Travel to Panama – A Magical Bridge Between Worlds
Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019
The magical nation of Panama sits at many crossroads – between Central and South America; the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean; unspoiled nature and glassy modern cities; relaxed traditional life and cosmopolitan hustle.
From the ecotourist to the “chic”-otourist, there’s something to surprise and delight everyone in the endless summer that envelops Panama – deserted islands, diving and surfing, coffee and rum tasting, cloud forests and volcanoes, nightlife and indigenous culture. Let this little country make a big impression at any or all of the following beautiful destinations and vacation experiences. Find out why travel to Panama is highly recommended.
If you want vibrant city life in Central America, you want Panama City, a metropolis of skyscrapers and expansive culture. From world-class shopping to five-star dining, opulent hotels to all-night Salsa ragers, Panama City gives the Miami’s and Rio’s of the world a run for its money. The historic city center of Casco Viejo, now on the southwestern edge of the city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, brimming with romance amid gorgeous French and Spanish architecture, bohemian cafes and plazas, and boutique luxury hotels.
Numerous luxury resorts ranging from boutique to all-inclusive are all located throughout the Panama City region. Do you like excursions but prefer some outside the city? Try Playa Bonita on the southern tip of Panama City… picturesque refuge from the hustle and bustle of the main city with golden sands and stunning views.
Visit the Panama Canal
This marvel of modern engineering is a “heart-valve” of world commerce, an access point for over 14,500 vessels every year. It’s a spectacle not to miss while on travel in Panama. Watch with fascination as gigantic ships are raised and lowered multiple stories by an ingenious system of dams and gravity-fed locks.
Up the canal from Panama City lies the legacy of the largest damming project in the world – the man-made Lake Gatun. The friendly village of Gamboa sits on the canal, surrounded by national forests and unique opportunities for ecotourism and wildlife encounters. Iguana Island Wildlife Reserve, in the northern part of Lake Gatun, boasts unforgettable wildlife and bird watching opportunities, as well as colorful reefs to experience while snorkeling or SCUBA diving. Barro Colorado Island is the site of a cutting-edge Smithsonian research facility, as well. Nearby Monkey Island is accessible for a playful encounter with four species of indigenous monkeys.
Tour Panama’s Pacific Coast
The Azuero Peninsula on the Pacific Coast is known as the heartland of Panama – a land of traditions and folklore. Here, pre-Columbian indigenous cultures meld with Spanish culture. Take a stroll among the stunning architecture overlooking some of the country’s most pristine beaches and resorts.
The Peninsula features the best-known of Panama’s artisan rum distilleries, Ron Abel. Many distilleries are worth a visit, but admission at Ron Abel includes a ride to the distillery by ox-drawn cart!
The Pacific Coast of Panama also sits on a 5,000-mile migratory route for humpback whales. You can spot these enormous, rare marine mammals breaching and spouting between July and mid-October on a refreshing morning cruise.
Sea turtles’ nest on multiple Pacific beaches. You can encounter them laying their eggs between July and mid-November. From October to mid-January, you can catch those eggs hatch and the baby turtles scrambling across the sand and into the surf.
Nestled in the caldera of an extinct volcano, El Valle de Anton is a small village that offers breathtaking scenery, from waterfalls to forested mountain ridges with views of the distant ocean. Trails from El Valle cross the habitats of hundreds of rare and colorful bird species, from the blue-crowned motmot to the red-legged honeycreeper.
Panama Bay features some of the best surfing in Central America, including Playa Venao, Cambutal, and Morro Negrito. You can also snorkel the splendid reefs off Pelican Island or explore beaches and lowlands by ATV.
Relax in Bocas Del Toro
The Caribbean Sea archipelago of Bocas Del Toro is as much a state-of-mind as it is a state of the nation of Panama. Cheerful Bocas Town on the tip of Isla Colon is friendly and laid back, a wonderland of vivid Caribbean-style clapboard houses that can easily begin to feel like home.
Inexpensive water taxis put priceless island destinations at your fingertips with transportation across crystal-clear Caribbean water. Isla Colon and Isla Bastimentos are famous destinations to surf monster waves in Central America. In the Dolphin Bay preserve you can hike jungles, taste cacao beans fresh out of the pod, and encounter camin, sea urchins, poison dart frogs, and the whip-smart sea mammals that give the island its name.
The remote, tiny island of Coral Cay features charming floating restaurants and resort cabins with thatched roofs, built on stilts over the water. Taxi over to Red Frog Beach to enjoy a romantic getaway from commercial development to lounge in deluxe villas and jungle lodges overlooking one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. The deserted Zapatilla Cay is a dream come true if you love beaches and solitude – palm trees, white-sand beaches, turquoise water as far as the eye can see.
Ecotourism Heaven in Boquete
It’s not just cities, islands and beaches that make travel in Panama so special. The tiny town of Boquete, perched in the Chiriqui Highlands, is a popular retirement destination and a hub for ecotourism. Stay in the village to taste some of the best Panamanian cuisine the country has to offer. Then get out into the country to explore rainforests and coffee plantations, hike up Baru Volcano, brave the whitewater rapids of Chiriqui Viejo, and search for that crown jewel of birdwatching – the elusive and colorful Resplendent Quetzal – on a walk down Quetzal Trail.
Luxe in the Pearl Islands
These 200 islands in the heart of Panama Bay, on the Pacific Ocean, are a playground of the rich and famous. Contadora Island, a popular destination for whale watching tours, is home to some of Panama’s wealthiest citizens and most deluxe resorts. The Pearl Islands also have a rich history as a stopping point for pirate ships and as a retreat for famous refugees, including the deposed Shah of Iran in 1979.
Unique Culture of the San Blas Islands
Travel to Panama provides some exceptional opportunities to appropriate authentic cultures. San Blas Islands, an archipelago of over 360 islands off the northern Caribbean coast, also goes by another name – Kuna Yala. This area is the homeland of the indigenous Kuna people. The tribe is known for staunchly resisted Hispanic assimilation. Although Spanish is widely spoken there, so too is the indigenous Kuna language.
Kuna people still wear their traditional dress, including the dazzling Molas, rainbow-colored textiles with applique patterns that are incorporated into the dresses of Kuna women. Explore the unique Kuna culture, ride in a handcrafted dugout canoe, and then catch a ferry for a snorkeling trip to Cayo Limones or Cayos Holandeses, deserted islands surrounded by water so clear that you can see all the way to the ocean floor.
You can read more on Panama from our article, The Perfect Paradise in the Panama Islands, or view our Travel Panama page with sample itineraries and other information.
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