Panama Travel Guide
Are you ready to start exploring? Grab your backpack and get ready for our all-inclusive Panama travel guide. Where a sprawling, modern city meets a tropical rainforest you'll find Panama. Panama is famous for the engineering phenomenon that is the interoceanic canal. But, this breathtaking nation that connects Central and South America is so much more than its canal.
Panama is home to more species of trees and birds than all of North America. Not only that, but it has world class shopping, dining and nightlife. This beautiful nation is rich in culture, tradition, landscape, activities and more. For the outdoors and nature lovers, Panama offers a multitude of adventures. Zipline tours, hiking, camping, birdwatching, surfing, snorkeling, and whitewater rafting are popular with visitors. For those who prefer city life, Panama City is a beacon of fine international dining, nightlife, casinos, and shopping. Many international brands like Chanel, Hermes, Cartier, Prada, Michael Kors, Gucci, Carolina Herrera and Ralph Lauren are available in the many shopping centers and malls of the nation’s capital city.
With a population of roughly 3.4 million people, Panama is a small nation packed with adventure and flavor. The population of Panama lives primarily along the coastal region of the Gulf of Panama, particularly on the Azuero Peninsula and in the metropolitan areas of Panama City and Colón. Although Panama boasts diversity within its population, the majority of the people in Panama are of a combination of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences. This is also referred to a "mestizo background." Spanish is the official language of Panama, but English is widely spoken in larger and more touristic areas. Many people in Panama still speak the language of their indigenous groups.
The official currency in Panama is the Balboa and the United States Dollar. The Balboa and the US Dollar have maintained a 1:1 ratio ever since Panama gained its independence in 1903. The United States and Panama maintain close relations even after the handover of the Canal and military installations. Panama followed Costa Rica in the abolition of the nation’s army. It enjoys the largest trade zone in the western hemisphere, known as the Colon Free Trade Zone. Panama is also home to the Tocumen International Airport, Isla Colon (Bocas del Toro) International Airport, several domestic airports, an international railroad and an extensive bus system.
Due to the nation’s stunning landscape, modern capital city, stable economy, and plethora of activities, Panama is an ideal destination for those looking for all types of vacation.
Bocas del Toro
Not far from Costa Rica’s Caribbean border with Panama lies the eclectic and stunning island archipelago of Bocas del Toro (Mouth of the Bull). Bocas del Toro consists of 6 lush islands, which is often reached by boat from the coastal town of Almirante. Bocas del Toro also has a small international airport on the area’s largest island, Isla Colon. Isla Colon is also home to Bocas Town, which is the main and largest town in Bocas del Toro. The population of this area is quite small as most people prefer the more affordable housing of the mainland.
Exploring the Islands
Travel between the islands and islets of Bocas del Toro is done via water taxi at relatively inexpensive rates. The islands are dotted with vibrant, stilted houses, lush rainforests, white sand beaches and a wide array of wildlife. These islands are excellent locations for snorkeling and scuba diving as the seductive Caribbean waters are home to a plethora of vividly colored marine life.
Cayo Zapatilla is one the region’s best areas for snorkeling and deep boarding. You can try out the exciting activity of Deepboarding with our Bocas del Toro packages. Surfing is also popular in this area and Bocas del Toro often hosts international surfing competitions.Located on the Island of Bastimentos are the primitive Bastimentos National Park and the gorgeous Red Frog Beach. Red Frog Beach is truly something from a postcard and makes for a relaxing and beautiful day trip from Isla Colon.
Isla Colon, home to the airport and the main Bocas Town, is a funky bohemian island with a truly captivating culture. There is a delightful mix of people, food, and music from all over the world. This island is home to the majority of restaurants, hotels, and bars of Bocas del Toro. The nightlife here is vibrant and the music entrancing.
Bocas del Toro is both a great option for those looking for a one day trip from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and for those seeking to spend a few relaxing days on a breathtaking Caribbean island.
Sometimes referred to as the “Miami of Central America”, Panama City is inarguably the most modern city in this region. Home to about 1.3 million people, the metropolitan area of Panama City is a diverse city with a rich fusion of cultures, food, architecture and so much more.
Panama is very much a city of contrasts. On January 28, 1671, the original city was destroyed by a fire when privateer Henry Morgan sacked and set fire to it. The city was formally reestablished two years later on January 21, 1673, in a peninsula located 8 km from the original settlement. Nowadays, sprawling modern skyscrapers dot the city’s majestic Pacific coast skyline while the city’s old neighborhood of Casco Viejo features many styles from older architecture, such as Spanish colonial buildings to French and Antillean townhouses. This blend of old architecture and new architecture helps to give the city its unique but gorgeous skyline.
Since Panama gained its sovereignty, this multifaceted country has attracted a large amount of multi-national corporations and financial institutions. The city also boasts some of the best shopping, restaurants and nightlife in the region. Because of this, Panama has attracted a sizeable expat population.
Perhaps the most famous attraction near Panama City is the Panama Canal. Located 35 km outside of Panama City, the Canal’s impressive locks make for a great day tour. This canal revolutionized international maritime trade. Spanning the isthmus between the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, the Canal has seen over 815,000 vessels pass through its waters (2012 figure).
San Blas Islands
If you like the idea of relaxing on a breathtaking Caribbean Island, but prefer a quieter experience than Bocas del Toro, San Blas is the place for you! Located northwest of Panama and facing the Caribean Sea, San Blas consists of 378 islands within the archipelago, scattered around in an area of about 100 square miles. San Blas is actually an autonomous territory While the majority of the islands are uninhabited, there is an indigenous group, the Kuna (or Guna), that live on several of the larger islands like Aguja Island, Guanidup Island, Chichimei, Yandup Island and El Porvenir.
Preserving the Islands
The Kuna do welcome visitors to the islands but do try to keep the tourism numbers a bit lower so as not to have such a negative impact on the environment. This allows the islands to stay widely untouched and maintain their beauty.
Reconnect with Nature
While Sailing is the most common way to get from island to island, there are flights from Panama City to several of the islands.
The islands are a great place to escape the stresses of daily life while laying in a hammock and watching the clear waters of the Caribbean. If you are looking for a little adventure, snorkeling in this area is exceptional! Also while in San Blas, one must not forget to try the traditional food and drinks. One thing is for certain, you will leave San Blas with a new sense of tranquility and respect for the beauty of nature.
Nestled in the Chiriquí Highlands not far from the Costa Rican border lies the verdant and picturesque town of Boquete. Located along the Caldera River, Boquete has a slightly cooler climate than other regions of Panama. The enticing climate and stunning landscape make Boquete an attractive destination for people from all over the world. Aside from tourism, Boquete is also known for its agricultural products, and most of all, its coffee. Thanks to the nutrient-rich soil of the nearby Baru Volcano and the perfect temperatures of the region, Boquete’s coffee is considered to be amongst the best in the world.
Traversing the stunning Trail of the Quetzals, visitors can hike to Panama’s highest point, the Baru Volcano. This area has amazing views and is great for spotting Quetzals, an elusive but brilliant species of bird. For those who like a little more adventure, this area is also a great rafting destination. Thanks to a lively art and music scene, Boquete is also a great place for eclectic theater events and the smooth sounds of jazz music.