Wedged between Costa Rica and Colombia, Panama is a compact Central American country beloved for its two sweeping stretches of coastline edged by the serene Caribbean and the turbulent Pacific. A long established hotspot for adventure travel and wildlife fans, the country is synonymous with the iconic Panama Canal which links the Caribbean and Pacific. An established retirement destination for US citizens, a combination of low living costs and balmy climate make areas such as Boquete and Pedasi enduringly popular. Here are six excellent destinations for your Panama bucket list.
Panama’s diverse and vibrant capital blends classic and contemporary. Explore the scenic historic old quarter, Casco Viejo, where alongside attractive Spanish colonial architecture you’ll find excellent shopping, restaurants and nightlife. The dramatic Plaza de Francia pays homage to the 22,000 French workers who died during the construction of the Panama Canal. Visit the inventive BioMuseum, which creatively celebrates Panama’s amazing diversity of flora and wildlife. The museum’s landmark design is the work of architect Frank Gehry, who created the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. Take a 40 minute hike up Cerro Ancon, the city’s highest point. You’ll earn fantastic views of the old town, juxtaposed with its contemporary skyline.
Bocas del Toro
This glorious region on the Caribbean coast close to the Costa Rican border draws scores of holidaymakers, undeterred by its remoteness and lack of direct access. Bocas del Toro (meaning mouths of the bull) is a glorious unspoilt tract of mountains, islands, rainforest and mangrove swamps teeming with wildlife. During the March to November dry season water taxis provide a steady shuttle from the mainland to the chain of islands, as visitors flock to unspoilt coves and secluded beaches.
Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos is a protected reserve that spans 130 islands and hosts diverse wildlife including sloths, crocodiles, dolphins and sea turtles. Enjoy snorkelling and diving at Cayos Zapatillas, a pair of stunning islands fringed by golden sands and coral reefs. The region is renowned for surfing, especially the islands of Caranero and Colon.
Built in 1914, Panama Canal’s 50 mile long series of locks introduced a nautical trade route between the Caribbean and the Pacific. In the intervening years over one million vessels have passed through Panama’s waters; each ship takes eight to ten hours to traverse the lock system. Visit the Miraflores Visitor Center, 15 minutes drive from Panama City. Observe ships as they negotiate the canal and explore the onsite interactive museum to learn the history of this epic manmade wonder of the world.
Also known as the San Blas Islands, this insanely beautiful Caribbean archipelago of 365 tiny, rustic islands lies off the beaten track. Home to the indigenous Guna population this stunning area is popular with sailing excursions. Enjoy swimming and snorkeling in calm, reef-protected waters, and look out for scores of resident starfish on the sandy seabed. The islands offer simple rustic accommodation (limited electricity, no Wi-Fi) and you’ll dine on freshly caught seafood.
A ten-minute drive from the city brings you to the ruins of the country’s former capital which thrived as a Spanish trading port during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1671 during ongoing tensions between England and Spain, Welsh privateer Henry Morgan attacked and destroyed the Spanish stronghold at England’s behest. The 57 acres of ruins are a designated UNESCO heritage site and feature the city’s original cathedral, complete with a bell tower.
An attractive mountain settlement 3,900 feet above sea level in western Panama’s Chiriquí Highlands, Boquete is a popular destination for hikers, climbers, and retired expats seeking a laid-back lifestyle in a spring-like climate. Take a tour around one of the coffee plantations that cover the area’s lower slopes. The higher ground gives way to vast expanses of the national park, where you can take a guided hike and look out for howler monkeys and birds including the exotic, brightly colored Quetzal. The verdant landscape hosts Panama’s sole, sleeping volcano, Volcan Baru. At 11,500 feet, it’s the highest point in the country, and on a clear day, you can see the Caribbean and Pacific from its summit.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com