Visit Panama, the undiscovered paradise known as “The Bridge of the Americas” where history, culture, nature, and adventure are at your fingertips from cosmopolitan Panama City. The main attractions include Panama City, the Panama Canal, exotic beaches, private islands, national parks (25% of the country is set aside as national parks), accessible rainforests, mountain retreats and more. To help you narrow it down, our experts have compiled a list of the best places to visit in Panama!
The Panama Canal
One of the most well-known attractions in Panama is the Panama Canal. This 48-mile waterway was the first to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in 1914. Said to be one of the most difficult engineering projects undertaken in history, the Panama Canal allowed ships to avoid the long and dangerous Cape Horn route along the southern tip of South America. Today, over 815,000 ships pass through the canal, a trip which can take between six and eight hours. Day tours to the Panama Canal can be arranged. Jungles and waterways abound along the Panama Canal. A popular tourist attraction making up a large section of the Panama Canal is Gatun Lake, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. Boat tours, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and ziplining can all be arranged on Gatun Lake. Other interesting landmarks along the way include Barro Colorado Island, a national monument and research center available for visitors to explore via a trail network, and Soberania National Park, known for its tropical birds, trails, and wildlife like sloths, agoutis, howler monkeys, and more.
Panama City, Panama Province
Panama City is the metropolitan center of Panama positioned between the Pacific Ocean and the Panama Canal. While visiting Panama City, don’t miss Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historic district, and an up-and-coming foodie destination. The old city is a collision of culture as French and Spanish colonial-style buildings serve as a backdrop to lively Panamanian daily life. It’s a mixture of old and new with development continuing within its old city walls. Another highlight of Panama City is Ancon Hill, a 654-ft hill with incredible views overlooking Panama City. Bike tours are available to the lookout point.
Bocas del Toro Islands
Fall under the spell of the Bocas del Toro Islands, a laid-back Caribbean archipelago of nine rainforest islands confined by white sand and approximately 300 little islets accessible for daytime exploration by kayak. A multitude of sustainable lodges dot this raw paradise. Life on the islands is slow and easy. Bocas del Toro has a rich history of exploration, conquest, and bananas. Christopher Columbus first discovered the paradise of Bocas del Toro in 1502. Panama then fell under Spanish rule until 1903. After which, bananas boomed as the Chiquita Banana Plantation took flight in the region, attracting workers from all over the Caribbean.
Boquete, Chiriqui Highlands
Boquete is a small town located in the Chiriqui Highlands just south of Costa Rica. The town is famous for the nearby Baru Volcano, hot springs, and coffee plantations. The rare Quetzal bird can also be found in this cool cloud forest climate. Birdwatchers will love the Los Quetzales Trails, a 6-hour trail on which you can search for Quetzals and other exotic cloud forest birds en route to Cerro Punta while passing through Baru Volcano National Park.
Pearl Islands, Panama Province
The Pearl Islands are an archipelago of about 250 little islands in the Gulf of Panama on the Pacific Ocean. The name dates back from Spanish conquistadors who found pearls on these islands. Today, a multitude of resorts and hotels are available on the island for all budgets.
El Valle de Anton, Cocle Province
El Valle de Anton is a small town situated in the middle of an extinct volcano in central Panama. Surrounded by cloud forests and mountains, this picturesque town has a slightly cooler climate. El Valle de Anton has an orchid conservation center, a butterfly house, and a serpentarium showcasing the areas native species. Horseback riding, hiking, and birdwatching are popular activities available in the area. There are also several petroglyphs known as La Piedra Pintada located nearby. The most famous waterfall to explore in El Valle de Anton is El Chorro del Macho, a 115-ft. waterfall located less than 1 1/2 miles from town. It takes only 10-minutes to reach the waterfall along the trail, an easy trek for moderately active hikers. Enjoy the wildlife of the forest en route to this rainforest gem.
The Azuero Peninsula is the traditional center of Panama with a history of folklore, handicrafts, and ceramics in pre-Columbian fashion. Visitors will see the typical Panamanian dress for women, colorful masks, and the work that goes into crafting the pollera costume by hand. Other activities in the region include rum and sugar cane processing tours, clay pottery and artisanal bread manufacturing tours, turtle and whale watching, The region is drier than the rest of the country with some of the most beautiful beaches – perfect for water sports! The cities of Chitre, Las Tablas, and Pedasi have also risen in popularity for tourists in recent years. A 20-minute boat ride from the Azuero Peninsula will bring you to Iguana Island, a popular warm water snorkeling destination where travelers may encounter schools of colorful fish, turtles, rays, and moray eels. The island also has many natural wonders to discover on land like crabs, iguanas, bird nesting sites and little coves.
Santa Catalina, Veraguas
Santa Catalina is one of Panama’s top surf, dive, and watersport destinations. Once a quiet fishing town on the Southern side of Panama, Santa Catalina has exploded in popularity among the surfing population. Located nearby is Coiba National Park, a world-class dive and snorkel destination. With over 30 dive sites around the island, a multitude of marine wonders can be discovered here such as manta rays, turtles, white tip reef sharks, and sometimes humpback whales during their season. An estimated 760 fish species and 33 shark species inhabit the area.