Panama Travel Guide

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Panama is a very nice country, a small republic in South America and an interesting and hugely under-rated travel destination for this winter. Panama is neighbored by Costa Rica on the western border, the Caribbean in the north, Colombia on the south-eastern border and the Pacific ocean on the south.

The largest city and also the capital is Panama City, yes, just like the country’s name, and it makes for almost half of the population. Indeed, being a relatively small republic (Panama has a land surface of only 75,517 square kilometers) with just 3.6 million people, almost half of them live in the capital. Because of the business opportunities and higher wages, that comes as a no-brainer, right?

The first thing that comes to one’s mind when  thinking about Panama must be cigars. Or at least that’s what I think of, being a cigar aficionado. But,besides making awesome cigars, Panama is well known for its canal and its straw hats. Okay, I am just kidding about the hats, but this slender South American republic is way more than stereotypes. Panama is a land bursting with wild life, with rich and beautiful rain forests and mesmerizing areas populated by indigenous communities still untouched by our  modern civilization and way of life . When travelling to some remote areas in Panama, it’s like being in a time-machine, and I mean that in a good way, from a tourist’s point of view of course.

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The best thing about travelling to Panama is that you can enjoy both its paradisaical natural wonders (beaches, volcanoes, impenetrable jungles and so on and so forth ) and in the same time Miami-esque shopping opportunities and promenades from Panama’s metropolitan areas.

The star attraction for any traveler to Panama must be its world-renowned canal, obviously, where you can observe and photograph the hundreds of freight-ships passing through, but, in no smaller fashion, the beautiful scenery-landscapes which are actually way more interesting than the canal itself.

While here, you can go hiking the local volcanoes, raft down the local rapids and meet and greet the Kunas, an indigenous tribes, not to mention the awesome zip-wire opportunities over the rain-forest canopies.

Panama’s Caribbean coastline is another beautiful travel destination, an epic place inhabited by the Barbadians and Jamaicans which were recruited when building the canal and finally chose to settle here afterwards.

If you’re a water sports enthusiast, scuba diving in the Coiba National Park will allow you to observe and enjoy the spectacular wild-life in the Golfo de Chiriqui. Turtles and bird-life make for an unforgettable spectacle, especially the harpy eagle and the green macaw, which is an endangered species only to be admired in these regions of the globe.

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What to see, what to do

When travelling to Panama, don’t forget to visit the Central Avenue of Panama City, the country’s capital, where you’ll benefit from outstanding shopping opportunities, thanks to Panama’s duty-free advantages. That’s due to the fact that Panama is a major crossing point between two oceans and that means that it’s an important commercial route, where you can find almost anything at discount prices.

You can take a trip to Las Tablas, which is the capital of the Los Santos province,  a trip that will bring you close to the Las Tablas carnival, where you’ll have lots of fun during the festivities and the parades. There are actually two factions involved in this carnival, trying to out-compete each other, each side featuring its own festivities/parade, and that spells massive fun for the occasional bystander (that’s you, yes).

If you like sailing, buy yourself a ticket for the boat trip to San Blas Islands, a two-three days stretch on the route to Colombia. These islands are home to Panama’s indigenous people called the Kuna and you should enjoy them while it lasts. I mean, these islands are slowly sinking and hence disappearing due to the rising ocean levels.

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The beautiful Chiriquí province is the place to visit for admiring a majestic scenery: reaching 11,400 ft, here lies the Baru Volcano, which is dormant as we speak; near-by you’ll enjoy a hugely popular tourist resort in Boquete town and also in Cerro Punta.

The beautiful flora and fauna of Panama are best represented by the Gamboa Tropical Rainforest Reserve and also by the Soberania National Park. For orchid aficionados, I would recommend a trip to Anton Valley, a place famous for wild orchids.

Surfing, diving and snorkeling are all possible during your trip to Panama, especially in the Rio Mar, Venado, Bocas del Toro and Isla Grande Portobelo, places abundant in marine life and rich in diving locations, with cool waves reaching almost 15 ft; the best thing is that you can go surfing here all year round.

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The Panama Canal offers maybe the most interesting boat-trip opportunity on the planet, as cruising the Panama Canal is a  unique experience, due to its epic scenery and rich wildlife, including birds and crocodiles along its banks. The Casco Viejo area is home for the Panama Canal Museum, where you can learn a thing or two about the canal that opened 100 years ago in 1914 and admire the spectacular mechanical details of its inception, even if you’re not an engineer.

Panama City, the country’s capital, makes for a curious melange of modern America, old Spain and a middle-eastern bazaar of some sort, being as cosmopolite as it gets and an awesome place to spend a few nights.

Food and Drink 

Panama is an outstanding mix of cultures and races and that translates into a huge variety of foods/cuisines. Here you can eat almost anything : American, Spanish and Oriental restaurants are everywhere, shell fish and sea food is awesome and in abundance, at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the UK or the US. Specialties include fish marinated in lime juice with peppers and onions (ceviche), fried plantain, stews with chicken meat and/or cheese, pie wrapped in banana leaves (tamales), rice and beans with pork, fried yucca and raspados (some sort of desert).  Regional drinks include fruit juices (mango, papaya), chicha fuerte (high-grade alcoholic drink), resbaladera, rum based cocktails with milk and vanilla, beers and Seco Herrerano, the national spirit made from sugarcane.

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Visa Requirements 

For visiting Panama, you’ll only need a valid passport and no Visa.

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