite: an Argentinian steakhouse with spectacular meat dishes and tons of funny shit on the walls. If you haven’t smelled Argentinian steak sizzling on the grill, you’re missing out. It was called Marzolo Parrilla, and it was awesome.
After our fun in the city, we met a super friendly Panamanian gentleman named Slym, who would drive us to our final destination, Torio.
Slym operates a car service to drive people where they want to go. If you don’t want to take an eight-hour bus ride to a smaller Panamanian town, you pay someone like Slym and his air-conditioned SUV to do it for you.
Slym is a fantastic driver, very friendly, and knowledgeable about all things Panama. If you have a couple of extra hundred dollars, I recommend his services to get where you’re going. Plus, his SUV has that new car smell. I love that. His company is called Slym’s Panama Tour Service, and here are links to his Facebook and Google pages.
After about five comfortable hours in the car, plus a few stops along the way, we made it to our rented house in Torio.
The two stops were at PriceSmart and a roadside fruit and vegetable stand. For those who don’t know, PriceSmart is kind of like Costco, where you can buy good stuff in bulk for a reasonable price.
If you really want the best deals, though, the side of the road is where to go. And everything is about as fresh as it can be. They probably pulled out of the ground that morning.
Here’s a quick list of what we bought on the side of the road:
- Avocado — 10 for $10
- Watermelon — $3 each
- Pineapples — $2 each
- A huge bag of mixed vegetables- $5
- Cucumber, tomato, lettuce, potatoes, green onion, carrot, onion
- Oranges (when in season) — 25lbs for $6
- Papayas — $2 each
- Cantaloupe — $2 each
Anyways, that’s a general idea of how much food costs in Panama. It’s pretty reasonable compared to other places in North America, and since it’s fresh, it smells and tastes better.
Now we’ve arrived in Torio. I have spent quite a bit of time in Torio, and every time I go back, I end up having a more fantastic time than the last. I briefly lived in Torio for a few months with Katie and Scot and thoroughly enjoyed everything about it.
A Little About Torio
I love Torio because my sister, Scot, and their two awesome dogs (Amato and Dobbie) reside in this little gem of a coastal town nestled in a small river valley. They moved there about thirteen years ago now, and they love it.
Not too many people live in Torio. I would say a few hundred, with the population fluctuating low between the rainy fall months and high in the dry summer. Plenty of ex-pats flee the north’s winter and jet down to Panama for a few months.
Accommodation in Torio
There are plenty of places for rent in Torio, with some ex-pat homeowners choosing to only live in Torio for a few months of the year. Others have built little casitas on their properties or have even converted big shipping containers into a cabin, then added some walls and rooms.
Scot and Katie have a casita on their property which they rent out, complete with a pool and a beautiful valley view. Here’s their Airbnb link if you want to stay at the best bed and breakfast in Torio, or Google “Torio Green Valley Breeze” to find it.
Katie and Scot’s place has everything you need for a perfect Torio vacation, including home-cooked meals for a price. Katie is an accomplished chef, and Scot is the king of the smoker. You won’t find a better combination of food and accommodation than at the Torio Green Valley Breeze.
Also, they can host private lunch and dinner functions, even if you don’t stay at their place, but you need to give them notice. Check out the “Where To Eat In Torio” section below to book a meal.
Additionally, deep-sea fishing is the best activity to do at the Torio Green Valley Breeze, and Scot can arrange that for you. Ask him about it by sending him an email: Scotkingpanama@gmail.com. More on fishing later.
The people that live there are part of a community, and I love that. Everyone knows everyone, and most do their part to keep their little town going and growing.
Many newer houses have at least four bedrooms and sit on a hill overlooking the town and ocean, offering spectacular views of the sun setting into the water.
These are the cream of the crop and can sometimes be hard to rent. If you can grab one and you’re looking for a great way to spend a few weeks, there’s nothing better than one of these places.
In addition to houses for rent, there is a hostel on the beach and at least one hotel on top of the bluff. The hostel is usually sought out by surfers looking for a cheap place to stay while riding the large surf surrounding the Torio area.
Situated right on the beach, you cannot find a hostel closer to the ocean. It is a bit off the beaten path — you have to take a beaten track through cow pastures to get there — but once you’ve made it, they have all the basic amenities they need for a classic beach hostel stay, including:
- Fishing tours
- Clean water
- All the surfing you can handle
If a fantastic surf vacation in the middle of nowhere right on the beach is what you’re looking for, this is the place to go.
Right now, Torio is booming. Its small stature is almost insufficient to hold the demand for places to stay. It’s still a quaint little town, but Torio is growing at a Panama pace — no rush.
Where to Eat in Torio
There is Katie and Scot’s place. That’s the best.
I’ve always loved the smells coming out of my sister’s kitchen. Her cooking is the stuff dreams are made of.
Katie and Scot have gone all out with Katie’s Cocina. They have even made themselves a smoker. Scot constructed this beautiful beast out of a giant 55-gallon oil drum and welded grates and pipes onto it to create a true thing of beauty. They smoke all kinds of meat and fish, including town favourites: their smoked pork and smoked tuna jerky.
You don’t know what you’re missing if you haven't smelled smoked pork. The meat is marinated and perfectly seasoned, then smoked for hours — sometimes days — until it is pull-apart cooked to perfection.
You can eat at Katie and Scot’s without staying at their Airbnb, but you must make a reservation at least two days in advance at Scotkingpanama@gmail.com.
Katie is an accomplished chef, and Scot is the king of the smoker — you won’t find better food within 100 miles. Their Taco nights are fast becoming the stuff of legend (see if you can beat the record for most in one sitting…). Others prefer the ceviche-making class with the fresh catch after a fishing trip, where you’ll learn how to make fresh ceviche in all possible ways. Plus, Katie and Scot will prepare a lovely ceviche lunch spread for a delicious meal afterward.
Katie and Scot have a beautiful outdoor kitchen and eating area with incredible views of the valley and mountains when the sun is up and lovely decorative lighting and music for the evening. This idyllic spot is where they can host private lunch and dinner functions for individuals, couples, or groups looking for an incredible home-cooked meal and a unique dining experience.
They are not a restaurant, so you can’t get food on a whim, but if you give them at least two days’ notice, they would be happy to cook up a terrific meal for you. If you want to book a meal at Katie and Scot’s exclusive outdoor dining spot, email Scot at Scotkingpanama@gmail.com. Remember that they will need at least two days’ notice to prepare your meal.
Check out Katie’s Instagram to get a taste of what she makes: Katie’s Cocina (Instagram @lacosinadekatie).
The other place you can go is Johnny’s. It’s right off the main road and has some well-priced, traditional Panamanian dishes. You can get things like fried chicken, fish, and the ever-popular beans and rice dish.
There are a few other places to grab grub around this little town that you can check out when you get here.
What To Do in Torio
If you have the time and the means, I recommend a fishing trip out on the ocean. I have gone out with a good ol’ Kentucky gentleman named Jerry a few times, and his voyages have not disappointed.
Nothing is better than getting out onto the open ocean and taking in a big breath of fresh sea air.
Along with his friend Alexi, Jerry loaded up the boat with sandwiches, beer, water, pop, and snacks and took us out onto the open ocean to catch Yellowfin tuna, Wahoo, and Dorado. It is just as much a sightseeing tour as a fishing trip, as the waters are very deep yet very close to shore. This area is also named the Tuna Coast — for good reason.
Terrific views of the infinite ocean, the breathtaking coastline, the lush, green jungle, breaching whales, and friendly porpoises swimming alongside the boat were all part of the trip. Six ongoing fishing rods are pulled behind us, and when they snag a fish, we take turns reeling it in.
Deep-sea fishing out of Torio is an amazing little adventure from a unique town that will feed your spirit and stomach! It’s one of my favorite little adventures when I am down there.
Another excellent daytime adventure was our hike to a waterfall. After driving through a small part of the river, we parked the truck and headed up a little dirt path that followed the river. It’s about a 20-minute walk through the jungle, up and down the track, underneath tree branches, and over rocks. The dogs can do it with no problem, but it was a little tiring for the rest of us.
Well worth the effort, though. Once we reached the falls, there was a little pool for swimming, rocks for sitting on, and a fantastic vista to take in all afternoon.
Torio is Growing — Slowly
Torio is going to be a tiny tourist hot spot one day. But like everything in Panama, it takes a little while to get there.
The vibe in Torio is very chill and serene, a perfect setting for a surfing village to take shape. The transformation has begun with a hostel already open and getting a new renovation and some of the residents building little casitas for rent. There are plenty of places to rent in all price ranges, sizes, and styles. Find your spot and make a reservation. Torio’s reputation has grown locally, and it can be not easy to find boarding at certain times of the year.
If you’re like me and looking for a more permanent vacation, there are plenty of lots for sale at a wide range of prices and views. (Check out my article “The Complete Guide to Buying a House in Panama.”)
But first, as the article says, come check out Torio. If you want to buy, definitely rent first. If you are looking for a vacation spot off the beaten path, come check out Torio.
Grab a flight to Panama City and then book an air-conditioned SUV ride to Torio with Slym– the professional driver with a beautiful soul — and sit back and take in the beautiful countryside along the drive.
Once you arrive in Torio, enjoy the town, the food, the smells, and the people. They’re all amazing.
And don’t forget to stay at the best little Airbnb in town.
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