Thursday, July 7

Ten things to see and do on your next trip to Panama

It is difficult to put a single face on Panama. For some, Panama is a beach destination. For others, a narrow country crossed by a huge canal that connects two oceans. And also for a few, a tax haven where a handful of skyscrapers stand out in the most modern city in Central America. But the truth is that, as soon as you stop to observe its charms, you can discover a country with a powerful tourist offer capable of captivating all types of travelers.

It is a place of exuberant nature, so you will not be able to miss several National Parks, paradisiacal archipelagos bathed by crystal clear waters, tropical jungles and keys populated by palm trees. A place with an important colonial past, a magnet for pirates and corsairs. And also, of course, headquarters of the maritime shortcut that saves thousands and thousands of nautical miles to thousands and thousands of ships every year. And everything, from its beaches to its ruins, through its locks and its seabed, is worth a visit.

1. The channel, of course

The canal is one of those essential visits that you have to do in Panama. An engineering work that crosses the American continent for 80 km and that links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It is so striking that it is a tourist attraction, there are even visitor centers with observation platforms so that we can see the operation of its locks and the enormous size of the freighters that pass through them. If you want to go a step further, you can also make small trips through it by boat or even by kayak.

2. Panama City

It is better to arrive in Panama City without having a preconceived idea, because what you will find will completely upset it. It is the most cosmopolitan city in Central America and its tall skyscrapers contrast with its beautiful historic center founded by the Spanish in 1673, where you will find the friendliest face of the city with its cobbled streets and colonial-style houses. It is also worth visiting the Cinta Costera, a huge green area that reaches 7 km in length that goes from the center to the coast, made to enjoy on foot or by bicycle and where the activity never stops.

3. Old Panama

What not everyone knows is that before Panama City existed there was another Panama City, now known as Old Panama. It was the first permanent European settlement on the American Pacific coast, it was called Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá and was founded in 1519. In it there were important civil and religious buildings, as well as large noble houses, but given its strategic location and importance commercial was a clear objective of the pirates. So much so that the British pirate Henry Morgan besieged the city from January 28 to February 24, 1671, and the Spanish themselves destroyed the city by blowing up the explosives depots. The new city was built in the aforementioned old town of Panama City, and Panama la Vieja is today an archaeological site where the tower of the cathedral, part of the Concepción Convent and other constructions still stand.

4. The Soberanía National Park

The Soberanía National Park is a good option if we do not have much time but we do not want to stop entering the jungle, since it is only half an hour from Panama City. It occupies the banks of the canal from Limón, on Gatún Lake, to Paraíso, and is an excellent place to enjoy birdwatching since more than 500 species have been counted. If we walk along some of its paths, it is also easy to find sloths, anteaters and different monkeys, such as howlers or white-faced monkeys. To enjoy privileged views it may be interesting to visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center and climb its 32-dead-tall tower to contemplate the tropical forest above the treetops.

5. Bocas del Toro

The archipelago of Bocas del Toro, already almost on the border with Costa Rica, is the beach destination par excellence in Panama. Here you will find keys and coral reefs, white sand beaches, transparent waters and palm trees, many palm trees. Bocas Town is its capital, a town full of life and Caribbean colors, which welcomes backpackers and wealthy travelers alike who head to their luxury cabins in the middle of the jungle. There are plenty of beaches to choose from, but Zapatilla, Red Frog, Estrella, Bluff or La del Drago are the most striking. Bocas del Toro is also a good destination for diving enthusiasts.

6. Gap

In Panama there is also mountain. The town of Boquete is about 1,200 meters above sea level and is the Panamanian capital of adventure sports, although curiously also the resting place of many American expatriates and retirees. If you are looking for cool weather hiking, whitewater rafting, ziplines in the middle of the forest, or even climbing, this is your place. One of the most famous routes is the Camino de los Quetzales, where with (great) luck you will be able to see this striking bird. In addition, Boquete is a land of coffee, so it can always be interesting to visit a coffee plantation where you can learn about the production process that goes from the plant to the cup.

7. The Barú Volcano National Park

Those seeking strong emotions should not take their eyes off the Barú volcano, very close to Boquete. At 3,474 meters high, it is the highest point in Panama and rises majestically in the highlands of Chiriquí. Climbing to its summit is one of the biggest challenges you will find on this trip because the perfect plan involves starting to climb before sunrise, overcome its steep and muddy slopes, and be very lucky so that when you get to the top the sky is clear and you can see , at the same time, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. If you succeed, the effort will have been more than worth it.

8. Santa Catalina and the Coiba National Park

Santa Catalina, on the Pacific coast, is one of the best places in all of Central America for surfing. A laid-back fishing village, attracting surfers from all over the world, and where tourism still takes it easy. Santa Catalina is also the point of origin if we want to visit the spectacular Coiba National Park, where its archipelago is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Coiba Island is geologically related to the Coco Island of Costa Rica and the Galapagos of Ecuador, making it one of the best diving spots in the Pacific. But even if you do not dive, it is worth visiting its islands because they seem taken from paradise itself.

9. Guna Yala, the San Blas archipelago

Guna Yala, formerly known as the San Blas archipelago, is a group of 365 islands, all of them small, home to the Guna indigenous people. Only a few are inhabited and many of them are authentic postcards, making it an important tourist destination in Panama. Small islets with bamboo huts surrounded by turquoise waters where, like it or not, you will forget everything else, because except snorkeling, visiting other islands or drinking a coconut in the shade of palm trees, there is not much else to do . The autonomy achieved by the Guna indigenous people allows them to self-manage their islands and their tourism and you will stay in small cabins that their families run.

10. Portobelo, “What a beautiful port!”

And we end with a different suggestion. Portobelo, which comes from “What a beautiful port!” that Christopher Columbus exclaimed when he saw it, it was a strategic and fundamental port for the transport of gold and silver that was sent from here to the Old Continent. This made it powerfully attract the attention of corsairs and pirates such as Henry Morgan and Francis Drake, who precisely died here in 1596. Portobelo therefore had an important defensive architecture of which some remains are still preserved today, such as the Spanish heritage forts. Humanity or the Customs building, from 1630, which today makes this beautiful port a museum.