A tropical nation, Panama captivates with stunning natural beauty, outdoor adventures, vibrant culture, amazing beaches, and diverse plant and animal life. Bordered by the Caribbean Sea on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the south, this sideways S-shaped isthmus sits between Costa Rica and Colombia.
What I found most appealing on my recent visit is the feeling that it is still “undiscovered” by the masses. I had an authentic Panamanian experience without bumping into hordes of tourists taking selfies. Panama is a quick 2½ hour flight from Miami, uses the US dollar as its currency, and its affordable accommodations, food and transportation are very traveler friendly.
Panama is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. You can test your mountain biking skills, shoot class III river rapids, and surf through gnarly waves. Take a challenging mountain hike followed by a thrilling descent by zipline. Panama offers world class fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and more.
With its tremendous variety of landscapes and habitats while serving as a “bridge” between the north and south American continents, this tropical nation is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life. I saw tons of wildlife while I was there. I scanned the tree canopies and saw sloths, howler monkeys, toucans, and tons of birds. Along the shoreline, there were turtles, monkeys and alligators. Panama has more than 976 bird species, which is more than the US and Canada combined. It’s a land of geographic contrasts including tropical rainforests, savannas, mountain forests, tidal lands, coral reefs, beaches and islands.
I marveled as I watched a ship pass through the Miraflores locks. One of the greatest engineering accomplishments in our lifetime, the Panama Canal is a must-see destination in Panama.
An hour out of Panama City, my guide and I met with a member of the Embera to us to visit their community. As we motored down a tranquil river in a dugout canoe, we saw birds, a spider monkey, an iguana and an alligator before arriving to a warm welcome. It was a true step back in time to learn about their simple lifestyle and interesting culture. Panama has seven distinct indigenous cultures that maintain a traditional lifestyle and have autonomous control over their governments.
From its gleaming skyscrapers to quaint Casco Viejo’s colorful bougainvilla-filled plazas lined with Spanish and French colonial buildings, Panama City is the heartbeat of this exotic country. Because of its unique location, cultures from all over the world are woven into its fabric.
Five Fun Facts
Panama contains the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic. At the country’s narrowest point, only 50 miles separates the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean.
Panama celebrates two independence days, the first from Spain in 1821 and the second from Colombia in 1903.
There are two basic seasons in Panama: the dry season from December to April and the green or “wet” season from May to November.
Vessels going through the Panama Canal pay a toll based on vessel type, size, and cargo. In 2016, a large container ship paid over $829,000 to pass through the expanded section of the canal.
The Panama Hat originated in Ecuador.
Panama packs a huge variety of attractions into a small and affordable package. Enjoy Miami-style nightlife, beaches, adventure, eco-tourism, and the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. Experience this authentic and richly rewarding tropical destination before it catches on with all the tourists!
Helen Jordan is the owner of Jordan Luxury Travel, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, a member of Virtuoso. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.