Between exquisite turquoise seas, vibrant tropical rain forests, a unique indigenous culture, and numerous fun-filled explorations, Panama captures the essence of what it means to be a world wonder. While many wildernesses and native cultures around the world continue to be run over by man, much of Panama remains uniquely intact.
Located on the isthmus that forms the land bridge connecting North and South America, Panama is often known as the “Crossroads of the Americas”. Its unique position connecting two major continents allows its flora and fauna to be incredibly diverse, ranging from rain forests and mountains to two different oceans. Yet, the country is also an established modern metropolis, resembling many US cities in commerce, arts, fashion, and dining. For the modern-day traveler looking to explore a destination less generic, Panama is the perfect spot.
Places to See
What would a trip to Panama be without exploring the Panama Canal? There are several ways to do this, the first being a tour at the Canal Museum in Casco Antiguo, which features Panama’s history as a crossroad of cultures and a natural land bridge between continents. The other way to explore the canal is by crossing it by boat, either by “partial crossing” in 4 hours or crossing the full length of the canal which takes 8 hours. There is also the Panama Railroad that takes passengers by train the length of the canal in one day through the preserved forests. However one chooses to see the canal, it is on the top of the “to-do” list when visiting Panama.
With over 900 species of birds currently inhabiting the tropical forests of Panama, the amount of diverse wildlife and vegetation occupying this region are worth traveling to see. The Rainforest Discovery Center is a great way to see various species up close and personal through several different venues, including a 1.2km circuit of forest trails, a lake-viewing spot featuring coatis, monkeys, and crocodiles, and a 32m high observation tower for bird watching. Another way to see more of the creatures unique to Panama is through the Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas, an informative marine museum featuring two small aquariums and a nature trail through a patch of dry forest containing sloths and iguanas. Here, guests can explore several different exhibits, as well as gain information from guides and staff on hand.
Currently a UNESCO protected site, Casco Antiguo (or Casco Viejo) is also a popular site to see among tourists. As work began on building the Panama Canal, urban expansion pushed out the boundaries of Panama City to the east, resulting in the abandonment and later deterioration of Casco Antiguo. The site, with efforts from UNESCO, is slowly being restored, while still maintaing the charm of its rich history and culture. One should exercise caution when visiting this area, but it is definitely worth a trip.
Things to Do
When it comes to attractions and opportunities for adventure, Panama is nothing short of a good time. From white water rafting down the Rio Chiriqui Viejo to zip-lining through the canopies of Cocle and Bocas del Toro, Panama offers an array of activities for the restless traveler.
There are many ways to explore what Panama has to offer. Want something adventurous, but still a little laid-back? Take a horseback ride on the beaches of Bocas del Toro near Dolphin Bay’ or in the mountains of Boquete. Avid fisherman? The Gulf of Chiriqui is said to be the best place on earth to catch a black marlin. Coffee drinker? Visit a coffee estate for a tasting and explanation of the coffee process. There are many different tours made available, ranging from small-scale farms that allow for more of an intimate experience, like Finca dos Jefes, or large-scale farms, such as Ruiz. Panama also features chances for scuba diving, snorkeling, boating, rock climbing, and kayaking. Travelers can also take a dip in the thermal springs around the dormant Baru Volcano. The opportunities are endless.
In the mood for food? The larger cities cater to a wider variety of palates, while the outskirts offer more local, Panamánian cuisine. The local bites are a mix of Afro-Caribbean, French, and Spanish influences, usually offering a meat with a side of coconut rice and a native vegetable. Quick and cheap eateries can also be found at the Fondas, which are a series of small eateries strategically placed near schools and stadiums, offering the same type of local cuisine for a great price.
Several places for “bar hopping” and exploring the urban nightlife are located in Calle Uruguay and Zona Viva, ideal for travelers looking to let loose. In Casco Antiguo, art galleries in the area coordinate Art Block parties once a month, offering plenty of exhibits for travelers to see. There is also a National Theater that offers ballets, opera, and concerts weekly.
Panama’s rich wildlife and diverse culture make it one of the most attractive, emerging travel destinations in the world. With a variety of different opportunities to learn and explore, Panama is a traveler’s dream.
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