GENERAL INFORMATION PANAMA

There are a lot of reasons to visit Panama. You have probably already thought of the Panama Canal, which is one of the world’s most famous feats of modern engineering. Maybe you have considered the exotic jungles or the weather, which is warm all year round? But there is much more to Panama: Read here what we love most about Panama.

Geography

Panama is the southernmost country of Central America bordered on the west by Costa Rica, on the east by Colombia, on the north by the Caribbean coastline and on the south by the Pacific coastline. The Panama Canal, which is about 80km long, divides the country into eastern and western regions. There are about 480 rivers in Panama that drain into the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean Sea, and 1518 islands off the coasts. The two main archipelagos, both of which are located in the Caribbean, are the islands of San Blas and Bocas del Toro. Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake is home to a world renowned rain forest research station which is operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Gatun is a large manmade lake in the middle of the Panama Canal.

Ecology

Panama is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. Its unique ecology stems in part from its connection to two continents. Birds are a primary indicator of biodiversity, and Panama takes the grand prize: it has more than 950 species of birds, more than the United States and Canada combined.

The Wildlife

There is an incredible number of animals living in Panama. Roughly 230 types of mammals sound impressive? Try 950 bird species for comparison! And then we still have not counted the reptiles, amphibians and insects…
And many of those animals are really not that hard to find. There are butterflies as large as my entire hand. I can see Iguana from my office window. I watch pelicans catch fish in the bay on my way home from work. There are sloth, monkeys, toucans and who knows what else living within the boundaries of Panama City. So imagine what you might encounter in more remote spots…tiny brightly colored frogs, ocelots, anteaters, multicolored birds, you name it! The biodiversity here is amazing, and, nicely enough, dangerous or venomous animals are extremely rare.

The Cultural Diversity

Panama is home to several different native tribes, and they all keep their distinct cultures and traditions alive. Add to that Caribbean and Latin American flavors and the influence of the Spanish conquistadores. And then, after nearly five hundred years of European, Native American and African cultures intermingling, the Canal came, and with it the North Americans, the French, the English, and sailors from every corner of the globe. Today, the country’s original population has Chinese, Jewish and Arab neighbors, living door to door with retired US Americans, European business people and Australian backpackers. And everyone adds to the diversity of the life here and makes the country a bit more colorful.

The Different Places To Be

It is quite well known that Panama has rain forests. Jungle excursions are a definite option here. Or, for a slight change of scenery, try the cloud forest in the highlands, where the mossy trees are covered in fog and where wild orchids flourish. But that is not all the country has to offer. There are mountains, where world-famous coffee is grown, mangrove swamps, even a desert (imagine that, in a tropical country!). And then, of course, we have the coast, 2500 kilometers of it to be precise. Numerous beaches and islands in the Caribbean Sea and on the Pacific coast are waiting to be explored. Think crystal-clear water, white sand and the occasional coconut tree – we have it. Coral reefs? Have those too. And it’s all within easy reach. A few hours driving or a short flight is all it takes to change between these different places. There is even a national park inside Panama City!

The Things To Do

There is a lot to do in Panama. Adventure? There is river rafting, rock climbing and wilderness expeditions in the jungles of Darien, to name just a few…of course, there is kayaking as well, mountain biking, horseback riding, any kind of outdoor sports really. Or maybe you like golf? Tennis? Sailing? There are many great surfing and diving spots that can be found in both oceans, and the wonderful beaches on both coastlines. And for those who had enough activity, there are so many hidden island retreats and luxurious spa options… Of course there are cultural offers as well, arts and cultural celebrations, great food and drink and local fiestas.

panamacity

Panama City

Panama City deserves a visit. It has both historical and ultra-modern features. The city has numerous modern tourist attractions with the Panama Canal as being the 8th wonder of the modern world. Due to a rich history, there are actually three Panama Cities which you should visit; the ruins of the original Panama City in Panama Viejo, the Colonial-era Casco Viejo.

Walking through the area you will be able to appreciate 17th century churches, convents and numerous historical buildings with European architectural styles. Casco Viejo also has good restaurants in a historical ambience, great nightlife and historical museums like the Panama Canal Museum, which is located in a elegantly restored headquarters building of the French company which tried and failed to build the Panama Canal in the late 1800’s.

colon

Colon

Colon is the province on the Caribbean side, where the Panama Canal ends/ starts. Due to its location and rich history there is a lot to see. Visit the historical Fortresses San Lorenzo and Portobello, the state-of-the-art cruise port or go shopping in the largest Free Trade Zone outside Hong Kong.

This extraordinary province does not only offer historical sites – it is also a perfect place for nature activities like snorkeling, diving and rainforest hiking within world-class birding areas. From Panama City you will find yourself within 2 hours in an idyllic Caribbean setting.

The Colon province also features the Panama Railroad alongside the Panama Canal and a lush tropical island just of the coast, named Isla Grande. Here you can take ecological tours through the jungle, surf at a nearby beach and take boat tours to some excellent nearby snorkeling sites.

san-blas

San Blas

The San Blas are a group of over 365 small tropical islands located in the Caribbean off the coast of Panama. Only a little over 40 of the islands are inhabited. These inhabitants, the Kuna`s have maintained their own economic system, language, customs and culture, with distinctive dress, legends, music and dance and thus have avoided traditional tourism development. A good example of maintaining their culture is their arts and crafts. The Kuna woman are very famous for making mola`s.

San Blas offers two unbeatable attractions: an opportunity to visit the villages of the San Blas Indians to learn about the fascinating Kuna culture and the Caribbean islands of stunning beauty.

Island accommodations consist of simple, yet comfortable native style cabins with roofs and walls of thatched palm trees- “all natural” lodgings that blend in perfectly with the tropical scenery. Although only a 20-minute plane ride away from Panama City, a trip to the San Blas islands will transport you 20 centuries into the past.

Bocas-del-Toro

Bocas del Toro

The exotic Bocas del Toro Archipelago is located in the Caribbean of West Panama near the border with Costa Rica. It is a diver and outdoor lover’s paradise with unspoiled coral reefs, deep-sea fishing and boating, kayaking, snorkeling and long sandy deserted beaches.

Several of the pristine islands of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago in the Caribbean Sea are protected by the Bastimentos Marine National Park. The park offers great diving, snorkeling and swimming, and its beaches are used as a nesting ground by several species of sea turtle.

The main town on the archipelago is Bocas Town, It has a rich history, a lively nightlife and a friendly, mostly English speaking population. .

Chiriqui

Boquete

Tucked away on the eastern slopes of the Volcan Barú is the small and charming mountain village of Boquete. It is known to produce some of the sweetest oranges and richest coffees in all of Panama and has a everlasting spring-like climate.

The surrounding hills and slopes are primarily covered in shade-grown coffee plantations. Known for their sustainable farming practices, these farms are recognized the world over by conservationist and are home to an abundance of birds equal to those found in the cloud forests higher on the mountain.

Coffee is primarily picked by the Guaymi Indians during the months of October through February. A number of these indigenous people live in the hills around Boquete and supply the labor required in local coffee farms and plantations.

Brightly-colored necklaces, woven bags, and dresses distinguish the Guaymi. Tours through some of the coffee fincas of Boquete can be arranged for those interested in seeing the origins of their morning brew or sighting a wide variety of bird life.

Coincident with the coffee harvest is the Flower Festival. The gardens of Boquete are rivaled only by the great Mediterranean garden centers of California, Italy, and South Africa. The best way to see the cloud forest flora and fauna is to catch a ride over to Cerro Punta, pickup the trailhead around the mountain’s backside and hike a 4 hours trail back to Boquete.

The Boquete area is also a beautiful place to go horseback riding and the river Chiriqui Grande is excellent for whitewater rafting (Class 2-4)

Chiriqui//Isla Secas

Surrounded by warm, translucent, tropical waters between the Pacific coast of the Chiriqui Province and the Coiba Island nature preserve of Panama, lays the private archipelago of “Las Secas.” Consisting of 4 primary and 12 small islands, Islas Secas is nestled among one of the few truly virgin territories left in Latin America, if not the world. Islas Secas offers the ultimate eco-travel vacation in secluded natural beauty with swimming, snorkeling, fishing, whale watching, surfing, kayaking, and exploration.

El Valle de Anton

El Valle de Antón, known simply as El Valle, has a geologically distinguished setting and is located in the crater of an extinguished volcano. It boasts a near perfect year-round spring climate and is famous for its market. Featuring handicrafts, fresh fruit and vegetables and beautiful native plants such as orchids and bougainvillea.

El Valle’s Gaital National Monument, a cloud forest nature preserve is excellent for hiking, nature tours and birding. You can also enjoy a scenic ride on horseback. This lovely mountain town is just two hours from Panama City and is surrounded by a beautiful nature, which makes it a perfect day trip or weekend getaway from Panama City.

Darien Province

The Darien Province is an unspoiled region for adventurous tourists. It extends to an area covered by rivers, thick tropical vegetation (jungle), high peaks and paradisical beaches.

The rainforest in the Darien National Park is so thick that it is the only place where the Panamerican highway running from Alaska down to Argentina/Chile, does not penetrate.

The population of Darien is mainly of black groups, descendants of black fugitive slaves brought to the Isthmus during colonial times. Additionally the province is also inhabited by natives (indians) of the Wounaan and Embera tribes that migrated from Choc in Colombia and live still with the same customs they had thousand of years ago inside the Darien National Province.

The Darien is also home to the Harpy Eagle, the world’s largest predator bird, once in danger of extinction and now on its’ way back thanks to conservationists.

Azuero Peninsula

The Azuero region was one of the first parts of Panama to be settled more than 10,000 years ago, and the area in the north of the peninsula was cultivated thousands of years before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Cocle

There’s a lot to see and do in Coclé, from beaches, mountains, golf, bird watching, horseback riding, and more. The province has a number of well known beaches, such as Santa Clara, Farallon and Rio Hato. Coclé belongs to what is known as Panama’s Central Provinces. This area of Panama contains some of our most interesting archaeological sites.