Panama is a great destination for both active travelers and beach lovers. Take a dip into this hybrid of Caribbean and Latin culture to experience the good life.
Located in the southern part of Central America, Panama is thought to be the gateway between North and South America. Interestingly enough, the famous Panama Canal also makes it a gateway bewteen the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Apart from being a geographic point of interest, Panama offers plenty of pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and mountains, making it a great destination on your Central American tour. Panama is just waiting to be discovered!
Panama City is both the national capital and undoubtedly the heart of business life. Though Panama’s economy is growing quickly, the general price level remains affordable for budget travelers. That said, Panama City is very cosmopolitan and has no shortage of hip clubs, eateries, and tapas bars. You’ll find all the party people at Calle Uruguay, in particular.
Most travelers also like to visit the seafront to see Casco Viejo, the historical and more rustic part of the city. Additionally, a simple 15 minute walk from the city center will bring you to the Parque Natural Metropolitano, where you can enjoy a nice rainforest hike. Needless to say, this is worth checking out.
You will find the more touristy side of Panama at the archipelago Bocas del Toro. Located near the Costa Rican border, it consists of six green islands and the beautiful Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos. Though tourism is booming in neighboring Costa Rica, Panama still lacks huge hotels and commercial development. Therefore, the atmosphere around Bocas del Toro is quite relaxed. All six islands are covered with jungle and beautiful beaches.
Isla Colón is the most developed of all the islands. If you’re looking for a more easy-going place, then you should head to nearby Isla Caranero, a famous stopover point for Christopher Columbus back in 1502.
If you travel to the Comarca de Kuna Yala on the Caribbean coast, you will meet the Kuna, the most independent indigenous group in Central America. The Kuna people have maintained their traditional way of life, which separates them from the rest of contemporary Panamian society. When visiting these people, you will observe their strong sense of community and teamwork. It may cross your mind that westerners can actually learn from this lifestyle.
How about some trekking, rafting, surfing or diving? This country is great for active travelers. You’ll find the country’s only volcano in Parque Nacional Volcán Barú. Go trekking there to see some incredibly beautiful views. Camping is great in Cerro Punta, Boquete and El Valle. Remember that it can become very cold during nighttime in higher altitudes, so bring some warm clothes.
Those who are looking for more of an adrenaline kick can head to the fertile province of Chiriquí for rafting. The rivers are long and you’ll be surrounded by rich rainforests and waterfalls.
Surfers can find some serious waves at various places in Panama. Be sure to check out the surfing at Bocas del Toro. Another option is to head toward the Parque Nacional de Chiriquí, which consists of 25 islands and 19 coral reefs. This place is a paradise for divers and snorkelers. you may also want to check out the protected Isla Boca Brava, where sea turtles lay their eggs and monkeys runwild along the forest paths.
To get to Bocas del Toro, you can take a taxi from the Costa Rican border at Quabito to Changuinola – a dusty banana town. This takes less than half an hour. From Changuinola, you need to catch a boat to get to Bocas. These run daily.
Within Panama City, there is a local bus network called the “diablos rojos”. From Panama City, you can also take a scenic train ride to Colón, which operates daily. International flights use Tocumen International Airport while domestic flights use Albrook Airport.
The Pacific and the Caribbean sides of Panama have different seasons. It’s best to visit the Pacific side between April and December during the dry season. On the Caribbean side, it rains year-round. However, the rain showers are short, so don’t let this keep you from visiting Panama's east coast. Expect less rain in February, March, September and October. If you plan to trek in Panama, you should visit during the dry season. Rafters get best conditions from May to December and divers have the clearest water from December to April.
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