|Currency: Panama Balboa (PAB)||Eco-Lodges|
|Size: 75,517 km² / 29,157 mi²||Favorite Restaurants|
|Landscape: rainforest, beaches, mountains|
|Activities: hiking, diving, snorkeling, wildlife watching, swimming, surfing|
The Republic of Panama in Central America is best known for the Panama Canal which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But like neighboring Costa Rica it’s also part of the land bridge that connects North and South America. As such, it’s a biodiversity hotspot. Panama’s population is a cultural mix of indigenous Indians, African descendants of the Caribbean slave trade and Spanish descendants from the colonial period.
TOP SPOTS IN PANAMA
Casco Viejo, a quaint and picturesque colonial-era barrio across the bay from Panama City’s modern downtown is one of our favorite urban hangouts. Founded in 1673, Casco Viejo was once the hub of Panamanian culture and civilization. But as the downtown area across the bay grew, Casco fell into disrepair and soon became infested with gangs, crime and drug trafficking. Today, this unique neighborhood has literally been transformed. Investors, realizing its historic value and charm, have restored many of the old buildings, and now the barrio is one of the hottest spots in Panama City. And while the historic district is still somewhat of a work in progress, that’s exactly what makes it exciting. Burned-out shells of old, dilapidated buildings stand side-by-side with beautifully restored colonial-era palaces and theaters.
Connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, the Panama Canal is a fascinating place to explore. Visitors can either watch the big ships pass through the locks on both ends of the canal or explore the natural wonders in and along it. The Old Pipeline Road is a bird lover’s dream and offers unique views of rare birds like the quetzal. There is also a Smithsonian research center here that offers tours of its operation. One of the best ways to experience the Canal is to take a boat ride on its main waterway Lake Gatun. This tour takes you past huge freighters lining up for the locks and also explores the countless tributaries of the river fringed by thick jungle and abundant wildlife.
The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is a gem in the Caribbean waters of Panama’s northwestern shore. This unspoiled island paradise offers empty white sand beaches; colorful coral reefs and thick jungles full of sloths, red frogs, parrots and monkeys. Getting there takes some time, but the journey is worth it. Once you arrive in this paradise you can enjoy classic Caribbean culture and food; surf some of the best waves in the country; kayak rainforest rivers; explore bat caves; dive with colorful fish, seahorses and sea stars; learn about indigenous culture in local villages; relax on uninhabited islands and enjoy magnificent sunsets.