One of Central America’s real gems, Panama is a land of picture-perfect Carib beaches, rolling Pacific surf swells, virgin tropical islands, unexplored jungles, booming biodiversity, smiling locals, curious tribes, awesome engineering feats – the list goes on! As if any traveler needed any more inspiration to pack up the sunnies and board shorts and make a beeline for this one’s shores…
For the weather
There’s a reason why so many snowbirds flock south to Panama when the rain and ice hit the climes of the north: sun. Lots and lots of sun. Oscillating between the so-called dry and wet seasons, this S-shaped bend of Central America boasts half a year of rainless days, with temperatures sitting steadily in the low 30s (perfect for those long hours spent prostrate on the tropical sands!). And the other half of the year? Well, that’s when the rains come, sporadically bursting into life over the highlands as the humidity rises and temperatures soar, offering travelers a glimpse of exotic rainforests in all their green and verdant biodiversity!
For the surf
Prep the flowery board shorts and Mr. Zog’s for that trip to Panama folks, because this squiggle of land betwixt the Caribbean and Pacific boasts the likes of Isla Bocas del Toro, with rolling reef breaks at Carenero, welcoming beach rollers at Playa Maria Chiquita, and popular swells all over the Palenque. And that’s not even mentioning the Pacific shorelines of the south, where mythical Playa Santa Catalina is nothing short of legendary (it was kept secret for many years and still offers a totally solitary long ride in the shadow of the jungles!).
For the Panamanians
Panamanians are a welcoming breed. A fusion of African, Caribbean, indigenous and Mestizo cultures informs their traditions and nuances, meaning they are a vibrant and fun-loving, deep and fascinating peoples to keep company with. Incredibly proud of their country, and quick to champion its multi-cultural diversity, its geographical link to both Latin America and North America, its cuisine, music and culture, they are at once talkative and chilled out. And then there are Panama’s countless tribespeople, ranging from the formidable archer-hunters and colourfully-dressed folk of the Embera-Wounaan, to the salt-washed villages of the native peoples on Kuna Yala and the Caribbean Coast.
For the backcountry
Aside from sparkling beaches and steel-clad cities, Panama also boasts its own wedge of wild Mesoamerican country. That means cloud forests and brooding volcanic peaks, all erupting around the lush highlands of the Panamanian interior. Check out the babbling rapids of the Caldera River, the misty heights of the Volcan Baru National Park, and the endless sierras and cerros of the north, all of which hide gushing waterfalls and truly intrepid hiking paths to boot!
For the Panama Canal
Arguably one of the most ambitious engineering feats ever contemplated by mankind, the Panama Canal cuts right through the very heart of the Americas, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans with a lengthy 48 miles of waterway. The completed passage, opened in 1914 after more than three decades of arduous construction, allowed cargo ships to skip the dangerous traverse of Cape Horn on the tip of South America. Today, the canal hosts upwards of a whopping 800,000 ships annually, and visitors can uncover tales of its audacious construction and management at the Miraflores Lock Visitor Center.
For the wildlife
Biodiversity and Panama really do go hand in hand. Booming blooms of colourful orchids dress the ridges of the mighty Cordillera de Talamanca in the north. Giant anteaters and lethargic two-toed sloths clamber up the jungle vines around Boquete and the uber-green highland regions. Meanwhile, whales and dolphin pods splash out in the Pacific, sea turtles occasionally emerging from the shores to plant their eggs on empty beaches. Wildlife lovers really couldn’t ask for more!
For the chillax
Chillax – that’s ‘chill’ and ‘relax’ in one folks! And boy does Panama nail this one. Towns like Bocas del Toro (a favorite on our much-loved Panamania itinerary) tick over to the slow lapping of the Caribbean waves and the off-beat of reggae steel drums; a place where cocktails are slurped from sunrise to sunset, and the occasional surf breaks the long and sultry days of lazing around the beach. Then there’s the laid-back likes of Boquete, perched high between the monkey-dotted canopies and verdant fields of the Chiriquí hills. This is the spot to kick-back with sweeping vistas of the jungle, listening to the howls of howler monkeys and the croaks of multi-coloured tree frogs from your hammock!
For the history
Last but not least comes Panama’s curious and deep history. Centuries of European colonisation in the Americas made the land here an invaluable place for launching expeditions into the jungles of South America. That gave rise to cities like Panamá Viejo, now standing in a medley of crumbling Spanish churches and cottages; a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the edge of modern, sprawling Panama City. Pirates attacked the shores too, while gold caravans clambered throughout the jungle trails in the company of conquistadores. It’s all fascinating stuff!
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