PANAMA

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Bocas del Toro: 9.340556, -82.240556
Casco Viejo: 8.953133, -79.535756
Panama Canal: 9.116673, -79.710274
Language: Spanish Packlist
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

1. CASCO VIEJO

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.

Panama City’s Old Town Casco Viejo
Los Cuatro Tulipanes: a different kind of eco-lodge in the city

  • Casco Viejo's beautifully restored colonial-era buildings Casco Viejo's beautifully restored colonial-era buildings
  • A recently restored building next to one that needs some attention in Casco Viejo A recently restored building next to one that needs some attention in Casco Viejo
  • Indigenous women selling hand-crafted molas in Casco Viejo's street markets Indigenous women selling hand-crafted molas in Casco Viejo's street markets
  • A unique glimpse into local Panamanian life down one of Casco Viejo's back alleys A unique glimpse into local Panamanian life down one of Casco Viejo's back alleys
  • One of Casco Viejo's colorful street scenes One of Casco Viejo's colorful street scenes
  • The Metropolitan Cathedral on Plaza de la Catedral, also known as Plaza de la Independencia The Metropolitan Cathedral on Plaza de la Catedral, also known as Plaza de la Independencia
  • Paseo Esteban Huertas is home to many street vendors Paseo Esteban Huertas is home to many street vendors
  • Panama's downtown skyline framed in Paseo Esteban Huertas's pink Bougainvillea flowers Panama's downtown skyline framed in Paseo Esteban Huertas's pink Bougainvillea flowers
  • Great restaurants and bars frame the eclectic Plaza Bolivar Great restaurants and bars frame the eclectic Plaza Bolivar
  • Old and newly restored sits next to each other many times in Casco Viejo Old and newly restored sits next to each other many times in Casco Viejo
  • The ornate Church of San Francisco of Asis The ornate Church of San Francisco of Asis
  • The ruins of the Church of Santo Domingo The ruins of the Church of Santo Domingo
  • Local houses in Casco Viejo Local houses in Casco Viejo
  • Casco Viejo's restored National Theater Casco Viejo's restored National Theater
  • The Panama City skyline at night reflecting off the bay The Panama City skyline at night reflecting off the bay
  • The Fish Market (El Mercado del Mariscos) near Casco Viejo The Fish Market (El Mercado del Mariscos) near Casco Viejo
  • View of Panama City's impressive skyline from Cerro Ancon View of Panama City's impressive skyline from Cerro Ancon

2. PANAMA CANAL

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 Panama Canal – more than just a shortcut between two oceans

  • Huge freighters cross Lake Gatun, the dammed up lake inbetween the locks on the Pacific and Caribbean side of Panama Huge freighters cross Lake Gatun, the dammed up lake inbetween the locks on the Pacific and Caribbean side of Panama
  • With only inches to spare on both sides, a big freighter passes through the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side of the Canal With only inches to spare on both sides, a big freighter passes through the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side of the Canal
  • You would never believe that one of the world's busiest canals is just a stone's throw away when you are gliding along the countless river arms along Lake Gatun You would never believe that one of the world's busiest canals is just a stone's throw away when you are gliding along the countless river arms along Lake Gatun
  • A local kid fillets our catch of the day after fishing in the river arms of Lago Gatun A local kid fillets our catch of the day after fishing in the river arms of Lago Gatun

3. BOCAS DEL TORO

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.

Bocas del Toro – Panama’s Island Paradise
Al Natural Resort: the perfect eco-lodge for beach lovers

  • The remote northern side of Isla Bastimentos offers uncrowded beaches and underwater caves to explore while snorkeling The remote northern side of Isla Bastimentos offers uncrowded beaches and underwater caves to explore while snorkeling
  • Strawberry poisson dart frog - this tiny critter is abundant on Isla Bastimentos Strawberry poisson dart frog - this tiny critter is abundant on Isla Bastimentos
  • Caribbean sunsets are some of the most outstanding in the world, and Al Natural Resort on Isla Bastimentos offers an incredible setting Caribbean sunsets are some of the most outstanding in the world, and Al Natural Resort on Isla Bastimentos offers an incredible setting
  • Colorful starfish are just some of the gems that await you underwater in between and close to the mangrove roots Colorful starfish are just some of the gems that await you underwater in between and close to the mangrove roots
  • Handmade dugouts are still an important means of transportation in Bocas del Toro Handmade dugouts are still an important means of transportation in Bocas del Toro
  • If you start hiking away from Red Frog Beach, you'll suddenly find beaches that you can have all to yourself If you start hiking away from Red Frog Beach, you'll suddenly find beaches that you can have all to yourself
  • Like many of the islands in Bocas del Toro, Isla Bastimentos is fringed on its leewards side by mangroves and covered by beautiful rainforest in the interior Like many of the islands in Bocas del Toro, Isla Bastimentos is fringed on its leewards side by mangroves and covered by beautiful rainforest in the interior
  • Sloths can be found hanging in trees all over Bocs del Toro Sloths can be found hanging in trees all over Bocs del Toro
  • Surfer at Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos Surfer at Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos If the swell is right, you can find some pretty outstanding surfing in Bocas del Toro.
  • Zapatilla Island I Zapatilla Island I One of two uninhabited islands that lay in the warm Caribbean waters surrounded by great coral reefs.
  • Snorkeling in Bocas del Toro Snorkeling in Bocas del Toro
  • Bastimentos Town Bastimentos Town Very Caribbean this small town lets you experience locals and their culture first hand.
  • Punta Vieja on Isla Bastimentos Punta Vieja on Isla Bastimentos
  • Diving in Bocas del Toror Diving in Bocas del Toror
  • This indigenous settlement of Salt Creek on Isla Bastimentos lets you experience indigenous culture and craft. Guided tours can be taken to either explore the village or its surroundings. This indigenous settlement of Salt Creek on Isla Bastimentos lets you experience indigenous culture and craft. Guided tours can be taken to either explore the village or its surroundings.
  • Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos