Offical language: Spanish
Currency: The Panamanian Balbao
Panama is a Central American country with the second biggest economy in the region. This is mainly thanks to the Panama Canal, although tourism is growing and special tax incentives have also attracted lots of tourists and retirees here recently as well. The total area occupied by the country is 75,517 km2. The capital is called Panama City and of the country’s total population of 3,600,000, over a million of them live in the metropolitan area of this city. While Panama City has a sparkling, modern feel to it there is a lot more to the country than just this city. Lush rainforests, a fascinating culture and some relaxed towns and cities give travellers a lot to do once they leave the capital. If you like the sound of seeing the sun rise on the Pacific and then set on the Atlantic then this is the only place in the world where you will be able to do so. Another unique experience here comes with the fact that Panama City is the planets only capital which has a rainforest inside the city limits. The strategic location of Panama has always made it an important place and the building of the famous canal allowed boats to pass between the Atlantic and the Pacific for the first time. The only disappointment you might have here is when you discover that Panama hats aren’t made here; they are from Ecuador.
Must see places in Panama
For many people the first place to visit in Panama is the capital city. As it is the largest city in the country it is where you will find the most cosmopolitan environment and lots of chances for dining out, having a few drinks and doing some shopping as well. The stunning setting with many high rise buildings set against a background of the tropical rainforest means that the first sight of this place is pretty memorable. There is a lovely waterfront promenade and some interesting cultural attractions such as museums and a cosy theatre.
The wonderfully atmospheric city of Portobelo only has 3,000 residents but it is an intriguing destination that offers a tantalising glimpse into the past of this part of the country. This is where the precious metals taken out of Peru passed before it was attacked on numerous occasions by pirates and then virtually abandoned. The historical significance of the city means that it is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins at nearby Fort San Lorenzo are also worth checking out.
Bocas del Toro
One of the most popular spots in all of the Panama is the colourful and welcoming town of Bocas del Toro. It was built by the United Fruit Company and today houses a large population of West Indians and North American expats. It is the sort of laid back place where doing nothing all day long is a pretty tempting option. However, if you want to try your hand at scuba diving among coral reefs then this is a good base to use.
This is the highest part of Panama City and, therefore, and excellent place from which you can view the city. It is only 199 metres above sea level at the summit though, so you don’t need to take an oxygen mask if you plan to walk up it. This was once part of US territory but is now part of Panama again and is a Protected Area, Nature Reserve of Panama and a National Historical Heritage site as well. You can drive part of the way or go for a stroll and probably see some of the local wildlife along the way at the same time.
Parque Natural Metropolitana de Panamá
This 265 hectare park is one of the easiest trips out to see the wilderness you will ever make. That’s because it is located inside the city limits of Panama City. There are some terrific walking trails and you might get to see some exotic animals if you are lucky. A 150 metre lookout tower gives you a stunning view of the city. The animals that live here include sloths, anteaters and monkeys. You could get a tour with park rangers or go up one the giant crane which was set up here by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Fan of TV survival programmes might already have seen the Pearl Islands featured on the US version of Survivor. These islands were lived on by indigenous groups until the Spanish arrived and discovered that they offer a great place to harvest amazing amounts of stunning pearls. You can visit the romantic Pearl Islands on a private charter yacht.
If there’s one attraction in Panama you are already aware of then it is probably the amazing Panama Canal. This is one of the most spectacular feats of engineering in the world and also a surprisingly interesting place to visit. It was opened in 1914 and changed the way that traders from all over the world did business. Part of the construction work involved creating Gatun Lake, which was the biggest artificial lake in the world at that time. The canal is surrounded by dense rainforest and is now a popular place for going on ecotourism trips. There is also a visitor centre and observation terrace at the Miraflores locks.
The Amador Causeway
Playa Las Lajas
With all of the heat and humidity in Panama you will probably be delighted to have a chance to head down to the beach for a trip. The water is lovely and warm and there are very little currents to worry about. This fantastic beach is on the Pacific Coast of the country and there are some charming restaurants along the beach to keep you refreshed when you are out of the water.
Things to do in Panama
No matter how long you are in Panama you are unlikely to run out of things to do and see. This is the type of travel destination where the variety on offer is simply staggering.
See the Rainforest
If you have always liked the idea of seeing the rainforest then you can’t afford to miss the chance to do so here. It is far easier to get to the rainforest in Panama than it is in most places. In fact, you don’t even need to leave the capital city in order to do this.
Check Out the Panama Canal
A canal that lets boats pass from one ocean to another sounds like the worst tourist attraction ever. It’s not. This is actually a fascinating feat of engineering that is more likely to captivate you than bore you. There are different elements of the Canal you could check out while you are here, making it an important part of a trip here for most people.
Party at Carnival Time
You haven’t seen what a real party is like until you get to Panama when Carnival is on. The locals view this as one of the most important periods of the year and it is easy to get caught up in the exuberant spirit of the event. Celebrations take place in pretty much the whole country and involve parades dancing and concerts.
The warm, tropical climate in Panama makes it an easy place in which to just relax and take it easy. If you are stressed out after a tough few months at work then this is an ideal spot to let your worries just melt away. The fact that it is such a relaxed country to travel in means that it can also be a wonderful spot for a romantic break at any time of year.
Listen to the Music
The diversity of the people who live here helps to partly explain why it is such a great place to listen to music. The African, Spanish and Caribbean influences have all helped to make this home to diverse musical styles such as cumbia, rock, reggae, salsa, calypso and a lot more. Panamanians love to listen to music, so you will never be far away from tunes of one type or another.
Best time to visit Panama
Tourists visit Panama between mid-December and mid-April
The uniformity of the temperature round the year means that it is a great place to visit for some tropical sun and high temperatures at any time of year. If you want to avoid the rainy season then the period from the middle of December to the middle of April is when you will want to head to Panama, although the wet season isn’t as pronounced on the Caribbean side of the country. Carnival is the most boisterous time of year here, with the 4 days in the lead up to Ash Wednesday packed full of amazing fun and colourful sights. Panama is a hot and humid country where the temperature changes little throughout the year. The good news for tourists worried about overheating is that it doesn’t usually go over 30°C and that after dark cooling breezes often spring up. The Pacific facing side of the country is usually cooler then on the Atlantic side. Altitude also makes a difference, with frost even sometimes being found in the highest parts of the country.