Panama is best known for the Canal that separates the country at its thinnest point. Those who venture will discover one of the loveliest countries in Latin America. The tiny republic lies at the crossroads of the Americas. Panama represents a mash of cultures and wildlife. The small size makes it a perfect location for a varied two-week holiday. You can spend one week on pristine beaches, the next exploring the wildlife-rich interior.
For wildlife lovers, Panama is a gem of the Americas. Bird-watchers know that the country runs along one of the main migratory routes between the Americas. You can see more birds in this tiny country then the US and Mexico put together. Much of the country has protected status, so it is possible to spot tapirs, monkeys, caiman, alligators and even jaguars.
It is worth dallying in the capital Panama City. The city’s blend of modern and old offers much. Ramble among the charming Spanish colonial ruins in the Casco Viejo. Relax in the sweeping green parks. Enjoy excellent museums and a skyline to rival any of the world’s major cities. A must is the famous Panama Canal. At Miraflores Lock you can spend hours watching the vessels inching through. With more time take a boat ride along the canal for a closer encounter with this man-made marvel of the modern age.
On the Caribbean coast, Portobello was the site of flamboyant 16th and 17th century markets, where fortified warehouses filled with Peruvian gold and silver were guarded against pirate raids – though today you’ll only find quiet, beautiful beaches.
To get away from it all go the San Blas archipelago off Panama’s northern coastline.
Like a dream of idyllic white sand coral islands and coconut trees surrounded by sapphire seas. Many of the islands are uninhabited, so it’s not hard to find your own private paradise. The colourful Kuna people inhabit sixty of the islands and are a proud indigenous community. Determined to protect their heritage, they have maintained autonomy ever since this Spanish arrived. A chief from each island is part of the San Blas government. Places to stay are rustic with simple wooden huts. You will get a slice of authenticity. Spend days swinging in a hammock with a book, snorkelling with exotic fish and learning about the Kuna’s way of life.
On the Pacific, the Azuero Peninsula is dotted with old colonial towns, perfect surfing beaches and nature reserves hosting wetland birds and nesting turtles. To the west is the mountainous area Chiriqui, a land of misty cloud forests. Here you find national parks with waterfalls and hummingbirds. The hub is the charming town Boquete located on Panama’s only volcano, Barú. Take hikes along the trails in search of the abundant bird life. Scan your binoculars to find the hundreds of species including the spectacular resplendent Quetzal. A once-in-a-lifetime bird. The more adventurous can go biking, climbing and rafting and then take a soothing soak in one of the hot springs.
For fun and sun head to the northwest to the Bocas del Toro archipelago. This group of islands offers a laid-back pace and Caribbean vibe. It’s a short small plane hop to the provincial capital on Isla Colón. Secluded lodges and over-the-water bungalows are a plenty on the smaller surrounding islands. Scuba dive, snorkel, surf, kayak by day, but by night gorge on fresh lobster on a secluded beach. It doesn’t get any better.
The notorious Darién Gap was, until recently, almost completely impenetrable but parts of this rainforest wilderness are now opening up to the most adventurous travellers.
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Good to know
Ropa vieja ('old clothes') is beef sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes and green or red peppers served with yellow rice.
Weather is dependent on which side of the country you visit. The northern Caribbean coast receives a little rain all year round, although this is less between February and March and September and October. The southern Pacific coast can also be visited all year round, although the dry season between December and April is the best, but also the most popular.