Panama City and Surroundings: The Panama Canal, surrounded by a cosmopolitan city and its Old Quarter with colonial style, connects the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean through a path of a lush rainforest which was dug with the sweat and blood of generations of adventurers
The visit of the canal locks, both on the Pacific side (Miraflores locks) and the Caribbean side (Gatun locks) is an absolute must, and a highly exciting experience. Contemplating the fascinating transit of big ships in the locks, one can only feel admiration for the men who dedicated their lives to what is still to this date the most amazing construction in the history of mankind, the world's eighth marvel.But for the tourist the canal also displays an amazing show of nature: it is surrounded by a dense rainforest inhabited by monkeys, sloths, ant-eaters, crocodiles, caimans and countless other fascinating species.The best way to enjoy this nature is to walk along one of the Soberania National Park trails from the village of Gamboa, or take a boat tour on Gatun lake. Tours and activities: - Visit of Miraflores locks and museum on Pacific side - Visit of Gatun locks on caribbean side - Half day or full day canal boat trip - Half or full day jungle tour/birdwatching tour in Soberania National Park - Canopy tour and exhibitions of Gamboa Rainforest Resort - Kayak tour from Gamboa Rainforest Resort - Half day or full day fishing tour in Gatun lake - Canopy zipline near hotel Melia Panama Canal Colon - Visit of Summit botanical and zoological gardens
The ruins of the first Spanish settlement (1519) can be seen at the extreme east of the city, on the way to the airport. It is locally called ''Panama Viejo''. On the other side of Panama City, the ''Casco Antiguo'' is the old colonial quarter that was built after Panama Viejo was burnt in 1671. It is extremely picturesque with its narrow streets, old houses, churches and convents. The visit of the Canal museum is not to be missed. On the other side of Panama City, the ''Casco Antiguo'' is the old colonial quarter that was built after Panama Viejo was burnt in 1671. It is extremely picturesque with its narrow streets, old houses, churches and convents. The visit of the Canal museum is not to be missed. Dominating the Casco Antiguo, Ancon Hill is covered with secondary vegetation where toucans, agoutis, and poison-dart frogs are a common sight. There is a splendid view of both the old and the modern city from the top of the hill. A Panamanian popular expression says that in Panama City one has one foot in Habana and the other in Miami! And indeed, the impressive skyline of modern Panama city makes it look like a little Miami. Its ''banking area'' is a renown financial base, and large shopping malls that work with Colon tax free zone make it a favourite shopping destination for Latin Americans. Surprisingly, early in the morning and late afternoon hundreds of little parrots can be seen (and heard!) on some of the largest avenues. At the extreme west end lies the entrance of the Panama Canal, where ships have to go under the famous ''Bridge of the Americas''. Right in front and not far from the Casco Antiguo, a long jetty, the Causeway, joins the mainland to three islands: Perico, Naos and Flamenco. From the Causeway there is a great view of the bay of Panama. It is also a popular place for jogging or cycling and eating out with many restaurants and bars. Tours and activities: - Visit of Panama la Vieja and museum - Visit of Casco viejo and canal museum - Visit of Ancon Hill and view - Hike in Parque Metropolitano secondary rainforest - Daily boat tour to Taboga island
Chagres National Park is a vast area of rainforest located 1 hour and a half from Panama City. It connects with both Sierra Llorona's forest and Portobelo National Park, forming an essential part of Panama's biological corridor. It is inhabited by several Emberá groups from Darien who immigrated in that region during the sixties. This situation allows visitors to meet with one of the country's main indigenous cultures not far away from their hotel in Panama City in one of Central America's most pristine rainforests. Tours and activities: - Visit of Embera village - Rainforest hikes
Pacific Coast and Islands: Panama's Pacific coastline stretches for hundreds of kilometers and is home to amazing wildlife and offers very diverse coastal sceneries: sandy beaches, rocky coves, mangroves and tropical dry forest. On shore, a network of national parks protects some endemic species, while offshore waters are the territory of sea turtles, whales, dolphins and other migrating animals. The nicest beaches are found on the countless islands spread throughout the ocean but given its proximity to Panama City and well-developed infrastructure and roads the beaches closer to the city are a favorite getaway for both locals and tourists.
The gulf of Montijo lies south of the city of Santiago. It has one of the country's largest mangrove area. Just out of the gulf towards the west Santa Catalina is a world-class destination for surfing. At the extreme south of the gulf the islands of Cebaco and Gobernadora are top destinations for fishermen. The Gulf of Montijo is also the main starting point to reach Coiba National Park. Coiba is a vast island (as a matter of fact the biggest island in central America) that lies a few miles south of the Panamanian coast. Its name comes from the Coiba indigenous who used to inhabit this place before being conquered by the Spanish. Coiba became a penal colony in 1919 and since that day it has been a symbol of extreme suffering and torture for the Panamanian people. The prison was closed in 2004 and today Coiba is peaceful and part of a very large marine park. Most of the island is covered with untouched primary rainforest that hosts some interesting endemic species and other spectacular animals such as the scarlet macaw. Marine life is awesome: dolphins, sea turtles, huge schools of fish, orcas and whales (from July to September) are commonly seen around Coiba, which has become famous around the world for scuba-diving and sport fishing. Coiba also has a large mangrove area and countless pristine white sand beaches. Tours and activities: - Snorkeling - Scuba diving - Sport fishing - Rainforest hikes
Located 40 miles south of Panama in the Pacific Ocean Pearl Islands are formed of more than 200 islands, most of them uninhabited… The majority of the islands is still covered with rainforest although climate here is dryer than in the rest of the isthmus. The pearls that give their names to these beautiful islands were collected well before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers by the indigenous. The Indians were soon eliminated by the Spaniards who took over both the islands and the pearls. ''Contadora'', the most visited island (although one of the smallest) used to be the place where pearls were stored and weighed before being shipped to Spain. The most famous of all the pearls, called ''La Peregrina'' (the pilgrim) was so big and beautiful that the slave who found it earned its freedom. King Philip II of Spain, his wife Mary Tudor and later Napoleon Bonaparte wore the pearl, it was also owned and wore by Elizabeth Taylor! There are very few hotels on the Archipelago, all of them but one on Contadora. Apart from its immaculate beaches Las Perlas is a great place for fishing, diving and snorkeling. Humpback whales are spotted regularly from July to September. Tours and activities - Boat tours from Contadora to Pacheca and Mogo-Mogo islands - Snorkeling - Scuba diving - Fishing
Chagres National Park is a vast area of rainforest located 1 hour and a half from Panama City. It connects with both Sierra Llorona's forest and Portobelo National Park, forming an essential part of Panama's biological corridor. It is inhabited by several Emberá groups from Darien who immigrated in that region during the sixties. This situation allows visitors to meet with one of the country's main indigenous cultures not far away from their hotel in Panama City in one of Central America's most pristine rainforests. This is the main popular destination for local tourism and that is where most of the big ''all inclusive'' hotels are situated. This part of the coast is almost an uninterrupted succession of large beaches from 1 to 1and 1/2 hour from Panama City. There are all kinds of accommodation , including small structures adapted to individual tourism. Tours and activities - Fishing - Surfing - Golf - Horse riding - Tour to El Valle de Anton - Tour to Omar Torrijos National Park
The Caribbean: The Atlantic Coast of Panama, at the extreme south of the Caribbean Sea hasn't changed much since Rodrigo Bastidas discovered it in 1501. It is still a heaven of jungles, white beaches and pristine coral reefs jealously guarded by Guna, Gnäbé and Buglé indigenous communities.
Located at the extreme north west end of the country, right next to Costa Rica, the archipelago of Bocas del Toro is another pearl in Panama's hidden paradise. The islands and nearby mainland are densely forested. Huge trees covered with orchids and bromeliads stand tall next to white sand beaches. Vast mangroves areas shelter an incredible wildlife, vital for the ecology of coral reefs. Bocas del Toro hosts some remarkable animal species such as the elusive manatee. It is also famous for its delicately coloured poison-dart frogs. Bocas town has dozens of little hotels, restaurants and bars, and is full of life at night. Amateurs of nature will prefer the calm of the islands where they will enjoy the pleasures of the Caribbean sea (snorkeling, diving, fishing) and discover the always near rainforest. Tours and activities: - Road tour to Boca del Drago beach - Boat tour to dolphin bay and bird island and coral keys - Boat tour and jungle tour in Bastimentos National Park - Boat tour to Zapatillas keys - Snorkeling - Scuba diving
Stretching more than 250 km in the direction of Colombia San Blas is an archipelago of 375 islands with only 50 of them being inhabite. It has no equivalent in the Caribbean and, one can say, in the world! You will, of course, be amazed by its unbelievable scenery of lagoons, white sand beaches and transparent waters. But San Blas is much more than that. It is part of Guna Yala, the ''comarca'' or territory of the Guna indigenous, an ancient race who never accepted the rule of either the other indigenous groups, the Spanish or the Panamanians. In San Blas the Guna traditional law is applied, and a stranger (Panamanians included) cannot own land, invest or marry a local. The Gunas also control tourism, that is why you will not find any big hotel in San Blas but only a few small lodges, another reason that makes the place so special. Scuba diving is prohibited in San Blas but snorkeling and fishing are allowed. To go to San Blas you can pack lightly: camera, mask, snorkel, fins, a bathing suit and a good book... that's about all you'll need! Tours and activities: - Visit of Kuna villages - Snorkeling - Bottom fishing - Rainforest hike on mainland
Not far from the city of Colon, the northern gateway to the Panama Canal, stand the impressive Gatun Locks. A panoramic mirador allows visitors to observe the fascinating show of the huge ships inside the narrow canal chambers! On the other side of the Canal a picturesque small road first leads to San Lorenzo ruins through secondary vegetation, then through dense rainforest. Howler monkeys are most commonly heard and seen, together with agoutis and coatimundis. It is only at the end of the road that you will meet the majestic fort of San Lorenzo, proudly facing the Chagres river and the Caribbean sea. A gorgeous scenery indeed, untouched, as Bradley and his privateers saw it when they took the fort more than 300 years ago! About 1 hour drive east is enough to reach the charming little town of Portobelo. The name Portobelo (literally ''beautiful harbour'') was given by Christopher Colombus who discovered the bay during his fourth and last trip. Portobelo is protected by several Spanish fortifications that still stand as guardians of the beautiful bay. Tours and activities: - Visit of San Lorenzo Fort - Hike in rainforest of San Lorenzo National Park - Visit of Portobelo Fort and Customs - Hike to Salto El Tigre waterfall - Beach of Isla Mamey near Puerto Lindo - Visit of Isla Grande - Scuba diving in Portobelo Gulf - Canopy tour near Colon
Western highlands Mountains that rise from the Pacific side to reach the cloud forest through giant ferns, orchids and bromeliads, leading the road to the Caribbean Coast. These highlands are the habitat of the mysterious quetzal, the sacred bird of the Mayas and the Aztecs. Next to the forest, this is also where the best coffee in the world is grown.
East of Boquete the road that links the Pan-American Highway to the Caribbean Coast is one of the most beautiful drives that can be made in Panama. The road gradually goes up in the mountains from the Pacific side to reach the cloud forest through giant ferns, orchids a bromeliads. If the weather is fair, there is a superb point of view from the top. Then coming down on the other side with left and right small Guaymies indigenous villages in the middle of an amazingly exuberant vegetation, you finally reach the blue waters of the Caribbean sea and the little town of Almirante. Almirante is Panama's banana cultivation center and the starting point of the fast boats that join the mainland to the Bocas del Toro archipelago. A bit further west the road arrives in Sixaola, on the border with Costa Rica.
Boquete This mountainous region is the principal coffee production center in Panama, Panama's coffee, a high quality Arabica has recently won several international awards. With its cool climate and rich volcanic earth, it is also possible to grow all kinds of vegetables and fruits, including strawberries! The center of the mountainous ridge is the Talamanca Mountain region, almost completely covered with mountain and cloud rainforest and protected by the ''La Amistad'' National Park (so called because the Talamanca Mountains are also protected in Costa Rica). It is crossed by a great number of rivers making it a prime destination for white water rafting. Between Cerro Punta and Boquete lies the impressive Baru volcano, the highest peak in the country (3,500 m). Boquete is a well developed tourist destination with many small hotels. At 1,000 m above sea level it is a sort of Panamanian little Switzerland with Guaymies indigenous wearing their colourfull dresses! The visit of coffee plantations and processing units is a local highpoint. Boquete also hosts a famous flower festival. Rainforest hikes are also a local must, the famous ''Los Quetzal Trail'' links Boquete to the little village of Cerro Punta, on the other side of the Barú Volcano. It is a 5 hours hike through the mountain and cloud forest. Excursions and activities: - Visit of Coffee plantations - Jungle hikes - Birdwatching - White water rafting - Canopy tour Volcán and Cerro Punta Cerro Punta is a quite small village in the middle of flowers and vegetable cultivation. It is also well known for its orchid farm. At an altitude of 2000 m and right on the edge of the cloud forest, Cerro Punta is one of the best places in central America to observe the magnificent quetzal, one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Excursions and activities: - Jungle hikes - Birdwatching - Visit of orchid farm
Central provinces This is the heart of rural and genuine Panamanian culture. This region is full of natural beauties and folklore. A large part of the population is locally indigenous who have gradually lost their language and became part of the Latino Culture. They are quiet, full of smiles and hardworking.
This is one of the main areas for agriculture in Panama, and one of the first to be colonized by the Spaniards. Here there are a lot of cattle, but also a rich local tradition. Las Tablas is THE destination during the carnaval period, where people from all parts of Panama congregate to the small town. Pedasi, at the extreme south of the Azuero Peninsula is a recent destination for beach tourism, with some extremely beautiful hotel boutiques next to endless beaches. Isla Iguana (the ''iguana island'') not far north from Pedasi makes a great day excursion with its beautiful white beaches and pristine coral reefs. It also has one of the largest colonies of frigate birds in the Pacific. Tours and activities: - Fishing - Surfing - Tour to Cerro Hoya National Park - Tour to Isla Iguana National Park
Meet with the friendly people of this fertile region, the men that proudly wear their ''pintado'' hat and love horses. Penonomé was the capital of Panama for a short period after Panama City was sacked by Henry Morgan in 1671. It is located along the Inter-American Highway in the wide, flat lowlands of the province of Coclé. It is a great spot to take in the local culture. La Pintada is located in the hills 13 km northwest of Penonomé. The Coclé del Sur River runs along the edge of the town. Two kilometers from the town are located a variety of pre-Columbian petroglyphs. The factory for the cigar brand Cigarros Joyas de Panamá is located in the town. There is also a small artisans' market that sells Panama hats and various local crafts. Excursions and activities - Tour to Tavidá waterfall - Visit petroglyphs - Jungle hikes
Meet with the friendly people of this fertile region, the men that proudly wear their ''pintado'' hat and love horses. Hiking Cerro Campana National Park and Omar Torrijos National Park is a good way to discover the fascinating world of mountain and cloud forest. This is a very damp type of forest were you'll hike along steep trails among giant ferns, orchids and the strange podocarpus, the only endemic conifer species in Panama. Tours and activities: - Jungle hikes
"El Valle", as its name indicates, is a large volcanic valley just 130 km from Panama City and one of the favourite destinations for wealthy Panamanians, thanks to the relatively cool climate. They have built some beautiful houses in the immense crater, actually one of America's largest. There is a famous market every week end where visitors can buy fruits, vegetables, all kinds of orchids and handicrafts. There is also ''El Nispero'', a botanical and zoological garden where one can visit the amphibian protection project sponsored by the University of Huston. A few dozen miles west lies the charming little village of Cerro La Vieja, in front of an odd-shaped mountain. The main attraction here is a spectacular waterfall. Tours and activities: - Visit of the market during the weekends - Visit of ''Nispero'' botanical and zoological park and Amphibians Conservation Project - Visit of la ''Piedra Pintada'', a huge monolith carved by indigenous - Hike to la ''India Dormida'' - Hike to ''Cerro Gaital'' cloud forest
East Panama and Darien A remarkable ecosystem, it is a true heaven for birdwatchers, botanists and entomologists. This is a land of lush rainforests and large rivers, run by indigenous communities such as the Guna, the Embera and the Wounaan. This is the very end of Central America and of course the gateway to South America.
Darien is the largest and least inhabited province in Panama, located east near the border with Colombia. An important part of this state is divided in ''comarcas'' run by indigenous such as the Guna, the Embera and the Wounaan. There, native law is applied and the local chiefs or ''caciques'' rule. This is a land of lush rainforests and large rivers even though since the late seventies ''civilization'' penetration has taken its toll on nature. In spite of this situation the Darien's rainforest is still relatively untouched in the comarcas and in the large National Park, and wildlife still includes remarkable and endangered species such as tapirs, jaguars and the elusive harpy eagle. The coasts of Darien are equally interesting, from the beautiful Bay of San Miguel, discovered in 1513 by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa when the Isthmus of Panama was crossed for the first time to the rocky shores between Punta Garachine and Jaque, where the rainforest falls into the Pacific Ocean from impressive cliffs. It is accessible by car through the Pan-American highway (to Yaviza only) and by plane using the little airports of El Real, La Palma, Sambu, Garachine, Jaque. Tours and activities: - Jungletrips and visit of Guna, Embera and Wounaan villages in the ''comarcas'' - Jungle excursions, hikes and treks in the Darien national park from El Real or Cana. - Visit of La Palma, capital of Darien, only accessible by boat. - Visit of the mangrove areas in the Bay of San Miguel, the little Wounaan village of Boca de Lara and the Embera village of Mogue. - Boat trips in the Bay, it is a great spot to see marine birds. - Sport-fishing. A lodge near Jaque, accounts over 200 world records.
This artificial lake is the largest in Panama after Gatun Lake. Its name comes from a black slave who rebelled against the Spaniards during the 16th century. It has a beautiful environment of rainforest and little farms. The highlight are the spectacular caves, only accessible by boat. Lots of life inside, including sleepy caimans and poison-dart frogs! This peaceful lake is also a great place to observe birds. Tours and activities - Boat rides - Visit of the caves - Birwatching - Visit of Embera Indian village
You'll reach this remarkable area of Panama's central mountain-range after an 1 h 30 drive eastwards from Panama City, first on the Pan-American highway then on a small road that goes through hills covered with forests, teak plantations and farms. From the picturesque lodge of Burbayar a set of trails allows the host to discover a remarkable ecosystem, true heaven for birdwatchers, botanists and entomologists. Nusagandi is right on the road to San Blas, and it is a great experience to go down the mountain ridge towards the Caribbean Sea, through a beautiful scenery of mountain rainforest. Tours and activities: - Rainforest hikes - Birdwatching - Visit of Kuna villages