|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Land of Opportunity
Panama is an S shaped country located at the end of Central America, in between Costa Rica and Colombia. It is a tiny isthmus connecting the two great continents of North and South America. To the north is the Caribbean Sea and to the south the Pacific Ocean.
Panama is only 772 miles long and 37 miles wide at its narrowest point. This means you can visit both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the same day, and if you hike up Volcan Baru, Panama's highest point, you can view both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the same time (one of only 3 places in the world where this is possible).
Panama has warm, friendly, fun-loving people, a stable democracy, a dynamic business sector and an unusual variety of terrains. John Le Carre, writing in The Tailor of Panama summed it up well: "We have everything God needed to make paradise. Great farming, beaches, mountains, wildlife you wouldn't believe, people so beautiful you could cry."
The country has expansive rain forests among the richest and most complex on the planet. The jungles are home to numerous bird species and mammals including the Spectacle Bear, the Central American Tapir, and the American Crocodile, and it is the only country in the world where jaguars and pumas prowl only a short drive from the capital.
This small, untapped adventure wonderland boasts scores of deserted palm-lined beaches, miles of lush rain forests, great national parks, mysterious mangroves, steamy cloud forests, mountains, waterfalls, raging rivers, abandoned forts, as well as a desert.
Explore the historic ruins of the colonial era and dive for Sir Francis Drake's lead coffin, supposedly buried at sea near Portobello Bay. See the rain forest from an aerial tram, ride a dug-out canoe at a native Indian village, discover the remote and mysterious forests of the Darien region right on the border of Colombia, where the road ends a few miles before the border, leaving you with the feeling you have reached the end of civilisation.
It just goes on and gets better and better, so come and take a trip with us to this beautiful, unspoiled and mysterious country.
Panama City is one of the most cosmopolitan, culturally distinct and enjoyable capital cities in all of Central America. Modern commercial buildings blend with cobbled streets and Spanish colonial architecture centuries past. Most visitors to Panama City are completely surprised by what they find. It is not third world and not dangerous. You will find world-class restaurants, five-star hotels, international banks, hundreds of multi-national businesses, a Manhattan-type skyline and every imaginable luxury.
The warmth of the people is unsurpassed. Casco Viejo, recognised by UNESCO as a site of world interest, is the oldest city on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Just minutes from Panama City, at the mouth of the Panama Canal, the city is a true cultural gem. To walk through Casco Viejo is to stroll through history. Buildings sitting side by side can be over three hundreds years apart in age. As you walk around the brick paved roads and observe the historic buildings where the rich and powerful used to live, the memories just seem to leap out at you.
West of the capital lies the Panama Canal, the legendary feat of human-kind that unites two entire oceans. Crossing the Panama Canal has become the most popular tourist attraction in the country. This is the best way to learn about its history and how this marvel of engineering functions.
Take a ride on the Pacific Queen where you will have the opportunity to see the Canal operations from close up. With its unique location at the narrowest point between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Canal has had far-reaching effect on world economic and commercial developments since it first opened in 1914. It requires about nine hours for an average ship to transit the Canal.
Panama City is surrounded by lush rain forests with the Chagres River flowing through it, and along its banks live families of the Embera Indians. They live today much as they did when Vasco Nunez de Balboa first set foot in Panama. Take a visit to the villages where these gentle, friendly people live. This is paradise found, and a glimpse of what the early explorers saw many centuries ago. The Embera are skilled wood and tagua carvers, and basket weavers, and will be delighted to sell you some of their wares during your visit.
A few hours after you leave Panama City, you'll find what is probably the country's most picturesque destination- Chiriqui Province. Primeval rain forests bedecked with clouds, noisy, volcanic peaks, coffee plantations, chattering birds flash brilliant iridescent colours as they dart through the trees, flowering epiphytes bloom en mass high above the forest floor, while gurgling streams glisten and tumble hurriedly over great boulders in their dance towards the sea.
Home to most of Panamas Guaymi Indians, Chiriqui is known as the Breadbasket of Panama. It is the perfect refuge, lush green hills, flowing rivers and spectacular waterfalls help to make it one of the most unspoiled retreats in the world today.
Imagine owning a beautiful, rambling hilltop estate far away from everyone with acres of rolling countryside and views of the ocean below. Even better if this estate had its own waterfall cascading down into a crystal clear creek. Well this can be yours in the enchanted, mysterious valley known as the Chiriqui Highlands. Part of the Cordillera central that defines the northern border of the province of Chiriqui.
Chiriqui is the westernmost province bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the south and Costa Rica to the west, Bocas del Toro to the north and Veraguas to the east.
Wild flowers grow among lush green forests...waterfalls cascade into crystal clear pools...and spring reigns eternal. Boquete is the peaceful highland town that's a favourite with expats and still is a natural wonderland alive with beauty of nature, mountains carpeted in velvety grass, tufts of bougainvillea, adding shocks of colour that range from tropical tones like fuchsia and coral to pure white.
Homes are dotted sparingly around an overwhelmingly green landscape. Boquete still maintains its friendly, small town atmosphere and there is plenty to entertain from live music, plays and Mardi Gras parades to clubs, classes and charities. There is an ever-growing number of shops, banks and restaurants.
Coffee tours, zip lines, white-water rafting, hot springs and golf are all available in Boquete. Or you can take nature hikes up Volcan Baru, which is the highest mountain in Panama and the only place where, at the summit, you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific. The cool highland climate, the legendary rich coffee, the hiking and birding trails are still as good as they ever were.
The city of David, just 40 minutes away, is home to a semi-professional boxing club and has a huge stadium where baseball is taken very seriously. Annually David also hosts a one-of-a-kind horse parades. Once a year, too, you can take in the biggest agricultural fair in the region. Native dancing, games, agricultural displays and horse events are just some of the attractions that draw thousands to the city to see it every year.
David is filled with shops, malls, clinics and hospitals, in fact everything you need. Within a half-to two hours drive there are pristine, sandy beaches, a couple of which are particularly well-known for their surfing. They also feature beautiful resorts and sport fishing. The beaches here tend to be quiet and peaceful, many virtually deserted during the week, only coming alive at the weekends.
If you're not in the mood for the beach, drive from David along the Pan-American Highway towards Santiago. There you'll find a very rutted, steep road that branches off into the jungle. The destination is definitely worth the drive. Nestled in this lush rain-forest is Alouatta Sanctuary, a monkey rescue centre where howler monkeys are placed after being abused or neglected. They are free to roam the acreage at will but are cared for by a compassionate, learned group of employees and volunteers from all over the world.
In the Azuero Peninsula, paradise overlooks the Pacific and the fishing is renowned worldwide. The eastern region is more developed, with a mix of old cities and new developments, the west is mostly frontier land. But when there are fiestas or festivals...something Azuero has more of than any region... the locals regularly and proudly celebrate the traditions and culture of their nation. From parades celebrating the national dress to raucous carnival festivals to showy rodeos...this can be the part of Panama where you'll have the most fun.
Nestling on green rolling hills that resemble the Tuscan region of Italy, is the sleepy coastal fishing village of Pedasi Las Tablas. Famed for its virgin fishing grounds, dramatic shores with beautiful cliffs, where you can see tide pools, beaches and traditional Spanish haciendas, this is becoming a popular area for investors
The Darien is the largest and most sparsely populated province in Panama, and the least well known. It is a region of dense tropical rain-forest and the Darien Jungle has also been called The Darkest Jungle. Its indigenous population of Embera, Wounaan, and Kuna live in settlements scattered along the numerous river valleys.
Until 20 years ago, there were no roads in the Darien; now there is a gravel highway cutting through its centre down as far as the town of Yaviza, 100 km short of the Colombian border. While most of the traditional inhabitants of the Darien travel by river, the highway has opened up the region to loggers, cattle ranchers, and landless peasants from the overcrowded interior provinces. This influx of population is threatening both the indigenous people and the natural forest.
Bocas del Toro is a province on Panama's Caribbean side, near the Costa Rica border comprised of nine islands and includes a forested inland area, a lengthy strip of coastline and the Bocas del Toro archipelago, with Isla Colon and its capital city Bocas Town. Classic Caribbean aqua blue water, fringed beaches washing up against dense rain-forest, dolphin watching, sea kayaking, surfing, diving and island hopping, plus a low-key friendly town these are some of the attractions of the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
Bocas can be reached in one of several daily flights from Panama City and then take a boat taxi or ferry to Bocas town on the main island. Red frog Beach is regarded by many as the most beautiful beach in Panama. Enjoy sparkling white sand, dramatic crashing waves and turquoise waters surrounded by lush tropical rain-forest. On the short walk across the island to the beach, you see, and hear the tiny famous red frogs that live exclusively on this island.
Bocas town is laid back and has a lively nightlife, variety of restaurants and rich history. It is an archetypal Caribbean village of pastel rooftops, fresh seafood served in waterfront restaurants on stilts, fishing boats in bold primary colours, and docks stretching over the patchwork of water. Its ecosystem remains largely intact and is so exquisite it's internationally recognised as both a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. Mangroves and jungles line the coast, and exotic birds only seen on the island.
Playa Bluff on Isla Colon is the most dazzling beach whilst Punch Beach has a reputation for great surfing, but neither are safe for swimmers. On Isla Bastimentos is Red Frog Beach, Boca's most beautiful beach. And you won't miss the red frog with black polka dots who calls out to you as you walk through the rain forest. This is the only place in the world where this scarlet creature lives.
The Zapatillas Cays are lined with palms and the powdered sugar sandy beaches are a poignant reminder of what many Caribbean islands used to be. Isla Solarte is becoming a sought-after destination for retirees and other islands like Isla Popa and Isla Cristobal are far less visited but worth visiting.
The San Blas islands, also known as the Guna Yala archipelago, are part of the semi-autonomous territory of the Guna people. The archipelago has 365 islands of stunning pristine beauty feature palm trees, gorgeous beaches, thatched huts and timeless charm. Set in indescribably beautiful aqua waters. When famous author John le Carre stayed in San Blas his comment upon taking in an island view was - This is not paradise, this is heaven.
The islands can be reached by several daily flights from Panama City. This is an incredible opportunity to visit the Guna people, a beautiful ancient people, largely unspoiled by modern life. A fascinating culture and way of life, where everything is kept natural and authentic.
Visit one of the island Indian villages where hundreds of happy smiling children run around. Learn about the Guna way of life and their long-time battle to be an autonomous people. Homes that are mostly made of bamboo and thatched roofs and everyone sleeps in a hammock. You may visit their tribal meeting house, and herbal medicinal gardens.
In Chiriqui National Marine Park, near the Costa Rican border, lies a stunning new coast and island destination known as Boca Chica. A world-class beach and island destination, Boca Chica offers pristine ocean views of tropical blue seas, lush vegetation, picturesque islands of white sand and swaying palms, world-class fishing, diving and snorkelling. Boca Chica is reached in around 45 minutes from David
Just a 15 minute plane ride from Panama City lie the exotic Pearl Islands. You can still buy pearls today, but the major attraction of this archipelago are its picturesque aqua waters, lush vegetation, fascinating marine life and lovely sparsely populated beaches. First settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, thousands of pearls were found here including the 31 carat, 400 year old Pelegrina pearl owned by Elizabeth Taylor today. Previous owners included the Queen of Spain, a French Emperor and an English Queen.
Cocle province, in central Panama and the capital, Penonome is one of Panama's last undiscovered treasures boasting beautiful mountain views and crystal clear rivers. It is primarily an agricultural province and home to many ranches and orchards. It is rich in Indian history, especially the area of La Pintada, and throughout the province there are typical Spanish colonial towns that have virtually remained untouched over time, and still hold their old world charm and beauty.
Colon is the second largest city in Panama and is surrounded by the Panama Canal Zone. Home to the Colon Free Zone it is one of the most important ports in the Western World and the world's second largest duty-free port. It is about one hour and 45 minutes by car from Panama City.
Veraguas, is the only province that touches both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It has a great diversity of flora and fauna in its jungles and mountains. The capital, Santiago, is a small town, vibrant in traffic, and is the gateway to Chiriqui. Santiago is also the marketing centre for the rice, coffee, corn, livestock, and other products from the hinterland. Celebrate with the locals the history of the town on 25th July every year and its legacy in Panamanian culture.
Panamanians called it the "Valley of Flowers and Eternal Spring". The area is lush and verdant and all manner of outdoor activities hiking, biking, riding, whitewater rafting, trout fishing and gardening are available. The local people produce an incredible variety of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish.
Banana, mango and palm trees abound this coffee country, and during the harvest season Indians come down from the hills to work in the fields. The men call and sing to each other as they pick and the children run through the fields and play in the streams.
This is Boquete where spring reigns eternal. The town is known throughout Panama for its coffee and flowers. The mountains are hard to beat, daytime temperatures rarely drop below 70 f and rarely climb above 80 at night. An ideal place for year round living. It is hard to imagine a better haven than this village of Boquete.
Located at the base of Panama's tallest peak an extinct volcano called Baru, the Caldera River rushes through the middle of the town and out to the Pacific Ocean. From the upper rim of the valley you can see the ocean and the border of Costa Rica in the distance as well as the storybook village below.
Bambito, Cerrro Punta and Guadlupe are three of a dozen or so tiny farming communities nestled in a bucolic, alpine paradise. The area is characterised by rugged hills and peaks cloaked in thick emerald forest that is speckled with flowers and interspersed with a patchwork of colourful fields. Bambito is just a sprinkling of homes and services along the road.
Set almost 2000 m above sea level in a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by densely forested mountains Cerro Punta is the highest village in Panama. Located in the crater of an extinct volcano, and is the epicentre of agricultural production. The village and surrounding fields are undeniably beautiful, filled with abundant flowers and buzzing with hummingbirds.
The spectacular scenery, together with the cool, crisp mountain air makes Cerro Punta a perfect base for hiking, and the pristine cloud forests of La Amistad and Volcan Baro are both within easy reach. These parks are perhaps the best places in all Central America to catch a glimpse of the elusive quetzal, particularly in the dry season between January and April. Guadalupe has flower-filled streets and is flanked by quilt-like farms that slope up the surrounding hills. This is truly the loveliest alpine region in Panama.
The small town of El Valle de Anton is located 120 km away from Panama City lying 600 m above sea level, and has an all-season mild springtime climate. Come and discover this beautiful town nestling high in the mountains on the floor of the largest inhabited volcano crater in the world. Once a crater lake, this quiet village became home to Indians from the surrounding mountains which have been there for thousands of years. The local population is mainly descended from the Guaymi Indian tribe.
Relax in this special micro-climate with its cloud forest and exotic animals and plants. Bathe in the Las Pozos Termales hot springs, visit the zoo or listen to the birds, and take a deep breath of clean mountain air. A hiking path will lead you to the Cloud Forest Reserve of the Cerro Gaital national Monument. This is one of the best places for watching tropical birds and has unique flora and fauna.
The Sleeping Indian or La India Dormida, is a hill chain with the silhouette of a sleeping Indian woman in the west of El Valle. It will take around one and half hours to reach the top where there is a superb view over the valley. Discover the valley by horseback, or visit Playa Santa Clara one of the closest beaches to El Valle and one of the most beautiful in Panama.
The Archipelago de Las Perlas is made up of more than 220 islands islets, only 90 of which are named. A virtual pirate's treasure of lush green islands, sandy shore, blue green water and only 15 minutes by plane from Panama City. Over the centuries the archipelago has seen pirates, adventurers and plunderers in search of its treasures - pearls. Some of the world's finest pearls have come from these pristine waters, the most notable being the 31 ct. Pearl, La Peregrina - one of the most celebrated and historic pearls in the world.
Isla Contadora is currently the most developed and visited island in the archipelago. Easily explored on foot it has twelve beaches, mostly unoccupied, and two resort hotels. Air Panama offers daily flights.
The Coiba National Park located in the Southeastern part of Panama, encompasses over 2,700 square kilometres of islands, forests, beaches, mangroves and coral reefs. Among the spectacular marine and terrestrial environments is Coiba Island, the largest uninhabited tropical forested island in the Americas. Eighty-five percent of the forests of Coiba Island are primary and almost untouched, serving as a haven for birds and mammals found nowhere else on Earth, as well as for species that have largely disappeared from the mainland.
The CNP is one of the greatest remaining natural treasures in Panama. The remarkable preservation of Coiba Island is largely due to its use as a penal colony since 1920 - the prisoners have served as a strong deterrent to colonisation by peasants and to the extraction of the island's abundant resources.
The San Blas are a group of around 365 islands located off the west coast of Panama. Many of the islands are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna Indian tribe. The San Blas province has its own government, and each island is run by a chief. Tourism is limited to only a few of the islands, and you must get permission from the chief before visiting any of the islands. Electricity and running water are not found in the outer islands. Even with these barriers, some of the Kuna have decided to share their world with outsiders and have set up small lodges for a few visitors.
When you visit the San Blas, you will see why they could become a popular destination. These pristine islands are picture-perfect tropical islands covered with white sand and coconut trees.
Uaguitupo, one of the more southern of the San Blas,is a 50-minute flight from the capital to a small airstrip on the coast followed by a dugout canoe ride. You can relax spend a night with a host family sleep in a grass hut and return to Panama City the next day. Dolphin Island is near the southernmost point of the 200 miles stretch of the San Blas and has no electricity.
You can take a canoe to the neighbouring island of Achutupu (Dog Island) which is more populated and has a school. The civilisation looks like it must have for the last several hundred years. The Kuna have a simple life of farming, fishing and sewing.
San Blas is an experience of its own class. From the beginning to the end you are in the rustic lifestyle of the Kuna Indians. Experience their culture, enjoy eating freshly caught seafood and just relax.
Molas are brightly coloured garments intricately sewn with unusual designs and colors. The mola artwork has been handed down from Kuna mothers and grandmothers to young girls for centuries. Molas are used in the clothing used by the Kuna women. However, tourists have found that they are so intricate and beautiful that they are widely sold to be used in other applications such as pillows, wall hangings, appliqued onto quilts or even ... modern day clothing.
Nestled in the warm tropical waters of the Bay of Panama and within an hour's boat ride from Panama City is a small island with a rich and colourful history and a quaint little town. Taboga, the "Island of Flowers", and island of perennial blossoms, and humble people. Isla Taboga is one of more than a thousand islands to be found in the Gulf Panama, but Isla Taboga is different from the others.
The island has no cars and you can swim in its sparkling pristine waters, stroll along its flower lined paths, walk its pristine nature trails, smell the roses, taste the forbidden fruit, explore and discover this very special paradise
Isla Taboga has known the fury of marauding pirates, the intolerance of the Conquistadors, the boldness of the Gold Rush adventurers, and the glory of being the birthplace of Santa Rosa de Lima who was known best for her humility and kindness to those in need. Pineapple patches pepper the island and some say the Hawaiian pineapple was developed through cross pollination with the Taboga pineapple.
The little town of San Pedro, founded in 1524, grew up around the church of the same name. Today the town has less than 1000 inhabitants. Its streets, better named paths, wind in a seemingly endless maze among the 256 dwellings on the island. The town plaza has the site of the second oldest church in the hemisphere. The plaza is where people of all ages congregate to talk, play games, or just sit and relax. It is also the site of the many festivals that occur on the island.
The town is so small, you are never more than five minutes from anywhere. The southern length of Isla Taboga is steep faced and barely accessible except by boat. This part of the island has been designated a national protective habitat for the migrating Brown Pelican that makes its home once a year.
Legend has it that a pirate ship attempted an attack on the island. When the pirates reached the shores of Isla Taboga, they met an enormous army face to face that was headed by a beautiful woman. The pirates were terrorised by the vision and fled back to their boat. To this day Taboganos are convinced that it was the Virgin del Carmen who saved them, and each year on July 16th the patron saint blesses the fleet in Taboga Bay. Linked to the island at low tide by a sandbar is El Morro, a small rocky islet, where at the end of the 17th century the Spaniards established a fort to defend Taboga.
This beautiful country just goes on and on and gets better and better so come, discover the mysterious jungle, meet the friendly warm people and stay awhile, you won't regret it.