Panama is the spindly country that connects the Americas and the mighty Pacific Ocean with the calm waters of the Caribbean. A haven for ex-pats, backpackers, surfers and nature lovers, Panama is a people pleaser. Whether you want to enjoy the dazzling urban environment in Panama City or venture off the beaten path to a deserted beach or visit one of the indigenous tribes, you can tailor your Panamanian adventure to satisfy your travel bug. What really makes Panama stand out is its stunning collection of natural features. From the sparkling waters and rainbow reefs of Boca del Toro, to the to the balmy rainforests where you can zip-line your way through the canopy, Panama is an Eden waiting to be explored.
Panama City is regarded as the most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, and since the construction of its famous canal, has been the epicentre of business and trade in the region. Always expanding and evolving, the metropolis teeters on the brink of chaos with traffic jams, constant construction and an ‘anything goes’ attitude. That being said, those are only minor distractions from the city’s vibrant and dynamic nature, with its many museums, art galleries, historical sectors and wonderful restaurants there is plenty to keep you busy for a few days. And when the sun sets over Panama City the Latin rhythms really turn up the heat in the numerous clubs and bars. For a local history lesson scoot over the old sections of the city: the Casco Viejo is a UNESCO site and the oldest city in the Americas, and the remnants of Panama Viejo are ancient reminders of the area’s importance as a Spanish trading centre. A central feature of the capital is the historic Panama Canal and most tourists view the canal from the Miraflores Lock. You can also take a boat trip or bike along the Amadour Causeway next to the canal for fantastic views.
And if you haven’t absorbed enough history yet, check out the sleepy little town of Portobelo. Established in 1502 the town’s 18th-century fortifications were built to protect Spanish gold from invading pirates. The town’s fort is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Outdoor enthusiasts will be pleased to know that there are three rainforest parks just outside of Panama City. Parque Chagres, Parque Metropolitano and Parque Soberania are excellent venues to hike, bird watch and spot indigenous wildlife like anteaters, monkeys and sloths.
In the north of the country is Boquete, a charming little village in the mountainous Chiriquí Highlands region. Here you can take a tour through one of the surrounding coffee plantations and savour a delicious cup of freshly brewed Panamanian coffee.
Also in the north is Bocas del Toro, a popular beach town that combines breath-taking natural scenery with a relaxed Caribbean atmosphere. Here visitors can enjoy combing through the lush tropical jungle, kayaking through the mangrove forest, surfing the breaks and snorkelling in secluded coves. Boca del Toro is especially popular for young travellers who enjoy the laid-back beach bars and nightly entertainment.
The San Blas Islands are one of the most coveted destinations in Panama. The Caribbean island chain located off the coast of Panama is the perfect place to ‘fall off the grid.’ While some of the islands have high-end resorts, they mostly cater to budget travellers and backpackers who are happy with the rustic surroundings. Sailing, diving and snorkelling are the top activities here and you can easily charter a boat tour to go island hopping.
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