This stunning country has been opening its arm to tourists for centuries, but is just starting to become one of the hottest countries to visit in Central America. Packed into this little country is an amazing amount of diversity from its hip nightlife scene to tropical rainforests to mountain reserves to thousands of islands featuring white sand and stunning azure waters. Take a visit to one of the villages of indigenous people or scuba dive in a marine national park. Whatever it is you are after; Panama is where you will find it. Here are 10 amazing things to see and do in this country.
10. Canoe to Embera Indian Village
Visiting an authentic Indian Village in the luscious jungle should be at the top of your list of things to do in Panama. These agricultural people live in small communities deep in the jungle and have survived by growing their own crops, fishing and hunting. There are many guided tours that are being offered out to these tribes who welcome tourists with warm arms. Groups will take a canoe ride through the jungle to the shores of the communities where you will have the chance to immerse yourself into their culture. Learn about the history of these indigenous people, learn about their way of life and enjoy lunch with the community. Visiting an Embera Village is not only a fun experience, but gives visitors the chance to understand this culture and its values.
9. Surf in Santa Catalina
This quiet fishing village located off Panama’s Pacific Coast may just be its best kept secret, but probably not for long. As of now the village is remote and unspoiled, drawing surfers and divers from all over the world to explore its landscape. You won’t find shopping malls or famous landmarks here though; instead visitors will be privy to a laid-back atmosphere, sandy beaches and some of the most regular and best surf breaks in all of Central America. You will have your choice of surf camps here as a number of them have sprung up in the last several years, as well as your choice of many restaurants. The surf here is best for experienced surfers as the bottom is rocky and the waves roll in all year round ranging from four to 20 feet. If you are looking to catch a wave in Panama, this is where to do so.
8. Hit the Beach
Panama is home to hundreds of kilometers of coastline, both on the Pacific and Caribbean sides and it should come as no surprise that hitting the beach should be one of the first things to do when you arrive. The key to finding a good beach in Panama though is to head to one of the many islands, you will have your choice with over 1,500 islands in total. The Pearl Islands offer white-sand beaches, excellent snorkeling conditions and calm waters. They also happen to be relatively un-crowded, a major bonus if you are looking for some privacy. San Blas is a paradise unlike any other and boast an archipelago of over 100 islands, some just rings of white sand. The atmosphere here is relaxing and think relaxing in a hammock while sipping a tropical drink.
7. Visit the Museum of Biodiversity
If you want to learn more about the history of Panama and the diversity of nature in this country, the Museum of Biodiversity should be one of your first stops. This museum was built in 2014 and designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry who donated his design to the people of Panama. The result is a brilliant colored building placed right near the water, offering an extraordinary learning experience for all. Visitors to this museum will find a plethora of exhibits in place, as well as many more on the way as this museum develops over the years. For now you will learn about the biodiversity of Panama through an audio guide, a rainforest and nature centre and an aquarium. Part of the admission price goes back into developing the museum and while the architecture is truly marvelous, make sure to go inside and educate yourself.
6. Summit Volcan Baru
It is one of the only places in the world in which you can see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea at the same time with the naked eye. This dormant volcano is no easy mountain to summit though and hikers who make it their goal to be on top will need to be prepared. Perhaps that is why this feat is one of the most rewarding things to do in Panama. The hike itself will last anywhere from four to six hours and is a combination of gentle slopes and steep inclines. The best time to start your hike up this volcano is midnight as it offers the best chance of seeing both oceans from the summit. Many times just after the sun has risen, the clouds roll in making it impossible to see much of anything from the summit. The sight of both oceans, from the naked eye is something you will never forget.
5. Dive or Snorkel at Coiba National Park
Located 30 miles off the Panamanian coast in the Gulf of Chiriquí lay the incredible Coiba Marine National Park. There is a total of 800 marine species that call this area home and therefore offers some of the best diving along the Pacific Coast. Because of its remoteness most visitors rely on a tour operator to get them out to the Island where beautiful beaches and warm waters await. Diving and/or snorkeling here is absolutely breathtaking. From schools of colorful fish to coral to rays, dolphins and turtles; the marine life is plentiful in every direction. If you want to spend the night on the island the only place to do so is at the ranger station in a rustic dorm style room with bunk beds. Staying overnight will give visitors the chance to explore the hiking trails on the island and the many exotic bird species that call this place home.
4. Bike Along Amador Causeway
Located at the mouth of the Panama Canal the Amador Causeway is a four km biking and running path that links the Canal Zone neighborhood of Balboa to Flamenco and Perico Island. The causeway offers some of the greatest views of the Panama City skyline and the Pacific Ocean entrance of the Canal. The easiest way to enjoy the views is to rent a bike from one of the nearby bike rental shops. Along the causeway are numerous restaurants, shops, the Museum of Biodiversity and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute which is home to a few animals and numerous species of fish. Biking along here at sunset is one of the best times to do so as the views get even more incredible. Along the way expect to see other tourists walking and biking, fisherman hauling in their lines and locals enjoying ice-cream. A true taste of what Panama really stands for.
3. Discover Panama City
One of the best ways to explore Panama City is to take a self-guided walking tour, a guided walking tour or hop on a sightseeing bus. Panama City is actually comprised of three cities, the ruins of the 16th century original city Panama Viejo, the Spanish colonial city Casco Viejo, and the modern skyscraper city. The favorite of the three happens to be Casco Viejo, the city built in 1671. This vibrant and colorful neighborhood recently went under renovations and now features many restored hotels and restaurants that lie side by side with crumbling buildings. This city also offers the hottest nightlife scene and enjoys sweeping ocean and city bay views. The ruins of Panama Viejo on the other hand are extensive and incredibly remarkable. There is a small museum with a number of displays but it is recommended you take a Spanish guide along with you as many of them are not in English.
2. Visit the Bocas del Toro Archipelago
It is Panama’s most visited eco-tourism destination featuring nine main islands, 52 cays, and thousands of islets along with being one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. It is here where you will find natural raw beauty in cloud forest mountains, palm lined beaches and clear waters teeming with colorful fish and coral. The activities here are endless from zip lining through the jungle canopy to horseback riding along the beach to discovering indigenous communities. This destination offers the rare combination of premium accommodations set in a lush tropical paradise. Whether you are coming here to explore the Home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Panama’s first National Marine Park or to relax on one of the beautiful Caribbean beaches; this archipelago has it all.
1. See the Panama Canal
The best way to see the Panama Canal, which stretches 80 km, is to head to the Miraflores Locks. Here there is a very informative visitor’s center which is home to a theatre, three observation terraces, gift shop, restaurant and four exhibition halls. For history and engineering buffs the sight is truly spectacular, a system of locks that was built over 100 years ago, yet operates as it were just built yesterday. Watching the water rush in to fill the locks and lift the ships is simply remarkable to watch and this canal is responsible for providing passage for nearly 14,000 ocean vessels a year. We suggest grabbing a beer and sitting at one of the bars and watching the huge ships pass by, as well as checking out the museum and 3D movie. It wouldn’t be a trip to Panama without exploring the Canal.